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i8 FUEL OF FIRE

Nora. "You know the Baxendales are frightfully
poor; and when old Mr. Baxendale died Lady Alicia
went to live with her brother, Lord Portcullis. Lau-
rence was tremendously clever, and went to Ox-
ford with a sort of scholarship, which they called a
Post Office Order of Merton, or something like
that."

"I knew he was clever," said Nancy, "or else he
wouldn't admire me."

"When he left Oxford he became tutor to Lord
Drawbridge, Lord Portcullis's eldest son : and this
went on till Drawbridge went to school and Lord
Portcullis married again."

"Till both their Lordships went to school, in
short," concluded Anthony.

"If they can't afford actually to live at Baxendale
Hall, they like to be near it, I suppose," Nora said.

"Not the rose, but near the rose: though what's
the fun of living near the rose if you can't possess
it, I don't know," said Tony.

"Neither do I," agreed Nora. "If I can't buy a
thing for my own, I hate seeing it in the shop win-
dows."

"I believe that Faith Fairfax is in love with Mr.
Baxendale," Nancy said slowly.

The other two looked up with interest.
'What makes you think that?" asked Nora.
'Because she always knows where he is, and al-
ways pretends that she doesn't."

'Now Faith would be a suitable match for our



<<■'



id



((',



THE BURTONS 19

friend," Tony remarked; ''she'd have property
enough to set Baxendale Hall on its legs again, and
propriety enough not to knock Laurence off his."

Nancy nodded. ''1 know that ; and that would be
just the reason why he would never fall in love with
her. Trust him for invariably going against his own
interests when he has the chance."

'T think it would be rather dull to be in love with
Mr. Baxendale," said Nora; ''it would be like going
to an oratorio every day of one's life, or lodging in
a cathedral."

"What rubbish !" Nancy exclaimed : "besides, ora-
torios and cathedrals are very nice in their way."

"Of course they are, Nancy dear: I only said it
would be rather dull to be married to one."

"Well, I don't agree with you. Mr. Baxendale
is an ideal sort of person, with high aims and sound
principles, and everything else en suite. And though
it would be horrid to have ideal people for one's re-
lations, I think they are the most satisfactory sort
to fall in love with."

Nora looked doubtful. "But why ?"

"Well, you see," explained Nancy, "falling in love
is an ideal sort of thing ; and if you fall in love with
a person, and then found he was sordid and com-
monplace, it would be like seeing an angel and then
finding the angelic robes were made of cheap calico.
Now Mr. Baxendale is tiresome and trying and ab-
surdly fastidious : but he would always be more or
less ideal. I don't mean he is ideal in the sense of



20 FUEL OF FIRE



being faultless — anything but ; he is ideal in the sense
of always seeing the right course and — as far as in
him lies — of following it."

'Taith is ideal, too," said Nora softly.

'Taith is an angel," Nancy agreed emphatically.

''And not an angel in cheap calico either," added
her cousin.

*'No; Faith is just perfect," Nancy continued;
"but all the same, it would do Mr. Baxendale far
more good to fall in love with me than with her."

''I should have thought ideal people ought to fall
in love with ideal people," suggested Tony, "on the
approved principle of 'a hair of the dog that bit
vou' ; and in that case Baxendale and Miss Fairfax
seem made to order for each other. It would be a
match, not only striking on the box, but striking
from every possible point of view."

Nancy shrugged her shoulders. "A hair of the
dog that bit you is supposed to be curative, you silly ;
and love is the one disease that is the worse for being
cured. I think that Laurence and Faith would cure
each other of perfection by their own perfectness :
and then where would they be, stupid ?"

"Goodness — or badness — only knows!"

"Now it is an education for anyone to fall in love
with one of us Burtons," Nancy went on. "I've
noticed it often."

"So have I," her cousin agreed ; "and that has led
me to make the educational process as easy and pleas-
ant as possible to such young ladies as appeared



THE BURTONS 21

to me worthy of the training and likely to do it jus-
tice."

"You see we are so healthy-minded that we cure
any tendency to morbidness at once: and we are so
natural that affectation cannot exist within our bor-
ders. Then we are funny ; and as a rule the curse of
love is seriousness. Love as a tragedy is a bore ; but
love as a comedy is a delight to the actors, and is
worth ten-and-six a stall to the audience. Now no
one could regard a love affair with one of us in the
light of a tragedy: could they?"

''They certainly could not," replied Anthony ; "un-
less, of course, we accepted them."

"Still I'm not sure that this is altogether a virtue,"
Nora remarked sadly. "I believe people enjoy a
love affair more if they can cry over it ; and we never



can."



That's the worst of us," said Nancy with a sigh ;
"we spoil half the fun of life by laughing at it. If
we could only cry over things, and not see that they
are funny, we should enjoy them a million times
more. I'm sure we should. It spoils a love affair
to see the funny side of it; and yet I always do."

"Mr. Baxendale wouldn't see the funny side of a
love affair," said Nora.

"Oh! yes he would — that's just the sort of thing
he would see the joke of. It is only solemn things
— such as truth and honour and the Church and the
Baxendales — that he takes so seriously. As a matter
of fact, I believe he is too superior a person to fall in



22 FUEL OF FIRE

love at all ; he would think it infra dig for a Baxen-
dale to love an ordinary woman ; and that is why it
would do him such a world of good to fall in love
with me. It is extremely good for people to be
V obliged to do what they consider infra dig; it knocks
^ "^the nonsense out of them."

''It seems to me," remarked Anthony, ''that there
is a good deal of nonsense to be knocked out of Mr.
Laurence Baxendale, and that our beloved Nancy
would enjoy the job.",

"I really believe I ^ould," agreed Nancy.

"The worst of Mr. Baxendale is that he is so
frightening," said Nora; "he says such sarcastic
things."

"Oh! I'm not frightened of him," replied her
sister airily. (But she was.)

"I always feel he is despising us and making fun
of us," Nora went on; "he has such a dreadfully
sneering way with him."

"I don't care whether he sneers or not," Nancy
persisted.

"But I thought you were under the impression
that he admired you," suggested her cousin.

"So he does; but he doesn't approve of me: that's
all the difference, silly."

"I wonder if he ever laughs at his mother," re-
marked Nora. "She is so deliciously vague that it
must indeed be a privation to be prevented by the
Fifth Commandment from thoroughly enjoying
her."



THE BURTONS 23

Nancy shook her head. ''No, I feel sure he
doesn't : Mr. Baxendale is the sort of man that the
Commandments would have great weight with.
And, by the way, here he comes in the flesh round
the corner of the terrace, so I can begin the knock-
ing-out process at once." And the three young Bur-
tons hoisted themselves up out of the garden-chairs
in which they were lounging, and went to meet a
slight, fair, aristocratic-looking man who was being
piloted by a footman across the lawn.

It was a summer's afternoon, and Anthony and his
cousins were sitting in the garden of Wayside, the
Burton's house, about three miles from the manu-
facturing town of Silverhampton. Mr. Burton, the
girls' father, was an iron-master, as his father had
been before him; and he and Anthony drove every
day to the Works, which lay in the dark valley on
the other side of the ridge which divides, as by a
straight line, the great Black Country of the Mid-
lands from the woods and hills and meadowlands of
west Mershire.

Mr. Burton had married a Miss Farringdon — a
distant cousin of the Farringdons of Sedgehill — and
they were blessed with two sons and two daughters :
Nancy, who had wit, and Nora, who had beauty,
respectively aged twenty-two and eighteen ; and two
small boys, Arthur and Ambrose, who were enjoying
life and neglecting their education at a preparatory
school.

Anthony, the only child of Mr. Burton's late



24 FUEL OF FIRE

brother, had inherited his father's share in the
Works, and was now his uncle's sole partner. His
mother died when he was born ; and since the death
of his father, when Anthony was only ten years old,
the latter had made Wayside his home, and had been
treated by Mr. and Mrs. Burton exactly as if he
were a son of their own. To Nancy and Nora he
had always been as the kindest of brothers ; and al-
though he teased them in brotherly fashion, he was
— also in brotherly fashion — ready to fight their
battles to the death, and to knock down any other
man who should venture to tease them as he did.

The Burtons were a light-hearted race who had
never known either great riches or uncomfortable
poverty, and so were innocent alike of the responsi-
bilities of the one and the anxieties of the other.
They had never been rich enough to be economical,
nor poor enough to be extravagant; so they took life
easily, and extracted pleasure from the most un-
promising sources; and — as is the custom in this
too-sorrowful world — were popular in proportion to
their cheerfulness. Mankind, as at present consti-
tuted, dearly loves the people who make it laugh.

Wayside, the local habitation of the Burtons, was
a red-brick house on the highroad leading from Sil-
verhampton to Salopshire, and thence to the western
sea. It was approached from the road by a long,
solemn drive, bordered by specimen shrubs, which
Nancy said had a depressing appearance, because
evergreens always gave her the blues ; but the house



THE BURTONS 25

itself was cheerful and comfortable enough ; and the
garden at the back faded away into fields, which,
in their turn, ended in some of the prettiest lanes
in England. As a child Nancy thought that these
lanes led straight into fairyland; as a woman she
knew that they did; but this fuller knowledge only
came after she had trodden those green and mys-
terious ways in company with the man of her choice,
and sundry others. There was nothing narrow or
exclusive about Nancy : her power of making friends
was. only equalled by her capacity of turning these
friends into lovers on the slightest provocation ; and
if the friends declined to be thus transformed, no
bitterness was excited in Nancy's breast, as it might
have been in the breast of a more sentimental and
serious-minded young woman. Everything was
fish that came to her net: and if it was not fish, it
was fowl or good red herring, which did quite as
well as far as she was concerned. If men fell in love
with her, she enjoyed their love: if they were only
friends with her, she enjoyed their friendship: and
she regarded either as the best joke in the world for
the time being. Nora to a great extent moulded
herself upon Nancy; for if Nora was the beauty,
Nancy had the stronger personality.

Nora Burton really was extremely pretty, with
dark brown hair, large blue eyes, and a bright pink
colour : she was tall and slender, and carried herself
like a queen. Nancy always described herself — and
with much truth — as "sl Colonial edition of Nora" ;



26 FUEL OF FIRE

she was shorter and paler, with darker hair ; and her
eyes were smaller than her sister's, though quite as
blue. The boys were more like Nora — a merry,
good-looking little couple. All the Burtons were
endowed with a very saving faith in themselves, and
a very sincere admiration for each other: and —
which is the secret of all true family (and conjugal)
happiness — they appreciated and applauded one an-
other's jokes to the full. Even the love which bear-
eth and believeth all things, staggers now and then
when its attempts at wit are greeted with the stony
stare of the unamused ; but the Burtons knew better
than to put their family affection to so severe a test.

As Nancy crossed the lawn to greet Laurence
Baxendale, she found time en route for an aside to
the footman, bidding him fetch his mistress and tea ;
then she devoted herself to charming her guest to the
utmost extent of her powers, as was her invariable
habit whether the guest happened to be male or
female.

*'Come and sit down," she said; "I have told Fred-
erick to bring out tea and mother at once, as I feel
sure you must be dying for one or the other."

Baxendale bowed : "Thank you. Miss Burton.
Naturally both will be welcome ; but it would be in-
vidious, wouldn't it, to point out which will be the



more so



?"



We have just been talking about you," Nancy
observed, as the four young people seated them-
selves.



THE BURTONS 27



Laurence winced : he was one of the few people
who hate to be talked about. But this of course was
inexplicable to Nancy, who would rather have been
abused than not mentioned at all. ''Indeed? what
have you found to say about me?" he asked.

''We have agreed that you are rather like a cathe-
dral or an oratorio : and that we are decidedly fright-
ened of you."

"I ^^ould not have thought that you would be
frightened of me," replied Laurence, who was fright-
ened out of his wits at Miss Burton, and the terrible
doubt as to what she might say. "I am a most
harmless creature."

"Oh, yes, you're harmless enough : but you are so
dreadfully truthful and upright; and that is what
makes you so cathedrally."

"I never feel like a cathedral," Laurence protested.

"And you don't look like one. Elephants always
look like walking cathedrals, don't you think? —
when you see them strolling about at the Zoo; just as
if they were built of grey stone, which had been ex-
posed to the elements for centuries."

"I can't say, Miss Burton : I don't know that I
have ever seen a walking cathedral."

"But you've seen a circulating library : and that's
something of the same sort. But, as I was saying,
you don't look like a cathedral — you only shed a
gentle and cathedrally sort of influence : and that is
because you are so truthful and upright."



28 FUEL OF FIRE



"It is generally supposed to be the best policy, isn't
it? So, at least, I've always been told."

"Then you have been brought up on proverbs,"
said Nora, joining in the conversation; "and they
are invariably misleading."

"Of course they are," added Nancy; "if you let
yourself be guided by proverbs, you will believe
that the better you behave the better-looking you will
become: which — as Euclid wisely remarked — is
absurd."

"Then aren't you truthful and upright?" asked
Laurence, endeavouring to divert the conversation
from himself and his moral excellencies.

Nancy laughed : "Not we ! We never tell the
truth, unless we are convinced that it is funnier than
fiction; and we always take what doesn't belong to
us, if we happen to fancy it."

"From hearts down to postage stamps," added
Anthony under his breath.

"But none of us has ever stolen on a large scale,
except mother," Nancy went on : "did you ever hear
the tale of mother in the boot shop, Mr. Baxendale?"
'No; please tell it me."

'Well, one day at the seaside I went with mother
to buy a new pair of boots. She tried on several
pairs, in the orthodox fashion, and finally settled
upon a pair that was faintly less uncomfortable than
the others ; whereupon we left the shop. All the way
home we saw people looking at us and giggling : and
though we feel we are worthy of all notice, we see



"]



THE BURTONS 29

nothing in our appearance to excite mirth. There-
fore we wondered."

"Naturally," said Laurence.

*'At last, one woman — braver than the rest —
stopped us and said to mother, between paroxysms
of laughter, 'Are you aware. Madam, that you have
a bunch of baby's shoes hanging behind you?' It
turned out — would you believe it? — that when
mother sat down to be tried on, a bunch of children's
shoes had caught on the fringe of her mantle; and
she had walked with them dangling behind her all
up the street. You know the sort; ankle-straps in
every conceivable shade of leather. Of course we
nearly died of laughing: and that is the only time
any one of us has ever been actually convicted of
shop-lifting. But here is the thief herself."

Tea and Mrs. Burton arrived simultaneously ; and
the former was dispensed by Nancy with much
enlivening conversation, wherein the others joined.
Which Baxendale, in spite of his efforts to the
contrary, enjoyed to the full. And when a man
has to make an effort not to enjoy the conversation
of one particular woman, things are pretty bad with
him.

At last he rose: 'T wonder what o'clock it is. I
seem to be staying an unconscionable time — like
Charles the Second; but to me it has appeared short
— as I daresay it did to him."

Nancy looked at her watch-bracelet : "1 am not a
very good guide as to time, because my watch is



30 FUEL OF FIRE

always either ten minutes too slow or three-quarters
of an hour too fast, and you never can be quite sure
which.''

''There must be something wrong with its internal
arrangements," said Mrs. Burton, with her pleasant
laugh ; "which perhaps accounts for your being late
for everything, Nancy dear."

''Maybe: anyway I must admit that punctuality
is the one virtue which I don't happen to possess."

"Can I do anything towards the watch's recov-
ery?" asked Laurence, holding out his hand for the
pretty toy.

"No, thank you. When it is worse than usual I
just give it a stir-up inside with a hairpin."

Laurenco smiled. "That is a bit drastic, isn't it?"

"But it always does it good. For at least a week
after the hairpin treatment it never loses more than
five minutes in the day, or gains more than thirty :
but after that it drops back into its old evil ways
again, just as we all do the next week but one after a
really stirring sermon."

"I am afraid sermons never stir me up at all —
whatever hairpins might do," said Laurence.

"Oh ! but they stir up Nancy," cried Nora : "ser-
mons, I mean, of course — not hairpins."

Nancy nodded : "I Hiould just think they do.
They give me thrills all down my spine — just as the
National Anthem and falling in love do — and make
me really an exquisite character for about four days.
Once for a week, after Mr. Arbuthnot had preached



THE BURTONS 31

about unselfishness, I went for a walk with Nora
every day: and another time, after he'd preached
against vanity and love of dress, I let Tony go for a
whole afternoon with his tie wriggling up over the
back of his collar, and never told him of it."

"And I was not behind you in virtuous behav-
iour," added Anthony: '*that very same sermon led
me to leave a smut, which had settled upon our dear
Nancy's ineffective nose, unwept, unhonoured and
unsung for at least four good hours by Shrewsbury
clock. And it was on a day when she was partic-
ularly fancying herself, too."

Nancy tossed her head : ''What a goose you are,
Tony ! All the same, I wonder how you could resist
the pleasure of finding fault with me when there
was any just ground for such fault finding."

*T admit it was difficult, my dear young cousin:
a less self-denying man could not have withstood
the temptation. There are some things which are
absolutely necessary to a man's well-being and peace
of mind ; and one of them is pointing out the faults
of his female relations."

"Another is pointing out, in a photograph of any
place which he has visited, the hotel where he hap-
pened to stay," said Nancy : "no normal human be-
ing — either man or woman — can help doing that."

"And if we can put a cross opposite our own par-
ticular bedroom window, delight reaches the point
of ecstasy," added Laurence.

Anthony gazed at Nancy in mock admiration:



32 FUEL OF FIRE

"My dear young friend, you are too clever by half :
if you get much sharper you'll cut yourself."

''Well, I haven't yet, anyhow : though I've often
been tempted to cut you."

'There you are, at it again," sighed Anthony:
"when shall I persuade you to be good, sweet maid,
and let who will be clever ? It would be such a pleas-
ant change if you would! And, besides, you'll never
get a husband if you go on scintillating like this;
men don't want a blaze of fireworks on their own
hearthstones."

"They'll want me right enough, whether I hearth-
stone or whether I firework," retorted Nancy, who
never could resist squabbling with Tony when she
had the chance.

"In that case," replied her cousin, "they'll soon
find out their mistake — at least the fortunate (or
rather the unfortunate) one whom you select, will.
The beauteous firework so fiercely sought, will be-
come an intolerable nuisance by being confined to the
domestic hearthstone. I'm sure I pity the poor fel-
low, whoever he may be. When I meet him I shall
hug my single blessedness, feeling how far my high
failure overleaps the bounds of his low success."

Mr. Baxendale turned to Nancy : "Do you know

I think your cousin is rather wasting his sympathy?"

, "No, I'm not," Anthony contradicted him: "you

jC\ don't know her as well as I do."

.1^ ^ "Which is my misfortune rather than my fault."

"That may be; but it is a most fortunate misfor-






THE BURTONS 33

tune for you. She'll make a strict wife, won't she,
Nora?"

"Not she," replied the younger Miss Burton: "of
course she'll expect the man to do things her way in-
stead of his own, but that will only be good for him."

"And though I shall expect the man to do things
my way instead of his own, I shall never expect him
to say, or even to think, that it is a better way than
his own: that's where lots of women make such a
mistake."

'Wise Nancy!" exclaimed Mrs. Burton.

'Well, all the same, I return to my point," said
Anthony, "and that is that Nancy is becoming too
clever to get a husband at all."

Nancy merely made a face at him, without taking
the trouble to reply.

"You silly children!" said Mrs. Burton, rising
from her chair and shaking Laurence's outstretched
hand. "Well, if you must go, good-bye, Mr. Bax-
endale. I am afraid you will imagine that I have a
most frivolous family."

"I shan't think any the worse of them on that
score," Laurence politely expostulated.

But he did — in those days before Nancy had
taught him how wise it is to be silly sometimes : and
how dull it is (when once one has been silly) to be-
come wise again.



CHAPTER II.

BAXENDALE HALL.

Upon a hill the old house stood,
Commanding stream and field and wood.

Baxendale Hall^ which was built for the third
time — having been twice destroyed by fire — in the
reign of James the Second, was a fine, square house
of red brick, with stone facings, and the coat-of-arms
of the Baxendales, also in stone, carved over the
front door. It stood in the centre of a beautiful
park, on the borders of Mershire and Salopshire;
and the house was situated upon such an eminence
that its cellars were on a line with the top of the
tower of Silverhampton Church. Thus Silverhamp-
ton and Baxendale Hall looked at each other, from
their respective hills, across a fruitful and well-popu-
lated valley, a pleasant land of meadows and or-
chards and comfortable houses, made happy by the
money that was coined in the murky coal-fields on
the other side of Silverhampton town.

The Baxendales were one of the oldest families in
Mershire; and they had lived at Baxendale Hall ever
since Doomsday Book was edited — and probably
before that. But of late years their prosperity had
dwindled, as is the way nowadays of all prosperity



BAXENDALE HALL 35

which has its being solely in land; and when the
late Mr. Baxendale died of a broken heart, owing
to the pecuniary difficulties which beset him, it was
found that the rents of the estate were so reduced,
and the mortgages upon it so heavy, that his son
came into an income of only some very few hun-
dreds a year ; and those few hundreds were made still
fewer by the enormous fire insurance which all the
owners of Baxendale were bound to pay, in consid-
eration of the family curse which foretold that Bax-
endale Hall should once more — for the third time —
''be made fuel of fire."

The late Mr. Baxendale had married for love and
not for money — a peculiarity of his race — Lady
Alicia Moate, a daughter of the Earl of Portcullis;
and by her had one child, a son, Laurence. Her
ladyship possessed as little wit as money, but she had
beauty in excess ; and for her beauty Alwyn Baxen-


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