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*'But, like the celebrated sacrifice to Baal on Mount
Carmel, the fire from heaven was apparently wanting
in your case," remarked Laurence somewhat bitterly.

Bitterness, like humour, was however lost on Lady
Alicia. "Yes," she went on, in her well-bred, ex-
pressionless voice, ''I can see how unspoilt and un-
sophisticated my nature was : and such simplicity was
indeed beautiful in a girl who had never done her
hair herself, or put on a dress worth less than twenty
guineas since she was born. I can remember now
how beautifully I spoke to Alwyn about caring more
for him than for wealth or rank or any of the other
necessaries of life; and how the tears came into his
eyes when he kissed me, and said he hoped to God
that he should prove himself in some measure worthy
of such love. Oh ! it was all so very, very touching
and pathetic."

*'But if you said all that to him, how can you
blame him for believing you?"

Lady Alicia sighed plaintively : "Ah ! he was older
than I was, and knew more of the world and
of how very unpleasant it is to be poor ; and he ought
not to have taken advantage of my nobility and gen- J^^'^-^''
erosity. I blame him for taking me at my word;
and I shall always consider it showed a sad selfish-
ness on his part."

"Did you ever tell him that you blamed him?"
asked Laurence quietly.



126 FUEL OF FIRE

*'0f course I did — over and over again. I think
it is such false kindness to keep from people the con-
sequences of their own folly and selfishness. We
are put into this world to help other people ; and how
can we do this better than by pointing out to them
their faults and their mistakes, and so helping them
to correct them ?"

''Ah!" murmured Laurence. His mother's gar-
rulousness threw most instructive lights upon his
father's character.

''But I grieve to say that your poor father never
took his chastenings in the right spirit. When I
used to tell him what a bitter disappointment my
marriage had been to me, and how I regretted the too
great sacrifice which he had demanded at my hands,
instead of apologising, as he ought to have done for
having exposed a woman of my rank to such incon-
venience, he used to become quite sarcastic and say
things which he apparently intended to be funny,
though I never could see the point of them."

"I wonder if all women end by hating their hus-
bands, unless those husbands happen to be rich," said
Laurence, meditating as to whether — should he suc-
ceed in attaining his heart's desire and winning
Nancy's love — she would finally break that heart as
his mother had broken his father's.

"Of course they do — all nice-minded women, that
is to say, who are too delicate and sensitive to put up
.with a hugger-mugger home and to do without the



A WOMAN TEMPTS 127



refinements of life. It is very beautiful to believe
that love is everything when one is quite young —
very, very beautiful — and it would pain me inexpres-
sively to think that I had not believed it in my inno-
cent girlish days : but as one grows older — and one
does not mind growing older when one thinks of how
beautiful the autumn tints and flowers are, and how
attractive it is to grow old gracefully — one cannot
but realise that a thoroughly capable butler makes a
house more comfortable than the most devoted of
husbands ; and that one cannot really get enough to
eat unless one has a cook who can make good entires
and savouries: the young may digest plain joints,
but not the middle-aged."

A flood of pity for his poor silly mother rushed
into Laurence's heart. He had not understood be-
fore how much she minded being poor. Like his
father, Laurence would have believed that a man
could make a woman happy quite apart from the
question of money, if they only loved each other
enough. And so he could, were the said woman's
heart of the best quality. But many women have
hearts not of the best quality ; and these also have to
be reckoned with. If a man build his house upon
the sand, the plea that he mistook that sand for rock
will in nowise avail him when the rains descend, and
the floods come, and the wind blows, and the house
falls ; and great is the fall of it.

'Tm afraid our present circumstances are a bit



128 FUEL OF FIRE

rough on you, mother," Laurence said very gently;
''I wonder if there is anything that I could do which
would make things easier for you."

"Dear Laurence, what a dutiful son you are ! You
are more unselfish than your poor father, after all.
I suppose it is the Portcullis strain in your blood
which makes you superior to him and more like me
and my people. The Moates are all peculiarly sensi-
tive; and this poor Alwyn never could under-
stand."

"Still, my father's family is a considerably older
one than yours, if you come to that." Laurence had
made up his mind to keep his temper, whatever his
mother might say ; but it was no easy matter.

"Yes; there is no doubt of that. Your ancestors
were owners of Baxendale while mine, poor dears!
were selling wool or leather or something equally
unpleasant. Nevertheless, there is a refinement and
delicacy of perception among the Moates which is
sadly lacking in the Baxendales."

"Then, my dear mother, considering that — ac-
cording to your own showing — my density is rather
my misfortune than my fault. Won't you take the
trouble to point out to me, more clearly than would
be necessary were I a Moate, how I can make life
easier for you ?"

"Ah ! now you are reasonable, and remind me of
my dear father, who was ever the most sensible and
trustworthy of men. Well, you see — poor as we
are, to begin with — this horrid fire insurance makes



A WOMAN TEMPTS 129

us still poorer. A hundred and fifty pounds a year
is a large sum to pay out of an income of barely five
hundred."

*'It is, mother; confoundedly large! No one
knows that better than I do."

**Then, dear Laurence, couldn't you leave off pay-
ing it? We should be so much better off if you
did."

"I know we should; and to tell you the truth —
were I free to follow my own judgment — I should
leave off paying it, and should take the risk of Bax-
endale being burned down for the third time. More
than a quarter of one's entire income is a good deal
to pay to insure oneself against an off-chance ; for it
is only an off-chance that the Hall should be burned
down again, at any rate, in our time."

*'Dear Laurence, you are a Moate at heart, though
outwardly you resemble poor dear Alwyn. Then
why not leave off paying that tiresome insurance
money ?"

"Because, unfortunately, 1 can't. It was stated in
my grandfather's will that my father and his son
only inherited the property on condition that we in-
sured the house and the books and the pictures for a
hundred thousand pounds. And if I fail to fulfil
this condition I forfeit my claim on the estate, which
then goes to the Hampshire Baxendales.'

"You are sure of this, dear Laurence?'

"Perfectly sure. You don't suppose I should pay
all that money without assuring myself that I was






130 FUEL OF FIRE

bound to pay it, do you? But I grant you it is a
confounded nuisance."

"Then why not sell some of the books. There are
lots of clever, interesting people who would only be
too glad to buy some of the dear, dirty, old things."

''Because that tiresome old grandfather of mine
only left his library to my father and his heirs in
trust: we have no right to part with a single vol-



ume."



Lady Alicia was silent for a moment. So was
Laurence, while his thoughts ran riot on what he
would say to Nancy if only he were not so horribly
poor. He did not believe that his mother was right,
and that Nancy's love would be measured according
to his riches; nevertheless. Lady Alicia's remark had
conjured up an uncomfortable doubt in his mind as
to how far Nancy was actually superior to the or-
dinary run of girls; and he ground his teeth as he
realised that his poverty made it impossible for him
to set this detestable doubt at rest, once and forever,
by putting a single question to her and reading the
answer in her pretty blue eyes.

Then Lady Alicia began to speak again, in her
sweetest and most ingratiating manner — that man-
ner in which she used to clothe herself for the open-
ing of bazaars and the giving away of prizes and
such-like functions in the days of her prosperity, and
which invariably elicited a very ecstasy of apprecia-
tion from the local newspapers, whose pleasing duty
it was to send forth a report of her ladyship's gra-



A WOMAN TEMPTS 131

ciousness to all such dwellers in outer darkness as
had not enjoyed the privilege of beholding it for
themselves with the eye of flesh.

''Does it never strike you, dear Laurence, what a
good thing it would be if the Hall were burned down
and we had that hundred thousand pounds to live
upon?"

"But we couldn't use it for anything save rebuild-
ing the house, mother; my grandfather's will sees to
that."

''I know we couldn't touch the capital, my love;
but we might live on the income. Or else we might
spend half the capital on rebuilding and live on the
interest of the rest. We could build a sweet house
for fifty thousand pounds, or even less ; a dear, lovely
home, with all the refinements of life, and a green
drawing-room carpet. I cannot tell you how I long
for a green drawing-room carpet, Laurence; it has
such a softening influence on the character, I think,
and makes one feel as if one were living in the pri-
meval forest, or the garden of Eden, or some other
sweet spot near the heart of Nature, just as the sky-
blue wall-paper seems to bring one nearer to heaven,
don't you know?" For all her sentimentalism, the
spirit of her commercial ancestors still lived and
moved in Lady Alicia Baxendale ; and she knew to a
penny how that hundred thousand pounds should be
invested, if only she could lay hands on it.

*'I wish I could afford to buy you a green drawing-
room carpet, mother." And Laurence sighed.



132 FUEL OF FIRE

"Well, so you could, if you were not absurdly
careful — old-maidish, I should almost call it — in
seeing after dear old Mrs. Candy. I have often
heard you caution the good soul against carrying a
lighted candle into the library. Now, why shouldn't
she, if she wants to? — and if a spark did fall among
the old books and manuscripts, all the better for us !"

''Oh ! mother, you are not thinking what you are
saying."

"Yes, love, I am, and I have often thought it.
Sometimes, when I recall the old legend, it seems to
me that it would be a positive duty, instead of a sin,
to burn the Hall down for the third time and so fulfil
the prophecy. It is really a duty to fulfil prophecy
if one can : see how anxious Daniel and Isaiah and
people of that kind were to do so ; and they were re-
markably good men, and have always been consid-
ered so."

"Nevertheless, those who do evil that good may
come are not considered remarkably good men— or,
at any rate, were not by St. Paul," replied Laurence,
his lips tightening into a grim smile.

"Ah ! dear child, it does not do to dwell too much
upon St. Paul's sayings : I often think that he was a
little hard and narrow, especially where women were
concerned."

Laurence thought that the Apostle to the Gentiles
had some excuse for his opinions, even if Lady
Alicia's strictures upon him were correct ; but he did
not say so, and his mother went on :



A WOMAN TEMPTS 133

'Tor my part, I think you would be quite justified
in lighting your pipe in the library at Baxendale or
in insisting upon Mrs. Candy keeping up the fires, or
in putting up hayricks close to the house."

"Oh! mother, don't; I can't bear it," cried Lau-
rence, an almost physical spasm of pain clutching his
heart. He had always wondered why his father had
been so glad to die — so glad to say good-bye to the
red earth and the green woods and the sunset glories
of the w^estern hills. Now he knew.

"You see, dear Laurence, the Hall has got to be
burned down once again : we all know that ; and it
would be so much nicer if it happened in our time,
while we were still able to enjoy the benefit of it. It
isn't as if the Hall needn't be burned again : if that
were so, I should say it was very, very wrong to do
anything that could occasion the slightest danger,
and you know I am the last person to countenance
what I consider really wrong. But the Hall is
obliged to be burned once again by something which
is stronger than King or State. I so often wonder
what that can mean."

"Avarice, according to you, mother," was Lau-
rence's bitter rejoinder.

"Oh, no, dear child — something much more poet-
ical and beautiful than that: perhaps the love of a
son for a mother, or a mother for a son, or some
other of those delightful and touching emotions
which are so refining to the character. In fact, it
seems to me that it would not only be wrong — it



134 FUEL OF FIRE



would be actually right — to help to fulfil that strange
old prophecy, and show one's faith in the super-
natural; for there is nothing that elevates one's own
mind and has such a good influence on the servants
as belief in the supernatural. It keeps one from
growing sordid or mean or commonplace."

Laurence fairly groaned. Never had the gulf
which separated his mother from himself yawned so
wide as it did now. And he knew it would be use-
less — worse than useless — to argue with her ; he and
she spoke different languages and moved on differ-
ent planes.

"And then," she went on cheerfully, *'think how
nice it would be for you, dear Laurence, to have an
income of two or three thousand a year. You might
marry some nice girl, who would cure you of the
somewhat morose and unsocial habits which are fast
growing upon you. There is nothing like a charm-
ing wife for making a man sociable and unselfish;
though, alas !" with a sigh, "his marriage never had
that effect upon your poor father. I'm sure it wasn't
my fault : I was always as agreeable and well-dressed
as it was possible to be on our limited income ; but he
never seemed to appreciate my efforts to make his
home attractive to other people — which I hold to be
one of the chief duties of a wife."

Still Laurence was silent. A darkness which
might be felt was enveloping his soul; it was all so
hopeless.

His mother went on : "I sometimes think that




AND HE KNEW IT WOULD BE USELESS — WORSE THAN
USELESS — TO ARGUE WITH HER.



A WOMAN TEMPTS 135

Nancy Burton is attracted by you ; and I don't know
that she would be a bad wife for you, though you
ought to do better. She is always well-dressed, and
has quite nice manners for a person of that class. I
feel sure she would jump at you, as people like that
are always so glad to ally themselves with us; and
no doubt Mr. Burton — dear, sensible creature that he
is! — would allow his daughter a handsome sum in
consideration of her making such a brilliant match.
But I don't think his allowance would be sufficient to
marry on, as of course you would have to keep up a
separate home for me : you will understand that I —
with my sensitive perceptions — could not possibly

live in the same house with a girl whom "

But this was too much for Laurence. "Excuse
me, mother, but I would rather not discuss Miss Bur-
ton, even with you," he said, as he bounced out of the
room and banged the door behind him.



CHAPTER VIIL

THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE.

The course of true love never ran
Quite easily since time began :
So said our wisest Englishman.

Michael Arbuthnot, the vicar of Tetleigh, was
a man of about five-and-forty, endowed with excep-
tional gifts. In the first place, he was extremely
good-looking, having brown hair and eyes, excellent
features and a pale complexion ; in the second place,
he was undeniably clever, owning an admirable
knack in the compiling of sermons ; and in the third
and most important place, he was a very good man,
being distinguished by unusual keenness of spiritual
insight. He also possessed in full measure that un-
common sense known as common sense : but in one
of the most important decisions of his life this sense
had signally failed him. Fate and circumstance and
the general fitness of things — and all such powers as
go to the shaping of the ends of men — deemed that
Faith Fairfax was the proper wife for Michael Ar-
buthnot. She was made and fashioned specially to
fill the role of a clergyman's wife; she had sufficient
intellect to appreciate his powers and attainments,
and sufficient grace to help, instead of hindering, him



COURSE OF TRUE LOVE 137

in his duties as a parish priest. True, she was in
love with Laurence Baxendale ; but her affection was
a very early growth and was not returned ; and love
— whatever poets may say to the contrary — is not a
flower which flourishes in arctic regions.

Although the course of the truest love may be a
stonv channel with countless rocks ahead, the stream
of inferior quality, which runs smoothly along neat
and artificial canals, is not without its compensations.
Real romance has its moments compared with which
commonplace attachments become flat, stale and un-
profitable: it opens the gate into a fairyland which
must forever put into the shade all the ordinary com-
forts of the dusty highway. Who that has once
danced in a fairy-ring wants to jingle up and down
the road in a tram-car ? — and who that has once been
dazzled by ''the light that never was on sea or land,"
can go into ecstasies over incandescent gas ? Never-
theless, tram-cars and incandescent gas have their
uses; and for those people who have never caught
glimpses of some better thing they are very excellent
inventions indeed. It is not to be denied that when
the world has been well lost for love, they who have
thus lost it gain their own souls in exchange, and
enter into life's Holy of Holies; but when love has
been well lost for the world, there are compensations
likewise; the Parisian style of the trousseau and the
solid nature of the wedding presents are capable of
affording a joy which the more romantic lovers could
in no way enter into or appreciate. So that the wise



138 FUEL OF FIRE



and the foolish are both happy after their kind : and
which of them is wise and which each fooHsh man
must decide for himself, and each woman also.

But Mr. Arbuthnot (either fortunately or unfor-
tunately — that is a moot point) was of the romantic
manner of man who is set upon the marrying of the
woman of his choice, and not the woman whom his
world has chosen for him ; and consequently that re-
bellious heart of his inclined toward Nora Burton
and not toward Faith Fairfax ; and whither his heart
inclined there Michael himself followed.

His world blamed him even more for loving Nora
Burton than for not loving Faith Fairfax ; as a mat-
ter of fact, it always does seem worse to do those
things one ought not to have done than merely to
leave undone those things one ought to have done;
although the General Confession thinks differently
and puts the two sins on the same level. And his
world went even further ; it decreed that if Mr. Ar-
buthnot must so far forget himself and his sacred
calling as to fall in love with a Burton at all, Nancy
rather than Nora was the one for him.

Nevertheless, it is possible — though it seems both
ungrateful and presumptuous to suggest such a pos-
sibility when we consider how generous and unspar-
ing our friends and neighbours always are in meting
out condemnation upon our past and counsel with
regard to our future actions — that Mr. Arbuthnot
knew his own business best.

Now, it mav be taken as an axiom that if a man is



COURSE OF TRUE LOVE 139

a good son — and, still more, a good brother — that
man will be a good husband ; and any woman is safe
in entrusting her happiness to him until death them
do part, with an absolute certainty that her trust will
not be betrayed. But on the other hand, strange to
say, it does not follow that a good daughter and sis-
ter will necessarily make a good wife: she may or
she may not. In fact, very often the role is reversed.
The reason for this lies in the deep-rooted difference
between a ruling and a subject race. If a man has
learned to govern wisely and kindly the woman of his
father's household, he will wisely and kindly govern
the women of his own; but if a woman has submit-
ted herself with all meekness for the first term of her
natural life, she grows weary of subjection and
wants to reign in her turn. Therefore, in all prob-
ability, the most dutiful daughter will make the most
wilful wife; while the ^'revolting daughter," who has
implicitly disobeyed all her father's commands, will
be as tired of rebellion as her gentler sister is of sub-
jection, and will settle down quite meekly into double
harness. In the same way it is a noticeable fact that
the naturally bad-tempered woman is amiable toward
nobody except the man she loves ; while the naturally
good-tempered woman is amiable tow^ard everybody
except the man she loves; which proves that to the
normal woman the world is divided into two unequal
parts, to which she shows the two directly opposite
sides of herself — the man she loves being the larger
half, and everybody and everything else the other.



I40 FUEL OF FIRE

But, after marriage, the real nature of the woman
reasserts itself; thenceforward the naturally good-
tempered woman is good-tempered, and the naturally
bad-tempered woman bad-tempered, to the end of the
chapter. Wherefore it behooves the man who is
wooing to walk circumspectly and with wide-open
eyes.

Although Nancy was the more amiable and adapt-
able sister in the home life, Nora was the easier to
get on with from a lover's point of view. As far as
in her lay, Nora provided that the course of true love
should run smooth : but Nancy amused herself by
making artificial little rapids and shallows, in case
nature had not supplied sufficient excitement for her
in this respect. She loved to tease Laurence in and
out of season, and to rouse his jealousy; she was
always inventing some excuse for a quarrel and
making it up again; and he never delivered himself
of the simplest statement that she did not openly dis-
pute. Nora, on the other hand, sweetly obeyed the
law Mr. Arbuthnot laid down ; and contented herself
and him by letting him make up for her that clever
mind of hers. He had not yet told her that he loved
her, but she was perfectly cognisant of the fact ; and,
having once grasped it, would never again doubt it,
as Nancy would have done fifty times a day — and
would thoroughly have enjoyed the doubts, too.
No; Nancy was not altogether easy sailing; but she
was great fun ; and there are men who enjoy amuse-
ment more than ease.



COURSE OF TRUE LOVE 141

*'What are you thinking about, Mr. Arbuthnot?"
Nora enquired of the vicar one afternoon, as he and
she were walking together from Tetleigh to Way-
side.

"Well, to tell the truth, I was wondering how far
short of our ideal we may fall without being in any
way to blame. One cannot always be at one's best;
that is impossible; but T wonder how far below one's
best one's daily walk and conversation may lie."

''I understand what you mean : you are wondering
how many half-holidays we may take from the ideal
without playing truant.''

"Exactly," argued the vicar, with a smile.

"And half-holidays are absolutely necessary,
aren't they?"

"They are; but, on the other hand, the ideal ought
to tinge our half-holidays ; if we have once seen the
heavenly vision, we must never be disobedient to it,
you know."

Nora was quick to catch his idea : "You mean that
though we can't always be looking at the vision, we
mustn't forget that we have once seen it," she said.

"Yes; that is exactly what I do mean. And I
think it is a little difficult to hit upon the happy me-
dium between disobeying the heavenly vision on the
one hand and dwelling upon it in exclusion to our
daily duties on the other."

"Which of the two evils do you think the
least?"

"Undoubtedly the latter. If one has ever seen the



T42 FUEL OF FIRE

best of anything, in love or life or art, as well as in
religion (for I believe the heavenly vision comes to
us in innumerable ways), it is sin for us not to obey
it. We need not be always thinking about it ; but we
must never be disobedient to it. Therefore, it seems
to me, that the few among us to whom it is granted
to see the best in any walk of life have duties entailed
upon us from which ordinary men and women are
exempt."

''Then we have to pay even for our heavenly vis-


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