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he had sufficient stoicism to bear any pain himself:
but it was another thing to inflict with his own hand
misery and suffering upon the woman whom, de-
spite that torturing doubt which he could not stifle,
he still loved so dearly. Still, horrible as was the
situation, it had to be faced : cruel as was the deed,
it had to be done. Postponement, he felt, would
make the task no lighter. So he set out to call at
Wayside and bring matters to a climax.


As he walked along the lanes — those lanes filled
with memories once so dear but now so bitter — he
tried to find comfort in the thought that Nancy
might possibly have fallen in with the current belief,
and might regard him as guilty. That would make
things easier ; for she would be ready, nay, anxious,
for an end to be put to their relation. He told him-
self that Nancy was always ready to fall in with the
latest opinion : yet all the time he knew that he was
doing her an injustice, and that no amount of gos-
sip would ever shake her belief in him. Again the
hideous doubt arose in his own mind. "If that is
so," he muttered to himself, "she will know the
truth about me." And then he bitterly rebuked
himself as unworthy for admitting a doubt which
he knew Nancy was incapable of entertaining in his

Then he wondered whether she would be at home
— whether he would find her alone. He half hoped
that he should discover the whole family assembled,
in order to have a reasonable excuse for a postpone-
ment. Do not we all know what a relief it is when
circumstances render impossible the thing which we
would not and yet know we ought to do? Yet he
had a feverish desire to get this thing done at any
cost as soon as possible. This doubt was set at rest
by his meeting Nancy herself a short distance from
the gate leading into the fields at the back of Way-


Nancy's heart began to beat loudly when she saw
her lover coming toward her; but she managed to
assume a fine affectation of indifference.

*'Is that really Mr. Baxendale?" she asked, with
apparent surprise. ''What can you be doing walk-
ing in the lanes on an afternoon ? Are you sure that
you are not a wraith, like Jamie in Auld Robin Grey,
and that I oughtn't to be dreadfully frightened of
you, and wear my hair d la the bristling porcupine in
consequence? Everyone says you have determined
to become a saintly hermit on account of your lordly
disdain for the unworthy persons who inhabit these
regions. I must say there seems some foundation
for these rumours, for we haven't seen you at Way-
side for a month of Sundays."

Nancy rattled on in this fashion in order to con-
ceal her own agitation. At the sight of Baxendale
she had jumped to the conclusion that her belief in
her power over him was now about to be justified.
He had tried to keep away from her and failed : now
he was coming to tell her so, and to make it up.
Wherefore it became absolutely necessary to post-
pone the making up as long as possible; and nothing
was more calculated to effect this desirable result
than an affectation of flippancy.

But Laurence, though as a rule he had not shown
himself backward in playing the game, on this oc-
casion proved to be unaccountably remiss. The old
Laurence, with his stiffness and shyness, seemed as
by magic restored.


"I am afraid you are right," he said ; "I must have
seemed sadly neghgent of social duties."

"Don't be silly, Laurence," cried Nancy; "fancy
talking of 'social duties' ! What I want to know is,
why haven't you been to see me? Do you call me
a 'social duty' ?"

"I haven't been to see you because it would have
been painful to us both," said Baxendale, thinking
that he had never seen Nancy look so pretty as she
did now. "However, I was intending to call this
afternoon. Indeed, I am now on my way."

"Mother will be very pleased to see you," replied
Nancy, thinking that Laurence had never looked so
stiff and unapproachable. "We had better go in at
once. You will have some difficulty in making
your peace, I can tell you."

"No; don't let us go in. I will call on Mrs. Bur-
ton another day. It is you I want to see."

"Thank you for the compliment," said Nancy,
with a little curtsey. "After your behaviour lately
you don't deserve it; still, I don't mind going for a
walk with you, if you like. In what direction will
you turn, 'gentle hermit of the dale' ?"

"Let us go to Baxendale. I wish to speak to you
about the fire."

Nancy assented silently, and they set off in the
direction of the Hall. For some minutes neither of
them spoke. Baxendale was too full of what he had
to say : moreover, he dreaded beginning. Nancy,
for her part, was not particularly pleased with Lau-


rence for his silence and his stiffness. He did not
seem, she thought, in a particular hurry to begin the
process of making it up. However, it was not her
nature to keep silence for long; wherefore she soon
began to speak.

''So people are right when they say you propose
becoming a hermit, are they?" she asked. ''I am
sorry, because I don't like hermits: they are gener-
ally so dirty and disagreeable."

Laurence answered her question with another:
"Do you believe everything that people say of me,

"It is only right for a properly brought-up young
woman to believe what people say, isn't it?" she
asked, with a swift glance from her blue eyes. She
was rather frightened -at the sight of Baxendale's

"I am not jesting," said Baxendale. "You must
have heard the common talk, that I set fire to my
own house in order to secure the insurance


"Yes, of course I have heard all that," remarked
Nancy cheerfully.

Laurence's heart sank at the tone of her voice.
He thought that she believed him guilty, and that
she was glad so to think. He had only been hoping
that she would think him guilt}' — but it was to be ac-
companied with a proper repulsion from one who
could commit such a crime. Yet she seemed rather
to be rejoicing at iniquity.


"So you believe this report?" he said at last, with
a touch of resentment in his voice.

''Believe it ? You silly boy ! You don't suppose
that I could ever think that you would do such a
thing, do you? Why, you are far too proper a
person to do anything so sensible ! You would have
scruples and conscientious objections and searchings
of heart at the bare idea ! Oh ! no, Mr. Baxendale,
I know you far too well for that!" And Nancy
shook her head with the most profound conviction.

'Then you don't think I did it?" persisted Bax-
endale, with an eagerness he could not conceal.

"I know you did not do it," replied Nancy, em-

"You know I did not do it?"

Nancy nodded with renewed emphasis.

"But how can you be so certain — unless, indeed,
you know the real culprit? But that is impossible."
Baxendale could not help the last sentence becoming
a question instead of a statement.

"If you are so silly as not to be able to guess how
I know, I am not going to tell you," replied Nancy.

For the second time that afternoon Laurence's
heart sank. It was true, then, his horrible suspi-
cion! No, he would not go so far as that: yet it
looked as if it might be true.

"It does not matter a straw to me," went on
Nancy, "what stupid people say. But isn't it lovely
that the old curse is fulfilled at last ? Now you will
have a good income, and all your money troubles will


be over and — " Miss Burton stopped, as it seemed
to her only reasonable that her lover should finish
the sentence. But this expectation, like many other
reasonable expectations, was not fulfilled.

"That is just what I want to speak to you about,"
began Laurence, and then he paused.

Nancy looked at him, but made no effort to help
him on. To tell the truth, she was by no means
satisfied by what she saw in his face. Love there
was, and passion, too: but the passion was kept in
restraint, nor was the love of the kind which casteth
out fear. Something of this she saw; but she did
not know what it cost him to refrain from clasping
her in his arms and defying the world. Yet he did
it ; more than that, he spoke calmly, almost coldly.

*'You know that I love you, don't you, Nancy?"

*T thought so once," replied the girl, piqued by
his tone; ''but you are behaving so queerly that I
shall soon begin to have my doubts."

*'What do you mean?"

"It is very evident what I mean. A month ago
you not only professed to love me, but you seemed
eager to see me as often as you possibly could, and
appeared glad when you did see me. Ever since the
fire you have avoided me as if I, instead of the Hall,
had had scarlet fever; and now we have met, you
behave as if I were a mad dog or a poor relation, so
persistently do you keep me at a distance. A month
ago you told me that in all your joys and in all your
troubles you would come to me for sympathy.


Since the fire, every joy and every trouble has driven
you at least five miles in an opposite direction."

Nancy was fast coming to the conclusion that her
original idea as to Baxendale's intention was er-
roneous; as a natural consequence her temper was
sorely tried.

''Why don't you answer?" she cried, with a stamp
of her foot. "Have you lost your tongue, as they
say to children?"

"I hesitate to speak," said Laurence gently, ''be-
cause I know that what I have to say will pain me,
and I fear it will also pain you."

"In that case the sooner you speak the better.
When one visits the dentist's one doesn't care for
much time to be spent in the dreary waiting-room
furnished with passee magazines."

"Nancy, I hate to say it: yet I must — no other
course is possible. I love you, my darling, I love
you, and yet we must never see each other again."

"Never see each other again? How can you be
so ridiculous, Laurence? This is really absurd!
You say you love me, and I have told you that I love
you. What is to prevent our seeing each other and
being happy ever afterward, as they are in fairy
tales ?"

They were now in Baxendale Park, slowly walk-
ing toward the ruins. Laurence pointed to the Hall
as he said : "The reason is there. The old curse has
come true and the blow falls upon me. I cannot in
honour marry you."


"It seems to me that it is quite the other way.
You have won my love, and I should say you were
bound in honour to marry me. As for the curse, it
is really "a blessing. You might have had scruples
about marrying me before : but the fire has provided
you with an adequate income."

"No, it has not," muttered Laurence gloomily.

"You seem to have exalted ideas as to adequacy.
Anyway, the interest on a hundred thousand pounds
is good enough for me; so don't be silly, there's a
dear, and compel me to say that the fire at Baxen-
dale has cooked my goose for me. You are a goose,
you know — and mine — but I'll take you uncooked,
if you don't mind."

"Nancy, cannot you understand that I am unable
to claim the insurance monev?"

"Most certainly I cannot. I never heard any-
thing more ridiculous! What are insurance com-
panies for except to make it worth people's while to
die or marry or be burned to death ? They made no
difificulty about taking your money as long as there
was no fire ; and now that there has been a fire, it is
your turn to take their money. I don't see why, as
the Irishman said, the reciprocity should be all on
one side."

"But people say it was no accident."

"What does it matter what people say, as long as
they don't speak the truth? x\nd that they hardly
ever do, if thev are women — which the majority of


people are in England, according to the last census,
worse luck!"

''But how can I take this money when it is said
that I set my own house on fire in order to get it?"

''But you didn't," replied Nancy ; "and, as a mat-
ter of fact, your declining to take the money will be
regarded as a proof that you did: just as conscien-
tious scruples against supporting any nonconform-
ing charity proves that people were brought up as
thorough-paced Dissenters; and asking innocent
questions about the habits of the middle class proves
that the anxious enquirers were born and bred in
Tottenham Court Road. Nobody apparently knows
so little about a thing as those who really know too

"I can't do it, Nancy, I can't do it," cried Lau-
rence. "Don't ask me to do it. It's hard enough
as it is to do what I know to be right."

"I suppose you think it very fine to sacrifice your
own interests for the good of the company. That is
all very well. But you have no right to sacrifice me
on the altar of your absurd scruples. I never set
myself up as being an Iphigenia or a Japhtha's
daughter up to date."

Baxendale made no reply. They were now stand-
ing close by the Hall, looking at the ravages made
by the fire. For a few minutes neither of them
spoke: then Baxendale felt a soft hand steal gently
into his own.

"Laurence, darling," whispered Nancy, "you


don't mean what you say. Tell me, it is all a mis-
take. Just think of what it means to me. Oh ! my
love, why can't we be happy together, now that the
obstacle to your poverty has been removed? Not
that it was ever an obstacle to me: poverty always
seems to me a nice, cheerful, picnicky sort of thing
with a man one really likes. But you made a silly
fuss about it while it was here, and you seem to
make a still sillier fuss about it now that is has dis-

"Don't tempt me, sweetheart, don't tempt me."

"Surely you were in earnest when you told me
you loved me better than anything on earth ?"

"You know I meant it, Nancy. Oh ! my darling,
don't make it harder for me than it is. I love you
better than life itself. But it is a question of hon-
our. I cannot let you marry me so long as suspicion
rests upon me. Nor can I take the money."

Nancy turned to her lover, with a look he had
never before seen in her blue eyes — love and pride,
offended dignity and spurned affection mingled
there with a misery that cut him like a knife.

"Then you prefer your scruples to me? Having
won my heart, you weigh it in the balance with your
conscience, and find that the latter is by far the
heavier and more valuable commodity of the two.
Then you scribble Mene tckcl all over my heart, and
pitch it out of the window as being light weight.
But you hug your own conscience in an ecstasy of
appreciation, murmuring to yourself, 'What a good

"good-bye, MR. BAXENDALE."


boy am IT As for what becomes of my rejected
heart — whether some other man picks it up, or
whether it is trampled to death in the dust — is a
matter of no more moment to you than it is to the
man in the moon. You have your own dear, large,
honourable, superfine, extra-weight conscience in its
place: and that is enough for you."

Laurence could only say : *'You do not understand
me now — some day you will."

"Then all is over between us?"

Laurence literally could not speak : he could only
bow in silent misery.

Nancy drew herself up, and with a scornful
"Good-bye, Mr. Baxendale," turned away.

Baxendale for a few seconds stood rooted to the
spot. Then all his love rushed over him with over-
whelming force, and he felt he could not let her go.

"Nancy !" he cried, as he started to follow her.

But she shook her head, and walked proudly on.


MRS. candy's opinion.

Some actions, which could never have been meant,
Are brought about by purest accident.

Thus it came to pass that Nancy Burton had to
break off the thread of her life and begin all over
again mhins the principal element; a task the stu-
pendous difficulty of which is not understood save
by those who have tried it in person.

Laurence Baxendale had so completely permeated
all her thoughts, words and works that it seemed
well-nigh impossible to eliminate him from every
hour of the day, and from every event of life, in-
cluding the most trivial and the most sublime. The
beauties of art and literature and nature owed half
their raison d'etre, in Nancy's philosophy, to the fact
that she loved Laurence : the passing irritations of
the trivial round and the common task lost half their
sting in the consciousness that Laurence loved her.
And now she had to face a world where there was
no longer, as far as she was concerned, a Laurence
to add glamour and intensity to her soul's most ex-
alted moments, to relieve the weariness of its most
uninteresting duties. The prospect of the dreary


path which lay before her was almost more than she
could face with equanimity : yet it had to be borne,
and borne with a brave front, as Nancy was the type
of woman to whom pity was an insult. Her only
comfort in the matter was that her engagement with
Laurence had never been made public — ^had not been
so much an actual engagement as an arrangement
between their two selves that they would become
engaged at some future time if fortune favored
them : so that she had to suffer none of the unpleas-
antness attendant upon an openly broken-off engage-
ment. This she felt she really could not have en-
dured. Of course, all the world knew that Mr.
Baxendale and Miss Burton had ''walked out to-
gether" and ''kept company," so to speak : but a lax-
ity is allowed to mere company-keepers and walkers
together which is not permitted to those whose be-
trothal has been advertised by letters of congratula-
tion and a diamond ring. The former bond can be
broken at the will of the parties concerned, for no
better reason than that they are tired of it and want
a change: at least, their world would be satisfied
with this. But an actual jilting must be justified by
a difference over the settlements, or the discovery
of some disgraceful family secret, or else all the
gossips of the neighbourhood will know the reason

Mrs. Burton was very good to her daughter just
then. She showed her no open sympathy : she knew
Nancy too well for that; but in a thousand little


ways, too trivial to be described, she comforted
Nancy as only a mother can comfort.

Nora, too, was kind to her sister: but her own
love-affair with Mr. Arbuthnot was just then pro-
ceeding along such smooth and pleasant lines that
Nancy's sore heart was inclined to be restive under
Nora's tenderest touch. And then Nora agreed
with Nancy in blaming Laurence.

The only people who can really help us when we
are in great trouble are those who have suffered
more than we are suffering, and those who love us
better than we love ourselves; and although Faith
Fairfax could not lay claim to the latter qualifica-
tion, as far as Nancy was concerned, she could to
the former; and so Nancy found a certain consola-
tion in Faith's society just then. She knew that
Faith had loved Laurence and had loved him in
vain; therefore she recognised that Faith's burden
was a heavier one than hers; for, however desolate
the rest of her existence was doomed to be, she had
once lain in Laurence's arms and had felt his kisses
on her face, and nothing could ever rob her of the
bitter-sweetness of that memory.

The woman who has never been in love has no
power to help the woman whose love is a sorrow to
her; the woman who has found nothing but happi-
ness in love, has even less; for they both of them
live in a different atmosphere and move along a dif-
ferent plane from their less fortunate sister. The
form.er talks a language foreign to her; the latter,


though acquainted with the same language, is read
in a widely diverse lore ; therefore she and they have
but little in common. But Faith knew what it was
to be in love — knew^ even what it was to be in love
with Laurence Baxendale: and therefore Nancy
called at Ways Hall far oftener than was absolutely
necessary for the mere maintaining of neighbourly
relations. Finally — most important of all — Faith
did not agree with Nancy in the latter's condemna-
tion of Laurence's refusal to accept the insurance

While we are as yet young and inexperienced
(which comes to the same thing), when a woman
confides in us her grievance against the man of her
choice, our natural inclination — should we desire to
please the woman — is to take her part against him
and to tell her so. But as we grow older and learn
better to know our world, we do nothing of the kind :
we understand that to tell her that she is right and
that he is wrong, and that we unanimously second all
her votes of censure upon him, is to make her our
enemy for life; while to put it plainly before her
what a fool she is compared with him, and how ut-
terly he is in the right and she is in the wrong with
regard to the matter in dispute, is to earn her undy-
ing friendship. It may be taken as an axiom that
a woman is never more bitter toward any one than
towards those well-meaning but misguided persons
who take her part against her lover. Therefore, the
more Nancy worked herself up into a state of right-


eous indignation with Laurence for throwing away
his- happiness and her own for the sake of a (to her)
absurd scruple, the more did she love Faith for de-
fending the course he had elected to pursue, and the
more (which really was unjust and unjustifiable)
did she blame Lady Alicia and Nora for taking ex-
actly the same view of the matter as she took her-

"I can approve of people who sacrifice their lives
for a principle," she said to Faith, when the two
girls were discussing — as all Mershire was discuss-
ing — Laurence's action with reference to the insur-
ance money, ''but I really haven't patience with
those who sacrifice everything for a mere scruple,
such as Laurence Baxendale; have you?"

"Somehow he is different from other people; one
cannot judge him by the same standards; and he
seems to elevate a scruple into principle."

"But don't you think it is stupid of him to choose
to go on being poor, when he might now be rich?"
persisted Nancy.

"No, I can't say that I do. I think it is simply
splendid of him to sacrifice everything, in the way he
is doing, to what he considers right."

"But the world in general doesn't consider that it
is right : it condemns him as absurdly Quixotic. Of
course, I should admire his action as much as you do
if it were actual wrong-doing that he was so firmly
set against, and if he deliberately chose poverty
rather than dishonour. But it isn't. He is sacri-


ficing himself and his mother for the sake of a senti-
mental scruple, which everybody except himself
thinks is ridiculous as well as sentimental.

''That, I think, is where he is behaving so nobly.
If all the world agreed with him that the only alter-
native to poverty was something wrong or dishon-
ourable, he would have no choice in the matter : any
man would prefer poverty to what other men con-
demned as dishonourable and despised accordingly :
but to be poor rather than do what he himself consid-
ers dishonourable, although nobody else agrees with
him that it is so, seems to me a splendid sort of thing,
and just what any one who knows Laurence would
expect of him." Faith certainly took a higher and
more ideal view of the matter than did Nancy: but
then Faith's life had not been included in Laurence's
holocaust, and Nancy's had — which makes all the
difference in an abstract discussion on sacrifice as a
fine art.

''Let us look in and see Mrs. Candy," suggested
Nancy, as the two girls had by that time reached the
cottage where that worthy matron w^as, for the pres-
ent, pitching her moving tent. She and her hus-
band had incontinently fled from their holiday as
soon as the news reached them of the catastrophe at
Baxendale; and Laurence had felt himself bound to
provide them with a cottage at once, and remove
thereto all their Lares and Penates, which — fortu-
nately having been upon the ground floor — were
practically none the worse for the fire. A vacant


keeper's lodge at one of the Park gates exactly suited
them ; and there good Mrs. Candy took up her abode,
and discussed with every passer-by the accident
which had driven her and her husband out of their
former home.

"Yes, dear," agreed Faith ; "she is always delight-
ful company." So the girls entered the little garden-
gate, and found Mrs. Candy shelling peas in the

"Well, it dew seem good of yew young ladies to
come and see me," remarked the good woman when
the customary greetings had been exchanged and

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Online LibraryEllen Thorneycroft FowlerFuel of fire → online text (page 15 of 22)