Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler.

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things to do since the Hall was burned down."

"I dare say he has; but, all the same, he might
have looked in, just for five minutes, if only to tell
us that he hadn't time to do so. However busy a
person is, he has always time to write and say that he
hasn't time to write: at least that has been my ex-
perience : and the principle is the same with calls as
with letters."

"How silly you are, Nora! He has been up at
the Hall every day, looking after things."

"I know that; but he might have come here before
he went or after he came back, so that we might have
told him how sorrv we are for him."

"But that is just what Laurence would hate to
see : that people were sorry for him."

"That's what I call so stand-offish and unneigh-
bourly. I always like people to be sorry for me,
even if they've no cause to be. I love to be pitied ;
it makes people so fond of one."

"And I hate to be pitied — there's the difference
between you and me, my dear Nora. I adore ad-
miration and I hate pity. Whatever I had to suffer,
I couldn't bear anybody to be sorry for me, except —
nobody." Nancy stopped just in time.

Nora gazed thoughtfully at her sister : "You and



LOSING THE KEYS 217



Mr. Baxendale aren't really so very different, after
all. I believe you are as proud underneath your
outspokenness as he is underneath his stiffness, and
you would hate to be pitied every bit as much as he
does."

*'Yes, I should, I should; and that's why I under-
stand the reason of his not wanting to come and see
us," explained Nancy, forgetting that she had just
proved that there w^as no such reason, nor any need
for one. ''He feels that we should pity him and
that we ^ould show it; and that's just what he
couldn't stand."

"Well, I can't grasp the idea. Do you mean to
say, Nan, that if you were unhappy, it wouldn't
comfort you to know that other people were sorry?"

"Good gracious, no! It would make everything
a thousand times worse. I wish people to envy me ;
I don't even mind their disliking me; and I enjoy
their disapproving of me. But all the time I insist
on their regarding me as a brilliant young woman,
and admiring me even while they detest."

"Well, you are funny! I'm not made a bit like
that."

"I am ; and it's a very good make, too."

"Do you mean to say you would rather be admired
than loved?" asked Nora.

"Much rather. Admiration without love I de-
light in; but love without admiration would make
me positively ill."

"I expect that is w^hy you and Laurence get on



2i8 FUEL OF FIRE

so well together ; you are both proud, though in such
different ways.

"Yes; we are alike in some things, but not in
others — I only wish we were."

*'You mean you wish he was more like us."

"Oh, dear, no ! I wish I was more like him."

Nora was silent for a moment; then she said:
"You admire him very much, don't you, Nancy?"

"I sl^puld just think I do. More than any one
else I ever saw — or ever dreamed of." Nancy's re-
serve was beginning to thaw in the warm atmos-
phere of sisterly communion.

"I wonder if vou admire him as much as I admire
Michael Arbuthnot."

^ Nancy laughed the laugh of the scornful: "I
should rather think so! There's so much more in
him to admire."

But her sister was not going to stand that: "Oh,
no, there isn't. In the first place, he is a layman;
and in the second, he hasn't half as much to say for
himself : nobody could admire him as much as the
vicar."

"Well, I can and do." Nancy could be obstinate
when occasion demanded it.

Nora's pretty forehead was wrinkled with
thought : "Do you feel that you thoroughly under-
stand Laurence Baxendale?" she asked; "I often
wonder if vou do."

Nancy paused for a second before replying : "Yes
and no," she said slowly.



LOSING THE KEYS 219

"Oh! how very interesting: do explain, Nan."

"I always know what he will do in any given cir-
cumstance, but I don't always know why he will do
it. Just as I always know when I have hurt him,
but hardly ever how I have hurt him."

Clever little Nora nodded : "I see : you know ex-
actly where he will get to, but you don't know by
what road."

**Yes; that's it. For instance, I understand
that because he is hurt and sore he will not come
near to any of us, for fear we should pity him : but
why the idle gossip of the people about here should
make him so sore and hurt him so much, I haven't
the ghost of an idea. If I knew I hadn't done a
thing I shouldn't care who said I had : in fact, I don't
think I ^ould care much for that, even if I had
done it."

"He evidently is awfully cut up about it, or else
he w^ouldn't shut himself up in the way he is do-
ing."

"Yes; and I'll tell you more,'* exclaimed Nancy
in a sudden burst of sisterly confidence: "I knew
he'd go like this the minute I heard what nonsense
people were talking; though why he should take it
so hard I can't conceive."

"And it's such a mistake; because, as father says,
it makes people think that their suspicions against
him are correct."

Nancy wrung her hands : "I know, I know : that
is where he is such a good, noble, stupid darling.



220 FUEL OF FIRE

He has no idea of taking the course most advan-
tageous to himself."

*'It is a pity," sighed pretty Nora, with the not
altogether unbearable sorrow which even the best of
w^omen feel over the follies of a brother-in-law
(either in esse or in posse) : ''heaps of men would
have turned this misfortune to their own account,
and made quite a piece of good luck out of it."

''Do you think I don't know that?" And poor
Nancy fairly groaned.

"But your dear Laurence never will. Now, if
only he'd manage things the right way," continued
Nora, "the whole affair would turn out for his good.
He would be saved for the future from paying that
tiresome insurance money, and would pocket a for-
tune of a hundred thousand pounds into the bargain.
But some people have a knack of 'taking occasion by
the hand' and others haven't."

"That's true. King Canute, for instance, was
built after the Baxendale pattern when he rebuked
his courtiers for saying that he could rule the waves
a la Britannia ; and then had his throne put where he
knew the sea would wash over him, after he had
vSpecifically forbidden it to do so."

"Yes; that's exactlv what Laurence would have
done."

"Now, had I been in Canute's place," Nancy went
on, "I should have placed my throne just half a yard
above high-water mark, and I should have ordered
the sea not to touch mv feet ; and of course it



LOSING THE KEYS 221

wouldn't. Then I Iftould have turned to my cour-
tiers and said, 'See how right you were.' "

Nora laughed : ''But they wouldn't have believed
either you or themselves : they'd have seen through
your little dodge and have known that the sea didn't
obey you really."

"Of course they would; but they'd have winked
behind my back to one another and said, 'She knows
a thing or two, does Mrs. Canute !' Now, it seems
to me that great men are like Canute; they show to
the world how small a thing is their own greatness
compared with the greatness of abstract truth. But
clever men are like me; they adopt the greatness of
abstract truth to increase their own greatness, and
the world isn't always quite sure where the one ends
and the other begins."

"I wonder which feels the nicer — to be great or
clever."

"It depends on the sort of things that you enjoy
most. If you want your biography to be read on
Sunday afternoons by the next generation but one,
be great ; but if you want a peerage and Westminster
Abbey, be clever."

"But I don't want either, as it happens," Nora
explained.

"Then if you don't know what you want, what's
the use of asking me how to get it, silly ?"

"I do know what I want, though."

"Oh! if you only want a sweetheart for youth,
and a husband for middle-age, and a widower to



222 FUEL OF FIRE

plant forget-me-nots on your grave — which is all
that most women want — vou needn't trouble to be
either great or clever : it will be quite enough if you
do your hair nicely, and wear your best clothes when
there's an off-chance of seeing him," laughed Nancy.

Nora nodded her head with satisfaction: ''Oh!
Nancy, how wise you are — about always wearing
one's best clothes, I mean; but all the same, it comes
expensive."

"It does; I know that from experience. I don't
mind telling you as a secret that the return of the
Baxendales from Drawbridge Castle has taken three
months off the average life of a new hat, as far as I
am concerned."

*'I know ; and yet it doesn't do to go out in an old
one when there's a chance of meeting anybody."
And Nora looked very serious.

"Of course it doesn't. Why, my dear, I once
heard a dreadful tale — and it was quite true, too — of
a man who was very sweet on a girl, and was just
going to propose to her; but he happened to meet
her at a party where she wore her last year's hat,
and she looked so dowdy that it fairly choked him
off."

"Then do you think men always like us less when
we don't look nice, Nancy ?"

( "I think they always like us better when we do,
which comes pretty much to the same thing. \ And
why strain their affection, poor dears, to the break-
ing point? They are bound to love and cherish us



LOSING THE KEYS 223

in sickness and poverty and all sorts of similar un-
pleasantnesses ; but there is no absolute necessity for
thepi to love and cherish us in shabby hats — and I
sh<^uld never worry them for an extra such as that."

"I see."

"After all," continued Nancy, "love — like p canal-
bridge — ought not to be expected to carry mort; than
the ordinary traffic of the district ; and I consider a
last year's hat on a par with a traction-engine —
greatly in excess of the ordinary traffic, and to be
feared accordingly."

"Yes, Nan, you are right : it doesn't do to strain
even love too far."

There were a few minutes' pause, and then Nancy
suddenly asked d propos of nothing : "Do you think
that the^end generally justifies the means when you t:^2l
want any particular thing ?"^"""^""
'Mr. Arbuthnot says it doesn't."
'Still, you see, he is a clergyman, and so would
take stricter views of things than ordinary people
would. Being a clergyman must make every day
like Sundav, don't vou think?"

"Then you should say that being a clergyman's
wife would make every day like Sunday, too?"
Nora's face was quite anxious as she put this ques-
tion.

"Not quite; more like saints' days and harvest
festivals and Christmas — neither one thing nor
another. But don't you think that with an ordinary
man or woman the end would justify the means?"



<<i



(<(



224 FUEL OF FIRE

"I really don't know. Do you think it would?"
''Yes," replied Nancy seriously, "1 do. I think
that if you want a thing with all your heart — and
are convinced that the thing will do you good and
not harm if you get it — you are justified in leaving
no stone unturned in trying to get that particular



)>



thing.

*'But you wouldn't do anything that was actually
wrong in trying to get it, would you, Nan?"

"Ah ! there's my difficulty : it's so hard for me to
know what is actually wrong and what isn't. = I'm
sure that different people have different kinds of con-
sciences, just as they have different kinds of ears
and eyes." )

Nora looked puzzled : "How do you mean ? I
don't quite understand?"

"I mean that one man has a sensitive ear, so that
he can tell at once if a note is out of tune; and
another man hasn't. And one man has a sensitive
eye, so that he can tell at once whether colours har-
monize with each other or not; and another man
hasn't. And one man has a sensitive conscience, so
that he can tell at once if a thing is wrong; and
another man hasn't."

"Then haven't you got a sensitive conscience,
Nancy?"

"No, I haven't. I can't tell instinctively whether
a thing is right or wrong, as some people can. If
any one proved to my entire satisfaction that a thing
was actually wrong, I wouldn't do that thing for



LOSING THE KEYS 225

worlds : but I have no power of finding out for my-
self whether things are right or wrong."

^'Haven't you? How funny!"

''Well, I can't help it if I'm made like that any
more than unmusical people or colour-blind people
can help it."

Nora looked doubtful : ''I don't know ; I'm afraid
it's rather wicked of you."

"No, it isn't; it really isn't. Things that you
can't help can't be wicked. You might just as well
say that it is wicked to be deaf or blind or lame. It
is better not to be, I admit : but there's no wickedness
about the thing."

'Then do you mean to say, Nancy, that your con-
science never acts at all — neither backward nor for-
ward? If it doesn't keep you from doing things,
doesn't it make you miserable after you've done
them ?"

"Not of itself. If other people prove to me that
I ought not to have done something that I have
done, then of course I'm dreadfully sorry that I did
it. But I can't find out for myself that I oughtn't
to have done it."

"Well," remarked Nora, "you can't say that you
and Laurence are alike in this respect if you are in
others, for a more active conscience than his I never



came across."



"Active? — it's more than active! It's always in
a state of eruption, like Vesuvius."



226 FUEL OF FIRE

"And I should think you find it very difficult to
understand this part of his character."

"I find it more than difficult/' replied Nancy : "I
find it utterly impossible. One thing, however, I
have learned from observation and experience; and
that is, however incomprehensible a man may be, it
is always a mistake for a woman to try to translate
him for the benefit of the audience. She only makes
matters worse. Her translation doesn't render him
an atom easier to be understood; but it has such an
irritating effect on him that he makes himself more
troublesome and obscure on purpose. If a woman
wants to study men, she must do so in the original :
it is useless attempting to publish them in one's
mother tongue."

"Men are like poetry, aren't they? If you at-
tempt to translate them, all the rhyme and most of
the reason are lost in the process."

"What ever brings you girls stuffed up in the
house this lovely afternoon?" exclaimed Anthony
Burton, bursting into the room where the two sisters
were sitting.

"I'm going out almost at once," replied Nancy,
"but I thought the longer I waited the cooler it
would get."

"I imagined that our beloved Nora would be at-
tending Evensong this afternoon," remarked Nora's
cousin, with a malicious twinkle in his eye : "but
evidently I exaggerated that young woman's devo-
tional tendencies."



LOSING THE KEYS 227

''I am going to Evensong," Nora demurely
replied; '*I always go on Wednesdays and Fri-
days. But it isn't time to start yet," she added,
looking at the clock; "it is only a quarter past
four."

''Only a quarter past four by this clock," Anthony
corrected her; ''but other clocks tell a very different
story."

Nora started up from her seat aghast: "Do you
mean to say that this clock isn't right? What a
nuisance! I was depending upon it, and thought I
had heaps of time. Now I shall have to hurry, and
get so disgustingly hot. What is the right time,
Tony?" And poor Nora pinned on her hat and
patted her fringe and looked for her gloves in a
great hurry.

"That depends upon what country you are refer-
ring to," replied Anthony cautiously.

Nora stamped her foot impatiently: "Don't be
silly, but tell me what time it is by your watch."

"The same as by your clock : fifteen minutes past
four."

"But you said this clock was different from the
others," argued Nancy, with a frown.

"So it is; quite different from all the clocks in
Australia and America and Africa, and even on the
other side of Europe. But I never said that it was
different from the other clocks in this country; be-
cause it isn't."

The two girls burst out laughing.






228 FUEL OF FIRE

"What a goose you are!" exclaimed Nora; ''you
did give me a fright."

''That, my dear child, was my intention."
Well, at any rate, I shall start now," she added,
so as to be in church by five o'clock, as I don't want
to hurry."

"I'm going out, too," said Nancy; and the two
girls left the room together, and then went their
several ways — Nora to church, and Nancy toward
Baxendale in search of her lost keys.

As the latter walked across the field and through
the iron gate into the lane, she looked at the ground
in the hope of recovering her missing property ; but
in vain : not a sign of her keys could she see.

She had not been quite open with Nora as to
where she remembered seeing them last: in that
sudden reserve which attacks all women, even the
most loquacious, when they first fall in love and
realise that a stranger has stepped in between them
and their own people, Nancy had never told her sis-
ter about Laurence's loan of the keys of Baxendale;
and now she did not wish to mention the fact to any-
body. She was clever enough to know that — in the
present unpleasant state of affairs — the less that was
said about any one's having access to the Hall the
better. She did remember putting the keys into the
pocket of a clean new muslin dress the morning be-
fore the fire ; but she further remembered going up to
Baxendale Hall that very day, and using both the
key of the front door and the key of the library.



LOSING THE KEYS 229

But from that time she had no recollection of seeing
the bunch of keys at all. She had only just discov-
ered her loss; but now it had occurred to her that
as she had no further use for the keys she had better
return them to Laurence : and on looking for them,
in order to give them back to him, lo ! they were no-
where to be found.

She had been searching for them all morning in
the house and garden of Wayside; and now she
thought she would walk up to Baxendale by her ac-
customed path and see if she could find them either
on the way or there. But though her eyes were
busy peering in every possible spot for the missing
keys, her thoughts were filled with Laurence. Li
accordance with her usual light-heartedness, she
resolutely put from her the thought that the burning
of Baxendale Hall could be anything but a blessing
ordained for the special purpose of putting her lover
and herself in a position to marry : nevertheless, she
could not quite banish the consciousness that hith-
erto the catastrophe, instead of bringing her and
Laurence together, had served to drive them apart.
It was very strange, she thought, that Laurence did
not come to her in his trouble, as she would have
gone to him had the trouble been hers : but there was
a certain ghastly familiarity in the strangeness — a
certain cruel conviction in the impossibility — which
men and women experience when they realise that
the incredible has come to pass and that the unbear-
able has to be borne.



230 FUEL OF FIRE

Also there clutched at the heart of Nancy the first
pangs of that world-old agony which comes to all of
us when we first understand that there are limita-
tions to our gift of consolation toward those whom
we love best — that our power to love and our power
to console are by no means synonymous. It is when
our best-beloved are writhing from the effects of a
wound which no touch of ours can heal or even
soothe that we are brought face to face with the in-
capacities of human affection. We would gladly
give our very lives if this pain could be in any way
diminished : but it cannot : our powerlessness is as
complete as is our sympathy. As we go through
the world, we love and are loved by many ; we cheer
and are cheered by many ; we help and are helped by
many; but if, in the whole course of a lifetime, we
find one human heart which we are able perfectly to
heal and to comfort — one human hand which is able
perfectly to heal and comfort us — we may of a truth
consider ourselves blessed; for this is the greatest
and the rarest gift vouchsafed to the sons and daugh-
ters of men.

As Nancy struggled against the conviction that
Laurence had gone down into the shades of the
prison-house and had shut the door in her face, in
spite of all her longing to follow him, she suddenly
raised her eyes and saw her beloved coming toward
her along the grassy lane. She had looked for him
at the cross-roads, and he was nowhere to be seen;
so she had gone on her way with that heart-sickness



LOSING THE KEYS 231

which is the invariable result of not finding the ex-
pected person at the accustomed place. But now
she met him at another point of the road, on his way
from Baxendale to Poplar Farm — not, as she was
quick to perceive, on his way from Poplar Farm to
Wayside; and the perception cut her like a knife.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE F^INDING 0^ THE KEYS.

Sometimes the finding of a thing
More sorrow than the loss doth bring.

Nancy's first impulse on meeting her lover in the
lane was to rush into his arms and tell him straight
out how her heart was overflowing with love and
pity for him, and ask him why he had not come to
her for comfort. But the sight of his face as he
drew near nipped this inclination in the bud.

There was something about Laurence Baxendale
— something intangible and indescribable, yet never-
theless to be felt by all who were brought into con-
tact with him — which impressed other people in
spite of themselves, and forbade them to take a
shadow of a liberty with him, or even to treat him
with the "hail fellow well met" of common familiar-
ity. It may have been the innate distinction born
of a long line of noble ancestry ; it may have been the
still higher dignity conferred by an honourable and
single-minded character; but, whatever it was, no-
body who came within the sphere of Laurence's
influence could be unconscious of its presence, or
could fail to perceive that, in some subtle and inde-



FINDING THE KEYS 233

finable way, this man was made of finer material
than his fellows. It did not make men love him any
the better for it — rather, perhaps, it made the ordi-
nary run of them love him somewhat the less: but
it made them one and all respect, even if they feared
him; and it caused all sordid thoughts and mean
aspirations to shrivel up in his presence, as flowers
in a frost.

Nancy had always been conscious of this charac-
teristic in her lover, and now and then it had fright-
ened her ; frightened her with the thought that some
day she should do something not in accordance with
the strict and honourable code of Laurence Baxen-
dale, and that then there would be found for her, in
his merciless judgment, no place of repentance, even
though she sought it prayerfully and with tears.
She felt that Laurence's own truthfulness and con-
sistency would only serve to make him all the harder
in his condemnation of those who were neither true
nor consistent; and that he would say, with the
Apostle, that those who offended in one matter of-
fended in all.

She had often said to herself that if ever she did
what he considered wrong, she should never have
the courage to confess the fault to him and beg for
his forgiveness. No; she should have to deceive
him as to her deficiencies as long as she could ; and
when deceit was no longer possible, she should have
to go out of his life altogether ; for the well-bred dis-
dain, which he meted out to all whom he considered



-'-■—- -^»-.^— -



234 FUEL OF FIRE

unworthy of his respect, was more, Nancy felt, than
she could bear.

She was by nature a woman of quick perceptions ;
and there is no such sharpener of natural perceptions
as love; therefore her first sight of Laurence's face
told her that he was in one of the moods when he
was most terrible to, and unattainable by, his in-
ferior fellow-creatures. She had meant to tell him
about the loss of the keys ; but the way in which he
greeted her showed her that this was not the oc-
casion for enlightening her lover as to any of her
shortcomings ; so she decided on this matter to hold
her peace until a more opportune moment presented
itself.

But although Nancy was a woman of quick, she
was not a woman of deep, penetration. She saw
that on the surface Laurence was severe in his
strictures and stern in his judgments; and there she
stopped. She did not go below the outer crust of
the man and fathom the depths of tenderness hidden
beneath the apparent coldness and hauteur of his
demeanour. At present she had nothing to draw
with, and the well was deep. In time it might be
that her own love for him would teach her fully to
comprehend his love for her ; but Love is a slow —


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