Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler.

Fuel of fire online

. (page 16 of 22)
Online LibraryEllen Thorneycroft FowlerFuel of fire → online text (page 16 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


her guests had found themselves fairly comfortable
resting-places upon two upturned flower-pots; "for
what with the fire and our holiday and the trains and
all we've been threw i' the last fortnit, I've got such
a lot to say that I don't know how to keep it in, I
don't; and yet there's nobody to say it tu when
Candy goes to his work; and it's sorry work it is to
keep your words back when you are fairly burstin'
with 'em."

"I know that feeling, Mrs. Candy," said Nancy.
But Faith kept silence, because she did not know it.

"It du seem an upset to come back after such a
pleasant holiday-time as me and Candy has just had,
and to find no home to come tu," continued Mrs.
Candy; "I haven't felt so upset as I did when Mr.
Baxendale wrote with his own hand to tell us that
the Hall was burned down, no, not since all the red
currants fermented in the preserving-pot three sum-




AND THEN ON THE TOP O THEM EGG SANGWICHES COMES



THE DOWNFALL o' BAXENDALE."



MRS. CANDY'S OPINION 271

mers ago, and had to be given to the pigs instead o'
makin' jelly for the gentry roundabouts. I was put
out that time, and no mistake. 'Candy,' I says, 'I've
treated the red currants this year the same as I've
always treated them, and yet they niver before
turned again me in this way: then what's the reason
of it, I wants to know?' I says. *Misses,' says he,
'there's some reason, yew may be sure o' that, or
such a thing niver would have come to pass.' Oh !
he's a wise man, is Candy — there ain't much i' the
warld as puzzles him."

"I knew you'd be immensely surprised to hear of
such a catastrophe," exclaimed Nancy; "as we all
were," she added as an afterthought.

"I was, indeed, miss. When the letter came, we
was havin' tea wi' my sister, who is housekeeper up
at Cromer Hall; and — wud yew believe it? — there
was sangwiches for tea made out o' hard-boiled
eggs. 'Well,' says I, when I seed 'em, 'I thought
as I'd been everywhere and seed everything,' I says,
'but sangwiches made out o' eggs is news to me.'
And afore I'd done bein' astonished at the sang-
wiches, the letter came bringin' word as Baxendale
Hall was burned down. Yew see, the postman knew
we was havin' tea wi' my sister, and knowin' as a
letter generally meant bad news, he thought it best
to bring it on to us at onst. And then on the top of
them egg-sangwiches comes the downfall o' Baxen-
dale; and I feels how trew it is as wunners never



cease."



272 FUEL OF FIRE

"1 am sure you grieve, as we all do, that such a
blow should fall on your master," said Faith.

Mrs. Candy placed a hand on either knee, and
looked Miss Fairfax full in the face. "Waal, miss, I
wean' t deceive yew ; it wadn't be right and I wean't
du it. When we'd read Mr. Baxendale's letter,
Candy says to me, he says, 'Lizzie, this'll be a blow
for the master, and no mistake.' But I shakes my
head : 'Candy,' I says, 'there's good to be got out of
everythin', as we can all learn from nettle-tea; and
it's my opinion,' says I, 'that Providence has taken
this opportewnity o' gettin' the better o' old Mr.
Baxendale's will.' That's what I says."

Nancy looked up quickly: "And you were quite
right, Mrs. Candy."

"So Candy said : 'Lizzie,' says he, ' I doubt but
there's somethin' in what yew say.' 'I'll be bound
there is,' says I ; 'du yew suppose as folks are goin'
to be allowed to make them foolish wills, like the
present master's grandfather did, and that Provi-
dence ain't a-goin' to be even wi' them ? Not they !
And that is just what I should have expected o'
Providence, seein' that the master's grandfather was
such a fule (beggin' his pardon) that he bound the
present Mr. Baxendale to pay goodness knows what
every year to keep a lot o' rubbish from bein' burned,
as any sensible man cud see wasn't worth the burn-
in'.' That's what I said and what I thought. And
to my mind Providence has behaved very sensible
in the matter, seein' that there'd be no peace and no



MRS. CANDY'S OPINION 273

plenty for nobody as long as them rubbishy old
books was above ground."

''You never did approve of the Baxendale library,
I remember," said Faith, with a smile.

"No more I did, miss, and why should I, seein'
that it cost such a lot to them as cud ill afford it, and
brought no good to nobody ? Yew see, miss, Candy
don't hold wi' books, doesn't Candy ; and it seems to
me as if Providence was of Candy's opinion, seein'
as how all that old rubbishy heap was burned up in
a night, as yew may say. If Providence had had
any patience wi' old Mr. Baxendale's nonsense, that
there library had niver ha' been burned: yew may
take my word for that," said Mrs. Candy, giving
good reason for the hope that was in her.

Nancy nodded: "Yes, yes, Mrs. Candy; there's
something in that. After all, if things ought not
to happen they would not be allowed to happen."
Her logic was consolatory if unsound.

"Yes, miss, that's what me and Candy thinks : and
we can't hold wi' Mr. Laurence goin' agen Provi-
dence, as yew may say, in not takin' all that money
as is his right and his dew, and which was Provi-
dence's making up to him for all that rubbish in his
grandfather's will."

Faith drew herself up very haughtily: "Surely
Mr. Baxendale has a right to take what he considers
the honourable course without consulting the whole
neighbourhood."

"Not he, miss: we can none of us du without



274 FUEL OF FIRE

takin' the advice of our neighbours, and it's a wun-
nerful help sometimes hearin' what they say of us,
though we mayn't enjoy it at the time. Now he's
got a regular bee in his bonnet, Mr. Baxendale has :
and the suner folks can teach him to take it out the
better for him. He should just hear what Candy
says of his behaviour; that wud open his eyes, that
wud."

Nancy laughed ruefully: *'I am afraid I agree
with Candv."

**Yew see, miss, there's nothin' so troublesome as
when folks get werritting about what's right and
what's wrong. 'Let 'em do what's right,' Candy
says, *and think no more about it;' and he's a wun-
nerful knowledgeable man, is Candy. But always
thinkin' about one's dewty, and dwellin' upon it, is
more than anybody can stand : and that's the bad
habit as Mr. Baxendale has got into, as his poor
father did afore him."

''Yes; it is a pity, of course, to grow morbid upon
the subject of one's duty," said Faith.

"So it be, miss, so it be; and when once yew get
doubtin* about things, there's no more rest for no-
body — neither for yewrself nor for them that lives
wi' yew. I remember Miss Tryphosa Phillipson, as
I lived with afore I was married. She was an old
maid, and one o' the werritting sort. And when I
lived wi' her she'd wake me up in the night and say,
*Lizzie, I doubt if the front door's locked : will yew
just run down to make sure?' So off I had to go i'



MRS. CANDY^S OPINION 275

the cold. Then no suner was I safe back in bed and
dosin' off, than she'd begin agen: 'Lizzie, I don't
remember if we douted the candles in the drawing-
room : will yew just run dow^n and make sure?'
And off I had to go agen. And that's how folk get
who are full of conscience and scruples and things o'
that sort : a trouble to theirselves, and worse than a
trouble to them as lives wi' them."

"Still a sense of duty is a fine thing, and so is a
tender conscience. I had rather have a conscience
that was too tender than one that was too tough."

"Maybe, Miss Fairfax, maybe; but Candy don't
hold wi' folks as make a god o' their conscience.
Candy don't. I remember onst Mr. Arbuthnot
preached a sermon about a saint — I forgit his right
name, but I know he were a saint — who spent all his
life o' the top of a pillar, just for the sake o' his con-
science; and Candy was that set agen him as niver
was. He said, Candy did, that if folks was meant
to live at the top o' pillars and posts they'd have been
made to grow up 'em, like hops and kidney-beans;
and he didn't hold with such Jack-and-the-Beanstalk
ways, didn't Candy."

"Simon Stylites was the name of the saint," said
Faith, with a smile.

"And Mr. Baxendale w^as made on the same last,"
added Nancv.

"So he was, Miss Burton, so he was; yew niver
spoke a trewer word. But I make bold to say that
there saint didn't stick his lady-mother on the top o'



276 FUEL OF FIRE

the pillar alongside of him, because there wudn't ha'
been room for her; and yet that's what Mr. Baxen-
dale does with her leddyship, beggin' his par-
don."

Again the proud look crept over Faith's aristo-
cratic face : but Nancy said bitterly : *'Yes, it's dull
for women at the tops of pillars, Mrs. Candy."

"So it be, miss, so it be; and most perticlar for a
leddy brought up as Leddy Alicia was. I remember
her when she was livin' at the Hall, I du, in old Mr.
Baxendale's time — Mr. Laurence's father, that is to
say — and he worshipped the very ground she trod
on, and thought nothin' too good for her, which it
wasn't, considerin' what a pretty face she had in
those days, and a figure like a willow wand."

*'She must have been very handsome," Nancy ex-
claimed.

**'She was, miss — a perfect picter; and a sight
handsomer than all the old picters at the Hall, which
Mr. Baxendale's grandfather set such store by.
She was one o' the sort as seem made to be waited
on, bless her !"

''She hasn't had much waiting on in late years,
poor lady," said Faith, with a sigh.

"No more she has, miss ; and it don't seem becom-
in', somehow. I shall niver forgit the first time I
saw her come inta the kitchen at Poplar Farm to
give an order herself, instead o' ringin' the bell for
the footman to take it, as she used to du up at the
Hall. I remember onst, when I was in service, to



MRS. CANDY'S OPINION 277

give me such a turn as niver was when I see the
kitchen-maid mix the mustard in one o' the room
tea-cups : *Yew must always use a kitchen tea-cup
for mixing the mustard in, yew careless hussy,' I
says : ^and niver let me see yew speak disrespectfully
o' one of the room tea-cups agen.' And it give me
just such another turn when I see her leddyship come
inta the kitchen at Poplar Farm."

"Yes ; life has been hard for Lady Alicia," Faith
agreed.

"So it has, miss; and therefore I hold it is Mr.
Laurence's bounden dewty to spend all that there in-
surance money in makin' his poor mother comfort-
able in her old age, instead o' sittin' all by himself up
on top of a pillar, as yew may say. I don't deny as
conscience is an invention o' Providence and shud be
respected as such ; but Candy says to me, 'Lizzie,' he
says, 'the same Providence as invented Mr. Lau-
rence's conscience invented the Fifth Command-
ment; and it ain't honourin' the Fifth Command-
ment to keep a leddy o' that quality in a farm-house,
without so much as a single-handed footman to
answer the bell.' That's what Candy said ; and he's
one to stick to what he's said, is Candy."

"I wonder how the house did catch fire, after all,
and whether the mystery ever will be cleared up,"
said Faith dreamily.

"Well, miss, he's got his idea on that matter, has
Candy, and so have I, beggin' your pardons."

Nancy looked up, her face alive with interest:



278 FUEL OF FIRE



"Let us hear your explanation of the matter, Mrs.
Candy," she begged.

Mrs. Candy, nothing loath, replied : "Well, miss,
it ain't for poor folks like Candy and me to set our
opinion above the gentry; but what we think we
says, and what we says we sticks to. Now, I wean't
deceive yew by sayin' as I believe Mr. Baxendale
burned down his own house on purpose, as some
folks say he did; but they aren't them as knows
him."

"I should think not !" Faith exclaimed under her
breath.

"But I think as he did it himself, all the same,
though he's no more knowledge of it than the babe
unborn."

'What do you mean?" asked Nancy.
'Well, miss, I think as Mr. Baxendale burned
down the Hall hisself, but he did it by accident.
First, nobodv but hisself cud ha' done it when me
and Candy was away, because nobody but hisself
had the keys. He had tew sets of his own, and I
give up our set to him before I went away ; and all
the folks sav as the Hall was set afire from the inside
o' the library. Then he's tew fond o* smokin,' is Mr.
Laurence — sadly tew fond: why men shud make a
chimbley o' their mouths is more than I can say ; but
Mr. Laurence is terrible fond o' doin' it, and many
a time he's give me a fright for fear the sparks and
matches shud get among them rubbishy old books.
Why, he'd light his pipe up at the Hall, and throw



<<-^



(r



MRS. CANDY'S OPINION 279

the match away, and laugh at me when I said it was
enough to burn the house down over our heads.
*Yew needn't be afeared o' me, Mrs. Candy,' he'd
say as peart as peart ; 'if yew are as careful as me,'
says he, 'the Hall won't be burned down again in our
time.' As if any man — even Candy hisself — cud be
as careful as a woman! But poor Mr. Laurence,
bein' but a single man, didn't know no better."

Nancy's face was positively pale with excitement :
'Then you really believe that that is the explanation
of the fire, Mrs. Candy?"

"I du, miss; not a doubt on it. As soon as we
heard on it, Candy says to me, 'Lizzie,' says he,
'mark my words; this comes o' the master bein' so
fond o' smokin', and lightin' his pipe all over the
place.' (He don't smoke hisself, Candy don't.) 'I
make no doubt,' he says, 'as he's lighted his pipe onst
too often in that rubbishy old library.' Yew see,
miss, he'd throw the match away, as he was so fond
o' doin', and go away, and lock up the house, and
forgit all about it. And the match wud smoulder
and smoulder till it got to them rubbishy old books ;
and then the whole place 'ud be in a blaze like one
o'clock, and nobody cud put it out agen : perticulay
as the wind happened to be so high that night, which
made it burn all the quicker."

But Faith laughed this suggestion to scorn:
"What an absurd idea, Mrs. Candy! As if Mr.
Baxendale would be so careless as to burn down his
own house."



28o FUEL OF FIRE

*'Yew aren't married, miss, beggin' your pardon,
and so yew don't know how careless men can be —
even the best o' them. Why, even Candy hisself '11
leave his boots dryin' at the fire till the toes is burned
out, unless I happen to be handy to take 'em away
as sune as they begin to smell. But he'd niver
notice it, bless yew! not till the smell o' burned
leather had got on your stomach till it was enough
to bring the house down. That's a man all over !"
And Mrs. Candy fairly bridled with pride at the ex-
treme virility of her lord and master.

Faith was silent, and smiled the smile of the un-
convinced.

**But what puts me out," the garrulous matron
continued, "is that it was all my fault. If I'd ha'
been content to stay at home and not got werritting
over our grave and Sarah Maria's twins, Baxendale
Hall wud niver have been burned. Candy wud ha'
seen to that. Don't go tellin' me as the Hall wud
ever ha' caught fire if Candy had been here to look
after it, because it wudn't. But that comes o' carin'
too much for this vile body, and for other folks'
babies, which are made to be cut down like grass.
Yew see, Candy niver fashed hisself about the grave
nor the twins ; and why shud he, seein' as they was
neither o' them his flesh and blood?"

"But they were yours," suggested Faith; "and
you and he are one."

Mrs. Candy shook her head decidedly: "Now,
Miss Fairfax, when yew've got a husband o' your



MRS. CANDY'S OPINION 281

own, don't yew go believin' no rubbish as to his
relations bein' the same as yours, or t'other way
round : because they ain't. Why, things as wud
only make him have a merry laugh if his relations
did 'em will fairly turn his stomach if they was done
by yours. And it'll be the same wi' yew. I remem-
ber when my sister Carrie was a bit flirty, I thought
it a rare bit o' fun ; but when Candy's sister Jennie
carried on w'l a young man, she fairly turned me
sick, the forward hussy ! I niver did get on wi' Jen-
nie: her tongue was too sharp for my taste, and I
never cud a-bear a sharp tongue."

''Then wasn't Carrie's tongue ever sharp?" asked
Nancy slyly.

''Oh ! Carrie was different. Her tongue was a bit
sharp sometimes, I don't deny; now and then she'd
be as peart as peart and have an answer for anybody.
But somehow she didn't rile yew as Jennie did.
When Carrie laughed at yew, she just set yew
a-laughin' at yewrself ; but when Jennie laughed at
yew, oh, my! — she just made yew all agog to slap
her. She was always a-gettin' the better of yew,
Jennie was. I remember when my childern died
and hers lived, she was that lordin' it over me as
niver was; as if anybody wud want childern to live
as had got noses like Jennie's childern! And such
bad behaviour, too, just like their mother. No; I
wean't deceive yew ; there niver w^as anythin' genteel
about Jennie, nor niver will be, no, not if she lives to
be a hundred."



282 FUEL OF FIRE

There was a moment's pause while Mrs. Candy's
mind revelled in the memory of the unsatisfactory
manners and profiles of her sister-in-law's offspring :
then less soothing thoughts intervened, and she went
on more seriously : "No, young ladies, I shall niver
cease to blame myself for havin' been the cause o' the
Hall bein' burned down. If I'd stopped at home,
as Candy wanted to, it wud niver ha' come to pass.
So let it be a lesson to yew — if ever yew get hus-
bands o' your own — to du what they want yew,
whether yew see the sense o' it or not. The Prayer
Book tells us as we are to obey our husbands; and
them as wrote the Prayer Book knew what they was
talkin' about, unless I'm much mistaken. And if
I'd ha' given heed to Candy's words, instead o' to
my own sinful heart, coupled with the grave and
Sarah Maria's twins, Baxendale Hall wud ha' been
standin' on its own legs to this blessed day."

And Mrs. Candy looked round her with the digni-
fied despair of one who has sinned greatly and has
been greatly punished.



CHAPTER XVII.

VAIN OBLATIONS.

To gods both false and true I'll humbly pray,
If only they will give me my own way.

Great was the interest felt and expressed round
Tetleigh when the vicar's engagement to Nora Bur-
ton was announced, which announcement occurred
about three weeks after the burning of Baxendale,
and for a time threw that catastrophe into the shade.

It is strange how the fact that a man loves a wo-
man at once raises that woman in the estimation of
her fellows. One might naturally suppose that
women would reserve their admiration and affec-
tion for the woman who is unloved by man, and
therefore has time to exhaust and gratitude to expend
upon the less intoxicating brand of devotion sup-
plied by the weaker vessels. But not they! As a
rule women waste their affection upon the woman
who has won a man's, and therefore does not thank
them for it; and reserve but little for those lonelier
sisters who, being shut out from the feast, gladly
accept such crumbs as fall from the tables of the
more blessed among women. Therefore her world
spoke well just then of Nora, because she was so
happy in the acknowledged love of Mr. Arbuthnot



284 FUEL OF FIRE

as to be independent of and indifferent to its ap-
proval; and at the same time it turned a somewhat
tepid shoulder toward Faith Fairfax, because for the
second time a man, obviously foreordained for her,
had slipped through her fingers and gone openly
over to the Burtons' camp, leaving Faith in need of
friendship and sympathy to supply in some measure
the place of the deeper happiness which Fate had so
sternly denied to her.

In a measure, too, this same world shook its head
over Nancy's affairs. It was kinder to her than to
Faith, because she had obviously turned the man's
head, but apparently she had not secured his heart:
and so — though superior to Faith in the esteem of a
world which judges effort entirely by result, and en-
deavour entirely by success — she was distinctly in-
ferior to Nora, and was treated accordingly. Faith
was utterly unconscious of the judgment and con-
demnation which her world had passed upon her;
and, had she known of it, w^ould have been pro-
foundly indifferent ; but not so Nancy ; she knew to a
hair's breadth how much Nora now outweighed her
in society's balance; and she raged in her heart
against Laurence accordingly.

As a rule, sisters are alike in physical and mental
attributes, and different in the deeper matters of
character and disposition; which difference is not
generally perceptible until they leave the garden
paths which they liave trodden together, and go out
either into the Valley of Humiliation or on to the



VAIN OBLATIONS 285

Delectable Mountains — whichever the case may be
— by falling in love. Up to now Nancy and Nora
had been regarded as convertible terms : in fact, they
had so regarded themselves; but at last they had
come to the parting of the ways. Nora, who had
hitherto been the spoiled and wayward one, was so
softened and elevated by her lover's influence upon
her that her character mellowed and sweetened day
by day; but poor Nancy, who had always been re-
garded as the embodiment of easy-going good
nature, was fighting such a battle and kicking so vio-
lently against the pricks that her scars could not help
being more or less perceptible. She was very angry
with Laurence for so persistently putting his own
scruples before her happiness; and she was all the
more angry in that she did not in the least under-
stand the motives that guided him. That the very
depth and purity of his love for her made it all the
more impossible to him to gain her by any save the
highest means, w^as simply incomprehensible to her :
she had no idea that, had he idealised her less, it
would have been easier for him to subordinate to
some extent his conscience in the winning of her.

She was also angry with him for having so utterly
transformed her character — for having taken away
the light-hearted, irresponsible Nancy of old, and
put this passionate, tempest-tossed creature in her
place. Love, like genius, is not an integral part of
character; it is a gift, an inspiration, direct from
Heaven. Sometimes it is in harmony w^th the nat-



286 FUEL OF FIRE

ural man or woman to whom it is sent; some-
times it is in direct opposition to each one of his or
her inborn characteristics. Yet, none the less, is it
of God, and so must in the end prevail.

One afternoon, not long after the announcement
of her engagement, as Nora was starting for Even-
song, Nancy joined her. "I'll walk with you as far
as Tetleigh," the latter said; ''there are so many
things I want to talk to you about; but when a girl
has a lover, her own family gets crowded out some-
how."

*'l don't want my own people to get crowded out,
Nan ; I think it is horrid of a girl not to find room in
her heart for the old interests as well as the new



ones."



"I want to have a talk with you about myself."
"All right; I'm listening," said Nora, who had
learned that when a girl says she wants to talk about
herself it means she wants to talk about her lover:
"I am afraid you are worrying over Laurence Bax-
endale and his stupidity."

"I am, and that's a fact : he really is very trying."
"He is, Nancy." And the sisters sighed in sym-
pathy.

"You are in luck to be properly engaged to a man
without a conscience."

But this was more than Nora could stand. "Oh !
Nancy, what a story! Michael has got a splendid
conscience, and one in capital working order, too.
Clergymen always have.""f , :^^^ \



VAIN OBLATIONS 287

*^Oh! yes, I know that. I didn't intend to say
anything disrespectful about Michael — in fact, I
meant it as a compliment. But you don't know
what it is to be in love with a man who is everlast-
ingly arranging a sort of spiritual steeplechase for
his conscience, and making the jump so high that it
bucks at every one."

"Yes, that must be tiresome."

"It is; most awfully tiresome. I've the greatest
respect for the Ten Commandments and the Thirty-
nine Articles and old-fashioned things like that, but
I really can't get up any reverence for a lot of home-
made commandments and amateur articles of faith
and fancy-work of that kind; and it's no use pre-
tending that I can."

"Poor old Nancy! And you really are in love
with Laurence, are you?"

"Yes; that's the nuisance. If I wasn't, I should
just laugh at him and his scruples, and think of
something else. But I can't, though I've tried my
hardest. However hard I try to forget him, he just
gets into everything and flavours everything, like
the taste of turnips in a snowy winter; and there is


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryEllen Thorneycroft FowlerFuel of fire → online text (page 16 of 22)