Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler.

Fuel of fire online

. (page 6 of 22)
Online LibraryEllen Thorneycroft FowlerFuel of fire → online text (page 6 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ANTHONY'S SUGGESTION 89

ously — a thing which my dear husband seemed con-
stitutionally unable to do; and I fear poor Laurence
is not much better."

Before Nancy had time to take up the cudgels on
Laurence's behalf, she and Lady Alicia had reached
the door of Ways Hall; but all the same, her heart
was hot within her as she realised how completely
his mother misunderstood him, and she longed pas-
sionately to make up to him in some way for all that
he had missed in life. Suddenly she realised — by
what means she could not say — how much the sensi-
tive father and son had been to each other, and what
a terrible blank the death of his father had left in
the life of Laurence Baxendale.

When women of the Nancy Burton type admire a
man, they are fairly safe : it is only when they begin
to pity him that their hearts are in jeopardy.

Mrs. Fairfax and Faith were sitting out on the
verandah at the back of the house, and their visitors
joined them there. The verandah at Ways Hall was
quite an institution. Faith and her mother princi-
pally lived in it for the greater part of the year. It
occupied the whole length of the house on the south
side, and had a stone roof supported by handsome
stone pillars. Each end was of glass, lined with
rows of rare plants in pots ; so that there was no ad-
mittance to any manner of wind save a south one;
while all the sunshine in the garden collected itself in
the verandah, as cream collects itself at the top of a



90 FUEL OF FIRE

can of milk. Therefore there were few days in the
year when the verandah at Ways Hall was not suit-
able for habitation.

Mrs. Fairfax and Faith loved their garden ; and in
return their garden educated them as only well-loved
gardens can educate men and women. The cares of
this world and the deceitfulness of riches find a pow-
erful antidote in a garden ; for those who abide near
the heart of Nature learn from her lessons of peace
and patience which she does not teach to her more
bustling children. Now, as of old, the Lord God
walks in the garden in the cool of the day and com-
munes with them who have ears to hear; and well
for those who hearken unto His voice as it speaks to
them through the trees of the garden and the flowers
of the field of laws that cannot be broken and of
promises that must be fulfilled!

''I have made a new fernery," said Mrs. Fairfax,
after she had greeted her visitors in her old-world
manner and Faith had carried Nancy off for a girlish
confabulation, *'and I wish you to see it, Alicia, when
you have rested awhile."

^'Oh, how delightful !" exclaimed Lady Alicia; "to
my mind there are few things more beautiful and
suggestive than ferns. They always seem to me like
graceful women who have charm rather than actual
beauty; and there is nothing more interesting than
charm, don't you think? — so attractive and yet so
elusive."



((



I have arranged that all the water from the gar-



ANTHONY'S SUGGESTION 91

den should drain into the fernery and so run into the
lake," continued Mrs. Fairfax.

Lady Alicia and the mistress of Ways Hall always
enjoyed a conversation with each other — for the
good reason that each talked of her own concerns,
utterly regardless of what the other was saying;
which resulted in the equal satisfaction of both.

"And flowers are suggestive, too," Lady Alicia
went on. "I once had a beautiful idea that it would
be so sweet for people to try and copy the flowers
which grow in the month when their birthdays are."

"It has the same effect as a dropping- well ; the
water trickles down a rockery covered with ferns and
forms itself into a stream at the bottom."

"That is why I am always so much interested to
find out in what month people's birthdays fall ; then I
know what type of character they should aim at.
And it is so sweet to have an aim in life, I think ; it
gives one something to think of in the winter even-
ings and on Sundays."

"And over the stream I have built a rustic wooden
bridge; it is extremely pretty now, and will be far
more so when the creepers which I have trained over
it are fully grown."

"My birthday, you see, is in October; and I have
always tried to copy chrysanthemums by dressing in
those sweet art shades, and by showing myself a
friend for dark and cold days rather than for sunny
ones. That is so touching in chrysanthemums, I
think : they come just when one is sad and lonely



92 FUEL OF FIRE

and the bedding-out plants are all gone. And that is
such a beautiful allegory of friendship — to visit peo-
ple when they are in trouble rather than in their pros-
perous days."

''I am not sure whether I shall be able to keep some
of the ferns out-of-doors all the winter; I fear it
would be a risk for those that I brought from abroad,
and even for some of those that came from Devon-
shire. You see, the frosts here are somewhat



severe."



*'I remember when dear Mildred Swain married
her curate — such a sweet young man, with a lovely
complexion and no money, just like a girl! — I pro-
posed a month's visit to them immediately in their
dear little home; and I took my maid with me to
show that their being poor made no difference to



me."



"Exactly what a chrysanthemum would have done
in the circumstances," remarked Mrs. Fairfax, for
the first time paying attention to what her compan-
ion was saying.

Her ladyship smiled complacently: jokes were
things undreamed of in her philosophy. "My dear
Emilia, how quickly you grasp an idea ! You and I
always have so much in common!"

Mrs. Fairfax laughed. In her day she had been a
greater beauty than her friend, and Lady Alicia's
little elegancies were completely lost upon her.

"Then," continued the latter, "I think it is so nice
for people whose birthdays are in April to cultivate



ANTHONY'S SUGGESTION 93

humility and try to copy the dear Uttle modest vio-
lets."

''What nonsense, Alicia! If there is one virtue
more objectionable than another, that virtue is hu-
mility. It is a most tiresome and aggravating at-
tribute."

Lady Alicia fairly gasped : *'My dear Emilia !"

''I mean what I say. There are no people who
give so much trouble in the world as the unassuming,
deprecating people: their humility is far more ag-
gressive in reality than the conceit of the most con-
ceited."

"But, dear, dear Emilia, think how beautiful true
humiUty is, and how altogether sweet and Chris-
tian."

''I don't care; I simply detest it. The conceited
person calls upon you, and comes in and bores you
for a quarter of an hour, and that is the end of him :
but the deprecating person rings the bell and won't
come in, and so you have to go and talk to him in the
hall; which is always a most wearisome thing to
do."

''But don't you think we should rather look at the
spirit which prompts an action than at the action
itself? I always endeavour to do so; it seems to
make life so much more beautiful and full of mean-
ing."

"My dear x\licia,it is the actions and not the mean-
ings that give trouble to other people."

"Still, we should always endeavour to enter into



94 FUEL OF FIRE

another person's feelings, and to look at things from
another's point of view."

*Then the other person should likewise try to en-
ter into our feelings, and look at things from our
point of view : and if he did, he would quickly dis-
cover that his humility is not a matter of sufficient
importance to entail any trouble on the part of per-
sons to whom his spiritual vicissitudes are incidents
of supreme indifference."

Lady Alicia sighed profoundly : "Alas ! how hard
you are. Had you my delicate and refined nature,
you would enter into the feelings of those dear, hu-
man, sensitive plants, and admire, instead of abusing,
their modesty."

''Extremely humble people always have a little
tickling cough, you will notice; and if there is one
thing that irritates me more than another, it is a little
tickling cough. Yet I never met a truly unassuming
person without one."

Lady Alicia was busy preparing a suitable plati-
tude whereby to silence the doubting spirit of her
friend, when the two girls joined their elders.

"Faith and I are regretting that to-morrow is Sun-
day," exclaimed Nancy, sinking into a seat:
"we were planning a picnic without thinking, and
suddenly the Sabbath rose up and hit us full in the
face."

"Ah, I, too, find Sunday rather a dull and depress-
ing day," said Lady Alicia plaintively ; "but I always
try to observe it for the servants' sake. It is so bad



ANTHONY'S SUGGESTION 95

for them to see people of our class enjoying them-
selves upon a Sunday ; so I always stretch a point in
order to make the day as dull as possible. And, after
all, there is something very English and suggestive
in a dull Sunday : it makes one feel like a Radical or
a Roman Catholic, or something dreadful of that
sort, if one does anything amusing on a Sunday
afternoon."

"I heard of a lovely new Sunday game the other
day," remarked Nancy, with a dangerous demure-
ness, her love of mischief exorcising for the moment
her sense of the relationship between Lady Alicia
and Laurence.

**What was that, my dear?" asked Mrs. Fairfax,
who enjoyed Nancy's jokes only one degree less than
Lady Alicia's reception of them. The proverbial
duck's back, clothed in a mackintosh, to make assur-
ance doubly sure, would be less impervious to water
than was Lady Alicia's consciousness to anything in
the shape of humour.

''First of all the men went to one end of the room
and all the girls to the other; and the girls were
Christians and the men were heathens."

"That sounds Sunday enough," said Faith.

''It is beautiful, dear child, quite beautiful," agreed
Lady Alicia; "to my mind there is something very
touching and picturesque about heathens and people
of that sort. I always think of them standing under
palm trees on the edge of a river, looking as if they
were just going to bathe. I remember once saying



96 FUEL OF FIRE

to Laurence that the Serpentine on a summer's even-
ing reminded me of missionary magazines. I
thought it a most beautiful and poetical simile, but
Laurence merely laughed, though I had not the least
intention of being amusing; but he has unfortunately
no eye for the allegorical and suggestive."

Mrs. Fairfax's handsome dark eyes twinkled : ''Go
on about the Sunday game, my dear," she said.

''Well, the object of the game was to induce the
heathens to embrace Christianity."

"Good gracious, child, what will you say next?"
exclaimed Mrs. Fairfax. But she laughed all the
same.

Not so Lady Alicia : "Ah, how sweet and beautiful
— and just w^hat should be done in everyday life. I
think it would be so nice if all nations — even the
Boers and the Chinese and dreadful people of that
kind — were to embrace Christianity. It might
steady them down a bit, don't you know ? and make
war quite a pleasure instead of a pain. There is
nothing so really soothing and improving as Chris-
tianity : I know for my part, it makes me feel so
contented and pleased with myself all Monday and
Tuesday if I have made an effort and walked to
church and back on Sunday morning."

At tea that afternoon Nancy regaled her always
appreciative family circle with a graphic account,
which did not lose anything in the telling (Nancy's
tales never did) , of how Lady Alicia had received the
story of the Sunday game.




H-



■■i^^



ANTHONY SAT UPRIGHT IN HIS CHAIR, AND GAZED



THOUGHTFULLY AT HIS COUSIN.



ANTHONY'S SUGGESTION 97

"After all/' remarked Anthony, when their laugh-
ter had subsided, "it must be rather a tight fit for
Baxendale to be always obliged to keep a tame
mother like that hanging about the premises. If I'd
a mother of that kind I should try to get her received
into an orphan home or a shoeblack brigade, or some
other similar charitable institution which would take ^

the sweet creature off my hands." v^t^^rZ.^ ^ f ^'-rd^ i d^^^i.

"She must be a trial to him," added Nora, "be-
cause Mr. Baxendale is so clever himself. Mr. Ar-
buthnot was saying only yesterday that he thought,
taking him all round, Laurence Baxendale was the
cleverest person he had ever met."

Anthony sat upright in his chair and gazed
thoughtfully at his cousin : "So our dear young vicar
is beginning to take people all round, is he ? I shall
have to keep my paternal eye open, or else he will be
taking you all round, my beloved Nora; and then
what will mamma and the parish say?"

"Tony, don't be an idiot;" and Nora blushed so
becomingly that it was a pity there was no man but
a relation to see it.

"Can't help it, my love: we are all idiots in our
family ; it is too late to change, as the man said when
he got home and found he had received twenty shil-
lings for half-a-sovereign."

"Well, anyhow I wish you wouldn't start foolish
gossip about me and the vicar," expostulated Nora.

"Mens conscia recti — a mind conscious of the rec-
tor — (only in this case it is the vicar, but the princi-



98 FUEL OF FIRE

pie is the same) — is independent of, because superior
to, parochial gossip," murmured Anthony.

Nora changed the subject, returning to her orig-
inal muttons: "Mr. Baxendale was considered an
awful swell up at Oxford, Faith says ; he passed all
his examinations splendidly."

"Examinations," remarked Anthony pensively,
"are considered, by the unitiated, to be a method of
discovering the ignorances of the examined : but the
initiated recognise them as a means of displaying the
pedantries of the examiner."

"Mr. Baxendale has lots of things to bother him,"
said Nancy : "of course his mother is a trial ; and then
he is so frightfully poor. I think it is having to pay
such an enormous fire insurance that pinches them



so."



"Do they pay such a big insurance?" Nora asked :
"how horrid!"

"As far as I can make out," replied Nancy, "they
have insured the house and the books and the whole
concern for a hundred thousand pounds. How much
a year would they have to pay for that, Tony?"

"I can't tell exactly, as they'd insure the house and
the furniture and the books and the pictures sepa-
rately : but I should think it would tote up to some-
thing between a hundred and a hundred and fifty a
year."

"That's a lot for people who have only about five
hundred a year to begin wnth, isn't it ?"

Tt is, my dear Nancy. If I were friend Baxen-



<<-



ANTHONY'S SUGGESTION 99

dale, I'd chuck the whole concern, and pocket my en-
tire income myself, such as it is."

''But he can't, you see," Nancy explained; ''it's put
in the entail, or something of that kind, that the
library is part of the estate and may not be broken up
or sold; and that every Baxendale who inherits the
property shall go on with the full fire insurance, be-
cause of that old prophecy. The tradition says that
Baxendale Hall should be burned down 'First by the
King and then by the State ;' and so it has been. So
the last part is sure to come true also, and the Baxen-
dales have to be prepared for that."

"And it has got to be burned the third time by
something 'which is thrice as great' as the King and
the State, and 'a thousandfold stronger and higher.'
I wonder what that will be," said Nora.

"Common sense, T should think," replied her cous-
in; "if I were Baxendale, I should quietly put a
match to the family roof-tree when nobody was look-
ing, and so save the annual hundred and fifty, and
pocket the hundred thousand pounds in addition."

Nora laughed. "Oh ! Tony, what an idea 1"

"It is a very good one."

"But if Mr. Baxendale did such a thing he'd be
punished by law," persisted Nora.

"Of course he would, if he was found out, my dear
child : but that would be a mistake on his part. He
should just light a cigarette in the charming old li-
brary and throw away the match, and the thing is
done."



loo FUEL OF FIRE

''Really, Tony, what nonsense you do talk!" ex-
claimed Nancy.

*'And if his maternal parent was included in the
ruins thereof it would be a benefit to the whole neigh-
bourhood," added Anthony : ''excepting that burned
goose-quills make such a horrid smell."

And then he went on to talk — equally foolish — of
other things, forgetting his suggestion of arson as
soon as it was uttered.

But Nancy did not forget : she was not cast in the
forgetful mould.



CHAPTER VI.

RUFUS WEBB.

O Lord, I knew Thou were austere;
And so my heart was filled with fear,
And dared not count Thy creatures dear

In awe of Thy great name :
And if my terror of Thy rod
Has left my heart a lifeless clod,
Untouched by love for man or God,

Dread Lord, am I to blame?

**I HAVE no patience with Alicia Baxendale," said
Mrs. Fairfax to her daughter that same afternoon.

" Whv not, mother ?"

"She talks so much nonsense."

''She does; but if it is any pleasure to her, I don't
see why she shouldn't. She has precious little pleas-
ure in her life, poor thing!"

"Not at all. She has a good son, and that is pleas-
ure enough for any woman," argued Mrs. Fairfax,
who had never quite forgiven Faith for having been
born a girl instead of a boy : a youthful error which it
is difficult to rectify in after life.

"But, mother, think of coming to live in that little
farm-house after being mistress of Baxendale Hall
and then of Drawbridge Castle !"

'Humph ! That was a come-down, I admit."

'And she really bears it beautifully. It is always



"]
(I



I02 FUEL OF FIRE

horrid to be poor ; and most especially for a woman
brought up as Lady Alicia was."

*'Well, it is a great deal her own fault that she and
Laurence are so poor now\ If she had been less ex-
travagant when she was first married, poor Alwyn
would not have lived beyond his income as he did."

"Still, it wasn't altogether her own fault that she
was extravagant. Remember the way in which she
was brought up."

''Really, Faith, the way you have of always stick-
ing up for the absent is most aggravating ! I believe
if any one said that the devil himself was not alto-
gether a nice character, you'd find some excuse for
him in the way he was brought up."

Faith smiled her sweet smile : ''But as a matter of
fact he was brought up among the angels; so I'm
afraid I couldn't find much excuse for him on that



score."



"Well, then, you'd say he had been too well brought
up, which comes to the same thing nowadays. By
the way, what are you going to do this afternoon?"

"I'm going to see Mr. Webb and to take him some
flowers."

"You are a wonderful woman. Faith ; you are al-
ways doing something for somebody else's happiness.
I wonder if you ever think of your own, my child."

"It doesn't do much good thinking of one's own,"
replied Faith rather wistfully. She did not consider
it necessary to add that hers was bound up in Laur-
ence Baxendale ; and that the truth was slowly dawn-



RUFUS WEBB 103

ing upon her that his, in turn, was bound up in Nancy
Burton.

There is a good deal of ''setting to corners" in this
world.

''You would have made an ideal clergyman's
wife," continued her mother reflectively; "you are
energetic and capable and amiable and unselfish, and
you have not the ghost of an idea how to dress your-
self or to do your hair."

Faith only laughed.

"Unmarried women with energy," Mrs. Fairfax
went on, "remind me of those horrid motor-cars,
which, when some unforeseen obstacle stops their ca-
reer, have no power of standing still, but plough up
the earth all around them and dig their own graves.
There are scores of single women in England dig-
ging their own graves with wasted and unappropri-
ated energy."

"I am afraid there are, mother; but it isn't alto-
gether their own fault, poor things!" And Faith
left the room with a sigh.

Rufus Webb, for whom Faith had designed her
flowers, lived alone in a little, white, gabled house in
the lanes leading from The Ways to fairyland; but
the gates of this latter were forever closed to him.
Those who have once heard these gates shut-to be-
hind them can never enter that magic territory again ;
but for them — as for all of us — there is still prepared
some better country, which shall forever cast fairy-
land into the shade : a country of green pastures and



I04 FUEL OF FIRE

living waters, and cities whose foundations are of jas-
per and gold : in short, a country whereof fairyland
at its best is but a type and an image, where we shall
find as abiding realities the things of which in fairy-
land we only dreamed.

Rufus was a big, red-haired and red-bearded man
of about fifty. Originally he had been a mission-
ary ; but the great tragedy which spoiled his life had
likewise cut short his career; and now he lived in
the cottage at The Ways as a guide, philosopher and
friend to all the poor people for miles around. He
had a certain knowledge of medicine, which he had
studied in his missionary days, and which he had
practised successfully among his Chinese converts :
and this knowledge he exercised for the benefit of all
the cottagers in the neighbourhood, who were too
poor to employ a doctor on their own account and
too proud to do so at the expense of the parish. But
he never preached now, nor had he done so since he
left China, twenty years ago. He had passed con-
demnation upon himself as unfit for God's ministry,
and no arguments could induce him to take up his
sacred office again.

He was a man subject to terrible fits of religious
depression and spiritual anguish when he believed
that the heavens were closed against him and the
face of God was turned away from him ; but through
it all he was faithful to the God whom he maligned.
"Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him," was
his cry ; and he believed that God would indeed slay



RUFUS WEBB 105

him were it desirable, and would have no pity. *'I
am willing to be eternally damned should my damna-
tion redound to the glory of God," was his heartfelt
confession ; and he knew not as yet that such servile
submission to Divine Power was an injustice toward
Divine Love.

''Good afternoon, Mr. Webb : I have brought you
some flowers," said Faith, as Rufus opened the door
to her and showed her into his bare little sitting-
room. "I know you are fond of them."

''Thank you. Miss Fairfax, I am," replied he, tak-
ing from her the bouquet which she had prepared for
him, and sniffing its scent with the epicurean delight
of the born flower-lover. For a moment his stern
face softened as he gazed into the hearts of the roses ;
then suddenly it hardened again, as he threw the posy
upon the floor and trampled its soft petals beneath
his feet. "And because I am fond of them I destroy
them," he cried, his voice metallic with suppressed
suffering. "Is this a time to be gathering flowers,
and going down into the garden of spices to see
whether the pomegranates have budded ? Nay, it is
rather a time to be girding oneself with sackcloth and
covering one's head with ashes : for the day of the
Lord is at hand ; and who shall abide the day of His
coming?"

Faith looked pitifully at the bruised roses, and at
the man who was yet more cruelly bruised. "And
even if His day is at hand, is that any reason why we
should despise His gifts ?" she asked gently.



io6 FUEL OF FIRE

"He brings no wreath of flowers, but rather a
crown of thorns ; and in His hands is a sword which
shall pierce us to the quick. Child, be not deceived :
it is only by self-repression and self-renunciation
that men can attain unto salvation, and not all of
them even then."

"Yes, Mr. Webb; self-repression and self-renun-
ciation for another's sake, by all means; but not
merely for the pain's sake. I can see that God
would be pleased with you, who loved flowers so
much, if you gave them up to some one whom you
thought needed them more ; but I cannot see that you
will please Him by trampling them under your feet,
and so spoiling them for yourself and everybody
else."

"Child, blind not yourself by vain words : the God
whom you serve is a jealous God, and He will brook
no rival in the hearts of sinful men. Remember that
those who love houses or lands, gardens or flowers,
more than Him, are not worthy of Him ; and from
such He shall hide His face in anger."

Faith looked up with sweet severity : "No one
would be so foolish as to love the gift more than the
Giver; but it is for the sake of the Giver that one
loves the gift — and the more so the more one loves
Him."

"Do not tempt me," Rufus cried, walking up and
down the small room, as was his custom w^hen at all
moved; "for His sake I have put away from me all
pleasant things and have abjured the world with its


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryEllen Thorneycroft FowlerFuel of fire → online text (page 6 of 22)