Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler.

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to the old nursery - a room which had suddenly acquired a new and
wonderful sanctity in my eyes.

"Of course," I replied. "The Manor wouldn't be the Manor without Miss
Annabel. I could never think of allowing her to leave it. I should
have thought you would have been the first to rejoice at the news that
she was staying on."

"Well, then, I'm not, Master Reggie: neither the first nor the last nor
any of the rejoicing sort at all. When folks are married, they'd best
have their home to themselves, or else trouble'll come of it."

"No trouble possibly could come of Miss Annabel's being anywhere. She
could never bring anything but peace and comfort, and that you know as
well as I do." I felt that I did well to be angry with Ponty just then.

But she didn't mind my anger in the least: she never had done. "I
remember a man at Poppenhall," she went on, urging her unwise saws by
means of fictitious instances, "who married as suitable as never was,
and all went as merry as a marriage-bell till his wife's sister came to
live with them. Then the two sisters took to quarrelling so awful that
one of them had to go: and it was the wife as went and her sister as
stayed."

"But, my good Ponty, the cases are not parallel," I said, with much
truth; "in your story it was the wife's sister and not the husband's,
which makes all the difference."

"It doesn't matter on which side the sister was: it is the principle of
having relations to live with newly-married people that I don't approve
of. Married folks are best left to themselves till the children come."

"But our marriage is an exceptional one," I urged.

"All marriages are exceptional to the bride and bridegroom," replied
Ponty, "just as all children are exceptional to their own parents. No,
Master Reggie, mark my words, when a man and a woman join hands at the
altar, they don't reckon to be starting a game of 'Oranges and Lemons,'
with their relations hanging on to them behind and pulling them apart.
And that's what married life comes to, if the relations on either side
live with the parties concerned."

"You are talking about things you don't in the least understand."

But Ponty took as little notice of me as she used to take when I was a
child of six. It was never very wise of me to be dignified with Ponty.
"I understand that it's a big job anyway for a husband and wife to
shake down together when first they are married, Master Reggie, and it
makes the job ten times bigger when their relations begin helping them.
It's a thing they can only do when they are left to their own two
selves."

I still tried to be patient, though I was fully alive to my old nurse's
narrowness and ignorance. How little she grasped the true relationship
between Fay and Annabel! "Your plan may be all very well when a man
and his wife are about the same age, Ponty; there is a freemasonry in
youth which unaided must bring them a complete understanding of each
other. But what you call the shaking down becomes much more difficult
when there is nearly a quarter of a century between the two."

"Then the more difficult it is, Master Reggie, the less they'll want
anybody to help them. You may take my word for that. And if you
follow my advice you won't allow Miss Annabel - nor Mr. Wildacre
neither, one side being as bad as the other - to help you and Miss Fay
to shake down together. You'll do the shaking down yourselves or else
remain unshook. I remember there was a man in Poppenhall who used to
say as there was nobody as fermented a quarrel like the peacemakers,
and the same holds good with relatives in the case of marriage."

I did not want to lose my temper with my old nurse, so I went out of
the room. But I was dreadfully disappointed in Ponty. I thought she
would have known better.




CHAPTER X

A BIRTHDAY PRESENT

Fay and I were married early in the year, which always appears to me
the proper time for marrying and giving in marriage. It seems so
appropriate for the new heaven and the new earth to begin at the same
time. We went first to the Italian lakes and then back to Switzerland,
so that spring met us in Italy, accompanied us through the Swiss
mountains, and arrived at Restham Manor about the same time as we did.
Thus our path was literally strewn with flowers all the way.

It would be both undignified and impossible, to describe what a
heavenly time that honeymoon was to me. I had never imagined that such
bliss was attainable in this work-a-day world: I thought it only
existed in fairy-tales. And indeed my life was a fairy-tale just then,
with Fay for the leading fairy.

I think that it was a very happy time for her, too; though I could not
expect her to feel the absorbing delight in my society that I felt in
hers. How could she, considering how dull and stupid I was, and how
vivid and radiant was she? But she seemed contented with me, and
delighted with the lakes and the mountains and the wealth of flowers:
and she grew lovelier and more lovable every day. Her intoxicating
society renewed my youth, and we walked and rode and boated together
like a pair of happy and careless children, till I believed that she
had spoken truth when she said that Love had indeed accomplished the
impossible as far as I was concerned, and had set the shadow on the
dial ten degrees backward.

The arrangements for our honeymoon had been highly approved of by
Annabel, as they prevented that meeting between the east wind and me,
which she spent her life in trying to avert, so that by the time we
reached home at the end of April, the east wind was chained up again in
his kennel with the keenest of his teeth extracted. At least so
Annabel preached, and so she believed; for my part I had met him
rushing loose about the fields on a May morning, with a tooth as keen
as any ingratitude of man's.

We arrived at home on a lovely afternoon - one of those blue and golden
afternoons of late spring - and found Annabel waiting in the hall to
welcome us. How good it was to see her there! I should hardly have
felt it was a real home-coming without Annabel, and nice as it was for
me, I felt it was still nicer for Fay to have a woman to come home
to - a woman who could comprehend and comfort and cherish her as no man,
however devoted, could possibly do, and who could, to a certain extent,
take the place of the mother whom - to her lifelong impoverishment - she
had lost.

"Come and have some tea, my dear," said Annabel, after we had duly
embraced her and greeted the entire household, who were likewise
waiting in the hall to receive us.

The household melted away as if we had read the Riot Act over it, and
we three drew near to the gate-legged tea-table.

"You had better pour out, Fay," said Annabel, "and take your place in
your own house from the beginning."

Fay was looking so tired that I answered for her. "No, Annabel, you do
it. Fay is really too tired to pour out for us two able-bodied beings.
She ought not to wait upon other people, but to let other people wait
upon her." She certainly did seem a fragile, fairy-like little thing
beside Annabel and me.

"Shall I, Fay?" asked Annabel.

"Just as Reggie likes," replied my darling, with her lovely smile.

"Sweetheart, you are too tired to lift that heavy teapot. Let Annabel
do it for you." The vessel in question was part of an extremely solid
tea-service which had been presented to my father by an admiring
constituency on the auspicious occasion of his marriage, and which
resembled a flotilla of silver Dreadnoughts.

Fay laughed. "I think, as Reggie says, I had better not tackle the big
teapot till it gets used to me: it might begin to buck or jib, and I'm
sure I shouldn't have strength to hold it in if it did."

"It couldn't very well do that," said Annabel, taking her accustomed
seat at the table, while Fay sat on the other side of me; "but it might
overflow and trickle down the spout, as it is by no means a good
pourer, and Jeavons always fills it too full." (Jeavons was our
butler.) "I can't think why servants always make as much tea for three
people as for half-a-dozen."

"I hate teapots that dribble down their chins," remarked Fay: "they are
so messy."

Annabel gently corrected her. "I said spout, my dear, not chin.
Teapots don't have chins. And now, you two, tell me all your
adventures since I saw you last." Whereupon she characteristically
proceeded to tell us all hers, and we neither of us could get a word in
edgeways.

"And the garden is looking perfectly lovely," she concluded, after an
exhaustive recital of the recent happenings of Restham. "I have had my
own way with the forget-me-nots this year, and they are going to be a
great success. Even Cutler now owns that he was wrong and I was
right." Whereby I perceived that Cutler knew on which side of his
bread the butter lay.

"Of course they are not in their full perfection yet," continued
Annabel; "but they will be a sight when they are. You see, I was away
when they were planted last year, and he didn't put them in nearly
closely enough; but this year I superintended them myself."

"Then it is sure to be all right," I said.

"It is," replied Annabel, unconscious of irony. "If only people would
always do what they are told, what a great deal of trouble would be
saved! The moment I saw them last year I told Cutler they weren't
nearly thick enough, but he wouldn't believe me, and said they would
spread."

"And didn't they?" I asked, loyalty to my own sex drawing me over to
Cutler's side.

"Not as much as he said they would, so last spring was practically
wasted as far as the forget-me-nots were concerned. But it taught him
once for all that I knew better than he."

"A spring is never wasted in which one learns wisdom," I remarked.

"I do love forget-me-nots," exclaimed Fay. "Forget-me-not beds are
like adorable blue pools, and I never see one without longing to jump
into it and bathe."

"That you must never do, my dear," replied Annabel; "if you did, you
would entirely spoil the appearance of the beds for that season. They
would never close up again properly, but would always look straggling
and untidy."

I caught Fay's eyes; but to our lasting credit we were both able to
postpone our laughter. It is one of the most delightful things in the
world to be with somebody who laughs at the same things as one laughs
at oneself: it creates a bond that nothing can ever break: a bond
devoid of all sentimentality, but none the less powerful on that
account. In looking back on as much of life's road as we have already
travelled, and recalling thoughts of our fellow-travellers therein, I
am not sure that the memories of the friends who shared our jokes are
not tenderer than the memories of the friends who shared our sorrows,
and they are certainly much pleasanter. I do not, however, pretend
that a similarity of taste in jokes is a sufficient basis for
matrimony, though a very firm foundation for friendship; but since
friendship forms a not inconsiderable part of an ideal marriage, this
sympathy in matters humorous is an important consideration in matrimony
also. And I am thankful to say that this sympathy existed in full
measure between myself and Fay.

It existed also between myself and Frank, had I given it full run; but
there were certain things - such as Annabel, for instance - over which I
could not allow myself to laugh too much with Frank. But there was
nothing - not even Annabel - over which it would be disloyal to laugh
with Fay, since husband and wife are one, and many and many a time did
she and I have together a merry time over the quaint humours which help
considerably to make this present world as delightful a dwelling-place
as it is.

But though Fay and I often laughed together at my sister's ways - which
were certainly very laughter-provoking just then - our laughter was the
laughter of love, and I never lost the opportunity of pointing out to
Fay the sterling goodness which underlay Annabel's peculiarities. But
I advisedly admitted the peculiarities, as there is nothing which so
successfully sets one person against another as an assumption of the
latter's flawlessness. The people whose geese are all swans are
responsible for many an epidemic of cygnophobia.

But of course I never laughed with Annabel over Fay's little ways;
they, and everything else connected with my darling, were then and
always sacrosanct to me. It annoyed me even when Frank laughed at
her - as he very frequently did - which I admit was inconsistent on my
part, since if I had the right to laugh at my sister, he had certainly
the right to laugh at his. But though Frank's jokes at Fay's expense
might be lawful, to me they were highly inexpedient.

It was the first Sunday after our return home. In the morning Fay,
Annabel and I attended Divine Service in Restham Church, and "sat
under" Arthur, Annabel in her usual place at the top of the Manor pew,
and Fay close to me at the bottom, so that during the lessons and the
sermon, and such unoccupied times, we could slip our respective hands
into one another's without any one perceiving it. As I knelt in the
church where I had worshipped from my childhood, and realised that to
me had been given my heart's desire, I felt as one who came home with
joy, bringing his sheaves with him, and I gave God thanks.

After the service was over we walked round the Manor House garden
accompanied by Arthur, which was as much a part of the morning's ritual
as the Litany or the prayer for the King. I believe Annabel would have
thought it almost wicked to omit this sabbatic peregrination, if the
weather permitted it. Certainly I could not remember a time when we
had not walked round the garden every Sunday after service, remarking
how the vegetable kingdom had either advanced or receded (according to
the season of the year) since the preceding Sunday.

But if my sister would have included an omission of that Sunday
morning's walk round the garden among those things left undone which
she ought to have done, she certainly would have considered the taking
of any further exercise on a Sunday as among the things which she ought
not to have done; therefore Fay and I started off for a long walk that
Sunday afternoon, unhampered by the encompassing presence of Annabel.
A nap between lunch and tea was one of the most sacred rites of
Annabel's strict sabbatic ritual.

"Now isn't it lovely to set out for a walk together and to feel that
we've got the rest of our lives to finish it in, and that there's
nothing to hurry home for?" exclaimed Fay, as we walked across the
garden.

"There's nothing to hurry home for because we are home," I replied, as
we went through the little gate which separated the lawn from the park:
"wherever you are is home to me."

"Same here," retorted Fay; "like snails, we carry our home on our
backs, which is very delightful and picnicky when you come to think of
it."

"That's where we are so superior to snails," I pointed out; "they carry
their own, while we carry each other's: a far finer type, if you'll
permit me to say so."

"I remember once when I was a little girl, Mother corrected me for
being vain, and said it was horrid of me to think I was pretty. I
thought it over, and then I came back to her and explained that I
didn't think I was pretty - I only thought I was better looking than a
frog, and I asked her if it was 'vainness' to think I was better
looking than a frog, and she agreed it wasn't. In the same way I don't
think it is a 'vainness' of us to think we are finer characters than
snails, do you?"

"By no means. And I go farther: I don't even think it is 'vainness' on
your part to think you are pretty."

Fay laughed. "I'm glad it isn't, for I do."

"You darling!"

"And I'm not selfish in my 'vainness' either," she went on, "or narrow.
I think you are very good looking too; _much_ better looking than a
frog, Reggie, _much_!"

"You silly child, what nonsense you are talking! You'll really make me
horribly vain if you go on like this!" I said reprovingly. But I liked
it, nevertheless.

"And a jolly good thing if I did! You aren't vain enough; it's the one
flaw in your otherwise admirable character."

"It's much too soon for you to begin to find out your husband's faults,
Fay; you oughtn't to have discovered one for at least six months.
You'll make a terrible wife if you go on like this!"

"I'm not finding out my husband's faults: I'm only regretting that he
doesn't possess one."

"He is all fault that hath no fault at all," I quoted.

"Oh, I didn't mean that you don't possess a fault at all, far from it;
I mean you don't possess one particular fault, namely, vanity, and that
it would be a jolly sight better for you if you did. You don't think
half well enough of yourself, Reggie, you don't really, and it is such
a pity. You've no idea how perfectly good and clever and altogether
splendid you are."

"Then you ought to commend me for my humility instead of scolding me
like this," I urged in self-defence.

Fay shook her curly head. "Humility is a thing which can very soon be
overdone - especially in a case like yours."

"For instance?"

"Well, you aren't properly proud of the things you ought to be proud
of, and you've got such lots of them," explained Fay, with some lack of
lucidity.

"Anyhow I'm jolly proud of the one thing I've a right to be proud of,
and that is my wife," I replied.

"That's you all over, wrapping other people up in the mantle of your
own virtues, and then admiring the other people for being so awfully
well dressed. It's really you that makes us such a tremendously
attractive couple. People like me because I'm your wife, and yet
you'll always believe they like you because you're my husband. It
really is stupid to put the cart before the horse in that way, Reggie."

I put my arm through Fay's, drawing her nearer to me. "Then what on
earth do you want me to do, carry a pocket-mirror about with me, and
keep taking it out and admiring myself, like Narcissus, or else thrust
the sanguinary hand of my recent baronetcy into every stranger's face?"

"Oh, Reggie, what an idiot you are! Of course, I think it is perfectly
sweet of you not to have a swelled head because you are rich and landed
and a baronet and all that, and not to have a swelled head because it
is such an extremely good-looking one, with such regular features; I
thoroughly approve of that sort of humility, as I'm the last person in
the world to encourage swank; but what I do mean is that you have so
little confidence in yourself and your own powers that you stand on one
side and let other people do the things that you'd do a million times
better than they can. You are like that old Emperor who thought he
couldn't govern Europe, and so began to wind up the clock instead."

I smiled. "You've got hold of the wrong end of the stick this time,
milady; it was because Charles the Fifth was sick of the weight of
empire that he retired to a monastery and made clocks: and it was
considered a most swaggery thing at the time, and was tremendously
applauded by an admiring Europe, because he was just as good at
clockmaking as he was at ruling the world."

"What you might call a good all-round man."

"Precisely. Now I am the contrary of that. The experience of life has
taught me that I am equally inefficient in government and in
clockmaking - in short, that I am a thoroughgoing failure, and that
therefore my truest wisdom lies in getting other and superior people to
rule my empire and make my clocks."

I regret to record that at this point of the conversation Lady
Kingsnorth stood stock still in the middle of the road, and protruded
from between her scarlet lips the point of a little pink tongue, and
then remarked in terse if inelegant language: "You silly ass!"

I laughed. "Your ladyship ought to be ashamed of yourself," I said.

"On the contrary, my ladyship is ashamed of you! I wouldn't be as
great a goose as you are, Reggie, for ten thousand a year."

"It is about what I get for it," I murmured.

There was a pause whilst I opened a gate for our passing, and shut it
again, and then I said: "By the way, my own, it is your birthday this
week. What shall I get you for a present?"

Fay tripped beside me on the grass. She was very like a child in her
movements. "I've had such lovely wedding presents from you that I
really don't seem to have room for any more."

"Well, you must make room somehow. It would be against all my
principles to let so great an occasion as your birthday pass unwept,
unhonoured and unsung."

"I really couldn't make room for any more jewellery. I'm plastered
over with it already, like a rough-cast house." I had had all my
mother's diamonds reset for Fay, and had given her a string of pearls
on my own account.

"Well then, a set of furs ready for the winter," I suggested. "It is a
good time now for buying furs."

Fay shook her head. "Too expensive after all those lovely wedding
presents."

"What nonsense, my darling! Nothing is too expensive for you."

"I'll tell you what I really do want," said Fay, taking my arm and
dancing beside me like a little girl: "I want a nice, small Prayer Book
to use every Sunday in church. And I should like it bound in green, my
favourite colour."

"Whatever do you want another Prayer Book for, sweetheart?" I asked,
surprised at this strange request. "Our pew is simply paved and
panelled with them."

"But I don't like huge things with crests and coats-of-arms on the
outside: I can't pray properly out of them. It's like sending one's
prayers to heaven in a Lord Mayor's coach instead of on angels' wings.
I want a little green Prayer Book of my very own, with a 'Hymns Ancient
and Modern' at the end of it: one of those semi-detached sort of
affairs, don't you know! - in the same case, but with separate
entrances. And I want you to give it me and write my name in it, so
that my love for you and my prayers and praises will all be bound up
together."

"But it seems such a poor present for me to give you, darling," I
objected.

"But it's what I want. Those crested and coat-of-armed Prayer Books in
the pew are several sizes too large and too grand for me. And they are
so public and general, too: nothing private and personal about them. I
don't care for a Prayer Book with the family coat-of-arms on it. And,
besides, I don't think coats-of-arms and Prayer Books are in the same
dimension, somehow."

"How do you mean, sweetheart?" Fay's ideas - ideas which Annabel would
have dismissed as "funny" - were always of absorbing interest to me.

"Crests and coats-of-arms belong to the temporal things, such as
carriages and motors and notepaper and silver-plate, and so are
suitable ornaments for all these objects; but names and Prayer Books
belong to the eternal things, and so are on a different plane
altogether. When a baby is baptised a Christian it isn't given a new
crest, but a new name: it isn't crested, so to speak, it is christened.
And I always love that text in the Bible about him that overcometh
being given a white stone with a new name written on it; but you
couldn't imagine God giving anybody a white stone with a new crest
engraved on it! It would sound absurd. And that is because your name
is part of yourself and means _you_; while a crest is only the sign of
your family and signifies your social position and your rank, and all
those material, worthless sort of things which the world thinks so much
of, but which God really couldn't be bothered with."

Fay stopped for breath, she was chattering so fast, and skipping at the
same time. She was so full of life and spirits that she never could
walk soberly along like other people. And then she began talking
again, and so did I, and we continued the enchanting _solitude à deux_,
which is the especial prerogative of marriage, until it was time to
return home to tea and Annabel.

The next morning, when Fay was out of the room, Annabel said to me:
"Reggie, I want to ask your advice?"

"Such as it is it is always at your service," I replied; "though I
admit I cannot just now recall any occasion when you have availed
yourself of it, your own, as a rule, proving adequate for your needs."

"I want to know what to give Fay for a birthday present," continued my
sister. "Just after a wedding and all the presents, it is so difficult
to find anything that anybody wants, and it seems a waste of money to
buy what is useless."

A brilliant idea occurred to me, one which I thought would prove of
assistance in my lifework of bringing Fay and Annabel nearer together.


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