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no getting away from him."

"I can't think why he doesn't quietly take the in-
surance money and marry on it and live happy ever
after," said Nora.

"No more can anybody else : it is rank lunacy on
his part."



288 FUEL OF FIRE

"Still, I suppose a man has the right to sacrifice
himself to his own conscience if he wants to."

"But he hasn't the right to sacrifice a woman as
well : that's my point. If Laurence hadn't made me
love him, he could have played Saint Simon Stylites
to his heart's content. But a man has no right to sit
alone on the top of a pillar all the week and on a stile
with a young woman on his Sundays out. The two
roles aren't compatible. He can go in for the stile
or the pillar — whichever he prefers; but he can't
have both."

"I wonder if you really would be happy with Lau-
rence Baxendale," said Nora thoughtfully.

"I don't know that: but I do know one thing —
and that is that I shall always be miserable without
him. Oh, dear ! oh, dear ! I wish he'd never made
me love him. I used to be so happy in the old days
when love was a game instead of a martyrdom."

"And games are much more in your line than
martyrdoms."

"Of course they are. Now, some women — such
as Faith, for instance — really relish a martyrdom
and get the full flavour out of it. But it is as much
thrown away upon me as is caviare on the general."

"I'm not sure that you would be happy if you
were married," persisted Nora; "you might find it
rather dull, you are so fond of change and variety
and excitement. Mrs. Fairfax says that marriage
is a luxury to a rich woman but a necessity to a poor
one : it is certainly not a necessity to you ; and I ex-



VAIN OBLATIONS 289

pect, if you were to marry Laurence, you'd say after-
ward that you would have had a jollier time if you
had married somebody else."

'Tooh! that's nothing; it wouldn't mean I wasn't
happy if I did say that. Did you ever in your life
know a day's shooting, however good, that wouldn't
have been better if the birds had done something, or
the dogs had done something else ? Men invariably
tell you that after the most enormous bag. But it
doesn't mean they haven't enjoyed themselves, bless
you ! It's part of the game."

"You can't deny that Laurence has been very
wearing, Nancy; those conscientious, over-scrupu-
lous men always are."

"Nevertheless," demurred Nancy, "a certain
amount of conscience is a comfort — in a husband, I
mean; not, of course, in oneself. I can't help feel-
ing that in the medium stage — after a husband had
ceased to be a treat and before he had begun to be a
habit — it would be nice to regard him in the light of
a religious service. It would make one feel so good
and happy, like singing hymns on a Sunday even-
mg.

"It does; it is a most lovely feeling, I can assure
you."

"And you'll have it all your life : that's just your
luck." And poor Nancy looked with envy at her
more fortunate sister.

"Yet you used to be quite as lucky as me."

"I know : that is the funny part of it. I believe



290 FUEL OF FIRE

that In falling in love with Laurence I resigned my
good luck, and took the ill-luck of the Baxendales
instead. They have been renowned as an unlucky
family, you know, ever since the old witch pro-
nounced the curse on Baxendale Hall."

"And you wish that you had never fallen in love
with him, then?''

''Sometimes I do; and sometimes I feel glad that
I have given up everything for him — even my good
luck."

"I believe you were happier when you and Lau-
rence were only friends and not lovers," said Nora.

''No, I wasn't. I dare say I should have been, if
he had let me; but he was troublesome even then.
He was always constrained and queer because he
was so poor : as if there were a duty on friendship as
there is on tobacco !"

"But how did his poverty interfere with his being
friends?"

"Oh ! I don't know. He was in love all the time,
I suppose, and was afraid of it showing."

"And of course it showed in the end. Those
overscrupulous people ahvays do the thing that they
have sacrificed themselves in avoiding; but not till
it is too late to be of any use."

Nancy groaned: "That's Laurence all over: when
we were friends he was always trying not to be lov-
ers, and now we are lovers he is always trying not to
be friends. He is wearing me to a thread. Oh!
how I wish I could induce him to see the matter in a



VAIN OBLATIONS 291



sensible light, and let us both be happy on the income
of the insurance money !"

''Here we are at the church turning; I suppose
you are going on to Silverhampton."

"No, I'm not; I'm coming to church with you."

Nora opened her pretty blue eyes wide in aston-
ishment. Nancy was not much of a church-goer,
as a rule, except on Sundays. "Coming to church
with m.e?"

"Yes. When I have set my heart on having any-
thing, I leave no stone unturned in trying to get my
own way," replied Nancy, with praiseworthy fixity
of purpose though lamentable ignorance of theology.
And the two sisters entered the church together.

When Evensong was over Nancy paid some calls
in Tetleigh, while Nora and her lover walked back
to Wayside together ; and as they walked they talked
of their love for each other.

"Isn't it difficult to believe," said Nora, "that you
and I can ever leave off loving each other, even after
we are dead?"

"Not difficult, my child, but impossible; for love
carries in himself the proofs of his own immortality.
None who have truly and deeply loved can doubt
that their own are theirs forever ; for there is some-
thing in the very essence of love which defies death
and brings immortality to light."

"You mean that when we really love another per-
son, we feel that our love is stronger than death?"

(It was noteworthy that, while Laurence Baxen-



292



FUEL OF FIRE



dale devoted himself to the interpretation of Nancy,
Nora spent her time in interpreting the thoughts of
Michael Arbuthnot.)

"We know that it is, from its own internal evi-
dence, quite apart from any divine revelation.
Roughly speaking, I should say that those men and
women who doubt their own immortality have never
experienced deep and passionate devotion. They
may refuse to accept the Christian doctrine of im-
mortality — that is a different thing: but a human
being who has once absorbingly loved another
human being can never doubt that his love — and
therefore himself — is immortal : he is conscious that
it is too strong, and too Godlike an emotion ever to
see death."

"I wish Nancy were as happy in her love as I
am," said Nora, with a sigh.

"Poor little Nancy ! I am afraid she has much to
go through before she is perfected; and yet she is
the sort of person that one feels is only suited to suc-
cess and sunshine. It is difficult to think of Nancy
as anything but Nancy Victrix."

"Yes: pity and Nancy don't dovetail into each
other, somehow."

"No, they don't," agreed the vicar: "I can think
of you as ill and sorrowful and yet yourself — your
dear, sweet, lovable self; but Nancy, ill or unhappy,
would not be Nancy at all."

"Come and walk round the wood," said Nora,
when the lovers reached Wayside; so they crossed



VAIN OBLATIONS 293

the lawn and entered the Httle coppice on the further
side of it.

"Hallo! what's that?" exclaimed Michael, espy-
ing a small, dark object mider one of the trees.

''That's our idol. Haven't you seen it before,
Michael?"

"No," replied the vicar, standing still in front of
a little stone image; "what a quaint object! Where
did it come from ?"

"I don't know. It has been here ever since I can
remember; and when we were children, Nancy and
Tony and I used to burn sacrifices before it."

Michael laughed : "You little heathens ! On what
occasions did you offer up these vain oblations?"

"When we wanted anything. We used to think
that the idol would help us to get our way if only we
bribed him with burnt offerings. It was rather
awful of us, wasn't it?"

"I don't know that you were worse than many
scores of so-called religious people who treat God
very much as you treated your graven image. But
look here, what's this? Somebody has been offering
up sacrifices lately." And the vicar turned over
with his stick a little heap of ashes in front of the
stone image.

"It must have been the boys," said Nora, with in-
terest: "we'll ask them. Boys!" she called to her
two small brothers who were just then in the middle
of the road busily engaged in digging a short cut
through the earth to Australia.



294



FUEL OF FIRE



Arthur and Ambrose rushed up to the lovers:
*^Yes, what's up?" enquired Arthur as spokesman.

**Have you and Ambrose been offering up sacri-
fices here?" their sister asked.

The two children knelt upon the ground and ex-
amined the heap of ashes with interest. "No," re-
plied Arthur; "somebody's been sacrificing here;
but it wasn't us, was it, Amby ?"

Ambrose shook his head : "We haven't offered up
a sacrifice for a long time — not since the day at Bax-
endale Hall, when the big tree was blown down."

"Why did you do it then?" asked the vicar.

"Because we wanted to please the tree spirit," Ar-
thur enlightened him: "we thought the tree spirit
would be very angry at having his tree blowm down ;
so we tried to put him into a good temper by offering
up a sacrifice to him in the roots of the tree."

And did you succeed in pacifying him, I wonder?"
continued Michael.

Both little heads shook violently : "No, we didn't ;
he was so angry that that very night he burned down
Baxendale Hall. We knew he'd be in a wax, but
we never thought he'd do anything as bad as that."
And then the boys rushed back to continue their un-
derland route.

"I wonder who did offer up the sacrifice?" mused
Michael, absently stirring up the ashes with his stick.

Nora looked up with a solemn expression in her
eyes : "I know : it was Nancy. I see now what she
meant by saying that she never left a stone upturned
when she wanted very badly to get her own way."



CHAPTER XVIII.

WEDDING BELLS.

You came : then undiscovered lands

Sprang straightway into view ;
You took my life within your hands,

And all things were made new.

"So you, too, have taken to yourself idols, and
made merry, and have forgetten the living God,"
said Rufus Webb to Michael Arbuthnot, one day
when the vicar was calling upon his weird parish-
oner.

"No, Mr. Webb, I have done none of these things.
I have merely believed God's statement that every
good gift and every perfect gift is from Him, and
have accepted such gifts accordingly."

"And do you think that He will permit His chosen
servant and minister to put the love of women before
the love of God ?"

"He will not have to permit it, as far as I am con-
cerned," replied Michael, with unruffled patience:
"and there is one thing He knows as well as — nay,
better than — I do; and that is that my love for a
woman has taught me more than I ever learned be-
fore of His love for me. It is only by loving one
another that we learn anything of God's love for us."



296 FUEL OF FIRE

^'Beware lest you are crying peace where there is
no peace, and are imagining vain things."

"I have imagined plenty of vain things in my
time, goodness knows ! But this one thing does not
happen to be vain, neither is it of my own imagin-
ing. I uphold that of all God's revelations of Him-
self to sinful man, there is none that teaches us so
much about Him as our love for one another."

"How can our love for anything besides Himself
be reckoned as other than idolatry?" asked Rufus.

''Because our love for each other is not separate
from our love for Him, but is a part of it; just as
the sparkle of a running brook does not detract from
the glory of the sunshine, but rather adds to it, be-
cause they are really one and the same thing."

Rufus merelv shook his head, and the vicar con-
tinned : "Besides, loving another person with a deep
and sincere love gives us so much larger views of
God's love for us. When we feel how tender is our
own love — how we would rather die than cause the
beloved one pain, and what we would sacrifice to
ensure the loved one's happiness — all our petty
doubts and questionings regarding God's dealings
with us disappear. We know that we — faulty and
imperfect as we are — are, nevertheless, incapable of
leaving anything undone which would ensure the
happiness of that one living creature : and is it con-
ceivable that our love is a more perfect thing than
God's love — that He created beings superior to Him-
self? Nay, we rather see that as we are each capa-



WEDDING BELLS 297

ble of caring for one other human being and only
one, so He is capable of caring for the whole human
race. Otherwise we should be greater than He;
and the clay cannot be greater than the Potter who
formed it.''

"I fear you are comforting yourself with false
doctrines."

But the vicar stood firm: "I think not. To my
mind, the mediaeval ascetics and the Puritans, who in
turn taught that human love was an evil thing, did
more than any other heretics in placing false barriers
between man and God and in giving men incorrect
ideas of Him."

"I cannot agree with you : I only wish I could.
But how can you still go cherishing these delusive
dreams when you see the ruin which overtook that
young man, known to both of us, who had great
possessions and loved them too well?" And Rufus
pointed out of his window to where the ruins of Bax-
endale Hall gleamed red among the trees. **He
loved houses and lands more than God — I loved my
wife more than God — and it pleased God to take
from each of us the desire of our eyes at a stroke.
Then learn the wisdom from our afflictions and take
care that a like thing does not happen unto you ; for
cursed is he that putteth his trust in man and taketh
man for his defence, and his heart goeth from the
Lord!"

"I think, Mr. Webb, you are unjust in saying
that Baxendale loved his house and land inordi-



298 FUEL OF FIRE

nately ; personally, I never met a young man who, to
my thinking, put so true a value upon worldly pos-
sessions. Like his father before him, he has one
of the most refined natures I ever met with. The
word gentleman, even in its most restricted and
subtle sense, would always be descriptive of Lau-
rence Baxendale; and that most perfect and ex-
haustive portrait of a gentleman, the Fifteenth
Psalm, is entirely applicable to him."

"Yet the wrath of God came upon him, and
burned down his house before his eyes."

"I admit that his house was burned down, Mr.
Webb; but — speaking with all reverence — I do not
see that the wrath of God had anything to do with it.
I have no patience with people who put down to
God's account the evils which most distinctly are
wrought by man."

''Then do you deny that the burning of Baxendale
was a judgment upon Laurence Baxendale — or,
rather, a discipline necessary to the saving of his
soul?" Rufus Webb's excitement, never much un-
der control, was rapidly getting the better of him;
he began to walk up and down the small room,
thrusting his hands the while through his masses of
unkempt hair.

*T do not believe it is anything of the kind," said
the vicar, firmly; "though I hold that all afflictions,
by whatever agency they may be wrought, will do
good to our souls, if taken in a proper spirit. But
I say that if any human being, whatever the motive



WEDDING BELLS 299

may have been, set fire to Baxendale Hall on pur-
pose, that human being was guilty of actual sin, and
ought to make confession of the same."

''No, no, no; not if Laurence Baxendale's soul is
saved therebv."

"It costs more than the burning of Baxendale Hall
to redeem his soul : we must let that alone forever.
And we have no right to do evil that good may



come."



"But it is not doing evil to burn the accursed
thing : it is not doing evil to destroy false gods and
to cut down their groves."

"It is doing evil to devote ourselves so exclusively
to our brother's mote that we have no time for the
extirpation of our own beams," said the vicar, rising
to depart; for he knew that argument was worse
than useless when Rufus was, as now, in one of his
fanatical moods. "Good morning, Mr. Webb;
come up and have a chat with me at the vicarage
whenever you feel inclined."

And with that they parted.

Nora meanwhile was holding a very different sort
of conversation upon her prospects with Mrs. Candy,
whom she had elected to go and see while Michael
was calling upon Rufus Webb.

"Good morning, Mrs. Candy," she began : "I hope
you are very well."

"Thank vew, Miss Nora. I am as well as cud be
expected, seein' as I had to get up extra early this



morning."



300 FUEL OF FIRE

"Why was that ?"

"Because Candy's got a busy mornin' before him,
killin' a sheep/*

"Oh! can he kill a sheep? How clever of him!"

"Yes, miss, he can kill a sheep all right. Candy
can; there isn't much that Candy can't du, but he
doesn't get the pleasure out of it he does out o' killin'
a pig, and it's no use pretendin' he du."

"Of course, there are degrees of pleasure in every-
thing; no two treats are quite the same," said
Nora, taking a seat upon a chair which her hostess
had just dusted with her apron for that purpose.

"And so yew be a-goin' to be married afore Miss
Nancy," said Mrs. Candy as soon as her visitor was
seated : "well, to be sure, it du seem the wrong way
about for the youngest to be married first; I niver
cud abide it. I was always so glad as my sister
Carrie was safely married when Candy came
a-courtin' me, as I wudna ha' married afore her, her
bein' sixteen months older than me, for anythin';
and yet, it wud ha' gone agen the grain wi' me to
give Candy the pass-by."

"Well, 1 am very sorry, but I don't see how I can
help it," said Nora penitently; "and, as you say, it is
a mistake to give really nice men, such as Mr. Ar-
buthnot and Mr. Candy, for instance, the *pass-by.' "

"It is, miss, and I wean't deceive yew; and her
that *will not when she may,' ten to one dies an old
maid ; or else has to put up wi' a widower wi' a fam-
ily. I'm sure I don't know what I shud ha' done if



WEDDING BELLS 301

I'd let Candy slip threw my fingers; it wud ha' been
the death o' me, I doubt! Even now I sometimes
dreams as Candy is married to Polly Postern, and
I'm still in service at Overstrand; and it gives me
such a turn, yew can't think !"

"I'm sure it must!"

''Yes, miss, it be a fine thing for a wumman to
have a man of her own to make up her mind for her,
and keep her clear of fallals and the like. I don't
hold wi' wummen keepin' single, I don't; they git all
sorts o' notions i' their heads wi' no man to sweep
away all the nonsense out o' them. There was my
aunt Mehetabel,as niver was married, and she took it
inta her head to be an invalid, if yew please : always
enjoyin' some fresh complaint, as no sensible folks
had ever heard so much as the name of, and drinkin'
medicine by the gallon. Why, no husband wud ha*
stood such rubbish, and quite right, tu."

"That is true, Mrs. Candy; men do keep us out of
all sorts of silliness."

"Then, there was my aunt Hephezibah — she niver
married, neither; but with her it didn't run to health-
rubbish — it took her in a religious way, and she
joined the chapel-folk."

"Well, there wasn't much harm in that," said
Nora, with a laugh: "Satan might have found some
worse mischief for her idle hands — or rather her idle
heart — to do."

But Mrs. Candy looked serious, and shook her
head: "He don't hold wi' chapel- folk, don't Candy;



302 FUEL OF FIRE

he says as if Providence had meant folks to go to
chapel instead o' to church, there'd ha' been a chapel
instead of a church in every parish. And then,
chapel-folk are always askin' for money; and what's
the use o' payin' for a chapel, he says, when yew can
get the church for nothin' ? Oh ! but he's a wunner-
ful clear way o' puttin' things, has Candy."

*'You certainly seem to find him very convincing,'*
said Nora, drily.

'*Oh, he's a wunnerful clear head. Candy has. I
often wish they'd got him up in Lunnon in the
House o' Parliament, when I read a bit o' the papers
and see what tu-and-agen work they make of it up
there. He'd sune teach 'em what for, wud Candy."

''What side would he be on, Liberal or Conserva-
tive?"

"Oh! he wudna' take sides — he don't hold wi*
takin' sides. Candy don't. He'd just put his foot
down on all that tu-and-agen work, and he'd have
his own way or nothin' at all. Eh! but he's a
grand one for havin' his own way, is Candy; there's
nothin' double-faced or reasonable about him — he
don't hold wi' it."

"Then I don't expect he'd have consented to wait
until your sister had been married first," suggested
Nora.

"Not he, miss, not he," replied his better half with
pride; "when Candy's oust set his mind upon a
thing, yew might as well try to turn the way o' the
wind as him. He ain't the shilly-shallying sort, as



WEDDING BELLS 303

will listen to reason — not he ! So I was thankful as
Carrie was safely wedded afore Candy came a-court-
in me.

"And whom did Carrie marry ?"

"She married a man from our parts o' the name o'
Parker. If when yew marry yew live all among
yewr own people, it don't seem quite so bad, said
she ; so she took up wi' Parker."

"She doesn't appear to have been as much in love
as you were, Mrs. Candy : for you came far enough
from home when you married."

"She wasn't, miss, and I'm the last to deceive
yew ; but who cud ha' thought she wud be, seein' as
it was only Parker as she was a-marrying? Parker
was a decent man and a regular church-goer, wi'
twenty-two shillings a week; but he wasn't Candy,
and it's no use pretendin' as he was."

"Then you didn't mind coming such a long way
from home?" Like all women who are truly in
love, Nora was interested in the loves of all other
women.

"Not wi' Candy, miss; I'd ha' gone to the very
ends o' the earth wi' him. And yet, till I see him
I'd niver been ten miles away from Overstrand ; and
I darena' ha' gone as far as Yarmouth — no, not if
yew'd ha' crowned me."

"But Candy made all the difference. I under-
stand that."

"I'll be bound yew du, Miss Nora, havin' been
took that way yewrself. Eh, but it's wunnerful



304 FUEL OF FIRE

how a man du make all the difference. After onst
he's come across yewr way, nothin' iver looks the
same agen, nor ever will. He seems to get inta
everythin', as yew may say, and to turn it all topsy-
turvy."

Nora laughed : *'You are not very complimentary
to the man to say he turns things topsy-turvy."

''Bless yew, miss, yezv don't think as it's topsy-
turvy; it seems to yew as if it was all topsy-turvy
afore, and that he's just turned in the right way up."

''Like a dream seems topsy-turvy, and the awak-
ening turns things the right way up," Nora sug-
gested.

"That's just it, miss ; and yew laugh at the dream
when yew remember how contrairy it all was, and
how right everything is now that yew are wide
awake."

"Yes, Mrs. Candy, falling in love is just like that :
the past is the dream, and this is the awakening."

"And it seems to me, miss, as dyin' will be like that,
tu. It'll turn things topsy-turvy, I don't deny; but
it'll be the right way up as it'll turn 'em, and we shall
laugh when we remember the topsy-turvyness o' this
warld, and wunner how we put up wi' it as contented
as we did. I'm sure I wunner now how I cud bear
myself afore I met Candy; it seems as if there cud
ha' been nothin' to du and nothin' to think about:
and I don't doubt as we shall feel like that when we
wake up in heaven, miss, and see what bewtiful
things Providence has provided for us up there."



WEDDING BELLS 305

**Biit don't you often think it is strange that we
haven't been told more about the next world, and
what it will be like?" said Nora.

"Oh ! don't yew go worryin' yewrself about that,"
replied Mrs. Candy, soothingly ; "it isn't done out o'
disagreeableness, as yew may say, I feel sure. We
aren't told more about it, because we cudn't under-
stand it if we were. Why, miss, it's the same i' this
warld. If I'd been told, when I was a little gell,
what happiness was i' store for me in workin' hand
and foot to make Candy comfortable, and bein' ready
to lay down my very life at his feet if he wanted It,
bless him! I sudna' ha' knowed what they was
a-talkin' about. I thought that what I shud want
when I was growed up wud be to have my own way
and enjoy myself: instead o' which my happiness is
in lettin' Candy have his own way and enjoy hisself.
But it wud all ha' been Greek and Latin to me if


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