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none the less severe because silent, and which told on
Baxendale more than he would have cared to own.
He shunned society more than ever; he became
irritable and moodv; he carried out all the routine
work of the estate with exemplary care, but he had
plenty of time on his hands. As he abjured any
companionship, he devoted his spare time to wander-
ing about and thinking of Nancy, and holding the
balance between pride and his love; but he never
went into the lanes where he and Nancy used to walk
in the golden days of old : that, he felt, was more
than he could bear.

Matters also were going on very hardly with
Nancy. She was one of those women who are like
thoroughbred horses : she w^ould go on until she
dropped. But it was borne in upon her that the
time of dropping was near at hand. Although she
likewise had hitherto studiously avoided the lanes,
one afternoon v/hen she was feeling specially low, a
curious idea came to her that she would go to the
stile where Laurence had first kissed her, and there
bid farewell to her brief spell of perfect bliss.

By some subtle action of that force which men in
their ignorance call Chance — though it may be the
Providence which shapes our ends — Laurence Bax-
endale became possessed of a similar notion on that
same afternoon. He had lately been finding the
struggle to forget Nancy a little too much for him.
Pride, though making a gallant fight of it, was play-
ing a losing game. It only wanted a little more : at


a touch he was — although he knew it not — prepared
to yield. So it came to pass that he found himself,
almost to his own surprise, wandering down the
winding lanes where he and Nancy had passed such
happy hours. The sweet memories of those days of
bliss came back to him, and with them a passionate
desire to see that dear face again — ah! how sad it
was when he saw it ! — to kiss again a look of happi-
ness into those blue eyes, to bring back the old
brightness, the old mirth. What mattered those
dead and gone ancestors of his, what mattered his
own pride of race, compared with Nancy ? Had not
his mother meditated the very deed for which he
condemned the girl? It was for no mercenary mo-
tives he knew that she had done the deed : in a
moment of thoughtlessness she had done it for love.
For love ! Yes, her love for him was so great that
she had dared even a crime for his sake. He looked
into his own heart, and asked himself who was he
to pass judgment upon her? He had never commit-
ted a crime, it is true: yet did he not confess himself
every Sunday a miserable sinner, and with truth?
And should he, a sinner like the other Galileans, con-
demn her for a mad deed done for love?

As he thought on these things he looked up, and
behold ! there was Nancy herself at the stile. She
did not see him : but at the sight of her the last
vestige of pride disappeared. He was filled with a
passionate love; but with his love there came
a new feeling — humility. While not condoning


Nancy's fault, he condemned himself for his
Pharisaism — for how did he differ from him who
thanked God that he was not as this publican ? Dare
he approach her? Dare he speak to her? How
would she receive him? These thoughts crowded
thickly upon his brain. He hesitated for a moment,
and then walked on.

"My darling," he said softly.

Nancy looked up with a startled cry.

"You, you !" she cried, "why do you come here to
torment me? You have destroyed my happiness
and spoiled my life : can you not leave me to die in
peace ?

Laurence was stricken with remorse at her words ;
still more at the sight of her face.

"Nancy," he whispered gently, "can you ever for-
give me ? I have come to tell you that I am sorry.
I was mad when I said that we must part. I cannot
live without you. Sweetheart, I love you, I love

Nancy still looked at him with dilated eyes. She
seemed not to have heard a word he said.

"So you have come to gloat upon the ruin you
have wrought; to see what a wreck a woman can
become who has been fool enough to love a man!
Truly, a kind thought, a manly action !"

"How can you speak so bitterly, my own love? I
am here to own my fault and to beg your forgive-
ness. Can you not understand that I adore you;
that I cannot live without you?"


Nancy shook her head sadly.

"You should have thought of that before. It is
your own doing. You said that we must see each
other no more — you threw me aside without a
thought. If you now see that it was all a mistake,
you have only yourself to blame.'*

Baxendale found this reception a rude shock. He
had looked at the matter from his own point of view
alone, and had supposed, now that he was ready to
overlook Nancy's crime, he had only to propose a
renewal of their own relations to be received with
open arms. He was not prepared to find any reluc-
tance on the girl's part to a renewal of their lease of
love. He had been so consumed by his conviction
of Nancy's guilt that he had taken for granted that
she was aware that he knew. It had never occurred
to him to look at the matter from her side, or to
imagine that he had failed in any way in what was
due from him to her; so that her attitude came upon
him with a shock of surprise. He was in a difficult
position : he was anxious, nay, eager to take her
again to himself : he had a passionate desire to clasp
her in his arms, and swear that nothing in heaven or
earth should separate them again. But he could
hardly say to her, "My dear, I know you are a crim-
inal, but I am prepared to overlook the fact." And
unless he said something of the kind, it would be
hard for him to explain his past conduct should she
demand an explanation. He had expected her to
jump into his arms at the first hint of a relenting


from his stoical attitude: it was, perhaps, a useful
lesson for him to find that pride was not a monopoly
of the Baxendale family. So many families have
an idea that pride and sensitiveness are peculiar to
themselves — as white cattle to Chartley, and black
rabbits to Hawkestone.

"I know I have only myself to blame," he said at
last humbly; "but you would be merciful and forgiv-
ing if you knew the state of misery I have been in for
the last six months."

"It has been all your own doing."

"I know it ; but that makes it the worse. Hell is
not the less hell because a man has prepared it for
himself," said Baxendale, with some bitterness.

"And do you suppose I have not been miserable,
too ? In your pity for yourself, have you never had
a thought to waste on me?" cried Nancy; "it is the
old story : a man plays w- ith a woman's heart as he
plays with a football : it is a good game and requires
some skill. And when the heart is broken and he
cannot play with it any more, he just gets a new ball
and goes on with the game. One ball is as good as
another for him. Naturally — being a man — it is
the game itself he cares for; not the necessary imple-

"Heaven knows you are doing me an injustice,"
cried Baxendale passionately; "I have loved you all
through : when I have seemed most cold and most
heartless, I have adored you most."

'You had a strange way of showing it."



''I hoped and thought you would forget me when
you were in fresh scenes and saw new faces. No
one knows how cut to the heart I was when I saw
your face on your return, and recognised how much
vou had suffered."

"Why did you not tell me so?" asked Nancy.

"Why did I not?" replied her lover; "I cannot tell
you; you must not ask me. But believe me, my
darling, that I love you more than life itself. I am
filled with remorse for all the suffering I have caused
you, and if you will only forgive me, I will have but
one object for the future — your happiness."

Nancy did not speak, so Laurence went on: "I
cannot offer you a luxurious home such as you are
accustomed to; but I can at least offer you reason-
able comforts. My mother, you may have heard, is
about to marry again. For the future I shall not
have her to support, nor" — here Laurence winced —
"have to pay the premiums on the insurance. I do
not wish there to be any mistake — so I will say at
once that I cannot — it is not I will not, but I cannot
— take the insurance money. But my income,
though small, will enable me to maintain you with-
out that."

Baxendale paused after this lengthy and some-
what unlover-like speech. On the whole, he might
have done worse. During the recitation of these
prosaic details, Nancy had time to recover herself,
and the subtle influence of the man began to make
itself felt. When Laurence paused, Nancy said :



''You don't suppose I care a straw about your
money or your comforts or your luxuries, do
you r

Laurence was quick to perceive a change in her

"Nancy, darHng/' he whispered, ''don't you know
where we are? Don't you remember the dear old
stile, and the lovely times we used to anticipate. It
cannot be all over. You ivill forgive me, won't
you? You love m.e; I know you love me: and we
could be so happy together."

As he spoke, his arm stole gently round her waist.
Nancy did not withdraw herself, though she stif-
fened slightly.

"Sweetheart," he went on, and his voice shook in
its passionate entreaty, "you do not know how much
I love you. I adore you. I love your sweet eyes,
I love your dear face. Look up, my beloved.
Surely the winter is over, and the summer is at hand.
You love me, my darling ; say that you love me and
will forgive me."

"You said that it was better that we should see
each other no more."

"If I did, I hed."

"You preferred your pride to me."

"If I did, I was a fool. But love, glorious love,
has conquered pride, and you have conquered me."

They had walked a short distance from the stile:
now by mutual consent they turned and walked back
in silence. When they reached it, Laurence again


whispered, "Nancy — my own darling — cannot you
love me just a little?"

And Nancy looked up with swimming eyes. She
did not speak, but her look was enough for Lau-
rence. Their lips met in a long kiss, and the
estrangement Avas at an end.

And they were happy, supremely happy, ridicu-
lously happy. For the time Laurence forgot his
suspicions — indeed, he determined to blot them out
of his remembrance. As for Nancy, the bloom al-
ready began to come back into her pale cheeks, and
her blue eyes were bright with her deep love.

^'Laurence, dear," she said, ''you have made me
very miserable in the past. But I am almost glad of
it : because now it throws up the new happiness like
something done in bas-relief, or looked at through
a stereoscope, don't you know?"

'And you forgive me, my own?"

'I forgive you — but on one condition, that you
never refer to all this horridness again. Let it be
as if it had never been. We won't remember the
miserable time: we will be happy in the future.
When Nora and I were little and the games went
wrong, and we quarrelled over them, we used to say,
'Let's pretend it didn't happen;' and then we began
the game all over again in peace. It was such a
good plan, because it didn't leave any sore places.
And now I say again, 'Let's pretend it didn't hap-
pen,' and we'll begin the game all over again, and
leave no sore places."


And so they went on, hand in hand, wrapped up
in their present bhss. And, in spite of all her clev-
erness, it never once entered Nancy's head that her
lover indeed suspected her, since his present be-
haviour seemed so satisfactorily to prove the con-

So little do men and women — even when they are
in love with each other — read each other's inmost




Love evermore Is fresh and young;

So may it please your Royal Highness
To banish from your mother tongue

Such words as Finis.

There was great delight all through Tetleigh and
the neighbourhood thereof when the engagement of
Mr. Baxendale to Miss Burton was announced. An
engagement which one has seen coming on is always
so much more flattering to one's self-esteem (and
therefore more popular in proportion) than an en-
gagement which suddenly jumps out upon one and
takes one completely by surprise. The former
shows us how wise and foreseeing all we onlookers
have been; while the latter' proves (or, rather, tries
to prove) that we can see only what is under our
own noses and no further through a stone wall than
other people : which deduction, is, of course, absurd.

Although it might be a fine alliance socially for
Nancy, it was by no means a brilliant match from a
pecuniary point of view, and to this fact Mr. Burton
could not close his paternal eyes ; but now that Lady
Alicia was provided for, Laurence could justly af-
ford to keep a wife, and, moreover, Nancy's mind


was made up to marry him or die; and she had
shown such unmistakable signs of actually fulfilling
the latter alternative if the former were denied her
that her father decided in his own mind that as —
according to Solomon — a living married daughter
was better than a dead single one, or words to that
effect, he would not withhold his consent to Nancy's
becoming the wife of Laurence Baxendale.

As for the two lovers themselves, words could not
describe their happiness. It is true that there is no
heartsickness harder to bear than that of hope long
deferred ; but, on the other hand, there is no tree of
life whereof the fruit is sweeter than that of the
long-deferred desire at last fulfilled; and now Lau-
rence and Nancy were enjoying this fruit to the
fullest extent of their by no means limited powers.
Compensation is one of the great laws of life; and
those people whose hearts' desires have been given
to them at the mere request of their lips, have no idea
of the ecstasy of bliss vouchsafed to those whose
happiness arrives late, after having tarried long
upon the way.

In the sunshine of her restored happiness Nancy
soon began to grow strong and well again: while
Laurence resolutely put away from him all remem-
brance of the crime which had once well-nigh
wrecked his life, and decided that as he had forgiven
so much he would forget.

Lady Alicia was married very quietly to her old
lover in London on the twelfth of June; Nancy's


wedding was fixed to take place at Tetleigh church
on the tenth of September; and in the interval it
happened that Professor Gottfried, a most distin-
guished scientist with whom the Arbuthnots had
made friends on their honeymoon, came to stay at
the vicarage for a few days.

The professor was not one of those clever people
whose chins are always in the air; he was one of
those men of genius who know that nothing is be-
neath the notice of Man since nothing is beneath
the notice of God : so he was immensely inter-
ested in everything that was going on around him,
and — having learned much — was always longing to
learn more. While he was staying at Tetleigh he
heard the story of the burning of Baxendale Hall
and the mystery connected with it, and his attention
was immediately aroused thereby.

Over and over again he made Michael and Nora
describe to him every detail of the incident with all
the evidence that told so strongly against Laurence,
until they grew weary of the recital ; and then Nora
suggested that they should take him up to the ruins
of the Hall, so that he might study the question more
minutely upon the very scene of the tragedy. So it
came to pass one glorious afternoon in August that
the Arbuthnots, Professor Gottfried, Laurence,
Nancy, and Nancy's two small brothers strolled up
to examine all that was left of Baxendale Hall.

It was a lovely day; just such another day as that
which had preceded the catastrophe exactly a year


ago, only there was no gale this August as there had
been last; one of those perfect summer afternoons
when Nature seems to be at a standstill, simply be-
cause there is nothing better to do than she has al-
ready done — she is at her wits' end how to find
another treat for her already spoiled children.

They walked slowly through the lanes — those
lanes which were as holy ground to at least two of
the party, who considered the others guilty of sacri-
lege in daring to walk there at all — until they
reached the Park, and then across the velvet grass
to the ruins, which stood gaunt and grim and
blackened, the one inharmonious touch in the idyllic
picture of English summer time. Then Laurence
took the professor all over his devastated home,
pointing out as fully as he could where the fire broke
out and how it travelled. The man of science fol-
lowed him with absorbing interest.

*Tt is most strange, most strange!" he kept say-
ing; "I cannot at all find it out."

'Tt never will be found out now, I expect," replied
Laurence; adding under his breath, "and hope."

But Professor Gottfried had no such wish. It
was his business to solve problems and to make dis-
coveries, and he did not like to be beaten.

"It must haf been set on fire from the inside," he
continued: "there is no doubt of that. To set a
house on fire from the outside, and to begin on the
upper storey, is a most impossible and not-to-be-
believed-in thing. Yet the ground floor by the fire


quite untouched has been. But why did you not
this floor roof over again before everything was
spoiled ?'*

''Because I couldn't afford to do so/* said Lau-
rence simply.

"Ach ! but it is a bother not things to be able to

''It is : there's no doubt of that." And the master
of Baxendale laughed somewhat bitterly.

"And there was no one in the house living, you
tell me, at the time; even the caretakers had for a
short holiday gone away. Was that not so?"


"And they had all keys into your hands before
going given? So did Arbuthnot tell me."

"That is so." Laurence hated this endeavour to
discover a secret which his chief desire now was to
keep inviolate. He had forgiven Nancy with all his
heart ; but he was by no means sure that the world —
if it found out her guilt — would be equally ready to
forgive her ; and he was quite certain that he did not
wish the world ever to have the chance. So he tried
to divert the professor's attention. "If you will
come with me across the lawn to that clump of
beech-trees on the other side, I will give you a
glimpse into five counties," he said.

But it required a stronger man than Baxendale to
divert the professorial mind when once it had set
itself to the solution of a particular problem.

"I do not want to see five counties — no, nor fifty


counties: I do want the mystery of this house to

'It's no good trying to do that, professor; we've
all tried, and have given it up as a bad job; and
you'll be compelled to do the same."

"Ach ! what nonsense you young men do talk and
how idle you are ! 'A bad job,' indeed ! Who ever
heard of in mathematics *a bad job'? To every
question there is an answer if only one can find it;
and I mean this one to find out before I go."

"It's no good, professor; you'd better take my ad-
vice and give it up."

But the professor was not to be baulked. He pot-
tered about the ruins for another hour with Lau-
rence at his heels, and then was so hot and tired that
he was obliged to join the group sitting under the
beech-trees and partake of a tea which Mrs. Candy
had carried up from her cottage in a basket.

"What a perfect afternoon it is !" exclaimed Nora,
with a sigh of absolute contentment, laying her hand
upon her husband's, and looking at her sister from
whose face joy was already beginning to play the
part of india rubber and erase sorrow's handwriting :
"Nancy, dear, do you ever wonder what you have
done to deserve such happiness?"

Nancy shook her head: "No; but I sometimes
wonder what Laurence has."

"Isn't it funny that food always tastes so much
nicer out-of-doors than it does indoors?" remarked
that young lady w' hen the meal was well under way ;


*'I believe that even boiled mutton or rice-pudding
would seem regular delicacies in the open air."

'Tood eaten out-of-doors is nice even to read
about in books," said Nora.

Her sister agreed : "Yes, isn't it ? Now when you
read about Robin Hood and people of that sort tak-
ing venison-pasties and stoups of claret in the 'mer-
rie greenwood' (spelled with ie instead of y), it
sounds the most delicious fare; yet I'm certain that
claret handed round in stoups (whatever a stoup
may be) would taste awfully sour in a modern din-
ing-room ; and as for venison !"

"Well, what's wrong with venison?" asked Lau-
rence, with a smile, as Nancy paused. He was
already unconsciously acquiring the manner peculiar
to those men who are blessed with brilliant wives :
he led up to her best stories, played up to her smart-
est repartees ; and — when she was in full swing — his
lips moved slightly, as do the lips of prompters in
amateur theatricals.

"Oh ! venison is nothing but mutton with its head
turned ; and it's as troublesome as are all the people
whose heads have been turned. You never can catch
it at the right moment, like a pear or an eclipse, don't
you know ? It has either not been kept long enough,
when it is mutton and too tough to eat, or else it has
been kept too long, in which case either it or you has
to leave the house at once in favour of the other; and
then to return to your mutton is dangerous to life
from a sanitary point of view."


While Nancy was rattling on in her old, airy, in-
consequent fashion, with nobody but Laurence pay-
ing much attention to what she said. Professor Gott-
fried was showing the little boys some grass and
flowers through a powerful magnifying-glass which
he happened to have in his pocket.

Suddenly Arthur raised the glass and regarded
the surrounding landscape through it: **I say,
Amby," he cried, "do come here and see how
funny all the trees and everything look through

Ambrose flew to his brother's side, and gazed
through the glass with one blue eye, puckering up
the other until every muscle on that side of his small
face was taut. "It is awfly queer!" he exclaimed;
"everything looks so big and wobbly, doesn't it? as
if the world was full of water. Let's pretend we're
at the bottom of the sea, and the trees are made of
sea- weed !"

"Let me look," said Nancy, whose finger was not
long out of any pie. She could not bear to be out-
side of things.

After she had gazed her fill — which was a very
short one — Laurence took the glass from her (more
for the pleasure of touching her fingers, it must be
admitted, than from any desire to behold the phe-
nomenon which it presented), and idly raised it to
his eyes.

"It makes me feel like a child again," he remarked
after a moment; "there used to be a flaw in the


nursery window here which magnified things when
you looked through it; and — as Ambrose said —
made everything wobbly and watery. I, likewise,
remember pretending the world was the bottom of
the sea in those days when I looked through that
particular pane in the old nursery window."

*'Eh! What is that? what is that?" cried the pro-
fessor, with suddenly awakened interest.

"I was only saying that looking through your
glass at this view reminded me of looking through
my old nursery window ; as there was a flaw in one
of the panes there that magnified everything/' re-
plied Laurence languidly. The professor's almost
childish interest in trifles and curiosity regarding the
same bored him considerably.

Professor Gottfried started to his feet, and
clapped his hands in an ecstasy of enthusiasm, there-
by upsetting his tea and bread-and-butter in one
fell crash. **I have it, I have it!" he cried; "the
mystery of the fire at last is cleared. The never-to-
be-solved problem is solved! The bad job is not to
be given up any more, but is a very good job after

"What on earth do you mean, professor?" asked
the vicar in amazement, while the others looked on,
imagining that too much learning had made the little
German mad.

"I mean that to me it has been given the great
mystery of this house to solve: T mean that I do
know how Baxendale Hall was by accident burned ;


that is what I do mean!" And the professor fairly
skipped with excitement.

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Online LibraryEllen Thorneycroft FowlerFuel of fire → online text (page 21 of 22)