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though a competent — schoolmaster, and his plan of
education is by no means a rapid one : the cramming
system is not his. And wherefore need he hurry,
seeing that he is indeed Immortal, and that his pupils
will be through all eternity his pupils still ?



FINDING THE KEYS 235

But in the learning process men and women make
sad and many mistakes : and Nancy was making one
now in allowing Baxendale's chilly greeting of her
— a chilliness arising solely from shyness which
found it difficult for him to express deep feeling, and
the sensitiveness which feared that any such expres-
sion should be misunderstood — to blind her eyes to
the real anguish of the man's soul, and to deafen
her ears to his silent cry for her help and sympathy
in his hour of need.

So it came to pass that poor, foolish Nancy met
Laurence with a half- jesting manner, which put him
further from her than the coldest stiffness would
have done, and added greatly to the weight of that
burden which he already felt was almost greater
than he could bear.

"Oh, it's you, is it?" she remarked airily, as if his
appearance (which she had vainly looked for at the
crossways) was a complete surprise. *' Where are
you going to, my pretty sir?"

"I'm going home," replied Laurence; and the mis-
ery in his eyes almost broke through Nancy's flip-
pancy, but not quite.

"I haven't seen you for ages and ages — four hun-
dred years at least, if not five. It is so long since
you have been to Wayside that I concluded you'd
forgotten where the place was situated ; and I meant
to send you a map with the spot marked specially on
it in red ink, as if it were a station for a projected
railway." If Laurence could be indifferent, so could



236 FUEL OF FIRE



she, Nancy remarked to herself: as if indifference
and the look in Laurence's eyes were on speaking
terms with each other ! But there is no one so blind
as the woman who has made up her mind before-
hand to see something else.

"I have been very busy, for one thing; and for
another, I didn't feel much in the humour for paying
calls/' It was an inadequate speech, and Laurence
knew and regretted it; but for the life of him he
could not think of any less lame excuse.

Nancy tossed her head : "Oh ! you needn't apolo-
gise to me for not coming, if you didn't want to
come. There's nothing bores me so much as apolo-
gies. If people want to come and see you, they'll
come and see you: and if they don't want, what's
the use of telling fibs about it ? It isn't one of the
seven deadly sins, you know, not to yearn to call
upon the Burtons every other afternoon: it's merely
a matter of taste."

Laurence felt himself visibly freezing under this
treatment of Nancy's : there is no barrier which so
completely estranges man from man — and, still
more, man from woman — as flippancy, whether real
or assumed; it is a little matter which indeed sep-
arates very friends — and lovers even more effect-
ually.

Therefore he did not reply, but looked at Nancy
in dumb misery.

"I never quarrel with people for not coming to see
me, any more than I quarrel with them for not writ-



FINDING THE KEYS 237

ing to me," she went on in her most nonchalant
style; "because a quarrel is no fun when there's
some ground for it. It is when there is absolutely
no excuse for it that a quarrel is pure joy. Just as
there's no pleasure in saying nasty things that you
really mean: the pleasure is in saying nasty things
that you don't mean. I make a point of never say-
ing sharp speeches to people who deserve them, be-
cause I find, if I do, the culprits are so pained by the
accurate fit of the cap that they never rest till it is
publicly removed. Don't you think that is so ?"

"I don't know."

Nancy stamped her foot: "I wish you wouldn't
always say *I don't know' when I ask you things;
it is a habit of yours which aggravates me almost to
distraction. What do I care what you know, as
long as there is something you can find to say ? I'm
not a Cambridge local examiner, or a bishop prepar-
ing you for ordination, that you need be so careful to
treat me to nothing but accurate knowledge."

Again Laurence was silent. Was this heartless
coquette the woman he had clasped in his arms just
one week — a long eternity of one week — ago ? And
if so, which was the real Nancy ? he wondered. Was
this flippancy merely a cloak to hide her warmer and
deeper feelings; or had she been playing with him
all along? Perhaps he ought to have known her
better than to suspect her of this latter insincerity;
but when a man's heart is bleeding from the effects
of Fortune's buffets and his neighbours' sneers, he



238 FUEL OF FIRE

is not always capable of judging righteous judg-
ment.

''You are very dull this afternoon," the girl con-
tinued, in defiance of the tugs at her heart-strings
which every sound of Laurence's voice produced.
The woman who can hear the sound of pain in her
lover's voice unmoved has vet to be born; but the
women w4io can hear that sound without showing
that they are moved, are by name Legion. ''And
dulness is the one thing which my soul abhors," she
added: "it is bad enough to say 'I don't know;' but
it is ten times worse to say nothing at all ; and you've
been guilty of both enormities during the last five
minutes. Think of commiting two unpardonable
sins in less than five minutes ! I am downright
ashamed of you, Mr. Baxendale. Here is a nice
rule-of-three sum for you to work out: if a man
commits two unpardonable sins in five minutes, how
many unpardonable sins will be commit in seventy
years?"

Laurence raised his hat : his spirit was so sorely
wounded that Nancy's cruelly careless touch upon
the raw was more than he could bear just now. "I
cannot help being dull, Nancy, but I can help inflict-
ing that dulness upon other people; so I will wish
you good afternoon."

And before the girl could reply, he had passed on.

Nancy was very angry ; and she was all the more
angry with Laurence because she knew that she her-
self was to blame. So she walked on, with her chin



FINDING THE KEYS 239

in the air, repeating to herself the uncomfortable
formula that if he was too proud to ask for her sym-
pathy she was too proud to offer it. And as she so
walked, whom should she meet but Lady Alicia re-
turning from her daily constitutional.

''Oh ! my dear Miss Burton," exclaimed her lady-
ship as soon as she was within earshot, ''how glad I
am to meet you ! I have not seen you since our ter-
rible catastrophe, and it is so necessary to have some
one with whom one can talk one's troubles over;
some other woman, I mean; there's no comfort in
talking over one's sorrows with a man.'*

"No, there isn't, is there? Men either say that a
trouble is no trouble at all, or else that it is incur-
able; just as if they see no medium between being
able to walk twenty miles a day without turning a
hair and being tied down to one's own back by a
spine-specialist."

"Exactly, my dear child : what a sweet and charm-
ing way you have of putting things ! It is when I
am in trouble that I so sorely regret I never had a
daughter; because if only I had had a daughter, I
could have talked over all my troubles with her, and
shown her how I have always been a martyr to other
people's interests; and she would have sympathised
with me, and blamed those who had brought so
much sorrow and inconvenience upon me. I think
it takes half the sting out of a trouble when you can
lay the blame of it upon some one else, don't
you?"



A



240 FUEL OF FIRE

''Perhaps so ; and it certainly adds to the sting of
it when one realises that it is all one's own fault."

''Oh! I dare say it does; but as none of my
troubles were my own fault, I have been spared that
pang, and that has always been so nice for me. Lau-
rence never seemed to understand how his poor dear
father spoilt my life, and so he never blamed his
father and sympathised with me as a dear sweet
daughter would have done. Dear girl, how I should
have loved her! And I am sure she would have
been good-looking, because all my family are. No
Moate could have borne the disgrace of having a
plain daughter, because we had done nothing to de-
serve it : and it is so hard to bear troubles that you
feel you do not deserve, isn't it. Miss Burton ?''

"Horrid," agreed Nancy; "and even worse if you
feel as you do. If a nasty thing happens to you
which you don't deserve, you have an idea that some
day it will be made up to you — like Job, don't you
know ? But if you deserve it, you feel you are only
paying your ow^n bills ; and that is a most wearisome
occupation."

"Yes, dear child; and now I want to talk to you
about this sad, shocking, dreadful fire! Were you
ever so surprised in your life as when you found
dear Baxendale burned down — and so quickly,
too?"

"It was an awful thing to happen," said Nancy
sympathetically, "but I don't think one can be alto-
gether surprised when one recollects how inflam-



FINDING THE KEYS 241

mable all those old books and pictures and parch-
ments must have been, and how violent the wind
was that night."

*'Yes, yes, of course; so very violent, as you say,
and there is nothing that spreads a fire so quickly as
wind. Just see what a pair of blow-bellows will do
when you think the drawing-room fire has actually
gone out, and that you will have to ring for a servant
to re-light ; and it always annoys servants so to have
to re-light a fire in the middle of the day, though
Tm sure I don't know why it should. But, as you
say, dear child, the fire at Baxendale, though very
sad and shocking, was what we might have ex-
pected." Lady Alicia appeared to be much pleased
by this opinion of Nancy's.

"And I really cannot see why people should be in
such a state of curiosity as to how it began," contin-
ued Nancy ; "the m.erest accident — which in a newer
house on a less windy day would have had no effect
at all, and never would have been heard of or even
known about — would be quite enough, in the cir-
cumstances, to account for the whole thing."

"Of course it would, my dear Miss Burton — or
may I call you Nancy ? It is so nice and friendly to
call people you really like by their Christian names,
don't you think? — how very wise and sensible you
are ! So much common sense is quite remarkable in
such a young girl ; perhaps the fact that your father
is such a clever business man has something to do
with it. As you say, the fire at Baxendale was not



242 FUEL OF FIRE



at all to be wondered at, considering all the circum-
stances of the case ; it was, in fact, quite the natural
consequence."

''So do I think."

*'Yes, my dear, and you are quite right. And
would you not mind mentioning this view of yours
to dear Laurence — just in casual conversation, you
know, for I think so much real good is often done
by casual conversation — as it may not have struck
him quite in the same light? Common sense is not
his forte, you see, my dear, any more than it was the
forte of his dear father. But just a word from you
to him upon the subject might do him a world of
good." It is always more or less of a tragedy when
the time comes for a mother to influence her own
son through the medium of another woman's newer
and stronger power, and especially when she does so
openly. It is a public acknowledgment of the Queen
Regent that the term of office is over, and that the
Queen Regent has entered into her kingdom.

Nancy understood the situation and recognised
the pathos of it. She was clear-sighted enough
when not blinded by her own passions.

'Til say it to him if you wish. Lady Alicia," she
replied very gently; ''and if he gives me the oppor-
tunity; but it is not always easy to speak to him
about things that he doesn't want you to speak to
him about, you know."

Laurence's mother sighed : "Ah, yes, dear Miss
Burton — Nancy, I should say — how wise and far-



FINDING THE KEYS 243

seeing you are, and what quick perceptions you
have ! I always think it is so nice for a young girl
to have quick perceptions ; it keeps her from making
such a lot of social mistakes, even if she marries
above her. But in a matter like this I think one
should make a little effort, don't you know? Be-
cause it would be such a pity — such a sad, sad pity
— if dear Laurence, through any morbid sensitive-
ness as to how the fire arose, were to have any
scruples about accepting the insurance money."

The two women looked each other full in the face,
and the same fear was in the eyes of both — namely,
that the longed-for conflagration had been all in
vain.

"It would be a great mistake, too," said Nancy
slowly; ''because it would suggest to outsiders that
there was something queer about the fire after all :
which, of course, there wasn't. It was the most
natural thing in the world."

"Yes, yes — most natural, as anybody who gave
five minutes' consideration to the matter could see
for themselves. But Laurence is like his poor dear
father, and is always longing for an occasion to
sacrifice himself and all his family for the sake of
some sentimental scruple."

"It is very noble and good of him," exclaimed
Nancy loyally; "but I don't know that it is always



wise.



"I'm not so sure about its being either noble or
good. Of course, it is very beautiful and touching



244 FUEL OF FIRE

for men who are monks and hermits and anchorites
and sweet, weird things Hke that to sacrifice them-
selves for sentimental scruples, because they have
only themselves to consider, and it will be so nice
for them to have such a high place in heaven when
they get there: but I think that men with mothers
and wives and people of that kind ought not to con-
sider only themselves and their heavenly crowns —
they ought to have a little consideration for the
women belonging to them : you see, poverty is much
more inconvenient and sad for us than it is for men,
because — if the worst comes to the worst — they can
wear one dress suit for two or three years, and can
take all their meals at the Club." For all her silli-
ness, Lady Alicia knew what strings to pull when
she gave her mind to the pulling of strings.

Nancy's mouth grew very firm, not to say hard :
a woman is capable of being jealous of anything
which a man puts before his love for her, even if it
be an abstract principle. "I don't think, either, that
a man is justified in purchasing a heavenly crown,
and then sending the bill in to the women who have
given up their lives to him," she said; *'and yet that
is what the masculine saints of the earth are very
fond of doing. Doubtless they reap their reward :
but it comes expensive on the women !"

"Indeed it does, mv dear child. Not that I don't
agree with Laurence that it is all very nice and sweet
to be good and upright if one can, without inter-



FINDING THE KEYS 245

faring with other people too much : but, Hke every-
thing else, it can be carried too far."

''It is admirable for people to be good at their own
expense," agreed Nancy: "but it is sometimes a
little trying when they are good at yours. And
especially when, although you have shared the cost
with them, they never have the slightest intention of
letting you share the crown."

Lady Alicia sighed again : ''And it does seem to
me such a pity — quite wrong, in fact — not to get all
the good one can out of one's misfortunes. I re-
member dear Shakespeare once said something
about adversity being like a frog, because there is
always some good to be got out of everything if
only one will look for it; and I do agree with him.
If this sad affair of the fire can be turned into a
blessing by everybody being made so much more
happy and comfortable because of the insurance
money, I do think It would be really wncked of Lau-
rence not to avail himself of the silver lining which
is hidden in the frog's head; don't you?"

"Not wicked, Lady Alicia; certainly not wicked:
Mr. Baxendale couldn't do anything that was
wicked, I am sure. But I think it would be very
foolish and very misguided."

"So do I, dear child : and, after all, we are sent
into this world to turn our sorrows to good account,
aren't we ? — so that it is flying in the face of Provi-
dence not to let everything work for our good, as
far as we can. I mustn't keep you any longer now ;



246 FUEL OF FIRE

but I know you will say something nice and con-
vincing to Laurence on the subject, just in casual
conversation, won't vou?"

And with that her ladyship pressed Nancy Bur-
ton's hand and went on her way to Poplar Farm;
whilst Nancy walked on toward the Hall, her mind
aflame with the desire to punish Laurence for treat-
ing what she considered a ridiculous scruple as of
more importance than her future happiness. Yet
only yesterday she had been possessed by an equally
intense longing to fall at his f-eet and tell him that
she worshipped him for setting his conception of
honour and duty before every other earthly consid-
eration !

All the way across the Park she looked in vain
for her bunch of keys ; and, as she had failed to find
them there, she peered about the ruins with a wild
hope that she might come across them among the
debris. As she was continuing her search, a voice
suddenly said:

'Tardon me. Miss Burton, but are you looking
for anything? In the fall of this house, which was
great, is there any treasure of yours lying buried?"
And, looking up, Nancy found herself face to face
with Rufus Webb.

*'0h, it is you, Mr. Webb ? Good afternoon ; yes,
I am looking for something, namely, a bunch of keys
which I lost some days ago."

Rufus put his hand in his pocket and drew out the
missing bunch: "Are these they?"



FINDING THE KEYS 247

**Yes, these are mine," cried Nancy, seizing them
with a little shriek of thankfulness. "Where did
you find them?"

"I picked them up just outside the front door here
the afternoon the day of the fire : exactly eight hours
before the judgment of God fell upon Baxendale
Hall."



CHAPTER XV.



IN THE LANES.



"I could not love thee, dear, so very much
Loved I not honour more:"
An admirable percept this; but such
Make hearts of women sore.

Even as Lady Alicia and Miss Burton had fore-
told, so it turned out. Their worst fears were
realised : Baxendale took no steps whatever to ob-
tain the insurance money to which he was legally
entitled. It was no hasty decision on his part. He
had many a mental struggle before he came to the
conclusion that he could not take the money. The
temptation was indeed great. Could he only over-
come his scruples — his absurd scruples, as the world
would call them — how easy would life be for him !
He would be enabled to place his mother In a posi-
tion suited to her birth, and thus free himself from
the constant irritation of her complaints against men
in general and her late husband and her living son In
particular. He would be able to repair the damage
wrought by the fire to the Hall, and to live once
again In his ancestral home. Best of all, he would
have a sufificient, if a moderate, income, and could
offer a home to the woman he loved — ah ! how he



IN THE LANES 249

loved her! — he never knew how much until he had
convinced himself that honour bade him give her up.
Yet, for all this, he felt that he could not take the
money. He was a man who might possibly, in a
fit of impulse, commit a great crime, but who would
shrink from availing himself of any advantage,
pecuniary or otherwise, which might result to him-
self. And that he had committed a great crime, the
world in which he dwelt, as expressed by the major-
ity of its voices, had no manner of doubt. With the
verdict of society Laurence was fully acquainted.
Naturally no one directly made such an accusation in
his presence. The law of libel is specially con-
structed to meet such cases. Few men care to face
an action for defamation of character: even if the
unfortunate defendant wins his case — which is a
rare occurrence — he is saddled with a lawyer's bill,
which no so-called costs, even if wrung from the un-
successful plaintiff, will satisfy. Wherefore Mr.
Baxendale had no direct accusation to face. But he
knew well enough the meaning of the shaking of
heads, the suggestive glances, the innuendoes, the
'Sve could, and if we would," which prevailed wher-
ever men and women congregated. He had often
professed the profoundest contempt for public opin-
ion : he had looked down with scornful eyes on those
men and women who play pitch-and-toss with the
Ninth Commandment; yet now the iron entered
into his soul, and all his philosophy was insufficient
to enable him to be careless of public opinion. It



250 FUEL OF FIRE

was sufficient, indeed, for outward show : he held up
his head bravely enough, and even careful observers
were unable to discover the pain he was too proud
not to conceal. He knew in his heart of hearts that
his best friends were right when they counselled him
that the surest way of crushing malicious gossip was
to take the money, and face the world with an un-
ruffled brow. This indeed he would have done, but
for a terrible doubt which he could not stifle.

It must not be supposed that Lady Alicia permit-
ted her son to have his way in this matter without a
struggle. Many a time and oft she combatted his
pride, and strove manfully to overcome his scruples.
It was all in vain ; Laurence listened with exemplary
patience to the maternal homilies, yet steadfastly
declined to discuss the matter with her. He was
very sorry — he would willingly do anything he could
to give her the luxuries for which she pined — but
duty was duty, and he could not oblige her in this
matter.

But Lady Alicia's persistence was an additional
trouble to Baxendale : her arguments that it was
foretold that the Hall should a third time be de-
stroyed, and that the person who set fire to it was one
deserving of all credit as the instrument of an over-
ruling Providence, hurt him more than he would
admit.

As far as the world was concerned, he might just
as well have taken the money. Those who had
overtly or covertly insinuated that he had set fire to



IN THE LANES 251



the library for the sake of the insurance money now
said that the insurance office decHned to pay the
money in so suspicious a case; and that Baxendale
dare not prosecute his claim by legal proceedings,
for fear of having to submit to cross-examination in
the witness-box.

As a matter of fact, the insurance companies, as
was only natural, had sent down one of their officials
to inquire into the particulars of the fire, and had
privately informed Baxendale that, strange and
mysterious as were the circumstances, nothing had
been discovered which would justify them in refus-
ing to pay the money. This fact was pretty well
known among his friends ; but the pride which pre-
vented him from claiming the money, likewise for-
bade his publishing this intimation upon the house-
tops. If he had done so, it would hardly have made
a difference. There are some people so constituted
that, when engaged in the fascinating occupation of
gossiping away another's character, they are not so ^
much unwilling as unable to pay heed to the clearest ^"^ -t c^
evidence. \

Those who acquitted Baxendale were much ex-
ercised as to how the fire arose. As there is no
smoke without fire, so it is unusual for there to be
fire without hands to kindle the flame. Whose
were the hands? To this very natural question
there seemed to be no reasonable answer: and if
Baxendale waited until a reasonable answer was
forthcoming before claiming the money, it seemed



252 FUEL OF FIRE

as if a considerable interval of patience was before
him. This idea seemed to strike the unfortunate
man himself; and after much self-communing he
decided that it was only fair to let Nancy know the
state of affairs. He could not marry her so long
as there was a cloud of suspicion hanging over him,
even if she were willing to share his modest income
— with a mother-in-law thrown in! And as a dis-
persal of the said clouds was exceedingly problemat-
ical, there seemed no course but a termination of
their hopes.

Having come to the conclusion, it only remained
to carry it into effect. This was a hard task — far
harder than the resigning of a handsome fortune.
He was no coxcomb, but he was well aware that he
had won Nancy's love — that her heart was com-
pletely his. How could he deliberately wound that
dear heart? How could he steel himself to deal
that fatal blow, when all the time his own heart was
overflowing with love and tenderness ? He thought


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