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Title: Ten Degrees Backward
Author: Fowler, Ellen Thorneycroft
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ten Degrees Backward" ***

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  TEN DEGREES
  BACKWARD


  BY

  ELLEN THORNEYCROFT FOWLER

  AUTHOR OF "HER LADYSHIP'S CONSCIENCE,"
  "CONCERNING ISABEL CARNABY," ETC., ETC.



  NEW YORK
  GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



  Copyright, 1915,
  BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



  CONTENTS

  I. I, Reginald Kingsnorth
  II. Restham Manor
  III. Frank
  IV. Fay
  V. The First Miracle
  VI. St. Luke's Summer
  VII. The Gift
  VIII. Love Among the Ruins
  IX. Things Great and Small
  X. A Birthday Present
  XI. In June
  XII. Shakspere and the Musical Glasses
  XIII. The Garden of Dreams
  XIV. Annabel's Warning
  XV. Darkening Skies
  XVI. A Sorrowful Springtime
  XVII. Desolation
  XVIII. The New Dean
  XIX. A Surprise
  XX. Isabel, Née Carnaby
  XXI. The Great War
  XXII. The Last of the Wildacres
  XXIII. The Peace of God
  XXIV. Conclusion



TEN DEGREES BACKWARD



CHAPTER I

I, REGINALD KINGSNORTH

"Reggie, do you remember Wildacre?"

It was with this apparently simple question that Arthur Blathwayte rang
up the curtain on the drama of my life.

That the performance was late in beginning I cannot but admit.  I was
fully forty-two; an age at which the drama of most men's lives are
over--or, at any rate, well on in the third act.  But in my uneventful
existence there had been no drama at all; not even an ineffective
love-affair that could be dignified by the name of a "curtain-raiser."

Of course I had perceived that some women were better looking than
others, and more attractive and easier to get on with.  But I had only
perceived this in a scientific, impersonal kind of way: the perception
had in nowise penetrated my inner consciousness or influenced my
existence.  I was the type of person who is described by the populace
as "not a marrying sort," and consequently I had reached the age of
forty-two without either marrying or wishing to marry.

I admit that I had not been thrown into circumstances conducive to the
cultivation of the tender passion; my sister Annabel had seen to that;
but no sister--be she even as powerful as Annabel herself--can prevent
a man from falling in love if he be so minded, nor from seeking out for
himself a woman to fall in love with if none are thrown in his way.
But I had not been so minded; therefore Annabel's precautions had
triumphed.

Annabel was one of that by no means inconsiderable number of women who
constantly say they desire and think they desire one thing, while they
are actually wishing and working for the exact opposite.  For instance,
she was always remarking how much she wished that I would marry--and
what a mistake it was for a man like myself to remain single--and what
a pity it was for the baronetcy to die out.  And she said this in all
sincerity: there was never any conscious humbug about Annabel.  Yet if
by any chance a marriageable maiden came my way, Annabel hustled her
off as she hustled off the peacocks when they came into the
flower-garden.  My marriage was in theory one of Annabel's fondest
hopes: in practice a catastrophe to be averted at all costs.

My sister was five years my senior, and had mothered me ever since my
mother's death when I was a boy.  There were only the two of us, and
surely no man ever had a better sister than I had.  In my childhood she
stood between me and danger; in my youth between me and discipline; and
in my manhood between me and discomfort.  As far as in her lay she had
persistently shielded me from all life's disagreeables; and a great
deal of shielding power lay in Annabel.  Of course she ought to have
been the son and I the daughter: my mother said it when we were
children, and my father never tired of saying it when we were grown up,
and I myself fully realised the force of the remark.  But I didn't see
that I could do anything, or that it was in any way my fault, though my
father always spoke as if he thought it were: as if in some occult way
Annabel's unselfishness and my carelessness were responsible for this
mistake in sex: and as if she had deliberately stood on one side in
order that the honour of manhood should fall upon me.

I consider that my father was in many ways a really great man.

Of comparatively humble origin, he raised himself by his own efforts
into a position of commercial importance--amassed a considerable
fortune--threw himself heart and soul into political life, serving his
party and his country with both zeal and efficiency--and died at last,
full of days and honours, beloved and admired by his friends, and
revered by the country at large.

And I cannot help seeing that--through no fault of my own--a
disappointment I, his only son, must have been to him.  I say
advisedly, "through no fault of my own," though I have faults enough,
Heaven knows!  The great tragedy of my life came through my own folly,
as I now at last realise: but I cannot see that the disappointment I
caused my father was my own doing, though the far greater
disappointment I caused to one dearer than my father most undoubtedly
was.  But of that later.

I was exactly the sort of son that my father ought not to have had: in
modern parlance he had no use for me.  His son should have resembled
himself, and should have been able to go on where he left off.  As for
me, I was of no good at the business, and of still less in politics: I
could neither turn his thousands into tens of thousands, nor his
baronetcy into a peerage; for I was endowed with a fatal capacity for
sitting still.  If that above-mentioned mistake of Nature had not been
made, and Annabel had been the boy, imagination fails to depict the
heights to which she might not have risen with her father's wealth and
position for a leaping-board: for, like her father, Annabel was dowered
with the gift of Success, whilst I had the gift of Failure.

It is strange how some people, of whom I, alas! am one, possess the
capacity to fail in whatsoever they undertake.  I do not think it is
altogether a fault, as we cannot help it: it seems rather an inherent
quality, such as height or size or complexion.  Even in childhood
Annabel's things always turned out well, and mine turned out badly.
Her garden blossomed like the rose, while mine was more or less a
desert place, though I worked in it quite as hard as she: her white
mice were ornaments to society, while mine grew into rats and had to be
destroyed; her birthdays were invariably fine, while mine, equally
invariably, turned to rain.

When I was young this quality of failure terribly distressed and
depressed me; but age--or rather middle age--brings, in exchange for
the many things it takes away, the gift of philosophy; and by the time
I was forty I accepted the fact that I was a failure with much the same
resignation that I accepted the facts that I was short-sighted and too
narrow in the shoulders for my height.  True, I was now and again
haunted by the feeling that I had lived in a backwater, and had never
tasted the living waters, nor felt the fierce swirl of the river of
life as it rushed by on its headlong course, and that I was getting too
old now ever to taste and to feel these things; but this regret was
soon smothered by the beauty of my backwater, and my contentment in the
lot which had been ordained for me.

Now that I am older I can see that though this quality of Failure is
very trying to those who are so unfortunate as to possess it, it is
also very irritating to all the successful people round about.  And
this fills me with wonder and gratitude when I remember the patience
that my father and Annabel always showed towards me, who was so
differently constituted from themselves.  In spite of his
disappointment in me, my father always showed me the greatest kindness
and affection, and it is a comfort to me to remember that though I was
not a son of whom he could be proud, I was never one of whom he could
feel ashamed.  I could not do the things that he would have had me do:
but I studiously left undone anything of which I knew he would have
disapproved.  That seemed the only reparation I could make for having
been the boy and allowed Annabel to be the girl.

My father did not marry until late in life; and my mother, though
considerably his junior, was by no means young at the time of her
marriage.  This, perhaps, accounts for the fact that Annabel and I seem
always to have been middle-aged.  Our home was a happy one, but there
was no element of youth in it.  We were surrounded by every comfort and
luxury, but enjoyed less actual pleasure than did most young people of
our age and generation.  My mother was a woman of good family, and as
poor as she was proud, and I always think she must have had her romance
with some one of her own age and rank before ever she met her
middle-aged husband, but that the quality of failure, which she handed
on to me, doomed that romance to disappointment.

It was after he had received his baronetcy that my father bought the
Restham estate and married Lady Jane Winterford; so Restham Manor has
always been my home--surely one of the loveliest and dearest homes that
man ever had.

I was considered a delicate boy, and so was educated (mistakenly, as I
now think) by tutors at home; thus I missed the inestimable advantage
of public-school life, a loss which can never be made up in after
years.  It is to this loss, perhaps, that I owe the shyness and
sensitiveness which I have never been able to outgrow; and there is no
doubt that my home education fostered the feminine side of my
character--a side already too much developed.

I went to Magdalen College, Oxford, and took a third in Mods. and
Greats; and then--to please my father--was called to the Bar, but never
to a brief.  And before I had waited long for the brief that never
came, my father died, and I inherited his title and estates, and I then
settled down to the life of a country squire--to my mind the most
delightful lot in the world for an unambitious man like myself--with
Annabel to keep house for me, as she had done for my father.

It was not long after this that the old rector of Restham died, and I
presented to the living my college friend, Arthur Blathwayte.  Since
then he had well and wisely attended to the spiritual needs of the
parish, under the ægis of Annabel, who had from her childhood ruled
over the whole village of Restham.

Annabel was a most regular church-goer: our Sunday's dinner was always
fixed at an hour which gave her time to attend the evening service and
change into a black evening dress.  Annabel would have died at the
stake rather than not change her dress for dinner; but she always wore
black on Sunday evenings, as a sort of concession to the day.  She went
to church for three reasons: to worship God, to save her own soul, and
to see that Arthur Blathwayte didn't do anything ritualistic.

Every spring Annabel stood between me and the East wind by insisting on
our going abroad together for February and March.  There was not the
slightest reason for any coolness, so to speak, between the East wind
and me: I was as capable of meeting it in the teeth as is any normal
Englishman; but my sister condemned it as one of the disagreeable
things of life, and therefore felt herself in honour bound to stand
between me and it.  But she also felt herself bound to return before
the end of Lent, in case--without her restraining presence--Blathwayte
should be led into any ritualism on Easter Day.

And it was on the day of our return home from one of these
East-wind-eluding excursions, when Arthur and I were smoking after
dinner in the Manor dining-room, that he asked the curtain-raising
question: "Reggie, do you remember Wildacre?"

Of course I remembered him; who that had ever known Wildacre could help
remembering him?  And the memory conjured up a vision of one of the
most attractive personalities I had ever met.  Wildacre had been a
friend of Blathwayte's and mine at Oxford; but after we left college
the friendship had gradually fizzled out, owing to the extreme (not to
say dull) respectability of Arthur and myself, and the exact opposite
on the part of Wildacre.  But what charm he had--what superabundant
vitality--what artistic genius!  All of which came back to me with a
rush as I answered Arthur's question.

"Remember Wildacre?  _Rather_!  But why?  Have you heard anything about
him?"

"Yes," replied Blathwayte in his turn.  "I've heard a good deal while
you've been abroad.  In fact, I've seen him."

"Seen him!  Lucky old Arthur!  I should like to see him too.  It would
almost make one young again to see Wildacre."

"Well, it didn't exactly have that effect, as he was dying, you see."

Wildacre dying!  The idea seemed impossible.  Wildacre had always been
so full of life that one couldn't imagine him and Death hobnobbing;
they could have nothing in common with each other!  And as to that
Other Life beyond the grave--in which in my own way I believed quite as
firmly as did Arthur--one couldn't imagine Wildacre at home there
either.

"Wildacre mustn't die yet!" I exclaimed; "not till he's done something
with all that genius of his and that overflowing energy!  I couldn't
bear to think of his dying until he's made a name for himself.
Wildacre is a real poet, and he'll be a great poet some day."

Blathwayte shook his head.  "He once might have been; he had it in him,
but he lost his opportunity, and lost opportunities don't return."

"No, Arthur, you are right there.  There is no bringing the shadow on
the dial ten degrees backward.  What is past is past, and what is
written is written, and Fate sends us no revise proofs to correct.  The
youth we wasted or frittered or abused or ignored never comes back to
us to be lived over again, though we may shout ourselves hoarse with
crying for it."  And for the moment the backwater feeling rushed over
me with such force that I felt almost suffocated with the hopeless pain
of it.  "That is the real tragedy of life," I went on, "that there are
no encores."

"Poor Wildacre had it in him to do great things," said Arthur, "but he
lost his chance.  At least he did worse than lose it; he threw it away
to the swine, and trampled it among the husks."

"But he may do something even yet," I argued.

"Genius--and Wildacre had genius--never grows old.  And, hang it all,
man, he isn't so old after all!  He is only two or three years older
than we are, and we aren't really old--only buried alive, which is
quite a different thing.  If we lived in London instead of in the
blessed, peaceful country, we should still be considered young men
about town.  Mind you, I'm not grumbling: I should hate to be a young
man about town, and I enjoy being buried alive; but I kick at being
called old at forty-two.  It's positively libellous!"

"It isn't because Wildacre is old that he won't do anything now,"
replied Arthur simply; "but because he is dead."

The words came to me with a shock.  Though it was twenty years since I
had seen Wildacre, I had never forgotten the vividness of his
personality; somewhere at the back of my mind there had been a
subconscious thought that he and I would meet again some day and pick
up the thread of that friendship which at one time had meant so much to
me.  And now he was dead, and I should never see his handsome, laughing
face again!  The world seemed suddenly to have grown colder and darker.

"Tell me all about it," I said, lighting another cigarette with hands
that trembled: and Arthur told me.

"Not long after you and Miss Kingsnorth had left England last February,
to my great surprise I received a letter from Wildacre.  In it he told
me that he had spent the last twenty years of his life in Australia,
but was stricken with a mortal disease, and had come home to die."

"Where did he write from?" I asked.

"From lodgings in West Kensington.  He wrote further that his time was
short, and he wanted to consult me about his affairs before he died.
So I went at once."

A wave of intense regret swept over me that I had not been at home at
the time so that I, too, could have seen Wildacre.  And I was also
conscious of a pang that he had written to Blathwayte in his need and
not to me.  The thought of my own ineffectiveness stabbed me once again
in the place where it had stabbed me so often that the wound never
really healed.  So I was a failure even in friendship, as in everything
else!

But all I said was, "Well?"

Arthur went on in his plodding way: it was always impossible to hurry
him: "I found him a good deal altered.  In spite of your notion that
genius never grows old, he looked a good ten years older than you do,
Reggie."

"I tell you I'm not old; only buried alive."

But Arthur took no notice of my interruption.  That is where he was
always so restful to be with: he plodded along in his own way, utterly
unconscious of any fret or worry or interruption.  This was his custom
in great things as well as in little ones.  In my own mind I always
applied to him the words of Bacon: he "rested on Providence, moved in
Charity, and turned upon the poles of Truth."  But I do not attempt to
deny that both in moving and turning he never exceeded a speed limit of
eight miles an hour.

"Of course Wildacre was very ill, and that made him look still older;
but one could see at a glance that he was a fellow who had gone the
pace.  His hair was quite grey, and his face deeply lined."

"Yet he wasn't so much older than we are."  It was always better to
humour Arthur when he was telling a story.  If one attempted to hustle
him he stumbled and fell, and had to begin all over again.

"But you look the youngest, Reggie.  You are very young looking for
your age.  If you didn't wear a beard, I believe you'd still be taken
for a mere boy."

"You go on about Wildacre," I remonstrated, "and never mind my beard."
I was not hustling, I was merely gently guiding.

"Well, he told me that he had married nearly twenty years ago--an
actress or a dancer or somebody of that kind, and that she died ten
years later, leaving him with a twin son and daughter.  His wife was an
Australian, and he had lived out there ever since his marriage until he
came home to die."

"Was she beautiful?"  But the moment I had asked it I felt it was a
superfluous question.  Of course she was, otherwise Wildacre would not
have loved her: the more sterling qualities never appealed to him.  The
dramatic force of the whole situation seized upon me: the brilliant
poet being bewitched by a beautiful dancer, and for her sake banishing
himself to the Antipodes.  There was an air of adventure about the
whole thing that stirred my blood, it was so far removed from anything
in my decorous and commonplace experience.  Beautiful dancers do not
grow in backwaters.

"I haven't an idea," replied Arthur; "Wildacre didn't say anything
about her looks, and it never occurred to me to ask him what she was
like.  Besides, it would have been an impertinence."

"I know it would, but I should have asked him, nevertheless, if I had
been in your place.  It is a great mistake to allow the fear of being
impertinent to prevent one from obtaining useful and interesting
information.  But were there no photographs of her about the place?"

"I don't know, I never noticed any; but you know I am a poor hand at
noticing things," replied Arthur, with some truth.

I nodded.  "Pray don't mention it; it is a peculiarity of yours too
obvious to require remark.  But for goodness' sake get on about
Wildacre!"

"To cut a long story short," said Arthur (a thing, by the way, which he
was constitutionally incapable of doing), "he explained to me that he
had sent for me because all his own relations were dead, and his wife's
people, though well-to-do, had risen from too humble a rank of life to
be entrusted altogether with the upbringing of his children, and he did
not think it fair to the children to trust them after his death into an
inferior social position to that to which they had been born.  They
would be comfortably provided for--about eight hundred a year each--but
he felt they must have some one of his own rank of life to look after
them until they were of age and capable of looking after themselves.
You see, Reggie, there are so many temptations to beset the feet of the
young--and especially if they have no competent person to guide and
shelter them."

"Skip the temptations of the young," I said, "and get on with
Wildacre's death."

Blathwayte's amiability was imperturbable, so he merely smiled
indulgently as he endeavoured, as far as in him lay, to obey my behest.
He was an excellent fellow in every respect, and I had the deepest
regard and affection for him, but he was apt to drop into preaching
unless carefully watched.

"Well, then, to come to the point, he wanted to know if I would consent
to be the children's guardian until they came of age.  There was no one
else he should be so happy to leave them with, he said; but he felt
that, being a parson, I should look after them and see that they didn't
get into mischief, and all that, don't you know!"

This was a bomb-shell indeed: the reverend and middle-aged Arthur
suddenly converted into an amateur _pater-familias_!

"And you consented?" I asked.

"Of course.  What else could I do when Wildacre asked me, and he was
dying?"  That was exactly like Arthur: the thought of himself, and of
the upset to his peaceful bachelor existence by the advent of two
children into the well-ordered rectory, never once entered into his
calculations.

"What age are they?" I asked.

"Eighteen.  They are both leaving school this term, and the boy is
dreadfully backward; I am going to cram him for Oxford."

We were both silent for a moment; then I felt myself smiling.  "It will
be rather fun, don't you think?" I ventured to remark.

Arthur smiled too.  "That has occurred to me also.  It will be such a
change to have young things about the place with all their faults and
fripperies and follies."

I heartily agreed with him.  "It will; for you and Annabel and I have
been getting terribly middle-aged lately.  I've noticed it;
particularly in the case of you and Annabel.  And what are their names?"

"If you remember, Wildacre's name was Francis."

"I didn't ask what Wildacre's name was," I murmured persuasively.  "I
asked what his children are called."

"After him."

"Not both of them?"

"Yes, both; he said his wife insisted in calling both the children
after him; so their names are Francis and Frances."

"How absurd!" I said; but all the same it was an absurdity that I
rather liked.  It showed how foolish and sentimental and unpractical
the beautiful little dancer had been; and I had always lived in such an
atmosphere of wise reasonableness and practical common sense that
anything wild and foolish and unpractical never failed to exercise a
certain charm for me.  Annabel always strongly objected to the same
initials being repeated in a family, as she said "it made it so
confusing for the laundress."  I quite saw Annabel's point in this
matter, and applauded it; I should greatly have objected, owing to any
confusion in initials, to have had her clean undergarments substituted
for mine; but all the same I could not help feeling a sort of unholy
admiration for the woman in whose eyes the claims of the laundry were
non-existent.

"It isn't really as confusing as it sounds," Arthur explained; "as the
boy is always called Frank, and the girl Fay."

"What nice names!" I exclaimed.  "Frank sounds so typically
schoolboyish, and Fay so utterly fairy-like and irresponsible."

Blathwayte's good-humoured face grew serious again.  "Poor children, to
lose their father and mother so young!  Wildacre lived about a month
after that, and I saw him frequently.  I was with him when he died.  It
was quite peaceful at the end, and I think he was glad to have me with
him."

"Then you've seen the children?" I asked.

"Several times.  They are wonderfully alike, with----"

But I stopped him with a wave of the hand.  "Please don't describe
them; I hate to have either places or people described to me
beforehand; I like to form my own impressions for myself."

"Of course it will be a great responsibility," Blathwayte said
thoughtfully; "but perhaps you'll help me a bit when I get into a fix."

"I shan't be of any use, but I'm sure Annabel will.  She's splendid
with young people, she is so kind and sensible; and she'll give you a
helping hand whenever you are in need of one."

"I always think Miss Kingsnorth would have made an admirable
stepmother."

"Of course she would," I cried, as usual waxing eloquent over my
sister's perfections; "but when you come to that, she'd have made an
admirable Prime Minister or Archbishop of Canterbury.  There is no
office which Annabel is not competent adequately to fill!"

"I wonder what she will think about the whole affair; and whether she
will consider I have made a mistake, and am not worthy of the
responsibility which Wildacre has thrust upon me."

"Let us go and ask her," I replied, rising from the table and throwing
the end of my cigarette into the ash-tray.

Whereat we both left the dining-room and went into the great hall
adjoining it, where Annabel was sitting by the fire knitting socks for
me.



CHAPTER II

RESTHAM MANOR

The village of Restham--where I was born and brought up, and where
later I sinned and suffered and repented--lay in a hollow in that long,
low range of Kentish hills known as the North Downs.  The road
northwards was a steep ascent to the top of the hill, from whence one
saw spread at one's feet the glorious panorama of the Weald of Kent.
To a traveller coming down the hill the village seemed to lie in a
sheltered and secluded valley.  On the right of the slope was the
rectory--a fine old white house, surrounded by a beautiful park and
gardens.  Then, lower down, was the village square, with its
half-timbered inn and cottages, and its grand, twelfth-century church.
I don't know that the church itself was different from most churches of
its date, except in one particular: just outside the building itself,
at the west end, was a vaulted passage leading from north to south, in
the middle of which was a large window, from which one looked right up
to the high altar.  Opposite to this window and set in the walls of the
passage was a stone brought, during one of the earlier Crusades, from
Palestine.  The pilgrims of the Middle Ages, in travelling from London
to Canterbury, passed through Restham and along the vaulted passage,
saying a prayer at the holy stone as they went by, and their countless
fingers--as year by year and century by century they made the Sign of
the Cross upon the stone--engraved the Symbol thereon, as if it had
been carved by a chisel; and there it stands to this day, an indelible
testimony to the faith of our fathers in the days that are gone.

The church stood on the east side of the village square; immediately
beyond it the road turned sharp to the east towards Canterbury, leaving
on its left the ruins of an archi-episcopal palace, and on the west
side of the square the road turned equally sharply to the right towards
Sevenoaks.  On the south side of the square--exactly opposite the road
which came down the hill--were the gates of Restham Manor House: heavy
old oak gates, studded with huge iron nails, and set in a fine old wall
of that rose-coloured brick which only the Tudors seemed able to
manufacture.  The house inside the walls was of the same brick, with
stone mullioned windows and twisted chimneys, and was considered one of
the most perfectly preserved specimens of Tudor architecture in Kent.
The heavily-studded front door led straight into a great hall: a hall
made beautiful by its carved-oak roof and chimney-piece, and its
black-and-white marble floor, and comfortable by the numerous rugs and
tapestries which my father and I had spent years in collecting.  It was
in this hall that Annabel and I chiefly lived and moved and had our
being.  Out of it, on the left of the huge fire-place, two steps and a
door led up to the drawing-room--a typical "withdrawing-room" of the
olden times; and on the right of the fire-place another door opened
into a corridor, which in turn led to the dining-room, the library, the
staircase, and finally to the kitchen department.  Upstairs the whole
front of the house was taken up by an oak-pannelled picture-gallery,
from the windows of which one learned what a mistake one had made in
imagining that Restham lay at the bottom of the hill; for below it the
ground still sloped away and away, fading at last into the blue
distance of the Weald of Kent.

Such was the spot which I had the happiness to call home, and which
played its part--as I believe all natural surroundings do--in the
formation of my character.  Surely it was from the natural beauty
around me from my birth that I derived my appreciation of--nay, rather
my passion for--beauty in all its forms, and from the peculiar
spiritual atmosphere of a place which pilgrim feet had trod for
centuries, and on which pilgrim fingers had traced the Sign of the
Cross, that I imbibed that pervading consciousness of the unseen world
surrounding us, and that unquestioning acceptance of the phenomena
which men call miracles, which have been the most powerful influences
of my life, and which are as strong in me to-day as they were when I
was a child.

It was in the oak-pannelled dining-room, which commanded a view of the
sunny garden and of the blue distance beyond, that Annabel and I were
sitting at breakfast the morning after Blathwayte had imparted to us
his astounding news.  Naturally we were discussing the absorbing theme.
This intense interest in one's neighbours' affairs may appear strange
to dwellers in cities; but to any one who has lived in that day of
small things in which is the epitome of village life it will seem the
most natural thing in the world.

Annabel was looking particularly well that morning.  She was always
rather handsome, in a stately, sandy-haired, Queen Elizabethan sort of
way; but our trip to Madeira had revived and refreshed her, and had
elevated her always excellent health to a still higher degree of
excellence.  We were both tall, but Annabel was a far finer specimen of
humanity than I was (another proof of the heinousness of my mistake in
not insisting upon her being the son and me the daughter of the house
of Kingsnorth), and while she had inherited my father's fair hair and
ruddy complexion, I was dark and pale like my mother.  I remember we
once went to a fancy-dress ball at Canterbury as Queen Elizabeth and
Charles the First, and our friends said we were exactly like the
originals.  How our friends knew this I am at a loss to imagine; but I
give their opinion for what it is worth.  If brown eyes and hair and a
pointed brown beard constitute a resemblance to the ill-fated monarch
and martyr, then I certainly could boast that resemblance; but I had
neither been accused of losing my head nor of breaking my coronation
oath--at least not at the time when this story begins.

"I cannot imagine how Arthur Blathwayte will manage with those Wildacre
children," remarked Annabel; "he will have to come to me for advice.
You see he has had no experience in bringing up young people."

"Neither have you, my dear, when it comes to that," I ventured to
suggest.

"But I know all about it through being so long an active associate of
the G.F.S.  And, besides, I brought up you."

"I should advise you to go to the G.F.S. for a testimonial.  I am no
credit to you."

Annabel smiled indulgently; she had smiled at me indulgently all my
forty-two years.  "It will be rather a pleasant change to have some
fresh young people to influence and educate; don't you think so,
Reggie?"

"Heaven forbid!" I exclaimed.  "I am expecting them to influence and
educate me."

"How absurd!  As if children of that age could teach a clever man like
you anything!"

"But I expect them to teach me everything, Annabel; everything that
I've been too stupid and idle and lethargic to learn for myself."

The afterglow of Annabel's indulgent smile still lingered.  "You do
talk a lot of nonsense, Reggie!"

"What is nonsense to you is sense to me, and vice versa," I explained.
"To me you appear to be uttering balderdash when you talk about the
G.F.S. and the S.P.G., and the S.P.C.K., and seams, and stitches, and
purling, and running, and felling; but to you these cabalistic signs
embody the wisdom of the ages.  And in the same way my wisdom is
foolishness to you."

"I wish you'd look over Green's bill for seeds this spring," said
Annabel, foraging among her letters and throwing a rather dirty
envelope at me; "I think he has charged too much for the new sweet peas
I ordered."

I was not surprised at Annabel's sudden change of subject.  I was
accustomed to these alarms and excursions in her improving
conversation.  So I obediently raised the nurseryman's bill close to my
short-sighted eyes.  But before I had time to examine it, she began
again: "It is very foolish of you to try your eyes in that way, Reggie!
You really ought to wear glasses."

"I dislike wearing glasses."

"That's neither here nor there--what you like or dislike."

"Yes, it is, it's most decidedly here.  If--like Cardinal Newman--'I do
not ask to see the distant scene,' why, my dear Annabel, should you
intrude it upon my notice?"

"It's simply vanity on your part; absurd vanity!  You are so proud of
the Winterford eyes that you don't like to hide them with glasses."

Annabel always talked of the Winterford eyes as if they were the only
genuine brand of human eyes on the market, all other makes being but
spurious imitations.

"It isn't vanity at all," I remonstrated; "quite the reverse.  I
abstain from eyeglasses not for the sake of my own good looks, but for
the sake of the good looks of others.  On the rare occasions when I do
wear spectacles, I find people so much plainer than I have hitherto
imagined them to be that Christian charity compels me to pluck off the
offending super-members at once."

"And distant views," added Annabel; "think what you miss in distant
views."

"I miss nothing," I firmly replied, "that had better not be missed.
The glorious blue haze of the distance is mine, unmarred by the details
that disfigure the foreground for persons like yourself."

"I can tell the time by a clock three or four miles off."

I shook my forefinger reprovingly.  "Annabel, don't be boastful:
remember boasting always goes before a fall.  Moreover, what is the
object of seeing the time by a clock three or four miles off?  I'd much
rather not see it.  I like to gaze at abstract beauty untrammelled by
the temporary limitations of time and space."

"What age did he say they were?" asked Annabel after a moment's pause,
as if the incident of the overcharged sweet peas had never interrupted
our conversation.

I wilfully misunderstood her.  "Time and space, do you mean?  That, of
course, depends upon the date at which you compute the creation of the
world.  According to certain authorities----"

"Oh, Reggie, how silly you are!  You knew perfectly well what I was
talking about."

"What you were not talking about, you mean; yes, of course I knew.  A
lifelong experience has taught me to follow unerringly the trapeze-like
manoeuvres of your acrobatic conversation.  Eighteen."

"Then they'll be leaving school soon."

"At once.  The boy for Oxford and the girl for wherever girls go to
when they grow up: Arcady, I believe, is the name of the place.  But I,
alas! have never been in Arcady, nor you either, Annabel, worse luck
for us both!"

"I can't tell whether I've been there or not.  I've travelled so much
that I can't remember the names of half the places I've been to.  I
don't see how anybody can, unless they make a rule of buying picture
post-cards at all the places where they stay.  I wish I'd done this
from the beginning, I went to so many interesting places with dear
papa.  But I don't think picture post-cards were so much used then as
they are now."  Annabel was the type of woman who loves to have a view
of every hotel she stays at, and to mark with a cross her own bedroom
window.

"I should have thought valentines rather than postcards would have
supplied views of Arcady," I murmured.

"Yes; and isn't it rather interesting to see how as picture post-cards
have come in, valentines have gone out?  I think it is so instructive
to note little things like that; they show the march of the times."
Annabel always had a wonderful nose for instruction; she scented it
miles off--and in such strange places, too.  For her there was
certainly no stone without its sermon, and no running brook without its
book.

"Arthur and I were saying last night that you would have made a good
Prime Minister or Archbishop of Canterbury," I remarked, gazing at her
thoughtfully.

"How ridiculous you two boys are!  Besides, I never heard of a woman
filling either of those posts."  Annabel was nothing if not literal,
and I found her literalness very restful.

"A woman once became Pope of Rome," I said, "somewhere in the Middle
Ages.  At least there is a legend to that effect."  I smiled and spoke
most benignly.  There is something very invigorating in being regarded
as a boy when one is over forty.

But Annabel shook her head.  "I could never have been a Pope on
principle; I so disapprove of Roman Catholics.  At least if I had been
I should have turned Protestant."

"But you couldn't have done so at the time of which am speaking.
Protestants weren't invented."

"Then I should have invented them," retorted the intrepid Annabel.  And
I felt sure that she would.  She was quite capable of it.

"And I really don't see how Arthur will be able to manage them," she
went on without a pause; "he isn't at all cut out for that sort of
thing."

I resisted a temptation to ask why Arthur wasn't cut out for the proper
management of Protestants, and replied: "He feels that himself; but he
couldn't very well refuse when Wildacre asked him, and seemed so set on
it, you see."

"Francis Wildacre was very attractive when he used to come and stay
here more than twenty years ago," said Annabel.  "He had 'such a way
with him,' as Ponty used to say."  (Ponty was our old nurse.)

"And such a way with you, too, in those days," I hastened to add.  "I
used to think you were a little in love with him."

Annabel owned the soft impeachment without a blush: in spite of the
fairness of her complexion, she was not of the blushing order.  "I
believe I was, in a young and foolish sort of way."

"That is the only sort of way in which anybody can be in love.  Love
that isn't young and foolish in its essence, is not love at all."

"Oh, Reggie, what nonsense!  The sensible mutual attachment of older
people is far more lasting."

"It may be lasting, but it isn't love.  The charm of love is its divine
folly."

"What a ridiculous idea!  Supposing my divine folly, as you call it,
had led me into marrying Francis Wildacre, where should I have been
now, I should like to know?  A widow with two tiresome young people to
look after."

"But you are yearning to help Blathwayte to look after them, so why
shouldn't you have helped Wildacre to look after them?  I don't see
where the difference comes in.  And, besides, they mightn't have been
there."

"I don't see any necessity to go into that," said Annabel, doing the
heavy sister to perfection.

"Nor do I.  But it was you who went into it, if you remember, not I.
You dragged those young people into the discussion, so to speak, by the
hair of their heads."

Annabel carried the war into the enemy's camp.  "And where should you
have been if I had married Francis Wildacre, I should like to know?"
she asked triumphantly.

"Exactly where I am now.  There was no talk of my marrying Wildacre."

"And all alone, with no one to look after you!"

"Pardon me, my dear Annabel, but you are confusing dates.  I should
have been all right now, because you would be a widow, and would be
living here with me, and with a young niece and nephew to whom I should
be devoted.  Where I should have come short would have been in the
intervening twenty years between your supposititious marriage with
Wildacre and the present time."

Like all typical elder sisters, Annabel loved to be poked fun at by a
younger brother.  That she never saw the point of my feeble jokes in
nowise lessened her admiration of them; her faith in their excellence
was a perfect faith, being in truth the evidence of things not seen.

"I think you'd have made a very nice uncle, Reggie.  I've noticed that
good brothers make good uncles, just as good sons make good husbands.
I think it is very interesting to notice little things like that."

"And instructive," I added; "you've forgotten the instructiveness."

"And instructive, too, of course.  All interesting things are more or
less instructive."

"But not invariably in the most elevating kinds of knowledge," I
murmured.

"And besides being such a kind uncle, you'd have had a very good
personal influence on young people."  Annabel was very keen on what she
called "personal influence"--a force which I myself consider is grossly
over-rated.  "For though you are sometimes very silly on the surface,
Reggie, you have plenty of good sound sense underneath."

"You flatter me," I murmured.

"No, I don't; I never flatter people" (she never did).  "But I think it
encourages them to be told their good points sometimes.  And now I come
to think of it, you will not be wasted as an uncle altogether: you can
behave as an uncle to these Wildacre children after all."

"Certainly; they will provide an admirable outlet for my avuncular
energies."  But I was pleased at the idea all the same.  The role of an
uncle had always had its attractiveness for me; it possessed a good
deal of the charm of fatherhood with none of its soul-crushing
responsibility.  I felt I could never have started a son in life; but I
should have enjoyed to take a nephew to the Zoo.  Therefore this
suggestion of Annabel's, that in the Wildacre children I should find a
ready-made niece and nephew, filled me with distinct pleasure.

"I must go and see Cutler about them at once," said Annabel, rising
from the breakfast-table (Cutler was our gardener); "I'm sure they are
not nearly as advanced as they were this time last year."

"About what?  The Wildacres, do you mean?"

"The forget-me-nots, of course.  How stupid you are!"

"But, my dear girl, you have never mentioned the forget-me-nots," I
replied in self-defence.

"But I was thinking about them all the time.  They seem to me very
backward in that big bed on the lawn; I am sure he has not planted them
half thickly enough.  It is very annoying, as I do so love a mass of
blue in contrast to the wallflowers.  I'm really dreadfully
disappointed about this bed, it is usually so lovely, and extremely
angry with Cutler.  I don't know what to do about it.  What should you
do, Reggie?"

"I should knock Cutler down, and tell him that as he has made his bed
so he must lie on it."

"Oh, Reggie, how ridiculous you are!  As if people nowadays ever
knocked their servants down as they used to do when they were slaves!"

"I really think your distress is premature," I said in a consoling
voice; "it is early yet for forget-me-nots.  They'll be all right when
they begin to flower.  The green sheet looks inadequate, I admit; but
when it puts on its blue counterpane, that bed will be a dream."

But Annabel refused to be comforted.  "The plants aren't sufficiently
close together.  I'm going into the garden to see about them at once,
and that iniquitous charge for sweet peas.  But that is the worst of
leaving bills so long unpaid, it tempts tradespeople to put prices on."

"Then why not pay sooner?"

"I always pay at once--the minute the bills come in.  Do you think
papa's daughter could ever sleep upon an unpaid bill?  It is the
tradespeople who won't send them in--just in order to run them up; but
there is no throwing dust in my eyes!  And if Arthur wants a little
womanly advice about how to deal with them, especially the girl, he can
always have it from me, and you can tell him so the next time you see
him."

And before I could frame a suitable reply to this varied and voluminous
remark, Annabel was out on the lawn and making a bee-line for the
inadequate forget-me-nots.

As for myself, a sort of subconscious sex-sympathy caused me to shrink
from hearing Annabel deliver her soul to Cutler with regard to these
and the sweet peas; so I wended my way upstairs to the nursery of our
childhood, where our old nurse, Ponting--called by the other servants
_Miss Ponting_ and by Annabel and me _Ponty_--still held sway, as she
had done ever since Annabel was a baby.

Ponty came from the Midlands, and was what is known in her class of
life as "a character."  She had a great flow of language, unchecked by
any pedantic tendency to verify her quotations, and she boasted an
inexhaustible supply of legendary acquaintances, who served as modern
instances to point her morals and adorn her tales.  She was a
connoisseur in, or rather a collector of, what she called "judgments,"
and (according to Ponty) her native place--an obscure village in the
Midlands, Poppenhall by name--was a modern Sodom and Gomorrah.
Possibly the inhabitants of Poppenhall--like the eight upon whom the
tower of Siloam fell--were no worse than the majority of their
contemporaries; but (again according to Ponty) they seemed to have been
specially selected as warnings and examples to the rest of the world.
For instance, our childhood was enlivened by the story of a boy at
Poppenhall who swallowed a cherry-stone which grew into a cherry-tree
in his inside, until finally the youth was choked by the cherries which
clustered in his throat: this was to prevent any swallowing of
cherry-stones on our part.  And there was an equally improving legend
of a Poppenhall girl who drank water out of the village stream, and
thereby swallowed an eft which developed into an internal monster,
whose head was always popping in and out of her mouth, thus spoiling
both her conversation and her appearance: this was to prevent any
consumption by my sister and myself of unfiltered and so unhallowed
water.

"Well, Master Reggie," began Ponty, as soon as I entered the nursery (I
was always Master Reggie to Ponty, just as I was always a boy to
Annabel), "this is a piece of news I hear about the rector's adopting
two children!  It fairly took my breath away when Miss Annabel told me
about it."

"I thought it would," I answered, sitting down on one of the
comfortable chintz-covered chairs.

"It did; and I said to Miss Annabel, says I, 'No good can come of it, a
flying in the face of Providence like that!'  I'm surprised at the
rector, and him a clergyman too," continued Ponty, as if the majority
of rectors were not in Holy Orders.

"Come, come, Ponty," I exclaimed, "you are carrying matters a little
too far.  I see no flying in the face of Providence in the thing at
all.  Quite the contrary."

"That is all you know, Master Reggie; twisting things about till you
don't know whether you are standing on your head or on your heels."

"Yes, I do know; neither at the present moment.  I have you there,
Ponty."

But my feeble attempts at humour were as much lost upon Ponty as they
were upon Annabel.  "I call it flying in the face of Providence to
adopt children when you haven't got any," she persisted; "if the rector
had been meant to have children he'd have had them, without going and
borrowing other folks' leavings.  That's what I say.  I don't hold with
adopting, I never did.  Why, there was a woman at Poppenhall when I was
a girl, who went and adopted a boy because she'd no children of her
own, and when he grew up he murdered her."

This was Ponty at her best.  I began to enjoy myself.

"This is interesting," I exclaimed; "but why did he murder her?"

"A judgment on her, I suppose, for adopting him."

"A severe punishment for a kindly action," I remarked.  "I hope the
young Wildacres will not live to murder Mr. Blathwayte."

"I'm sure I hope so too, but you never can tell with strangers.  You
don't know what's in them, as you might say, like you do with those
that you've had from their birth."

"And even those give shocks sometimes to their upbringers," I added,
lighting a cigarette.  "I know you don't mind my smoking, Ponty."

"Not for a moment, as far as I'm concerned, Master Reggie; but for your
own sake I doubt you smoke too much.  I don't hold with making a
chimney of your throat, I never did, it's agen nature."

"But think of the relief to my overstrained nerves, Ponty."

"Overstrained fiddlesticks, Master Reggie, if you'd excuse my saying
so!  Why, what have you got to overstrain your nerves, I should like to
know?"

"There's trouble in the forget-me-not bed," I answered solemnly.

Ponty's bright brown eyes twinkled.  She and I had laughed together at
Annabel ever since I could remember.  "Oh, she's found it out, has she,
Master Reggie?  I knew there'd be trouble when I saw Cutler planting
them so far apart, but he wouldn't listen to me.  The other servants
are foolish not to take my advice, for I knew Miss Annabel before some
of them were born or thought of.  She must have her own way, and she
must have it done in her own way, or there's no peace for anybody."

"That being the case, you see my urgent need for the soothing effects
of tobacco."

But Ponty shook her head.  "I should try and get soothed in some other
way, if I was you, Master Reggie: say with a peppermint drop or an
Albert biscuit.  Why, there was once a man at Poppenhall when my father
was a lad----"

"I knew there was," I murmured.  I felt that there was a judgment
impending, and I would not have missed it for worlds.

"Who smoked and smoked till his throat was all lined with soot, like a
kitchen-chimney," continued Ponty; "and one day a spark went down his
throat from his pipe and set fire to the soot, and he was burned to
death in a few minutes.  You see, the fire being inside him, no one
could get at it to put it out."

"How very shocking!  But why didn't the soot choke him before he had
time to get it on fire?  I should have thought an accumulation of soot
in the throat was a most unwholesome thing, apart from the danger of
fire."

"It was a judgment upon him, that's all I can say, and it isn't for us
to dictate whether Providence shall punish evildoers by choking or by
burning."

"Certainly not," I replied.  "I am the last person to take it upon
myself to dictate to Providence."

"But smoking or no smoking, it's a fair treat to see you and Miss
Annabel at home again," said Ponty with a most gracious smile; "for
when all's said and done the house don't seem like the house without
you.  For my part, I don't hold with so much gadding about; I never
did; but you and Miss Annabel was always set on having your own way,
and I doubt always will be."

"Set on having Annabel's way, you mean," I amended.

"Just so, Master Reggie; from the time you were a little boy Miss
Annabel always made up your mind for you, and I doubt if she'll ever
get out of the habit now.  But it's a pity!  For though I'm the last to
say a word against Miss Annabel, me having nursed her ever since she
was a month old, and the most beautiful baby you ever saw, with a
complexion like wax, still she's a bit too wilful, and you and your
poor papa always having given way to her has made her worse.  It
doesn't do to be too self-willed."

"But I'm not," I pleaded.

"No; more's the pity!  It would be a sight better for Miss Annabel if
you were.  I don't hold with folks always getting their own way,
especially women.  I remember a well-to-do woman at Poppenhall when I
was a girl who was that set on marrying a particular man as never was,
and nothing else would do to content her.  And they lived on at her
house after they were married, her being a woman of means.  He caught
the fever from drinking the water out of her well, the well not having
been cleaned out for years and most unhealthy, and died just a month
after their wedding-day, which I hold was a judgment on her for being
so set on marrying that particular man."

"But any other man might have got the fever from the insanitary well,"
I suggested.

"But no other man ever did.  Which is a lesson to us all not to be too
set on having our own way, nor to let other people be too set either.
I doubt that trouble will come some day from your being so under the
thumb of Miss Annabel; I do indeed; and I'm sure I'm sorry in my heart
for Cutler when the things in the garden don't come exactly as she
meant them to."

"I'm sorry for him, too," I added.  And I really was.

"No, I don't hold with folks as have beautiful houses spending half
their time away from them.  It isn't right to leave fine houses and
beautiful furniture with only a lot of ignorant young housemaids to
keep them all clean.  It's agen nature.  Of course I see after them to
the best of my power, but I'm not what I was, and they are more so.  I
remember a gentleman living near Poppenhall, when my father was a lad,
who was always leaving his beautiful house with only servants to look
after it, and spending months and months in foreign parts, and the
consequence was that once when he was away the house was struck by
lightning!"

"But I don't see what the difference his absence could make to the
lightning," I ventured to suggest.

But Ponty would have none of my casuistry.  "It made all the
difference, Master Reggie; for the house was never struck as long as he
was at home.  It was just a judgment upon him for leaving it."

That was the charm of Ponty: she could always wriggle with grace and
dignity out of her own statements.  Had she only been a man this gift
would assuredly have raised her to eminence in Parliament, and would
have made her a shining ornament of any Ministry.

After a little more improving conversation with my old nurse I strolled
downstairs and out of doors, where I found Annabel talking to a
chastened Cutler by the forget-me-not bed.

"Come for a stroll round the garden," I said, slipping my arm into
hers, "and let us see if the vine has flourished and the pomegranates
have budded, as they did in the Song of Solomon."

"I don't see how we can do that," replied Annabel, "considering that it
is too early for grapes, and we have no pomegranates.  As a matter of
fact, I don't believe pomegranates ever do grow in England.  Do you
know whether they do?"

"No, I don't, and I don't want to.  I only know that vines and
pomegranates and all the other glorious things of the Song of Songs
seem to be in the air when spring begins.  It is a Song of Spring."

"It always seems to me a very peculiar sort of song," remarked Annabel;
"and I don't understand it and don't pretend to.  I remember Uncle
William once expounding it at prayers for the sake of the servants, but
I doubt if they were much the wiser for his exposition.  I know I
wasn't."

"_I_ should have been," I exclaimed fervently.  "It must have been a
liberal education to hear him.  And to think that it was wasted upon
you and the servants, when I--who alone could have appreciated it--was
not there!"

"It wasn't only me and the servants: papa was there and Aunt Maria, and
there were several people staying in the house."

"By the way, Ponty has delivered herself of a simply priceless judgment
to-day," I said, and proceeded to retail to my sister the story of the
man whose house was struck by lightning because he left it too much to
servants.

Annabel laughed heartily.  Then, after a moment's pause, she said: "But
all the same, Reggie, I don't quite see what difference his being at
home would have made."

I stood still in the garden path, and regarded my sister with profound
admiration not unmixed with wonder.  "Annabel," I exclaimed, "in your
own particular way you are almost as priceless as Ponty!"



CHAPTER III

FRANK

One afternoon a few days after the foregoing conversations, when
Annabel and I were seated round (as far as it is in the power of two
persons to sit round anything) the old gate-legged table in the hall at
the Manor, having our respective teas, the door-bell clanged, and the
butler in due sequence ushered into our midst Arthur Blathwayte and
another--which other was destined to play an important part in the
dawning drama of my life.

I will try to describe him, though to my mind the Wildacres always
beggared description: they were so utterly unlike everybody else that
there were no known standards by which to measure them.  On that April
afternoon when he first crossed my path, Frank Wildacre was eighteen,
and looked both more and less.  He was by no means tall, but so
slenderly built that he seemed taller than he really was until one
compared him with other men, and this smallness and slightness added to
the boyishness of his appearance.  His face was neither old nor
young--or, rather, it was both.  It possessed somehow the youthfulness
of dawn and of springtime, and of all those things which have retained
their undimmed youth through the march of the centuries.  It was not so
much that Frank Wildacre was young; everybody has been young at some
time or another, and has got over it sooner or later: it was rather
that he was youth itself.

I could not tell when first I saw him whether his face was beautiful or
not: I cannot tell now; I only knew that it was wonderful, strange,
glorious, unlike any other face in the world--save one: and that one I
had not yet seen.

I perceived that his hair was dark and curly, and that his eyes were of
that deep and mysterious grey which sometimes looks blue and sometimes
black: also that he had that pale delicacy of skin and complexion which
makes other people appear coarse and clumsy by contrast.  Thus far even
my short-sighted eyes could carry me.  But it was not by their aid that
I became conscious of that strange and subtle gift, possessed to such
an extreme degree by Wildacre and his children, which for want of a
better name men call charm.  It was elusive, it was bewitching, it was
indescribable; but all the same it was _there_.

It was not the usual human charm of ordinary attractive people.  It was
something far more magical and spell-weaving than that.  In fact it was
so unusual that there was almost something uncanny about it.  It was
the charm of fairies and of elves rather than of "golden boys and
girls": it was a spell woven out of moonbeams and will-o'-the-wisp
rather than out of breezes and the sunshine of a soft spring day.  I
never met any one with that peculiar kind of charm save Wildacre and
his son and daughter, and his children--more especially the
daughter--had it to a far greater extent than he.  But it was that
strange fascination of Wildacre's that induced Blathwayte to upset his
whole scheme of existence in order to gratify Wildacre's whim, and it
was that same attribute intensified in the twins that turned my world
upside down and reduced its orderly routine to chaos.

Big, ugly Arthur--looking bigger and uglier than usual beside the
ethereal boy--shook hands with us, and introduced his guest, and in a
few moments the fairy changeling was sitting at the gate-legged table
with us three ordinary mortals, drinking tea like any English
schoolboy.  But he was not like an English schoolboy in any other
respect.

He was perfectly at ease with us at once, as indeed he was with
everybody.  There was no such word as _shyness_ in Frank Wildacre's
dictionary.  But the funny thing was that--quite unconsciously to
himself--he seemed to be bestowing a favour upon Annabel and me in
condescending to drink tea with us, while (if the truth must be told)
Annabel and I generally considered it rather an act of graciousness on
our part to invite any one to tea at Restham Manor.  I think it must
have been the Winterford blood bubbling in our veins that produced this
exclusive and archaic feeling, or it might have been merely a symptom
of the general grooviness of single middle age.

Frank was delighted with Restham, and hastened to tell us so, thereby
grappling Annabel to his soul with hoops of steel.  Blathwayte had
already told him the history and legends of the place; and he had
assimilated these as if he had known them for years.  And he not only
assimilated them: he seemed to give them back again to us so enriched
with the decoration of his fancy that we--who had been brought up on
them--realised for the first time how beautiful they were.

"So Mr. Blathwayte has told you that we are situated on the Pilgrim's
Road," said Annabel, after the conversation had flowed for some minutes
like a river in spate.

"Of course he has," replied the boy, his delicate face aglow; "and that
is one of the things that has made Restham so awfully interesting.  But
what makes it even more thrilling to me is that the road was a Roman
road too, and so was trodden by Cæsar's legions before such things as
pilgrims were ever invented.  Do you know, Miss Kingsnorth, I'm not
tremendously keen on pilgrims myself?  They seem to have made
themselves so unnecessarily uncomfortable, with peas in their shoes,
and hair-shirts, and things of that kind.  And they were so dirty, too,
and seemed to think there was some sort of virtue in not having a bath
when they needed one."

"And they were Papists also," added Annabel.

Frank, however, treated this fault with considerable leniency.  "I
don't mind so much about that; you see you had to be a Papist in those
days or else a heathen; and though I am nuts on heathens myself, I know
that lots of people don't approve of them.  Of course I don't care for
the modern sort of common or garden heathens, who wear black skins
instead of clothes, and are the stock-in-trade of missionaries.  What I
like are the dear old Greek and Roman heathens, who worshipped the gods
and the heroes, and who had groves instead of churches, and vestal
virgins instead of nuns."

To my surprise Annabel was not at all shocked by this, as she ought to
have been.  But you never can tell what will shock or will not shock a
thoroughly nice-minded woman.  "I am glad you do not approve of nuns,"
was all she said, and she said it quite amiably.

"Oh, I can't bear them," replied Frank; "their dresses are so
hideous--just like mummy-costumes; and pilgrims, you know, were all
more or less on the same lines--trying to make themselves as ugly and
as uncomfortable as possible.  I'll bet you anything that when they
came to the top of Restham Hill they were looking down and counting
their beads instead of revelling in the view of the weald and the wind
over the downs, and all the rest of the open-air jolliness."

Here Blathwayte gently interposed.  "I think, my dear boy, that you are
rather mixing up the Greek and the Roman periods.  Remember they were
two distinct civilizations."

"But the principle was the same," retorted Frank airily; "gods and
goddesses and marble temples, instead of priests and pilgrims and
stuffy churches.  No, Miss Kingsnorth," he added, flashing his
brilliant smile on Annabel, as if it had been a searchlight, "none of
your mediæval pilgrims on the Canterbury Road for me, but rather the
Roman Johnnies making a bee-line for London, with the adventures of a
new country shouting to them to come on.  Of course they'd think that
if the England south of Restham was so jolly, the England north of
Restham would be ten times jollier, because the things in front always
seem so much nicer than the things behind, don't you know!"

"Only when you are young," I remarked.  "I believe it was merely the
young Roman legionaries who felt like that.  I expect the older ones
longed to stay in the pleasant Kentish county for fear that by going
further they would eventually fare worse."

The boy laughed gaily.  "No, no, Sir Reginald, they weren't so stuffy
as all that!  They were out on an adventure, you see, and the
adventure-spirit turned everything into a picnic.  Therefore when I
climb up Restham Hill I like to feel the Roman legions marching beside
me, with all the fun of a new World in front of them.  They shall be my
ghostly companions rather than the stodgy old pilgrims who looked down
at their beads and limped on their peas."

"But the pilgrims were adventurous too," I argued.  "Remember there are
adventures of the soul as well as of the body, and to my mind the tramp
of the paid legionaries, marching stolidly up the hill in the wake of
the Roman eagles, was nothing like so thrilling an adventure as the
descent of the same hill by the bands of pilgrims on their way to
Canterbury.  The Roman soldier had no individual interests: he was part
of a huge system or machine.  It mattered little to him personally
whether the particular eagle which he followed hovered over Britain or
over Gaul."

Here Arthur interrupted me.  "The pilgrim was part of a huge system
also, only his system was not called an Empire, but a Church."

"Precisely," I answered; "and there is where the greater
adventurousness of the pilgrim comes in; for it is far more exciting to
belong to a Church than to an Empire."

"My hat!" exclaimed the irrepressible boy; "if a fellow will say that
he'll say anything!"

"I _will_ say anything," I replied, "often I do, provided, of course,
that anything is true."

"Or that you think it true," amended Arthur.

"Which comes to the same thing, as far as I am concerned," I added.

"I do not agree with you in that," said Annabel; "thinking things are
so, doesn't make them so."

"Morally speaking it does," I argued.  "If I think it is wrong to eat
meat on a Friday, it is wrong of me to eat it; and if I think it is
wrong to play games on a Sunday, it is wrong of me to play them."

"Not at all," retorted Annabel; "the cases are absolutely different.
It _is_ wrong to play games on a Sunday, and would be just as wrong for
you as for anybody else.  But as to there being anything wrong in
eating meat on a Friday, the idea is absolutely absurd, and nothing
that you could think about it would make it an atom less ridiculous."

"Annabel, you are simply priceless!" I exclaimed.

"I see no pricelessness in that," replied my sister; "I'm only talking
common sense."

"Not common, Annabel; far from common; sense as rare as it is
priceless!"

"Oh, Reggie, how silly you are!  Isn't he absurd, Mr. Wildacre?"

"Please don't call me Mr. Wildacre, it makes me feel a hundred, and an
enemy at that.  Call me Frank, and in return I'll call Sir Reginald any
name you like.  And now, Sir Reginald, please tell us why you think
your pilgrims had more fun in the long run than my legions?"

"Simply because their run was so much longer, and so could hold so much
more.  You admit that the adventure of the legions consisted in their
anticipations of seeing and possessing a new country; but I maintain
that the adventure on which the pilgrims had embarked included not only
a new country, but a new heaven and a new earth.  The Pilgrims' Way was
not merely the way to Canterbury: it was the way, via Canterbury, to
the New Jerusalem."

The mocking grey eyes suddenly grew thoughtful.  "I see what you are
driving at, Sir Reginald.  You are thinking of all that the pilgrimage
stood for rather than of just the pilgrimage itself."

"Of course I am.  And to find the true value of anything, you must
think of all that it stands for rather than of the thing itself.  The
Crown of England means more than the bejewelled head-gear which is kept
in a glass case in the Tower; the colours of a regiment are not valued
at the rate of so much per yard of tattered silk; and a wedding-ring
means far more to a woman than an ounce or so of twenty-two carat gold."

"Are wedding-rings made of twenty-two carat gold?" asked Annabel in her
unquenchable thirst for information; "I thought eighteen carat was the
purest gold ever used."

"So it is for ordinary jewellery," explained Arthur; "but
wedding-rings, I have always heard, are made of twenty-two carat.  At
least that is what is generally believed; but I cannot say whether it
is more than a tradition, like the idea that the sun will put a fire
out."

"But is that only a tradition?" Annabel asked.  "I always pull the
blinds down when the sunshine falls on the fire, for fear of putting it
out."

"For fear of putting which out," I inquired, "the sunshine or the fire?"

"The fire, of course.  How could anything put the sunshine out, Reggie?
How silly you are!"

"It is pure superstition," answered Blathwayte, who found it as blessed
to give information as did my sister to receive it; "a fire naturally
by force of contrast looks less brilliant in the sunlight than in the
shade, but the sunlight has no actual effect on it whatsoever."

At this juncture I happened to catch Frank's eye, and to my delight
perceived that the humour of the situation struck him as it struck me.
Of course I knew how funny it was of Annabel and Arthur to take hold of
all the romance of life, and transmute it--by some strange alchemy of
their own--into useful and intelligent information; I had seen them at
it for years and years, and had never failed to enjoy the sight; but it
was very clever of Frank, who had known Arthur for two months and
Annabel for twenty minutes, to see that it was funny also.

"My last question was not so silly after all," I remarked.  "I think
the sunshine of life is frequently extinguished by a too great
absorption in the cares of the domestic hearth.  See, for instance,
those numerous cases where the energy of the spring-fever expends
itself upon the exigencies of the spring-cleaning."

"I hate a spring-cleaning," exclaimed Frank: "it always means that
everything is put back into something else's place, and you can never
find anything you want till you've left off wanting it."

"But you find all the things you wanted the spring before last," I
added, "and have now forgotten that you ever possessed, and have no
longer any use for."

"And all your books seem to have played General Post," continued Frank;
"Volume One has changed places with Volume Six, and the dictionary is
where the Bible ought to be, and the cookery book is among the poems."

"I never keep a Bible in a bookcase," remarked Annabel; "it somehow
doesn't seem reverent to do so."

I could not let this pass.  "Yes, you do: you keep one in that bookcase
in your bedroom.  I've seen it there."

"Oh! a bookcase in a bedroom is quite a different thing from an
ordinary library bookcase, Reggie; in fact I never keep any but
religious books in my bedroom bookcase.  One doesn't, somehow."

"I cannot see," I argued, "why a hanging bookcase in a
bedroom--forming, mark you, a companion ornament to the medicine-chest
on the other side of the wardrobe--is a more reverent resting-place for
a Bible than is the shelf of a well-stocked library.  Why should
clothes and drugs exhale a more holy atmosphere than secular
literature?"

But no arguments ever shook Annabel.  "I can't explain why it's
different, but it is different, Reggie; and if you don't see it, you
ought to.  And I'm sure the sun does put it out, Arthur, because I've
seen it do it."

Whereupon Arthur proceeded to expound at some length the reason why it
was scientifically impossible for sunlight to put out firelight; whilst
Frank and I took the opportunity of stepping out-of-doors into the
garden.

"I see what you mean about things being so much more than they actually
are, Sir Reginald," began the boy as soon as we were out of earshot of
the effects--or rather the non-effects--of sun upon fire; "it never
struck me quite like that before, but it makes everything most awfully
interesting when you look at it in that way."

"I know it does.  And it is not only the most interesting way--it is
also the truest way--of looking at things.  You see, when you realise
how much is involved in even the smallest happenings--how much romance
and excitement and general thrilliness--it turns everything into the
most glorious adventure."

Frank nodded his approval of these sentiments.  "I know, and adventures
are such splendid things, aren't they?  But I say, it's most awfully
decent of you to have ideas like this, and to be so keen on adventures
and things of that kind!"

"At my age, you mean?" I added, with a smile; but I cannot affirm that
the smile was untainted by bitterness.

Frank nodded again.  "You might be the same age as Fay and me, to hear
you talk," he replied, with more graciousness than grammar.  "I'll tell
you what: Fay will like you most awfully.  She is tremendously keen on
people who have queer ideas and talk about feelings and things of that
kind.  She hates ordinary sort of talk about clothes and the weather
and other people's servants, and she positively loathes information, or
anything at all instructive."

"Then I am afraid she and my sister will not have much in common," I
said, little dreaming that, like Micaiah the son of Imlah, I was
prophesying evil concerning me.

"Not they!  Fay'll have no use for Miss Kingsnorth, and not much for
old Blathwayte.  They'll be altogether too improving for her.  But
she'll take to you most tremendously, you bet!"

I was elated at this.  The approval of one's juniors is apt to go to
one's head like wine.  But at the same time I felt a certain disloyalty
in being uplifted at Annabel's expense.  "Fay will find my sister a
very kind friend as well as a very competent one," I replied rather
stiffly.

But my stiffness was wasted on the desert air.  "Oh, I'm sure Miss
Kingsnorth is awfully kind," said Frank airily, "and so is old
Blathwayte, if you come to that.  But they aren't a bit Fay's sort.
Just as really they aren't your sort, if they weren't your sister and
your rector.  Of course one would like one's sister, whatever she was;
I should be fond of Fay, even if she was like Miss Kingsnorth; but she
wouldn't be my sort, do you see?  In the same way Fay and I would have
been fond of Father whatever he'd have been like, just because he was
our father.  But he happened to be our sort as well, so we simply
adored him."

This slightly took my breath away.  I had not yet been broken in to the
custom of the rising generation of discussing their elders as freely as
they discuss their contemporaries.  The ancient tradition of ordering
myself lowly and reverently before my betters still tainted my blood,
and I had not outworn the Victorian creed that one's elders are of
necessity one's betters.

"It would never have occurred to me to consider whether my parents were
my sort or not," I said.

"It would to me--the very first thing.  You see, some families are all
the same sort, like a set of tea-things, while others are just a
scratch team.  We were all the same sort--Father and Fay and me.  But
you and Miss Kingsnorth are not the same pattern, nor the same make,
nor even the same material.  You are pure scratch."

I smiled.  Though I was devoted to Annabel, I did not exactly yearn to
be considered like her.  "Then do you honour me by considering me your
sort as well as your sister's?"

"It's the same thing: Fay's sort is always my sort.  We're as much
alike inside as we are out, and we always feel the same about things
and people.  It's most awfully lucky for us," continued the boy,
slipping his arm into mine in a delightfully confidential fashion as we
strolled up and down the lawn, "that you happen to be our sort, as it
would have been rather rough luck on Fay and me to have nobody better
to talk to than old Blathwayte.  But now that you are so decent we
shall manage quite well."

Had I possessed any aptitude for the word in season, I should have here
endeavoured to rub in some salutary suggestions as to poor Arthur's
kindness in throwing open his celibate rectory to two homeless orphans;
but the improvement of other people has never been one of my foibles.
"It will make it much jollier for me, too, to have you and your sister
to talk to," was all I said.

"I liked that idea of yours about the pilgrims most awfully," continued
Frank, with the glorious patronage of youth; "it is so jolly to think
of their being on an adventure as well as the Roman legions."

"And starting in a much more adventurous spirit, because a so much more
imaginative one.  For my part I don't believe the tramping soldiers saw
much further than their own Roman noses, while the pilgrims beheld
visions of the earthly Jerusalem as they made the Holy Sign upon the
holy stone from Palestine, and visions of the heavenly Jerusalem as
they approached the towers of Canterbury."

"And what makes it so much more interesting to us, when you come to
think of it, is that the Roman adventure came to an end ages and ages
ago," added Frank; "while the pilgrims' adventure is still going on,
and we're sort of part of it--at least we can be if we like."

I could have shouted aloud for joy to have chanced upon so kindred a
spirit.  "Exactly so," I answered; "my dear boy, you have grasped the
idea of what it means to belong to an historic Church: it is the idea
of being all part of the one great adventure."

"I know; just like things that have happened to one's own ancestry are
so much more thrilling than things which happened to other people's,
because they're all in the family, don't you see?"

By this time Blathwayte had apparently succeeded in convincing Annabel
that the sun could not put a fire out--or else Annabel had succeeded in
convincing him that a fire could put the sun out--I have never yet
discovered which; but any way the argument had arrived at a
satisfactory conclusion, and the combatants came into the garden
together in perfect amity, whereupon Annabel carried off Frank to show
him the unworthy forget-me-nots, and consult him as to her dealings
with them, whilst Arthur discussed with me the course of proceedings of
the coming Easter vestry.  Some men have greatness thrust upon them,
and the greatness of being rector's warden of Restham parish had been
thrust upon me by Blathwayte some years previously.

Thus began my friendship with Frank Wildacre--a friendship which was
destined to bring sorrow as well as joy into my life.  Do I wish that I
had never known him, and so had escaped all the pain that he was
foredoomed to cause me?  I cannot say.  Life would doubtless have been
far easier for me had he never crossed my path.  But on the other hand
he was part of the great adventure on which I embarked when I forsook
my backwater, and I still feel for him--after all that has
happened--that sense of comradeship which the sharing of an adventure
always leaves behind it after the battles and the bitterness are over
and done with.

I think that is the reason why--as one grows older--one feels an
interest in people one knew when one was young, even if one felt no
interest in them at the time.  They were part of the great adventure of
one's youth.



CHAPTER IV

FAY

The intimacy between Frank Wildacre and myself developed apace.  We
discussed everything from Shakespeare to the musical glasses (whatever
that may mean), and found ourselves wonderfully agreed on most points.
On the few points where we did not see eye to eye, our differences were
as pleasant as our agreements, for Frank loved argument for argument's
sake, and never came within a mile of losing his temper.  In my humble
opinion people who lose their tempers over arguments are as tiresome as
people who lose their tempers over games, and both should respectively
be talked to and played with at the expense of the State rather than of
Society.

Frank not only firmly established himself in my affections: he made
equally secure resting-places in the affections of Annabel and Arthur,
and even of Ponty.  But--so weak was I--it flattered my vanity to
perceive that in his eyes I found the most favour of the four.  It was
so delightful to feel myself in touch with youth, and to know that
youth was not altogether out of touch with me.  The angel of youth
stirred the pool of my backwater, and rippled the stagnant surface with
the breath of healing.

"You seem to have taken to Frank," Annabel remarked.  "I am glad, as it
will be so nice for him to have a friend like you."

"I should rather put it that it will be nice for me to have a friend
like him."  Already a week's intimacy with young Wildacre had shaken my
hitherto unquestioning acceptance of the dogma that one's elders are of
necessity one's betters; but nothing would ever shake Annabel's.

"That is an absurd way of looking at it, Reggie.  Young people may be
rather a nuisance to us, but we must always be a help and comfort to
them, and especially when--as in Frank's case--they have no parents of
their own.  You will try to prove next that even parents are no help to
the young!"

"Far from it!  I would ever go so far as to urge that they are more
than a help--that they amount to a necessity.  I quite agree that
children can--and ought to--learn much from their parents; but the
relation of a parent is unique.  Because children must submit to their
parents, it doesn't follow that they must submit to all their elders."

"Yes, it does, because it would be impossible for the parents not to be
older than the children," replied Annabel triumphantly, "so that the
one includes the other."

I marvelled at the reasoning powers of the female mind, and held my
peace.  Feeling that her logic had utterly confounded me, Annabel
condescended to be gracious.  "Still, of course, it is pleasant for you
to have Frank as a companion," she deigned to admit.  "He takes the
place of that nephew which I always regret you never had."

"The remedy was in your own hands," I ventured to remark.

"Reggie, don't be coarse!  I think the relation of uncles and aunts is
a very agreeable one, as it provides all the pleasure of being a parent
with none of the responsibility: at least, none of the overpowering
responsibilities.  Now if you'd had children, they would have been a
source of great interest and pleasure to me."

"Who is being coarse now?" I demanded.

"Certainly not I; and it isn't very nice-minded of you to suggest such
a thing.  To the pure all things are pure."

I had never for a moment doubted Annabel's purity, so I humbly ceded
the point.  "I wonder if you would have been an equal source of
interest and pleasure to them," I speculated.

"Of course I should.  I should have been a second mother to them,"
replied Annabel briskly, without, however, lifting the veil, which
evidently, in her imagination, shrouded the fate of their first mother,
and prevented the latter from fulfilling her appointed maternal duties.

Annabel was in particularly good spirits just then.  Easter Day had
passed without developing in Arthur any symptoms of blatant ritualism:
the forget-me-nots were flourishing with such vigour that the blue
blush, which was just beginning to tint their surface, promised to
spread over the whole bed, and the results of the spring-cleaning,
which had been conducted during our absence abroad, appeared to be more
than usually drastic and complete.  Therefore my sister's cup of
happiness was inclined to brim over.

As for myself, I was impatient, I admit, for the coming of Miss
Wildacre.  As I was generally talking to Frank, and as Frank was
generally talking about his sister, that sister necessarily was often
in my thoughts, and I was extremely curious to see what manner of girl
she would prove to be.

"When is your sister coming?" I asked him one day.  "I thought you had
left school this last term, and were coming to settle down at Restham
for the summer: you on your way to Oxford in October, and your sister
more or less for what people call 'good.'"

"So we are.  Fay has left school as school; but she is so awfully keen
on her old schoolmistresses that she is spending her last Easter with
them just for pleasure, after all the other girls have gone home for
the holidays, except one that has only a father and mother in India,
and an aunt who is too full just now to take her in."

"I wonder at Miss Fay being so fond of her school-mistresses, as you
told me she hated anything in the shape of improvement or instruction."

"So she does.  But the Miss Wylies never improved her at all: she is
just as nice now as she was when she first went there.  And as for
teaching her anything, they simply couldn't, for she knew a sight more
when she was a kid of ten than they know now."

"A most harmless seminary," I murmured.

"But she is coming at the end of this week," Frank continued; "she says
she can't keep away any longer, she is in such a tremendous hurry to
see you, after all I've told her about you."

"What have you told her about me?" I asked, with pardonable curiosity.

"Oh, lots and lots of things!  I've told her how good looking you are
in a queer, Charles the First kind of way, and how you resemble the
Miss Wylies in being so young for your age, and not seeming anything
like as old as you really are, and how you like the things we like, and
laugh at the things we laugh at."

"A fairly accurate description, but not altogether a complimentary
one," I remarked.

"Well, anyhow--complimentary or not complimentary--it's made her wild
to see you, and I'm sure that ought to satisfy a fellow."

"It does," I replied; "but the important question is, shall I satisfy
Miss Wildacre when she comes here expecting a combination of Charles
the First and the Miss Wylies and herself and yourself rolled into one?"

"Oh, she'll be satisfied right enough; trust her!  I will say that for
Fay: she's very easily pleased."

"In that case she and I are bound to get on well together," I said,
stroking my moustache in order to hide a smile.

On the Saturday afternoon before Low Sunday I was sitting smoking on
the lawn.  It was one of those precocious spring days which give
themselves the airs of the height of summer, and I treated it as if it
were really summer, and behaved myself accordingly.  Not so Annabel.
She regulated her conduct by the almanac rather than the atmosphere,
and never considered it safe to sit out-of-doors until May was
overpast.  Let the sun beat down never so fiercely upon her covered
head, Annabel stood upon her feet as long as she was out-of-doors.  Why
it was warmer to stand still than to sit still, I never was able to
make out; but Annabel considered that it was, and therefore to her it
was so.  But when once the calendar assured her that "May was out" and
that consequently she would be justified in casting as many clouts as
she desired, the conduct as well as the costume of my sister underwent
a complete transformation.  She would then sit out-of-doors in a linen
gown, defying the inclemency of an English June for hours together,
whilst the fire-places at the Manor became suddenly clad with such a
superabundance of verdure that the lighting of a fire would have been a
veritable upheaval of Nature.

On this particular Saturday afternoon, the thermometer being
sixty-three in the shade, Annabel was keeping herself warm by standing
perfectly still watching Cutler ply the mowing-machine, whilst I was
keeping myself equally cool by sitting on the terrace doing nothing in
particular, when suddenly the big oak door which led into the village
opened, and Frank Wildacre, with a girl in deep mourning, came down the
stone steps into the garden.

As long as I live I shall never forget the vision of Fay Wildacre as
she stepped into my life that sunny afternoon.  Although, according to
Annabel, the time for clout-casting was still more than a month ahead,
the girl's dress had no memory of winter clinging to it: it was of a
diaphanous texture, falling in soft folds round her slight figure, and
the neck and arms of it were transparent, showing the dazzlingly fair
skin underneath.  On her head was a big black hat, which threw her
curly hair and her starry eyes into most becoming shadow, making them
look darker than they really were.  She was certainly very like Frank,
though rather taller for a woman than he was for a man, and she shared
his elfin grace and vitality, and his transparent white complexion and
bright scarlet lips.  She was a replica of her brother, only more
fairy-like.  Perhaps my short-sightedness, which hid any defects she
might have had, caused me then, as afterwards, to exaggerate her
beauty.  Of that I am unable to judge.  But all I know is that as Fay
Wildacre stood before me that afternoon, she appeared the embodiment of
everything that is exquisite and enchanting and elusive in womankind: I
had never seen--I had never even imagined--anything quite so entrancing.

And that was the girl towards whom Annabel had decreed that I should
play the part of an affectionate uncle!

"This is Fay," was Frank's succinct introduction as we met in the
middle of the lawn.  "Now isn't he just what I told you?" he added,
turning to his sister.

For a second a cool little hand lay in my own, and a pair of glorious
grey eyes looked laughingly into mine, while a deep, almost boyish,
voice replied: "Quite a look of Charles the First, and distinct dash of
us but not the faintest flavour of Wylie."

"Thank you," I rejoined, "you have relieved my mind considerably."

Fay laughed Frank's merry gurgle.  "It really was hard lines on you to
be told you were Wylie-ish, and so untrue, too!  Frankie, how could you
be such a brute to the poor man?"

"I wasn't the least bit of a brute.  I only meant he was like the
Wylies in not looking or seeming his age.  And, besides, you're always
so keen on the Wylies that I thought you'd think it a compliment for
anybody to be thought like them."

The mocking eyes were now turned upon Frank.  "But no one is attached
to many people whom one would hate to resemble.  I adore the Wylies
myself; but if you said I was like them I should knock you down."

Frank grinned.  "If you could."

"I could--easily.  I am quite as tall as you are and much stronger,"
retorted the redoubtable Miss Wildacre.

"And I am quite ready to keep the ring," I added.

Fay shook her head.  "No, Sir Reginald; as I am strong I will be
merciful, especially as I have put my best frock on in order to produce
a favourable impression on you and Miss Kingsnorth.  I'm not dressed
for prize-fighting."

"As regards myself, the frock has succeeded beyond your wildest
expectations.  I cannot, of course, answer for my sister; but here she
comes to answer for herself," I replied, as Annabel joined us.
"Annabel, let me introduce you to Miss Wildacre."

"I am very pleased to see you, my dear, and to welcome you to Restham,"
said my sister in her most gracious manner.  "I very much hope that you
will like the place and be happy here."

"Of course she will," Frank chimed in; "because I do: Fay and I
invariably like the same things."

"I trust that Miss Wildacre will endorse your good opinion," said
Annabel.

"Oh, please don't call me Miss Wildacre.  If you do I shall get
home-sick at once; and that would be a pity, as I've no home to go to
to cure it.  If I'm to be happy, everybody must call me Fay: otherwise
I shall wrap myself in a green-and-yellow melancholy, and sit, like
Patience on a monument, smiling at Restham."

Annabel beamed at this suggestion.  "I certainly think it will sound
more friendly for me to call you by your Christian name, and for
Reginald to do so too.  It seems rather absurd for people of our age to
call children of yours _Mr_. and _Miss_.  Besides, we want to take the
place of an uncle and an aunt to you, and uncles and aunts always call
nephews and nieces by their Christian names."

I felt a distinct wave of irritation against Annabel.  I was fully
aware that I was twenty-four years older than the twins, but I saw no
necessity for rubbing it in like this, and, after all, I was five years
younger than Annabel.

After a little desultory conversation, my sister asked the young people
to walk round the garden, before tea; so we started on one of those
horticultural pilgrimages which are an absolute necessity to the moral
welfare of all garden-lovers.  Frank, having shared in the
forget-me-not tribulation, was a partaker in Annabel's joy at the
sky-blue blush now spreading over the bed; and Fay asked all the right
questions and said all the right things.  She even went so far as to
wonder whether Queen Elizabeth ever sat under the mulberry tree,
thereby giving Annabel her always-longed-for opportunity of explaining
that mulberry trees were unknown in England until the reign of James
the First.

Frank pulled up in ecstasy opposite a flame-coloured azalea that was
just bursting into bloom.  "Isn't it simply ripping?" he exclaimed.
"It's for all the world like a coloured picture of the Burning Bush in
a Sunday book!"

"It reminds one of Mrs. Browning's 'common bush afire with God,'" added
his sister.

"The flame-coloured azaleas are not as common as the pink-and-white
ones," explained Annabel the Literal.  "And I am sorry to see that this
particular plant is becoming overshadowed by an elder-tree," she added,
fiercely breaking off an overhanging branch of the offending elder with
her own hands.

"Poor little azalea!" exclaimed Fay; "I pity it.  It is so crushing to
be overshadowed by one's elders.  We have all been through it, and so
we know exactly how it feels."

Annabel apparently did not hear the joke, and she most certainly did
not see it.  "I must speak to Cutler about the elder-trees," she went
on, "and tell him to cut them down more.  To my mind he is letting them
have their own way far too much."

"It's an awful mistake to let one's elders have too much of their own
way," said Frank.  "Let us be careful that we don't do it, Fay."

Annabel heard that time.  "You are confusing two words, Frank," she
kindly explained.  "I was referring to elder-trees.  There are two
kinds of elders: the people who are older than ourselves, and the
elders that grow in the garden."

"And the elders that grew in Susanna's garden," added the irrepressible
Frank, "that's a third kind."

I smothered a laugh, and Annabel looked shocked: Fay's laugh showed no
signs of any smothering.  "I do not approve of young people reading the
Apocrypha," my sister said rather stiffly: "it is not suitable for
them."

"But it's in the Bible in a sort of way," pleaded Fay, "we were allowed
to read it at Miss Wylies'."

"Not exactly the Bible; I could not call it the Bible."  Annabel was
relentless.

Fay nodded airily.  "I know what you mean: sort of, but not quite.
Rather like an Irish peer: no seat in the Lords, but a peer for all
practical purposes."

Annabel looked puzzled.  "We were talking of the Bible, not of the
Peerage," she explained, as if the two words were of a similar nature
and so apt to be confused with one another.  And to her mind I believe
they were.

"Of course we were," said Fay; "how stupid of me to mix up the two!"
Then she went on: "The forget-me-nots will be divine in a week or two!"
(She was looking at the debatable bed from a becoming distance.)  "A
lovely blue pool that you will long to bathe in."

Frank opened his mouth to reply, but I was too quick for him.  "No
further reference to Susanna, if you please," I said _sotto voce_,
laying a firm hand on his arm: "this is no place for her."

"I was thinking of her," he replied, with his bubbling laugh, "when Fay
began about bathing in the pool."

"I knew you were: that's why I stopped you."

Frank's suppressed bubble continued.  I wanted to join in it, but I
daren't.

"How exquisite the house looks from here," exclaimed Fay.  "I do adore
the rose-colour of the bricks that the Tudors used.  They had a nice
taste in bricks."

"I think they were a jolly old rosy lot altogether," said Frank.  "Took
everything as _couleur de rose_, don't you know, till it got into their
bones and their bricks!"

Fay agreed with this sentiment.  "I dare say that was it: a sort of
Christian Science idea that if you thought your bricks were _couleur de
rose_ they really became _couleur de rose_.  And I suppose that is why
all the new houses about London have that horrid yellow tinge: people
nowadays look at everything through _blasé_, jaundiced eyes, and so
everything is yellow to them, and eventually gets really yellow."

"Perhaps you would like to see over the house," suggested Annabel.  "It
is considered one of the finest specimens of Tudor architecture in
Kent, and has never been touched since the time of Henry the Eighth."

"And to what do you attribute that neglect?--as the County Councillor
asked when he was shown a house that hadn't been touched since the
reign of Elizabeth," bubbled Frank.

I admit I laughed then: I couldn't help it.

"I knew you'd appreciate that," murmured he, confidentially slipping
his arm into mine; "I've been saving it for days, but never remembered
to get it off my chest when you were there.  You see, you've got rather
a strong Kingsnorth strain in you: it's a pity, but you can't help it,
and when the Kingsnorth strain comes to the top, it's rather a waste of
good material telling you anything really funny.  You take so long
being shocked, that by the time the shock has subsided the freshness of
the joke has evaporated."

"I wonder if you are right," I said.  I always consider it a mistake to
neglect any opportunity of seeing myself through another person's eyes,
and if that other person happens to be considerably my junior, I think
the educational advantages of the vision are enhanced.  To tell the
truth--down at the bottom of my deceitful and desperately wicked
heart--I had always cherished a secret belief that the Kingsnorth
strain in me was very faint--that I was almost pure Winterford, and it
was a considerable and not altogether pleasant surprise to discover
that the strain, which I had fondly imagined non-existent, was so
strong that it hit onlookers in the face!

Fortunately Annabel had not heard Frank's remark anent the Kingsnorth
strain: she was busy preparing the virgin soil of Fay's mind for an
inspection of the Manor, by casting abroad seeds of information
respecting that ancient building.

"And how nice of Queen Elizabeth to have slept here!" I heard Fay say.
"I think it was too sweet that way she had of sleeping about all over
everywhere so as to leave a sort of historical train behind her, like a
royal and romantic snail.  It seems to give such a delicious old
flavour to houses, for her even to have dozed in them.  But though she
was all right sleeping, I can't say that I am fond of her in her waking
moments, are you?"

"I consider she was a great woman," replied Annabel, "and such a friend
to the English Church."

But friendship towards the English Church was not the sort of thing to
appeal to Miss Wildacre.  "Still, think of her behaviour to Mary Queen
of Scots," she expostulated: "I can never forgive her for that.  Think
of cutting off that beautiful head out of sheer jealousy!  It was
simply abominable!"

"Mary Stuart was a Papist," replied Annabel, as if that fact were in
itself an excuse for any atrocity.  And to Annabel's mind I verily
believe it was.

"I don't see what that has to do with it, Miss Kingsnorth: I really
don't see that people's religion matters much to anybody except
themselves, provided, of course, that they're decent and don't practice
Obi or devil-worship, or go in for human sacrifices, or do any quite
impossible things of that kind.  I think that religion is very much a
matter of temperament, don't you?--and that what's good for one person
is bad for another."

I felt it was high time for me to interfere, so, throwing off Frank's
affectionate arm, I joined the two ladies, and suggested that I should
show Fay over the house before tea.

It was an intense delight to show Fay Wildacre the house that was so
dear to me.  At the time I wondered that so apparently small a thing
should afford such an infinity of pleasure; but later on I understood
the reason why.  On we went through the old rooms and along the old
corridors, Fay enlivening the way with her deliciously naïve
conversation and comments, which--though always charming to me--I was
sometimes relieved that Annabel could not hear.  I was fast coming to
the conclusion that Fay would have to be Bowdlerized for Annabel, and
that the work of Bowdlerization would fall upon me.  And to Bowdlerize
one human being for another is a terrible task for any man, more
especially if the two people happen to be women, and most especially if
they happen to be women both dear to him.

Finally we came to the nursery, where Ponty sat in state.

"This is my old nurse," I said, introducing the curtsying Ponty to Fay,
"and this, Ponty, is Miss Wildacre, who has come to live at the
Rectory."

"How do you do?" said Fay, shaking hands in that charming manner of
hers which combined the candour of a child with the dignity of a
princess, and the smile which accompanied her words went straight to
Ponty's faithful old heart, and never came out again any more for ever.
"Sir Reginald has been showing me all over the house, and kept his old
nursery as the nicest bit of all to come at the end."

"And Master Reggie was quite right, miss," replied Ponty; "for sure and
certain no children ever had a cosier nursery than he and Miss Annabel
had here: so warm and light and airy, that it's no wonder they grew
into such a fine pair."

"Oh, I expect they owe their fineness to their nurse rather than to
their nursery," said Fay, with her ready tact; "they grew so tall
because you took such good care of them.  I dare say if they hadn't had
you for a nurse they'd have been no bigger than my brother and me."

"Mr Wildacre is small, I admit, miss; but you're quite a good height,
though so thin.  However, I doubt the Restham air will soon put that to
rights.  I remember when I was a child there was a girl came to
Poppenhall--Poppenhall being my old home in the Midlands--so thin and
delicate-looking that you could see through her, as the saying is, she
having been brought up in London, where the air is half smoke and the
milk is half water.  And by the time she'd been at Poppenhall three
months--being out-of-doors and milk warm from the cows three times a
day--she was that stout that she broke the springs of my grandfather's
gig when he took her back to the station in it."

Fay nodded her head in the engaging little way that she shared with her
brother.  "I dare say Restham will have a similar effect on me, and
that when I leave I shall have to be drawn out of the place by a
traction-engine."

Ponty beamed.  "I see you're like Mr. Wildacre, miss, always ready for
a bit of fun."

"Still you must admit that Restham hasn't made Sir Reginald very fat,"
said Fay, looking me up and down with a critical eye.  (And for the
first time in my life I thanked Heaven that Restham hadn't.)

"No, miss; there you have me.  Master Reggie was always one of
Pharaoh's lean kine, and always will be.  It didn't seem to matter when
he was young, as I like to see young folks slim and active; but I must
say that at his time of life he ought to be getting a bit more flesh on
his bones, to help him to fill up his position and look more important
and like what a baronet should be."

Again I was conscious of a distinct wave of irritation.  Why would
Annabel and Ponty rub it in so about my age?  Surely they could have
left the subject alone--for this one afternoon, at any rate!

"I suppose when all's said and done," continued Ponty, "it is a
judgment on him for not getting married.  Now if he'd only a wife and
half-a-dozen children to look after him--as he ought to have at his
age--he'd be as stout and well-liking as anybody."

"I don't believe a wife and half-a-dozen children would look after him
as well as you and Miss Kingsnorth do," said Fay, with some truth, in
nowise shocked at the mention of the half-dozen children, as Annabel
would have been at her age.

"But it 'ud be more natural, miss.  Still, as I always say, there's
hope for all, and marrying late is in Sir Reginald's family on both
sides.  Her ladyship was by no means young when she married, and Sir
John was getting on in years.  Which being the case, I haven't but lost
hope for Sir Reginald or even for Miss Annabel; though I must own as
the gentleman as gets Miss Annabel will have found his master, whoever
he may be."

Fay smiled, and I tried hard not to.  It seemed somehow more disloyal
to smile at Annabel with Fay than with Frank.  "Come and see the view,"
I said, going to the deep bay-window, the window-seat of which had been
our toy-box in the years gone by.

Fay expressed her admiration in no measured terms, and then we said
good-bye to Ponty and retraced our steps.

"How lovely it must be to have had the same home all your life!"
exclaimed Fay.  "To have moved on an axis instead of in an orbit, and
to have looked at the same things with the eyes of different ages!"

"I suppose you have had a good many different homes," I said.

"Oh, scores and scores.  Both Father and Mother were very restless
people, and never could settle long in the same place.  And after
Mother died, Father grew even more restless, and was always wanting to
be on the move.  Frankie and I are annuals--not perennials--and have
never taken root anywhere."

"Still it must have been rather exciting to move about so much."

"It was, in a picnicky sort of way, and of course it kept one from
getting even the tiniest bit moss-grown or worm-eaten.  But the
nuisance of it was that we never could find anything that we wanted,
because things get so awfully muddled up in a move, and no one can
remember where they have been put."

"I conclude that a move is even worse than a spring-cleaning," I
remarked.

"Much, much worse, though on the same lines; a sort of spring-cleaning
possessed by the Devil."

"And I suppose that all the lost goods turned up eventually?"

Fay nodded her head with the little trick of manner I had already
unconsciously begun to love.  "A move--like the sea--will eventually
give up its dead; but it does so on the instalment principle."

By that time we were down in the entrance-hall again, where Annabel was
presiding over the tea-table, and Frank officiating as a sort of
acolyte.

"Come and have some tea," I said, giving Fay a seat at the gate-legged
table.

And I felt younger and gladder than I had felt for years at the sight
of poor Wildacre's daughter sitting at my board and eating my salt.



CHAPTER V

THE FIRST MIRACLE

That summer was to me a trip into fairyland.

In the first place I threw up the role of uncle which Annabel has so
thoughtfully cast for me, and played the part of Romeo instead: that is
to say, for the first time in all my forty-two years, I fell madly and
irretrievably in love.

There is no need to expatiate upon my symptoms.  Those who have
themselves travelled through Arcady know all about the effect of the
excursion without any explanations from me, and to those who have never
set foot upon the enchanted shores, a description of the trip would be
both wearisome and unintelligible.  Consequently I (as I think wisely)
forbear.

But I not only visited the paradise of Love that happy summer; I also
visited the paradise of Youth.  For the first time in my life--save the
time of my residence in Oxford, when my constitutional shyness marred
the joy of intercourse with my contemporaries--I was thrown into the
society of young people, and lived in an atmosphere of joyous adventure
untainted by any breath of care or responsibility.  Sometimes as I
stood on the lawn of the Manor House and looked at the moss-grown old
sundial, I thought to myself that for me the ancient miracle had once
again been wrought, and the shadow on the dial had been moved ten
degrees backward.  But underneath this delightful fancy lay the hard,
unyielding truth--supported by Burke and Debrett in print, and by
Annabel and Ponty in practical politics--that, however juvenile and
sentimental I might feel, I was still a man of forty-two, with the
greater part of my life behind me, while Fay was standing on the
threshold of her opening womanhood, with the kingdoms of this world
still spread before her advancing feet.

The uncle-myth still held sway in Annabel's imagination; therefore it
never occurred to her that any sort of chaperonage was needful as
between myself and Fay.  For this I was devoutly thankful.  True, Frank
was with us whenever he could elude Blathwayte's conscientious
preparation of him for the University; but Arthur's rule, if kind, was
firm, and consequently Fay and I spent long and blissful hours together
with no one to intrude into our _solitude à deux_.

It did not take me long to discover that though the twins were so much
alike outwardly--not only in appearance, but also in voice and manner,
and in tricks of thought and speech--the resemblance was merely a
superficial one.  Their bodies and their minds were cast in the same
mould; but their hearts and their souls differed fundamentally.  Frank
was the elf throughout: his feelings were transient and wayward.  But
underneath his sister's fairylike appearance and demeanour, there was
hidden the loving and faithful heart of a true woman.  Frank was the
cold-blooded merman untouched by mortal pain and sorrow; but Fay was
the little sea-maid who had found a soul.

It was the time of hay-harvest, when all the world is filled with
fragrance, and every separate hayfield is a picture in itself.  Fay and
I were sitting under a hedge in one of the upper meadows, watching the
old-world drama of haymaking being played in the valley below, in which
drama Frank was assisting.

"Isn't it all perfectly ideal?" Fay exclaimed.  "I never in my life
knew anything so exquisite as an English summer!"

"I never in all my life knew anything so exquisite as this particular
English summer," I replied.

"I suppose it is unusually fine weather for the time of year," said
Fay, with a sly smile.

"It is not on the weather that this summer bases its claim to
super-excellence," I explained.

"Indeed: on the circumstances then, I suppose?"

"No, on the company.  I have arrived at the interesting conclusion that
a summer minus you is not really a summer at all, only a sort of
dress-rehearsal of the real performance."

"I see," said Fay; "one swallow does not make a summer, but one
Wildacre does."

"One Fay Wildacre," I corrected her.  "Frank alone would only be able
to make a spring: plenty of promise but no fulfilment, and a cold wind
at the back of the sunshine."

Fay nodded her pretty curly head.  "That's rather a neat description of
Frankie.  Now you mention it, he is like a brilliantly sunny day with a
cold wind in the background ready to pop round the corner at any moment
and shrivel you up.  Although Frankie is so adorable when he likes, I
don't think he has got what people call a warm heart; do you?"

"I think he is very fond of you," I replied diplomatically.

"Of course he is, but that's different.  You don't require a warm heart
to be fond of your own people: that's just nature and habit.  What I
call a warm heart is the sort of heart that makes you adore your
friends, and worship your lovers, and find the world well lost for
somebody you've only met twice before."

Fay picked up a stalk of grass and began tickling her cheek with it.
For the first time in my life I became envious of the vegetable
kingdom.  "Should you call me a person with a warm heart?" I asked.

"I think you are very fond of Miss Kingsnorth," replied Fay demurely.

"That's different: it's just nature and habit to be fond of your own
people.  You see, you are not the only one who can quote.  What I want
to know is, do you consider that I have a warm heart?"

"How on earth can I tell its temperature?"

"Better than anybody.  You hold it in the hollow of your hand."

"Then it can't be very warm or else it would burn my fingers and I
should drop it," laughed the girl; "so that question answers itself."

"Then allow me to ask another.  Have you got what people call a warm
heart?"

She shrugged her slender shoulders.  "Temperature ninety-eight, point
four--absolutely normal.  So no further bulletins will be issued."  And
with that, for the time being, I had to be content.

"I do love a west wind," Fay said, after a few minutes of blissful
silence, "don't you?  I think it is the nicest wind we have, combining
the softness of the South with the bracingness of the North: like
people with sharp tongues and sweet tempers."

I agreed with this--as indeed I was ready to do with any idea to which
Fay gave utterance; for Love is no whit behind Conscience in the
manufacture of cowards.

"I always think the different winds are different colours," she went
on; "the North wind is white, the South wind yellow, the East wind blue
and the West wind green.  At least, that's how they always seem to me."

"And it's a very good description of them, too," I said, as I should
have said just then of any description given by Fay.

"What's going on down there," she suddenly exclaimed, pointing to the
field spread out at our feet where the hay-cutting machine was going
round and round in an ever-diminishing circle.  "There seems to be a
sort of fuss on!"

My eyes were useless in a case like this, so I had to ask Fay for
further information.  "The machine has stopped," she said, "and there
is a crowd of labourers round it, and all the haymakers from the next
field have left off haymaking and are rushing to join the crowd."

"There must have been an accident," I said, rising from my seat under
the hedge; "let us go down and see what is the matter.  I always hate
all reaping machines, they are so apt to cut off people's legs."

"I hate machines of any kind," agreed Fay, as we hastened down the hill
together; "they are so ugly, and make such a noise.  When I come out of
the machinery-in-motion part of an exhibition, I always feel as if I'd
been in hell."

I was thankful Annabel was not present to hear this description, but I
smiled at it nevertheless.  "And machine-made things are so horrid,
too," I said; "they lose the individual touch, which makes for charm
and originality."

Fay nodded.  "I know.  You can't really be fond of things which are
made by the score exactly alike.  I don't believe that even parents
would be fond of their children if they were turned out in dozens like
the plates of a dinner-service."

In a few minutes we reached the crowd in the hayfield, which
respectfully parted to make way for us; and then with an exceeding
bitter cry, which tore my heart-strings to breaking-point, Fay rushed
forward and fell on her knees beside the recumbent form of Frank, who
was lying white and unconscious on the ground.

Then there followed a dreadful time for Fay, and for me, too, as by
that time whatever hurt her hurt me also.  Frank, with his usual
light-hearted carelessness, had stood too near to that horrible
Juggernaut, the hay-cutting machine, with the terrible consequence that
one of the scythes had nearly cut off his foot.

We carried him on a hurdle to the Rectory, and for days he hung between
life and death.  Sometimes it seemed impossible to believe that a
creature so full of life as Frank could die, and then again it seemed
incredible that any one so terribly wounded could live.  But at last
lock-jaw set in, and then the doctors pronounced the case absolutely
hopeless.

It was torture to me to see Fay's agony of mind; yet there was a
sweetness mingled with the bitterness in my knowledge of the fact that
she turned to me for help and comfort; at least, hardly for
comfort--the time for comfort had not yet arrived, but for that
sympathy in her sorrow, which is very near akin to consolation.

Annabel was very capable and efficient during this sad time--a
veritable rock of strength to all of us who clung to her.  But although
she could have done far more for Fay than my poor, blundering, male
self could ever do, I could not blind my eyes to the fact that--with
sweet, childish perversity--Fay clung to me rather than to Annabel.
That the child was foolish in this, I could not but admit; but I loved
her all the more for her dear folly.

I had come to the Rectory to hear the verdict of the great specialist
from London, and he had gone back to town, leaving Jeffson, our local
doctor, to make Frank's passing as easy as possible.  Fay was with the
nurses in Frank's room, and I was loafing aimlessly about with nothing
to do, and nothing that was worth doing.  Like all days of great
sorrow, the day seemed neither a Sunday nor a weekday, but a sort of
terrible Good Friday, with the darkness and the earthquake looming
nearer every moment.

Apart from my agony of pity for Fay, I was sorely grieved on my own
account at the thought of losing Frank.  A strong friendship had grown
up between the boy and myself--a friendship that was fraught with joy
for me.  Although I had eschewed the avuncular attitude arranged for me
by Annabel towards Fay, I had accepted it with regard to Frank; and
when I heard the verdict of the great doctor from London, I felt as if
I were indeed losing a dearly-beloved nephew.

Whilst I was aimlessly wandering about the Rectory dining-room, Arthur
came in.

"How is the boy now?" I asked, though I knew too well what the answer
would be.

"Just the same.  Jeffson says there will not be much change now until
the end."

"And Fay?"

"Bearing up wonderfully, poor child!  She is so brave and calm now that
I fear it will be the worse for her when the need for calmness and
courage is over.  Reggie, I have telephoned for Henderson, and he is
coming at once."

"Who is Henderson?" I asked.

"A great friend of mine."

I sighed.  "I don't see the use of torturing the poor boy with any more
doctors, Arthur.  Both Sir Frederic and Jeffson pronounced the case
absolutely hopeless."

"But Henderson isn't a doctor," replied Arthur in his leisurely way.

"Then why send for him?" I asked most unreasonably.

"He is a spiritual healer, and has worked some wonderful cures.  If any
one can save Frank, he can."

"I don't believe in that sort of thing," I replied, with all the
irritability of helpless misery.

"Probably not; but I don't see what that has to do with it.  Our belief
in anything doesn't affect the thing itself, it only affects us."

"Then do you believe that your friend can cure the boy, after three
doctors have given him up?"

Arthur thought for a moment, and then he said: "No, I don't believe
that Henderson can cure the boy; but I believe that Christ working
through Henderson can do so, and I am going to see if He will."

We were both silent for a few minutes, and then Blathwayte suddenly
said: "By the way, I have forgotten the thing I came down to say to
you.  Fay wants you to go and sit with her in Frank's room."

I went at once.  Fay's lightest word was law to me.

For an hour or two I sat in the sick-room, where the girl whom I loved
knelt beside her dying brother.  The doctor and the day-nurse were
doing all they could to fan the flame that was so rapidly being
extinguished, but that all amounted to very little.  Already the
beautiful boyish mouth was closed too tightly for any nourishment or
stimulant to pass through the once mobile lips, and the boy could not
have spoken even if he had wished to do so; but he was too ill now to
desire to speak, and lay in rigid unconsciousness waiting for the end
to come.  Nobody spoke, except the doctor and the nurse; but I knew in
my soul that it helped Fay to feel me near, and so I stayed while the
hours rolled on and Frank's life ebbed away.

I had lost all count of time when the door was softly opened, and
Arthur, followed by a stranger, came into the room, which stranger was
the exact opposite of what I had expected.

I had pictured the Spiritual Healer to myself as a wild, emaciated,
long-haired figure--a sort of cross between an ideal poet and John the
Baptist: instead of which I beheld a tall, broad-shouldered,
immaculately dressed Londoner, with the quiet manners and easy
assurance of the typical man about town.  I am almost ashamed to own
it, only one never should be ashamed to own the truth; but--absurd as
it may sound--it was the perfect cut of Mr. Henderson's coat that
suddenly made the man and his mission real to me.  Had he worn the garb
of a monk, I should have relegated him to the sphere of mediæval
superstition; had he worn the dress of a priest, I should have placed
him in the category of hysterical revivalists; but I felt an
irresistible conviction that a man in such a well-cut and fashionable
coat as his could only preach a gospel as practical and convincing as
the _Times_ of that morning.

Blathwayte hurriedly indicated to Mr. Henderson who we all were, and
then they both knelt down beside the bed, the rest of us following
their example.

I cannot give a dramatic account of what followed, simply because there
was nothing dramatic about it.  At the time it seemed--as it has always
seemed to me in recalling it--to be the most natural and simple thing
in the world.  To make it any way thrilling or dramatic would rob it,
to my mind, of its strength, and convincingness.

First Mr. Henderson offered up aloud an extempore prayer that Frank's
sufferings might be relieved and his life spared.  Even the word
"prayer" seems almost too stilted and transcendental to convey my
meaning: he rather besought a favour of a present Person, with an
assurance that that Person's sympathies were so entirely enlisted on
his side, that the granting of his petition was a foregone conclusion.

I had been brought up in a godly home, and had been conversant with
religious phrases and expressions all my life.  But not until I heard
Mr. Henderson speaking to that Other Person, whose love for and
interest in Frank (so Henderson obviously took for granted) were
infinitely stronger and deeper than ours could ever be, did I realise
what was meant by the expression "a living Christ."  From my childhood
I had loved and worshipped a dimly glorious Figure, half-hidden in a
haze of golden light, who had trodden the Syrian fields nearly two
thousand years ago, and had died, and risen again, and ascended
heavenwards leaving behind Him an inspired Gospel and a perfect
Example; but now I suddenly felt that the dimly-remembered Ideal was
not an Ideal at all, but a living Person, standing in Frank's room
close beside us, as actual and real as we were ourselves: that it was
no shadowy Syrian Prophet that I had worshipped, but a Man of to-day as
much as of yesterday--a Man of London and Paris as much as of Jerusalem
and Galilee--and a Man who was also God.

As a boy I remember being thrilled with the story of the unknown knight
who feasted with Robin Hood and his men, and who--at the end of the
day--lifted up his visor and they knew he was the King.  And the same
thrill--though in a far greater degree--ran through me now.  A Stranger
stood in our midst and wrestled, as we were wrestling, for the life of
Frank, sharing our sorrow and sympathising with our anxiety, and
suddenly the veil was lifted and we knew He was the King.

After his audible prayer was over, Henderson laid his hands upon Frank,
and an intense stillness fell upon the room whilst the man lifted up
his soul to Heaven in silent petition for the dying boy, and as he
prayed the stiffened muscles relaxed, the harsh breathing grew easy,
and Frank gradually fell into a peaceful slumber.

As soon as he saw that the boy slept, Henderson made the sign of the
Cross upon Frank's brow and rose from his knees.

"The boy will live," he said; "Christ has healed him."

The doctor was amazed.  He examined Frank, and admitted that the
tetanus had lost its hold, and that, provided there was no relapse, the
danger was over.

The two things that struck me most in the whole happening were first
its unspeakable wonder, and secondly its absolute naturalness.  But
that is the way with all real miracles: beforehand they appear
impossible, and afterwards inevitable.  Thus it is with the two great
miracles of marriage and parenthood.  An imaginary wife and imaginary
children are amongst the most impossible creations of our dreams; yet
when they come, they seem to have been always there, and we cannot
picture a world without them.  And so I think it will be with the other
great miracle of death.  At present the heart of man fails to conceive
what good things are prepared for us in the land beyond the grave; but
when we are really there, I believe it will seem one of the most
natural things we have ever known; as natural as that earthly home
where the dream-wife and the dream-children came true, and made the
life before their coming sink into the realms of vain and
half-forgotten things.

When we had left Frank's room, and were waiting downstairs for Mr.
Henderson's motor, which was to take him back to London, I asked him--

"How do you explain your gift of healing?"

"I have but one explanation," he answered: "as many as touched the hem
of His garment were made perfectly whole."

"Then do you not put it down to the influence of mind over
matter--which is an influence we are only just beginning to realise?" I
urged.

"I put it down to nothing but the power of Christ," replied Henderson.
"I find that as long as people talk about mentality, or suggestion, or
will-power, or the influence of mind over matter, or the particle of
Godhead inherent in ourselves, the world will listen to them, and
follow after them, and believe in their cures; but the minute we put
all these things on one side and teach that there is no power in
anything save in Christ Jesus and Him crucified, the world becomes shy
of us at once and looks the other way.  Yet there is no help for any of
us but in His Name, neither in this world nor in the world to come."

"But how would you explain this working of His power?" asked Arthur.
"I suppose He would work by means of mental suggestion, or something of
that kind."

Mr. Henderson shook his head.  "I never attempt to explain: I only
believe.  I know that He does certain things, but how He does them is
no business of mine."

"We are too fond of explaining things nowadays," said Arthur.  "I think
we should do well to follow the example of the Cherubim who used two of
their wings to cover their faces, because there were things into which
they were not desired to look.  We, on the contrary, try to pry into
everything."

"But we have as yet no wings with which to cover our faces," I
suggested.  "It is only because we are low and earthy that we pry.  As
we grow higher we shall grow humbler, and by the time that we attain to
wings we shall know how to use them."

"And until we know how to use them we shall probably not get the
wings," added Arthur.

"Tell me one thing," I said, turning to Mr. Henderson.  "Do you think
that everybody who has sufficient faith in Christ could heal as you do?"

"That again I do not know.  It is all in His hands.  But I am inclined
to think that as there are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit, so
the gift of healing is given to one, the gift of preaching to another,
and so on, and we have not all the same gifts.  It is all Christ
working in us; but He works one way in one person and another way in
another.  We must cultivate the gift that we have, and be content to do
without the gifts that have been denied us, and as we are all members
of Christ there can be no rivalry amongst us."

"After all," I said after a moment's silence, "we are sent into the
world to do the Will and not to trouble about the Doctrine: that
follows the other as a matter of course.  And submission is the most
necessary and the most difficult lesson we have to learn.  If we were
allowed to choose our gifts I should have chosen the one of healing;
but we are not allowed to choose."

Mr. Henderson looked at me intently for a moment with his piercing dark
eyes.  "I do not know, but I think that you have the gift of healing,"
he said; "utterly uncultivated and undeveloped, but ready for Christ's
use, should He need it."

And then the motor came round, and he drove away to the multitudinous
duties awaiting him in town, and I went upstairs to rejoice with Fay,
as before I had mourned with her.



CHAPTER VI

ST. LUKE'S SUMMER

It was a bright autumn morning, and the central hall of the Manor House
was given up to a Moloch worshipped by Annabel and described by her as
the "Ladies' Needlework Guild."  I had learnt from long and bitter
experience that the festival of this Moloch fell in the first week in
October, and during that time there was not a chair or a Chesterfield
or even a table in the great hall which was not covered with heaps of
unbleached and evil-smelling garments.  To the uninitiated it looked
like an extensive preparation for something which Ponty called "the
Wash," and which was long confused in my childish mind with that
portion of the North Sea which separates Norfolk from Lincolnshire; but
the initiated knew better.  I never really grasped the true inwardness
of this Moloch of my sister's.  Once, in an unguarded moment, I asked
Annabel how the Ladies' Needlework Guild was worked and what it did;
and for three-quarters of an hour on end--without even a half-time for
sucking lemons--she volubly expounded to me the manifold rules and
regulations of the fetish.  Needless to say I didn't understand; but
after that I always pretended that I did, for fear Annabel should
explain again.  As far as I could grasp the situation, the monster had
to be fed with a huge meal of unbleached calico, flannelette, rough
flannel and other inexpensive and somewhat odoriferous materials,
served in the form of useful undergarments, some of which it swallowed
whole, and some of which it generously returned to the respective
parishes whence they had originally sprung.  But the reasons why they
were given to the monster, and why the monster gave some of them back
again, I have never even attempted to fathom.  But that yearly festival
was to Annabel as sacred as the Feast of Tabernacles is to the Jews or
the Feast of Ramadhan is to the Mohammedans; and the smell of its
flannelette and unbleached calico was as incense in my sister's
nostrils.

On this particular October morning she and Fay were apparently sorting
clothes for a gigantic laundry, but were actually assisting at one of
Annabel's most holy rites.  I sank on to a settee, full of wonder at
the marvellous power the gentler sex possesses of transforming into a
sacred ritual the most ordinary and commonplace actions.

But I was not allowed to sit for long.

"Good gracious, Reggie, you are sitting upon St. Etheldreda's flannel
petticoats.  Do get up at once!"

I rose with due apologies to the saint in question.

"Those were St. Etheldreda's flannel petticoats on that sofa, weren't
they, Fay?" continued my sister.

"Yes," replied her acolyte, "and the rest of St. Etheldreda's garments
are on the chair by the fire-place.  Hadn't I better put them all
together, and do the Etheldreda bundle up?"

"Not yet, my dear.  I think St. Etheldreda's garments are too scanty at
present."

"Well then, they ought not to be," I said sternly; "I am both shocked
and surprised."

"You see it is such a poor parish," continued Annabel "that we ought to
send them a good large grant and I don't think the garments which we
have already allotted to St. Etheldreda's are sufficient, in spite of
the extra petticoats.  I must add some more to them.  Lady Westerham
has sent me a lot of such beautiful scarlet flannel petticoats, Reggie,
and I want to divide them equally amongst the poorest parishes.  I
shouldn't send any of those to St. James's, I think."

"Certainly not," I interrupted; "they wouldn't be at all appropriate."

Fay began to laugh.  "I really don't see anything to laugh at," said
Annabel good-humouredly; "Reggie is quite right in agreeing with me
that it is not appropriate to send our best garments to a comparatively
wealthy parish like St. James's.  Those calico shirts that Mrs. Jones
sent can go to St. James's; they're quite good enough for that.  I
always think that the Vicar of St. James's is a most grasping person,
considering how many well-to-do people he has in his parish.  I am not
going to send him any of my warmest garments; I shall only send him my
shirts and socks and things like that.  If he wants expensive flannel
petticoats he must buy them for himself, for he certainly shan't have
them from the Guild."

"What's this?" I asked, picking up a grey knitted habiliment.

"Oh, that's one of St. Stephen's sweaters, Ponty knitted them," replied
Annabel.  "The Vicar of St. Stephen's is a very worthy young man, who
has organized a cricket team or a football eleven or something of that
sort among the poorest boys of his parish, and he asked me if the Guild
could send sweaters for them to play in as they have nothing themselves
but rags.  Where are the rest of them, Fay?"

Fay indicated a shapeless mass of grey matter underneath the
gate-legged table.

Annabel continued to flit like a bird from one heap of clothes to
another, talking meanwhile in her usual irrelevant fashion.  "I am very
much disappointed in Summerglade's contribution--very much disappointed
indeed.  I consider it most shabby.  As a matter of fact I don't think
it is large enough to entitle them to a grant from the Guild at all.
The Summerglade people will have to do without any garments at all this
winter."

"Oh, that would hardly do," I meekly suggested, balancing myself on the
arm of a nightgown-covered chair, like Noah's Ark on the top of Ararat.

"Well, they don't deserve any," replied Annabel sternly.

"But that has nothing to do with it," I argued, "in fact quite the
reverse.  As far as I can judge, the only reason for being given
garments at all is the fact that one doesn't deserve them.  If you
don't believe me, let me refer you to the precedent of Adam and Eve."

"Oh Reggie, how silly you are to drag Adam and Eve into a thing like
the Needlework Guild, which has nothing in the world to do with them.
As I've told you, the rule of the Guild is that for every twenty
garments given by a particular parish, a grant of twenty garments is
allotted to that parish; while the odd garments outside the twenties
are given to the poorest East-end parishes, who can't afford to send
any garments at all."

"I know, I know!" I cried hastily, in a valiant attempt to stem the
flood of Annabel's explanations.

But she went on as if I had not spoken.  "Therefore you see, when a
well-to-do parish sends less than twenty garments, it doesn't get any
grant at all; and that is just what I am saying about Summerglade.
Summerglade didn't send as many as twenty garments, did it, Fay?"

"No, Miss Kingsnorth, only a measly seventeen."

"I blame the Vicar, Mr. Sneyd, for that," said Annabel severely.  "He
is a most feeble person, and takes no interest at all in the Needlework
Guild.  He called here for a subscription for Foreign Missions the
other day, which I considered a great impertinence, as I cannot see
what claim the foreign heathen of Summerglade have upon me.  I thought
him a most stupid man."

"I thought him a blooming idiot," exclaimed Fay.

Annabel started as if she had been shot.  "Oh, my dear, what an
improper expression to make use of."

"I learnt it from Frankie," Fay explained; "he is always calling people
blooming idiots."

"But Frank is different," said Annabel, who would have found an excuse
for Frank if he had committed murder.

"I don't recognise any difference at all," said I, taking up the
cudgels on Fay's behalf.  "I cannot see that the bloom is in any way
rubbed off the idiot by Fay's using the expression instead of Frank."

"But it is different, Reggie.  There is a difference between boys and
girls, whether you see it or not.  I can quite understand that, as
Frank and Fay are so much alike, they seem to you like the same person.
But they are not really the same, and I am surprised at your stupidity
in thinking that they are."

Annabel might marvel at my obtuseness, but not more than I marvelled at
hers.

Fay bent low over St. Etheldreda's petticoats, but not low enough to
prevent my seeing that she did so in order to hide a smile, which
smile, to my disgust, brought the blood into my cheeks as if I had been
a raw youth of seventeen instead of an avuncular person of forty-two.

"Come out into the garden, Fay," I said, hopping down from my perch
upon Mount Ararat in a feeble attempt to cover my infantile confusion;
"it is a shame to spend St. Luke's summer in the atmosphere of St.
James's unbleached shirts."

Annabel corrected me.  "It isn't St. Luke's summer yet, Reggie--not
till the 15th.  And I cannot possibly leave the house until all the
Guild things are properly sorted; but young people need more fresh air
than people of our age do; so if you like to take Fay out for a little
walk, I will ring for Ponty and one of the housemaids to come and help
me in apportioning the garments."

"All right; come along, Fay, and take what fresh air your youth needs,"
I said rather grimly; "or else Annabel and I shall be summoned by the
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children."

I was furious with myself for blushing, and just a little--a very
little--furious with Fay for smiling so as to make me blush; for
although I had been mad enough to fall in love with a girl twenty-four
years younger than myself, I had no intention of being selfish enough
to ask that girl to marry me and hamper her youth with my crabbed age.
Therefore I had made up my mind to keep my love to myself, and not to
let Fay guess that I regarded her save in the avuncular fashion that
Annabel had ordained for me.  Madly in love though I was, I had still
sense enough left to see that youth must mate with youth, and that it
would be impossible for a girl of eighteen to love a man of forty-two
as a woman ought to love her husband.  But I knew that Fay was attached
to me, and I felt that there was just a possibility--though hardly a
probability--that she might, in her youth and inexperience, mistake
that niecely devotion for something warmer.  Therefore I felt bound in
honour to save her from herself, in the unlikely event of her imagining
herself in love with me.  And I thought that the best way of doing this
was to support Annabel's fiction of my own avuncular attitude of mind
and heart.

But that smile which had endeavoured to hide itself in St. Etheldreda's
petticoats raised a doubt in my mind as to the efficacy of my disguise;
whilst the ridiculous blush on my part, which had arisen out of the
smile, showed me that the garment of friendship, in which I had wrapped
myself, needed a considerable amount of repair.  So I thought that the
time had arrived for that necessary evil which Annabel described as "a
word in season."

"I don't wish to give credit where credit is not due," I said,
following Fay into the garden and walking by her side along the denuded
pergola; "and if Annabel says this isn't St. Luke's summer, of course
it isn't.  But whatever saint is responsible for it I must say he has
done his work well, for a better imitation of an ordinary and garden
summer I never saw."

"Isn't it glorious?" exclaimed Fay, absolutely skipping by my side in
the sheer joy of living and drinking in great draughts of the
sun-warmed air.  St. Martin is another of the saints who are famous for
manufacturing imitation summers, but I believe his little affair does
not come off till November so I think this must be St. Luke's after
all, a bit before the time. He may have got confused, you see, and
thought it was a movable feast, like Easter.  Even saints make mistakes
sometimes."

"The Ladies' Needlework Guild isn't a movable feast.  The saints may be
unpunctual, but Annabel never is.  The first week of every October
finds the scent of unbleached calico rising like incense from our house
to heaven."

Fay fell in with my mood at once.  That was one of the reasons why she
attracted me so much: she was always so adaptable.  And adaptability
was such a change to me after forty-two years of Annabel.  "Not exactly
a movable feast, perhaps, but a very recurrent one.  And as when you
fall under the spell of the lotus-flower it is always afternoon, so
when you fall under the spell of the Needlework Guild it is always the
first week in October.  No sooner is one October finished, than another
comes close on its heels, crying out for its fill of garments."

"But how do you know that?" I asked.  "This is the first October that
you have been here."

Fay shook her head.  "That has nothing to do with it.  The Needlework
Guild is one of those things that ought to be called Pan, don't you
know!--meaning they are everywhere all at once.  It existed at school,
just as it does here; and the first week of October came as often then
as it does now.  But we can't grumble at however many Octobers we may
get, provided they are as warm and fine and summery as this one."

Now seemed the appropriate moment for my word in season.  "But they are
not summer after all--at least they are only as you say, summery.
These saints' affairs may be very good imitations, but they aren't the
real thing, you know.  When once the summer has gone, it has gone, and
neither St. Luke nor St. Martin can bring it back again.  And it is the
same with ourselves.  We may look young and feel young and all that
sort of thing, but we are only really young once, and when once our
youth is gone, it is gone for ever."

Fay looked up into my face with her wonderful eyes, and she was so near
to me that even I could see their depth and their beauty, though I
still refused to follow Annabel's advice and disfigure myself, and
indirectly my friends, by wearing spectacles.  "You are very gloomy
this morning, Sir Reggie."  ("Sir Reggie" was the name that she and
Frank had invented for me, as being a compromise between the stiffness
of "Sir Reginald" and the familiarity of "Reggie.")  "I'm afraid St.
Luke's kindness is wasted on you, and it is really very ungrateful of
you, as he is doing his best to make things pleasant."

"No, I'm not gloomy, I'm only truthful.  I can't see any use in
pretending that things are different from what they are," I said.

"But there is great use in proving that things are different from what
they seem," replied Fay enigmatically.

By this time we were standing by the old sundial.  "Look at that," I
said, laying my hand on the grey stone pedestal; "no one nowadays can
turn the shadow on the dial ten degrees backward.  It simply isn't
done.  When morning is past it is past, and when summer is past it is
past, and when youth is past it is past, and not all the saints in the
calendar can bring them back again."

"Still One greater than the saints once did turn the shadow on the dial
of Ahaz ten degrees backward.  And if He did it once, why shouldn't He
do it again?" said Fay softly.

"Because, my child, He doesn't.  The age of miracles is past."

"No, it isn't.  It was a miracle when Mr. Henderson cured Frank.  You
said so yourself.  So miracles do happen."

I was surprised to find Fay persistent on the point, but I held my own.
"Yes, but not this kind of miracle.  Frank was made alive again, I
admit; but that doesn't mean that old people like Annabel and myself
will be made young again.  The two cases are absolutely different.  A
miracle may give us back our future, but no miracle can give us back
our past."

Fay smiled a strange sort of smile: the sort that I remember on my
mother's face when I was a little boy; but all she said was, "Oh, if
you're going to pick and choose your miracles, I've done with you."

"I'm not picking and choosing my miracles, as you call it, I'm only
pointing out that certain things don't happen, and that people merely
make unhappiness for themselves and for others by pretending or
imagining that they do.  I'm grateful for St. Luke's summer, but I
don't delude myself into imagining that it is the real summer come back
again.  I'm grateful--and so is Annabel--for the young life that you
and Frank have brought into our home and into our lives, but I don't
delude myself with the belief that because we feel young when we are
with you, we really are young.  It is autumn with Annabel and me, and
it always will be autumn until it changes into winter: there is no more
spring or summer for us, and it would be foolish as well as futile to
imagine that there is."

But Fay still argued.  "Frank and I don't make Miss Kingsnorth feel
young, we make her feel most awfully old and wise and sensible, and she
enjoys the feeling.  She wouldn't be young again for anything, it would
bore her beyond words.  But you are different: you are quite young
really--in your mind and soul, I mean--but you pretend to be old.  You
aren't a St. Luke's summer at all: you are one of those June days when
it seems cold and we light a fire, and then the sun comes out and we
are boiled to death.  You aren't autumn masquerading as spring: you are
really a boy dressed up as Father Christmas, like those you see in
toy-shops in December."

Unspeakably sweet were Fay's words to me, yet I felt bound in honour to
show her how wrong she was.

"My dear little girl, you are out of it altogether this time.  I am not
a bit what you think."

"Yes, you are.  But you are not a bit what you think," she retorted.

"Yes, I am.  You, in the kindness and goodness of your heart, imagine
that I am younger than I am, because I look younger--at least, so my
friends tell me, but I am really old, my child, and in a few years'
time--when you are in the full glory of your womanhood--I shall be very
old indeed."  This I felt to be neatly put, as showing Fay--without my
saying it--that I was too old to ask her to marry me, much as I might
wish it.  It cut me to the heart to put voluntarily from me even the
off-chance of a happiness which far exceeded my wildest dreams; but I
felt in honour bound to do it.  How dare I take advantage of my
darling's youth and inexperience to tie her to a man old enough to be
her father?  If I did such a thing as that, I could never respect
myself again.  I had never longed for youth as I longed for it now, but
wishing a thing is so, does not make it so, and the sooner that men and
women realise this hard truth the better for them and for all
concerning them.

I knew that it was possible to make Fay love me--or rather, to make her
imagine that she loved me.  At present she saw no men of her own class,
save myself and Blathwayte, and, without, I think, undue vanity on my
part, I could not help realising that I was more attractive
than--though in every other way infinitely inferior to--Arthur.  But
when she grew older and went out into the world and saw more men of her
own age whom she could really love, she would never forgive me--as I
could never forgive myself--if through my selfishness she had lost the
substance for the shadow.

I had been a failure in every other walk of life, but I made up my mind
that I would not be a failure as a lover.  Though I had failed in
everything else, I would not fail in my love for Fay.  Because I loved
her so much, I would sternly forego any possibility of her ever loving
me and spoiling her young life thereby.  Then when the time came for
her to be awakened by the Fairy Prince who was somewhere waiting for
her, she would bless and thank me (if she remembered me at all) for
having left her free to enjoy the happiness that was her due; while as
for me--well, it wouldn't much matter what became of me, as long as Fay
was happy.

Still I wished she wouldn't smile as if she saw through my armour with
those elfin eyes of hers.

Suddenly sounds of laughter came to us from the house.

"Let's go and see what's up," cried Fay, who never could resist the
sound of laughter.

So indoors she ran, with me after her, through the garden door and down
the passage into the great hall.  And there a strange sight met our
eyes.

Frank, attired--in addition to his own ordinary garments--in one of St.
Etheldreda's flannel petticoats and St. James's calico shirts, and with
a baby's knitted bonnet on the top of his curly hair, was dancing a
break-down in the middle of the hall, whilst Annabel and Ponty and the
assistant housemaid were holding their sides with laughter at the
ridiculous sight of him.

Quick as thought Fay donned another of St. Etheldreda's scarlet
petticoats, snatched a large tartan shawl from some other parish heap
of garments, and started a sort of skirt-dance on her own account, and
her dancing was one of the loveliest things I have ever seen.  As the
scarlet petticoat twirled round and round, and the tartan shawl wound
and unwound itself round her slight figure, she seemed the very
embodiment of youth and jollity--the living "goddess of heart-easing
mirth."  It made me feel young even to look at her, so full of life and
joy and youth was she!

Then she and Frank began a wild dance together, like a pair of leaves
blown by the wind.  To and fro they danced as light as air and as
bright as flame, flying apart and rushing together till one hardly
could tell which was which, while the old hall rang with the laughter
and applause of the onlookers, until at last--after a final whirl in
which their twinkling feet seemed hardly to touch the ground at
all--they sank down upon the floor breathless with laughter and
excitement.

My heart beat so fast that I couldn't speak: the sight of their
wonderful dancing had gone to my head like wine, but Annabel was
differently affected.

"Get up, you silly children," she said, wiping the tears of laughter
from her eyes; "I never saw such a wild pair as you are in my life!
But you must take off the Guild garments now and put them back in their
proper heaps, or else we shall never get all the things sorted and
packed in bundles."

I went out of the hall and down the passage to the library, the dance
had affected me more than I would allow anybody to see.  It had made me
feel young again, and I knew that young was what I must never--for
Fay's sake--allow myself to feel.  If I did it might weaken my resolve
to play the role of the devout lover.

"What a wonderful thing Youth is!" I said to myself.  "Nothing but
Youth could have danced such a dance as that."  And then I tried to
imagine Annabel and myself dressed up in Guild garments and springing
about the old hall till the world grew young again; but even my
imagination--which is generally supposed to be fairly rosy--bucked at
this.  Such a thing was unimaginable.

"No," I added, with a sigh, "I was quite right.  Miracles do happen
nowadays, but not that particular one: there is no setting the dial ten
degrees backward."



CHAPTER VII

THE GIFT

"I am afraid Fay is very ill: Dr. Jeffson is most anxious about her,"
said Annabel to me, as I came in rather late for luncheon one foggy
November day.  I had been busy all morning looking after various
matters on the estate, as I had spent the three preceding days in
London, and work at home had accumulated in my absence.

My heart stood still for a second, as hearts have a habit of doing at
the sudden announcement of bad news, and a cold wave of sick misery
seemed to engulf me.  Then out of the engulfing wave I heard my voice
saying: "What is the matter with her? I saw her just before I went to
town, and then she had nothing but a slight cold."

"It wasn't slight at all, Reggie; it was a very heavy cold, and she,
being young and foolish, didn't take proper care of it, with the
consequence that it went from her chest down to her lungs, and now she
is in for a sharp attack of pneumonia."

I sat down at the luncheon-table, but I could not eat anything.
Noonday had turned to darkness because Fay was ill.  "She didn't seem
ill a few days ago, when she went for a walk with me," I persisted;
"she had only a little cough."

"It was a nasty cough, Reggie, a very nasty cough.  I wonder that you
took her for a walk with it."

An agony of remorse overwhelmed my soul.  What a fool I had been!  What
a fool I always was!  Whatever I did invariably turned out to be wrong.
"I shall never forgive myself for doing so," I groaned; "I deserve to
be shot for such crazy idiocy and selfishness.  But she said she was
all right, and I was ass enough to believe her."

Annabel, as usual, stood between me and the consequences of my folly.
"It wasn't your fault, Reggie: the girl is old enough to take care of
herself.  I really don't see how a bachelor of forty-two can be
expected to watch all the symptoms of a young girl's cold.  You aren't
a nurse."

But I refused to be comforted.  "I was a fool--as I am always, a
selfish, incompetent fool!  I wanted her to go for a walk with me, and
it never occurred to me to doubt that she wanted it too.  But Fay is so
unselfish, she would never think of herself where anybody else's
pleasure was concerned."

"I don't think it was unselfishness on her part, Reggie; it was simply
youthful recklessness.  Young people are always so careless about their
health, and if you try to consider them it only makes them worse.  I
remember once, years ago, going for a round of calls and ringing all
the bells myself, because the footman had such a bad cold I didn't
think he ought to ride on the box of the carriage, and when I got home
I found he'd spent the afternoon at a football match!"

"Why didn't you tell me as soon as I got home last night?"

"Because I didn't know.  I went to the Rectory this morning about some
parish affairs, and then Arthur told me.  He has sent for Frank to come
from Oxford, and they are both in a terrible state about Fay.  It was
really sad to see Frank.  What an affectionate nature that boy has!  I
do feel for him.  It is wretched for him to have his sister so ill."

"It is far more wretched for her," I said shortly.

"I don't know about that," replied Annabel, as if in a way she blamed
Fay for causing Frank this mental discomfort.  My sister was one of
those women who would always sacrifice a woman to a man.  Her
philosophy of life consisted in the theory that women must work, and
men must never on any account be allowed to weep.  If they were, the
women were in some way to blame.

I got up from the table, pushing my untasted plate away from me.  "I am
going across to the Rectory to see how she is now."

"Now, Reggie, don't be silly and make yourself ill by eating no lunch.
If you make yourself ill it won't make Fay any better, as two blacks
never make a white."

"It is all my fault that she is ill.  If I hadn't been such an arrant
fool her cold wouldn't have got to this pitch," I said savagely.

Annabel looked at me with the placidity which had soothed me all my
life.  "You needn't blame yourself, Reggie, you really needn't.  I wish
to goodness I'd never mentioned that walk!  It might have been wiser it
you had taken Frank instead of Fay, perhaps, and would have been
equally cheerful for you; but if Fay herself didn't suggest it, I don't
see that you were called upon to think of it.  When I was Fay's age I
was quite capable of taking care of my own colds, and so ought she to
be.  Though I must say in my young days young people had more stamina
than they have now, and wouldn't have thought of letting a cold fly to
their lungs in this hurried fashion.  In my time a cold began in the
head and went down to the throat, and then on to the chest, and only
got to the lungs as a last resort--and not that, unless it was
neglected.  The ordinary cold never went to the lungs at all."

Again I felt that Annabel was blaming Fay for allowing herself to have
been so rapidly overrun by the invading enemy; so, as I could not bear
to hear my darling blamed without standing up for her, and as I
likewise couldn't bear to stand up against Annabel for anybody, I went
out of the room, banging the door behind me.

Then followed an unspeakable time of heart-rending anxiety.  The
pneumonia spread, and all the efforts of Jeffson and of a consultant
from London to stop it proved unavailing.  I found myself face to face
with the crushing and incredible blow of the death of a dear one who
was younger than myself.  The passing onwards of our beloved must
always be a sorrow to us; but if they are older than ourselves, the
sorrow seems more or less a natural one.  But when they are our
juniors--and especially when they are considerably our juniors--the
agony becomes unnatural, even monstrous.  It is against nature for the
young ones to be taken and the old ones to be left: an anguish
unbearable save to those blessed souls who have grasped the great truth
that death, after all, is only a semicolon--not a full stop.

To me, during those dreadful days of Fay's illness, the sun seemed to
be turned into darkness and the moon into blood; there was no light
anywhere, and I realised that if her sun went down while it was yet
day, there would be nothing henceforth for me but dreary twilight until
the dawn of the resurrection morning.  Of course I prayed, but the
heavens were as brass above me: none answered, nor were there any that
regarded, and my soul went down into the darkness and the shadow of
death.

"Let us send for Mr. Henderson," I said to Arthur, as soon as I knew
how ill my darling was.  "If he saved Frank, he could save her."

But Arthur shook his head.  "I thought of that, and telephoned for him
to come.  But I find he has gone on a trip to the Holy Land, and will
not be back for weeks and weeks.  If he started back at once, he would
not be here in time to do anything for Fay, and besides, they do not
know exactly where to find him."

So that hope was extinguished.

On the eighth day--to me it seemed the eighth century--of Fay's
illness, I awoke in the morning (if one can call it waking when one
hardly sleeps) with certain words of Mr. Henderson's ringing in my
ears; words to which I had attached no importance at the time, which I
had never thought of since, but which suddenly came back to me now with
an emphasis they had not borne at first.  The materialist, with his
deeper credulity and more unreasoning faith, would put this phenomenon
down to some strange and inexplicable vagary on the part of my
subconscious self; but my simpler and less complex mind was satisfied
with the more obvious explanation that God had, after all, heard my
prayer, and had let my cry come unto Him.

"I do not know, but I think you have the gift of healing," Henderson
had said to me just as he was leaving the Rectory, "utterly
uncultivated and undeveloped, but ready for Christ's use should He need
it."

And when I woke from my restless dozing on that particular morning,
those words of Mr. Henderson's were ringing in my ears as plainly as if
he had just uttered them.

I dressed hurriedly, and without waiting for any breakfast went
straight to the Rectory to remind Blathwayte of what Henderson had
said.  It was too early as yet for the doctor's visit, and the
night-nurse was still upon duty; but she had nothing good to report, as
Fay's temperature kept up and her strength Was failing.

"Come and see," said Blathwayte, when I had recalled Henderson's words
to his mind.  "If he was right, and you have the gift, you may save
Fay's life even yet."

And he took me into the sick-room, where the shadow of my darling lay
fighting for breath.

Then followed another of those experiences which sound incredible in
the telling, but which was so natural--so inevitable--at the time, that
it would have been impossible for anything else to have happened.

I knelt down by Fay's bed and laid my hand on her burning forehead, and
I lifted up my soul to God in prayer, as I had never lifted it before.
As I prayed I became conscious--as I had been when Frank seemed
dying--of a Presence in the room, the Presence of a living Christ who
was standing by my side so near that I could almost feel His Touch--so
real that I felt if I opened my eyes I should see His Face.  And with
His coming all the sorrow and anxiety and misery disappeared, and I
knew that nothing could ever really harm her or pluck her out of His
Hand.  Fear vanished, because with Him beside me there was nothing to
fear: sorrow disappeared, because He brought with Him fulness of joy:
death stood at bay, because He had conquered death.  There was nothing
any longer except Him, because in Him and through Him and of Him are
all things.  And I was conscious not only of a profound peace in this
Ineffable Presence: I was conscious also of an inexhaustible power.  I
felt flowing into me, and through me into Fay, a sort of wonderful
electric current--a very elixir of life itself--which I can describe as
nothing but "the Power from on High."  At that moment I felt that I had
the wings of eagles, and the strength of the angels that excel.

How long I knelt I know not.  It was a moment snatched from eternity,
and therefore beyond the measurements of time.  I realised that in His
glorious Presence there is neither past nor future, but only one
glorious, unending Now.

Gradually the Presence withdrew Itself, and the rush of Power flowing
through me subsided, and I opened my eyes and looked at Fay.  The fever
flush in her cheeks was already fading, and the brow under my hand grew
cool and moist.  I rose from my knees and told the nurse to take the
temperature: she did so, and found it rapidly subsiding.  The pulse,
too, was slower, and the breathing much easier.  By the time that the
doctor came he was able to say that the crisis was past, and that the
patient was on the way to recovery.

Of course, both the doctor and the nurses were amazed beyond words:
they could not account for such a sudden and unexpected turn for the
better.  But I was not surprised.  I had been too recently in the
Presence of Christ to wonder at any manifestation of His Power.  The
wonder to me would have been if Fay had not recovered.



CHAPTER VIII

LOVE AMONG THE RUINS

Fay recovered rapidly, to the surprise of the doctors and the nurses,
but not to mine.  After that ineffable moment by what seemed to be her
dying bed, I had no further anxiety about her health.  I knew she was
going to be better and stronger than she had ever been before.

But though I felt no anxiety on that account, I was considerably
worried on another.  I could not fail to see that the fact that I had
been used as God's instrument in restoring my darling to health had
greatly exaggerated my importance in her eyes.  Although I tried my
utmost to convince her that it was all God's doing and not mine in the
least, I could not quell the uprush of undeserved gratitude to me which
filled her dear heart.  Also, perhaps, the appeal of her weakness
loosened the armour of reserve which I had once buckled on so tightly,
and, strive as I might, I could no longer keep my love for her out of
my eyes and voice.  It would work through, in spite of all my efforts
to suppress it.

I knew by now that Fay loved me: I knew that she knew that I loved her.
Then what was I to do?

I could never be grateful enough to God that He had used me as His
instrument in bringing my Beloved back to life and health, but of what
avail would that restored life be to her if I marred it by allowing her
to mate the fulness of her youth with crabbed age?  Should I, who had
been granted, under God, the inestimable blessing of saving her life,
be the one to spoil it for her?  Was it for me to mar what I had been
permitted to make: to destroy what I had been allowed to restore?

Yet how I loved her!  Only God and my own soul knew how I loved her!
Surely no young man, however worthier of her he might be in every other
respect, could ever love her as much as I did.

In my perplexity I consulted Arthur.  The advice of my parish
priest--or, as the Prayer Book puts it, of any discreet and learned
minister--ought to be of help to me in a perplexity such as this.
Being a clergyman, Arthur would know so much more about human nature
than I knew; for then--as always--I had no confidence in my own
judgment.

I put the case to Blathwayte as tersely as I could, begging him not to
allow his friendship for me to lure him into setting my happiness
before my duty.

"I am not thinking about your happiness," he replied in his blunt way,
"I'm thinking about Fay's."

"That is all I try to think about," I said, "and that is why I have
appealed to you.  But I see, old man, you agree with me that I have no
right to set my happiness before hers by asking her to marry me and
link her young life with mine."

"I certainly don't think you have any right to sacrifice Fay's
happiness to your own."

"Then that settles it," I said.

"Or to a false idea of what your conscience conceives to be your duty,"
he went on, as if I had not spoken.

This gave me pause.  "How do you mean?" I asked.

"I mean that if you love Fay, as I know you do, and if she loves you,
as I believe she does, you have no right to throw away this good and
perfect gift for the sake of some home-made scruple of yours.  I mean
that you are not justified in spoiling Fay's life, even for the
pleasure of spoiling your own at the same time.

"Then what should you advise me to do?"

"I should advise you to tell Fay that you love her and to ask her to
marry you, and to abide by her decision whatever it is."

"But she is so young," I pleaded--against my own cause.

"If she is old enough to receive the gift of a good man's love, she is
old enough to know she has received it, and to thank Heaven fasting for
it."

"But I am so old--compared with her."

"That is her business--at least, so it seems to me," replied
Blathwayte.  "If she thinks you are too old, she can refuse you.  It is
a thing that has been done.  But I do think that she is old enough to
choose for herself, and not to have things settled for her as if she
were a child or an imbecile.  She has plenty of common sense."

"But I doubt if she is old enough and experienced enough to choose in a
thing like this.  It would break my heart if she chose wrongly and
regretted it afterwards."

"Hearts run the risk of getting broken in this work-a-day world, and
they had better run that risk than remain wrapped up in cotton wool
until they stifle and suffocate.  If you'll excuse my saying so,
Reggie, you are too fond of transferring personal responsibilities.
You let Miss Kingsnorth make up your mind for you, and in return you
propose to make up Fay's.  For my part, I think it is best for people
to make up their own minds, and to be prepared to take the
consequences.  It is in acting for oneself and in bearing the
consequences of one's actions that the education of life consists, also
the saving dogma of Free Will."

Thus inspired by Arthur I was tempted to put my scruples on one side
and my fate to the test; but even yet I was haunted by doubts as to
whether my doing so would be fair to Fay.  I gave Arthur's counsel the
consideration that it deserved: as a clergyman he was, so to speak, a
specialist in the diagnosis of right and wrong, and also in all matters
connected with the human soul.  But--when all was said and done--he was
a man and not a woman, and no episcopal laying on of hands can convey
the power rightly to discern the workings of the female heart.  So I
decided that the person to help and advise me was not Blathwayte at
all, but Annabel, as she was a woman herself and therefore the best
judge as to how a woman would feel.  I felt that my sister would
necessarily understand Fay far better than either Arthur or I could.
So I took Annabel into my confidence.

She listened to me carefully and sympathetically, just as she used to
listen to a category of my physical symptoms when I was a little boy,
and she feared I had caught some childish complaint.

"I am not surprised," she said, when I had finished; "I was afraid
there would be some trouble of this kind after Fay's most remarkable
recovery and your queer part in it."  Annabel was one of the people who
would always describe any direct answer to prayer as "remarkable."  But
"no offence meant," as the servants say.  She absolutely believed in
the God of Revelation; she stringently urged the imperative duty of
prayer; yet when any obvious connection displayed itself between the
human request and the Divine Response, she at once relegated the
phenomenon to the realm of accidental coincidence, if not to that of
hysterical imagination.

"I shouldn't describe it exactly as 'trouble,'" I remonstrated.

"I felt sure you'd fall in love with her, as you call it after her
recovery seemed to be the result of your praying for her.  Any man
would," continued my sister, just in the same tone as thirty years ago
she would have said, "I felt sure you would catch measles after having
been exposed to the infection.  Any child would."  Evidently, now as
then, Annabel pitied rather than blamed me.  Her blame would be
reserved for those who had exposed me to the infection.

"I'm not asking you why I fell in love with her, Annabel; I shouldn't
be such an ass as to ask that.  If you can tell me the reason why any
man falls in love with any woman, you have solved the riddle of the
ages.  The Sphinx herself could not baffle you."

"The reason is generally looks or money," replied the undaunted Annabel.

"The reason for marriage, perhaps, but not for falling in love.  Love
is beyond all reason, or it wouldn't be love."

"Then what are you asking me?  How you can get over it?"

"Good heavens, no!" I cried.  "I shall never 'get over it,' as you say,
and I never want to.  What I am asking you is, do you think I am
justified in asking Fay to marry me?"

"I am very pleased you have consulted me in this way, Reggie, very much
pleased indeed.  It shows a very proper feeling on your part, and is a
fresh proof of your unchanging affection for me, and of your confidence
in my judgment.  As I have told you, I have seen this coming on ever
since Fay took that remarkable turn for the better, and I have tried to
face it in the proper spirit."

"And so you will," I exclaimed.  "I have never known anything happen
that you haven't faced in the proper spirit."

Annabel looked pleased.  "Of course, Reggie, I cannot deny that it is a
bit of a shock to me--especially after all these years; but on the
other hand papa always wished you to marry, and it does seem a pity for
the title to die out.  I try to look at the matter from all sides."

"Yes, yes," I said impatiently, getting up from my seat and walking
about the great hall, where we had been sitting in the firelight after
tea.  "But what we are discussing now is not whether I am justified in
marrying at all, but whether I am justified in marrying Fay."

Annabel shook her head.  "That is what I am not sure about.  I wish to
look at the question dispassionately, but I very much doubt if you are."

My heart fell fathoms deep; yet I felt how wise I had been to consult
Annabel before speaking to Fay.  Arthur, looking at the matter from the
man's point of view, did not see the injustice of tying a young woman
to an old man; but Annabel, looking at it from the woman's standpoint,
evidently did.

"She is so young," I said.

"And so inexperienced," my sister added.

"That is what I feel.  She has seen no society of her own class, except
Blathwayte and ourselves."

"Exactly, Reggie, and nothing but good society teaches a girl _savoir
faire_.  Of course, even a girl as young as Fay who had seen more of
the world would be different; but she came here straight out of the
schoolroom."

How well Annabel understood, I thought to myself, and how exactly she
looked at the matter from my point of view!  She really was a wonderful
woman.  "Then you think even at her age--if she had seen more of the
world and had had more experience of life--I might have asked her to
marry me without making a mistake which would spoil both our lives?"

"I do indeed, Reggie.  But as it is she is so very ignorant and
unsophisticated."

There was a pause, which I filled up by spoiling my right boot through
poking the fire with it.  Then Annabel said, apparently à propos of
nothing: "Fay hasn't any money--at least, not any to speak of."

How well my sister read my thoughts, I said to myself.  It was Fay's
lack of wealth--if she did not marry me--that weighed on my mind.
Wildacre had left his children about eight hundred a year apiece, but
that was not enough to keep my darling as she ought to be kept.  Still
I admit I was surprised that this should have occurred to Annabel.

"But anyhow you have enough," she went on.  "Papa left an adequate
fortune to endow a baronetage."

I admitted he did, though I could not see what on earth that had to do
with the question.  "Still, I couldn't share it with Fay unless she
were my wife," I added.

Annabel looked puzzled.  "Of course not.  Whoever suggested such a
thing?"

"I thought you did."

"Good gracious, no! such an absurd idea never entered my head.  I was
only thinking about your marrying Fay."

"I spoke to Arthur on the matter, as he is Fay's guardian," I
continued, "and also my own parish priest."

"It was quite right to consult him as Fay's guardian, but I do not see
what being a parish priest, as you call it, has to do with the
question.  And I must say I very much hope, Reggie, that you did not
use that ridiculous expression in speaking to Arthur.  He is too much
inclined to Romanism as it is, and expressions like that are apt to
give him false and popish notions of his own importance."

"And he said," I went on, "that I ought to tell Fay that I love her,
and to let the decision of accepting or refusing me lie with her."

"What ridiculous advice!  Of course she would accept you at once."

Again I was grateful to Annabel for seeing my darling as I saw her.
She evidently realised, as I did, that Fay was far too unselfish to
consider her own happiness in comparison with mine.  If Fay knew I
loved her, she would accept me, whatever the sacrifice to herself.

"Then you think Arthur was wrong?" I asked.

"Absolutely.  He nearly always is when he acts or speaks on his own
judgment, though in other respects he is a most excellent man, and one
for whom I have the greatest regard.  But he is like you, Reggie, in
requiring some one at his elbow to give him good advice, though I do
not think he is always as ready as you are to follow it."

My heart felt like lead.  "And you think I am not justified in asking a
girl of eighteen to marry me?"

"Certainly not.  How can there be any real and satisfactory
companionship between a girl of that age and a man of yours!"

I made one final appeal for happiness.  "Not even if they love each
other very much?"

"I don't see what that has to do with it.  Parents love their children
very much, but that doesn't prevent them from looking at things from
the different points of view of their different generations.  And it is
natural that they should.  I am sure I loved papa very much, but we did
not see eye to eye in heaps of things, because the ideas of his
generation were quite different from the ideas of ours.  He was very
narrow in some things.  But differences which are quite allowable
between parents and children seem to me to be unnatural between a
husband and wife, and even more aggravating."

"Then that finally settles the matter," I said, walking out of the hall
to the library, for fear that even the subdued glow of the firelight
should reveal the misery that I knew must be written on my face.
Arthur had opened the door of hope to me just a little; but Annabel had
firmly shut it again, and naturally I was more influenced by Annabel
than by Arthur--especially as her opinion coincided with my own.

But the matter was not finally closed after all.

After two bitter-sweet days--days when the happiness of my short visits
to Fay was clouded by the iron self-restraint I was forced to exercise
in her dear presence, and when love and duty waged their mortal combat
in my soul--Annabel came to me as I was smoking in the library.  She
had just returned from the Rectory, and I noticed that the wintry wind
must have caught her eyes, they looked so red and swollen.  There
certainly was a bitter wind that day.

"I have been talking to Arthur," she abruptly began, standing in front
of the table and resting her two hands upon it, "and I have come to the
conclusion that he was right and I was wrong."

I was surprised.  It was so very unlike Annabel to own that she had
been wrong about anything, I feared she must be ill.

"But it really was not altogether my fault," she continued; "it really
was yours in not making things plainer to me."

I felt relieved: there was evidently nothing serious the matter with my
sister.  It was absolutely normal for things to be my fault and not
hers.  Annabel was herself again.

"What things didn't I make plain?" I asked.

"You didn't make it plain to me how much your feelings were involved in
this sort of affair with Fay Wildacre."

"But, my dear girl, I told you that I wanted to marry Fay, and what
better proof could I have given you of the depth of my feelings for
her?"

"Oh yes, you said you wanted to marry her, but I didn't understand that
you cared for her as much as Arthur says you do," persisted Annabel, as
if asking for a woman's hand in marriage was merely a sign of
transitory admiration, such as asking for her hand in a dance.  "Of
course, that makes all the difference."

"All what difference?" I asked in bewilderment.  "I am no orator as
Blathwayte is, and therefore I cannot express my feelings as he seems
able to express them; but I wish you to be under no delusion as to the
state of my feelings towards Fay.  To me she is and always will be the
only woman I could possibly marry--the only woman with whom I could
ever fall in love.  I love her to the very depths of my being and
always shall, and it is because I love her so much that I refuse to
take my happiness at the expense of hers, and to tie her for life to a
man old enough to be her father.  There now, you have it.  If I wasn't
clear enough before, surely I am now."

"That's you all over, Reggie, always ready to sacrifice yourself to
other people!  I never knew anybody as absolutely unselfish as you
are--except, of course, mamma."

I was astonished, and showed it.  "But you agreed with me, Annabel.
You said it wouldn't be fair to Fay to ask her to marry me."

It was now Annabel's turn to look surprised.  "What nonsense, Reggie!
I don't know what you are talking about."

"You said I was too old to make her happy."

"I couldn't possibly have ever said anything so utterly idiotic.  You
must be going off your head!  Why, I think that to marry you would be
the greatest happiness any woman could possibly have, and I don't
believe that any woman living is worthy of it."

This, of course, was ridiculous sisterly exaggeration, and needed
nipping in the bud.  But I was too busy just then thinking about Fay to
have time to nip Annabel.  "You said I was too old for her," I
persisted.

"I didn't.  I said she was too young for you, which is quite a
different thing.  But I'll withdraw even that if you think she is
necessary to your happiness."

"There is no doubt of that.  The only question that matters is whether
I am necessary to hers."

Annabel smiled her old, indulgent smile.  "Oh, Reggie, how absurd you
are.  You don't seem to realise that the woman who marries you will be
the luckiest woman on the face of the earth.  And you really ought to
marry; papa would have wished it; I am sure it would have been a
dreadful disappointment to him if the baronetcy had died out.  He had
great ideas of founding a family."

"He would have adored Fay.  I wish he could have lived to see her," I
said softly, so softly that Annabel did not hear me.

"I know papa would have been pleased at your marrying; it is a great
support to me to feel sure of that.  But the thing that I care most for
is your happiness, Reggie; I could never bear to feel that any words of
mine have ever stood between you and your heart's desire, and if you
feel certain that Fay will make you happy, by all means ask her to
marry you."

"I do feel certain of that.  She will make me happier than my wildest
dreams."

Annabel turned to leave the room.  "Had I been in your place," she
remarked thoughtfully, "I should have selected a woman of my own age
who would have known how to manage a large household and would have
been an agreeable and sympathetic companion, looking at life from my
own standpoint.  But people know their own business best.  And of
course there are other considerations," she added, opening the door.
"There's something to everything," she concluded, summing up with one
terse and enigmatical sentence the great law of compensation as she
closed the door behind her.

As soon as Annabel left me I rushed across to the Rectory.  Now that my
sister had gone over to the beneficent enemy, and had joined forces
against my struggle to do what I considered to be my duty at the cost
of what I knew to be my happiness, there was no more fight left in me.
I capitulated at once, and decided to follow Blathwayte's advice and
leave the matter in my darling's hands.  She was my queen, and it was
for her to rule and order my fate.

I found her, as usual, lying on a chintz-covered sofa by the fire in
the beautifully proportioned drawing-room.

"I am so glad you have come," said Fay, after I had greeted her and sat
down beside her sofa.  "You are one of the tiresome people who make
things dreadfully dull by not being there."

"I'm sorry," I replied, "or rather, I'm glad."

"You have spoilt a lot of pleasure for me in that way," Fay continued,
"and I find it rather hard to forgive you.  I used to enjoy myself
always, and now I only enjoy myself when you are about.  It proves you
have a rather narrowing influence, don't you think?"

"It does seem to point that way," I agreed.

"And not an influence that makes for universal happiness, either, Sir
Reggie," Fay went on.  "As you can only be in one place at once, there
can only be one cheerful place in the world at a time, while the number
of places you can't be at is unlimited, therefore the number of places
you make miserable are unlimited.  I've come to the conclusion that the
really benevolent people are those who make a hell of whatever place
they are in, and a heaven of every other place because they aren't in
it.  When you come to think of it, the amount of joy that these people
scatter about is simply enormous.  Think of the countless little
heavens below that they create!"

"It is a beautiful thought, and shows how _nous autres_ ought to follow
their example.  I say _nous autres_ advisedly, as you are made on the
same lines as I am--at least, as you say I am.  In fact, I regret to
state that I never met anybody who had the knack of creating--by your
mere absence--such illimitable and chaotic blanks as you do."

I loved talking nonsense with Fay.  As a matter of fact I have always
loved talking nonsense.  I belong to the generation to which nonsense
appeals.  The past generation is too serious for it, and the rising
generation is too strenuous: it was the prerogative of the last quarter
of the nineteenth century to bring nonsense to the level of a fine art.
And of all kinds of nonsense, the nonsense which is at the same time a
curtain and a channel for love-making is to me the most delightful.

When our parents made love, they discussed the intellectual questions
of the day; when their grandchildren make love, they discuss the social
problems of theirs; but in the middle ages that came between these two
eras, love-making belonged neither to the realm of mind nor to the
realm of morals, but rather to that of manners alone.  Of course, love
was and is the same in all ages--and in all centuries: it is eternal,
and therefore has nothing to do with time.  But the art of love-making
varies with each generation, and every period has its own particular
style.  I am quite aware that by reason of her youth Fay had the right
to a lover who would discuss with her the origin of Sex-antagonism or
the economic relations of Capital and Labour; but Annabel and Arthur
robbed her of that right when they overthrew my scruples and bade me go
forth to woo the woman that I loved.

"You make places much more loathsome by not being there than I do,"
said Fay.

"Pardon me, that is the one subject on which I am more competent to
form a judgment than you are, as you have never been into those
abominations of desolation where you are not present, and can therefore
form no idea of their ghastly vacuity.  But consciousness of sin should
result in amendment of life, and now that we know our faults the next
question is how are we to cure them?"

"We'll cure yours first, Sir Reggie.  It seems to me that all you have
got to do is to go to all places and parties that I go to, so that I
shall never know how horrible they would have been if you hadn't been
there.  Of course, if you could have been everywhere at once it would
have been best, as in that case there would have been no dull parties
or empty places--no abominations of desolations, that is to say--for
anybody.  But that would be so difficult and trying for you, as it is
most fatiguing to be in even two places at once.  Please notice what
self-restraint I am exercising in not quoting Sir Boyle Roche and his
bird.  Ninety-nine persons out of every hundred would have done so at
the present point of the conversation."

"But you are always the hundredth," I explained.

"But not the Old Hundredth as yet! that is a pleasure still to come."

"Not in my time," I said, and though I smiled there was a sigh at the
back of the smile.  How glorious it would have been if I had been young
too, so that Fay and I might have grown old together!  But that could
never be.

"So, as you can't be in two, much less in two hundred places at once,
the only thing is for you to be in the same place as I am.  That will
come to the same thing, as far as I am concerned, and beyond that I
really cannot manage matters.  I have a most provincial mind, and the
world isn't my province, as it was Bacon's or Shakspere's or
somebody's.  Whoever it was, he must have been a very interfering
person if he acted up to his principles, which I expect he didn't, as
nobody does, except Miss Kingsnorth and Mr. Blathwayte."

"They do," I agreed.

"Don't they, fearfully?"

I let this pass, as I was intent on other matters.  "But about curing
this fault of mine," I went on; "if one person can't always be in two
places at once, two people can always be in one place at once, and
that--as you remark--practically amounts to the same thing in the long
run.  That I could manage, I think--with, of course, a little help from
you.  And, strange to say, it was about this arrangement that I came to
see you to-day."

"I saw you came about something.  You hadn't the loose-endy sort of a
look you generally have."

"What sort of a look had I?"

Fay shrugged her shoulders airily.  "Oh, a 'life-is-real,
life-is-earnest,' and
'England-expects-every-man-this-day-to-do-his-duty' sort of look.  But
don't mind my mentioning it.  It was rather a becoming look, as a
matter of fact, and nothing for you to worry about."

I took the little hand that was lying over the edge of the sofa.  "Fay,
do you know what I came to say?" I said softly.

"Yes; but all the same, I'd rather you said it.  I shan't take it as
read."

"It is so hard for me to put into words."

"But so nice for me to hear the words into which it is put."

"You vain child!" I whispered, stroking her curly hair.

The lovely eyes lifted to mine were full of laughter.  But there was
something in them behind the laughter--that something which for weeks
and weeks I had been trying so hard not to see.  "If I'm vain, you are
idle; so one is as bad as the other."

There were a few seconds of silence, then Fay said: "Go on, I'm
waiting."

"Well, then, it is no good my telling you that I love you, for you know
that already.  And it is no good my attempting to tell you how much I
love you, because I could never do that if I talked from now till
doomsday."

"Still, it wouldn't be a bad way of passing the time from now till
then," Fay remarked.

"Then we'll pass it so, my darling," I said, kneeling down beside her
sofa and taking her in my arms, "and eternity shall be passed in the
same way, after doomsday is over.  And even then I shan't have half
told you how much I love you."  And I kissed her full on the lips, and
for the first time in my life knew the ecstasy of human love.

After a few minutes of blissful silence, Fay remarked: "If _I_ try to
tell _you_ how much I love you, I shall have my work cut out for me
too; and if I have to do it between now and doomsday it will take me
all I know to get it done in the time."

"Do you love me so very much, my little Fay?"

"Frightfully much, ridiculously much, far, far more than you deserve."

"But I am so old, sweetheart--so much too old for you.  That is what is
worrying me."

Fay cuddled up to me, laughing contentedly.  "I know.  I have watched
it worrying you for ages.  I have seen you for months now trying to
work out a sum that if you take away eighteen from forty-two nothing
remains, and you couldn't get it right."

"Still nothing did remain when there seemed a chance of eighteen being
taken away from forty-two; absolutely nothing at all."

Fay laughed again, a little gurgling laugh of pure delight.  "How
dreadfully clever you are!  If you go on being as clever as that you'll
have a headache, or softening of the brain, or something of that kind.
You make me quite anxious about you."

"But though I know that if eighteen were taken away from forty-two
nothing could remain--at least, nothing that would make life worth
living--I still can't make forty-two equal to eighteen.  Eighteen is so
much more than forty-two in every dimension that matters--in youth and
health and joy and vigour and everything else that counts."

"Your language is charming, Sir Reggie, but your arithmetic leaves much
to be desired."

"Sir me no sirs, if you love me.  Reggie, plain Reggie, an' it please
you.  But, sweetheart, I have been struggling for months not to let you
know that I love you, as I felt it was not fair to ask a young girl
like you to marry a stuffy old fogey like me."

"Very thoughtful of you!  As I said, I have noticed concealment like a
worm i' the bud feeding on your damask cheek for some time, but it
didn't bluff me.  When did you fall in love with me?"

"The first moment that I saw you."

Fay nodded her head--as well as circumstances would permit it.  "I'm
not surprised.  That large black hat is very becoming."

"And when did you fall in love with me, my darling?" I asked.

"Not the first moment that I saw you."

I laughed.  "I didn't expect you would."

"Long, long before that: from Frankie's description of you."

My face fell.  "Oh, sweetheart, what a horrid way of falling in love."

"It wasn't horrid at all, silly--and anyway it was my way.  From
Frankie's letters I had built up a sort of combination of King Arthur
and Sir Philip Sidney and Henry Esmond and the Scarlet Pimpernel, and
had called it You and fallen in love with it.  And of course I felt
sure that when I met you you would fall far short of what I had
imagined, and so the rest of my life would be one bitter regret and
longing for a lost ideal.  You know the sort of thing: just what a girl
would thoroughly enjoy.  And then when I got to know the real You, you
were so much nicer than anything I had ever imagined that all my
unfulfilled plans were quite upset.  And so instead of breaking my
heart, as I had intended, I lost it."

"You darling!" I whispered, covering her pretty curls with kisses.

"And now, since we are on the catechising task, would you mind telling
me what stopped concealment's meal, and why your damask cheek was
suddenly, as you might say, 'off' the menu?" Fay asked.

I told her the simple truth.  "Because both Annabel and Arthur said
that you had a right to know that I loved you, and that it was for you
to decide whether I was too old for you."

Fay drew herself slightly out of my arms.  "How very interfering of
them!" she said shortly.

I hastened to explain.  "No, no, my darling, you mustn't think that.
You will be doing them both a grave injustice if you do.  I asked for
their advice, they would never have offered it otherwise."

"I can't see that it was any business of theirs."

"But of course it was," I urged; I could not bear for there to be any
misunderstanding between Fay and Annabel.  "Don't you see, sweetheart,
that it was certainly Arthur's business, because your father appointed
him your guardian?  And Annabel has been more than a sister--almost
more than a mother--to me, so that everything which concerns me is her
business _par excellence_."

"I see," said Fay.  But somehow--I do not know why--a cloud seemed to
have come over the full sunshine of our new happiness.

"And they were right," I continued in further exculpation of the two
who, next to Fay, were dearest to me in the world.  "It is owing to
their advice that I have dared to ask you to marry me.  Otherwise I
shouldn't have felt I was worthy to ask such a thing."

"Well, you haven't asked it--at least, not in my hearing," laughed Fay,
the sunshine breaking out once more after the passing cloud.

"Dearest, will you marry me?"

Fay's answer was characteristic.  "Miss Wildacre begs to thank Sir
Reginald Kingsnorth for his kind invitation, and has much pleasure in
accepting it.  Oh no, that wasn't quite right.  Miss Wildacre begs to
thank Sir Reginald and Miss Kingsnorth for their kind invitation, and
has much pleasure in accepting it.  That is better."

It pleased me to find her coupling my sister's name with mine in this
fashion, and I approved her amendment.  I wanted her to recognise how
much my marriage meant to Annabel.

I sealed our compact with a kiss.

"I believe you really love me," said Fay.

"_Rather_!  But I am afraid it is 'Love among the Ruins,' sweetheart:
the ruins being represented by Arthur and Annabel and myself."

Fay ran her fingers through my still bushy hair.  "Not ruins--not
exactly ruins, my Reggie: say rather ancient monuments in the most
perfect state of preservation."  And that was all the comfort she would
give me--at least, just then.

But after some further conversation, with no reporter present, she
looked up into my face and said: "So Love has performed the miracle
after all which you said could never be performed again.  Love has made
us one at last, and has set the dial ten degrees backward.  There is
nothing between us now, Reggie--not even those tiresome ten degrees."



CHAPTER IX

THINGS GREAT AND SMALL

The time of our engagement was a very happy time for me.  It was so
heavenly to be continually with Fay, and not to feel myself bound in
honour to dissemble my love.  And the more I saw of her the more
devotedly I loved her.  Surely there never was anybody so gay and
loving and light-hearted as she.

When Frank came down from Oxford at Christmas, he added to the general
hilarity, and welcomed me as a brother with an unconscious
condescension which amused as much as it gratified me.  He, Fay and I,
formed a Triple Entente, from which everything that appertained to
middle age was excluded.  So that I was not only happy for the first
time in my life--I was also young.

There was only one drawback to my perfect bliss--one crumpled rose-leaf
in my bed of roses, and that was my consciousness of the fact that Fay
and Annabel did not appreciate one another as thoroughly as I could
have wished.  Of course I could see the reasonableness--one might
almost say the inevitableness--of this.  In the first place, I could
not disguise it from myself that my marriage, even to any one as
completely adorable as Fay, was something of a blow to Annabel, who had
ruled so long and so undisputedly over her family circle.  Ever since
she had been old enough to take the reins, she had taken them and had
grasped them firmly; neither I nor my father before me had ever dared
to lay so much as a restraining finger on them: therefore it must have
been terribly hard for her to find herself equalled--in some things
even superseded--by a girl nearly thirty years her junior.  It was not
in human nature to avoid, however silently, resenting this, and
Annabel, though one of the best and wisest women that ever lived, was
nevertheless quite human.

On the other hand, I could not fail to see that Annabel's admirable
behaviour in accepting the situation as she did was utterly lost upon
Fay.  Annabel was really behaving splendidly, and Fay was totally
unconscious of it.  With (I am bound to admit it) the hardness of
youth, Fay was absolutely blind to Annabel's suffering; but at the same
time she was quick to perceive and to resent any curtness of manner or
sharpness of speech which were really only the outward symptoms of that
suffering.  I own I was disappointed at this, but it could not be
helped, and I decided in my own mind to make up to Annabel in every way
that I could for Fay's lack of appreciation, of my sister's sacrifice,
until the time came--as it surely would come when they grew to know
each other better--when Fay would learn to love Annabel as I loved her.
That Annabel would ever learn to love Fay as I loved my darling was
obviously beyond the realms of possibility, for surely no human being
ever loved another as I loved Fay; but I felt sure that as the child
grew older and Annabel recognised the beautiful and endearing qualities
which were hidden under the bewitchingly frivolous and off-hand manner,
she too would recognise Fay's charm and reverence her character.  At
any rate, I felt it would not be my fault if these, my two dearest,
failed eventually to love and appreciate one another; for I meant to
make it the object of my life to bring them to a fuller mutual
understanding, and to enable each to see and admire the good qualities
of the other.

So I was confident that the one crumpled rose-leaf would soon be ironed
flat again, and that the one tiny cloud was only a passing summer one.

There was another thing, too, which made me very happy at that time,
and filled my already brimming cup of joy to overflowing.

One morning the wife of one of my labourers stopped me in the village.

"Beg pardon, Sir Reginald," said she, "but my boy, Willie, has twisted
his back, and the pain be something fearful.  Something fearful it be."

"I am sorry for that, Mrs. Jackson," I said, "very sorry indeed.  How
did he do it?"

"By doin' what he ought not, Sir Reginald, him bein' a boy and climbin'
on to one of the big ricks in the rick-yard and tumblin' off."

"Has Dr. Jeffson seen him?"

"Yes, Sir Reginald, that he has, but he don't seem to know what to do
to do him good.  And Willie has taken it into his head that if you'd
come and lay your hands on him, like as you did on the young lady at
the Rectory, you'd stop the pain and make his back all right again, if
it wouldn't be too much trouble."

This request naturally caused me some astonishment.  It had not
occurred to me that my gift of healing was a permanent possession.  I
had imagined that my earnest prayer to God and my intense love for Fay
had made me, for that one occasion, a channel of the Divine Grace.
Then I remembered how St. Paul had said that among the diverse gifts of
the Spirit of God one is the gift of healing; and how Mr.
Henderson--who undoubtedly had himself been endowed with this gift--had
said that he believed it had been entrusted to me also.  Therefore I
acceded to Mrs. Jackson's request, and accompanied her to her cottage.

Willie was lying in the parlour on a horse-hair sofa, groaning with
pain.

"Well, my boy," I said, "I am sorry to hear you have hurt yourself.  Is
there anything that I can do for you?"

"Thank you for comin' to see me, Sir Reginald," replied the child,
pulling at his forelock in the absence of a cap; "I feel sartain that
if you'll lay your hands on me, like as you did on Miss Wildacre when
her was so bad, I'll get rid o' this dreadful pain, and be able to get
about again."

"I'll do what I can, Willie," I said, sitting down beside the sofa;
"but you must remember that I cannot cure you myself.  There is only
one Person who can cure you, and that is Christ.  I have no
power--neither has the doctor any power--except what Christ gives us.
He may choose to cure you by means of the doctor's medicine or by means
of my prayers; but whichever it may be, remember it is Christ's doing,
and not ours.  We are only the means that He chooses to make use of."

"But some folks do seem to have what you might call the gift o'
healin', Sir Reginald," said Mrs. Jackson.  "My mother was a
Scotchwoman, and she said there was allus healin' in the touch of a
seventh son.  Many and many a time has she seen it for herself, and in
the place where she came from folks 'ud send all over the country for a
seventh son if they was in pain."

If Mrs. Jackson had said this to me a year earlier, I should probably
have laughed at it as an ignorant superstition.  Now, I saw no
improbability in it at all.  I have learnt that that is the way with
many old wives' tales: behind the superstition there lies a scientific
truth, but during the march of the centuries the truth has been lost,
while the superstition has remained.  For instance, in many country
places there is a tradition that to carry a potato in one's pocket is a
cure for rheumatism, and modern medical science has discovered that one
of the best cures for rheumatic affections is the juice of the potato.
Again, it was a superstition of our great-grandmothers that if a cat
sneezed it was a premonition that colds were coming to all the
household; now we know that colds are infectious, and can be caught
from animals as well as from human beings.  In the same way, doubtless,
most of the superstitions about plants had their origin in knowledge of
the medicinal properties of those plants, and the old idea that a maid
could make herself beautiful by bathing her face in dew on a May
morning was, after all, nothing but a testimony to the beneficial
effects on the complexion of early rising and soft water.

What the "seventh son" had to do with the matter--or whether he had
anything to do with it at all--I do not pretend to say; but the
tradition about him is a proof that through all ages there have been
certain persons endowed with a soothing and a healing touch, with a
certain fulness of vitality which they could impart to their fellow
creatures.

Then one is faced by a difficulty as to how much or this power is
natural and how much is supernatural, which to me is no difficulty at
all, as I simply decline to differentiate between the two.  To me
everything in life is natural because everything is supernatural: there
is really no difference.  The only difference I can discover--which is,
after all, only a superficial one--is between the usual and the unusual.

I have waded through countless books on the workings of the
subconscious mind--on the powers of the subliminal self--on the depth
of that mysterious thing we call personality--until my faith has
staggered before the demands made upon it.  I found myself asked to
believe in impossibilities which would shake the credulity of a
child--to swallow camels which were too huge for the most efficient
digestion.  So I humbly confessed that I had not sufficient faith to
accept these transcendental doctrines, and turned instead to the older
and simpler and more practical explanation of natural and spiritual
phenomena as set forth in the Four Gospels.

I do not aspire to the transcendental knowledge of the modern mystic,
nor to the blind and childlike faith of the pure materialist.  Such
things are beyond me.  To me, it is as inconceivable that the soul
should save and satisfy itself out of its own fulness as that the body
should create and form itself out of the floating atoms of a mechanical
cosmos.  The only satisfactory answer that I have ever found to the
_Riddle of the Universe_ is the answer of the Living Christ.  St. Paul
had prepared for himself a complete curriculum of necessary knowledge
when he said: "I am determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus
Christ and Him crucified."

So in the question of healing; when one realises that the only Healer
is Christ, it becomes a mere matter of detail whether He chooses to use
as His instrument the skill of a physician, the self-conquest of the
patient, or the power of a natural healer: just as in old times it was
a mere matter of detail whether He anointed with clay the eyes of the
blind, or laid His hand on the sick person, or spake the word only.  It
was not the hem of the garment that healed, it was Christ Himself.  The
hem was only the chosen channel of His Divine Power.

I knelt down beside Willie Jackson's sofa, and laid my hands upon him
as I had laid them on Fay, at the same time lifting up my soul in
prayer that the boy's pain might cease and his injury be cured.  Again
I felt the Blessed Presence in the room, and the wonderful Power
rushing through me, and when at last I rose from my knees, Willie
exclaimed that the pain had gone.

And so it had for that day, but I had to lay my hands upon him in
prayer twice again before it disappeared altogether, and the doctor
pronounced him perfectly cured.  Why this was I cannot explain, and
have never attempted to explain.  It was enough for me--and quite
enough for Willie--that in three days' time he was absolutely well.  We
left explanations to those less simple souls who worship the Law rather
than the Law-Giver.

But my healing experiences did not end here.  Ponty, who was a martyr
to rheumatism, asked me to treat her as I had treated Willie Jackson,
which I did, with marked success.  Her pain disappeared, and her limbs
grew much more supple.  Gradually it became quite a custom in the
village for any one in pain or sickness to send for me, and I helped
them as far as I was able.  Sometimes my ministrations were absolutely
successful, sometimes only partially so; but I do not think they ever
failed to bring a certain amount of relief to the sufferers.  Again I
do not attempt an explanation: I only know that it was so.

People often ask me whether I consider this gift of healing a natural
or a spiritual gift.  My answer is that there is no fundamental
difference between the two, since "every good gift and every perfect
gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights."  But of
this I am sure, that it is not a gift bestowed upon every one alike,
and those who have it not should not therefore conclude that they are
farther from the Kingdom of Heaven than are those who have it.  We are
expressly told that there are diversities of gifts, but the same
Spirit, and it is not for us to choose which gift shall be ours.

I remember discussing this one day with Blathwayte when we were walking
home together from rabbit shooting.

"Although I agree with you, Reggie," he said, "that it saves a good
deal of needless confusion when once we realise that what we call the
natural and the supernatural are in reality one, and that the
distinction between them is purely artificial, that does not explain
why you are more successful at some times than at others.  Christ's
Power is always the same."

"No, Arthur, it isn't, because He has chosen to limit His Power by our
faith.  Remember 'He could do no mighty works there because of their
unbelief.'  When I fail, it may be that either I or my patient is
lacking in faith at the time."

Arthur nodded.  "That may be so.  Faith is always the one condition
that He imposes."

"And there may be another reason," I said slowly, "though it is one
which I find rather difficult to put into words.  I think that we human
beings are very apt to confuse two things which in God's eyes are
essentially different: I mean Prayer and Magic.  They are both
mysterious connections with the Unseen Powers through the mediums of a
form of words, by which we induce those Powers to act in accordance
with our own desires.  I think I may say without injustice that most
people who believe in either or both of them regard them as a spiritual
form of wirepulling."

Arthur smiled.  "I fancy you are not far out there, old man."

"I am not an authority on these matters," I continued; "I am only
airing my own perhaps worthless opinions; but I do honestly believe
that there is such a thing as Magic, and that the earlier races of
mankind knew far more about it than we do; and by Magic I mean the
power to move or control by some mysterious ritual the great forces of
Nature."

"You believe that this really can be done?"

"I do.  Whether it is right to do it is another matter, and one on
which I do not feel competent to express an opinion.  But that it can
be done--and has been done--I have no doubt whatsoever.  If Man was
made in the image of God, then surely some of the power of God is
inherent in him, even if he does not know how to wield it properly.  My
only doubt is whether it is safe for him to try to wield it, as long as
his ignorance of it is as great as it is in the present stage of human
history."

"They knew more about it in ancient Egypt," Arthur said.

"And in earlier civilisations even than that," I added.  "I believe
that in those far-away days men practised the rites and the mysteries
which brought them into contact with, and by which they controlled to
some extent, the Principalities and Powers of the vast universe which
for want of a better word we call Nature.  Then Man--as is
unfortunately his habit--fell away from his first estate, and began to
worship the Principalities and the Powers instead of the God who made
him and them, and then God drew a veil between Man and the Great
Powers, so that Man should not be tempted by knowing them to worship
them.  And that is where we are at present.  But even now the veil
sometimes wears thin in places, and some stray mortal peeps through and
catches faint glimpses of the glories and the grandeurs on the other
side."

"Then you do not believe that Pan is dead?" said Arthur.

"No more dead than anybody else is dead," I answered, "only separated
from us, like all the other so-called dead people, until we are
sufficiently advanced in our spiritual life to meet them again.  That
is really all that death amounts to, when you look it in the face."

"That is so," said Blathwayte in that quiet voice so right.

"I love to think of those early days," I went on, waxing garrulous and
tiresome, as I always do when I get on to this subject, "when Man was
conversant with the great forces of Nature; when he saw white presences
among the hills, and heard the message of the whirlwind and the fire,
and took his part in the chantings of the morning stars.  It was only
when he began to worship these that the evil came.  They were but the
choirs and the servers and the acolytes in the vast temple of his God,
and he did evil when he fell down and worshipped them.  It was then
that the veil of the temple was let down between them and him."

"And will it soon be lifted again, I wonder?"

"It will be rent in twain when Man is once more in absolute harmony
with the Infinite.  Don't you remember that in St. John's vision of the
Throne, in addition to the Spirits and the Elders, there were four
Beasts full of eyes, each with six wings?  I believe that these
six-winged Beasts--which Isaiah speaks of as Seraphim--are the great
forces of Nature, the Powers of wind and water and earth and fire:
those Powers which the ancients set up as gods and worshipped."

"Then you believe in the old gods?"

I shook my head.  "Not as gods, but as great forces; Man's initial
error lay in treating them as gods."

"And you believe that these strange Beings--these Principalities and
Powers--are not of evil?" asked Arthur.

"On the contrary, they are wholly of good when put in their proper
places, and regarded not as Man's masters, but as Man's
fellow-worshippers of the Most High.  They rest not day or night,
crying, 'Holy, Holy, Holy'; but Man is at present so stupid that he
hasn't ears to hear their _Sanctus_."

Arthur was silent for a moment, then he said: "I like these ideas of
yours, Reggie; they blow through one's dusty, stereotyped notions like
a strong wind from the mountains.  That is a fine conception of yours
of a temple where the choristers are the constellations, and the
acolytes the powers of the air.  It makes one feel that the universe is
so big and wide.  But I don't quite see how all this explains your
original proposition that Magic must not be confounded with Prayer."

"I'm sorry," I said; "I fear I am generally more or less of a wandering
sheep where conversation is concerned.  But what I mean--to put it
tersely--is that Magic is more or less of a command, while Prayer
altogether is a supplication.  Both involve a mystical communion with
an unseen Power; but while we may command the lesser Powers, we can do
nothing but abase ourselves before the Highest Power of all."

"I see your point," said Arthur.  "Since Magic is, so to speak, more or
less mechanical, certain results must necessarily follow certain
rituals; but with Prayer the final result lies with the Power to whom
the request is made, and is therefore what one might call optional."

"Exactly.  And I believe the reason why Prayer is not invariably
answered at once--and not always in the way we expect--is to teach us
that we are not controlling a spiritual force but are supplicating a
living Person; therefore the final decision lies with Him and not with
us, and we must be content to leave it there.  If, by uttering certain
words and performing certain ceremonies, I was invariably able to heal
a patient, I should be healing by Magic, a thing, mind you, which has
been done--and possibly still is done--in the history of the world; but
if I lay what natural and spiritual gifts I may possess at the
patient's service, and leave the result in Christ's hands, then Christ
does what He thinks fit in His love and His own way.  In dealing with a
Person one must allow for the Personal Equation, even though that
Person be our Lord Himself."

"I am glad to hear you say this," said Blathwayte as we parted, "as I
was afraid that the idea of Magic--in conjunction with the healing
powers which you undoubtedly possess--might get hold of a man of your
peculiar temperament.  But you seem to look at it as simply and
naturally as Henderson does."

A few days after this conversation with Arthur, Annabel startled me by
suddenly coming into the library, and saying without any preamble, as
she stood beside my chair at the writing-table: "Where do you think I
had better take a house, Reggie? somewhere near here or in London?"

"Take a house?  What on earth do you mean?" I asked in amazement.

"Well, I must live somewhere, and I can't stay on very well here after
you are married."

"But why not?  You simply _must_ stay on with us, and manage the house
as you have always done; I couldn't bear the Manor without you."

"It is very nice of you, Reggie, to want me to go on living here; but I
am sure Fay would not like it."

I was simply aghast at this revelation of the utterly absurd and untrue
ideas which even the nicest women get about each other.  "My dear
Annabel, what utter nonsense!  And most unjust to Fay, too!  Why, there
is nothing that Fay would like so much as for you to live on here with
her and me after we are married: I know her well enough to answer for
that."

Annabel looked doubtful.  "Are you sure, Reggie?"

"Absolutely certain.  Not only for the unselfish reason that such an
arrangement would be the only really happy one for you and me, but also
for the selfish one--if anything that Fay did or thought could by any
possibility be selfish--that you would take all the bother of managing
this large household off her hands.  Why, my dear Annabel, you yourself
have said that she is far too young to take on such a job as this."

Annabel looked thoughtful.  "That is quite true.  I'm afraid you
wouldn't be very comfortable with only Fay to look after things."

"I'm not thinking of myself," I replied, rather huffily; "I'm really
not such a selfish brute as you make out.  I'm thinking of what a cruel
thing it would be to put such a lot of care and responsibility on the
shoulders of a child like Fay, for she is but a child as yet, though
she has all the depth and the charm of a woman."

Annabel was still doubtful.  "She would learn."

"And why should she be bothered to learn, if you are willing to take
all the trouble off her hands?  Let the darling be young as long as she
can!  In spite of you and Arthur, I still have scruples as to whether
it is right to let her share such a dull, middle-aged lot as mine; but
at any rate I will strive my utmost to shield her from the cares and
burdens of married life, and to make her life as free and joyous as
possible.  Therefore, Annabel, I beseech you to stay on here, and to
take all household and social duties off Fay's shoulders."

"Well, Reggie, if you put it like that----"

"I do put it like that, and that closes the matter.  I will go and tell
Fay how good you are in consenting to stay, as I know how relieved and
happy it will make her."

I straightway went in search of my darling, and found her curled up
with a book on one of the settees by the hall fire.

"I have got such a glorious piece of news for you, sweetheart," I said,
sitting down beside her and taking one of her dear hands in mine.
"Annabel has consented to live with us after we are married, and to
take all the trouble of managing the house off your hands.  So that my
little darling will have no housekeeping or servants to worry her, but
will have nothing to do but enjoy herself and make love to her devoted
husband."

Now one of Fay's most compelling charms was her infinite variety: she
was a creature of a thousand moods--sometimes talkative, sometimes
silent, sometimes sad, and sometimes merry--but never the same two
hours together, and always utterly adorable.  Her changes of mood had
nothing to do with outer circumstances: they were the outcome of her
own sweet variableness and versatility.

This morning she was evidently in a silent mood, for all she said was,
"Oh!"

I expatiated upon the advantages of Annabel's permanent support.  "You
see, darling, it would have been an awful bother for you to have to do
all the tiresome old things that Annabel does.  She is so used to them
that they are easy to her, but I couldn't have borne to see the burden
of them laid on your dear shoulders."

"I dare say I could have learnt to do them all right."  How like my
darling not to spare herself in her readiness to serve me.

"So Annabel said, but I would not hear of it!  Do you think that I am
marrying you, you lovely wild elfin thing, in order to turn you into a
staid housekeeper?  It would be sacrilege to put so exquisite a
creature to such ignoble uses!"

Fay did not reply, so I continued: "And it will be so nice for you too,
dear heart, always to have a woman at hand to turn to in any trouble or
difficulty."

"I shall have you, and that is all I want."

"But I am only a stupid man, and could never understand and help you as
another woman could.  I don't believe that any man is sufficiently fine
and subtle properly to understand a woman: especially when there is
such a difference between them in age, as there is, alas! between you
and me."

"There is more difference between Annabel and me: five years more."

"But she is a woman, and women can always understand each other."

"I see.  Because there is too much difference between forty-two and
eighteen, you are trying to make forty-two plus forty-seven equal to
eighteen.  You always had a wonderful head for sums, Reggie!"  And with
a laugh Fay whisked herself off the settee, and went out of the hall.

I could not understand her present mood, and the fact that I could not
understand it filled me with an agony that after all I was too old and
dull and stupid ever to make her happy.  Then, with a blessed sense of
relief, I remembered that I should not be alone in my sacred task of
perfecting and beautifying the young life that I had dared to take into
my keeping; Annabel would be always at hand to assist my clumsy
masculine attempts, and to correct my stupid masculine blunders.  And I
thought that between us we could succeed in making my darling happy; at
any rate, we would try our best.

But a fresh feminine surprise awaited me.  Surely women are the most
incomprehensible creatures, and on the time-honoured principle of "set
a thief to catch a thief," it is only a woman who can be expected to
fathom a woman.  To my amazement Ponty--whom I expected to be lifted
into the seventh heaven of delight by the news that Annabel would stay
on at the Manor--raised strong objections to this admirable
arrangement.  I really couldn't have believed such a thing of the
faithful Ponty, if I hadn't heard her with my own ears.

"I hear it is settled for Miss Annabel to go on living here after your
marriage, Master Reggie," she said to me on one of my frequent visits
to the old nursery--a room which had suddenly acquired a new and
wonderful sanctity in my eyes.

"Of course," I replied.  "The Manor wouldn't be the Manor without Miss
Annabel.  I could never think of allowing her to leave it.  I should
have thought you would have been the first to rejoice at the news that
she was staying on."

"Well, then, I'm not, Master Reggie: neither the first nor the last nor
any of the rejoicing sort at all.  When folks are married, they'd best
have their home to themselves, or else trouble'll come of it."

"No trouble possibly could come of Miss Annabel's being anywhere.  She
could never bring anything but peace and comfort, and that you know as
well as I do."  I felt that I did well to be angry with Ponty just then.

But she didn't mind my anger in the least: she never had done.  "I
remember a man at Poppenhall," she went on, urging her unwise saws by
means of fictitious instances, "who married as suitable as never was,
and all went as merry as a marriage-bell till his wife's sister came to
live with them.  Then the two sisters took to quarrelling so awful that
one of them had to go: and it was the wife as went and her sister as
stayed."

"But, my good Ponty, the cases are not parallel," I said, with much
truth; "in your story it was the wife's sister and not the husband's,
which makes all the difference."

"It doesn't matter on which side the sister was: it is the principle of
having relations to live with newly-married people that I don't approve
of.  Married folks are best left to themselves till the children come."

"But our marriage is an exceptional one," I urged.

"All marriages are exceptional to the bride and bridegroom," replied
Ponty, "just as all children are exceptional to their own parents.  No,
Master Reggie, mark my words, when a man and a woman join hands at the
altar, they don't reckon to be starting a game of 'Oranges and Lemons,'
with their relations hanging on to them behind and pulling them apart.
And that's what married life comes to, if the relations on either side
live with the parties concerned."

"You are talking about things you don't in the least understand."

But Ponty took as little notice of me as she used to take when I was a
child of six.  It was never very wise of me to be dignified with Ponty.
"I understand that it's a big job anyway for a husband and wife to
shake down together when first they are married, Master Reggie, and it
makes the job ten times bigger when their relations begin helping them.
It's a thing they can only do when they are left to their own two
selves."

I still tried to be patient, though I was fully alive to my old nurse's
narrowness and ignorance.  How little she grasped the true relationship
between Fay and Annabel!  "Your plan may be all very well when a man
and his wife are about the same age, Ponty; there is a freemasonry in
youth which unaided must bring them a complete understanding of each
other.  But what you call the shaking down becomes much more difficult
when there is nearly a quarter of a century between the two."

"Then the more difficult it is, Master Reggie, the less they'll want
anybody to help them.  You may take my word for that.  And if you
follow my advice you won't allow Miss Annabel--nor Mr. Wildacre
neither, one side being as bad as the other--to help you and Miss Fay
to shake down together.  You'll do the shaking down yourselves or else
remain unshook.  I remember there was a man in Poppenhall who used to
say as there was nobody as fermented a quarrel like the peacemakers,
and the same holds good with relatives in the case of marriage."

I did not want to lose my temper with my old nurse, so I went out of
the room.  But I was dreadfully disappointed in Ponty.  I thought she
would have known better.



CHAPTER X

A BIRTHDAY PRESENT

Fay and I were married early in the year, which always appears to me
the proper time for marrying and giving in marriage.  It seems so
appropriate for the new heaven and the new earth to begin at the same
time.  We went first to the Italian lakes and then back to Switzerland,
so that spring met us in Italy, accompanied us through the Swiss
mountains, and arrived at Restham Manor about the same time as we did.
Thus our path was literally strewn with flowers all the way.

It would be both undignified and impossible, to describe what a
heavenly time that honeymoon was to me.  I had never imagined that such
bliss was attainable in this work-a-day world: I thought it only
existed in fairy-tales.  And indeed my life was a fairy-tale just then,
with Fay for the leading fairy.

I think that it was a very happy time for her, too; though I could not
expect her to feel the absorbing delight in my society that I felt in
hers.  How could she, considering how dull and stupid I was, and how
vivid and radiant was she?  But she seemed contented with me, and
delighted with the lakes and the mountains and the wealth of flowers:
and she grew lovelier and more lovable every day.  Her intoxicating
society renewed my youth, and we walked and rode and boated together
like a pair of happy and careless children, till I believed that she
had spoken truth when she said that Love had indeed accomplished the
impossible as far as I was concerned, and had set the shadow on the
dial ten degrees backward.

The arrangements for our honeymoon had been highly approved of by
Annabel, as they prevented that meeting between the east wind and me,
which she spent her life in trying to avert, so that by the time we
reached home at the end of April, the east wind was chained up again in
his kennel with the keenest of his teeth extracted.  At least so
Annabel preached, and so she believed; for my part I had met him
rushing loose about the fields on a May morning, with a tooth as keen
as any ingratitude of man's.

We arrived at home on a lovely afternoon--one of those blue and golden
afternoons of late spring--and found Annabel waiting in the hall to
welcome us.  How good it was to see her there!  I should hardly have
felt it was a real home-coming without Annabel, and nice as it was for
me, I felt it was still nicer for Fay to have a woman to come home
to--a woman who could comprehend and comfort and cherish her as no man,
however devoted, could possibly do, and who could, to a certain extent,
take the place of the mother whom--to her lifelong impoverishment--she
had lost.

"Come and have some tea, my dear," said Annabel, after we had duly
embraced her and greeted the entire household, who were likewise
waiting in the hall to receive us.

The household melted away as if we had read the Riot Act over it, and
we three drew near to the gate-legged tea-table.

"You had better pour out, Fay," said Annabel, "and take your place in
your own house from the beginning."

Fay was looking so tired that I answered for her.  "No, Annabel, you do
it.  Fay is really too tired to pour out for us two able-bodied beings.
She ought not to wait upon other people, but to let other people wait
upon her."  She certainly did seem a fragile, fairy-like little thing
beside Annabel and me.

"Shall I, Fay?" asked Annabel.

"Just as Reggie likes," replied my darling, with her lovely smile.

"Sweetheart, you are too tired to lift that heavy teapot.  Let Annabel
do it for you."  The vessel in question was part of an extremely solid
tea-service which had been presented to my father by an admiring
constituency on the auspicious occasion of his marriage, and which
resembled a flotilla of silver Dreadnoughts.

Fay laughed.  "I think, as Reggie says, I had better not tackle the big
teapot till it gets used to me: it might begin to buck or jib, and I'm
sure I shouldn't have strength to hold it in if it did."

"It couldn't very well do that," said Annabel, taking her accustomed
seat at the table, while Fay sat on the other side of me; "but it might
overflow and trickle down the spout, as it is by no means a good
pourer, and Jeavons always fills it too full."  (Jeavons was our
butler.)  "I can't think why servants always make as much tea for three
people as for half-a-dozen."

"I hate teapots that dribble down their chins," remarked Fay: "they are
so messy."

Annabel gently corrected her.  "I said spout, my dear, not chin.
Teapots don't have chins.  And now, you two, tell me all your
adventures since I saw you last."  Whereupon she characteristically
proceeded to tell us all hers, and we neither of us could get a word in
edgeways.

"And the garden is looking perfectly lovely," she concluded, after an
exhaustive recital of the recent happenings of Restham.  "I have had my
own way with the forget-me-nots this year, and they are going to be a
great success.  Even Cutler now owns that he was wrong and I was
right."  Whereby I perceived that Cutler knew on which side of his
bread the butter lay.

"Of course they are not in their full perfection yet," continued
Annabel; "but they will be a sight when they are.  You see, I was away
when they were planted last year, and he didn't put them in nearly
closely enough; but this year I superintended them myself."

"Then it is sure to be all right," I said.

"It is," replied Annabel, unconscious of irony.  "If only people would
always do what they are told, what a great deal of trouble would be
saved!  The moment I saw them last year I told Cutler they weren't
nearly thick enough, but he wouldn't believe me, and said they would
spread."

"And didn't they?" I asked, loyalty to my own sex drawing me over to
Cutler's side.

"Not as much as he said they would, so last spring was practically
wasted as far as the forget-me-nots were concerned.  But it taught him
once for all that I knew better than he."

"A spring is never wasted in which one learns wisdom," I remarked.

"I do love forget-me-nots," exclaimed Fay.  "Forget-me-not beds are
like adorable blue pools, and I never see one without longing to jump
into it and bathe."

"That you must never do, my dear," replied Annabel; "if you did, you
would entirely spoil the appearance of the beds for that season.  They
would never close up again properly, but would always look straggling
and untidy."

I caught Fay's eyes; but to our lasting credit we were both able to
postpone our laughter.  It is one of the most delightful things in the
world to be with somebody who laughs at the same things as one laughs
at oneself: it creates a bond that nothing can ever break: a bond
devoid of all sentimentality, but none the less powerful on that
account.  In looking back on as much of life's road as we have already
travelled, and recalling thoughts of our fellow-travellers therein, I
am not sure that the memories of the friends who shared our jokes are
not tenderer than the memories of the friends who shared our sorrows,
and they are certainly much pleasanter.  I do not, however, pretend
that a similarity of taste in jokes is a sufficient basis for
matrimony, though a very firm foundation for friendship; but since
friendship forms a not inconsiderable part of an ideal marriage, this
sympathy in matters humorous is an important consideration in matrimony
also.  And I am thankful to say that this sympathy existed in full
measure between myself and Fay.

It existed also between myself and Frank, had I given it full run; but
there were certain things--such as Annabel, for instance--over which I
could not allow myself to laugh too much with Frank.  But there was
nothing--not even Annabel--over which it would be disloyal to laugh
with Fay, since husband and wife are one, and many and many a time did
she and I have together a merry time over the quaint humours which help
considerably to make this present world as delightful a dwelling-place
as it is.

But though Fay and I often laughed together at my sister's ways--which
were certainly very laughter-provoking just then--our laughter was the
laughter of love, and I never lost the opportunity of pointing out to
Fay the sterling goodness which underlay Annabel's peculiarities.  But
I advisedly admitted the peculiarities, as there is nothing which so
successfully sets one person against another as an assumption of the
latter's flawlessness.  The people whose geese are all swans are
responsible for many an epidemic of cygnophobia.

But of course I never laughed with Annabel over Fay's little ways;
they, and everything else connected with my darling, were then and
always sacrosanct to me.  It annoyed me even when Frank laughed at
her--as he very frequently did--which I admit was inconsistent on my
part, since if I had the right to laugh at my sister, he had certainly
the right to laugh at his.  But though Frank's jokes at Fay's expense
might be lawful, to me they were highly inexpedient.

It was the first Sunday after our return home.  In the morning Fay,
Annabel and I attended Divine Service in Restham Church, and "sat
under" Arthur, Annabel in her usual place at the top of the Manor pew,
and Fay close to me at the bottom, so that during the lessons and the
sermon, and such unoccupied times, we could slip our respective hands
into one another's without any one perceiving it.  As I knelt in the
church where I had worshipped from my childhood, and realised that to
me had been given my heart's desire, I felt as one who came home with
joy, bringing his sheaves with him, and I gave God thanks.

After the service was over we walked round the Manor House garden
accompanied by Arthur, which was as much a part of the morning's ritual
as the Litany or the prayer for the King.  I believe Annabel would have
thought it almost wicked to omit this sabbatic peregrination, if the
weather permitted it.  Certainly I could not remember a time when we
had not walked round the garden every Sunday after service, remarking
how the vegetable kingdom had either advanced or receded (according to
the season of the year) since the preceding Sunday.

But if my sister would have included an omission of that Sunday
morning's walk round the garden among those things left undone which
she ought to have done, she certainly would have considered the taking
of any further exercise on a Sunday as among the things which she ought
not to have done; therefore Fay and I started off for a long walk that
Sunday afternoon, unhampered by the encompassing presence of Annabel.
A nap between lunch and tea was one of the most sacred rites of
Annabel's strict sabbatic ritual.

"Now isn't it lovely to set out for a walk together and to feel that
we've got the rest of our lives to finish it in, and that there's
nothing to hurry home for?" exclaimed Fay, as we walked across the
garden.

"There's nothing to hurry home for because we are home," I replied, as
we went through the little gate which separated the lawn from the park:
"wherever you are is home to me."

"Same here," retorted Fay; "like snails, we carry our home on our
backs, which is very delightful and picnicky when you come to think of
it."

"That's where we are so superior to snails," I pointed out; "they carry
their own, while we carry each other's: a far finer type, if you'll
permit me to say so."

"I remember once when I was a little girl, Mother corrected me for
being vain, and said it was horrid of me to think I was pretty.  I
thought it over, and then I came back to her and explained that I
didn't think I was pretty--I only thought I was better looking than a
frog, and I asked her if it was 'vainness' to think I was better
looking than a frog, and she agreed it wasn't.  In the same way I don't
think it is a 'vainness' of us to think we are finer characters than
snails, do you?"

"By no means.  And I go farther: I don't even think it is 'vainness' on
your part to think you are pretty."

Fay laughed.  "I'm glad it isn't, for I do."

"You darling!"

"And I'm not selfish in my 'vainness' either," she went on, "or narrow.
I think you are very good looking too; _much_ better looking than a
frog, Reggie, _much_!"

"You silly child, what nonsense you are talking!  You'll really make me
horribly vain if you go on like this!" I said reprovingly.  But I liked
it, nevertheless.

"And a jolly good thing if I did!  You aren't vain enough; it's the one
flaw in your otherwise admirable character."

"It's much too soon for you to begin to find out your husband's faults,
Fay; you oughtn't to have discovered one for at least six months.
You'll make a terrible wife if you go on like this!"

"I'm not finding out my husband's faults: I'm only regretting that he
doesn't possess one."

"He is all fault that hath no fault at all," I quoted.

"Oh, I didn't mean that you don't possess a fault at all, far from it;
I mean you don't possess one particular fault, namely, vanity, and that
it would be a jolly sight better for you if you did.  You don't think
half well enough of yourself, Reggie, you don't really, and it is such
a pity.  You've no idea how perfectly good and clever and altogether
splendid you are."

"Then you ought to commend me for my humility instead of scolding me
like this," I urged in self-defence.

Fay shook her curly head.  "Humility is a thing which can very soon be
overdone--especially in a case like yours."

"For instance?"

"Well, you aren't properly proud of the things you ought to be proud
of, and you've got such lots of them," explained Fay, with some lack of
lucidity.

"Anyhow I'm jolly proud of the one thing I've a right to be proud of,
and that is my wife," I replied.

"That's you all over, wrapping other people up in the mantle of your
own virtues, and then admiring the other people for being so awfully
well dressed.  It's really you that makes us such a tremendously
attractive couple.  People like me because I'm your wife, and yet
you'll always believe they like you because you're my husband.  It
really is stupid to put the cart before the horse in that way, Reggie."

I put my arm through Fay's, drawing her nearer to me.  "Then what on
earth do you want me to do, carry a pocket-mirror about with me, and
keep taking it out and admiring myself, like Narcissus, or else thrust
the sanguinary hand of my recent baronetcy into every stranger's face?"

"Oh, Reggie, what an idiot you are!  Of course, I think it is perfectly
sweet of you not to have a swelled head because you are rich and landed
and a baronet and all that, and not to have a swelled head because it
is such an extremely good-looking one, with such regular features; I
thoroughly approve of that sort of humility, as I'm the last person in
the world to encourage swank; but what I do mean is that you have so
little confidence in yourself and your own powers that you stand on one
side and let other people do the things that you'd do a million times
better than they can.  You are like that old Emperor who thought he
couldn't govern Europe, and so began to wind up the clock instead."

I smiled.  "You've got hold of the wrong end of the stick this time,
milady; it was because Charles the Fifth was sick of the weight of
empire that he retired to a monastery and made clocks: and it was
considered a most swaggery thing at the time, and was tremendously
applauded by an admiring Europe, because he was just as good at
clockmaking as he was at ruling the world."

"What you might call a good all-round man."

"Precisely.  Now I am the contrary of that.  The experience of life has
taught me that I am equally inefficient in government and in
clockmaking--in short, that I am a thoroughgoing failure, and that
therefore my truest wisdom lies in getting other and superior people to
rule my empire and make my clocks."

I regret to record that at this point of the conversation Lady
Kingsnorth stood stock still in the middle of the road, and protruded
from between her scarlet lips the point of a little pink tongue, and
then remarked in terse if inelegant language: "You silly ass!"

I laughed.  "Your ladyship ought to be ashamed of yourself," I said.

"On the contrary, my ladyship is ashamed of you!  I wouldn't be as
great a goose as you are, Reggie, for ten thousand a year."

"It is about what I get for it," I murmured.

There was a pause whilst I opened a gate for our passing, and shut it
again, and then I said: "By the way, my own, it is your birthday this
week.  What shall I get you for a present?"

Fay tripped beside me on the grass.  She was very like a child in her
movements.  "I've had such lovely wedding presents from you that I
really don't seem to have room for any more."

"Well, you must make room somehow.  It would be against all my
principles to let so great an occasion as your birthday pass unwept,
unhonoured and unsung."

"I really couldn't make room for any more jewellery.  I'm plastered
over with it already, like a rough-cast house."  I had had all my
mother's diamonds reset for Fay, and had given her a string of pearls
on my own account.

"Well then, a set of furs ready for the winter," I suggested.  "It is a
good time now for buying furs."

Fay shook her head.  "Too expensive after all those lovely wedding
presents."

"What nonsense, my darling!  Nothing is too expensive for you."

"I'll tell you what I really do want," said Fay, taking my arm and
dancing beside me like a little girl: "I want a nice, small Prayer Book
to use every Sunday in church.  And I should like it bound in green, my
favourite colour."

"Whatever do you want another Prayer Book for, sweetheart?" I asked,
surprised at this strange request.  "Our pew is simply paved and
panelled with them."

"But I don't like huge things with crests and coats-of-arms on the
outside: I can't pray properly out of them.  It's like sending one's
prayers to heaven in a Lord Mayor's coach instead of on angels' wings.
I want a little green Prayer Book of my very own, with a 'Hymns Ancient
and Modern' at the end of it: one of those semi-detached sort of
affairs, don't you know!--in the same case, but with separate
entrances.  And I want you to give it me and write my name in it, so
that my love for you and my prayers and praises will all be bound up
together."

"But it seems such a poor present for me to give you, darling," I
objected.

"But it's what I want.  Those crested and coat-of-armed Prayer Books in
the pew are several sizes too large and too grand for me.  And they are
so public and general, too: nothing private and personal about them.  I
don't care for a Prayer Book with the family coat-of-arms on it.  And,
besides, I don't think coats-of-arms and Prayer Books are in the same
dimension, somehow."

"How do you mean, sweetheart?"  Fay's ideas--ideas which Annabel would
have dismissed as "funny"--were always of absorbing interest to me.

"Crests and coats-of-arms belong to the temporal things, such as
carriages and motors and notepaper and silver-plate, and so are
suitable ornaments for all these objects; but names and Prayer Books
belong to the eternal things, and so are on a different plane
altogether.  When a baby is baptised a Christian it isn't given a new
crest, but a new name: it isn't crested, so to speak, it is christened.
And I always love that text in the Bible about him that overcometh
being given a white stone with a new name written on it; but you
couldn't imagine God giving anybody a white stone with a new crest
engraved on it!  It would sound absurd.  And that is because your name
is part of yourself and means _you_; while a crest is only the sign of
your family and signifies your social position and your rank, and all
those material, worthless sort of things which the world thinks so much
of, but which God really couldn't be bothered with."

Fay stopped for breath, she was chattering so fast, and skipping at the
same time.  She was so full of life and spirits that she never could
walk soberly along like other people.  And then she began talking
again, and so did I, and we continued the enchanting _solitude à deux_,
which is the especial prerogative of marriage, until it was time to
return home to tea and Annabel.

The next morning, when Fay was out of the room, Annabel said to me:
"Reggie, I want to ask your advice?"

"Such as it is it is always at your service," I replied; "though I
admit I cannot just now recall any occasion when you have availed
yourself of it, your own, as a rule, proving adequate for your needs."

"I want to know what to give Fay for a birthday present," continued my
sister.  "Just after a wedding and all the presents, it is so difficult
to find anything that anybody wants, and it seems a waste of money to
buy what is useless."

A brilliant idea occurred to me, one which I thought would prove of
assistance in my lifework of bringing Fay and Annabel nearer together.
Annabel should give Fay the Prayer Book, and so become identified with
what Fay called her prayers and praises, and therefore draw nearer to
my darling's inmost heart.  It was the dream of my life that Annabel
should be as dear to Fay as she was to me, and what better way of
securing this than by associating her with Fay's moments of religious
emotion?  It appeared to me a capital plan.

"I know what you can give her," I replied, "a combined Prayer Book and
Hymn Book beautifully bound: it happens to be just what she wants."

Annabel looked scornful.  "What a ridiculous suggestion!  How can she
want a Prayer Book when our pew is positively packed with them?  They
fit so tight in the book-ledge that there isn't room for even a pair of
gloves or a pocket-handkerchief between."

"She finds them too big: she wants a smaller one of her own."  I knew
my Annabel, and therefore did not enter into any vain attempt to
explain to her Fay's actual feelings on the subject.

"I can understand her wanting a small one if she had to carry it to
church and back.  But, as she hasn't, I should have thought the larger
the better because of the big print.  Though of course at Fay's age the
size of the print doesn't matter as it does to you and me."  Annabel
never tried to cover over the discrepancy in age between my wife and
me: not from any disagreeableness; it was not in Annabel to be
intentionally disagreeable; but the discrepancy was a fact, and it was
not her custom to blink facts.

"The size of the print makes no difference to me," I replied, somewhat
nettled.  "I can see small print as well as large."

"That is because you are so short-sighted.  Short-sighted people always
keep their sight till they are quite old.  But if you were normal you'd
have to begin spectacles at your age.  I did--at least, for fine sewing
and small print."

"Well, I've told you what Fay wants, and you can get it or not, as you
like," I said, collecting my letters and preparing to leave the room.
"If you decide on it; I'll select it for you in town, where I am going
to-morrow; and if you decide on something else, I'll get Fay the Prayer
Book myself."

After further cogitation and argument, Annabel finally agreed to accept
my suggestion; so on the following day I went up to London and selected
a really exquisite little "semi-detached" Prayer Book and Hymn Book,
bound in the loveliest grass-green calf and richly tooled with gold,
for Annabel to give to Fay; and for my own present to my darling I
bought the finest set of sables I could find, which even "at summer
prices" ran well into three figures.  And my heart leaped with joy to
think how beautiful she would look in them and how pleased she would
be, for my child-wife dearly loved a bit of finery.

And--remembering what Fay had said--I specially instructed Annabel to
write my darling's name in the little green Prayer Book before giving
it to her.

On the morning of Fay's birthday I was as excited as a child.  I could
not help knowing that both the furs and the Prayer Book were things of
beauty, and I rejoiced at the thought of my darling's pleasure in them.
I think there are few things more delightful than the giving of a
really handsome present to a person who is able to appreciate it.  I
had tried my utmost to procure for Fay things which I knew were perfect
of their kind, and I flattered myself that I had succeeded.

Fay was radiant when she awoke on her birthday morning, and I hurried
over my toilet so as to be downstairs first in order to put her
presents by her place at the breakfast-table.

"They really are lovely furs, Reggie," said Annabel, as I laid them
out.  "I never saw sables of such a beautiful colour.  And after all is
said and done, there is no fur that looks as handsome as sable."

"I'm glad you like them," I replied; "I really think they are rather
nice."

"But I wish you hadn't induced me to buy that absurd Prayer Book.  It
seems a most unsuitable present for a bright young creature like Fay."

"Oh, that'll be all right," said I, smiling in my superior knowledge of
my darling's wishes.

Then Fay came into the room, and her face lit up at the sight of her
presents.

"Oh, Reggie, how lovely!" she exclaimed, rushing to the breakfast-table
to examine them more closely.  First she picked up the Prayer Book, and
at once turned to the fly-leaf where her dear name was written.  Then a
puzzled expression clouded her face.  "Frances Kingsnorth, from her
affectionate sister-in-law Annabel," she read aloud.  "I don't quite
understand," she added, looking to me for explanation.  "I thought you
were going to give me the Prayer Book."

"So I was, darling," I replied; "but then it occurred to me what a good
thing it would be for Annabel to give you that, and for me to give you
the set of furs I had originally intended.  Annabel was so anxious to
give you something that you really wanted, and I knew you wanted that."

"It is lovely," said Fay, turning over the leaves with her slim
fingers, and glancing at the illuminations inside the book.  "Thank you
so much, dear Annabel."  And she came round to Annabel's place and
kissed her.

"I am glad you like it, my dear," said Annabel.  "I wanted to get you
something to wear--something more suitable for a young girl than a
Prayer Book, but Reggie insisted."

"It was so dear of you to want to get me exactly what you thought I
wanted," Fay replied; "and I think it is the most exquisite Prayer Book
that I've ever seen" (which I really believe it was).

"And now you must look at my present, sweetheart," I said, spreading
out the furs.

"They are beautiful; much too handsome for me."

"Nothing is too handsome for you, Fay: cloth-of-gold wouldn't be, if I
could get it.  Won't you try them on?"

"Not now, I think.  Thank you very much for them, Reggie, but it really
is too hot a morning for trying on furs."

"So it is, my dear," Annabel chimed in.  "I wonder at Reggie's being so
stupid as to suggest it; and before you've had your breakfast, too,"
she added, as if breakfast were a cooling ceremony.

And then we all sat down to breakfast.  Fay was absolutely different
from what she had been upstairs; but that was just her way; she was as
changeable and charming as an April day, and with as little reason for
it.

Two or three weeks after this, Annabel said to me: "You were wrong
after all about that absurd Prayer Book, Reggie.  I know it was a
ridiculous present for a young girl.  I'd much better have given Fay a
new sunshade, or something pretty to wear."

"It was what she said she wanted," I urged in self-defence.

"You must have misunderstood her.  You are rather stupid, you know, at
misunderstanding people: it comes from being so dreamy and thinking of
other things.  And she couldn't really have wanted it, for I notice
that she never takes it to Church."

I had noticed this also, but had carefully refrained from remarking
upon it.  I endeavoured never to remark upon Fay's doings for fear she
should imagine I wanted to control them: my one desire was that she
should feel as free as air.

"It doesn't really matter," continued Annabel; "but the next time I
shall select Fay's birthday present myself.  I never thought you'd
understand a young girl's thoughts and wishes, and I don't see how it
is to be expected that you should, at your age and with no experience
of them.  But in future I shall use my own judgment."

Whereupon Annabel, intent upon her household duties, left me with the
crushing conviction that I was a failure as a husband, as I had been in
everything else.

Even with Fay--who was dearer to me than life itself--I seemed to do
the wrong thing.

And yet this time I could not see where I had blundered.  She certainly
said that she wanted a green Prayer Book with her name written in it.



CHAPTER XI

IN JUNE

Frank came home from Oxford early in June--nominally to read with
Blathwayte during the Long; and then we had indeed a merry time at
Restham, the maddest, merriest time I ever had in my life, before or
since.  In fact, the whole of the summer was as a midsummer night's
dream to me.  I suggested that although Frank had to work at the
Rectory for such part of the day as he deigned to waste upon study,
there was no reason why he should not render his home at the Manor.  I
thought that, this arrangement would make the house more cheerful for
Fay; for--though she was far too sweet and unselfish ever to betray
such a feeling--I could not help being conscious that the society of
two such middle-aged fogies as Annabel and myself was but poor company
for a girl of nineteen.  Of course Fay was delighted at this suggestion
of mine, and Annabel not much less so.  If my sister had a soft place
in her heart, except the one reserved for me, that place was most
certainly occupied by Frank Wildacre.

To my surprise the only person who did not approve of this arrangement
was Ponty.

"So I hear Mr. Wildacre is coming to live here now," she said to me one
morning, in her most ungracious manner; "the Manor will soon be as full
of couples as Noah's Ark."

"But I thought you were fond of Mr. Wildacre," I feebly urged.

"So I am, Sir Reginald--in his proper place: just as I am of Miss
Annabel.  But things out of their own place are worse than useless, as
the woman said when she found the cat in the tea-kettle."  Ponty never
addressed me as "Sir Reginald" unless I was in dire disgrace with her.

"And he will be such nice company for her ladyship," I went on, ashamed
of my own cowardice, yet persisting in it.  My passion for peace at any
price has always been one of my most unworthy characteristics.  I envy
those people who can annoy their fellows without turning a hair.

"Of course, Sir Reginald, you are master in your own house--at least,
you ought to be," said Ponty darkly; "and if you are set on spending
your married life in playing 'Oranges and Lemons,' nobody can stop you.
Everybody's got the right to spoil their own lives in their own way,
more's the pity!  I remember a married couple at Poppenhall who would
have the wife's brother to live with them, and he fell into the fire
and was burnt to death, through having epileptic fits."

"But he'd have fallen into the fire just the same if he hadn't lived
with them," I argued, with a culpable lack of dignity; "and then they
would always have blamed themselves for having neglected him."

"That is as may be, Sir Reginald: he might or he might not.  But as it
was, they did blame themselves, I can tell you, and the husband took to
drink in consequence, he blamed himself so much."

"Well, I don't think he need have gone to such lengths as that by way
of expiating his mistake," I said cheerfully.  "And besides, that has
no bearing upon the present case, as Mr. Wildacre doesn't suffer from
fits."

Ponty sighed the heavy sigh of disapproval.  "There are other things
besides fits, Sir Reginald."

I remarked that fortunately there were, and then left the nursery.  I
should have been irritated with Ponty, but her unbounded admiration of
Fay made me freely forgive her anything and everything.  Still I
wondered at her attitude, though I was fast learning not to be
surprised at any vagary of the feminine mind, but just to accept it as
one of the unfathomable mysteries.

Frank's presence at the Manor made a wonderful difference to Fay.  He
stimulated what I called the elfin side of her nature, and brought out
those qualities which she possessed in common with him.  I have
frequently noticed that when members of the same family are together,
all the family traits rise to the surface, while individual
characteristics fall into abeyance for the time being.  The unit is, so
to speak, merged in the tribe.

I remarked upon this one day at breakfast.

"I know what you mean," said Frank.  (The Wildacres were always very
quick to catch an idea.)  "The Joneses become all Jones, and the Smiths
become all Smith at their Christmas family dinner, and the separate
Johns and Roberts and Marias, with their individual characteristics,
are swallowed up in the great Nirvana of Jonesism and Smithism."

"And Jonesism and Smithism are consequently tremendously intensified,"
Fay chimed in; "it is only at such family gatherings that one realises
the hugeness of the Jones nose, or the bitterness of the Smith temper.
I expect when all the Hapsburgs are together the size of their
historical under lip becomes something stupendous."

"I do not quite see how a Christmas party can lengthen anybody's nose
or swell their under lip," remarked Annabel, full of patient endeavour
to discover a grain of sense in all the chaff of our nonsense.

"Unless it ended in a fight," suggested Frank.

"Oh, of course, in that case it might; but I thought you were talking
of friendly family gatherings."

"So we were, Annabel," I explained; "Fay and Frank were only speaking
figuratively."  I was always so dreadfully afraid that my sister would
consider Fay foolish.

Fay went on with the conversation.  It was a matter of absolute
indifference to her whether Annabel considered her foolish or not, and
this grieved me, as I was so anxious for Annabel to do my darling
justice, and I could see that Fay herself sometimes rendered this
difficult.  "But when members of a family marry," she said, "and go to
houses of their own, their respective personalities develop, and what
Frank calls the Jones-and-Smith Nirvana is broken up.  Then we see that
what we imagined to be a complete tea-set was really a collection of
separate pieces of different kinds of china."

"But throw them together at their Christmas party," added Frank, "and
they will at once grow into each other's likeness, and your tribal
tea-set will be complete once more."

"You children talk so fast that I really cannot follow you," said
Annabel good-naturedly from behind the coffee-urn.  "I don't see how
noses and under lips can turn into tea-sets."

"They can't," I agreed.  "All we were saying is that when members of
the same family are together, they bring out the family characteristics
in each other."

But Annabel was not grateful for my efforts on her behalf.  "You said
that some time ago, Reggie; of course I understood that, though I don't
altogether agree with it.  But it is the things that the children have
said since that slightly confused me."

I wished Annabel would not always speak of Frank and Fay as "the
children."  It seemed so to emphasise the gulf between Fay and myself.
But Annabel had got into the habit of thus speaking of them before my
marriage; and Annabel and a habit, when once formed, were inseparable.

"I know why you said it, Reggie," said Fay, who could always read me
like a book.  I often wished that I could as easily read her!  "You
were thinking that when Frank is here I am much more of a Wildacre than
when he isn't: just as when you are with Annabel you are much more of a
Kingsnorth than when you are alone with me."

That was exactly what I had been thinking--at least, the former part of
it; I did not at all agree with Fay that I was more of a Kingsnorth
when I was with Annabel, but it was rather a shock to hear it thus
crudely put into words.  That is what strikes me about the young people
of to-day: they are so much more outspoken than we were at their age.
Our parents veiled Truth--we clothed her--but the present generation
treats her as the Earl of Mercia treated Godiva.  And this treatment is
slightly upsetting to us who were brought up so differently.

Annabel answered for me.  "That is only natural, my dear, considering
that Frank and you are the same age, and Reggie and I are so much
older.  It is nice for the young to be with the young, it keeps them
bright and cheerful, and it is depressing for them to be constantly
with persons old enough to be their parents."

Fay's grey eyes flashed.  "I never find it depressing to be with
Reggie," she retorted, somewhat hotly.  "He always bucks me up."

But Annabel's temper remained impregnable.  It was only Cutler who had
the power to shake that fortress.  "I never said you did, my dear.  You
are far too loyal a little wife ever to think of such a thing.  But it
is natural for youth to cling to youth; it would be abnormal of it if
it didn't."

Fay still looked angry.  "I don't care a twopenny dam if I am abnormal
or not.  I never want to cling to anybody but Reggie."

I felt it was time to step in.  I didn't want Fay to say anything to
offend Annabel.  "Of course you don't, darling, and I am only too
delighted to be clung to to any extent; it is most warming and
comforting to me.  But I fear Annabel is right in regarding me as the
old oak tree to which the ivy clings."

Fay slipped her hand into mine, under cover of the breakfast-table.
"You aren't a bit old, Reggie!" she said indignantly.  "Is he, Frank?"

"I've known older," replied Frank guardedly.

At this we all laughed--especially Annabel.  Frank's jokes usually
appealed to her, though Fay's didn't, which was strange, as the twins
resembled each other mentally almost as much as they did physically: it
was only in the deeper places of the spirit that the resemblance ended.

"Reggie is not old and he is not young," said Annabel; "I never can
understand why people make such a fuss about their ages.  I am
forty-eight and Reggie is forty-three this year, and I make no bones
about it, and it would be no good if I did, as it's in _Burke_ and
_Debrett_ for all the world to read.  And I really don't think, my dear
Fay, that 'a twopenny dam' is at all a nice expression for a young lady
to use: I cannot bear to hear women swear."

"It isn't swearing, Miss Kingsnorth," cried Frank, who was always ready
to stick up for his sister; "it's a foreign coin which was much used by
the great Duke of Wellington."

"So I've heard," replied Annabel, with doubt in her tone.  "But all I
can say is that if it isn't swearing, it sounds uncommonly like it, and
I'm sure that any ordinary person hearing it would do Fay an injustice,
and imagine that she was given to bad language."

I felt it was time to read the Riot Act and disperse the company; so I
rose from the table and took my pipe out of my pocket, saying: "Come
on, little girl, and watch me smoking in the garden.  It will be a
soothing, soporific sight."

Fay jumped up and followed me, as I knew she would.  One of her most
fascinating tricks was a habit she had of trotting about the house and
garden after me like a little child.  And yet in some things she was so
much of a woman!

"I say, sweetheart," I said as soon as we were out of earshot of the
house, "I wouldn't use strong language before Annabel, if I were you.
She doesn't understand it, and it gives her false ideas of you."

Fay's scarlet lips pouted.  "It wasn't strong language.  Frank told you
it wasn't."

It always annoyed me when Fay quoted Frank, and especially when she did
so in order to confute me.  "I know, my darling; but Annabel thought it
was."

"I can't help Annabel's thoughts.  She thought you were old!"

I laughed, and patted the soft, white cheek so near to my own as we sat
down side by side on a garden-seat.  "No, she didn't, little one."

"Well, anyway she said so."

"No, she didn't.  She said I was forty-three--which I am, and
forty-three seems quite young to Annabel, though old to you."

Fay still looked angry.  "Indeed it doesn't.  It seems quite young to
me.  And whatever it seems, I don't see the good of harping on it and
rubbing it in, as Annabel is always doing.  If she says 'forty-three'
again, I shall say 'twopenny dam.'"

I laughed outright.  Fay was so delicious when she was annoyed, like a
brilliant little bird with ruffled plumage.  Then I said softly, as I
put my arms round her slender waist: "No you won't, sweetheart, you'll
never say it again, if it vexes Annabel.  I want you and Annabel to
love each other more than I want anything in the world."

"More than you want you and me to love each other?"

"That wish has been already fulfilled--by the greatest miracle that
ever happened."

Fay nestled closer to me.  "It isn't very polite of you to say that
your loving me is anything in the miracle line."

"I didn't.  It is in your loving me that the miracle comes in.  I
didn't set the dial ten degrees forward: you set it ten degrees
backward."

My wife looked up at me with laughter in her wonderful eyes.  "And you
want me to do the trick again with Annabel?  Really, Reggie, that is a
little bit too thick!  And besides, she wouldn't like it.  The dial of
Annabel is quite a different make from the dial of Ahaz.  It is one of
those that can't be put back even five minutes without upsetting all
the machinery and making the strikes go wrong, like our dining-room
clock.  And I wouldn't upset Annabel's machinery for worlds!  I should
feel like Cutler if I did."

"And even Cutler didn't upset it this year, if I remember rightly."

Fay shook her head.  "No, the forget-me-not bed this last spring was
the last word in forget-me-not beds.  It was a thing of beauty and a
joy for the end of April and quite the whole of May.  I wanted to bathe
in it, if you remember, but Annabel thought I might get drowned or
something, and so I refrained."

"Annabel has her funny little ways, I admit," I said, feeling that this
was the moment for a word in season on my sister's behalf; "but she is
the best and kindest woman in the world, and she is really devoted to
you, my darling, though she doesn't always understand you."

"She does not like me anything like as much as she likes Frank."

"She really does--underneath her quiet manner; but she has always been
a most undemonstrative woman," I persisted, feeling bound to defend my
sister against an accusation of such arrant folly.

Fay smiled.  "What a darling old ostrich it is!" she said, stroking my
hand.  "Does it like to keep its dear head in the sand, and go on
pretending to itself that rocks are palm-trees and dry streams wells of
water?  Then it shall, if it likes.  But all the same, my Reggie, it's
rather stupid of you always to pretend that things are what you want
them to be; because they aren't, and you'll have a tremendous waking up
some fine morning."

"I'm not pretending," I said stoutly.

"Yes, you are.  You are always pretending to yourself that Annabel is
devoted to me, and she really isn't one little bit.  Frank says she
isn't, and if he can see it I'm sure you ought to, Reggie.  There is no
harm in her not admiring me: it would be very strange if she did,
considering how much older she is and how different we are; and she
really is awfully nice to me, considering everything.  Frank admits
that.  But when you go on pretending that she spends her life in
sighing like a furnace for me, and writing odes to my eyebrows--why,
then, I get so impatient of it all that I find it difficult to see how
nice she really is."

"All that would be quite right, sweetheart, if I really were
pretending.  But I'm not.  I know Annabel a jolly sight better than you
do, and I know she is absolutely devoted to you."

And at that I left it and made love to my wife instead, a much more
agreeable occupation, in spite of that jealousy of Frank seething at
the back of my mind.

As I had said to Fay, I was absolutely convinced of Annabel's devotion
to her.  And what wonder in that?  Who could live with my child-wife,
as Annabel and I lived with her, and see all her charms of person and
beauties of character without loving her with all one's heart?  She was
made for love, my brilliant, beautiful darling, and she had it showered
upon her in full measure.  But I was not equally sure of Fay's
affection for Annabel.  I knew all my sister's virtues--none better;
but I could see they were not exactly the brand of virtues most
calculated to appeal to the young.  Annabel was prim and fussy and
masterful; there was no denying it, and these characteristics--one
could hardly call them faults--were just the qualities to blind the
eyes of a girl to any corresponding virtues.  Therefore I felt it was
for me, who really knew and understood my sister, to show both her
superior points and screen her inferior ones when they were alike
exposed to the piercing gaze of youthful eyes.  Though Fay's youthful
eyes were kind enough, Frank's were quite the reverse, and I was
becoming increasingly afraid of the influence of Frank's clear-sighted
callousness upon my wife.  To him I was--I must inevitably be--an old
fogey; but I did not like the idea of his sharing that impression of my
fogeydom with Fay.

As Fay and I were sitting hand-in-hand upon the garden-seat that
blissful June morning, a shadow fell upon the grass, and we saw Jeavons
approaching us with a message from the house.

"If you please, Sir Reginald," he began, coming as close to us before
he spoke as if we had been deaf, after the manner of well-trained
servants, "Mrs. Parkins out of the village has called to ask if you
will kindly go and see her father-in-law, him being in terrible pain
this morning with his sciatica, and asking for you all the time."

Jeavons never used such words as "pray" or "heal" when he brought me
messages from the village people begging for my ministrations.  He
reserved such expressions for what he considered their proper
place--namely, the church and the doctor's surgery respectively.
Though they knew their own places--and kept to them--Jeavons and
Annabel had much in common: the same absolute devotion to the
conventional and the commonplace--the same horror of the emotional and
the unusual.

I rose from my seat.  "Tell Mrs. Parkins that I will come at once," I
said.  "Fay, will you come with me?"

"Of course I will," she replied, and we crossed the lawn and went
through the heavy garden-door, hatless as we were, into the village,
and past the old inn to Parkins's cottage.

I often took my wife with me when I went to visit the sick, because I
believed that "two or three gathered together" literally meant two or
three gathered together, and that therefore, when Fay's supplications
were added to mine, my prayer was all the more efficacious.

I have found life so much simpler and easier since I learned to take
the Bible literally, and not to be always reading between the lines to
find out spiritual meanings which might or might not be there.  I
remember an enlightened and eminent modern Dean once explaining to me
that when Christ said, "The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk and
the lepers are cleansed," He meant that those hitherto blind to
spiritual visions were enlightened, those hitherto deaf to sacred
truths were made to hear them, those who had aforetime stumbled were
able to walk in the paths of righteousness, and those steeped in sin
were washed clean.  "Mr. Dean," I replied, "you, as a dignitary of the
Church, probably know better than I what Christ _meant_; a mere layman
such as myself can only deal with what He _said_: and He didn't say
anything at all like that."

I hate "reading between the lines," even in ordinary human
correspondence.  At least a third of the troubles of this life have
their origin in their pernicious habit; for people read a great deal of
unintentional enmity--and, still worse, a great deal of imaginary
love--into pages actually virgin of either of these extremes.  And when
they read between the lines of Holy Scripture, they read in all their
own prejudices and fads and fancies, until Divine Truth is distorted
and perverted.

I can stand many things, but I cannot stand a Bowdlerised Bible.

Fay and I entered the cottage, whither Mrs. Parkins had preceded us.

"It be good of you to come, Sir Reginald, and her ladyship too, but the
poor old man be sufferin' something fearful, and all twisted up with
the pain in his back and his legs.  But he says if only you'll lay your
hands on him and say a prayer like as you did before, the pain'll be
bound to go."

"Then we'll go up to him at once," I said; and Mrs. Parkins straightway
preceded us up one of those steep and dark and narrow
cottage-staircases which never fail to arouse in me an undying wonder
that the poor ever keep their necks intact.  I feel sure that guardian
angels are as thick on cottage-staircases as they ever were on Jacob's
ladder.

"Good-morning, Mr. Parkins," said Fay as she entered the pretty and
spotlessly clean bedchamber of old Parkins; "we are very sorry the pain
is so bad this morning, but Sir Reginald has come to cure it."

"Parkins knows better than that," I said as I bent my head to pass
through the low doorway, "don't you, Parkins?  You know as well as I do
that it isn't I who cure the pain, but our Lord working through me."

"Ay, ay, Sir Reginald, I knows that well enough, becos you've told me;
and you ought to know for sure and certain.  But I'd be glad if
somebody 'ud help me quick, for the pain's powerful bad this mornin',"
and the poor old soul fairly groaned in his agony.

Without more ado I knelt beside the bed and laid my hands on the poor,
twisted limbs: and as I prayed I was conscious of the Power descending
on me, and passing through me to the old man in the bed.  Gradually the
groans ceased, and the look of anguish passed from the wrinkled face as
if it had been wiped off by a sponge, and Parkins fell into the
peaceful sleep of a tired child.

As I rose from my knees and stood by the sleeping sufferer whom I had
been permitted to relieve, a great longing filled my heart for the time
when there will no longer be any need for surgeons or physicians or
spiritual healers, or for any other channels whereby the Healing Power
of Christ is conveyed to sick and suffering humanity--to the time when
the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the
sea, and when there shall be no more sickness nor sorrow nor sighing,
neither shall there be any more pain, because Christ will be all in all.



CHAPTER XII

SHAKSPERE AND THE MUSICAL GLASSES

One day as we were having luncheon--Blathwayte being one of the
party--Annabel remarked: "I am terribly worried with one thing or
another."

Arthur and I hastened to express our sympathy, and to inquire the cause
of her disquietude.

"For one thing, I can't think how to raise a little money for the
Parish Nurse Fund this year: we always have an entertainment of some
kind every three or four years, you know, to eke out the subscriptions
which aren't enough by themselves, and I really don't like the way this
new cook fricassees: her gravy is so much too watery.  Yet in other
things--especially frying--she suits me so well; and changing servants,
especially cooks, is always so very worrying.  I can't think what
induced Mrs. Wilkinson to get married."

Mrs. Wilkinson was our ex-cook-housekeeper, who had so far forgotten
herself--and Annabel--as to enter the holy estate of matrimony shortly
after I myself took that momentous plunge.

"I expect the same as induces most people," said Arthur: "she wanted
to."

"Well, it was very inconsiderate and selfish after all my kindness and
consideration for her," said Annabel severely; "only two years ago I
kept the situation open for two months while she had something the
matter with her leg--I forget what it was, but I think it began with an
'E'--or was it an 'I'?--and I put up with the kitchenmaid and
scullerymaid and outside help for all that time, giving Mrs. Wilkinson
her full wages.  And after that, I think it was too bad of her to throw
me over in this way."

"And for the sake of a mere man," I added.

"No worse for a mere man than for a mere woman; the wrong thing was
throwing me over at all, after all my kindness to her, and waiting for
her for two months.  Of course, if I'd known she was going to be
married, I should have let her leg take her away permanently.  But I
can't imagine what put such an idea into her head."

"Probably the man she married," said Fay; "men have a way of putting
such ideas into our heads at times."

"And at her age, too," continued the aggrieved one; "she owns to
forty-five, and if people own to forty-five they'll own to anything.
And as to the new cook's gravies, they really are not what we have been
accustomed to at the Manor; so thin and tasteless; and I very much
doubt if she is strict enough with Cutler about bringing in sufficient
vegetables.  Cutler requires a firm hand."

"And he gets it, Miss Kingsnorth," cried Frank: "so firm that I've seen
him stagger under it at times."

Fay giggled.  In fact, during the whole conversation she and Frank had
kept catching each other's eye, and indulging in suppressed mirth.

"I don't know if you have noticed it, Mr. Blathwayte," Annabel went on,
"but gardeners are so dreadfully obstinate about bringing in sufficient
vegetables.  Cutler is really terrible about the peas.  He seems to
think they are planted to be looked at instead of eaten.  And that is
where Mrs. Wilkinson was so satisfactory: she mastered him completely,
and made him bring in whatever vegetables she required."

"That augurs well for her chances of conjugal felicity, and less well
for those of her husband," I remarked.

"It was so silly of her to want a husband at her time of life,"
continued Annabel; "besides being so unfair to me.  And what we are to
do this year to eke out the Parish Nurse money I cannot imagine.  I had
a Sale of Work two years ago, and a Concert two years before that, and
I don't want to have either of them again so soon, though I don't see
what else I can have, and we haven't money enough without."

"It is such a business getting up a Sale of Work in a small parish like
this," said Arthur.

Annabel agreed with him.  "And in a little village people don't want a
lot of tea-cosies and antimacassars and fancy blotters," she added, as
if in large towns the thirst for these articles was insatiable.

"Why not have a Jumble Sale?" suggested Fay.  "Jumble sales are so
splendid at killing three birds with one stone: they clothe the naked,
feed the hungry, and clear out your wardrobe at the same time."

"I don't see how they feed the hungry," Arthur objected.

But Fay had her answer ready.  "By the money they make, of course.  And
in the present instance feeding the hungry would be a synonym for
supporting the Parish Nurse."

Annabel's brow was lined with anxiety.  "I see what you mean about
Jumble sales, but they have terrible disadvantages."

"As for instance?" I prompted her.  I saw she was bursting to divulge
the tragedies attendant upon Jumble sales.

"We had one, if you remember, five or six years ago for the village
hall, and made quite a nice little sum by it.  But Cutler bought one of
Reggie's old suits at it, and wore it on a Sunday afternoon when he
came up to see after the stove in the greenhouses; and I saw him
standing in the peach-house and went up to him and put my hand on his
shoulder, thinking he was Reggie!  Wasn't it dreadful?  I feel I shall
never get over it as long as I live."

Of course the twins shouted with laughter at this, and Arthur and I
were not far behind them in our exuberance of mirth.  But Annabel
looked quite serious--even distressed.

"I see nothing to laugh at in it--nothing at all," she said in accents
of reproof; "it was a most embarrassing position both for me and for
Cutler.  I'm sure I pitied him as much as I pitied myself."

"Did you say anything?" I asked as soon as I could speak--"while you
still believed him to be me, I mean?"

Annabel blushed: five long years had not obliterated the disgrace of
that terrible moment in the peach-house.  "Unfortunately I did; I said:
'What are you doing here, my dear?'  It wouldn't have mattered so much
if I hadn't said 'my dear.'  But I did."

Of course our mirth burst forth afresh.  No one who knew Annabel could
have blamed us.

"I see nothing funny in my calling Cutler 'my dear,'" she said with
dignity; "quite the reverse."

"But it was--it was excruciatingly funny," I gasped.

"I can assure you it was not intentional."

"You needn't assure us," I said; "we never for one mad moment suspected
that it was."

"And you can now see," continued Annabel, "what a horror I have of
Jumble sales.  It would be terrible if such a thing occurred again.
And I quite agree with what you were saying, Reggie, about the Prime
Minister and the Income Tax."

For a moment I thought that Annabel had taken leave of her senses, but
on looking round I perceived that this sudden change of subject was for
the benefit of Jeavons and a footman, who had just entered the
dining-room in order to introduce the pudding and remove our plates.
My sister usually dropped into politics, or into other questions
equally alien to her real thoughts and interests when the servants
entered the room, and she believed that they believed that she was
continuing a conversation.  But I feel sure that they were not so
easily taken in--at any rate, Jeavons was not; I cannot answer for the
credulity of footmen, but my own private opinion is that they think
exclusively of cricket and football matches, and never attend to the
conversation of their so-called betters at all.

Without waiting for the withdrawal of the listening retainers, Frank
exclaimed: "I've got a ripping idea--a million times better than a
Jumble Sale.  Let's have a Pastoral Play."

"Papa always said that a shilling in the pound was far too much, except
in time of war," said Annabel, in a raised tone of voice and with a
warning look at Frank.  Then, as Jeavons thoughtfully banged the door
to show that he was no longer present, she continued in a softer voice:
"Yes, my dear Frank, what was it you said?  I never like to discuss
arrangements before the servants."

"I didn't see any harm in suggesting a Pastoral Play before them,"
replied the irrepressible Frank; "but of course I shouldn't have gone
on talking about the time when you kissed Cutler in the peach-house as
long as they were in the room."

Annabel gave a little shriek.  "My dear boy, what are you talking
about?  I didn't kiss Cutler, I only put my hand upon his shoulder."

"It makes a much better tale of it if you say you kissed him,"
persisted Frank; "it really does.  I should tell it like that the next
time, if I were you."

"I shall do nothing of the kind.  It would sound so dreadful, and,
besides, it wouldn't be true."

"Still it makes it much funnier," persisted Frank.

"But it couldn't possibly have happened," explained Annabel.  "I should
never have thought of kissing Reggie on a Sunday afternoon; such an
idea would never have occurred to me.  And if I hadn't tried to kiss
Reggie, I should naturally not have kissed Cutler.  But do go on with
what you were saying about a Pastoral Play."

Annabel was one of those people who, whilst appearing utterly
absent-minded and wrapped up in their own concerns, "take notice" (as
nurses say of children) far more than one imagines.  Frank's suggestion
had not escaped her.

"I think a Pastoral Play would be simply ripping," he repeated, "and
bring you in no end of money for your old District Nurse.  Fay and I
would get it up and run it for you, as we were always acting and being
mixed up with theatrical things when Father was alive, and it would be
like old times for us to be on the stage again, wouldn't it, Fay?"

My wife's eyes sparkled.  "_Rather_!  I should simply adore it."

It was news to me that the twins had been so much in the theatrical
world during their father's lifetime, and not altogether pleasing news,
either.  But, considering that he had chosen his wife from "the
Profession," I could hardly be surprised at his familiarity with it.

"Then that's settled," exclaimed Frank, as usual carrying Fay and
Annabel with him on the wings of his enthusiasm.  "It will be the
greatest fun in the world!  We'll get the Loxleys to come and stay here
and help us with the principal parts, and we can train the choir-boys
and the village children to do the crowds and the dances and things
like that.  It will be simply top-hole."

"But where should we have it?" asked Annabel, breathless with the
rapidity of her flight.

"In the garden, of course: I'll show you an ideal spot.  The audience
will sit on rows of chairs on the lawn, and the stage will be on that,
raised piece at the far end which sticks out into the shrubbery, and
the actors will come on from behind the rhododendrons.

"And what play shall you act?" asked my sister, still gasping.

"It must be one of Shakspere's," said Arthur; "I never heard of a
Pastoral Play that wasn't Shakspere's."

"And Shakspere's are sufficiently classical and improving and
respectable," Fay chimed in, "to be in the same _galère_ as the Parish
Nurse."

Annabel beamed.  "Fay is quite right: it would never do to have
anything that was at all doubtful or risky in connection with the
Parish Nursing Fund; but Shakspere's Plays almost count as
lesson-books, they are so educational and instructive; they are
regularly studied at girls' schools, and were even in my schooldays.  I
have forgotten it all since, but we read a good deal of Shakspere when
I was at school, and different girls took the different parts, which
made it so much more interesting."

I daren't look at Fay, for fear of seeing and responding to an
irreverent smile.  "Shakespere is evidently the man for the place," I
said.

"I always think he was a very clever writer," continued Annabel, "and
nice-looking too, to judge from his portraits, with quite a distinct
look of Reggie--especially about the beard."

"I am afraid the resemblance ended there," I sighed, "and did not
ascend to the brain."

"And I always think it is so tiresome," my sister went on, "of people
to say he was the same as Bacon.  If he had been, people would have
known it at the time, and would not have had to wait two or three
hundred years to find it out.  It seems to me a most absurd idea.  What
should you think if two or three hundred years hence people said that
Bernard Shaw and Mr. Gladstone were the same?"

"I should say they were mistaken," I answered.

Here Frank put in his oar, and said that Bernard Shaw was his especial
idol, and that therefore such an accusation on the part of posterity
would cause him the keenest pain.  "I simply adore Bernard Shaw," he
added.

"And papa simply adored Mr. Gladstone," said Annabel; "so that
naturally I do not wish to say a word against either of them.  All I
say is that it would be a mistake to mix them up."

The meeting unanimously agreeing with her, we passed on to the subject
in chief.

"Which play shall we select?" asked Blathwayte.

"We can do either _As You Like It_, or _A Midsummer Night's Dream_,"
replied Frank.  "Fay and I have acted in both.  We used to do a lot of
that sort of thing in Father's time, ever since we were quite little.
Mother's sister, Aunt Gertrude, was an actress before she married, you
know, as Mother was, only Mother was a dancer, and she and Mother used
to teach us to dance and act from our cradles."

I had heard a good deal of this aunt from both Fay and Frank, and I
freely admit I was decidedly jealous both of her and of what she
represented.  She was an actress who had married an Australian
squatter, and she had had more to do with the upbringing of the twins
than their own mother had.  She had been a second mother to them both
before and after their own mother's death, as the Wildacres frequently
stayed with her and her husband on that far-off Australian sheep-farm.
I gathered that Wildacre had put the little money he possessed into his
brother-in-law's farm, and it had repaid him handsomely.  When he came
to England to complete his children's education (and, incidentally, his
own life), the wrench of parting from their aunt had been as great a
sorrow to the twins as their mother's death.  But I could read between
the lines that his wife's people belonged to a much lower social
stratum than he did himself, and that he felt it his duty to his
children to launch them on the world in the position to which by right
they belonged.  Therefore he took them from Mr. and Mrs. Sherard, their
maternal aunt and uncle, and left them to the guardianship of his old
college-chum, Arthur Blathwayte.

I knew that it had been--and still was, as far as Frank was
concerned--the fixed intention of the twins to return to Australia to
see their beloved aunt as soon as they came of age and could do as they
liked; but marriage had modified this decision on the part of Fay; she
still, however, cherished a hope of visiting her maternal relations
some time, though I cannot say that the letters of Mrs. Sherard to her
niece induced me to share this hope.

That Mrs. Sherard was still a handsome woman, her photograph testified;
but the refined beauty which Mrs. Wildacre had not been permitted to
survive had developed--in the case of her sister--into something not
far removed from coarseness.

"I don't know about _As You Like It_," said Annabel doubtfully.
"Doesn't a girl dress up as a boy, or something of that kind in it?"

"Of course," replied Frank: "Rosalind.  Fay makes a perfectly spiffing
Rosalind.  She played it at a Pastoral Play some of Father's friends
had at Richmond; and she looked positively ripping in her green doublet
and trunk hose, and little green cap with a feather in it.  All the
girls fell in love with her."

"I don't think I could have any doublet or trunk hose in connection
with the Parish Nurse," said Annabel solemnly; "the Fund is not very
popular as it is, and I couldn't bear to do anything to make it less
so."

I laughed at Annabel's way of putting it; but at the back of my mind I
was conscious of a spasm of what Fay would have called "Kingsnorthism,"
which violently protested against the idea of my wife's appearing in
doublet and trunk hose.  "Then what about _A Midsummer Night's Dream_?"
I suggested.

"Fay is awfully good in that, too," replied Frank; "she plays Titania
and I play Puck, and we introduce a little dance of our own in the
middle.  Then Bob Loxley can play Bottom, and Elsie Hermia and Mamie
Helena; and we can easily get people to take the other parts.  The
choir-boys can do the rest of the Athenian workmen, and the village
children the rest of the fairies.  They will soon pick it up, when
there's one good actor to lead them."

And so, after much consultation among ourselves, and much searchings of
heart on the part of Annabel as to whether the Parish Nurse would
suffer in any way from this identification of her interests with those
of Shakspere, it was decided that _A Midsummer Night's Dream_ should be
performed in the garden of the Manor House at the end of July, just
before the time when some of our neighbours flitted to the seaside for
their children's holidays, and others, whose children were of a larger
growth, repaired to shoots in Scotland.  The Loxleys came for a good
long time (longer, in fact, than Annabel considered necessary), in
order to assist in coaching the village infants in their parts.  They
were good-looking, good-tempered young people, their looks and their
tempers being, in my humble opinion, superior to their form; but Fay
and Frank thoroughly enjoyed and entered into their high spirits and
youthful pranks.  There was no harm in them, but they were rather too
theatrical for my provincial taste, and very much too theatrical for
Annabel's and Arthur's.  They brought out a side of the twins that I
had never seen--that side which had been fostered by their mother and
aunt, and afterwards indulged by their father, and although it rejoiced
my heart to see my darling so happy and in such good spirits, I could
not altogether stifle a wish that her tastes and mine were rather more
on the same lines.

That, I think, is one of the disadvantages of marrying late in life: it
is so much less easy to adapt oneself than it was when one was young.
Fay, of course, was young enough to adapt herself to anything; but I
didn't feel it was playing the game to let her do so, unless I was
prepared to meet her half-way; and I was confronted by the horrible
fact that the half-way meeting-place is sometimes too long an excursion
for persons of advancing years.  However sincerely we may wish to do
so, we cannot walk so far.

I remember once remarking upon this to my sister, with regret at my
loss of adaptability; but she saw otherwise, and said that one of the
comforts of middle life is that by that time you have found the right
groove and can stick to it, unswayed by any passing winds of doctrine
that may blow your way.  But I cannot feel like this.  All I know is
that I have found a rut and am unable to climb out of it; but that it
is the right rut or even a desirable rut I have very serious doubts.

I think that this increasing difficulty of altering ourselves as we
grow older applies to men more than to women, since women are far more
adaptable by nature than we are.  But I very much doubt whether the
adaptability of the middle-aged woman goes far below the surface.  I
feel sure that the bride who forgot her own people and her father's
house was a very young bride indeed.

Thus to my infinite regret I discovered that--try as I would--I could
not make myself like the same things and people and pleasures as Fay
liked; and I recognised that this want of unanimity arose not from the
difference in our ages, but from the difference in our characters.  I
have known parents and children--who, though separated by a generation,
were similar in character--enjoy exactly the same things.  And I do not
think that the difference in years between my wife and myself affected
this diversity of tastes, except in so far as my age prevented me from
becoming one with her in mind, as I already was in heart.  I could
control my words and my actions, but I could not help my thoughts and
my feelings: nobody can who is over forty, but I believe that to youth
even this miracle is possible.  The very diversities of character which
make for love militate against friendship, and therefore the sooner
they are done with the better, after courtship is over and marriage
begins.  But the tragedy of my life lay in the fact that I was too old
to do away with them on my part, and I could not expect Fay to do for
me what I was unable (however willing, and Heaven knows I was willing
enough) to do for her.  So although--or rather, because--I could not
throw myself into her world, I would not ask her to throw herself into
mine.

Doubtless I was wrong in this--I evidently was, as subsequent events
proved, and as Annabel did not hesitate to point out to me.  But I did
what seemed to me to be right at the time, as I always try to do; and
the fact that what I think right at the time almost invariably turns
out to be wrong afterwards seems to be rather more my misfortune than
my fault: just part of that instinct of failure which has haunted me
all my life.

A strong man--as Annabel was never tired at pointing out to me
afterwards--would have made his own world and his own interest so
paramount and absorbing that his wife would have been compelled,
willy-nilly, to make them hers; but I was not a strong man.  Morever I
fully recognised the truth that if you take anything from anybody,
especially anybody young, you must supply something in its place:
nature abhors a vacuum, and youth abhors it still more; therefore if I
had succeeded in weaning Fay from her passion for acting and all the
pleasure and excitement it involved, I should have been bound in honour
to give her in its place other and equally absorbing interests, and
these it was not in my power to supply.  What pleasure could the calm
country life of Restham--which so exactly suited Annabel and me--offer
to a youthful and ardent spirit such as Fay's?  None at all, except of
a very passive sort, and the passive tense has no charm for any one
under thirty.  So I had not the heart to take away from my darling
anything that added to the joy of a life that I feared might prove to
be a little dull for her, and for her dear sake I swallowed the Loxleys
and everything else connected with amateur theatricals.

After weeks of rehearsals of the village children and a further influx
of visitors (old friends of the twins), to take the part of the Duke
and the other mortals, the great day dawned at last.  It was glorious
weather, as Fay felt sure it would be, for she assured me that she and
Frank were always lucky where weather was concerned, and there were two
performances--one in the afternoon, and another by moonlight assisted
by Chinese lanterns.  The places were all filled, and the audience was
most enthusiastic; even Annabel (who with Arthur and myself had been
banished from all the rehearsals) applauded heartily and beamed with
approbation.  The young local talent had been admirably trained, and
the leading actors performed their parts with an ease that savoured
more of the professional than of the amateur.  (But this idea I locked
up in my own breast: no expression of it would I have breathed to
Annabel for worlds.)  The village band, led by the organist on the
drawing-room piano, which had been driven into the shrubbery for the
purpose, conducted itself admirably, and discoursed music that was
undeniably sweet.  And the glamour of Shakspere and of Summer--the two
greatest interpreters of beauty the world has ever known--was upon
everything.

But to me the climax of the whole affair--the crowning gem of the
performance to which all the rest was but an adequate setting--was the
fairy-dance introduced by Fay and Frank, as Titania and Puck.  I shall
not attempt to describe it, for how can mere words convey the
indescribable and elusive charm of the perfection of grace and motion?
It gave me the same sensations as I had experienced nearly a year ago
when the twins danced the dance of the Needlework Guild, but greatly
intensified, of course, by the beauty of their dress and the
effectiveness of their surroundings.  It was a sight to fill the
onlookers with the joy of life, and to make the old feel young again.

And as my blood throbbed in my veins at this vision of the incarnation
of youth and joy and all the fulness of life, I understood why Wildacre
had fallen in love with a dancer.



CHAPTER XIII

THE GARDEN OF DREAMS

After the excitement of the Pastoral Play had subsided into calm
satisfaction with the handsome sum of money which it had provided for
supplying the future needs of the Parish Nurse, Fay and I went off for
a second little honeymoon by our two selves.  I urged Annabel to come
with us, as she had been baulked by my marriage of her usual trip
abroad with me in the spring; but she declined, preferring to visit
some old friends of hers who had a place in Scotland.  In the depths of
my selfish and undisciplined heart there was hidden an unholy relief
and joy at the thought of having Fay to myself for a time; but I
loyally strove to hide and quench this unbrotherly feeling, of which I
was glad to know I was thoroughly ashamed.  How could I shut out my
sister from any happiness of mine, when I was confident that she would
never exclude me from any joy of hers?  Nay, more than this, I was
convinced that Annabel was incapable of finding happiness, or even
pleasure in anything that she did not share with me.

We had decided to go for two or three weeks to an hotel in a little
village on the East Coast, where Annabel and I had once spent a month
some few years previously, and had found the air wonderfully
invigorating.  It is marvellous, that East Coast air, for blowing
cobwebs out of tired brains, and making the weak grow strong and the
old feel young again.

"I am sorry that Annabel will not come with us," I said to Fay one
glorious afternoon in early August as we were sitting in the garden at
home; and my secret knowledge that I really was not as sorry as I ought
to have been made me say it all the more vehemently: "she has had a
tiring summer, and it would have done her good."

Fay happened to be in one of her unresponsive moods.  "She is going to
Scotland," she said.

"I know she is; but she will not find Scotland as bracing as Bythesea.
In fact, I always think the Macdonalds' place decidedly relaxing."

"Well, she had her choice.  She could have come with us if she had
wanted to.  You asked her."

It occurred to me that perhaps Fay was a little hurt at Annabel's
having preferred, for the time being, the Macdonalds' society to ours;
so I hastened to put this right.  "You mustn't misjudge Annabel, my
darling, and think that her refusal to go with us to Bythesea shows any
want of affection for you, or any lack of appreciation of your dear
society, because I know it really isn't so."

"I never thought anything of the kind," replied Fay, and her usually
gay voice sounded a little flat.

"I expect that it was really her unselfishness that made her refuse to
come with us.  Annabel always puts other people's pleasure before her
own.  She evidently thought we should enjoy a bit of time to ourselves."

"Well, we shall, shan't we?"

I agreed with Fay to the bottom of my heart; but I would not let her
see that I did.  I felt it would be disloyal to Annabel.  "Of course we
shall, darling; but we should also have enjoyed it if Annabel had been
there, and I could not bear to feel that we took our pleasure at the
expense of hers."

"Still, she may think that a change of society is rather jolly
sometimes.  You are always such a one for sending out whole families
together, Reggie, as if they were in Noah's Ark."

"I am sure Annabel would not think that as far as you and I are
concerned," I answered; "she loves to be with us."

Fay did not reply, so I still thought she was hurt by Annabel's
refusal.  Then suddenly another possible cause for her lack of
enthusiasm struck me, and I hastened to say: "Would you like us to take
Frank with us, darling?  We certainly will if you would like it.  It
would be rather a good plan, I think, as it would be so much more
cheerful for you."  Of course that was what had vexed Fay, I thought to
myself: I had asked Annabel to go with us, and had not thought of
asking Frank.  How stupid I had been!  And I tried hard to stifle that
selfish longing on my part to have Fay all to myself.  "By all means
let us take Frank."

"But he is supposed to be reading with Mr. Blathwayte."  To my surprise
Fay did not jump at the suggestion.

"Bother his reading!  Frank's education doesn't matter half as much as
your pleasure.  I'll go and ask him at once," I said, attempting to
rise from my seat.

But Fay pulled me down again.  "You'll do nothing of the kind, Reggie.
We won't have either Frank or Annabel, but only just our two selves,
and we'll talk nonsense and make love to each other all the time."

And then that selfish longing, which I had tried to stifle so hard,
rose up full grown, and I could have shouted for joy to know that my
darling wanted nobody except me, just as I wanted nobody except her.
There is something shockingly exclusive about love!

So Fay and I went to Bythesea together, and had a glorious time.  The
days were not half long enough for all we had to do and say in them.
We walked by the blue North Sea, and breathed the strong North wind,
and felt that it was indeed a good thing to be alive.  Being left
exclusively to ourselves, we grew nearer to each other, and gazed into
each other's souls with no wall of partition between.

I have always loved Bythesea, ever since I first went there with
Annabel, and I call it the Place of the Two Gardens, for with two
gardens it is always associated in my mind.

The first garden is the Garden of Sleep.  On the very edge of the cliff
stands--or rather, there stood when last I was there, and for aught I
know to the contrary there is still standing to-day--the tower of a
ruined church.  The rest of the church fell into the sea years ago, but
the tower still remains, its wall on one side running down sheer with
the cliff.  Such of the churchyard as the encroaching sea has not yet
swallowed lies to the backward of the tower, and all around it are
fields, which in their season are clothed with scarlet and other
delights, for it is the land of poppies.

"It was rather cruel of the sea to wake up all the sleeping people when
they were resting so peacefully," said Fay with a shiver, as we sat in
the sunshine on the low bank which encloses what is left of the
churchyard.

I hastened to comfort her.  "It didn't wake them up, sweetheart.  They
wakened up long ago, and had been living and serving and praising
somewhere else, years before the sea washed away their worn-out,
cast-off bodies."

"I feel as if they had been drowned," Fay persisted: "drowned in their
sleep."

"Silly little child," I said, putting my arms round her, "to think that
the people themselves were washed away with their poor old bodies!  And
they weren't even the bodies they were wearing at the time: they were
old, worn-out things.  And do you think, too, that when the church was
washed away, the Spirit that sanctified the church was washed away
also?"

Fay nestled up to me.  "Of course not."

"No," I continued: "as the Spirit which sanctified this old church
still lives and moves and works among men to-day, so the spirits which
inhabited those old bodies live and move and work to-day, either here
on earth or in other spheres.  The temples made with hands, and the
temples not made with hands, may pass away and perish; but the Life
that transformed them from mere dwelling-places into temples of God
abides for ever."

"You really are very comforting, Reggie, and have such beautiful
thoughts.  I really think you've got an awfully nice mind--much nicer
than most people's."

"Not a millionth part as nice as yours, sweetheart."

"Much, _much_ nicer.  I really haven't got a very nice one, as minds
go.  I'm jealous, and selfish and frivolous, and all sorts of horrid
things."

I put my hand over the small scarlet mouth.  "Hush, hush!  I cannot
allow anybody--not even you--to say a word against my wife."

The other garden at Bythesea I called, in opposition to the Garden of
Sleep, the Garden of Dreams: and a wonderful garden it was.  It was as
young as the other garden was old, and as carefully tended as the other
was neglected.  It also was situated on the edge of the cliff, and was
more like a garden out of the Arabian Nights which had been called into
being in one night by some beneficent Djin, than a garden in
matter-of-fact England.  It was a garden of infinite variety and of
constant surprises, where nothing grew but the unexpected; but where
the unexpected flourished in great profusion and luxuriance.  It was a
most inconsequent garden, and to wander through its changing scenes was
like wandering through the exquisite inconsistencies of a delightful
dream.  The dream began on a velvety lawn, where the velvet was edged
with gay flowers and still gayer flowering shrubs, and the blue sea
made an effective background.  Then it turned into a formal garden,
with paved paths between the square grass-plots, and a large fountain
in the middle lined with sky-blue tiles, as if a bit of sky had fallen
down to earth and had found earth so fascinating that it could not tear
itself away again.  Then the dream took a more serious turn, and led
along sombre cloisters veiled with creepers.  But it could not keep
serious for long: it soon floated back into the sunlight, and dipped
into a sunk garden paved with coral and amethyst, as only pink and
purple flowers were allowed to grow therein.  Then it changed into a
rosery where it was always the time of roses, and where roses red and
roses white, roses pink and roses yellow, ran riot in well-ordered
confusion.  Then the dream took quite another turn, and passed into a
Japanese garden of streams and pagodas and strange bright flowers, till
the dreamer felt as if he were living on a willow-pattern plate.  But
he soon came back to England again, and found himself in an ideal
fruit-garden, where the pear-trees and the apple-trees were woven into
walls and arches and architraves of green and gold.  Then a
wrought-iron gateway led him still nearer to the heart of England, for
there lay a cricket field surrounded by large trees: and beyond that
again stretched the grassy alleys and shady paths of dream-land till
they culminated in the very centre of the dream--a huge herbaceous
border so glorious in its riot of colour that the dreamer's heart
leaped up, like Wordsworth's, to behold a rainbow: but this time not a
rainbow in the sky, but on the ground.

The house belonging to this wonderful garden was more or less to match.
It had begun life quite as a small house: but the magic of the garden
had lured it on to venture farther and farther into the enchanted
ground, until finally it grew into a very large house indeed.  And one
could not really blame it for stretching out longing arms and pointing
willing feet towards all the beauty which surrounded it: one felt that
one would have done exactly the same in its place.

Fay and I had many excursions into this modern fairyland, as the
chatelaine thereof was an old friend of ours who loved to share with
others the joy of her Garden of Dreams; so we went there often.  But
one special excursion stands out in my memory above all the rest.

It was on a Saturday afternoon, and Fay and I had been having tea in
the Garden of Dreams.  It was glorious weather, and there were many
interesting people there--as indeed there usually were: choice spirits
flourished in the Garden of Dreams as well as choice flowers.  We were
all grouped about near the sky-paved fountain after tea, holding sweet
converse with friends new and old, when a man and a woman came round
the corner of the house to greet our hostess.  They were by no means
young; on the sunny side of fifty, I should say, by which, as an old
Bishop once explained, he meant the side nearest heaven.  Fay would
consider them quite old, I felt sure: but I saw the old youth in them,
which I had known when I was little more than a boy and they in the
full zenith of their successful career, and so they would never seem
old to me.

The man had a worn, tired face, and the woman was plump and cheerful
and well dressed.  But the sight of them carried me back to the time
when he was a rising star in the political firmament, and she an
equally brilliant planet in the constellation of society: and when I
lived in London, and read for the Bar, and waited for the briefs that
never came.

His name in those days had been Paul Seaton, and his success had been
brilliant and rapid.  He was a nobody when he entered Parliament; but
his marked talents and undoubted ability soon made him a name in the
House of Commons, while his marriage to a woman of position and fortune
and considerable charm assured his position in society.  He was one of
those brilliant young politicians who start life with the intention of
setting the Thames on fire and the world in order, and exchanging old
lamps for new, wherever they have the chance; but although he succeeded
in attaining a place in the Government, and then a seat in the Cabinet,
the Thames remained too damp to ignite, the world became increasingly
out of order, and the new lamps lost infinitely more in magical
properties than they gained in additional candle-power.

It would be untrue to say that Paul Seaton's vaulting ambition
"o'er-leaped itself and tumbled down on t'other."  It did nothing of
the kind.  It raised him to the respected elevation of the high-table,
and bade him feast and make merry above the salt; but as to those
rose-tinted mountain-tops, which he had beheld in the light of dawn,
and which he had then fondly imagined he was going to scale--well, they
were practically as far above the high-table as they were above the
ground.

The tide which Paul Seaton had taken at the flood and which had
therefore led him on to fortune, in due season began to ebb: the
reforms, on which he had spent his enthusiastic youth, had either
materialised into the impedimenta of practical politics, or else had
faded into the mist of forgotten dreams: younger men with newer schemes
hurried past him along the road which seemed to lead to the
mountain-tops; and he sat still and watched them go by, wishing them
God-speed with all his heart, since he also had passed that way: yet
knowing all the time that they too, in their turn, would watch the
rose-colour fade from those peaks which were inaccessible to the foot
of man.

So he who had marched to battle with the vanguard stayed at home by the
stuff, and occupied himself in safeguarding those institutions which he
had once fondly hoped to sweep away.  From a dangerously daring pioneer
he had developed into a steady and unswerving follower.  He was
therefore chosen as one of the new peers whose creation lends glory to
a Coronation; and he strove as conscientiously to keep back his Party
in the Lords as he had once striven to urge it forward in the Commons.

As for his wife, I could not judge her as dispassionately as I judged
him, since I knew her so much better.  She was considerably older than
I, and I adored her in the days when she was a grown-up young lady, and
I a shy and awkward schoolboy.  She was an orphan and lived with her
uncle, Sir Benjamin Farley: and Sir Benjamin and my father were old and
fast friends.  When I was about fourteen I made up my mind that when I
grew up I would marry the exact counterpart of Isabel Carnaby, as Mrs.
Paul Seaton was called in that prehistoric time: and after I became a
man and she a married woman, she still ranked among my most admired
friends.  Of late years I had not seen much of her, she being a busy
woman and I an idle man; but we kept a book-marker in the volume of our
friendship, and always began again exactly where we left off.  She
changed outwardly very little, and inwardly not at all.  She was the
same woman as Mrs. Seaton that she had been as Isabel Carnaby, and the
same as Lady Chayford that she had been as Mrs. Seaton.

Life had not shattered her illusions as it had those of her husband,
because--even in her young days--she had so few to shatter.  She had
always been one of those clear-sighted people who see things pretty
much as they are.  But she too had her disappointments and her
unsatisfied yearnings.  The Coronation peerage was ordained by an
inscrutable Providence to remain merely a life-peerage.  There were no
children to fill their mother's large heart, and (incidentally) to
carry on their father's well-earned honours.

As soon as Isabel had greeted her hostess, she came straight across the
paved court to me with outstretched hands.  "My dear Reggie, how
delightful to see you again! I had no idea you were here.  And you've
been and got married and done no end of foolish things since I saw you
last, and I know you are dying to tell me all about them, just as I am
dying to hear."

"Of course I am; and it is more than delightful to meet again in this
unexpected fashion," I responded; "I had no idea you were here, either."

"Well, we aren't really," she replied, sitting down on the chair next
to the one from which I had just risen to greet her, and which I at
once resumed, for fear somebody should come between us.  "We've taken a
cottage here to which we rush for weary weekends, and return to town
like giants refreshed: and we only came down to-day.  And now tell me
all about your wife.  I hear she is younger than anybody ever was
before, and much more beautiful, and I am simply expiring with
curiosity to see her."

"I shall be only too pleased to introduce her to you, Lady Chayford."

Isabel gave a little scream.  "Oh, for mercy's sake, don't call me by
that absurd name: it makes me feel like a relic of an effete
civilisation.  Of the multitudes that once called me _Isabel_ there are
only a few survivors left, and I beseech them to continue the habit, or
else my Christian name will be forgotten as completely as the Christian
name of the Sphinx.  And now let me see if I can guess which is your
wife," she went on, casting her blue eyes over the various groups
dotted about the garden.  "I think it must be that fairy-like sylph in
green: there is nobody else here who in the least answers to the
description I have heard."

"You've hit the right nail on the head as usual," I replied: "that is
Fay."

"Oh, Reggie, how lovely she is!  And how clever it was of you to
discover anybody so exquisite!  Very few men do."

"But they all think that they do: which comes to the same thing as far
as they are concerned."

"Not they, and you know they don't.  But they think that we think that
they do, and that again comes to the same thing as far as they are
concerned.  And now you shall trundle me round the garden for fear
anybody else should come and talk to us before you've told me how
Annabel is, and how Restham is looking, and how you like being married,
and everything you've done since I saw you last, and all the other
things that we haven't time to write letters to each other about, and
shouldn't know how to spell if we tried."

So Isabel and I started on a pilgrimage through the Garden of Dreams,
and soon succeeded in bringing ourselves abreast of each other's times.
She was always such an easy woman to talk to, in spite of the fact that
she talked almost incessantly herself: but one felt that she could
always listen at the same time.

"And so you have taken a country house here," I said, after we had
treated each other to a _résumé_ of all that had happened to us since
we last met.

"Only for this year.  We have secured a ninety-nine years' lease of
what is called 'a desirable site,' and are going to build a house on it
after our own hearts, which will give us unalloyed joy in the building
and acute disappointment when it is finished.  But the joy will
outweigh the disappointment, as it really always does."

"Then shall you spend the autumn here?" I asked as we wended our way
down one of the green aisles of the fruit garden.

"Yes.  I have been rather seedy--overdone, you know, with trying to get
more out of life than there was in it, and pretending to Paul that the
Golden Age was going to begin next week, because he minded so
dreadfully when he thought it wasn't--so the doctors ordered me to take
draughts of the Elixir of East Coast air in order to get young again."

"I am sorry--very sorry--to hear you haven't been well.  I know of old
how you have always hated to be _hors de combat_."

"And I hate it still--especially when Paul is in Office, and I want to
stand by him and help him.  But for a long time I, who so wanted to
'serve,' was obliged--like Milton--to 'stand and wait': and even that I
had to do lying down!  But now I am all right again, and we are going
to have a permanent country house, so that the next time I have to
'stand and wait' I can do it in the garden."

"And where is the desirable site?" I cried.

She named a place about twenty miles from Restham.

"Oh, what luck for us!" I cried.  "You will be within easy motoring
distance."

"Yes, easy enough when you want to see us, and not too easy if you
don't.  We seem to want a house of our own in which to spend our
declining years, surrounded by all the fads that we most affect: and we
can't find them quite all in houses built by other people.  Of course
we shan't find them all in the house we build ourselves, but then we
shall only have ourselves to blame, and that makes one so much more
merciful and lenient.  We couldn't get a freehold site that was exactly
what we both wanted, and as we have no children it doesn't signify: as
a matter of fact, a leasehold peerage would have done just as well for
us."

I noted the faint quiver in her voice with a pang of sympathy.  I too
felt that life would never be quite complete as long as Ponty reigned
alone in the old nursery at Restham.

"I was saying the other day to a woman I know that we had taken the
place on a ninety-nine years' lease," Isabel went on, "and she said,
'Only ninety-nine years, Lady Chayford?  I heard it was nine hundred
and ninety-nine!'  'Well,' I answered, 'you see my husband and I are no
longer young: had we been, of course we should have taken it on a nine
hundred and ninety-nine years' lease, as you suggest: but at our age we
think ninety-nine will see us out.'  Did you ever know such an ass?"

I laughed.  "People really are very idiotic.  It is a pity we can't
tell them so, and then they might improve.  Nobody tells us of our
faults after we grow up, so how can we be expected to cure them?"

"Don't they?" said Isabel.  "Wait till you've been married a little
longer."

"I see you are as great a cynic as ever," I retorted.  "Time doesn't
seem to have mellowed you at all!  But, joking apart, I do think it is
a pity that grown-up people won't stand being told of their faults."

"But they do stand it quite well--in fact, they rather enjoy it;
provided, of course, that you never tell them of those they've really
got.  For instance, I was quite pleased when you said Time hadn't
mellowed me--knowing all the while that my heart is really of the
consistency of an over-ripe banana."

Again I laughed with pleasure to find her so little altered by time and
circumstance, and then we ceased to talk of our private affairs and
turned our attention to the affairs of our neighbours, discussing what
had happened respecting them since we saw each other last--who had died
and who had lived, and who had married wisely and who not so well.  And
then we went on to public events, and discussed the divisions in our
midst at home, and the war-clouds already gathering in the skies abroad.

"Yes, we live in stirring times," said Lady Chayford, as we retraced
our steps homewards through the Garden of Dreams, having settled the
fate of nations: "and I'm afraid they are going to stir more and more.
I don't like living in stirring times.  They don't suit me at all.  I
am getting too old for them, I suppose."

"I don't agree with you," I replied, "either about you being too old or
the times being too stirring.  We live in great times, and there are
still greater ones coming."

Isabel shook her head.  "I dare say: but they'll smell awfully of
machinery.  The world is growing far too mechanical and scientific, and
is always inventing new diseases and fresh sources of danger.  I wish
I'd lived before aeroplanes and pyorrhoea were invented!  Nobody ever
heard of such things when I was a girl."

"I envy the people who are young nowadays," I admitted, with a sigh.

"Good gracious, Reggie, I don't!  I pity them because they never knew
the glories of the 'eighties and the 'nineties: those dear old
frivolous, uneventful days, when everybody thought that the last word
had been said about everything, and that a further extension of the
franchise was the only weapon still left in Fate's armoury: when we
fondly believed that wars had died with the Napoleons, and invasions
had gone out of fashion with the curfew-bell and William the Conqueror.
Yet as soon as the sky grew pink with dawn of a new century, that
tiresome South African War began: and now scaremongers introduce an
invasion of England into the realm of practical politics!"

"But there were wars even in those days," I argued.

"Yes; but only 'old, unhappy, far-off things,' that confined themselves
to the newspapers.  We never knew the real taste of war--at least, I
didn't--until the South African tragedy: and now everybody seems to
think there'll be a great European War before very long, with us in the
thick of it, and the German Emperor trying to be William the Conqueror
the Second.  Oh, Reggie, don't you wish we could go back to the dear
old comfortable, self-satisfied 'eighties?"

"Certainly not: I wouldn't do so for worlds.  My wife wasn't born in
those days, and I should hate to miss her."

"Dear me, how procrastinating of her!  She made a mistake to put things
off for so long.  But I don't mind giving up the 'eighties for the sake
of you and your unborn wife, and only going back as far as the
'nineties.  As a matter of fact, the 'nineties were even jollier than
the 'eighties, and had a fuller flavour."

I shook my head.  "No: Fay was only a child in the 'nineties, and I
want her as a woman.  Besides, I didn't know of her existence then."

"Then if you didn't know of her existence you couldn't mind missing
her.  But have it your own way.  Revel in your seething young century
as much as you like, but leave me my beloved Nineteenth.  I was what
used to be called _fin de siècle_ in those days, and a jolly nice thing
it was to be!"

"It is strange how there always do seem to be wars and tumults and
things of that kind at the beginning of a century," I said; "as if
centuries experienced the symptoms of youth and age, as we do."

"Then let me again be _fin de siècle_ in my next incarnation!"
exclaimed Isabel.  "I shall avoid having an incarnation when there is a
new century, just as in the country one avoids having a party when
there is a new moon."

"But you want to go on somewhere, don't you--either here or elsewhere?"

"Of course I do: I have not the slightest intention of fizzling out.  I
shall have 'To be continued' engraved upon my tombstone.  And I really
don't feel that I've had half enough out of this life yet: I should
like one or two more turns before I go off to something
higher--provided, of course, that they are not put in at the beginning
of a century.  And now we are back among the haunts of men, and the
ruins of extinct tea-tables," added Isabel, as we ascended the steps
from the sunk garden and came back to the group assembled on the lawn:
"so you must introduce me to your wife at once, and let me tell her how
unlucky she is to have missed the 'eighties, and how lucky she is to
have found you."

Which I accordingly did, and was rejoiced to see that my old friend and
my new wife got on together like a house on fire.

The friendship between the two progressed so rapidly that when I was
obliged to return home the following week in order to attend to some
rather important business connected with the Kent County Council, Fay
stayed on for a few days with the Chayfords in their cottage at
Bythesea.  I did not like being separated from my darling even for that
short time; but I felt that no young woman at the outset of life could
have a wiser or a better friend than she whom I had first known as
Isabel Carnaby.

When I reached home I found Annabel established there to welcome me:
but whether this premature return from Scotland proved that she loved
the Macdonalds less or me more, I was not able to determine.

She was naturally immensely interested in my meeting with the
Chayfords, and very anxious to know how Time had dealt with Isabel and
her husband.

"I never altogether approved of that marriage," she remarked; "it was
one of those love-in-a-cottage sort of affairs which are so apt to turn
out uncomfortable and inconvenient."

"Still, the cottage happened to be a good-sized house in Prince's Gate,
if you remember."

"I know that: but all the same Isabel had much better have married Lord
Wrexham when she had the chance.  I always thought him such a very
pleasant person besides being a Prime Minister, and so much more suited
to her than Mr. Seaton.  And she behaved so badly to him too, which was
so very wrong of her.  I never cared much for Mr. Seaton myself; but
then I never do care much for people with long noses.

"I suppose that Isabel, though she didn't love it little, loved it
long," I said feebly.

"Oh, Reggie, what a silly joke!  And all the same, I don't think you
cared much for Mr. Seaton, either."

"Yes, I did.  I own I did not like him as much as I liked Isabel, but I
had a great admiration for his abilities and a great respect for his
character."

But Annabel shook her head.  "He was too clever: I never could
understand what he was talking about: he was far too clever for you and
me."

"Thank you," I retorted; "speak for yourself."  But I knew what Annabel
meant.

The day of Fay's return came at last: and I decided to meet her at
Liverpool Street Station with the car, and motor her down home in the
cool of the evening, as it was a lovely ride when once you had left
London behind you, and I knew my darling would enjoy it.

Strange to say the same idea occurred to Annabel.  "Why don't you motor
up to town yourself and call at Gamage's for some things I want for the
Sunday-school Prize-giving, and then Fay could motor back with you, and
her maid could bring the luggage on by train?  I like the prizes I get
at Gamage's better than any I get anywhere else.  I could give you the
list of exactly what I want, and it wouldn't take you long to select
them."

I duly obeyed my sister's behest, and went on to meet Fay at Liverpool
Street.  Her dear face lighted up with joy at the sight of me, and the
train had hardly stopped before she was out of her carriage and into my
arms.

"Oh, Reggie, how darling of you to come all this way to meet me, and
what a heavenly drive home we shall have together!" she exclaimed,
fairly hugging me with delight when I had expounded to her my plan.
"It was just like you to contrive such a lovely treat for me!"

I felt this was an auspicious occasion to put in a word for my sister.
"It was Annabel's idea," I said (as indeed it was, as well as my own);
"she thought you would enjoy the motor ride more than the railway
journey."  I saw no necessity for diminishing the credit due to Annabel
by dragging in any mention of the Sunday-school prizes.

Fay turned away so quickly to see if her maid had got all the packages
safe that she hardly seemed to hear what I had said.  At any rate, she
made no reply to it, so I concluded she had not heard.

Annabel's motor ride did not turn out such a great success after all.
I suppose it was too tiring for my fragile darling after her journey,
and her joy at the sight of me was so exuberant that I did not realise
at first how done-up she was.  During the long drive home she hardly
spoke, and her weary little face grew whiter and whiter, until when at
last we did reach Restham Manor she insisted on going straight to bed,
whilst Annabel and I had a dreary dinner by ourselves downstairs.



CHAPTER XIV

ANNABEL'S WARNING

We had a very quiet and peaceful autumn after Frank went back to
Oxford. But that Fay missed him I am sure, as she was not nearly so gay
and light-hearted as she had been during the long vacation.  But
although this grieved me, I was not surprised at it: after all, Annabel
and I were but dull old fogies compared with Frank and Fay.

The autumn was always a pleasant time to me, as I was extremely fond of
both shooting and hunting: and now that Fay as well as Annabel was
sitting by the fireside that beckoned me home after my long day's
sport, my contentment was great indeed. My happiness would have been
complete if only I had felt equally sure of Fay's.

That want of self-confidence which I must have inherited from my
mother, since neither my father nor Annabel ever had a trace of it,
made it impossible for me to believe in my own power of filling my
young wife's life with joy and interest; but I had great faith in the
soothing powers of Annabel, to say nothing of the increasingly
absorbing little pleasures and interests which go to make up the sum of
country life. Surely all these were enough to make any woman content.
And in the depths of my soul I cherished an unspoken hope that there
was a greater and more satisfying joy still in store for Fay in the dim
and distant future--that highest joy of all, without which no woman's
life is complete, and the lack of which had created the only cloud that
ever dimmed the brightness of Isabel Chayford's blue eyes.

So I possessed my soul in patience, and prayed that in the years to
come my darling might be as happy as she deserved and as I desired her
to be.  And I loved her so well that I was content to stand aside, if I
thought others could succeed where I had failed.  I only prayed that
she might be happy: I never added a petition that her happiness might
be found in me.  It would have seemed to me presumption to do so.

Perhaps I was wrong in this: I dare say I was, as I nearly always am.
It is the people who make the greatest demands that get the largest
supplies.  But it was not in me either to make the one or to claim the
other; and we can only act according to our kind.

In looking back on past events I once used to think: "How much better
things would have turned out, if only I had acted differently."  But as
I grew older and wiser I changed the formula to: "How much better
things would have turned out, if only I had had the power to act
differently."  And at the back of my mind I knew that I never had had
the power.

Of course this does not apply to wrongdoing: we are always able to
avoid that if we wish.  We are to blame for our sins, as they are
caused by temptations which are outside us, and therefore possible to
be resisted; but I do not think we are to blame for our blindness and
our blunders, as they arise from our own limitations, which are inside
us and part of ourselves.  If I had my life to live over again, I
hope--and believe--that I should not repeat the wrong things I have
done; but I very much fear that I should repeat all the stupid things,
given that I remained myself.  Grace and Wisdom are both gifts from on
high: but Grace is a far more common gift than Wisdom.

There was one thing that gave me great pleasure in that autumn, and
that was the increasing friendliness between Fay and Annabel.  Now that
Fay was so much quieter, she naturally shocked Annabel much less
frequently than she did in her high-spirited moods, though I adored Fay
when she was wild and reckless and defiant, I knew that such qualities
were far from exercising an ingratiating effect upon Annabel.

But when Frank came home for Christmas things once more began to hum;
and he and Fay threw themselves with great zest into a succession of
theatrical entertainments.  Again the Loxleys invaded the house, and
there were plays acted for the villagers and for our personal friends.
And this time the plays were not Shakspere's.  Fay and Frank always
took the leading parts, and it amazed me to note how very quickly and
with how little apparent trouble they learnt a new piece.  But the
histrionic art was in their blood, and all things connected with acting
came easy to them.

It was the very opposite with Annabel and me.  In our early youth
anything connected with the theatre had been _Anathema_ to our
extremely Evangelical parents: and although in later years we so far
broadened down as to be able now and again to attend the theatre in
comparative spiritual comfort, there was always a lurking feeling at
the back of our minds--and in Annabel's mind it frequently did more
than merely lurk--that we were meddling with the accursed thing.  Of
course, my mature judgment repudiated and laughed at this archaic idea;
but in nine cases out of ten early training is stronger than mature,
judgment, and I was one of the nine.

Therefore in the secret recesses of my heart there sprang up a tiny
doubt as to whether all this theatrical excitement was good for Fay.
Naturally I did all in my power to trample upon this horrid little
weed, and hid it away in darkness where neither light nor air could
encourage its unhealthy growth; but suddenly Annabel threw all my
precautions to the wind by remarking one day--

"Reggie dear, I don't want to interfere, and I suppose it really is no
concern of mine, although everything that concerns you must concern me:
but do you think it is wise to allow this acting spirit to take such
possession of Fay?"

"I don't know what you mean," I said coldly: although I did know
perfectly well.

"Of course I don't want to say a word against Fay----"

"Of course not," I interrupted, "and if you did, of course I should not
listen."  By this time I was striding up and down the great hall, while
Annabel sat placidly by the fire.

"Now, Reggie, you are losing your temper, and it is such a pity to do
that when I am only speaking for your good and Fay's.  But you know as
well as I do that her mother and her mother's people were on the stage."

"I don't see what that has got to do with it," I retorted hotly.

But Annabel remained unperturbed.  "Then it is because you won't see.
Everybody knows that what is bred in the bone comes out in the flesh."

"And I think it is horrid of you to throw the poor child's mother in
her teeth in this way," I went on, lashing myself into greater fury.

"I'm not throwing her mother in her teeth--I'm only throwing her into
yours, which is quite a different thing, and can't possibly hurt you as
you never saw her," replied Annabel, with her usual clearness of
thought and confusion of expression.  "I shouldn't think of mentioning
her mother's profession to Fay.  There's nobody thinks more of the
sacredness of motherhood than I do: I couldn't bear anybody to say even
now that poor mamma hadn't any spirit or any go in her, though you and
I know perfectly well that she hadn't, and that you are exactly like
her in this respect.  But I cannot see that there is anything
particularly sacred about a mother-in-law--and especially a
mother-in-law that you have never seen.  And although Fay is a married
woman she is really only a child, and an orphan at that: and I cannot
help feeling that you and I, who are so much older, have a sort of
responsibility about her."

"I, perhaps; but hardly you."  I was still very angry.

Annabel's temper, however, continued unruffled.  "That is so," she
said, "but as you have never accepted your responsibilities, and never
will, I am obliged to take them on to my shoulders, as I always have
done.  If Fay were an older woman, I shouldn't bother about her, but
should leave her to shift for herself: and if you had ever managed your
own affairs, I should expect you to manage them now.  But as it is, I
cannot see a young girl going into danger and temptation under my own
roof, and not stretch out a helping hand to her."

I jibbed at Annabel's reference to her own roof, but did not say
anything.

"Besides," she went on, "Fay told me that if she hadn't married, she
and Frank would have gone on the stage as soon as they were of age and
independent; and that shows the theatrical craving is in them both."

I wished with all my heart that Fay had confided this idea to me
instead of to Annabel; but it was impossible to teach my darling
wisdom. And even if it had been possible, grey heads on green shoulders
are not an attractive combination. I loved Fay just as she was, and
would not have had her different for anything, but I could not deny
that that particular remark of hers to Annabel might have been omitted
with advantage.

"I am not sure that Frank has a very good influence upon her," my
sister continued, looking thoughtfully into the fire.

"Oh, so it's Frank's turn now," I replied, viciously kicking back a log
of wood that slightly protruded from the hearth: "I thought you were so
fond of Frank."  Because I was jealous of Frank, I was all the more
determined to do him justice.

"So I am, Reggie; extremely fond: but being fond of people doesn't
blind me to their faults."

I could testify to the truth of this. "Far from it," I muttered.

"The fact that I am fond of Frank does not prevent my seeing that he is
volatile and flighty and lacking in any sense of responsibility: any
more than the fact that I am fond of you prevents my seeing that you
are over-sensitive and over-indulgent, and have so exaggerated a sense
of responsibility that you are frightened of it, and therefore inclined
to shirk it."

"Pray, don't mind me!" I interrupted, with a harsh laugh. The fact that
I knew my sister was speaking the truth in no way added to my relish
for her remarks.

"Reggie, don't be foolish!  I am not thinking about either you or Frank
just now, but about Fay: and I feel bound to say that I do not think it
does her any good to be so much under Frank's influence."

"He provides the only bit of young life she sees, and I want her to
have as much youthful society as she can get.  Does it never strike you
that you and I are somewhat old and dull companions for a girl of
nineteen?"  I still struggled against my own inclinations.

"Of course it strikes me," replied Annabel in her smooth and even
tones: "it struck me so forcibly at one time, if you remember, that I
tried to dissuade you from marrying her.  I thought she was much too
young for you, and said so; and I think so still.  But that's all over
and done with.  You have married her, and you've got to take the
consequences, just as she has got to take the consequences of marrying
you.  You knew you were taking a young wife, and she knew she was
taking a middle-aged husband; and it is nonsense now to be struck all
of a heap with surprise to find that you and she are not identical in
tastes and interests.  I knew you wouldn't be, and you ought to have
known it too."

"But it so happened that we loved each other," I retorted drily.

"Of course you did: otherwise you wouldn't have been so foolish as to
marry each other.  But marrying one another hasn't altered your own
selves.  It always amazes me to see how people imagine that a
quarter-of-an-hour's service in church will entirely change the
characters of a man and a woman.  How could it?  Especially as they are
generally quite opposite characters, or they wouldn't have fallen in
love with one another at all.  You and Fay had the idea that the minute
you put the wedding-ring on to her finger you would become eighteen and
she would become forty-two."

"In which case we should have been exactly as far apart as we are at
present.  I cannot see that the fulfilment of that idea would have
mended matters at all."

"Oh, Reggie, how tiresome you are in always tripping people up!  You
know perfectly well what I mean.  My point is that having persisted, in
opposition to my advice, in marrying a young girl, your duty is to make
her as happy and contented as possible."

I was amazed at the incapacity of the feminine mind to apprehend
justice.  "That is what I am trying to do," I replied; "and what you
are abusing me for doing."

"Not at all.  You are trying to make her happy apart from you: you are
not trying to make yourself the principal factor in her happiness.  You
are blundering--as you have so often blundered--through too great
unselfishness.  You are standing aside for fear you should cast a
shadow over her pleasure: and standing aside is not at all the proper
attitude for a husband.  If you'd been so set on standing aside, you
should have stood aside altogether and not married her: but having
married her, the time for standing aside has gone by."

Indignant as I was I could not help admiring Annabel's power of
grasping a situation.  In ordinary conversation she often appeared
_distraite_--at times almost stupid; but when once her bed-rock of
common sense was touched, her judgment was excellent.

"For my part, as you know," she continued inexorably, "I do not approve
of old men marrying young wives.  But if they do so, the wife must not
take her own young way and leave the husband to take his old one.  They
must merge, and hit on a comfortable _via media_, or whatever it is
called in Latin.  You are letting Fay go her own way too much, Reggie:
and mark my words--you will live to regret it."

"I don't agree with you," I said shortly, once more venting my
righteous indignation on the smouldering logs in the great fire-place.

"Don't do that, Reggie," said Annabel in her most elder-sisterly tone:
"you'll burn holes in the bottom of your boot, besides sending sparks
all over the carpet.  And I know I'm right, whether you agree with me
or whether you don't.  The first thing you have got to do is not to
have Frank here so much.  Let him go back to live with Mr. Blathwayte
at the Rectory."

"I shall do nothing of the kind," I retorted angrily: "I couldn't very
well send away Frank as long as you are living here!  What is sauce for
the goose is sauce for the gander: and my wife's brother has as much
right here as my sister."

"What utter nonsense!" exclaimed Annabel; "there is no parallel between
the two cases.  This is my home: I have a right to be here; but Frank
is only a guest partaking of your hospitality, and therefore has no
claim to stay on longer than you choose."

This was more than I could stand.  So as I did not want a final rupture
with my sister, I strode out of the hall, and flung myself into the
library.  The fact that in my inmost heart I wanted Frank out of the
house made me all the more determined not to send him.

For the first time in my life I was furious with Annabel.  How dared
she try to come between my wife and me?--I asked myself in my rage.
Yet all the time my better self whispered to me that it was not fair to
accuse Annabel of trying to separate us: according to her lights she
was doing her best to keep us together.

But on another score I felt that I did well to be angry.  Her last
remark had put my back up with a vengeance.  I should have been within
my rights had I allowed Annabel to leave the Manor on the occasion of
my marriage--as indeed she herself had suggested: I should not have
been in any way behaving shabbily to her had I adopted this suggestion:
but I felt I could not do it after all the years that she and I had
lived there together.  But the fact that Fay and I had not the heart to
turn her out in no way altered the truth that it was a favour on our
part to keep her in.  And she ought not to have forgotten this, I kept
repeating to myself, or to have regarded our kindness as something to
which she was entitled, and which--in my present fury--I considered she
had abused.

It is strange how quickly a favour develops into a right.  We show a
kindness to some one, and the first time it is received with gratitude:
the second time it is accepted as a matter of course: and the third
time we are given to understand that any deviation from its accustomed
rendering would be regarded as a cause of justifiable offence.

There is another problem which has always puzzled me, and which I have
never been able to explain: and that is that we all behave so much
better to other people than other people behave to us.  It would seem
as if there must be a converse to this, to set the balance right; but
there isn't; or, at any rate, nobody that I ever knew has been able to
find it.  I have never yet met the man or the woman who, in common
parlance, got as good as they gave.  So I have no doubt that while I
was aghast at Annabel's ingratitude to me, she was equally aghast at my
ingratitude to her.  Such is that queer compound which we call human
nature.

And as I mused upon these mysteries my anger gradually evaporated; and
when its departing mists cleared away, I tried to look at the whole
matter calmly and dispassionately.

An old friend of mine used to say: "If any one says anything
disagreeable to you, see what good you can get out of it.  You have had
the pain of it: so don't dismiss it from your mind until you have got
the profit as well."

Therefore I set about seeing what profit I could derive from my
sister's most unpleasant remarks.

Although she had irritated me almost beyond endurance, I knew that
Annabel possessed too much sound sense for her opinion to be lightly
set aside.  Her words were worthy of consideration, even if
consideration did not induce me to agree with them.  So I considered
them with as much impartiality as I could muster at the moment.

I was perfectly aware that certain kinds of men have sufficiently
strong personalities to make marriage with them a profession in
itself--a profession absorbing enough to occupy a wife's entire time
and thoughts.  But I was not that kind of man; and it was no use
pretending that I was.

I hesitate before setting up my humble opinion in opposing that of
Shakspere: but I cannot believe that to "assume a virtue if you have it
not" is at all a wise course to pursue: for the reason that every
quality has its corresponding defect, and one is so apt to assume the
defect and to leave out the quality.  When old women pose as young
ones, they assume the follies of youth without its compensating charms:
when dull men set up as wits, they indulge in the gaseousness of
repartee without its accompanying sparkle.  Therefore it was of no use
for me to act as if I were an interesting or absorbing husband, while
all the time I was only a rather dull and very devoted one.  I felt it
was not in me to be a profession for any lively and intelligent woman.
I was only fit for a pastime--or at best a hobby.

Now if Annabel had been a man, she would have been quite different.
She would have married a quiet, pliable sort of girl, and then would
have moulded the girl's character, and filled the girl's thoughts, and
ordered the girl's actions, until the girl's whole world would have
been summed up in Annabel.  And the girl would have been quite content
and happy, and would have asked for nothing else.  But it was out of my
power to do any of these things.  Again I was brought face to face with
my old mistake of being the boy and letting Annabel be the girl: it
seemed as if I should never outlive the consequences of that early
error.

Things being as they were--that is to say, I being the quiet and
uninteresting person that I was--I did not see that I was justified in
taking away from Fay any legitimate source of pleasure and interest in
her life which might in some way make up for my limitations and
deficiencies.

So having carefully weighed Annabel's most unpalatable suggestions, I
decided to take no notice of them--at any rate, for the present: but to
leave my darling to go her own sweet way, unfettered by the rules and
restrictions of a middle-aged husband.



CHAPTER XV

DARKENING SKIES

Although I had made up my mind to ignore Annabel's warning as far as
action went, I could not altogether ignore it in thought, and I was
convinced in my own mind that she was right as to Frank.  I could not
close my eyes to the fact that he was using his influence over
Fay--which undoubtedly was very great--to draw her away from me.

He had, not unnaturally, been jealous of me ever since his sister began
to care more for me than she did for him.  I think most brothers--and
especially most twin-brothers--would have felt the same in the
circumstances; and I, for one, did not blame him as I--in my turn--was
jealous of him.  But with most brothers it would have stopped there:
few would have taken the awful responsibility of endeavouring to come
between their married sisters and those sisters' husbands.  But that
was where Frank Wildacre differed from the ordinary run of mortals;
that was where the elfin strain in him came in.  His utter lack of any
sense of responsibility, and his absolute disregard of consequences,
sometimes seemed to me hardly human: just as his husky, girlish voice
and his delicate complexion made it impossible to realise that he was
now less of a boy than of a man, and therefore ought to think as a man,
and to put away childish things.  He must have known--for he was no
longer a child, although he behaved as such--that a permanent
estrangement between Fay and myself could only end in misery for her,
and therefore, indirectly, for him.  For my feelings in the matter I
did not expect him to show any regard; although I had been sincerely
attached to and attracted by him, I had sufficient acuteness to
perceive that he had no real affection for me, or indeed for anybody
except himself--unless, perhaps, for his sister; and his love for her
was entirely a selfish love.  I do not believe he cared an atom about
her happiness, except in so far as it ministered to his own: but I
should have credited him with sufficient sense to realise that Fay's
marriage was, on the whole, a good thing for him as well as for her
from a worldly point of view: and Frank was certainly not accustomed to
look at anything from an altruistic standpoint.

Had his jealousy goaded him to oppose Fay's marriage in the first
instance, I could have understood it.  But it did not.  It was only
when the thing was a _fait accompli_ and my darling's fate was sealed
that--with Puck-like perversity--he set about making her dissatisfied
with it.

Herein he was--as might have been expected--the exact opposite of
Annabel.  Before I had asked Fay to marry me, my sister tried her
utmost to dissuade me from so doing: but when once we were married, she
did all in her power--even to the point of nearly quarrelling with
me--to prevent us from drifting apart.  But then there was nothing
impish or Puck-like about Annabel.

I admit that I watched Frank's veiled antagonism to myself with
increasing uneasiness.  I realised the strength of the call of kinship
too fully to be able to defy its influence: and as I gradually came to
understand that this influence was hostile to my life's happiness, I
trembled at what suffering might be in store for myself, and for Fay
who was dearer to me than myself.

Although I would not have admitted it to Annabel for worlds, I could no
longer shut my eyes to the fact that this passion for everything
connected with the stage was gradually coming between my wife and
myself: and--now that Annabel had told me of Fay's former ambition to
take up acting as a profession--I was haunted by a horrible suspicion
that my wife had returned to her first love, and now wished that she
had chosen the stage instead of me.

Of course, when Annabel talked of Fay's passion for the stage becoming
a menace to our conjugal happiness, she confined that menace to the
admiration and excitement which are an inevitable accompaniment of a
theatrical career.  She never saw the subtler and, to my mind, the more
real danger of the love of art for art's sake, which exists in the
breast of the true artist.  It would never have occurred to my sister
to imagine the possibility of any woman's caring more for her art than
she cared for her husband: such things did not occur in the Victorian
days wherein Annabel was brought up.  In those dark ages it not
infrequently happened that a man thought more about his profession or
his business than he did about his wife: but that was humbly accepted
as a matter of course by the meek helpmeet of those simpler times.
"She could not understand, she loved," was the typical attitude of the
wives of those days: and the possibility of the masculine mind failing
to understand anything was a thing undreamed of in mid-Victorian
philosophy.

But the things that satisfied our grandmothers will not satisfy our
wives; and the sooner we remnants of a bygone century learn that fact,
the better for all concerned: I am not saying that this awakening of
the Sleeping Beauty is either a good thing or a bad thing: I do not
feel competent to lay down the law on such a big question: I only say
that now she is awake, it is absurd to treat her as if she were still
asleep.  My own personal opinion is that the awakening of the sex as a
whole makes for the improvement of Woman's character, but militates
against her happiness, though I cherish a larger hope that it will
finally conduce to her higher and truer happiness in the future.
Still, even if it doesn't ever conduce to her happiness, the thing is
there and has to be reckoned with.  Childhood is the happiest part of
life; but that is no excuse for arrested development.  Woman at last
has grown up, and has to be treated as a grown-up person and no longer
as a child.  At least that is how I look at the matter: but I really
know so little about it that my opinion is neither here nor there.
What I do know is that women nowadays have their interests and their
professions the same as men have, and therefore it is just as likely
for a woman to set art before her husband as it is for a man to set
science before his wife--and, in my opinion, much more dangerous, as a
man has by nature a far stronger sense of proportion than a woman has.
The Victorian wife, who came second to her husband's profession, did
not really suffer much; but the twentieth-century husband, who comes
second to his wife's art, will probably suffer very much indeed, since
a man's heart is composed of water-tight compartments, and a woman's is
not.

Therefore I did not fear (as I knew Annabel did) that all this acting
would end in Fay's caring for some younger man more than she cared for
me--not because I had a high opinion of myself, but because I had such
a high opinion of Fay: what I did fear was that all this acting would
end in Fay's caring more for the thing itself than she cared for me;
and I knew that in the case of a really good woman a thing is a far
more dangerous rival to her husband than a person, simply because such
rivalry is without sin.

The more I thought about Annabel's hint, and the more firmly I decided
to take no notice of it, the deeper grew my conviction that my sister
was right, though not quite in the way that she thought she was: and I
gradually came to the conclusion that it was the love of acting in
itself--and not any excitement incidentally connected with it--that was
coming between myself and Fay.  Moreover, behind this depressing
conviction there lurked a horrible and as yet unformulated fear that
even yet Fay might fulfil her original intention, and take to the stage
as a profession.

But on the other hand it went to my heart to contemplate the mere
possibility of casting the slightest cloud on my darling's present
happiness.  How could I injure the thing that I so passionately loved?
Surrounded by the youthful, not to say rowdy, atmosphere of Frank and
the Loxleys, Fay bubbled over with jest and jollity, and was once more
the high-spirited, laughter-loving fairy that she had been when I saw
her first.  It might be better for her in the long run, and it
certainly would be much better for me, if this new and absorbing
interest were nipped in the bud.  Nevertheless I felt it was not in me
to nip it as long as it made my darling so light of heart.

Annabel's other suggestion I put away from me at once without even
playing with it.  I knew it was out of the question for me to suggest
that Fay's brother should cease to make his home at the Manor as long
as my sister lived there.  Such a course was more than repugnant to
me--it was impossible.  But that did not prevent me from fearing the
effect of Frank's influence over Fay, nor from feeling the pain of his
sudden disaffection towards myself.  We had got on so well together at
first--he and Fay and I; so well that I had almost persuaded myself
that at heart I was as young as they were.  But now he had weighed me
in the balance of youth and had found me wanting: and my soul shivered
with dread lest Fay should do the same.  I was used to having Tekel
written over my name: custom had gradually dulled the pain of this
superscription.  But the hurt, which had been lulled by habit, awoke
into full vigour when Frank's boyish hand traced the usual word: and I
felt that when Fay wrote it too, my heart would break.

When Frank returned to Oxford and the Loxleys to town, there followed a
very quiet time at Restham Manor.  I had looked forward to this quiet
time as a schoolboy looks forward to the holidays, thinking at last I
should have Fay to myself and could woo and win her back to me.  But my
hopes were doomed to disappointment.  My darling seemed just as far
from me as ever, only instead of being gay and laughter-loving she was
quiet and depressed.

Annabel and I did all in our power to cheer her, but in vain.  It was
obvious that she was pining for society of her own age, and feeling the
reaction after the gaiety of the Christmas vacation.

Then my sister came to the rescue with one of her sensible suggestions.

Easter fell early that year; so early that Annabel decided it was
impossible to elude the East wind altogether, and yet to be at home in
time to prevent Blathwayte from succumbing to the temptations of
Paschal ritual: therefore--since in her sisterly eyes my chest was of
more importance than Arthur's soul--she suggested that she and Fay and
I should go to the South of France as soon as the East wind was due,
and remain there until after Easter.  By this means (though this idea
was understood rather than expressed) not only should I be screened
from the wind that stirred the Vikings' blood, and Fay be spared the
dulness of a Restham Lent, but we should also be away during Frank's
next vacation, and so be beyond the sphere of his influence for a
longish period.

"Annabel has got such a splendid idea, darling," I said to my wife as
she was sitting listlessly in the library one morning, glancing
indifferently over the newspapers whilst I smoked.

"Has she?"  Fay's irresponsive mood had become almost chronic by this
time.

"Wouldn't you like to know what it is?" I continued, valiantly trying
to cure her depression by not noticing it.

"Not particularly.  I'm not an inquisitive person, you know."

This was decidedly crushing, but I persevered: "But it concerns you,
sweetheart."

"Does it?"

As Fay still did not ask what the idea was, I thought I had better
volunteer the information.  "She thinks you look a little pale and
tired and out-of-sorts, and that a change would do you good," I began.

"I am quite all right, thank you.  I don't require any doing good at
all--in fact, I'm not taking any at present.  And as for being pale,
the same Providence that painted Annabel's cheeks pink painted mine
white, and so we must both stick to the colour ordained for us."

It was uphill work, but I struggled on.  I wouldn't for the world have
let Fay see how much she was hurting me: it would have pained her
tender heart to know she was giving pain; and as long as she could be
spared suffering, I was ready to take her share as well as my own.
"But the spring is a trying time of the year for everybody," I feebly
urged.

"I thought the spring in England was considered such a top-hole sort of
affair: one of the seven wonders of the world.  The poets simply spread
themselves over it."

"Well, darling, so it is in a way: but I think when the poets spread
themselves they refer to the later spring, and not to February and
March.  Annabel always trembles before the East wind then, as you know."

"But nobody could accuse Annabel of being a poet."

This was undeniable, but it didn't help on the conversation.  So I made
a fresh start.  "She may not be a poet, but she is a very sensible
woman, and very devoted to you, sweetheart; and she thinks that you are
looking listless and tired and in need of a change.  So she suggests
that she and I should take you to the South of France for Lent and
Easter."  I was determined to give my sister her full share of credit
in this matter; all the more so that I suffered some compunction for my
summary treatment of her at Christmas.

Fay's pretty mouth began to pout.  "Not for Easter, Reggie; I couldn't
possibly go away for Easter.  Frank and I and the Loxleys are getting
up a play here for Easter week, to be performed in the village hall."

"I knew nothing of that.  You never told me anything about it," I said
in some surprise.

"Why should I?  You don't care a bit about theatricals, Reggie, or show
the slightest interest in them."

"Yes, I do.  I am interested in anything that interests my wife, as
every good husband should be."

"Oh, Reggie, don't talk flapdoodle to me!  It is ridiculous to think
you feel a thing simply because you think you ought to feel it.  You
assume that because you ought to be interested in what interests me,
you are interested in it: but you really aren't in the least.  I don't
say that it wouldn't be nice if we were both interested in the same
things.  But if we aren't, it doesn't make it any nicer to pretend that
we are."

I felt as if the solid earth were slipping away from beneath my feet.
With the freedom of utterance vouchsafed to the rising generation, Fay
was shouting upon the house-tops the things which Annabel only
whispered to me in my private sanctum, and which I never breathed to a
living soul.

"You and Annabel are always pretending that things are quite different
from what they are," Fay went on; "and shutting your eyes to everything
you don't want to see.  Frank and I are fed up with it."

At this I uttered a protest.  "No, no, Fay, you and Frank are mistaken
there.  Annabel is a most straightforward person, and I am sure I try
to be.  It isn't fair to say that we pretend."

"Oh, I don't mean that you swank exactly: you take in yourselves more
than you take in anybody else.  But, as Frank says, you cook up
everything and flavour it to taste, till there's nothing of the
original left.  It's much better to face facts as they are, and try to
make the best of them, than to invent a heap of imaginary circumstances
to fit in with your own prejudices.  You and Annabel live in painted
scenery--not in a real landscape: but I'll do you the justice to admit
that you believe the painted slips are real trees, and that the lake in
the distance is real water.  Frank says you do.  But when the time
comes for you to climb them and wash in it, you'll find your mistake."

I was beginning to find it already, and I felt sick with misery.  I had
tried so hard to be a good husband to my darling, and to make her as
happy as she had made me: but it seemed that I was foredoomed to fail
in that as in everything else.

By this time Fay had risen from her chair and was standing with her
back to the fire.  She looked more like a daring and defiant boy than a
dutiful and devoted wife.  Her resemblance to Frank just then was very
marked; more so than I altogether liked, for although even now I could
not help being fond of my brother-in-law, I by no means either admired
or approved of him.  I held out my arms to my wife, but she eluded me
with a boyish gesture.

"Now, Reggie, don't begin to be spoony, for I'm not in the mood for it.
You've got hold of a ridiculous masculine notion that kisses make up to
a woman for anything: but they don't.  But because you think they ought
to, you imagine that they do; which is you all over!  As Frank says,
you take all your thoughts and feelings, while they are in a liquid
stage, and pour them into moulds, like jellies and blancmanges: and
then your persuade yourself that they grew of themselves into those
stiff and artificial shapes.  And now you are trying to do the same
with mine, and I simply won't have it.  No mental and spiritual jellies
and blancmanges for me!"

I felt that I could not cope with Fay in this new mood: she was beyond
me: so I just let her have her say.

"You and Annabel have concocted a scheme," she went on, "that it is
correct for a girl of nineteen to enjoy foreign travel, and improving
to her mind to see strange countries: and that, therefore, the South of
France must be the one thing that I yearn for.  But as a matter of
fact, I don't yearn for it at all: it would bore me to death, and I'm
not going there.  Why should I do things that I hate, because you and
Annabel have decided that I ought to enjoy them, and therefore that I
do?  In the same way Annabel has decided that the East wind ought to
give you a cold on your chest, though as a matter of fact it never
does: but you don't dare to face it, for fear of offending Annabel by
not catching cold when she expected you to."

I had believed that it was Annabel alone who was fussy about the East
wind, and that I was laughing at her from my superior height: but now I
learned my mistake.

"What I do enjoy," continued my angry darling, "is acting with Frank
and the Loxleys: and I mean to do it, too.  And if you and Annabel want
to go to your fusty old South of France for Easter, go: but leave me at
home with Frank, who will be back by then."  And she tossed her curly
head and dashed out of the room.

For a few seconds I sat absolutely stunned by this unexpected outburst:
and then I stretched out my arms on the table in front of me, and
buried my head in them, so as to shut out the sight and the sound of
everything: for I felt that my world was tumbling down about my ears.

Bitterly hurt as I was, I could yet look at the matter from Fay's point
of view.  Annabel and I were dull old fogies, and the life that I had
offered to my darling was not half full enough to satisfy her.  In
spite of all my struggles to adopt modern ideas, I was evidently still
wrapped in the toils of the Victorian tradition that the warming of her
husband's slippers is an occupation noble enough to satisfy the
aspirations of any woman's soul.  In my heart I had smiled at Annabel's
antiquated ideas: but in Fay's young eyes my ideas were as antiquated
as Annabel's.

Yet I would have given everything--even life itself--to make my darling
happy: and therein lay the core of the tragedy.  The good that I would
do, I could not: I was too old.

I had done my best, and I had failed.  What, then, was there left to
live for?

I was so swallowed up in this engulfing wave of sick misery that I did
not hear the door open or any one enter the room.  But I was roused
from the stupor of despair into which I had fallen by feeling a pair of
soft arms clinging round my neck, and a soft cheek pressed against my
own; whilst the voice that made the music of my life said in a
trembling whisper: "I'm so awfully sorry, Reggie, for being such a
beast.  Do forgive me, and I'll never be such a brute again."

So I was raised by a touch from the Slough of Despair to the Summit of
the Delectable Mountains.



CHAPTER XVI

A SORROWFUL SPRINGTIME

It goes without saying that I forgave my darling, for the good reason
that I had nothing to forgive.  That part of the business was easy
enough.  It also goes without saying that Fay got her own way about the
proposed trip to the South of France: but that part of the business was
by no means easy.

Annabel was greatly surprised when I broke it to her that Fay did not
wish to go abroad.  But she was more than surprised, she was indignant,
when she discovered that I intended to let my wife do as she pleased in
the matter.  If Fay did not want to go to France, to France she should
not go: that I said and that I stuck to.

But the sticking was hard work.

I had always known that Annabel was obstinate: but until that unhappy
spring I had no idea how colossally obstinate she could be.  Nothing
that I said had the slightest effect upon her.  She merely waited until
I had finished speaking, and then said her own say over again, as if I
had never spoken.  Fay was quite right.  If Annabel thought that a
person ought to want a thing, she firmly believed that, therefore, they
did want it: and nothing that the person or that any other person could
urge to the contrary in any way shook her in this belief.  I suppose I
was like my sister in this respect.  Fay said I was, and so I must have
been.  But I am sure that I made every effort to struggle against this
narrow-mindedness, and I am equally sure that Annabel made no such
effort at all.  On the contrary, she gloried in it.

"It is nonsense to say that young people don't enjoy being taken
abroad, Reggie," she declared over and over again: "absolute nonsense.
It is only natural that the young should enjoy variety of place and
scene."

"It may be natural, but it isn't true in this particular instance," I
vainly argued: "I have told you till I'm sick of telling you that Fay
doesn't want to go abroad just now: and if she doesn't want to go, she
shan't go."

"I am sure you are making a mistake, Reggie, and that you will live to
regret it."

"I have no doubt that I am.  As a matter of fact I am always making
mistakes and living to regret them.  But that won't hinder me from
making this one mistake more."

"She would enjoy it when once she got there: I know she would.  I used
to love travelling on the Continent when I was a girl."

"I dare say you did, but that has nothing to do with it.  You and Fay
are absolutely different people."

"Of course we are now, because I am so much older than she is: but when
we were the same age, I expect Fay was very similar to me."  And then I
had it all over again about the normal desire of the young for variety
of place and scene.  I recognised the futility of argument.  If Annabel
believed that at any time or at any age she and Fay bore the slightest
resemblance to one another, she could believe anything that she wished
to believe: and she did.

Although my sister never shook me for a moment in my determination that
Fay should have her own way, she never for a moment ceased trying to
shake me; and I found it a most fatiguing process.  Of late years we
have heard much talk about "wars of attrition": that is the kind of war
in which Annabel would have excelled.

There is a somewhat obscure passage in the Epistle of St. Jude about
the Archangel Michael contending with the devil for the body of Moses.
I don't in the least know what it means, but I know exactly what it
felt like: and it felt like something very unpleasant indeed.

I suggested--and not altogether from unselfish motives--that Annabel
should repair to sunnier climes alone: but she stoutly refused to leave
me while the East wind was in the air.  She seemed to think that with
her at my side I could defy my (so-called) enemy more successfully than
if I tackled him alone.  I endeavoured to point out to her that,
according to her ideas, at any rate, my vulnerable part was not my
side--my heel of Achilles, so to speak, was situated in my chest, and
that, therefore, a silk muffler would be a surer defence than a score
of sisters.  But she still held to her own opinion (as it was her
nature to do) that by some indefinable means her bodily presence
prevented the inclement breeze from visiting my chest too roughly: and
with the best intentions and the worst results, she absolutely declined
to go abroad unless Fay and I accompanied her.

But the tiresomeness of Annabel at this time was more than compensated
for by the adorableness of Fay.  Our little set-to in the smoking-room
turned out to be one of those blessed fallings-out that all the more
endear: and we had a heavenly time together, unclouded by either the
presence of Frank or the persistence of Annabel.  At any rate, for the
time being we were all-in-all to each other.  Tennyson remarked that
"Sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things": but I must
venture to disagree with him, as I once ventured to disagree with
Shakspere.  The memory of past happiness is a possession of which Time
and Circumstance are powerless to rob one: at least I found it so in
the dark days to come, when I lived over and over again in memory those
happy weeks at Restham, after Fay and I quarrelled and made it up
again, and before Frank came back.

Then a fresh storm broke.  Annabel found out about the play which was
being prepared for Easter week, and made herself extremely unpleasant
over it.  I did all in my power to smooth things over between her and
Fay, but with little success.  With all my affection for my sister and
all my adoration of my wife, I cannot pretend that Fay was altogether
easy and adaptable when once her back was up; whilst Annabel in such
circumstances was absolutely impossible.

Therefore at this particular time life passed but roughly with me, as
it did with the poet Cowper.  But still rougher times were in store.

Frank's return complicated matters still further.  He came back to
Restham having left the dons and tutors of his college in a state of
extreme dissatisfaction with him, on account of the things he did and
the things he left undone.  Naturally he took Fay's part--as indeed I
did: but he made no effort to assist me in my endeavour to placate
Annabel as far as possible without interfering with the theatrical
scheme.

I do not wish to pretend to miseries to which I have no title: but I
cannot help feeling that in this conflict between the twins and
Annabel, it was I who suffered most.  Subsequent history has taught us
that in a war between two Powers the chief brunt falls upon the neutral
states.  Certainly it was so in my case.  As poor Belgium has long been
the cock-pit of Europe, so I became the cock-pit of Restham.  A most
unenviable position for either nations or individuals!

I was never alone for a minute with Annabel without her beginning all
over again about the pernicious influence of amateur theatricals--as
opposed to the beneficent effect of foreign travel--upon the rising
generation: I was never alone for a minute with Frank without his
rubbing into me the various difficulties which my sister raised with
regard to the impending performance in the village hall: and--which was
worst of all--I was never alone with Fay without knocking my head and
bruising my heart against an impalpable barrier which had suddenly been
raised up between us; for the building of which barrier I blamed Frank.

"You are behaving very foolishly, Reggie, and you will live to regret
it," Annabel said, for about the two hundredth time: "I can't
understand why you don't see the danger, as I see it."

I did see it: that was what made me so profoundly wretched: but I did
not see how it was to be averted by any act of mine.

"I should simply put my foot down upon the whole thing, if I were you,"
she nagged on.

"The putting down of one's foot is not such a simple process as it used
to be," I retorted: "or else my feet are not of the putting down sort."

"Papa could always put his foot down fast enough when he wanted to,"
argued Annabel.

"I know he could: but, as I have just told you, I haven't inherited his
particular make of feet."

Annabel went on as if I had not spoken.  "He always put his foot down
when I was Fay's age, if I suggested doing anything that he didn't
approve of."

"But you were his daughter and Fay is my wife.  That makes all the
difference."

"It didn't make any difference to him.  He put his foot down just as
much in dealing with poor Mamma as in dealing with me."

"I know he did.  And she died of it."

Annabel looked surprised at the bitterness of my retort: but she would
have looked more surprised still if she had seen the greater bitterness
of heart which prompted it.  I was surprised myself at the sudden rush
of anger which flooded my soul at the memory of how my gentle mother
had gradually faded away under the pressure of my father's kind, but
dominating, heel.  I had scarcely formulated it even in thought--I had
certainly never put it into words before--but my subconscious mind must
always have rebelled against the knowledge that my mother had really
died of my father's strong will.  That was what actually killed her,
whatever the doctor's certificate might say: and I had always known it,
though I did not know that I knew it until that moment.

It is strange how the dark subterranean rivers of knowledge and memory,
which flow fathoms below the realm of conscious existence, now and
again rise to the surface, as if upheaved by some mighty volcanic force
of the spiritual world; and we suddenly know that we have always known
something of which until that moment we had not the slightest idea.
And we know more than this.  We see how that undreamed of knowledge has
moulded our minds and formed our characters independently of our
conscious selves, and how in those dark, subterranean depths are laid
the foundations of the temples, which it is our life-work to build and
to make meet for the indwelling of the Spirit of God.

Thus suddenly I understood that it was owing to a great extent to my
unconscious knowledge of my father's well-meant tyranny towards my
mother, that I was what I was: a cowardly rebel, chafing under
Annabel's sway even while I submitted to it--a weakly, indulgent
husband, who would sooner relinquish his lawful authority altogether
than enforce it.

I recalled my wandering thoughts to find my sister gazing at me in
perplexity mingled with reproach.

"Really, Reggie, I don't know what you are coming to!  I consider it
shocking to speak of dear Papa in that way.  I am sure he never
controlled poor Mamma's actions except for her own good."

"Exactly: and that was what killed her.  To be constantly controlled
for her own good, is enough to crush the life out of any sensitive and
high-spirited woman."

"But Mamma wasn't at all high-spirited," Annabel objected.

"Not when we knew her.  But I dare say she was before Father began that
foot exercise that you consider so desirable.  Understand once for all,
Annabel, that no power on earth will ever induce me to treat my wife as
my father treated his."

Annabel looked still more shocked.  "Then I think it is very undutiful
of you; very undutiful indeed!  And especially after Papa earned a
baronetcy for you, and left you such an ample provision for keeping it
up.  And that reminds me what a pity it is that Fay doesn't seem likely
to have any children at present.  It would save all this dreadful
theatrical fuss and trouble if she had.  I always think a baby is such
a suitable diversion for a young married woman, besides being so nice
to have some one to carry on the title."

I felt that Annabel was becoming intolerable, so I bolted out of the
drawing-room, banging the door behind me.  She had rather affected the
drawing-room of late in preference to the great hall, as Fay and Frank
usually occupied the latter.

Even now I can hardly bear to recall the happenings of that most
miserable springtime, so I will retail them as briefly as possible.

The more Annabel opposed Fay's having her own way, the more determined
was I that Fay should have it; although--to confess the truth--I
disliked that way, and feared its consequences, considerably more than
my sister did.  The memory of my dear mother's submission upheld me.  I
felt I had far sooner Fay despised my weakness than died of my
wilfulness--even though that wilfulness were exercised solely for what
Annabel and my father would have called "her own good."

The Loxleys came down like a wolf on the fold, and the Manor was once
again the scene of revelry by night, and a noisy bear-garden by day.  I
hated it all inexpressibly; but I fought for it as I would have fought
for my life.  Ever since that horrible time I have cherished the
deepest pity for people who feel bound by a real (or mistaken) sense of
duty to do battle for that which at the bottom of their hearts they
hate.  To them there is only one thing worse than defeat--and that is
victory.

Only once did I venture on a word of remonstrance with my darling.

"Sweetheart," I said one day, when she had rushed into my library for
some writing paper wherewith to supply the epistolary needs of the
Loxley family: "I know how you are enjoying all this affair, and I
wouldn't for worlds interfere with your pleasure: but don't you think
that after this Play is over, you might rest from theatricals for a
time?"

The pretty scarlet mouth at once grew mutinous.  "Oh, Reggie, don't be
a tiresome kill-joy!"

"I'm trying my best not to be," I answered meekly: "I'm not killing
this joy: I'm letting it live out all its allotted days.  I'm only
suggesting that it shouldn't have a successor--at any rate, for the
present."

Fay tossed her curly head and stamped her foot.  I could read Frank's
influence in every insubordinate line of her.  "I think it is very
horrid of you to be so dreadfully bossy, and not to let Frank and me do
as we like!"

"But I do let you do as you like, my own.  I didn't urge you to go
abroad when you said you didn't want to go; and I have never interfered
with your theatrical performances so far.  You can't say I have."

But she did say it.  "Yes, you have.  You have looked as if you
disapproved and have been terribly wet-blankety at times, and Annabel
has been simply vile.  Frank has noticed it too."

"I am not Annabel, nor responsible for Annabel.  Heaven forbid!  I
can't help my looks--nobody can, or most people would--and if I look
dull and what you call wet-blankety, it isn't my fault but my
misfortune.  And I really do try to see things from your point of view,
darling: I do indeed: but I can't help my age--again, nobody can, or
most people would."

Fay softened a little.  She even went the length of sitting down on my
knee as I sat by the fire, and twisting her fingers in my front hair.
"You really aren't so bad after all--considering everything," she
graciously admitted.

It seemed to me, in my masculine folly, an auspicious moment for
presenting a petition to my sovereign.  "If I promise to be as nice as
I know how for this particular Play, and never so much as show a corner
of a wet blanket, won't you give up theatricals for a bit, and turn
your attention to other things?  It is a pity to let anything absorb
you to the exclusion of everything else."  The memory of my late
father's foot still constrained me to supplicate where I knew I had the
right to command.

"But you like me to enjoy myself, Reggie?"

"More than I like anything in the world."

"Then why interfere at all in what gives me such a ripping time?"

Then the devil entered into me under cover of my own cowardice.  I
couldn't bear Fay to think that it was I who was inimical to her
pleasure.  "Well, sweetheart, it isn't I altogether: I adore you so
that if I had my own way I should give you everything that you asked
for, and let you do whatever you liked.  But Annabel is a woman of the
world, and old enough to be your mother, and she sees that this
continual theatrical excitement is not altogether good for a young
girl.  It hurts me to refuse you anything far worse than it hurts you:
but while you are so young I cannot indulge you and myself to the
extent of letting you do things that may work you lasting harm."

I had spoken to my own undoing.  Fay sprang to her feet at once like an
angry boy.  "So Annabel disapproves of my acting, does she?  Then you
can tell her that I jolly well mean to go on with it!  As Frank says,
she and you together are choking the life and spirit out of me, and
making an old woman of me before my time.  And I won't stand it--I
won't!"

I struggled vainly to retrieve my position; but it was too late.  "It
isn't so much that Annabel disapproves, darling," I lied valiantly,
"but that she thinks so much excitement is bad for you."

"What rot!" retorted Fay, looking more Frank-like than ever: "I never
heard such a lot of footling flapdoodle as you and Annabel concoct when
you set fuzzling together--never in all my life!  I've simply no use
for you, Reggie, when you play the giddy old maid like this!  I shall
go and talk to Frank, who has got more sense than you and Annabel put
together!"  Wherewith she bounced out of the room, and left me
lamenting over my egregious folly in having introduced Annabel into the
conversation at all, especially as I did it with the unworthy motive of
diverting Fay's anger from myself.

All that Eastertide stands out in my memory as a garish and lurid
nightmare.  I cannot recall the details of the Play, but I remember
that it was considered a great success, and that Fay and Frank fairly
surpassed themselves in the dance that they had prepared for the
occasion.  When it was over, Fay announced her intention of returning
with Frank and the Loxleys to town, and staying a few days with the
latter in order to attend a few pieces which were running at the London
theatres.

I did not oppose her: I knew it would do no good.  She refused to
listen to argument, and nothing would induce me to put my foot down as
my father had done with such grim success before me.  But I looked
forward to her return from the Loxleys, when Frank would have gone back
to Oxford, and when the summer and I would have my darling to
ourselves, and everything would come right again.  Annabel had
announced her intention of leaving Restham for a time to visit the
Macdonalds in Scotland: and I was sure that when there was nobody to
come between us, Fay and I would once more be all in all to each other
as we had been before.

I did not trouble her with any explanations then: I felt it was not the
occasion for them: I saved them all up for the happy time coming when I
should have my darling to myself.  And during the few days that she was
at the Loxleys' I was busy devising and arranging little treats which I
knew she would enjoy when once Annabel's back was turned, and we two
were like a couple of children out of school.

On the fifth day after Fay's departure, I came down to breakfast in
better spirits than usual.  It was a lovely April morning, and the
spirit of the spring seemed to have got into my blood and to send it
coursing through my veins more quickly than usual--that spirit of hope
which always promises more than it can perform.  I felt sure that there
was a good time coming for Fay and me, after we had packed Annabel
safely off to Scotland, and that our slight falling-out would again
prove itself to be of that blessed sort which all the more endears.

My cheerfulness was further increased by the sight of a letter from Fay
lying on the breakfast-table.  She had only favoured me with hurried
post-cards so far since she left home; but this was a letter, and her
letters always gave me pleasure.  Moreover, I felt this was going to be
an extra pleasant one, as it would doubtless herald her return home.
So I opened it with all the joy of anticipation, and this is what I
read--


"My DEAR REGGIE,

"It is no good going on as we are doing: it is horrid for you and
horrid for me.  Annabel is quite right in saying that we aren't at all
suited to one another; and I am sure that you will be much happier
alone with her, without Frank and me to bother you and upset all your
little fussy ways.  So we have decided to leave England for good, and
go back to live with Aunt Gertrude: and we shall both go on the stage
and earn our living that way, though there is no necessity for us to do
so, as we have got some money of our own, and Uncle Sherard and Aunt
Gertrude have plenty and will be only too pleased to have Frank and me
to live with them again.  But we shall still go on the stage because we
adore it so, and love acting and dancing so much.  We always intended
to do it, but falling in love with you changed everything and upset my
plans.

"Please don't try to stop us, because you can't.  Frank arranged
everything beforehand, and before you get this letter we shall have
sailed for Melbourne.  I shan't write to you again, because the sooner
you forget me the better.  I hope you and Annabel will be very happy
together, just as you were before Frank and I came to Restham.  And I
am sure you will be, as you have always loved her more than you have
loved me.

"Good-bye.
  "From your loving wife,
      "FAY."



CHAPTER XVII

DESOLATION

I cannot remember what happened immediately after Fay's letter
shattered my life at one blow.  I only know that Annabel found me lying
unconscious on the dining-room floor when she came down to breakfast,
and that I then had a severe attack of brain-fever, which very nearly
proved fatal.  But Annabel and Arthur and Ponty were all very good to
me, and--with the aid of two trained nurses--brought me back, sorely
against my will, into that spoiled life which I had hoped I had done
with for ever.

As usual, I was foredoomed to failure.  I could not even die when I
wanted to.  In the words of the unhappy Napoleonic Prince, called
familiarly "Prince Plon-Plon," I acknowledged my crowning defeat: "I
could succeed in nothing--not even in dying."

Fay's desertion had wounded me past healing.  It was a catastrophe so
unlooked for, so appalling, that words were useless either to describe
or to believe it.  The worst had happened.  I had been weighed in her
balance, been found wanting, and cast aside as worthless: therefore
there would be nothing worth living for ever any more.

Yet I had to live.  That was the crowning wretchedness.  If I could
only have hidden my misery in the grave and have done with it--I, who
was a mere cumberer of the ground, and worse than a cumberer!  But I
could not.  My hateful existence still dragged on.  Even the fig-tree
which bore no fruit was commanded by Divine Mercy to wither away: but I
was not granted even this much grace: I was cursed to live on, with
Fay's _Tekel_ branded on my brow.  It was part of my punishment.  Like
Cain, I learned that there is a heavier penalty than death: and that is
life.  And, like him, I sometimes felt that my punishment was greater
than I could bear.

As my body grew stronger my spirit was gradually roused from
despondency to defiance.  What had I done that such an unspeakable
retribution should be meted out to me?  I began to feel that my
punishment was not only greater than I could bear, but greater than I
deserved.  True, I had been weak and tactless and over-indulgent: but
was that enough to merit a life-sentence?  For the first time in my
life I ceased to submit, but stood up like Job and challenged the Lord
to answer me out of the whirlwind, even though before Him I was as dust
and ashes.  But I was not as dust and ashes before Fay and Frank; yet
they had treated me as if I were: and my heart was hot within me as I
mused upon their behaviour towards me.

At first I had been utterly crushed and prostrate: but as I regained my
health I became angry and bitter.  All that had formerly been sweet in
my nature turned to gall, and I longed to curse God and die.

The hidden spirit of rebellion which I had unconsciously cherished for
forty-three years, and which I had originally inherited from my mother,
suddenly sprang into life, thereby changing my whole nature.  I was no
longer the weak and amiable dilettante concealing a real tenderness of
heart under an assumed cloak of good-humoured cynicism: I was a fierce
and bitter Ishmael, driven out into the wilderness by human treachery,
and at war with God and man.

I hated Frank as vehemently as I still loved Fay.  But I could forgive
neither of them.  My anger was hot against them both.

I sternly refused to write to my wife, or to have any direct dealings
with her.  I instructed Arthur to pay her an allowance of a thousand a
year, in addition to her own income, and to tell her from me that I
accepted her decision, and intended to abide by it.

"I will offer her the thousand per annum as you wish it, old boy," said
Blathwayte, "although I know her aunt and uncle have heaps of money and
nobody to give it to but Fay and Frank: but I am certain that in the
circumstances Fay will refuse it."

I laughed bitterly: "Probably; but Frank and 'Aunt Gertrude' won't, if
I know anything about them: and Fay will be over-persuaded by them."

And, as further events proved, I was right.

I am not justifying my conduct and feelings at this ghastly time: I am
only recording them, extenuating nothing and setting down naught in
malice.  I had done once for all with what Fay called
"flapdoodle"--that bane of the generation to which Annabel and I
belonged.  Thenceforth I made up my mind to be what I was, and not what
an artificially trained conscience thought that I ought to be.

The characters of the nineteenth century were rather like the gardens
of the eighteenth.  Their lines were formal, their trees cut into
unnatural shapes, and their fruit carefully trained over stiff
espaliers.  But Fay and Frank taught me to deal with my character, as
Annabel had already learned to deal with her garden: I swept away the
formal beds, flung the iron espaliers over the wall, and let the trees
grow according to their own will.  That the result, as far as I was
concerned, was not ornamental, I admit: and if the former garden of my
soul had been transformed into a waste and horrible place where only
thorns and thistles and deadly nightshade grew, surely the
responsibility rested with my wife and her brother rather than with me!
At least so it appeared to me then.

In time I learned from Blathwayte that Fay and Frank had arrived safely
in Melbourne, and were settled in the house of the Sherards, who were
only too delighted to have their niece and nephew with them once more:
and that my wife and her brother were beginning at once to take up the
stage as their profession, Fay acting under her maiden name.

Although Annabel did not say "I told you so" in so many words, the
sentiment exuded from her every pore.  And, truth to tell, she had told
me so.  There was no getting away from that fact.

She and Arthur were kind enough to me in their respective ways, but I
had no longer any use for kindness.  There was nothing now that anybody
could do to relieve the utter blankness of my misery.

Though I was bitterly angry with Fay--though I found it impossible to
excuse or condone her cruel behaviour towards me, her husband--I
nevertheless loved and longed for her with consuming and increasing
force.  "Let no man dream but that I loved her still": therein lay the
bitterest sting of my agony.  The more I loved her the more impossible
I found it to forgive her: had I cared for her less, I might have been
less implacable.  That may not be a symptom of ideal love, but anyway
it was a symptom of mine.

But if I found it impossible to forgive Fay, I found it still further
out of my power to forgive Frank.  That Annabel had had her finger in
the pie I could not deny: she was by no means free from blame with
regard to what had happened: but the chief instigator of the tragedy
was Frank; of that I had no manner of doubt whatever.  Without his
baneful influence Fay would never have dreamed of running away from me:
without his practical assistance, she never could have accomplished it.

I sometimes wondered whether Annabel reproached herself too severely
for having, by her well-meant interference, made such havoc of my life:
had I spoiled hers, as she had spoiled mine, I felt I should have eaten
my heart out with unavailing remorse.  But one day this doubt was set
for ever at rest by her saying to me--

"Do you know, Reggie dear, I am sometimes inclined to blame myself for
not having interfered with Fay more than I did, and for letting her
have so much of her own way.  After all, she was young, and I knew so
much better about everything than she did."

After that remark, anxiety about Annabel's conscience no longer
troubled me.

She and Arthur were whole-heartedly on my side in this hideous
separation between my wife and me.  Naturally they did not say much to
me in condemnation of Fay: I could neither have permitted nor endured
it: but I knew they were feeling it in my presence and expressing it in
each other's; and they put no curb upon their expressions of
indignation against Frank.

My old nurse, however, thought differently.  To my surprise--though by
this time I ought not to have been surprised at any vagary of
Ponty's--the person she blamed in the whole affair was myself: and,
what is more, she did not hesitate to say so.  I felt that she was
unjust--cruelly unjust--and all the more so that she had been so
indulgent to me all through my childhood: but what I thought of her had
no effect upon Ponty, any more than it had when I was a little boy.

"You've yourself to thank for the whole terrible business, Master
Reggie," she said to me after my restoration to what my friends and
doctors described as "health."  She was far too good a nurse to utter
unwelcome words into ears that she did not consider strong enough to
receive them.  To the needs of a sick soul neither she, nor anybody
else, paid any heed.  "I knew there'd be trouble as soon as you began
that 'Oranges and Lemons' nonsense of having Miss Annabel and Mr. Frank
to live with you; and I said so, but you would have your own way, you
having a spice of obstinacy in your character as well as Miss Annabel.
You weren't your poor Papa's son for nothing."

"I don't call doing what you think will make other people happy exactly
obstinacy, Ponty," I pleaded.

"Call it what you like, Master Reggie, but that's what it is.  Folks
always find pretty pet names for their own particular faults.  There
was a man at Poppenhall who prided himself upon what he called his
firmness, and impulsiveness, and economy: those were the pet names he
used: and yet all the village knew that he was nothing but an
obstinate, ill-tempered old miser."

"But I thought I was doing right," I said.  It was strange that Ponty
was the only person against whom I had no feeling of bitterness, and in
whose presence I felt less wretched than anywhere else.  This might
have been because she had been associated with peace and comfort as
long as I could remember: but I think the real reason was that she was
the only person who blamed me and not Fay.

"And your Papa thought he was doing right when he arranged your poor
Mamma's whole time for her, and never let her have a will or a way of
her own.  She didn't run away: she hadn't the spirit for it, poor
thing!--and besides wives didn't run away in those days as they do now.
But I saw what she didn't think anybody saw; and I watched the life die
out of her like it does out of a fire that's got the sun on it."

I started.  So Ponty had consciously seen for herself what had only
been subconsciously revealed to me.

"I don't mean that Sir John was unkind to her ladyship: far from it:
but he just crushed the life out of her, like Miss Annabel does out of
folks, without knowing what he was up to.  They've always meant well,
both Miss Annabel and her Papa: but their well-meaning has done more
harm than other folk's ill-meaning, in my humble judgment.  And when
her ladyship died, Sir John was as cut up as anybody could wish to see,
and never married again nor nothing of that kind.  He called her
ladyship's death a dispensation of Providence, and bore it most
beautiful; and nobody knew but me as it was nothing but a judgment on
him for forcing poor Lady Jane into his own mould, as you might say."

"But I never forced her ladyship into my mould, heaven knows!" I
exclaimed.

"No; but there was them as did.  And you let 'em, and never interfered."

I felt I was a little boy again, being scolded by Ponty in the sunny
old nursery for some childish misdemeanour.  It was a peaceful feeling
and somehow seemed to rest and soothe my weary and wounded heart.

"But I did interfere," I said: "I always interfered if I thought any
one was interfering with her ladyship.  Surely no husband ever let his
wife have more of her own way than I did."

Ponty looked me up and down with scorn, as I lolled on the
chintz-covered window-seat.  "And what good would your interfering do
as long as Miss Annabel was there, I should like to know?  Mark my
words, Master Reggie: the King of England couldn't hold his own against
Miss Annabel; let alone a pretty young girl like her present ladyship.
I knew what would happen as soon as you told me Miss Annabel was going
to stay on here after you married.  There's no throwing dust in my
eyes!  I knew Miss Annabel before you were born, and I knew her Papa
too; and I know what they're like when they're set on moulding people.
I should pity the Pope of Rome hisself if he was being moulded by Miss
Annabel."

I agreed with her there.

"And if you ask me, Master Reggie" (I hadn't asked her, but that was
neither here nor there), "I should say that the dreadful trouble was
far more Miss Annabel's fault than Mr. Wildacre's, though I know some
do say as it was all his doing: and I dare say it was partly his doing
too, as more than one can play at 'Oranges and Lemons.'  But to put a
young girl under Miss Annabel's thumb, as you may say (for when all's
said and done her ladyship is only a young girl), to my mind it was
like throwing Daniel into the den of lions; and unfortunately it didn't
turn out so well."

"I apparently was not successful in the role of the angel who shut the
lions' mouths," I said bitterly.

"Not you, Master Reggie!  You haven't yet got it in you to stand up
against Miss Annabel, and never had: any more than your poor Mamma had
it in her to stand up against Sir John.  Some folks can stand up and
some folks can't, and there's no blame either ways, it happening just
as you're made.  There was a man at Poppenhall who married three times,
and his third wife was the only one of the three as ever stood up to
him.  And nine weeks to the day from his third marriage he was laid to
rest in Poppenhall Churchyard.  I remember it as if it was yesterday,
and the wreaths were something beautiful."

"I suppose he couldn't stand being stood up to after all those years,"
I suggested.

"No more than Sir John could have stood it, or Miss Annabel.  Folks
isn't used to it, if they've had too much of the other thing: and
that's where the judgment comes in of letting them get like that.  It
stands to reason that the Almighty didn't send folks into this world to
be always having their own way at the expense of other folks's: and
they shouldn't be given it.  What was sauce for you was sauce for Miss
Annabel, as I've told your poor Mamma over and over again when you were
both children.  But nobody but her Papa could stand up to Miss Annabel
even then; and it isn't likely that they'll begin now."

I knew it was very weak of me to go on trying to justify myself in
Ponty's eyes; but I did it nevertheless.  "You see, I thought it would
be too quiet for her ladyship to be shut up to an old husband like me,
and that it would be more cheerful for her with Miss Annabel and Mr.
Wildacre here as well."

Ponty looked at me with a fresh influx of contempt: "That's just what
you would think, Master Reggie: even as a little boy you were always
one for taking the wrong end of a stick.  You're not at all old--quite
a boy you seem to me; and old or not old, nobody could deny that you're
still a very handsome gentleman.  And no woman ought to feel it dull to
live with her own husband, even if he were one of the plain sort, and
hadn't your good looks.  She's taken him for better for worse, and for
rougher for smoother, according to the Marriage Service, and she ought
to abide by it."

"Always verify your quotations," I murmured, but Ponty took no notice
of my interruption.

"Not that I don't hold with relations," she went on, "in moderation,
and at the proper time and place.  I remember when you and Miss Annabel
were children, her late ladyship gave me a fortnight's holiday after a
bad cold I'd had, and I went to stay with a sister-in-law who was a
widow, living some twenty miles from Poppenhall.  It happened that my
sister-in-law died two days after I got there, which turned out most
fortunate for me, as such a lot of relations came to the funeral, I can
tell you I saw more of my own family then than I'd seen for years, and
I quite enjoyed myself.  I always say there's nothing like your own
relations for a pick-me-up, as you might say: but you don't want 'em
hanging about all the time, and telling you how to manage your own home
and husband."

At that moment there was a tap at the nursery door, and Jeavons came in
to say that old Parkins had sent a message to know if I could come and
ease his pain as I had done before, it being specially severe that
morning.

I responded at once: and the request brought the first ray of light
that had shone on my life since Fay left me.  It showed that I still
had my uses, and was not a mere cumberer of the ground.  Even if life
was over as far as I myself was concerned, I could still help others by
means of my healing power.  So I entered the Parkins's cottage less
miserable than I had been for months.

I found the poor old man in great agony, and I knelt down by the bed as
was my custom, laying my hand upon the painful part.  But for the first
time since I had received the gift, I found the heavens as brass above
me.  I was conscious of no Presence in the room--of no vital force
flowing through me.  My prayers were dull and lifeless, and no virtue
went either in or out of me.

"It don't seem to answer this time, Sir Reginald," the old man groaned
at last: "the pain do get worse instead of better.  Oh dear, oh dear,
what shall I do?  Nothing seems to do me any good, not even you!"

Sick at heart I tried again, but to no purpose.  There was no blinking
the fact.  The power of healing had gone from me.

Making what poor excuse I could, I stumbled out of the cottage and into
the open air: and then I found my way into a little wood, and fell on
my face, and prayed that I might die.  It seemed as if God Himself had
forsaken me.

But gradually the knowledge came to me that it was not so.  It was not
that God had forsaken me, but that I had forsaken God.

Scientists and materialists would doubtless explain this loss of
healing power by the fact that my sickness and sorrow had so lowered my
vital force that there was no strength left in me, and that I could not
pass on to another what I no longer possessed myself.  But I did not
trouble my head with such soothing and soporific sophistries.  To me,
they were utterly beside the mark.  Once again I adopted the simpler
course of accepting literally the words of Christ: "If ye forgive not
men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your
trespasses."  That was what He said, and that was what I believe He
meant.

I had not forgiven--I could not forgive--Fay and Frank for the evil
that they had done me: therefore I was no longer a fit channel for
Divine Grace.

To my mind the thing was as clear as daylight, and needed no
(so-called) scientific explanation.

But that did not make it any easier to forgive them: on the contrary.
If I had found it too hard to forgive Frank for coming between me and
my wife, I found it a hundred times harder to forgive him for coming
between me and my God.  I hated him for having spoilt this life: but I
hated him still more for having spoilt the life to come.  It was bad
enough of him to have turned me out of my earthly Paradise: but it was
infinitely worse to have shut me out of Heaven as well!

And as I lay on my face writhing in spiritual agony, from the depths of
my soul I cursed Frank Wildacre.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE NEW DEAN

The days grew into weeks, and the weeks into months, but nothing
occurred to lessen my misery.  As I look back upon that hideous time, I
can recall nothing but one long dreary stretch of unalloyed
wretchedness.  I resumed my usual round of duties, domestic and
parochial; but nothing either in my own estate or in the surrounding
neighbourhood afforded me the slightest interest.  And for all this, I
had to thank Frank Wildacre.  This thought was always more or less with
me.

But about a year and a half after Fay left me, a most unexpected thing
happened.

Annabel came into the library one morning obviously bursting with news.

"Oh, Reggie, what do you think?  I have just been to the Rectory to see
Mr. Blathwayte about some parish matters, and he has told me a most
exciting piece of news, and has asked me to come and tell you, because
he is too busy to do so this morning, but he will come to tea this
afternoon and consult you about it."

My heart began to beat furiously.  Surely any exciting news that Arthur
received must be in some way connected with Fay.  I never wrote to her,
nor she to me: I was too proud to do anything but submit to her
decision on that point.  I was also too proud to ask Arthur direct
questions about her: but with a delicate tact, for which beforehand I
should never have given him credit, he gave me apparently casual
information about her from time to time.  I was as bitterly angry with
her as ever; I was as far from forgiving her as ever: but I could not
forget that she was my wife, and I still loved her as I loved my own
soul.

"Well, what is it?" I asked, stifling the trembling of my voice as best
I could.

"Guess," said Annabel.  "It's really the most wonderful thing!"

I was amazed--as, indeed, I often was in those days--at my sister's
unabated appetite for the trivial.  After such an unprecedented
cataclysm as Fay's departure, the day of small things had gone by as I
thought for ever: and yet, though it had completely overturned my
world, it had left Annabel pretty much as it found her.  It is at times
such as this that the unutterable loneliness of the human soul becomes
almost overwhelming, and one realises that the heart knoweth its own
bitterness, and a stranger--nay, not only a stranger, but also one's
nearest and dearest--cannot intermeddle with its joy.  True, there was
no longer any joy in my heart for anybody to intermeddle with: but in
its bitterness it stood utterly alone.

To me Fay, in spite of my anger against her, was still sacrosanct.
Though fallen from her original estate, she was yet, in my eyes, an
angel.  But to Annabel she was nothing but a naughty child that needed
punishment; and my sister troubled herself about her no more than she
would about a naughty child.  Therefore I could not make trivial and
absurd guesses about anything concerning Fay.

"I can't guess," I said rather shortly: "please tell me."

"Mr. Blathwayte has been offered the Deanery of Lowchester."

My heart sank down into my boots again.  What were Deaneries or even
Archbishoprics compared with Fay?  Then I blamed myself for my
selfishness, and tried to atone for it.  "What a splendid thing for old
Arthur!" I said: "I am awfully glad.  Tell me all he said."

Whereupon Annabel proceeded to obey me more or less implicitly,
interspersing Arthur's quoted remarks with innumerable commentaries of
her own.

"It will be a splendid thing for him," she said in conclusion, "as he
is really a most able and gifted man, and such a capital organiser, and
there is no proper scope for him in a small village like this.  I've
liked to have him here, but I have always felt he was a bit buried."

"Do you remember Mrs. Figshaw?" said I, "who kept saying that her
daughter wanted a _scoop_?  I agree with you that Blathwayte is like
Mrs. Figshaw's daughter: he wants a scoop badly."

"_Scope_, Reggie; not _scoop_," corrected Annabel.  I should have been
disappointed in her if she had not done so.  At least I should have
been disappointed a year ago: but even Annabel had ceased to amuse me
now.

"We shall miss Blathwayte," I remarked: "at least you will."

"But why me particularly?  Surely the Rector is more your friend than
mine."

"I know that.  But I have lost the power of missing any person save
one.  In my case all lesser griefs have been swallowed up in the one
great one."

"Poor Reggie!  But it's a pity to feel like that, and all the same I
feel sure you'll miss Mr. Blathwayte more than you think you will when
the time comes.  And I shall miss him too, as he has always been so
good in being guided by me, and has followed my advice in everything
connected with the parish."

I doubted this, though I should have considered it most unfair to
Arthur to say so: but there was a quiet obstinacy about him which might
raise him at times even to the height of standing up against Annabel.
Fortunately, however, she had never found it out and I should have been
the last to enlighten her.

"Of course," she continued, "cathedrals and daily services and things
like that are apt to lure men into ritualism: I only hope Mr.
Blathwayte will have the strength of mind to resist them: and you must
be very careful, Reggie, in selecting a new rector not to get any one
with leanings that way.  I could never allow anything ritualistic in
our Church."

I wondered she didn't say "my Church," and have done with it: but I
hadn't the heart to chaff her as I used to do in those happy bygone
days, ages ago, before ever the Wildacres came to Restham: so I let it
pass.

"I expect I shall put the matter into the Bishop's hands," I said: "I
don't feel competent to select a spiritual pastor for Restham or
anywhere else."

"You selected Mr. Blathwayte, and he has been a great success.  It is a
pity to get into the habit of thinking you can't do anything, Reggie,
because you really do some things extremely well."

"But not the things I care about," I added bitterly, "And in this case
I haven't another Arthur up my sleeve."

"The Bishop may have one," suggested Annabel encouragingly.

"Probably.  He certainly has more room up his sleeve than I have.  I
wonder if that was the origin of Bishops having such large
sleeves--because they had always got something up them."

Annabel was as literal as ever.  "I don't think so, Reggie; I really
don't know the origin of Bishops having those full sleeves.  I know
when it was the fashion for ladies to have large sleeves they were
called 'Bishops' sleeves' after the Bishops; but why the Bishops
originally had them I haven't a notion.  I must try to find out.  It is
so interesting and instructive to learn the reason and the origin of
things like that.  But Deans don't have large sleeves, do they?" she
added, her wandering thoughts turning once more Arthurwards.

"No; but they have beautiful arrangements about the legs--aprons and
breeches and gaiters, and goodness knows what!  They are Bishops below
the waist and men above it, like the Centaurs, don't you know?"

"But the Centaurs were half horses--not half Bishops, Reggie."

"I know: but the principle is the same."

"And not big sleeves, you are sure?"

"Quite.  Deans do not burn the candles at both ends, so to speak, as
Bishops do: they are content to take care of the legs, and leave the
arms to take care of themselves."

Annabel smiled the tolerant smile of elder-sisterhood.  "How funny you
are, Reggie!  It is nice to hear you making jokes again."

And she went out of the room happy in the conviction that I was what
she would have called, "getting over it."

Arthur came over to the Manor in the afternoon, and confirmed what
Annabel had said.  He had indeed been offered the Deanery of
Lowchester: but had not yet decided, as Annabel had, that he should
accept it.  I was amazed at his hesitancy, considering what a splendid
offer it was for a man still comparatively young, and also--as Annabel
had pointed out--what a grand scope it would give him for his hitherto
wasted powers of organisation: but slowly the reason for this hesitancy
dawned upon me.

"To put it in plain English, old man," I said, after we had discussed
the question in all its bearings, and light was beginning to penetrate
the mists of my confusion, "the only reason you really have against
accepting this offer is _me_."

Arthur blushed: a rare indulgence with him.  "Well, I don't know that I
should put it as bluntly as that, Reggie----" he began in his
deliberate way.

I interrupted him.  "But _I_ should.  It is always best to put things
in the bluntest way possible, and to look at them as they really are.
I learnt that from Fay.  She taught me to have a horror of everything
that she designated by the inclusive term 'flapdoodle.'"

I made a point of bringing my wife's name into a conversation now and
again: it seemed somehow to narrow the gulf between us.  Nobody, except
Ponty, ever voluntarily mentioned Fay's name to me (and perhaps that
was the reason why I still found a certain amount of comfort in Ponty's
society, and why I allowed my old nurse to take such egregious
liberties with me): so that unless I spoke sometimes of my lost
darling, she would have been altogether put away out of remembrance.

In the same way I have always hated the custom which obtains amongst
many people, of never speaking at all of those who have "crossed the
flood," or else of speaking of them in an entirely unnatural tone of
voice, and making use of such prefixes as "dear" or "poor."  Such a
custom, to my mind, gives the indirect lie to all Christian teaching as
to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, and
is only fit for those who sorrow without hope.  I maintain that those
whom we falsely call our dead should be spoken of as naturally and as
frequently as those whom we--making a distinction without a
difference--choose to call our living.  It always irritates me when
Annabel says "dear Papa" and "poor Mamma": she would never have dreamed
of using either adjective in the days when our parents were still with
us at Restham: and to do it now creates a sort of artificial atmosphere
about them, which I, for one, resent.

"I dare say it is awfully vain and presumptuous on my part," Arthur
continued, "to think that my coming or going would make much difference
to you: but if I was any comfort to you at all, I should hate to take
it away from you just when you have had and are having such a rough
time."

I was touched by Arthur's unselfishness: and also remorseful at the
realisation of what little difference his or anybody else's coming or
going made to me now.

I put my hand on his arm, as we sat smoking by the library fire.  "You
mustn't get that notion into your head, old man: it would make me ever
so much more miserable than I am at present if I felt I had in any way
hindered your career.  It is always bad policy to throw good money
after bad; and I am bad money and you are good, as far as economic
currency is concerned.  Don't think me ungrateful for all you have done
for me, because I am not."

"Rubbish!" growled Arthur.  "I've done nothing for you at all."

"Yes, you have: you've been as true a friend to me as man ever had.
You've done a lot for me during the beastly time I've gone through."

"Then let me stay on here, and go on doing a lot for you.  I ask for
nothing better."

Then I felt it was time to be brutal and to speak the unvarnished
truth.  "You've done all you can for me, old man: I hate to say it, but
it's the truth.  If you stayed on here, you won't do me any more good,
and you'd have spoilt your career for nothing.  You did help me at
first, I admit, and I shall be always grateful for it.  But to be
perfectly candid with you--though I hate candour, mind you, and would
never employ such a painful weapon unless I felt it to be absolutely
necessary--neither you nor anybody else can help me now."

"Except Fay," suggested Arthur, hardly above a whisper, as if he were
referring to some one who had been buried for years.

I shook my head.  "I doubt if even she could help me now.  Even if she
came back--which she never will--things could never be the same between
us as they used to be.  I haven't forgiven her--I cannot forgive
her--and I couldn't live with her and be at enmity with her at the same
time.  Life would be unendurable in such circumstances."

Arthur smoked in silence for some minutes: then he said: "Is that why
you have never come to Holy Communion now?"

"Yes.  I cannot say that I am in love and charity with my neighbours as
long as I haven't forgiven Fay and Frank.  But I haven't; and I don't
feel as if I ever could; and I cannot take the Blessed Sacrament until
I do.  That is another thing I owe to Frank," I added bitterly; "he has
cut me off from the means of grace as well as from the hope of glory.
For the more I think of it the more I am convinced that it was entirely
his doing that Fay left me."

Again Arthur smoked for some time in silence, and then he said: "I
think you are right, Reggie: you are beyond my help altogether, and if
I stayed on here I shouldn't do you any good."

"I am past all human help," I replied.

"Yes, I think you are," said Arthur in his slow way; "but human help
doesn't count for much after all.  There's plenty of the Other Sort
left--more than you or anybody else can ever need."

"Not for me: I have forfeited my claim to it," I groaned in the anguish
of my heart, as I remembered how I had cried in vain by old Parkins's
sick bed for the Help That never came.

Arthur did not speak, but he smiled the smile that I used to see on my
mother's face when I was a little boy, and on Fay's in the days when I
was pretending that I didn't love her--a smile which said as plainly as
if it had been put into words: "You don't know what you are talking
about," but said it with a tenderness that it was beyond the power of
any words to express.

I think the ruler of the synagogue must have seen that same
Smile--intensified a thousandfold--when his servants met him and said:
"Thy daughter is dead: why trouble thou the Master any further": and
the Answer came: "Be not afraid: only believe."



CHAPTER XIX

A SURPRISE

So Arthur Blathwayte was made Dean of Lowchester, and at once began his
preparations for vacating Restham Rectory; while his promotion
gradually subsided from a nine days' wonder into an ordinary and
commonplace event.

But there was still a greater surprise in store for me and for Restham.

Annabel came into the library one morning with the ominous words: "I've
got something to say to you, Reggie."

I looked up from the letter I was writing, and wondered indifferently
what fresh vexation was in store.  Nothing had any longer the power to
vex me very much: but I could guess from Annabel's expression that
something was coming which would vex me as much as it was able.

"Well, what is it?" I asked.

Annabel remained standing opposite to me on the other side of the
writing-table.

"I expect it will surprise you a good deal, Reggie."

"Well, out with it.  Has Blathwayte been offered another Deanery, or
has the cook given notice?  And don't you think you'd better sit down?"

Annabel sat down on the most uncomfortable chair within reach.  "Mr.
Blathwayte has asked me to marry him, and I've accepted," she blurted
out.

She was right.  It did surprise me more than I had thought I could ever
be surprised again.  It fairly took my breath away.

"Good Heavens, Annabel!" I gasped, when my breath returned to me.
"This is astounding news indeed."

The murder being out, Annabel was herself again, and went on explaining
with her accustomed volubility: "I was surprised myself, Reggie, when
Arthur (I shall call him Arthur now) proposed to me, as I had given up
the idea of marrying years ago.  Just at first the notion seemed to me
ridiculous.  But after I'd thought it over for a bit, I saw how
necessary it was for anybody as important as a Dean to have a wife at
his elbow to tell him what to do, and what not to do.  It didn't matter
while he was only Rector of a small village like this, though even here
he rarely acted without my advice: but I don't see how he could
possibly manage to be Dean of Lowchester all by himself, do you?"

I admitted the difficulties of undertaking such a situation
single-handed, and my sister continued: "Although I have the greatest
respect--I think I may say the deepest affection--for Mr. Bl----Arthur
(I find it a little difficult to remember to say Arthur at present, but
I shall soon get into the way), I cannot blind my eyes to the fact that
he is inclined to have ritualistic tendencies, and a cathedral, I
consider, is just the place to encourage that sort of thing, what with
the anthems and daily services, and goodness knows what!  So different
from the quiet routine of a mere parish church.  But, you see, if I was
there, he couldn't give himself over altogether to ritualism."

I did see that--clearly--in spite of my dazed condition.

"I should be dreadfully vexed," Annabel went on, as I was still more or
less speechless with amazement, "if after having got such a splendid
appointment, Mr. Blathwayte, I mean Arthur, spoilt it all by ritualism
or any folly of that kind.  It would be such a dreadful pity!  I have
often noticed that people wait for a thing for years, and then when
they get it at last, they do something that makes you wish they had
never had it at all.  And I should blame myself if Arthur did anything
of that kind."

I winced.  I had waited for forty-three years for the happiness that
comes to most men in their twenties, and then somebody had done
something that made me wish I had never had it at all: but I was as yet
far from seeing that that somebody was myself.

"And then, of course," continued Annabel, with a change in her voice,
"there is you."

"Yes, there is me," I replied grimly.  I wondered how Annabel was going
to explain me away.

"At first I felt I really couldn't leave you--especially now you are
quite alone; and that I must refuse Mr. Blath--Arthur, in consequence.
But on thinking the matter over and looking at it sensibly, I
remembered that a man must leave his father and mother and cleave to
his wife, which of course includes a woman and her brother.  And, when
all's said and done, you married, so why shouldn't I?"

By this time I had recovered my speech, and also my better feelings.
At the first shock the idea of Annabel's marriage was revolting to me:
I do not attempt to deny it: and the thought of her leaving me seemed
Fate's final blow.  But as I pulled myself together I realised that the
selfishness of sorrow was swallowing me up, and I determined to escape
from it before it was too late.

Much is said on behalf of the sweetening uses of adversity; but, for my
part, when people talk about the discipline of suffering, I always want
to substitute the word "temptation" for "discipline," as I know few
greater temptations to selfishness than bodily sickness and mental
anguish.  I cannot believe that either sickness or sorrow in itself
makes men better: but if men grow better in spite of sickness and
sorrow, then they are conquerors indeed.  When we are told that the
Captain of our Salvation was made "perfect through suffering," I do not
think it is a proof of the beauty of suffering, but of the Divinity of
Christ.  Even that crowning temptation was powerless to hurt Him.  And
if He could be perfect in spite of the things He suffered, so can we,
provided that we abide in Him and He in us.

But I was not abiding in Him just then.  I had gone out into the far
country, because the one restriction of the Father's House was too hard
for me: that restriction which I had persistently set aside: "If ye
forgive not men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your
trespasses."

Still there was enough Grace left in me to enable me to struggle,
however vainly, against the wave of selfishness which was overwhelming
my tortured soul, and I struggled.  "You are quite right, Annabel, in
saying and thinking that you have as much right to marry as I had; and
it would be abominable selfishness on my part to say a word to dissuade
you from any course which tended to your happiness."

Here Annabel's sense of justice interrupted me.  "Still, Reggie, I did
say no end of words to try to dissuade you: there's no shutting your
eyes to that fact; and therefore you have a perfect right to say
anything you like to dissuade me.  But I think I can honestly say that
when I tried to prevent you from marrying Fay, I was thinking of your
happiness rather than of my own."

"I'd take my oath on that," I said warmly.

"And of course I'd no idea that things would turn out as they have,"
Annabel continued, "or else I should have tried to dissuade you much
more strongly than I did.  It would have been my duty to do so.  Just
as it would be your duty to do anything you could to prevent me from
marrying Mr. Blath--Arthur, if you thought there was any probability of
his running off to Australia and going on to the stage."

I was again able to take my oath that I apprehended no such dangers.
"But do you love him?" I added.  "That is the main thing."

"Well, I should hardly like to apply such a term as 'love' to the
feelings of a woman of my age, but I must admit that I am sincerely
attached to Arthur, and have the greatest respect for his character.
And I must also admit that the lot he asks me to share presents the
greatest attractions to me.  I don't wish to appear conceited, but I do
think that I am rather wasted on a small place like this, just as
Arthur is.  I mean there is more work in me than Restham requires."

"You mean that, like Mrs. Figshaw's daughter, you also want a 'scoop'?"

"A _scope_, Reggie: that is what I do mean.  I love arranging things,
and I've arranged and planned and organised here till there's nothing
left to plan or arrange or organise.  And we shan't be far off--only
about an hour's ride in the car; so that you can always come over and
consult me about anything, and I can come over here constantly and keep
my eye on your servants.  I really don't see that with me within an
hour's motor-ride they can go very far wrong."

"Nor do I.  Moreover, Ponty's eye is almost as all-seeing as yours."

"Of course," added Annabel thoughtfully, "Mr. Blathwayte, I mean
Arthur, is five years younger than I am: but if he doesn't mind that, I
don't see why you should."

"I don't," I hastened to assure her: "that is nobody's business but his
and yours.  And the experience of life has taught me that there are
distinct disadvantages to a woman in having a husband older than
herself.  But, Annabel," I added, getting up from my seat and going
across to where she sat and laying my hand on her shoulder, "although I
am naturally surprised at what you have told me, and am very sorry to
lose you, I am very glad as well: for I am sure it would be impossible
for any woman to have a better husband than old Arthur.  I hope you
will be very happy, and, what is more, I am sure you will."

"Thank you, Reggie: and as for leaving you I feel I can do it more
easily now than I could before you were married.  I'm nothing like so
necessary to you now as I was then."

I hastened to disclaim this accusation; but underneath my disclaimer I
was haunted by a lurking consciousness that Annabel's common sense had,
as usual, hit the mark.  She was not as necessary to my happiness as
she had been before my marriage: nobody was, except Fay, and I feared
that she was lost to me for ever.

I cannot deny that Annabel's engagement was a tremendous surprise to
me: but as I became accustomed to the surprise, I was shocked to find
hidden beneath it an unholy little mixture of relief.  I hated myself
for the knowledge, and violently battled against it, but all the same I
could not help knowing that Restham Manor without Annabel would be a
much more easy and restful abode than it had ever been before.  And at
the very back of my mind--so far back that I was scarcely conscious of
it--there sprang up a tiny and indefinite hope that--with Annabel
gone--Fay might come back to me once more.  But not with Frank: even
though it might be possible for me sometime to forgive my wife, it
could never be possible for me to forgive her brother: of that I felt
certain: He had injured me far too deeply.  But though the possibility
of Fay's return crept into the realm of practical politics, I was too
proud to ask her to come back to me.  She had left me of her own free
will, and she should come back to me of her own free will or not at
all.  And this was not entirely selfish pride on my part, though
doubtless to a great extent it was.  Much as I loved my wife, much as I
longed for her, I did not wish her to return until she felt she could
be happy with me.  Once again--as before I proposed to her--I was not
willing to purchase my own happiness at the cost of Fay's.

Of course the marriage of Annabel to Blathwayte was a nine days' wonder
in Restham--a wonder which I shared with my humbler neighbours.
However devoted to his sisters a man may be, the fact that other men
want to marry them never fails to appeal to his sense of humour: and
the appeal is by no means minimised if the sister happens to have
attained to her fiftieth year.  In spite of all the sorrow through
which I had passed and was still passing, I was still sufficiently a
boy at heart to laugh at the idea of good old Arthur's marrying Annabel.

I did not--I could not--believe that the attachment dated from
Blathwayte's youthful days, since the difference between twenty-five
and thirty is much greater than that between forty-four and forty-nine.
My explanation of the phenomenon was that he was suddenly faced with
the prospect of doing without Annabel, and found he couldn't stand it;
and so--necessity being the mother of invention--it occurred to him to
marry her instead.  I think she had become as much an integral part of
his scheme of things as the sun or the moon or the General Post Office;
and although one might not spontaneously think of marrying the sun or
the moon or the General Post Office, it is conceivable that one might
even go to that length rather than do without them altogether.

But so inconsistent is human nature, although my higher self struggled
against any selfish desire to keep Annabel at Restham, and my lower
self was secretly relieved at the prospect of her departure, I was
nevertheless hurt that she should wish to leave me.  Once again I was
brought face to face with the old problem, how is it that the people
always behave so much better to other people than other people ever
behave to them?  To which I believe the real answer is that we all
expect so much more of each other than we are prepared to give in
return.

My unholy relief at the transference of Annabel's beneficent yoke from
my shoulders to Arthur's was shared to the fullest extent by Ponty, and
in her case it assumed no secret or surreptitious form.

"It'll be a good thing for Miss Annabel to have a house and a husband
of her own at last," she remarked, "to order about as she pleases; and
leave you and me to do what we like at the Manor, Master Reggie."

"But you seem to forget that she is taking a vow of obedience to her
husband," I suggested, "which she certainly never took with regard to
you and me."

Ponty shook her old head.  "Vows or no vows, Miss Annabel will always
wear the breeches."

"Which in this case happens to be gaiters as well," I added: "but I've
no doubt that she will wear them all, with the apron thrown in."

"I shan't so much mind Miss Annabel having everything her own way at
the Deanery, Master Reggie, because when all's said and done it's the
course of nature for a woman to rule her own husband; but no woman was
ever intended to rule her brother, and particularly her brother's wife,
and it's against nature that she should.  And what's against nature
always ends in trouble sooner or later, mark my words!  There was a man
at Poppenhall when I was a girl who suddenly took it into his head to
leave off eating meat, and lived instead upon nuts.  He said there was
a lot of nourishment in a nut, which it stands to reason there couldn't
be, it all being made of what you might call wood, and indigestible at
that.  But anyway, he hadn't lived on nuts for more than a year when
he, fell off a rick he was thatching and broke his neck.  Which was
nothing but a judgment upon him for going against nature.  And for
months before he died, you could hear the nuts rattling inside him,
like a baby's rattle."

"A terrible fate!" I said gravely.  "But I may add for your comfort
that if it is natural, as you say, for every woman to rule her own
husband, there is no fear of Miss Annabel's going against nature: and I
am sure that the Dean will make her an excellent husband."

"None better: he's one in a thousand is Mr. Blathwayte, and always has
been.  And Miss Annabel won't make a bad wife either, for them as like
those masterful, managing sort of wives.  She'll always have her house
kept beautiful; and she'll be Dean of Lowchester and Chapter too, if
they don't take care."

"But she'll be a very good Dean and Chapter, Ponty."

"Yes, Master Reggie, you have the right of it there.  Whatever Miss
Annabel sets herself to do, she'll do well: no manner of doubt on that
point.  She's always from a child been one to do her duty: I will say
that for her.  It's only when she sets about doing other people's duty
that she begins to get troublesome."

"The Dean and Chapter may possibly find it troublesome when she begins
to do their duty," I suggested.

"That's their business and not mine, Master Reggie.  Miss Annabel has
been my business for close on fifty years, and I'm glad to hand her on
to somebody else.  Not that I'm not fond of her, for I am, and have
been ever since I took her on from the monthly nurse forty-nine years
ago: but she was a handful from a baby, though always a fine child,
with a skin as fair as a lily, and hair that curled quite easy and kept
in curl, though I can't pretend as it ever curled natural, because it
didn't.  But I'd no trouble in curling it as some folks have.  I
remember a woman at Poppenhall, whose children's hair was as straight
as never was, though she put it in curling-papers every night of their
lives, feeling she didn't like to be bested by her own children's hair,
as you might say.  But instead of taking the curl any better, it all
came off, the curling-papers having stopped the natural growth; and
those children's heads were as bare as billiard-balls.  I suppose it
was a judgment on her for going against nature."

"But you went against nature in curling Miss Annabel's hair, and yet no
judgment seems to have fallen upon you," said I, as I thought
pertinently.

"That was quite different, Master Reggie."  Like the rest of her kind,
Ponty recognised the incalculable difference between her own case and
the case of everybody else.  "Although Miss Annabel's hair didn't curl
what you might call naturally, like yours, it was very easy to curl,
and it kept in something beautiful: and it seemed very hard for your
poor mamma to have a boy whose curls had to be cut off and a girl who
hadn't any.  And then her ladyship's children were her ladyship's
children, and not like ordinary common folk."  Ponty's logic always
roused my wonder and admiration.

While she was speaking, my wandering gaze fell upon two portraits hung
on the nursery wall: a fat little girl with pink cheeks and blue eyes,
and stiff curls like great yellow sausages, who was dressed in a white
frock and a blue sash; and a thin, little, dark-eyed boy with pale
cheeks and terrible brown ringlets, and who was disfigured still
further by a green velvet suit and a ghastly lace collar.  These
caricatures were supposed to reproduce Annabel and myself in early
youth; and in Ponty's eyes they represented the perfection of personal
beauty as depicted by the highest form of human art.

But while I smiled--as I had often smiled before--at the hideousness of
these pictures, a great wave of envy of the children whom they
represented swept over me; an overwhelming longing to be once more the
sheltered little boy in the frightful green suit, whose world was
Annabel and whose Heaven was Ponty and his mother.  Happy little boy,
upon whose wrath the sun never went down, and who knew no sorrow so
great that his mother could not cure it!  I would gladly have changed
places with him, even though the change involved the handicaps of long
brown curls and a large lace collar.



CHAPTER XX

ISABEL, _née_ CARNABY

Arthur and Annabel were married very quietly at Restham Church; and,
after a short honeymoon, took up their abode at The Deanery of
Lowchester--a beautiful old house which fulfilled my sister's most
exorbitant dreams.

I did not appoint Arthur's successor: I felt I was too much out of
touch with things spiritual to be competent to undertake so solemn a
responsibility: so I gave the matter over into the Bishop's hands, and
left the selection of a new rector to him.

With the simplicity which has always characterised my views regarding
that other world which is known to us as the Kingdom of Heaven, I
accepted the fact that as long as Frank Wildacre was unforgiven by me I
had no right to expect help from on High in any of my undertakings.
How could I claim the rights of citizenship if I did not conform to the
rules of citizenship?  The rule was there in black and white for
everybody to read: "If ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will
your Father forgive your trespasses."  And how could I ask my Father in
Heaven to fulfil His part of the contract, unless I were ready to
fulfil mine?

And I was not ready: I was no readier than I had been when Frank
Wildacre stole my wife away from me a year and a half ago.  My anger
against him was hotter and bitterer than it had ever been: time seemed
to increase rather than to diminish its intensity.  I advisedly say
Frank, as my heart was gradually softening towards my darling.  I still
was set against making the first advances: but I felt that if she would
only come back to me of her own free will, I was prepared to let
bygones be bygones, and to take up the thread of our married life again
exactly where she had broken it off.  At least that is how I felt
sometimes: at others I was plunged in despair by the thought that
everything was over for ever between Fay and myself, and that I should
never see her dear face again.  But even in my more hopeful moods I
recognised that it would be impossible for Fay and Annabel to live
together again; and that it was, therefore, a good thing on the whole
that Arthur had transplanted my sister from Restham to Lowchester.

But although I was sometimes ungracious enough to feel relieved by the
removal of Annabel's restraining presence, there were times when my
loneliness and desolation seemed almost more than I could bear.  Though
in one way I could not miss Fay more than I had done for the past
eighteen months, in another way the absence of any feminine influence
in the house seemed to emphasise her absence as it had never been
emphasised before.  As long as Annabel was still there, I only, so to
speak, missed my wife personally: but after Annabel had gone away I
missed Fay officially as well.  I had always missed her in the spirit,
but now I also missed her in the letter: and my active yearning for her
was supplemented by a passive need.  And underneath all my
emotions--underneath even my love and longing for Fay--there was ever
with me the consciousness of that condition which was known as
"excommunication" in the Mediæval Church and as "conviction of sin" in
the Evangelical Revival.  I was not beyond reach of the love of God--no
one could be that: but I was outside the pale of what old-fashioned
theologists could call "His covenanted mercies."  I did not think of
myself as a lost soul: that expression was robbed of all meaning for me
after I once realised with my heart as well as with my head Who it was
That came to seek and to save that which was lost: but I knew that I
was in the plight of that servant who, though His Lord forgave him his
debt, failed to extend the like clemency to his fellow-servant, and so
was cast into prison and not allowed to come thence until he should
have paid the uttermost farthing.  To use the beautiful language of our
forefathers, I was no longer at peace with God.

This to me was the most terrible part of my sorrow.  Fay's going had
taken all the sunshine out of life: but this took away even the
security of death.  There seemed no hope for me anywhere.

I knew perfectly well that I myself was my own Hell: that it was
nothing but my attitude towards Frank that consigned me to this outer
darkness.  Yet--knowing this--I could not bring myself to condone the
wrong which he had done me.  It was not that I wouldn't forgive him: I
would willingly have pardoned him if I could; at least, so I thought at
the time, and so I think still, but one can never quite trust the
deceitfulness of the human heart.  Whether I _would_ not, or whether I
_could_ not forgive Frank Wildacre, God only knoweth; but anyway I
_did_ not forgive him: and consequently my soul went out into the
wilderness to perish alone like the scapegoat of old, and my spiritual
wretchedness assumed proportions beyond the description of any form of
words.

It was in the spring after Annabel's marriage that I received the
following letter from Lady Chayford--


"MY DEAR REGGIE,

"As the number of one's years grows more, and the number of one's
friends correspondingly less, one feels compelled to grapple the
residue to one's heart with hoops of steel.  Therefore please come to
us for a week-end and be grappled.

"Besides, we want to show you this great Babylon that we have built,
and wherein we are now abiding.  It is such a comfort to be securely
planted in a country home of one's own, after having been potted-out
for years in furnished houses; and the facts that our particular
Babylon is not at all great, and that its hot-water supply leaves much
to be desired in the way of heat, in no way imperil our fundamental
happiness in the creation of our own hands.  And the garden is lovely,
although we cannot live in it entirely until it has been thoroughly
aired, as both Paul and I have been indulging in those
Entreat-me-not-to-leave-thee sort of colds which are so prevalent just
now.  Therefore so far we can only take walking exercise under our own
vine and fig-tree: it is too cold to sit under them at present.

"I send you a selection of all the week-ends between now and Easter to
choose from.

  "Always your friend,
      "ISABEL CHAYFORD.


Isabel's letter was kind, like herself; and it was kind of her to take
pity on a lonely and desolate man like me: but all the same, I did not
avail myself of her kindness.

I knew that it would be indeed a sort of comfort to tell her all my
troubles, and to ask for her opinion the tragedy of my life, and she
was the only person to whom I felt I could speak freely about the blow
which had fallen on me.  I believe that a truly manly man locks up all
his sorrows in his own breast, and throws the key into the dust-bin of
dead memories.  But I have never been the sort of manly creature that
female novelists delight to honour.  There is a great strain of woman
in me, and always has been: and not the most heroic sort of woman,
either.

But though I longed for the consolation and counsel of Isabel, I felt
that in my present morbid condition I could not stand the principles
and politics of Paul.  In the old days I had put up with Paul on
account of Isabel: now I gave up Isabel on account of Paul.  The
difference was merely chronological.  When we are young, the pleasure
of anything always swallows up the attendant pain: as we grow older,
the attendant pain swallows up any possible pleasure.  And that is life.

So I refused Lady Chayford's kind invitation.

But the woman who had once been Isabel Carnaby was not the woman to be
put off by a mere refusal.  So she invited herself to motor over and
have lunch with me instead: and she never even suggested to bring his
lordship with her.

She was one of those rare people--and most especially rare women--who
could put herself in another person's place: and though at one time she
had wanted Paul Seaton dreadfully--wanted him more than anything in the
world--she was still capable of knowing that at another time I might
not want him at all.  And she acted upon this knowledge.

She arrived just in time for luncheon, and of course we could talk of
only surface matters as long as the servants were coming in and out of
the room.  But it was a comfort to hear her talk, even of only surface
matters, and to feel her feminine presence in the house.

Of course Annabel often came over to see me, and to have what she
called her eye upon my establishment: in fact, she seemed to keep one
eye always at Restham, as some men always keep a change of clothes at
their Club; but Annabel's was never a "feminine presence," in the sense
that Isabel's and Fay's were.  Even the cult of the "Ladies' Needlework
Guild," ultra-feminine though the name of the fetish sounds, had never
taken away the true gentlemanliness from Annabel.  I now always called
my sister and her husband "the Dean and the Sub-Dean."  They thought
that by the "Sub-Dean" I meant Annabel.  But I did not.

When lunch was over and we were having coffee in the great hall, Isabel
settled herself comfortably on the big Chesterfield by the fire.
Unlike most women, she could sit for hours with unoccupied hands.
Though her tongue was never idle, her hands often were.  To me there
had always been something fatiguing in the ceaseless travail of
Annabel's fingers.  I don't remember ever seeing them at rest, except
on a Sunday; and even then they were not unoccupied: they always held
some book or other containing sound Evangelical doctrine.  But just now
Isabel's hands held nothing: and the sight somehow rested me.

"Please begin to smoke at once, Reggie," she said: "I shan't enjoy
myself a bit if you don't.  I shall get exhausted like people do in
Egypt, and places like that, when there is no atmosphere, don't you
know?--nothing but black Pyramids and bright yellow sand, till
everybody thirsts for a real London fog."

"Won't you?" I asked.

She shook her head where the once dark hair was beginning to turn grey.
"No.  I'm not really modern, you know: I've advanced as far as
motor-cars and the economic position of women and central heating, but
I draw the line at smoking and going in flying machines and wearing
pyjamas.  I'm really almost grandmotherly in some things."

I demurred.

"Yes, I am," she persisted.  "If I were modern, I should draw out my
own little cigarette-case and offer you an Egyptian or a Virginian, as
if I were a slave-driver in the Babylonian marriage market: but as it
is, you must consume your own smoke like a manufacturing chimney.  As I
told you once before, I budded in the 'eighties and blossomed in the
'nineties, and now I'm only fit to be sewn up in lavender-bags and kept
in the linen-cupboard.  And now, Reggie, tell me all about it."

So I told her, as briefly and truthfully as I could, the whole story of
my married life and its culminating tragedy.  I told of how doubtful I
had been from the beginning of my power to make Fay happy: of my qualms
of conscience as to whether at my age I had a right to ask so young a
girl to marry me: of how Annabel and Frank--especially Frank--had
gradually come between Fay and me: of how I had hated the theatrical
entertainments and all that they involved, and yet for Fay's sake had
upheld them in the teeth of Annabel's opposition: of how further events
had proved that Annabel was right and I was wrong, since the passion
for acting--in conjunction with Frank's influence--had finally driven
Fay from me: of my increasing anger against Frank and my incapacity to
forgive him: of my former gift of healing and of how my enmity towards
him had deprived me of this gift: and finally of how this increasing
and consuming hatred had driven me into the wilderness, and shut me out
from communion with God or man.  All this I told without enlargement or
restraint.  But from one thing I strenuously refrained: I said no word
of blame nor uttered a single complaint against my darling.  Surely, as
her husband, this was the least that I could do.  She had weighed me in
her balances and found me wanting and rejected me: but she was still my
wife, and my loyalty to her was unshaken.

All the time that I was pouring into Isabel's sympathetic ears the
feelings that had been pent up in my own breast for two years, she
hardly spoke a word: but her blue eyes never left my face, and I felt
in every fibre of me that she sympathised and understood.

When I had finished there was a short silence, during which I waited
for her verdict, wondering whether she would blame me or Frank or
Annabel: or merely insist on the irrevocableness of the marriage-vow;
and suggest that I should endeavour--by means of that exploded
blunderbuss called marital authority--to compel my wife to come back to
me, whether she wished it or whether she did not.

But to my surprise Lady Chayford did none of these things.  Her first
words were--

"You're up against it now, Reggie: what you've got to do is to forgive
Frank Wildacre."

"But I can't," I cried: "it is absolutely impossible."

Isabel nodded her head.  "I know that.  It was absolutely impossible
for the sick and the maimed and the halt to take up their beds and
walk: but they did it."

"Frank has entirely spoilt my life: I can never forgive him--never," I
pleaded.

"But you'll have to, Reggie: there's no getting away from it and the
more impossible it is, the more you'll have to do it.  Don't think I'm
not sorry for you, or don't understand how hideous it all is, for I am
and do: but there's no use in shutting your eyes to the truth.  Lots of
people would tell you not to bother about Frank at all, but to give
your whole attention to Fay and how to get her back again, and they
would add that your first duty is to your wife."

"And so it is," I cried.

"No, it isn't, Reggie, and you know it.  Your first duty is to God: and
if the Bible means anything, it means that if we don't forgive other
people we don't get forgiveness ourselves.  I don't want to preach at
you, goodness knows, or to be priggish or anything of that kind: and I
know it sounds awfully antiquated and Victorian to 'be good, sweet
maid, and let who will be clever,' but, all the same, as you grow
older, you learn that it's the only thing that really counts."

I groaned.  I knew so well that Isabel was right.

"Of course there have been faults all round--plenty of them," she went
on; "and it seems to me that while Annabel and Frank were busy doing
that which they ought not to have done, you were equally busy leaving
undone that which you ought to have done: but that's neither here nor
there.  It's no good bothering over the day that's past and over: what
we've got to do is to see that to-morrow is an improvement on it: and
the job to hand at present is that before you do anything else you've
got to forgive Frank Wildacre."

"Damn him!" I exclaimed, getting up from my chair and kicking the logs
in the fireplace as if they had been Frank himself.

Isabel smiled sweetly.  "That's all very well, Reggie; but you aren't
damning him, you see: you're only damning yourself.  That's my whole
point."

I began to walk up and down the great hall.  This was plain speaking
indeed.

"I know I'm being very horrid," she went on, "and I don't wonder you
detest me.  I feel like that man in the Bible--Balaam, wasn't it?--who
was invited out to curse somebody and blessed them instead: only it is
just the other way round with me.  But, all the same, you'll never be
happy, and Fay will never be happy, until you forgive Frank.  Of
course, you've got to forgive Fay too, and you haven't really done that
yet: but you soon will when you see her again.  I'm not worrying about
that.  The nut to crack is not Fay but Frank."

And that was all the comfort I got from Isabel Chayford.  From the
depths of my desolate heart I knew that what Isabel said was true: and
equally from the depths of my soul I knew that as long as he lived I
could never forgive Frank Wildacre.



CHAPTER XXI

THE GREAT WAR

Isabel Chayford came over to see me in the early spring, and
immediately after Easter, Annabel, Arthur and I went for a short trip
to the Canary Isles.  Now that she was Dean and Chapter of Lowchester,
Annabel had not as much time as formerly to stand between me and the
East wind: but she still did what she could; and on this particular
occasion hid me in the shelter of the Canary Isles until the tyranny of
my traditional enemy was overpast.

Nothing particular happened during the early part of the summer.  My
longing for Fay and my hatred of Frank were as great as they had ever
been: neither feeling seemed to diminish in intensity: and I felt that
forgiveness of Frank was as far from me as ever.

I was still very unhappy: but I had now been unhappy for so long that I
was fast coming to regard it as my normal state.

I did not see much of the new Rector, though what I did see I liked,
and he was most popular in the parish: but I was at war with the King,
whose ambassador he was, and I felt that, therefore, his embassage
meant nothing to me.

So the long, dreary, sunny days dragged on until the beginning of
August: and then suddenly the incredible happened, and the world as we
had known it was turned upside down.

It is not for me to attempt to tell the story of the Great War: that is
already written in blood and tears on the heart of the civilised world;
and likewise on the pages of those books which shall be opened before
the Great White Throne, when the earth and the heaven shall flee away
and there shall be found no place for them.  Germany ruthlessly broke
the laws of God and of Man, and England upheld them and defended them
even to the death.  Hell was let loose with all its furies, but the
hosts of Heaven were also in the field.

And whilst on the continent of Europe the awful battle raged between
Right and Might, between Righteousness and Unrighteousness, between the
Prince of Peace and the Lust of Power, we at home saw our old world
tumbling about our ears, and a new one rising phoenix-like from its
ashes.

Suddenly the whole scale of values was changed.  In the old days before
the War, the important people were the middle-aged, wealthy,
intellectual people, the brains and backbone of the nation.  Now those
people had ceased to matter at all.  The only people that mattered were
the young and the strong and the fearless, the blood and the sinews of
the nation.  The wisdom of the wise had become a thing of no moment
compared with the strength and the courage of the brave.  It was the
boys that counted now: not the mature man of weight and position.  The
old standards had passed away and new ones were set up in their place.
County magnates and landed proprietors sank into abysmal insignificance
beside the village lads in their new khaki: rank and wealth became
worthless, except in so far as they could be adapted to serve the
soldiers fighting at the front.

The world which had hitherto bowed down before us middle-aged,
influential, well-to-do people, simply because we were middle-aged and
influential and well-to-do, suddenly found it had no use for us, and so
cast us ruthlessly aside.  It had heavier work on hand--work that was
beyond our over-ripe powers.  And the strange thing was that this
casting aside did not hurt our pride as it would have done at another
time, for the reason that our personal pride was dead, and in its place
had come a newer and a better feeling, the sense of a corporate unity.
The boys who were preferred before us were no rivals, but part of
ourselves, because we were all part of one great and united Empire.
For the first time in the memory of living men we knew experimentally
what it meant to be members one of another.

At the coming of the Great War old things passed away and all things
were made new, and life was suddenly charged with a terrible and yet
glorious meaning.  Our very prayers were changed.  For the first time
for a century we comprehended the Litany, and offered it up with
understanding hearts.  The "hands of our enemies," which had for so
long been merely figurative dangers, were now an actual and hideous
menace: and because we believed we were fighting not for greed of gain
nor for lust of power, but for love of abstract righteousness, we dared
to raise from our hearts that solemn and compelling plea: "O Lord,
arise, help us and deliver us for Thine honour."

Naturally I passionately wanted to enlist, and equally naturally my age
and short-sightedness rendered me unable to respond to my country's
need: but for the first time in my life, failure had lost the power to
hurt me.  What mattered it that I was worthless, if there were younger
and better men ready to take my place?  The individual unit had ceased
to signify.

Time also had changed its values.  Everything that had happened before
the war was almost lost in the haze of a half-forgotten past: the
trifling events of the last week of July seemed as far off as the
happenings of my boyhood.  A new era had begun on that fateful Fourth
of August, nineteen hundred and fourteen.

It was only a few weeks according to the old reckoning of time, though
it seemed as if a long stretch of years had elapsed since the setting
of the sun of peace, that another crushing blow fell, and I received
the following letter from Isabel Chayford--


"My DEAR REGGIE,

"I have terrible news to tell you--the very worst--and trying to break
it gently is no good at all.  I have seen Frank Wildacre, who has just
come over from Belgium with a lot of Belgian refugees and he tells me
that Fay is dead--killed by a shell at Louvain."


I put the letter down as I could not see to read any more.  A thick red
mist was before my eyes, and my brain reeled.

Fay dead--my beautiful, light-hearted little Fay!  The thought was
unthinkable.

Yet though it was unthinkable, the certainty of it crushed me to the
earth.  I could not believe--I felt I never could believe--that Fay was
dead: yet on the other hand I felt as if she had been dead for years
and years, and that I had always known it.  Sorrow is always so old.
The moment that its shadow touches us we feel that it has enshrouded us
for ages.

As long as I live I shall never forget the agony of that moment.  The
sun shone through the dining-room window as I sat at the
breakfast-table, and I hated it for shining.  It seemed as if it ought
never to shine again now that Fay was dead.  And all the familiar
objects around me--the furniture and the flowers and the
breakfast-things--suddenly became charged with a terrible and sinister
meaning, as if they were all part of a grotesque and unspeakably
horrible dream.

I sat for what seemed an eternity trying to realise, though in vain,
that Fay was dead; and yet feeling that I had realised it, from the
foundation of the world, in every fibre of my being.

So it was all over, the joy and the pain of my married life!  The
breach between Fay and myself could never now be healed.  There was now
no longer any hope of her coming back to me, and asking me to let
bygones be bygones and to begin our life together afresh.  The bygones
were bygones indeed, and there was no beginning again for my darling
and me.  Everything was over and past, and there was nothing left--not
even a happy memory.  She could never again weigh me in her balance,
and this time more mercifully; nor could she ever cross out that
_Tekel_ she had written against my name.  It must stand for ever to my
eternal undoing.  The anguish of this thought was almost more than I
could bear, and yet live!

And across the intolerable anguish there came another feeling--an
intensity of hatred against him who had destroyed the happiness of my
life; and who now came back to complete the havoc he had wrought, by
the news of my darling's death.  If I had found it impossible to
forgive Frank while Fay was alive, I found it still more impossible now!

After an eternity of such agony as I trust never to go through again,
it occurred to me to finish reading Isabel's letter.  There was nothing
in it that could matter: nothing could ever matter any more now that
Fay was dead: but I felt I might as well read it.  I had a dim feeling
that Isabel sympathised and was sorry, but I did not care whether she
was sorry or not.  Neither she nor anybody else could ever help me any
more.  Still she meant to be kind; and though her kindness was of no
use to me, I thought I might as well finish her letter.  I owed that
much to her.  So I went on with the reading of the letter that I had
begun to read ages ago, in that dim, far-off past before I knew that
Fay was dead.


"It appears," the letter continued, "that Fay and Frank had come over
for a trip through Belgium when the war began, as Fay was rather
overdone by acting and wanted a thorough rest and change: and instead
of trying to get away at once, they stayed on at Louvain in order to
help to look after the wounded.  During the deliberate destruction of
the town, Fay rushed out of cover to save a child that had run into the
street by itself; and in so doing was struck by part of a shell, which
killed her.  So she died to save another, which is the most splendid
death of all.

"Frank was so prostrated by the shock that he could no longer help to
nurse the wounded, so he got away, and came over to England with a lot
of Belgian refugees.  I found him among these immediately after his
arrival in London, and knew him at once from his strong resemblance to
Fay.  I brought him home with me to Prince's Gate, as he looked far too
fragile and delicate to be left among strangers; and he is here now--an
absolute wreck.

"Of course I shall only be too glad for Fay's sake to keep him here and
nurse him back to health: but he doesn't want to stay here: he wants to
go back to you.

"I have told him how you blame him--and justly so--for all that has
happened, and how impossible you find it to forgive him.  I haven't
spared him at all.  But in spite of all that I have said he still
persists that he wants to go back to Restham.  He is dreadfully sorry
for what he has done: but of course that doesn't mend anything.

"Reggie, don't think it is unfeeling of me to bother you about all this
now.  I need not tell you how deeply I grieve for you in your crushing
sorrow, nor how fully I realise that you are beyond the reach of any
grief or sympathy of mine.  All this you know better than I could tell
you.  But I feel I must tell you that Frank repents, and that he wants
to come back to you from the far country.  This may be your one chance
of learning how to forgive your enemy: and I dare not stand between any
man and his hope of salvation.  So I just tell you the facts: and leave
results in your hands--and God's.

  "Ever yours, in truest sympathy,
      "ISABEL CHAYFORD."


Yes, Isabel meant well.  I was sure of that: though her meaning was of
no moment to me.  But what she asked was impossible.  If I could not
forgive Frank when Fay was alive and there was still the chance of
things coming right again between my darling and me, how could I
forgive him now, when the mischief he had wrought was irremediable, and
my life was spoiled beyond redemption?

No: I felt that Isabel, and--I say it in all reverence--even God
Himself were asking too much of me.

The forgiveness of Frank Wildacre was a demand too exorbitant to be met
by a man who was suffering as I was suffering.  I could never forgive
him--never: especially now that Fay was dead.  And suddenly, through
the clouds of my spiritual anguish and across the storms of my
passionate rebellion, I seemed to hear a Voice which said: "Behold, I
stand at the door, and knock!"

But I would not heed it.

I pushed my untasted breakfast away from me and rang the bell.  Jeavons
answered it, and I heard myself saying to him in a voice that I did not
recognise as my own--

"Let all the blinds be pulled down at once.  Her ladyship is dead."

Then--before he could utter the commonplace condolences which I felt
would kill me--I went along the passage to the library and shut the
door: and I sat down at my writing-table and laid my head on my arms
and wept like a child.  And there was none to comfort me.

Everybody was very kind to me for the next few days, with that
combination of fear and pity which we always show towards the newly
bereaved, and which sets these apart from their fellows as completely
as if they were lepers.  Arthur and Annabel came over at once from the
Deanery, and vainly endeavoured to console me in their different ways:
Annabel by letting me see what a sacrifice she had made on my behalf by
leaving Lowchester, even for a day, with all the work--Red Cross and
otherwise--which the war had thrown on her hands: and Arthur by saying
hardly anything at all, but gazing at me with the eyes of a faithful
dog.

And all the time that still small Voice kept sounding in my ears:
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock!"

I showed Arthur and Annabel Isabel's letter, and awaited their comments
upon it.

Annabel was very indignant with Lady Chayford.  "It is just like Isabel
to begin bothering you about Frank at a time like this!" she exclaimed:
"but she never did have any sense.  As if you hadn't trouble enough,
poor dear boy, without her trying to thrust Belgian refugees on to your
shoulders as well!"

"I could not possibly have Frank here," I said.

"Of course you couldn't," replied my sister: "it would be most
upsetting to you, with his likeness to Fay, and the way in which he has
treated you, and all!  I cannot conceive what induced Isabel Chayford
to make such an improper suggestion.  But she always was utterly
inconsiderate of other people's feelings."

My sense of justice rebelled at this.  "I don't think you are quite
fair to her there, Annabel.  Isabel may be unwise, but she is never
inconsiderate."

"Well, at any rate, she used to be," retorted Annabel; "and what people
used to be they generally are."

I could not deny the truth of this statement, broadly speaking: and I
had not the spirit to point out that there might be exceptions.

"What do you think?" I asked, appealing to Arthur.

He was silent for a moment; then he said in his slow, grave way: "It is
very difficult to judge for other people, and I agree with Annabel that
had I been in Lady Chayford's place I should never have ventured to
make such a daring suggestion.  But I cannot help feeling that she is
right when she says that it may be your one chance."

"That is just Isabel's nonsense," interpolated Annabel.  "I haven't
patience with her.  As if Frank Wildacre deserved to be forgiven!  And
even if he did--which he doesn't--it isn't the time to bother poor
Reggie about it now."

"I can never forgive him," I repeated.

"I didn't say you could, old man," replied Arthur: "neither does Lady
Chayford.  She only says that this might be your one opportunity of
doing so: not that you could necessarily avail yourself of that
opportunity.  As I take it, she does not suggest to you to forgive
Frank, but to put yourself in a position where it might become possible
for you to forgive him.  There is a difference between the two, I
think."

"I can never forgive him," I repeated doggedly.  And we left it at that.

Annabel pressed me to go back to Lowchester with her and Arthur: but I
declined to do that, or even to let them remain at Restham with me.  I
wanted to be alone with my sorrow.  And as they had their hands full of
all kinds of work connected with the war and could ill be spared from
Lowchester, they let me have my way.

I wrote a short note to Isabel Chayford thanking her for her sympathy
in my overwhelming sorrow: and saying that I found it impossible to
grant Frank's wish and to let him come to Restham.  And then I sat
alone in my house that was left unto me desolate, and mourned my dead.

But was I alone?

Through the long sunless days and the dreary sleepless nights that
Voice kept ringing in my ears--

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock!"

And I knew that the Hand that knocked was pierced; yet I steeled my
soul against that incessant pleading, and kept fast shut the door.

Some æons of agony passed--I think in reality it was three or four days
as happy people count them--and Arthur came over to see me again.

We sat chiefly in silence, or else talked about impersonal matters,
Arthur looking at me all the time with his dog-like eyes.  But just as
he was leaving he said--

"Have you thought any more about Lady Chayford's suggestion, old man?"

"I have thought about nothing else."

"Then don't you think you might do as--as--she suggests?" he asked
timidly: then: "for Fay's sake," he added, almost in a whisper.

I turned round upon him quickly.

"If I consent to have Frank Wildacre here, I shall not do it for Fay's
sake," I said, "but for Christ's sake."

And as I uttered the three words which are the greatest lever of power,
both human and Divine, which the world has ever known--those words
whereby Man is permitted to control the Actions of even God Himself--I
knew that at last the door had been opened to Him Who stood outside and
knocked.  Once again the Galilean had conquered.



CHAPTER XXII

THE LAST OF THE WILDACRES

I wrote to Isabel that I had changed my mind, and that I consented to
have Frank at Restham for his convalescence: but I asked her to make it
quite clear to him that I felt it as impossible now as I did two years
ago to forgive him for having come between my wife and myself.  I did
not want to have him at the Manor on false pretences that everything
was going to be smoothed over and made easy for him, as it had been
always before: for even if such condoning of his fault had been
possible on my part (which it was not), I knew him well enough to
realise that it would be extremely bad for him.

The fiat had gone forth from the altar of Restham Church on the
occasion of my marriage with Fay: "Those whom God hath joined together
let no man put asunder."  Frank had done his best to put asunder two
Divinely united persons, and had succeeded.  Therefore I felt it was
but meet that he should be punished as he deserved.  To be allowed to
sin with impunity is the most terrible curse that can fall on the head
of any man: and I had no intention of becoming the instrument whereby
this curse should be directed to the head of Frank Wildacre.

Isabel sent him down to Restham in her car, and it was on a gloomy
autumn day that he arrived.  I met him at the door, and at the first
moment was struck afresh by his marvellous likeness to Fay: it seemed
almost as if my dead darling had come back to me, and for a second I
was well-nigh unmanned.  But after Jeavons had helped him in and laid
him down on the large Chesterfield by the hall fire, I saw that he was
not as much like Fay as I had at first thought.  Both the Wildacres had
always been slight and slender, but it was the slightness and
slenderness of perfect health: now Frank's thinness amounted to
positive emaciation, and his face was pinched and peaked.  Moreover, he
had lost that appearance of essential and eternal youth which had been
so marked a characteristic of him and of Fay, and without which he
hardly seemed a Wildacre at all.

But in one thing he was unchanged, and that was in his perfect ease of
manner and absolute unself-consciousness.  Although I could see that it
required all his self-control to enable him to respond naturally to my
greeting, as indeed it required all my self-control to give it,
nevertheless he succeeded: and I could not help admiring the pluck and
courage of the boy when I remembered how much lay between his departure
from the Manor and his return to it.

As I recalled what bright and beautiful beings Wildacre and his
children had been at one time, and realised that this broken wreck of a
boy was all that was left of the once brilliant trio, a wave of misery
at the pity of it all swept over my soul.  I thought of Wildacre as he
used to be in the old boyish days, and then of Frank and Fay when they
first came to the Rectory after their father's death: and I felt that I
was face to face with the hopeless tragedy of what might have been but
was not, because the folly and sin of man frustrated the Wisdom and
Righteousness of God, as for some hidden reason it has been permitted
to do ever since the forbidden tree was planted in the midst of the
garden.

And that is how the last of the Wildacres came to Restham.

For some days I saw but little of Frank.  Ponty took him into her
tender keeping and set about nursing him back to health, only allowing
him to come downstairs and lie on the Chesterfield couch by the hall
fire for a few hours every day.  It was astonishing to me to find Ponty
so good to Frank.  She had always resented his presence at Restham even
before he had worked any mischief there: yet now she took him into her
charge, and nursed him as devotedly as if she had been his mother.

I remarked upon this change of front one day.  "I am surprised you are
so kind to Mr. Wildacre, Ponty, considering how angry you were when
first I asked him to come and live at the Manor.  I was afraid you
wouldn't like his coming back in this way."

"Well, you see, Master Reggie, when I was that set against his coming
to the Manor, he was strong and well, and so could stand up to me, as
you might say: but now he is too weak and ill to hurt a fly.  There's
lots of folks as you can't stand at any price when they are able to
stick up for themselves: but when they are knocked down you'd do
anything you could to help them to get up again."

"Women are made like that--thank God!" I said.

"I remember there was a girl at Poppenhall who'd had a fine upstanding
young man after her for years and years, and she couldn't so much as
look at him, though all the other girls envied her for having such a
handsome beau: but he lost an arm and got his face scarred in an
accident down a coal-pit, and then she married him at once, and spent
the rest of her life in looking after him and trying to take the place
of his lost arm."

"A woman all over!" I remarked.

"And all the same, Master Reggie, I'm not such a woman as you seem to
think--though I dare say I'm as weak as most of them if I'm taken the
right way: but it was one thing to have Mr. Wildacre here when I felt
it in my bones that he'd come between you and her dear young ladyship,
and quite another to have him here when there is nobody to come
between.  It wasn't that I objected to Mr. Wildacre himself--far from
it--any more than I objected to Miss Annabel, whom I'd had from a month
old: but what I did say--and always shall say--is that it's best for
married people to fight things out for themselves, without having any
relations on either side to back them up.  And I shall stick to this
till my dying day, even if I was to hang for it!"

I had no intention of hanging my old nurse when she talked in this
strain, but I had every objection to listening to her.  So I closed the
conversation by going out of the nursery.

Annabel came over to see Frank a few days after his arrival at Restham:
but Ponty, who was paramount in the sick room, forbade her entrance.  I
had already perceived that my sister's despotic sway at the Manor was
gradually being undermined, in secret and insidious ways, by the
redoubtable Ponty, whenever a suitable opportunity presented itself.

"I'm not going to let Miss Annabel see Mr. Wildacre till he is
stronger," my old nurse said: "she's no good in a sick room isn't Miss
Annabel, being far too managing and interfering for invalids.  And
after all that poor young gentleman has gone through, it would be
heathen cruelty to upset him still worse.  Miss Annabel on the top of
the Germans would be too much for anybody!"

"But Miss Annabel, as you call her, used to be so fond of Mr.
Wildacre," I pleaded.

"Not after he crossed her will and ran off with her ladyship.  You
could put on the top of a threepenny-bit all Miss Annabel's love for
them as don't do exactly as she tells them, and have room to spare.  If
she is as fond of Mr. Wildacre as she used to be, she can go on with it
as soon as he is strong again, and able to stand her domineering ways;
though there won't be much fondness to go on with, if I know Miss
Annabel.  But as long as he's ill, and in my charge, I can't have him
bothered with nobody--not even with Deans and Chapters and all other
dignities of the Church, including Miss Annabel.  And so I tell you
straight, Master Reggie."

And Ponty had her way, having found a secret supporter in my humble
self.

As Frank under Ponty's care grew stronger, I saw more of him, and we
gradually got into the way of talking naturally about my lost darling.
He could not bear even yet to say much about his awful experiences
during that terrible time at Louvain; but he repeated the story of how
Fay had given her life to save another's after risking it for some time
in order to tend the sick and wounded.  And that made me love her all
the more dearly, and mourn her all the more deeply.

"I don't want to bother you, Reggie," he said one day, when relations
had grown less strained between us; "but I just want you to know how
dreadfully sorry I am that I behaved as I did.  Lady Chayford told me
that you couldn't forgive me, and I feel I haven't the right to ask you
to forgive me.  But I just want to tell you that I am sorry, and that I
would give my life to undo what I did."

He was lying in his usual place on the couch, and I was sitting in an
easy-chair on the other side of the great fire-place.  For a few
seconds I smoked in silence: then I said: "I hope you understand it
isn't that I _won't_ forgive you, Frank, but that _I can't_.  I've
tried, and I find it impossible."

Frank nodded his head in the way that reminded me so keenly of Fay.  "I
know: Lady Chayford told me.  And she also told me how not forgiving me
had made you lose your wonderful gift of healing.  It is dreadful to
think that I had power to spoil your life as much as that!"

I smiled sadly at the childishness which made the loss of my healing
powers seem greater than the loss of Fay.  And then my smile faded as I
realised that it is only when we speak as little children that we speak
truth; for the loss of my healing powers stood sacramentally for more
than even the loss of my wife.  It was the outward and visible sign of
my separation from God.

"I know it's no good saying I'm sorry now, but I must say it," Frank
continued; "and I shall go on feeling it as long as I live.  I don't
really see how you could forgive me: I know I couldn't if I were in
your place.  In fact, I shouldn't even want to."

"I do want to," I said slowly; "but I can't."

"But although I own I did my best towards the end to induce Fay to come
away with me," continued Frank, in that throaty and rather husky voice
which was so like Fay's that sometimes it thrilled my heart-strings to
breaking-point, "I can't help saying that she oughtn't to have listened
to me.  After all, she was bound to you by vows, and I wasn't."

I lifted up my hand in protest.  "Hush, hush!" I said sternly: "I
cannot allow you or anybody else to dare to say a word against my wife."

"You are very loyal to her," he replied, after a short pause, in which
I did him the justice to believe that he felt ashamed of himself.

"I loved her," I said.  Then I corrected myself: "I mean I love her."

But it was not easy to suppress a Wildacre even when he did feel
ashamed of himself.  "Then you have forgiven her," said Frank: "Lady
Chayford told me you hadn't."

There was a few minutes' silence whilst I tried to be honest with Frank
and with myself.  Then I said slowly: "I don't believe I really did
forgive her altogether till I heard of her death, though I loved her
all the time more than I loved life itself.  But after she died I
gradually realised that there was nothing to forgive.  I had been
weighed in her balance, and had been found wanting, and she had no
further use for me: therefore she threw me on one side as worthless.  I
was hers to do what she liked with, and she had a perfect right to
retain or to reject me as she thought fit.  But, mind you, I didn't see
this at first.  I am no better than my neighbours, and for a long time
I was as harsh and bitter and vindictive as any poor beggar of the
so-called 'criminal classes' could have been in the circumstances.  It
is only since Fay's death that I have realised that she was justified
in the course she took."

"But she wasn't----" Frank began; but I stopped him.

"No, no!  Say what you like about yourself, my boy, but not a word
against Fay.  And don't think that because I completely exonerate her I
also exonerate you.  For I don't.  Whatever lay between her and me, was
sacred to her and me, and no one had any right to intermeddle in it.
Neither had you nor anybody else a right to try to put asunder those
whom God had joined together: and that--unless I do you a grave
injustice--is what you did."

Frank pondered on my words for a short time and then he said: "To a
certain extent, perhaps, I did come between you and Fay, and, as I have
told you, I repent of what I did in dust and ashes.  But I never meant
to come between you.  On that score my conscience is clear.  What I did
do was to persuade her to come away with me: but I never did that until
something or somebody had already come between you and her, and I saw
she was fretting her life out because of it."

I was startled.  "Something had already come between us!  What in
Heaven's name do you mean?"

"It is rather difficult to explain, Reggie," replied Frank, carefully
weighing his words in his endeavour to be lucid: "yet I think I must
try to do so even if I make a hash of it, because at present you are
absolutely in the dark about the whole affair.  As far as I can make
out, you think that Fay went away because she didn't love you enough."

"That certainly was my impression," I said, trying in vain to keep the
pain out of my voice.

"Well, then, you are off on a wrong scent altogether.  Fay went away
because she loved you too much."

"Loved me too much!  I don't understand."  I was dazed by Frank's
incomprehensible burst of confidence.

He did his best to make matters clearer.  No Wildacre was ever at a
loss for words.  "You see, it was in this way: Fay absolutely adored
you--simply worshipped the ground you walked on.  I'm not justifying
her for feeling like this," he added, with the first touch of his old
whimsicalness that he had shown since his return; "I don't deny that it
was very foolish of her to set up any man as a god and worship him like
that: but that is what she did; and it is right for you to know it,
before you judge her for what she did besides."

"I shall never judge her," I interpolated; "God forbid!"

"Well, then, before you understand what she did, if you prefer the
word.  It really was Fay's absorbing and unreasoning adoration of you
that upset the apple-cart and did all the mischief.  If she'd been more
sensible and discriminating, all this trouble would never have
happened: but she was young and foolish, and madly in love at that.
And she was so wild with jealousy, because she thought you loved your
sister more than you loved her, that she hardly knew what she was
doing."

"I thought she found me old and dull and tiresome," I murmured.

"I know you did, and that really was too idiotic for anything!  Why,
she was simply crazy for love of you from the first time she saw you
till the day she ran away; but you footled the whole thing!  I'm sorry
to say it, Reggie, but you really did."

Amazement had rendered me humble.  I realised that if any one had known
Fay thoroughly, Frank had; and it was as an expert that he spoke.
"Please explain," I said meekly.

Nothing loth, he continued: "Well, if you want the truth, you shall
have it.  And of course you must bear in mind that, if Fay hadn't been
so ridiculously in love, silly little things wouldn't have hurt her as
they did, and she wouldn't have gone off her head with jealousy of Miss
Kingsnorth.  I know men like to feel that their wives are very much in
love with them: but the wives who aren't so much in love are really the
best for everyday wear.  They are more tolerant and much less exacting."

Frank was a wiser man than he had been when he left Restham.  I noted
that.  And for the first time a tiny doubt crept into my mind as to
whether even then he had been the most unwise man there.

"In the first place," he went on, "Fay was most frightfully upset at
your asking Miss Kingsnorth to stay on living with you after you were
married.  That started the feeling."

"I thought that as Fay was still such a child it would be a comfort to
her to have a kind and loving woman to turn to and lean upon," I
explained.

"Kind and loving fiddlesticks!" retorted Frank, by no means
respectfully; but I was so glad to see him once more a little like his
old self that I rejoiced in rather than resented his impertinence.  In
spite of my underlying enmity against him, I could not hide it from
myself that Frank had attracted and fascinated me since his return as
he had never attracted and fascinated me before: and this in spite of
the fact that his good looks were faded, and his brilliance was
quenched.  "When girls are first married they don't want kind and
loving women to lean upon: they want to lean upon the husbands whose
business it is to be leant upon.  And they hate anybody who comes
between them and their husbands."

"But remember, Frank, I asked you to live with us as well as Annabel.
It isn't as if I had asked my sister, and left my wife's brother out."
I appeared to be exculpating myself to Frank; but in reality I was
exculpating myself to myself.

"But that only made the matter worse.  Fay didn't want me any more than
she wanted Miss Kingsnorth to come poking my nose in between you and
her.  She wanted you to herself."

"I'm afraid that she and Annabel did not get on together as well as I
had hoped," I said.

Frank shrugged his thin shoulders.  "They'd have got on all right
together in their proper places.  Fay was quite fond of Miss Kingsnorth
as a sister-in-law: but when she found Miss Kingsnorth put in place of
her husband, why of course she kicked.  Anybody would."

"Annabel wasn't put in place of her husband," I argued.

"Yes, she was; and of course the thing didn't work.  You seemed to have
an idea that Fay's love was transferable, like a ticket for a concert,
and that if you didn't use it your sister could.  But it's no good
trying to transfer other people's affections any more than it's any use
trying to change other people's religions.  You can take the old one
away, but you can't give them a new one in its place."

"But I never attempted to do such a ridiculous thing," I argued.

But Frank was firm.  "Yes, you did.  Or, at any rate, Fay thought you
did, which comes to the same thing as far as she was concerned, and
that was what made her so mad.  For instance, when she particularly
asked you to give her a Prayer Book with her name written in it by you,
so that religion and you might all get mixed up together in her mind,
and you be part of religion and religion part of you, what did you do?
You got Miss Kingsnorth to give her the Prayer Book, so that Miss
Kingsnorth should become part of her religion instead of you!  Now it
really was absurd to expect Miss Kingsnorth--I beg her pardon, I mean
Mrs. Blathwayte--to become part of anybody's religion, except of old
Blathwayte's--I mean the Dean's.  I suppose she's part of his religion
now, right enough.  But she wasn't the kind of person to be ever part
of Fay's religion, and I should have thought you could have seen that
for yourself."

"Did Fay tell you that about the Prayer Book?" I asked, with a stab of
anguish.  It was incomprehensible to me how my darling could have
discussed, even with her brother, things which lay entirely between her
and me.  I could never have talked to Annabel about matters which
concerned Fay and myself alone!  I should have regarded them as too
sacred.  But that is where men and women are so different from each
other, and where women are so much less reserved than men.  I believe
that good wives tell more about their husbands than bad husbands ever
tell about their wives.

But good Heavens, how it hurt!

"Yes," replied Frank, quite unconscious of my pain, "she told me
everything.  And it was only after she had told me everything, and I
saw how miserable you were making her by setting Miss Kingsnorth above
and before her that I began to urge her to run away and begin life over
again.  Of course I see now it was wicked of me to do so, although I
was so furious with you for thinking more of your sister than of your
wife; and besides being wicked, it was useless.  Fay loved you so much
that being away from you didn't seem to mend matters at all, but only
to make them worse.  But I thought that when once she'd got away from
you and your treatment of her, she'd begin to forget you, and be happy
again as she was before she and you had ever met.  But unfortunately I
was wrong."

I groaned.  I couldn't help it.

"Then another time," Frank went on, the Wildacres never having been
denied freedom of utterance, "she was almost mad with joy because you
came all the way from Restham to Liverpool Street to meet her on her
way home from Bythesea.  It looked as if you really were as much in
love with her as she was with you.  And then you went and spoilt it all
by saying that you had come to please your sister.  Now, I ask you,
what wife could stand that?  I'm sure you wouldn't have liked to feel
that Fay married you in order to please me: and in the same way she
didn't like to feel that you had married her to please Mrs. Blathwayte."

"But it was absurd of her to feel like that!  She must have known that
I worshipped the very ground she walked on, and that the only fly in my
ointment was that I felt I was too old and dull to make her happy."

Frank still had me on the hip.  "Then that was equally absurd of you!
Fay wasn't the only absurd one apparently.  You see all the time that
you were inventing trouble by thinking that you were too old and dull
for her, she was inventing trouble by thinking that she was too young
and silly for you, and that you were comparing her with your sister,
and finding her inferior.  And you know how mad a woman gets when she
thinks her husband likes anybody else more than he likes her.  There's
nothing she wouldn't do to punish him and hurt herself at the same
time!  And that is how Fay got.  She was so wild at finding you thought
more of Miss Kingsnorth than you did of her, that she didn't care what
happened.  She thought you despised her, and that simply finished her
off altogether.  And when she was unhappy she tried to drown her
unhappiness in theatricals and fallals of that kind, which didn't
really do her the slightest good: but when husbands fail, women set up
all sorts of ridiculous scarecrows in their place.  It's the way
they're made, I suppose.  And when the theatricals turned out to be no
good in helping her to forget, she took to travelling, and that was how
we came to be in Belgium when the war broke out.  But travelling didn't
really help her either, though she had an idea that the old cities of
Flanders might be rather soothing.  But as things panned out they were
quite the reverse, and we'd far better have remained in Australia!"

"It is all incredible to me," I said.

But Frank had no mercy.  "The long and the short of it is you were so
busy worrying yourself about the relations between Fay and your sister,
that you let the relations between Fay and yourself slide.  And that
was really the only thing that mattered.  Then Fay got it into her head
that you regretted having married her when you compared her with Miss
Kingsnorth and saw how young and silly she was in comparison: and so
she decided to leave you and your sister once more alone together, as
she believed that that was what really could make you happy.  And even
now I can't help admitting that Miss Kingsnorth is far more your sort
than Fay was."

I was silent for a time.  The solid earth seemed slipping away beneath
my feet.  Then I said: "Do you mean to tell me, on your word of honour,
that to the best of your belief neither you nor Annabel tried to come
between my wife and me?"

Without hesitation the answer came: "Certainly I do.  I am positive
that I never did, and in my own mind I am equally certain that Mrs.
Blathwayte never did either.  But where I was to blame was that when I
saw matters had gone wrong, I tried to set them right in my own way:
and I think probably that is what Mrs. Blathwayte tried to do also.
But there was some excuse for us.  The happiness of her brother and my
sister mattered more to us than anything else in the world.  Of course
I see now that you asked Miss Kingsnorth here on Fay's account, though
it was a ridiculous thing to do: but I own now you did it from a right
motive.  But Fay believed you did it because you thought you would find
her too young and silly to be enough for you by herself, and so you
wanted your sister and me to relieve the tedium, and make things more
cheerful for you.  That was Fay's idea, and I agreed with her.  And
naturally I resented your putting your sister before mine.  Any fellow
would."

"I never meant to."

"But you did.  And it is for what we do that we are punished--not for
what we meant to do.  It is a way of yours to mix up essentials with
non-essentials, and I expect always will be: I suppose you are made
like that, and can't help it.  But if you'd only realised that the
important thing was not how Fay and Miss Kingsnorth got on together,
but how Fay and you got on together, all this misery would never have
happened."

I felt I could bear no more: so I went out alone into the autumn dusk
to commune with my own soul on the revelations which Frank had
vouchsafed to me.  And when we met again, we did not refer to it, but
talked only on indifferent things.  For the boy not only knew when to
speak: with a wisdom beyond his years he knew also when to be silent.

For several days I continued to commune with my own soul on the matters
which Frank had revealed to me.  And as I did so the conviction
gradually took hold of me that I had been right in my ruthless decision
that as long as I lived I could never forgive the man who had come
between my wife and me: who had left my house unto me desolate, and had
driven forth my darling to her death.

And then wherever I went I heard nothing but one awful message: the
dying leaves whispered it, the dropping rain repeated it, and the
autumn winds thundered it in my ears: the message which long ago struck
terror and remorse to the heart of a great King struck terror and
remorse also to mine.  Wherever I went and whatever I did I kept
hearing the appalling word of condemnation: "Thou art the man."



CHAPTER XXIII

THE PEACE OF GOD

I awoke one morning with a strange feeling that something wonderful had
happened during the night: and as my mind gradually cleared, I realised
what that something was.

I had forgiven Frank Wildacre.

Or, rather, I had come to the knowledge that there was nothing to
forgive: that the man whose insensate folly had spoilt my life and
Fay's was not Frank at all, but myself.

But the result was the same.  After nearly three years of the outer
darkness I had come once more into the light: I was at peace with Man
and therefore with God: and that seemed to be all that signified.

On myself I had no mercy.  I could not forgive myself--I cannot forgive
myself now--I never shall forgive myself.  But that was a matter of no
moment.  Self-pardon is never the way of salvation.  I knew--how I knew
I cannot tell, but I did know it--that God had forgiven me: I believed
from the depths of my heart that Fay, with the more perfect
comprehension of those who are already on the Other Side, had forgiven
me also: therefore my self-condemnation was no bar across the path of
life, but rather a healthy and permanent discipline of the soul.

With a joy beyond all earthly joy I rose and dressed and went out into
the hazy autumn morning.  It was Sunday: and as I stood in the grey
mist which still lay over everything and which shrouded the garden and
the fields from my view, I heard the church-bell ringing for the eight
o'clock Celebration.  And for the first time for more than two years
that bell called to me, and bade me come and take my place at the
Eucharistic Feast: for at last I was in love and charity with all men,
and intended to lead a new life.

I answered the Call and entered the Church which was hallowed by the
worship of centuries: and there I made my confession to Almighty God,
meekly kneeling upon my knees, as the pilgrims had knelt there ages and
ages before me.  And as in lowly adoration I partook of the Blessed
Food Which Christ Himself had ordained, I thereby received Him into my
heart by faith: and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,
once more filled my heart and mind with the knowledge and love of God
and of His Son, Jesus Christ.

And so I began life over again in that autumn morning in Restham
Church, at the beginning of the Great War.

I did not see Frank when I came home after the Service was over, as he
never came down to breakfast: but as I sat at my solitary meal I knew
no loneliness: the glory of the Great Reconciliation was about me still.

After breakfast Jeavons came to me in a somewhat deprecating manner.

"I am sorry to trouble you, Sir Reginald," he began, "and I told Maggie
Pearson so, but she wouldn't take no, and begged me to come and give
you her message."

Maggie Pearson was the daughter of one of my keepers--a respectable man
with a tidy wife and a large family.

"And what was her message?" I asked.

Jeavons still appeared confused.  "I really did my best, Sir Reginald,
to make her understand that you'd given up all that sort of thing and
never went in for it now, finding it more or less uncertain, as you
might say, and out of the usual course of events, and so not altogether
to be depended upon; and that she'd much better stick to the doctor and
not trouble you, Mr. Wildacre being laid up in the house, and you with
enough on your hands as it is.  But she went on crying, and said her
mother'd never forgive her if she didn't give you the message."

I felt that such unaccustomed loquacity was a sign of serious mental
disturbance on the part of Jeavons.  He was generally so very brief and
to the point.

"Well, what _was_ the message?" I repeated, with (I cannot help
thinking) commendable patience.

"Well, Sir Reginald, begging your pardon, the fact is that Mrs.
Pearson's baby is dying of brownchitis or pewmonia or some other
disease connected with its teething, and nothing will satisfy her but
that you should come and lay your hands on it, like as was your custom
at one time, having outgrown it since.  I told Maggie as how you had
given up the habit long ago, which she said her mother knew: but all
the same, Mrs. Pearson still persisted that she was sure you could cure
the baby if you tried, which was just like her obstinacy, and to my
thinking a great impertinence."

"Have they had the doctor, do you know?" I asked.

"Yes, Sir Reginald, and he can't do nothing more than what he has done,
he says, and he is afraid the child will die.  Though what they wants
with that extra child at all, beats me, having six besides, and none
too much food for them all, with the dreadful war sending up the prices
of everything."

For two years now I had refused all the villagers' requests that I
would exercise my gift of healing upon them, as I knew, alas! that the
gift was no longer mine: and they had gradually ceased to proffer these
requests.  Therefore it struck me as noteworthy that on the very day
when, as the old theologists put it, I had "found peace," I should be
asked to exercise this lost power once more.  It seemed to be one of
those wonderful instances of direct Interposition which we of this
faithless and perverse generation disguise under the pseudonym of
"remarkable coincidences."

"Tell Maggie that I will come at once," I said.

And Jeavons accordingly departed, leaving behind him an atmosphere of
respectful disapproval and regret.  Anything bordering on the
unusual--let alone the miraculous--filled my excellent butler with
horror and dismay.

When I am tempted--as indeed I often am, and frequently
successfully--to despise those Jeavons-like souls who delight to burrow
in the commonplace whenever the light of the supernatural shows above
the horizon, I remind myself of the first Order that was given after
the dread gates of death had been flung open and the ruler's little
daughter had come through them back to life.  He Who had performed the
stupendous miracle did not take this unique opportunity of preaching a
sermon to the company assembled in the house of mourning, with His Own
Action as the text: on the contrary "He commanded that something should
be given her to eat."

How joyfully those who had laughed Him to scorn when He contradicted
their conventional assumption that death was the final ending--laughed,
doubtless with the uncomfortable, mocking laughter of all materially
minded people when confronted with things undreamed of in their smug
philosophy--must have hurried to lay the table and prepare the meal,
and perform all the trivial little duties which form the essence of the
normal and the commonplace.  How relieved they must have felt to find
themselves once more in the ordinary routine of everyday existence!

And I like to think that it was then His turn to smile--He Who knew
them so well, and remembered that they were but dust; yet the dust
wherein He had clothed Himself in order to identify Himself with them.
But I am sure that in His smile there was no scorn.  He knew what they
needed, and He supplied all their need.

Obedient to the Call which had come to me, I went through the village,
hardly conscious of any volition on my own part.  I had merged my will
in another's, and had no longer any desire to act on my own initiative.
It is a strange feeling, this absolute surrender of self, and brings
with it that peace which the world can never give nor take away.

Still as in a dream I entered the cottage at the far end of the
village, and found Mrs. Pearson rocking in her arms her dying child;
the other children hanging round, all more or less in a state of tears.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Pearson," I said, when Maggie had ushered me into
the midst of the weeping group.  "I have come because you sent for me."

"And right thankful I am to you, Sir Reginald," replied the poor woman:
"I says to myself, when the doctor give my baby up, 'If anybody can
save her, Sir Reginald can.'"

"I will do what I can," I said, "but it is years now since I have had
the power to heal anybody.  I lost it when her ladyship went away."

"So I've heard, Sir Reginald.  But I minded that story of the woman who
wouldn't take 'No' even from the Blessed Lord Himself, but begged for
just the crumbs under the table: and her child was healed in
consequence."

I knelt down beside the rocking-chair, and laid my hands upon the
little form lying on the mother's lap, at the same time lifting up my
whole soul in prayer.  And straightway the answer came--as in my heart
of hearts I had known it would come.  Like a mighty electrical force
the healing power rushed through me to the child.  I could feel it in
every vein and every fibre of my body.  And at the same time my
consciousness of the Presence of Christ was so acute that it was almost
as if I actually saw and heard and felt Him close beside me.

Whilst I prayed the moaning of the child ceased, and its laboured
breathing grew gradually soft and easy: and when I rose from my knees
and looked at it, I knew that it would live.

The poor mother clung to my hand, and wept tears of gratitude.  But I
told her--as I always made a point of telling those whom I was
permitted to help--that her thanksgivings were not due to me, but to
Another Whose messenger for the time I was allowed to be: and then I
hurried back through the village to the Church, there to render thanks,
with the rest of the congregation at the office of Matins, for the
blessings that had (in my case so wonderfully) been vouchsafed to me.

When I returned home after the morning service, I found Frank dressed
and downstairs: but it was not until lunch was over and we had settled
down in our usual places--he on the Chesterfield on one side of the
hall fire, and I in my easy-chair on the other--that I found an
opportunity of telling him, without fear of interruption, of the
marvellous thing that had happened to me.

"Frank, my boy, I have something to say to you," I began.

"Yes, Reggie, what is it?"

"To me it is so wonderful that I find difficulty in putting it into
words.  But though I may be slow to speak, you are always swift to
hear, so I dare say you will understand in spite of my blundering way
of telling it."

"Fire away," said Frank encouragingly.  "I shall catch on right enough,
never fear."

"Well, first and foremost, I want you to know that I have forgiven you
completely for any share that you may have had in helping Fay to leave
me."

Frank gave a little cry of joy.  "Oh, Reggie, how splendid of you!" he
began.

But I lifted up my hand to stop him.  "Wait a bit, my boy.  Please hear
all I have got to say before you cut in.  I was going to tell you that
I forgave you freely because I had found that there was nothing to
forgive.  It sounds rather Irish, I know: but I think you will
understand that we are obliged to forgive people when we think they
have injured us, even when we find they haven't really injured us at
all.  I mean we are bound to get back into love and charity with them,
whether the lapse from love and charity was their fault or ours."

Frank nodded his head in the way that reminded me so of Fay.  "I know
exactly what you are driving at.  When we quarrel with anybody we've
got to bury the hatchet before we can be happy or good again: and the
original ownership of the hatchet has no effect whatever upon the
importance of the funeral."

"Precisely so.  I'd got to forgive you whether you'd done anything
needing forgiveness or not: because I believed you had, and acted
according to that belief.  Therefore it was imperative upon me to root
the bitterness towards you out of my heart: the fact that the
bitterness to a great extent was undeserved, did not altogether rob it
of its flavour.  Well, then, that is the first thing: I want you to
know that at last I am at peace with you after nearly three years of
hot anger against you: whether you in any way deserved that anger, is
your affair not mine."

Here Frank's enforced silence broke down.  "I didn't deserve it as much
as you thought, but I did deserve it a bit.  I never tried to set Fay
against you: but when I saw she was set against you, I induced her to
cut and run, instead of using my influence to make her see things in a
different light, and to bring you and her together again.  After all is
said and done, you were her husband: and when I saw the bond between
you was loosening I ought to have helped to tie it tight again instead
of undoing it altogether.  Let's try to be just all round!"

"I am trying to be just," I replied: "and therefore I admit that though
I myself was the principal culprit, you were not altogether free from
blame."

"No, I wasn't.  Neither was Fay, when you come to that, though I know
you won't let me say so."

"Certainly I won't: so don't try it on.  Let us pass on to the next
thing.  And that is that as I have forgiven you, so God has forgiven
me, and has restored to me my power of healing."

"Oh, Reggie, is that really true?  I minded that more than anything!"
Frank's voice was hoarse with emotion and his language was confused:
but I understood him right enough.

"Yes: I was instrumental in healing Mrs. Pearson's baby this morning;
the first time that I have been permitted to do such a thing since Fay
went away."  Then I changed the subject hastily, with that shyness
which all Englishmen feel when speaking about the matters that concern
their own souls.  "And there is yet another thing I want to say; that
is to ask you to make your permanent home with me here.  You can go
over and visit your relations in Australia as often as you like; but I
want you to feel that this is your real home.  I have been very lonely
ever since Fay went away.  I was going to add, 'and ever since Annabel
was married,' but candidly I don't think that really made much
difference.  When the worst has happened, minor troubles don't count.
But you seem almost part of Fay--a sort of legacy that she has left me,
because she loved us both: and I feel that it would please her if we
devoted the rest of our lives to taking care of each other."

Frank was trying so hard to choke back his sob that he could not speak.
He was still very weak after his awful experiences in Belgium.  So I
went on, order to give him time to recover himself.

"I think we shall be happy together, my boy, in a second-rate sort of
way; but we can never be really perfectly happy until we see Fay again.
At least I know I can't.  But that is the worst of wrong-doing, or of
any infringement of the great law of Love."  I still continued talking,
seeing that the boy was not yet master of himself: "We repent our
wrong-doing, and God forgives us, and we know it will all come right
again some day: but not here, or now.  Between us you and I managed to
spoil Fay's life; and no repentance of ours will set that right in this
life, nor undo the harm that we (however unconsciously) wrought.  There
is no bringing the shadow on the dial ten degrees backward.  We may
pretend to ourselves that there is, but there isn't really.  God still
performs many miracles, but not that one.  Of course He _could_ if He
so willed it, but He certainly _doesn't_; and so what is done is done,
and what is past is past, and it is only left to us to bear with God's
help the consequences of our own misdeeds."

To my surprise the usually undemonstrative Frank sprang up from the
couch where he was lying, and flung himself on his knees beside my
chair, at the same time throwing his thin arms round my neck.  "Yes,
Reggie, He can," he gasped between his sobs: "He can and He will and He
does."

I turned my head in surprise, and for the first time since Frank's
return to Restham, I saw his face within close range of my
short-sighted eyes.  For a moment I was literally paralysed with
amazement, and my heart and pulses seemed to stand still and then to
rush on in a very delirium of unheard-of joy.  For the face into which
I looked at such close quarters--the face quivering with emotion and
disfigured with tears, and yet to me the dearest and most beautiful
face in the whole world--was not Frank's at all--but Fay's!



CHAPTER XXIV

CONCLUSION

This then is the story of the drama of my life; the story of how in my
case the greatest miracle of all was accomplished, and the shadow on
the dial was brought ten degrees backward.  She who had been dead was
alive again, she who had been lost was found.  The past was given back
to me to be lived over again, with its misdeeds expiated and its
mistakes retrieved.

I learnt from my darling that the greater part of what she had told me
was absolutely true; only that it was Frank who gave his life to save
the child that was playing in the sun when the shells began to fall in
that doomed street of Louvain--not Fay.

So Frank Wildacre died the death of a hero: for there is no more
glorious death for any man than to give his life for another's.  Again
it struck me afresh, as it had often struck me before, how since the
beginning of the Great War the prophecy had been literally fulfilled
that the last should be first, and the first last.  Frank, who had been
thoughtless and irresponsible and frivolous, had been called to lay
down his life for one of those little ones whose angels do always
behold the Face of the Father: whilst I, who had taken the world so
seriously, and had ever longed to do great deeds and think high
thoughts, was left amongst the useless ones at home.  Yet we were all
part of the great army of the living God, and it was not for us to pick
and choose who should go forth with the hosts and who should stay at
home by the stuff.  That was all left in the Hands of "Our Captain,
Christ, under Whose colours we had fought so long."

Frank only lived for about an hour after he was hit.  They managed to
carry him into a house, but there was no hope from the first.  He was
conscious almost to the end; and he devoted those last moments to
careful thought for his sister.  He told her to cut off her long hair
and dress herself up in his clothes, and try to get away to England as
soon as she could, as it was not safe for her to remain in Belgium now
that he was no longer there to take care of her: and as terrible and
ghastly rumours were already current as to the unspeakable way in which
the ruthless invaders were treating such women as were hapless enough
to fall into their hands, he thought Fay would be safer if her sex were
not known.  And so he fell on sleep.

As soon as Frank had passed to his well-earned reward, Fay followed out
all his instructions to the letter, and succeeded, after many
vicissitudes, in escaping to England with a crowd of Belgian refugees.
No one penetrated her disguise--not even Isabel Chayford, who put down
Fay's extraordinary likeness to her own self to the fact that she and
Frank were twins, and so were expected to resemble one another.  And
Fay kept to her own room most of the time that she was at the
Chayfords', for fear Isabel should discover her identity.  Ponty found
her out at once: there was never any deceiving Ponty!  But Fay could
always twist my old nurse round her little finger, and therefore Ponty
kept her secret for her.

To this hour I cannot conceive how I could have been such a fool as not
to know my darling the moment I set eyes on her.  But the grim fact
remains that I am by nature a fool, and this was one of the occasions
of my displaying my folly.  My one excuse--and a feeble one it is!--is
my extreme short-sightedness: the first moment that Fay's dear face was
close to my own I recognised her like a shot: but lying in the
Chesterfield on the other side of the fire-place, with her short curly
hair and elfin face, she looked so like Frank that I took it for
granted she was Frank; and she was so much aged and changed, alas! by
all she had suffered, that she had lost much of her likeness to the Fay
of the past.  As to her voice, Frank's was so high for a man's and hers
was so deep for a woman's that I frequently had mistaken the one for
the other in the old days: so no wonder I did so now, when I was
convinced in my own mind that Fay was dead, and that Frank was talking
to me from the other side of the great fire-place.

I gathered that Fay's original idea was to find out whether or not I
had forgiven her.  If I had, she meant to reveal herself to me and to
ask me to take her back as my wife: but if I had not forgiven her, she
intended to return to Australia, leaving me with the idea that she was
dead and I was free.  A wild, childish scheme, just like my
impracticable darling!

But when Isabel told her how deeply my anger against Frank had eaten
into my very soul, destroying my gift of healing and coming between me
and my God, Fay realised that there was far more at stake than just the
relations between herself and me.  The salvation of my soul was hanging
in the balance, and it was for her dear hands to adjust the scales.
With an insight beyond her years, she understood that before I could
find peace I must forgive Frank, believing him to be alive: the easy
forgiveness which we accord to the dead, who can no longer hurt or be
hurt by us, was not the thing that was demanded of me.  I was called
upon to forgive Frank fully and freely, even although I believed that
it was through him that my darling had gone to her death, and that
therefore there was no possibility of her ever coming back to me, or of
the wrong which he had done me ever being rectified.

This my darling enabled me to do, and thereby saved my soul alive.

And now we are once more all in all to each other; and the love that is
stronger than death can lighten even the long shadows cast by the Great
War.


I do not think there is any more to add to my story, save the
interesting fact that we have christened our first-born son _Francis_.

At present he finds his sole occupation in mewling and puking in his
nurse's arms; but his beloved mother and I have every reason to hope
that eventually he will learn to employ his time with more profit both
to himself and to the world at large.

I think that some day "Sir Francis Kingsnorth" will be quite an
effective name and sound very well indeed.  But I shall not be there to
hear it.



THE END





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