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they'd ha' told me that when I was a little gell and
tew young and soft to understand it. And I hold
that it's like that wi' the next warld, I du; we're tew
young and soft to understand it yet, even if we was
to be told; so where wud be the sense o' tellin' us?"

"Well, Mrs. Candy, I believe you are right; and
now I must be going," said Nora, rising from her
seat. "Good morning."

"Good morning tu yew, miss ; and may yew be as
happy in your marriage as I've been in mine — and I
can't say nothin' stronger than that: the gentry
theirselves cudna' ha' been happier than Candy and



3o6 FUEL OF FIRE

I ha' been. I can't deny as sometimes I wish as the
childern had Hved : it wild ha' been pretty to hear
'em call Candy 'Daddy/ and to see 'em a-climbin'
over his knees. But the Lord knows best what is
good for us, so we must just submit ourselves to His
hand. Maybe if they'd ha' lived, they might ha'
come between me and Candy, and I cudna' ha' stood
that."

"Thank you, Mrs. Candy, for all your good
wishes : and if only I make as excellent a wife as you
have done, 1 shall be quite content : and so will the
vicar, or he ought to be."

"Bless yew, miss, who cud ha' helped bein' a good
wafe to such a husband as Candy — one in a hunderd,
as I often tell him? And, when all's said and done,
them as has husbands are happier than them as has
none: it's dull work bein' an oM maid, Miss Nora,
say what yew will. It's every wumman's right to
have a man of her own ; and them as has missed that
has missed the best i' this warld. Why, if yew've
got a man o' your own, there's always somebody to
be sorry when yew are sick, and pleased when yew
are about and busy; and there's always somebody to
listen to what yew say, and to show yew what a fule
yew was for say in' it; and there's always somebody
to find fault wi' all your little fads, and yet to like
yew all the better for 'em. Mark my words. Miss
Nora, there's no love in the warld like the love o'
the man who loves yew as his own flesh : and them
as pretends that there is, talks old maid's nonsense."



WEDDING BELLS 307

"They do, Mrs. Candy. I haven't patience with
people who try to make out that parents and broth-
ers and sisters can ever make up to a woman for not
having known what the love of a husband means."

''Well, it don't, w^hativer them old maids chewse
to say. Why, Miss Nora, when my first baby come,
and I'd got the baby and Candy, I felt as no leddy in
the land cud be happier than me, because, you see,
there cudn't be anythin' better in the whole warld
than a husband like Candy and a little baby as well.
In fact, it was tu much happiness for this sinful
warld, so the good Lord took the baby, and is savin'
her up for me w^hen I gets to heaven. Yes, miss, I
sees it all now, as plain as plain: Candy and the
childern w^as tu much happiness for this life, so the
Lord is savin' up the childern for the next, just as
we don't let our childern have all their cakes and
toys on one day, but we put some by till to-morrow."

And then Nora completed her farewells, and wxnt
out into the lanes, where she found her lover await-
ing her.

Early in October Michael Arbuthnot took Nora
Burton as his wedded wife : and great were the re-
joicings in Tetleigh accordingly. The bridesmaids
wore soft blue dresses, the colour of Nancy's eyes;
and no one, to see her, could have guessed how
heavy with crushed tears were those apparently
laughing orbs. Nancy really played her part very
well just then : and it was by no means an easy part
to play. To a proud woman the knowledge that her



3o8 FUEL OF FIRE

world regards her with pity, is about as unpleasant
a branch of instruction as she will ever have to mas-
ter, and Nancy was fully cognisant of that particular
fact just then. Though people in general did
not know exactly what had happened, they were
aware that Laurence and Nancy had once walked
and talked together, and now they walked and
talked together no longer ; and they drew their own
conclusions accordingly; which conclusions, it must
be admitted, were not altogether wide of the mark.
As a rule, the public blamed Laurence as a fool
for not taking the insurance money and marry-
ing upon it; for the fact that — owing to malicious
reports — he had declined to accept the compensation
to which his loss entitled him had become public
property by this time. Nancy was quite aware of
this ; there was not much that that young lady was
not quite aware of ; but it is not a source of any solid
comfort to a woman to know that her world con-
demns as a fool the man to whom she has given her
life's devotion.

And yet, do what she would, she could not rid
herself of her overmastering love for Laurence Bax-
endale. She did not clutch her misery and make
much of it, as a more sentimental girl would have
done ; on the contrary, she hated it so much that she
would have escaped from it at any price. It was
no pleasure to Nancy to be unhappy, as it is to so
many women : success was her role in life, and she
sorely resented having to play a part so sadly out of



WEDDING BELLS 309

character with her preconceived notions of herself.
Nevertheless, go where she would and do what she
could, she was all the while conscious of an under-
lying homesickness for Laurence, which time did not
cure nor diversion allay. "I want him so ! I want
him so!" she kept saying to herself: and nothing
else in any way appeased that consuming need.

Yet Nancy Burton was a girl whom other girls
condemned as heartless and shallow, and whom the
w^orld in general envied rather than pitied, and
laughed with rather than cried over. So penetrat-
ing and foreseeing, as a rule, is the judgment of a
woman's world, and especially of her female friends !

But she bore herself with a brave front, and no
one noticed that she was gradually growing thinner
and paler. Laurence would have noticed it fast
enough if he had seen her : he had tried to crush his
love, but he was not yet as blind as all that : but he
went with Lady Alicia to stay at his uncle's soon
after the burning of Baxendale, and did not return
until the middle of the winter. He had been so
sorely wounded by the gossip about himself and the
cause of the fire that for a time life in the neighbour-
hood of Baxendale was insupportable to his proud
and sensitive spirit. And Mr. and Mrs. Burton
were so full of their second daughter's affairs, and
the new life upon which she was entering, that they
did not give much attention to their elder for awhile.

So Nancy faded away day by day: and no one
noticed, no one knew.



3IO FUEL OF FIRE

One afternoon, not long after Nora's marriage,
Mrs. Fairfax and her daughter were sitting in their
entrance-hall, as was their custom when the weather
closed the verandah to them for a time. And an
ideal hall it was, with its carved oak chimney-corner,
and its archways hung with costly curtains, and its
walls lined with the portraits of dead and gone Fair-
faxes. At no season of the year was Ways Hall
without flowers — flowers in the rooms and in the
hall and on the staircase and in every available
space. Certainly in this case, when Mahomet could
not go to the mountain, the mountain came to Ma-
homet; when Mrs. Fairfax could not go to her gar-
den, her garden came to her : so that it was always
spring inside Ways Hall, whatever ridiculous tricks
the weather might be playing outside. Mrs. Fair-
fax had grasped the truth, which so few gardeners
seem able to master, that a greenhouse is a means
and not an end. In the autumn and winter the flow-
ers were born and bred in her numerous hot-houses :
but that was merely for educational purposes: as
soon as they reached perfection they were brought
at once into the Hall, and there made happier, by
their beauty and freshness, the lives of Mrs. Fairfax
and Faith. And by always living with flowers,
these two women imbibed some of the nature of the
flowers by which they were constantly surrounded :
the brightness and freshness of the plants entered
into the human being, and made them thereby better
and truer women for tim.e and for eternity.



WEDDING BELLS 311

^'My dear," Mrs. Fairfax remarked, after a few
minutes' silence a propos of nothing but her own
meditations, ''Laurence Baxendale is a fool."

"Oh, mother, what a thing to say !"

"It's the truth, and the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth. Laurence and his father were always
fools: nice, well-mannered, lovable fools, I will ad-
mit; but still fools of the finest water: the sort of
fools whose folly is always getting between their
own feet and tripping them up."

Faith sighed : "Yes, I think poor Laurence's mis-
takes always tell against himself more than against
any one."

"So did his father's. Some people's omissions
are always on the debtor side of the account, and
never on the creditor side: they forget what they
owe to other people, but never what other people owe
to them. But the Baxendales are the very opposite
of that : their blunders invariably tell against them-
selves."

"And their undertakings always seem to turn out
badlv somehow."

"Yes; the gift of success was withheld when the
fairies presided at the Baxendale christenings. As
a rule, there are two means by which a man may at-
tain success — his own competence or the incom-
petence of his fellows; but neither of these means
has been of any use to the Baxendale men."

"And yet they are splendid men in their way."

Mrs, Fairfax shrugged her still shapely shoul-



312 FUEL OF FIRE

ders: ''Humph, I suppose they are cast in a some-
what heroic mould; but they are the sort of men
who always put their money on the wrong horse,
and identify themselves with the losing cause. In
the time of the Reformation, the Baxendales were
Romanists; in the time of the Commonwealth, they
were Royalists; in the days of the Georges, they
were Jacobites; and I feel sure that in mediaeval
times they were often nearly converted to Hebraism
by the frequent persecutions of the Jews."

*'But all that merely goes to prove their glorious
courage and loyalty." Faith — like all very amiable
people — had a strong strain of obstinacy in her com-
position.

"I think it often goes to prove their stupidity.
Baxendale Hall, like Oxford, has always been the
home of lost causes and impossible beliefs ; and per-
sonally I'd rather live in the homes of governing
majorities and established churches; it is more com-
fortable and less draughty."

"But men must have their ideals, mother."

*'And servants must have their beer : but there is
such a thing as beer-money, my dear child, which
does instead, and is often both more convenient and
more profitable to all parties concerned."

"And then the Baxendales are all so truthful and
honourable," persisted Faith.

"Far too much so : they tell you truths that you'd
rather not hear. Personally I hate people who al-
ways tell you the truth. Who wants to hear the



WEDDING BELLS 313

truth? Fm sure I don't; it is always so humbling,
and humility is the most depressing virtue out;
though all virtues are more or less lowering, unless
taken in very small quantities."

Faith smiled: "Dear mother, what things you
say !"

"Well, I mean them — at least I do now and then.
But the Baxendale trick of truth-telling really does
depress me, and makes the perpetrators of it so un-
popular, too. If you want people to be in love with
you, you must begin by making them in love with
themselves ; and then the desired result will soon fol-
low. But few people have learned this elementary
truth — least of all the Baxendales."

"Well, still there are people who love even the
Baxendales."

"My dear, there are people who eat coal and slate-
pencil and enjoy them: I never legislate for excep-
tions. But I own I sometimes wonder if little
Nancy Burton is one of the exceptions who love
Laurence Baxendale.'*

Faith shook her head: "She may, and does, I
think, like him; but it isn't in her to love anybody.
Nancy is a dear girl, full of life and high spirits,
and is a most delightful . companion : I always feel
that a sight of her is like a breath of mountain air
on a stuffy day : but hers is not a nature capable of
deep affection."

(Yet Faith had got over her love for Laurence
Baxendale, and Nancy was slowly dying of it ! So



314 FUEL OF FIRE

do the saints of the earth sit in judgment upon their
more human sisters.)

"Well, I hope you are right, for any woman who
loves Laurence will find life a perpetual Lent, both
as regards doctrines and dinners. Trust a Baxen-
dale for finding out an altar on which to sacrifice
himself and everybody belonging to him : all the
Baxendales have keen noses for a sacrifice. And
then, as I said before, I can't stand their way of
putting one out of love with oneself." And the ex-
beauty tossed her head in disgust.

Faith was amused : *Toor Laurence seems to have
annoyed you."

"Certain plain speaking I am accustomed to and
can stand. For instance, no man ever went to
another man's house without saying that the shrubs
wanted thinning, and that there was too much win-
dow room : everybody is prepared for plain speaking
of that kind, and nobody resents it. But what I
can't stand is when people show up all your little ig-
norances. What does it matter whether a woman is
ignorant or not, as long as she has been good looking
and is still well dressed? Yet Laurence once quite
corrected me for not knowing the difference between
Addison and Pope. As if there really was any dif-
ference that mattered !"

"It is a pity that Laurence has so taken to heart
the absurd gossip about his burning down his own
house : for it was very absurd," said Faith thought-
fully.



WEDDING BELLS 315

"I should think it was, and showed an utter ab-
sence of knowledge of the merits of the case. As if
any Baxandale would ever do anything, either
wrong or right, that in any way redounded to his
own advantage ! It isn't in the blood."

"I wouldn't breathe a w^ord to any one but you,
mother ; but I always suspect poor old Rufus Webb
of having set fire to the Hall in a fit of religious
frenzy: though how he managed to do it from the
upper storey I can never conceive. He would imag-
ine that by doing so he was saving Laurence's soul."

"I know you think so, my dear ; but I don't think
anything of the kind. I have my own ideas as to
how Baxendale Hall was fired."

Faith looked surprised: *'Who ever do you sus-
pect, mother, dear?"

*'For goodness' sake, don't go repeating what I
say, and sending your mother to prison for libel : but
my impression is that no one did it on purpose."

'Then do you agree with Mrs. Candy that Lau-
rence himself did it by accident?"

"No, my dear: but I think that those tiresome
little Burton boys did." Mrs. Fairfax could never
quite forgive any other woman for having borne
sons while she herself had only had a daughter.

"Oh, mother! How could Arthur and Ambrose
have set fire to Baxendale Hall?"

"Mischievous boys will find a way of doing any-
thing that is troublesome and naughty. I don't
know how they did it; but they did do it, I have no



3i6 FUEL OF FIRE



doubt, with their nasty bonfires and sacrifices and
things. I found them offering up a sacrifice one
day in the lanes, and it at once struck me how Bax-
endale had been burned."

"But it is proved that the fire began from the in-
side, and the boys couldn't get into a locked-up
house," said Faith.

'They could do so as well as that Webb man
could, and you suspect him."

"It is only an instinctive sort of a suspicion: I
cannot for the life of me see how he could do it —
much less how those little boys could."

"They might have climbed through a window,"
suggested Mrs. Fairfax.

"But the windows were all shut and the shutters
fastened."

"Then perhaps they stole the keys and let them-
selves in. My dear, I don't pretend to say how they
did it: but that those boys did do it, I repeat I
haven't the shadow of a doubt.



>j



CHAPTER XIX.

WINTER DAYS.

The dying year is covered o'er with leaves,
And weeping Nature for her children grieves.

The vicar and their bride went to Italy for their
honeymoon, and did not come back until the begin-
ning of December. On their return they found that
winter had begun earlier than usual and also with
unwonted severity even for England; and that it
was finding out all the delicate people and number-
ing them with an accuracy which would have put
the strictest census-paper to shame.

By this time Mr. and Mrs. Burton had discovered
that all was not well with their elder daughter, in
spite of the apparently high spirits she so persistently
maintained ; the same depressing conviction had also
been borne in upon Anthony, and the trio were
deeply concerned thereat. Not only was Nancy
thinner and paler than she was at the time of Nora's
wedding, but the cold weather had endowed her with
a hacking little cough which went through the hearts
of those that loved her. Nora and her husband
were shocked to see the change that two short (to
them extraordinarily short) months had wrought in
the once radiant Nancy: and Mrs. Arbuthnot sec-



3i8 FUEL OF FIRE

onded her parents' fears that there was something
very wrong indeed with her sister. Nancy carried
her head as high as ever, and was as independent as
of old of sympathy or pity : but the vulpine gnawing
must tell in the long run, however great be the forti-
tude of the Spartan boy or his equivalent; and it
was getting near to the end of the run, as far as
Nancy's particular fox was concerned. She had
staked her all on one cast of the dice, and had lost :
bereft of the one love of her life, she was indeed
bereft. She simply could not live without Laurence
Baxendale; that was the long and the short of it.

Some women are made after this pattern. They
not only put all their eggs into one basket — a most
unscientific mode of packing: they also find it im-
possible to sustain life without an adequate supply of
Cfe^s, eggs being absolutely indispensable to their
existence ; hence, when the one basket breaks down,
as those single baskets are so prone to do, there is
nothing left to keep the starving creatures alive.
Heaven help such poor fond souls, for earth is apt
to be too hard for them !

It is but fair to add that Laurence himself had no
idea how hardly things were going with Nancy. If
he had guessed that she was slowly dying for want
of him, nothing could have kept him away from her ;
for underneath his somewhat strained scrupulous-
ness the man was a true man, and his love for Nancy
was of the finest quality. But he was so little of a
coxcomb that the notion that a woman could die for



WINTER DAYS 319



love of him never once entered into his head ; and he
would have scorned it as an absurdity had any one
suggested it to him.

There was another reason why he dared not yet
return to Poplar Farm; and that was his undying
love for the said Nancy and his fear that if he were
brought face to face with her again all his scruples
would avail him nothing, and he should once more
take her into his heart, and swear that he would
never let her go. And this he had definitely decided
not to do : for, let other people say what they would,
Laurence was fully persuaded in his own mind that
Baxendale Hall had been set on fire by one of two
persons — either by his mother or by Nancy. These
were the only two (except himself) who had any
motive for doing this thing : these were the only two
(as far as he knew) who had access to the keys of
the front door and the library, and the house had
evidently been fired from the inside and from the
upper storey : and these were the only two who had
ever suggested that he himself might commit the
crime.

And this conclusion formed in his eyes an insur-
mountable barrier between himself and Nancy. If
Lady Alicia were guilty, then his mother's shame
was his, and he had no right to ask any other woman
to share his dishonour: if, on the contrary, Nancy
were guilty, then he was ready to lay down his life
to shield her good name : but he was not altogether
prepared to exchange it for his own. Baxendale



320



FUEL OF FIRE



had not as yet gauged the overwhelming force of
human love in general, and of his own in particular :
but he had gauged it sufficiently not to want to be
brought into contact with Miss Burton just then.
So he kept out of temptation's way.

There is no doubt that he was sorely to be pitied.
To feel certain that either one's mother or the wo-
man whom one loves has been guilty of a dishonour-
able act — of a crime, in fact, in the eyes of the law —
is not a conviction belonging to the peace of any
man's soul, even of the most callous and unscrupu-
lous : and Laurence Baxendale was neither unscru-
pulous nor callous : so that the bitterness of this con-
viction was to him as the very bitterness of death.

When the vicar and his wife were sitting at break-
fast one morning, not long after their return to Tet-
leigh, the maid brought in the card of Dr. Arrow-
smith, one of the Silverhampton doctors.

"What on earth can he want?" said Michael, look-
ing at the card.

"Let's have him in and ask him," Nora suggested ;
"it will be the simplest way of finding out; just as
opening one's letters is so much simpler than trying
to guess from the postmark who they come from —
yet nearly everybody tries the latter method first."

"Shall we have him in here?" asked the vicar,
doubtfully.

"Of course. I want to hear what he has got to
say."

But, dearest, the breakfast is all about.'*



IC



WINTER DAYS 321

''That doesn't matter. He must know that even
clergymen eat sometimes — especially as he is a doc-
tor."

"Still, darling, he may not wish you to hear what
he has got to say."

*'0h, Michael, what a fussy old maid you are ! I
can't think what induced me to marry an old maid."

"Possibly because the old maid happened to fall
in love with you," suggested the vicar.

"That must have been it. Nobody but old maids
ever did fall in love with us, worse luck ! Laurence
Baxendale is an older maid than you are — a younger
man, I know, but an older maid — he fell in love with
Nancy ; and I can't keep count of how many others
have done it besides. It seems an old maidish trick
that they fall into."

"But what about Dr. Arrowsmith, Nora?" said
the vicar, again looking at the card.

"I've told you — go and bring him in here : if you
don't, I shall have to fetch him myself."

Michael did as he was bid, kissing his wife as he
passed by her chair on his way to the door; though
how his wife's chair came between him and the door,
considering that his chair was just in front of that
egress and his wife's at the other end of the room,
it is difficult to understand. Still, it was only on a
par with his having maintained, in former days, that
the nearest way from the church to the vicarage at its
gates was by Wayside, a mile and a quarter distant.
Evidently Mr. Arbuthnot had not the bump of local-



322 FUEL OF FIRE

ity. Many men, especially young ones, are simi-
larly lacking ; he was by no means peculiar.

As Nora had bidden him, her husband brought
Dr. Arrowsmith at once into the dining-room.

"I am so sorry to trouble the vicar thus early in
the morning, Mrs. Arbuthnot," began the latter,
shaking hands with Nora; *'but I am aware that a
man called Rufus Webb is a parishioner of his — and
a remarkable man, too."

*'Yes," replied Nora, *'he is quite a character:
everybody knows him about here."

"I hope you do not bring bad news of him," added
her husband.

"I do, Mr. Arbuthnot — the very worst, I fear,
that I could bring. Webb has been knocked down
aind run over by a heavy dray ; and is now dying in
Silverhampton Hospital, where he was taken imme-
diatelv after the accident."

Nora's pretty eyes filled with tears : "Oh, how
sad! — how dreadfully sad! When did it happen?"

"Yesterday afternoon. At first we hoped that
we should pull him through ; but this morning it is
quite evident that there is no hope of his recovery."

"How came a dray to run over him?" asked the
vicar; "the streets of Silverhampton are not gener-
ally so crowded — especially in an afternoon — that
there need be any danger in crossing them."

"He says he was so dizzy that he did not see the
dray coming till it was upon him ?"

"Dizzy! what made him dizzy? A big, strong



WINTER DAYS 323

man like that ought not to have been feeUng dizzy,"
said Nora; "was he ill, do you think?"

"No, Mrs. Arbuthnot, he wasn't ill; but I am
afraid he was hungry." And the doctor's voice was


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