Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler.

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RUFUS WEBB 107

many delights; in the hope that when He sees my
anguish and humihation He may turn again to me
and forgive me my sin."

"You do Him an injustice, beHeve me. He did
not make the world so beautiful only in order to tor-
ture us with unsatisfied longings : He gives us every
good gift in order that we, in our gratitude, may love
Him all the more. And it is because we love Him
that we find His gifts so fair. I do not think that we
ever properly enjoy a fair landscape or a beautiful
sunset until we realise that He is in it all, and
through it all, and beyond it all : just as we never en-
joy any other books or pictures as much as we enjoy
those that are written and painted by the hands we
love."

Rufus was silent, so Faith — being a wise woman
— changed the subject.

"I wish you would let me lend you some books,
Mr. Webb. They would divert your mind and rest
you altogether."

*'I read no books but my Bible; that is enough for
me, and it ought to be enough for all."

"We ought not to read other books instead of our
Bibles," persisted Faith with sweet placidity; "but I
don't see why we shouldn't read them as well."

"What sort of books would you wish me to read ?"
asked Rufus, and his voice was very stern.

But it took more than sternness to frighten Faith.
"I would advise you to read novels," she calmly re-
plied. "I think there are few things which rest



io8 FUEL OF FIRE



one's mind and divert one's thoughts as much as
reading good novels; and I am sure that just now
you are sorely in need of such rest and diversion."

Again Rufus began to stride up and down the
small room, like some caged wild animal. "Read
novels, do you say ? Why, I would rather pluck out
my right eye than that it should offend by reading
such trash as novels."

"But I would advise you to read such novels as are
not trash," persisted Faith.

"All novels are trash — and, what is worse, they
are vanity and lies. Child, do you not know that
whosoever loveth and maketh a lie shall have part in
the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone?
Those who write novels make and love a lie; and
those who read what they have written are like unto
them."

"Then would you call all forms of art vanity and
lies too — pictures and statues and poems, for in-
stance?"

"I would ; and if I had my way I would burn them
all, so that they should not lure the souls of men to
destruction."

"Burn books and pictures?" gasped Faith.

"Yea, every one of them on which I could lay my
hand : for they are indeed the false gods and graven
images which we are forbidden to worship. And
is it not better that they should be destroyed by
earthly fire than that men's souls should be destroyed
by the fire which is never quenched ?"



RUFUS WEBB 109

*'But art would never destroy men's souls : it is a
revelation, or rather, an interpretation, of truth ; and
so is meant to bring men nearer to God instead of
driving them away from Him.''

"Child, child, do not prophesy vain things. All
false gods shall be destroyed, and likewise those who
have set them up and worshipped them," persisted
Rufus, growing more and more excited. "Look at
that fine house yonder," he continued, pointing to the
top of the hill where Baxendale Hall gleamed red
among the trees ; "is it not written that it shall once
more be made fuel of fire? And blessed shall be the
day that sees it reduced to ashes, and blessed shall be
the hand that sets it alight ! Rase it, rase it, rase it
even to the ground, until not one stone shall be left
upon another !"

"Mr. Webb, you don't mean what you say. Think
of the trouble it would be to Mr. Baxendale if the
home of his fathers, which is so dear to him, were
to be burned to the ground; and surely he has had
trouble and disappointment enough in his life al-
ready without your wishing this final blow to fall on
him."

"I do wish it. My soul yearns over the soul of
Laurence Baxendale, and I pray that whatever
comes between his soul and God may perish forever !
Have you forgotten that other young man who went
away sorrowful because he had great possessions?
And shall I sit still and see this young man also con-
demn himself to the outer darkness, because he loves



no FUEL OF FIRE

houses and lands better than the God who made him ?
No ; Baxendale has once more to be made fuel of fire
by something which is greater and stronger and
higher than King or State, and that I hold to be the
fear of God."

"I think there is no need for Baxendale Hall to be
burned in order to teach Laurence to fear God and to
keep His commandments ; he has learned that lesson
already from God himself and his dead father."

''Maybe; but science, falsely so called, and pleas-
ant pictures, and the sorcerer's spells which men call
novels, are fast blinding his eyes to the hidden things
of God's law, and are making him of the earth
earthy; nevertheless, the Lord shall destroy them in
His displeasure, and the fire shall consume them."

*'You have no right to say such things of Mr.
Baxendale," replied Faith, for the first time showing
signs of a weak spot in her almost perfect temper;
''he is the best and noblest and most unselfish man I
ever met."

"The young man in the Gospels had kept every
commandment from his youth up, yet his great pos-
sessions were the undoing of him. Child, listen to
me : I love Laurence Baxendale, though I had sworn
never to love mortal man or woman again. To my
everlasting shame, I love him — I, who had abjured
human love as a snare of the Evil One ; and I pra}^
that his house and his books and his pictures may be
destroyed by fire before he has offended past forgive-



RUFUS WEBB iii

ness that God who hath said, *Ye shall have none
other gods but Me!"

'There is no possibility of offending that God past
forgiveness," said Faith softly.

"So I thought when I was your age," groaned the
fanatic, sinking exhausted into a chair and burying
his face in his hands ; ''but I fell away from my high
calling — I loved the creature rather than the Creator
— and now outer darkness is reserved for me for-
ever. And because I love Laurence Baxendale — love
him against my will and against my vows and
against my conscience — I would destroy my soul
again, were it possible, to save him from the pit
wherein I have fallen myself."

"You are unjust to Laurence, but you are still
more unjust to God."

"Child, you know not what you say; did you ever
hear my story?" asked Rufus, looking up; and
Faith's anger against him died down before the ab-
ject misery of his face.

"No; please tell it to me," she said gently, seeing
that silence and loneliness had well-nigh thrown
Webb's brain off the balance, and believing that con-
fession — even to her — would be good for his soul.

"I was the child of stern and godly parents, and
was brought up by them in the fear of God, and in
the knowledge that His all-seeing eye was ever upon
me to mark iniquity should I do amiss. With all my
heart I strove to obey His word and to fulfil His pre-



112 FUEL OF FIRE

cepts and to keep His laws. Like the infant Samuel,
I had been dedicated to His service from my birth;
and when I was old enough I took holy orders, and
offered myself as a missionary, so that I might go
forth and make known His word among the heathen
and among the kingdoms that had not called upon
His name."

"Yes; I understand," said Faith; and, encouraged
by her evident sympathy, Rufus proceeded :

"But a few months before I started for China —
the spot to which the Church had seen fit to appoint
me — I met a woman — a young and beautiful woman ;
and I — the man set apart by God to bear upon the
mountains His tidings of peace — turned away from
my high calling, and loved this one woman with
all my heart and with all my strength and with all
my soul and with all my mind : loved her as I ought
to have loved my God."

"And as you would have loved Him if men had
not lied to you about Him," added Faith softly — so
softly that Rufus did not hear her, but went on :

"So I married her, and took her out with me to
China. And I loved her — my God ! how I loved her,
my little Lettice ; I, who had given up all human love
for the sake of the Cross, having put my hand to the
plough, turned back because of the beauty of a wo-
man. Yes, I loved the curls at the back of her neck,
and the dimple on one side of her mouth, and the
way her eyelashes turned backward, making stars of
her pretty eyes. And, to my shame, I remember all



RUFUS WEBB 113

these things, and love them still ; for the which God
will bring me to judgment."

"Again I say you are doing God an injustice.
Your love for her ought to have taught you some-
thing of His love for you, instead of which you turn
His good gift into one of the nails whereby you have
crucified Him afresh — for surely Annas and Caia-
phas did not misjudge Him more terribly than you
have done."

"But He punished me," Rufus went on, heedless
of the interruption; "our God is indeed a jealous
God; the idols which we worship instead of Him
shall be cut down and cast into the fire, and where-
withal a man sinneth, by the same also shall he be
punished. I let her deck herself with fine garments,
though I ought to have known that a meek and quiet
spirit is the only adornment which becomes a woman ;
I let her read novels, though I ought to have known
that she who loveth a lie is no whit better than he
who maketh a lie; and I let her laugh and sing all
over my house, though I ought to have said of laugh-
ter: *It is mad:' and of mirth, 'What doeth it?'
And for this also will God bring me to judgment."

"Then what became of this beautiful woman
whom you loved and married ?"

"Listen, and I will tell you ; and then you will see
what a terrible thing it is to fight against the living
God."

"But you are fighting against Him still," argued
Faith ; "every good gift and every perfect gift comes



114 FUEL OF FIRE

from Him — be it the beauty of art, the glory of
nature, or the joy of human love — and we are fight-
ing against Him when we refuse to accept humbly
His gifts, and to let them draw us nearer to Him."

Rufus did not seem to hear what Faith was saying.
The memory of the past was so strong upon him that
for the time being it effaced the present.

"I took Lettice out with me to China, and for a
year we were ideally happy together — so happy that
God was wroth with us for letting mere human bliss
fill the place in our hearts which ought to have been
filled by Him. Then there was a rising out there
against the missionaries, and the mission house was
besieged. I and my brethren held out for as long as
we could ; but our adversaries were too many and too
strong for us, and at last w^e were overpowered and
taken prisoners."

"And your wife? What became of her? Was
she taken prisoner too?"

''Do you think I was going to let her fall into the
hands of those yellow devils? Not I. When I
heard the walls crash in, and knew that our enemies
were upon us, I shot her dead with my own hand;
shot the tender heart which had lain upon my own,
and dabbled the pretty hair in blood. For love of
her, and to save her from a fate which I could not
bear to contemplate, I broke God's commandment
which saith, 'Thou shalt not kill;' and so lost my
own soul in order to save her body from torture.
And for love of her I would do the same again — yea,



RUFUS WEBB 115

even were my punishment ten times greater than it



is."



Faith was almost breathless with interest: ''And
you did not try to kill yourself as well ?"

"No; I should have held it a cowardly act to save
myself from the consequences of my disobedience to
God's word. The Chinese made me and my com-
rades prisoners, intending to torture us to death ; and
I welcomed their tortures as some meet punishment
for the sin I had committed. But God, in His jus-
tice, saw fit to make my punishment even greater
than a lingering death at the hands of the Chinese :
when two of us were dead and two dying — we were
four in all — relief came, and we two survivors were
rescued. And since then my soul has suffered agon-
ies compared with which my bodily sufferings in that
Chinese prison were as nothing."

Faith's grey eyes were full of tears. "Poor Mr.
Webb, I am so sorry for you. I don't wonder, after
all you have suffered, that you have formed false
ideas of God; and I am sure that He doesn't wonder
either."

But Rufus did not hear her; his eyes had grown
dreamy and his thoughts were far away. "She had
such pretty eyes," he murmured, half to himself;
"and when she smiled she nearly shut them, which
gave her a dreamy look, as if she were smiling at
something which other people could not see. And
she never could keep her hair neat, though she used
to laugh and say that a clergyman's wife ought at



ii6 FUEL OF FIRE

any rate to be tidy ; but how could I blame her when
it went into such dear little curls at the back of her
neck, as soft as silk and as yellow as gold ? And as

for the dimple in her cheek "

But Faith did not stay to hear more ; she felt that
she was treading on holy ground, not intended for
any feet save those of the woman who was dead. So
she slipped out of the room and out of the house;
and Rufus Webb never heard her go, being lost for
the time in the memory of a dimple which had been
dust for twenty years.



CHAPTER VII.

A WOMAN TEMPTS.

You took my life and filled it all ;
Then turned its sweetness into gall,

And doomed me to despair, dear.
The life you spoiled is nearly done;
And if there be another one
In some strange land beyond the sun,

I hope you won't be there, dear.

That summer was a wonderful time for Laurence
and Nancy — so wonderful that it would always stand
out in their mind's eyes as long as they both should
live, in a sort of bas-relief against the ordinary win-
ters and summers and seed-times and harvests of
everyday existence.

For awhile Laurence forgot his anxieties and
poverty and the many trials which beset him, and
gave himself up to the enjoyment of those repeated
coincidences which so often brought himself and
Nancy together : he deliberately shut his eyes, for the
time being, to the lions in his way — of which there
were, in truth, a veritable menagerie — and made the
most of the beauty of Nancy's eyes and the music of
her laughter. And it is but fair to Nancy to add
that she in no way stinted his opportunities of enjoy-



ii8 FUEL OF FIRE

ing these simple pleasures, but promoted the frequent
recurrence of them by every means in her power.

As for her, she was radiantly happy ; happier than
she had ever been in her life before ; and happier than
she would ever be again, in the same irresponsible,
light-hearted way. Locked up in a remote cupboard
at the very back of her mind was the certainty that
Laurence loved her, although he had not told her so ;
and she was never weary of weaving, for her own
discomfiture, doubts of him and of his honourable
intentions, which she enjoyed to the full, supported
as they were by that locked-up cupboard in the back-
ground.

She and Laurence talked a great deal about their
friendship, and pretended — both to each other and
to themselves — that this was the correct name for
the thing. But they would have been terribly dis-
appointed in their own cases, and extremely dis-
gusted in each other's, if the pseudonym had finally
proved itself to be anything but the flimsiest norn de
plume.

Laurence found it so easy to talk to Nancy. He
had not found it easy to talk to any one since his
father died; and there is a luxury in the rare unre-
serve of reserved natures which the habitually out-
spoken find it impossible to appreciate. Nancy, on
the contrary, felt more shy with Laurence than she
had ever felt with any one; in fact, he was the only
person she had ever met who could give her an ink-
ling of what the sensation called shyness really is :



A WOMAN TEMPTS 119

and the naturally shy person has no idea how ex-
quisite is a faint soupcon of that (to him) most un-
comfortable sensation to the person who has hitherto
but known it as a name.

''Isn't it funny," Nancy remarked confidentially to
Laurence one day when he and she were walking in
the lanes, "that it is so easy to say you are glad to see
people unless you really are glad to see them; and
that then it is impossible?"

"Is it?" replied Baxendale, with a smile. "Then
I am to conclude that you are always glad to see me
save when you happen to mention the fact, and that
then you are distinctly annoyed."

"I never do say I am glad to see you," said Nancy
innocently; and then became rather pink when she
had realised the inference which might naturally be
drawn from her statement.

Laurence pretended not to notice the inference;
though in going over the conversation afterward in
his own mind (as he had a knack of going over all
conversations wherein Nancy had taken a part) he
treated that particular remark as if it had been the
utterance of an inspired Sibyl. But at the time he
merely said: "I thought, however, that you prided
yourself on never making inane and conventional
speeches. Miss Burton; although of course I am
aware," he added, "that to pride oneself on not doing
a thing is by no means the same as leaving it un-
done."

"That's true," agreed Nancy, with a laugh : "do



I20 FUEL OF FIRE

you know I pride myself upon being a good lis-
tener?"

"Ah!"

"And upon never saying indiscreet things?"

"So I should have supposed."

"And upon thinking too poorly of my own charms
and excellencies."

"I can quite believe it."

"You are very rude, Mr. Baxendale."

"Far from it. I am merely avoiding the rudeness
of contradicting a lady."

And then they both laughed, w4th the careless and
delightful laughter of the young and foolish.

"But you are right in thinking that I can't stand
the civil and obvious in the way of conversation,"
Nancy said : "there is a class of people who always
make certain stereotyped remarks which almost drive
me mad.") t/\(_h,

"As for instance?"

"Well, when you have been away from home for
a week or two, they invariably call you 'a bird of
passage.' It is a most horrid expression, I think;
but that type of conversationalist revels in it. And
then they say, 'How the days are closing in;' and
'Christmas w^ill soon be upon us;' as if Christmas
were a movable feast, and as if the days hadn't closed
in and lengthened out at the same rate since the time
of Adam."

'And even before then, if science is to be believed."
'Exactly. Do you know it is such a comfort to






A WOMAN TEMPTS 121

talk to you, Mr. Baxendale, because you have what
the Psalmist calls an understanding heart.''

''You mean that I understand you pretty well?
Perhaps I do. But I don't know that that presup-
poses any unusual perspicuity on my part."

"Because I am so prone to say what I think," sug-
gested Nancy.

"Not altogether. As a matter of fact, it is when
you don't say what you think — when you go out of
your way to say the exact opposite — that you are
most enlightening and instructive."

"Then why doesn't the understanding of me prove
your abnormal cleverness," Nancy persisted.

"Because even a fool can generally master one
subject, when that subject occupies the whole of his
thoughts and attention to the exclusion of everything
else," was Laurence's reply.

Whereupon Nancy was seized with one of her de-
lightful and inexplicable attacks of shyness ; and con-
sequently confined the conversation to most unevent-
ful and ordinary grooves until she and Mr. Baxen-
dale had parted at the iron gate which guarded the
back entrance to Wavside.

When Laurence reached home that afternoon he
found his mother as usual in a chatty mood. She
was sitting in the little drawing-room, watching the
haymakers at work in the meadow below the garden ;
and as the sweet scents and the sweeter sounds of
summer filled the air, which was as yet vibrating with
Nancy's laughter, Laurence felt that the world was



122 FUEL OF FIRE



indeed very good, and that life was abundantly worth
the trouble of living. But Lady Alicia soon dis-
pelled the golden glamour : she had a knack of spoil-
ing the sweetest illusions and the most exalted mo-
ments with a" rapidity and completeness which fell
little short of genius.

*'Isn't it a lovely afternoon, dear Laurence?" she
began, as her son sat down on a chair beside her. "I
think there is nothing that gives one such beautiful
thoughts as the smell of new-mown hay — except per-
haps the sound of a band in the distance. A few days
ago there was a Flower Show at Tetleigh Wood, and
as the wind was in that direction I could hear the
band as I sat in the garden."

'1 shouldn't have imagined that the band at a
Flower Show was in itself a liberal education," said
Laurence, in a voice out of which all the boyish ring
had been suddenly eliminated.

''Ah! that is because you're so prosaic and com-
monplace that you never hear or see all the sweet and
romantic things round you ; but I cannot blame you
for this, as you inherit it from your poor dear father
— the most unpoetical and unromantic creature that
ever lived."

''What sort of beautiful visions did this particular
band call up before your mind's eye, my dear
mother?" asked Laurence, wincing — as he always
did — at his mother's way of speaking of the father
whom he had adored.

"Oh ! it made me feel so tender and softened and



A WOMAN TEMPTS 123

chastened (it was playing Tzvo Lovely Black Eyes,
if I remember rightly ; or else The Girl I Left Behind
Me; I'm not sure now which) that I felt I quite for-
gave your poor dear father for all the trouble and
poverty and economy that he had entailed on me by
his most unjustifiable marriage with a young girl
brought up in luxury as I had been — too young, alasj
to know her own mind." -^-^^^^^v^^ -^ - ^ .,:^_ ^i.#£.

Laurence did not speak. However trying Lady
Alicia might be, he never forgot that she was his
mother; and this remembrance often obliged him to
take refuge in silence, so that he might not offend
with his tongue against that commandment which
makes no exceptions in favour of those who have no
sympathy with the idiosyncrasies of the father and
mother whom they are bidden to honour.

Lady Alicia placidly continued : 'The power of as-
sociation is very strong in poetical natures such as
mine, and that is why sounds and scents affect me
so much. I remember dear Wordsworth said some-
thing very sweet about something — I forget what it
was, but I fancy it was a pet lamb or a daisy — which
made you think of things 'too deep for tears.' I so
often feel like that."

''Indeed ?" Laurence knew he was ungracious, but
for the life of him he could not help it when his
mother talked in this way.

"For instance," she went on, "I never smell mint-
sauce without thinking of the day when dear Lord
Watercress proposed to me. We were at a dinner-



124 FUEL OF FIRE

party at the time, and the lamb was just being handed
round : and even yet, after all these years, the smell
of mint-sauce always recalls poor dear Watercress —
how beautifully he spoke, and how heartbroken he
was when I refused him. Ah! I had such good
offers when I was young; and it was the knowledge
of how much better I might have done that made it
so hard for me to forgive your poor father when I
discovered that he was not so well off as I had been
led to expect." J J A-t, irV ;

Then Laurence felt constrained to expostulate : "I
am sure my father never deceived you as to his in-
come. He was the most single-minded and upright
and honourable man I ever came across. He was
incapable of deceiving anybody — least of all the wo-
man he loved."

"Well, he didn't exactly deceive me in so many
words: and even if he had, my dear father would
have ferreted out the truth about his prospects."

''Then what do you mean by saying that father
was not as well off as you had been led to expect ?"

*'I was such an unsophisticated, romantic young
creature — full of love and fire and poetry and things
of that kind, don't you know? — that, when he told
me he was poor, I imagined I loved him all the more
for it. Even now, and although I am speaking of
myself, I cannot help feeling that there was some-
thing very beautiful and touching in a young girl
who had been brought up as I had been being ready
to sacrifice the world for love. It is the sort of thing



A WOMAN TEMPTS 125

that one would read about in a novel, and think so
very, very sweet."


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