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Annabel should give Fay the Prayer Book, and so become identified with
what Fay called her prayers and praises, and therefore draw nearer to
my darling's inmost heart. It was the dream of my life that Annabel
should be as dear to Fay as she was to me, and what better way of
securing this than by associating her with Fay's moments of religious
emotion? It appeared to me a capital plan.

"I know what you can give her," I replied, "a combined Prayer Book and
Hymn Book beautifully bound: it happens to be just what she wants."

Annabel looked scornful. "What a ridiculous suggestion! How can she
want a Prayer Book when our pew is positively packed with them? They
fit so tight in the book-ledge that there isn't room for even a pair of
gloves or a pocket-handkerchief between."

"She finds them too big: she wants a smaller one of her own." I knew
my Annabel, and therefore did not enter into any vain attempt to
explain to her Fay's actual feelings on the subject.

"I can understand her wanting a small one if she had to carry it to
church and back. But, as she hasn't, I should have thought the larger
the better because of the big print. Though of course at Fay's age the
size of the print doesn't matter as it does to you and me." Annabel
never tried to cover over the discrepancy in age between my wife and
me: not from any disagreeableness; it was not in Annabel to be
intentionally disagreeable; but the discrepancy was a fact, and it was
not her custom to blink facts.

"The size of the print makes no difference to me," I replied, somewhat
nettled. "I can see small print as well as large."

"That is because you are so short-sighted. Short-sighted people always
keep their sight till they are quite old. But if you were normal you'd
have to begin spectacles at your age. I did - at least, for fine sewing
and small print."

"Well, I've told you what Fay wants, and you can get it or not, as you
like," I said, collecting my letters and preparing to leave the room.
"If you decide on it; I'll select it for you in town, where I am going
to-morrow; and if you decide on something else, I'll get Fay the Prayer
Book myself."

After further cogitation and argument, Annabel finally agreed to accept
my suggestion; so on the following day I went up to London and selected
a really exquisite little "semi-detached" Prayer Book and Hymn Book,
bound in the loveliest grass-green calf and richly tooled with gold,
for Annabel to give to Fay; and for my own present to my darling I
bought the finest set of sables I could find, which even "at summer
prices" ran well into three figures. And my heart leaped with joy to
think how beautiful she would look in them and how pleased she would
be, for my child-wife dearly loved a bit of finery.

And - remembering what Fay had said - I specially instructed Annabel to
write my darling's name in the little green Prayer Book before giving
it to her.

On the morning of Fay's birthday I was as excited as a child. I could
not help knowing that both the furs and the Prayer Book were things of
beauty, and I rejoiced at the thought of my darling's pleasure in them.
I think there are few things more delightful than the giving of a
really handsome present to a person who is able to appreciate it. I
had tried my utmost to procure for Fay things which I knew were perfect
of their kind, and I flattered myself that I had succeeded.

Fay was radiant when she awoke on her birthday morning, and I hurried
over my toilet so as to be downstairs first in order to put her
presents by her place at the breakfast-table.

"They really are lovely furs, Reggie," said Annabel, as I laid them
out. "I never saw sables of such a beautiful colour. And after all is
said and done, there is no fur that looks as handsome as sable."

"I'm glad you like them," I replied; "I really think they are rather
nice."

"But I wish you hadn't induced me to buy that absurd Prayer Book. It
seems a most unsuitable present for a bright young creature like Fay."

"Oh, that'll be all right," said I, smiling in my superior knowledge of
my darling's wishes.

Then Fay came into the room, and her face lit up at the sight of her
presents.

"Oh, Reggie, how lovely!" she exclaimed, rushing to the breakfast-table
to examine them more closely. First she picked up the Prayer Book, and
at once turned to the fly-leaf where her dear name was written. Then a
puzzled expression clouded her face. "Frances Kingsnorth, from her
affectionate sister-in-law Annabel," she read aloud. "I don't quite
understand," she added, looking to me for explanation. "I thought you
were going to give me the Prayer Book."

"So I was, darling," I replied; "but then it occurred to me what a good
thing it would be for Annabel to give you that, and for me to give you
the set of furs I had originally intended. Annabel was so anxious to
give you something that you really wanted, and I knew you wanted that."

"It is lovely," said Fay, turning over the leaves with her slim
fingers, and glancing at the illuminations inside the book. "Thank you
so much, dear Annabel." And she came round to Annabel's place and
kissed her.

"I am glad you like it, my dear," said Annabel. "I wanted to get you
something to wear - something more suitable for a young girl than a
Prayer Book, but Reggie insisted."

"It was so dear of you to want to get me exactly what you thought I
wanted," Fay replied; "and I think it is the most exquisite Prayer Book
that I've ever seen" (which I really believe it was).

"And now you must look at my present, sweetheart," I said, spreading
out the furs.

"They are beautiful; much too handsome for me."

"Nothing is too handsome for you, Fay: cloth-of-gold wouldn't be, if I
could get it. Won't you try them on?"

"Not now, I think. Thank you very much for them, Reggie, but it really
is too hot a morning for trying on furs."

"So it is, my dear," Annabel chimed in. "I wonder at Reggie's being so
stupid as to suggest it; and before you've had your breakfast, too,"
she added, as if breakfast were a cooling ceremony.

And then we all sat down to breakfast. Fay was absolutely different
from what she had been upstairs; but that was just her way; she was as
changeable and charming as an April day, and with as little reason for
it.

Two or three weeks after this, Annabel said to me: "You were wrong
after all about that absurd Prayer Book, Reggie. I know it was a
ridiculous present for a young girl. I'd much better have given Fay a
new sunshade, or something pretty to wear."

"It was what she said she wanted," I urged in self-defence.

"You must have misunderstood her. You are rather stupid, you know, at
misunderstanding people: it comes from being so dreamy and thinking of
other things. And she couldn't really have wanted it, for I notice
that she never takes it to Church."

I had noticed this also, but had carefully refrained from remarking
upon it. I endeavoured never to remark upon Fay's doings for fear she
should imagine I wanted to control them: my one desire was that she
should feel as free as air.

"It doesn't really matter," continued Annabel; "but the next time I
shall select Fay's birthday present myself. I never thought you'd
understand a young girl's thoughts and wishes, and I don't see how it
is to be expected that you should, at your age and with no experience
of them. But in future I shall use my own judgment."

Whereupon Annabel, intent upon her household duties, left me with the
crushing conviction that I was a failure as a husband, as I had been in
everything else.

Even with Fay - who was dearer to me than life itself - I seemed to do
the wrong thing.

And yet this time I could not see where I had blundered. She certainly
said that she wanted a green Prayer Book with her name written in it.




CHAPTER XI

IN JUNE

Frank came home from Oxford early in June - nominally to read with
Blathwayte during the Long; and then we had indeed a merry time at
Restham, the maddest, merriest time I ever had in my life, before or
since. In fact, the whole of the summer was as a midsummer night's
dream to me. I suggested that although Frank had to work at the
Rectory for such part of the day as he deigned to waste upon study,
there was no reason why he should not render his home at the Manor. I
thought that, this arrangement would make the house more cheerful for
Fay; for - though she was far too sweet and unselfish ever to betray
such a feeling - I could not help being conscious that the society of
two such middle-aged fogies as Annabel and myself was but poor company
for a girl of nineteen. Of course Fay was delighted at this suggestion
of mine, and Annabel not much less so. If my sister had a soft place
in her heart, except the one reserved for me, that place was most
certainly occupied by Frank Wildacre.

To my surprise the only person who did not approve of this arrangement
was Ponty.

"So I hear Mr. Wildacre is coming to live here now," she said to me one
morning, in her most ungracious manner; "the Manor will soon be as full
of couples as Noah's Ark."

"But I thought you were fond of Mr. Wildacre," I feebly urged.

"So I am, Sir Reginald - in his proper place: just as I am of Miss
Annabel. But things out of their own place are worse than useless, as
the woman said when she found the cat in the tea-kettle." Ponty never
addressed me as "Sir Reginald" unless I was in dire disgrace with her.

"And he will be such nice company for her ladyship," I went on, ashamed
of my own cowardice, yet persisting in it. My passion for peace at any
price has always been one of my most unworthy characteristics. I envy
those people who can annoy their fellows without turning a hair.

"Of course, Sir Reginald, you are master in your own house - at least,
you ought to be," said Ponty darkly; "and if you are set on spending
your married life in playing 'Oranges and Lemons,' nobody can stop you.
Everybody's got the right to spoil their own lives in their own way,
more's the pity! I remember a married couple at Poppenhall who would
have the wife's brother to live with them, and he fell into the fire
and was burnt to death, through having epileptic fits."

"But he'd have fallen into the fire just the same if he hadn't lived
with them," I argued, with a culpable lack of dignity; "and then they
would always have blamed themselves for having neglected him."

"That is as may be, Sir Reginald: he might or he might not. But as it
was, they did blame themselves, I can tell you, and the husband took to
drink in consequence, he blamed himself so much."

"Well, I don't think he need have gone to such lengths as that by way
of expiating his mistake," I said cheerfully. "And besides, that has
no bearing upon the present case, as Mr. Wildacre doesn't suffer from
fits."

Ponty sighed the heavy sigh of disapproval. "There are other things
besides fits, Sir Reginald."

I remarked that fortunately there were, and then left the nursery. I
should have been irritated with Ponty, but her unbounded admiration of
Fay made me freely forgive her anything and everything. Still I
wondered at her attitude, though I was fast learning not to be
surprised at any vagary of the feminine mind, but just to accept it as
one of the unfathomable mysteries.

Frank's presence at the Manor made a wonderful difference to Fay. He
stimulated what I called the elfin side of her nature, and brought out
those qualities which she possessed in common with him. I have
frequently noticed that when members of the same family are together,
all the family traits rise to the surface, while individual
characteristics fall into abeyance for the time being. The unit is, so
to speak, merged in the tribe.

I remarked upon this one day at breakfast.

"I know what you mean," said Frank. (The Wildacres were always very
quick to catch an idea.) "The Joneses become all Jones, and the Smiths
become all Smith at their Christmas family dinner, and the separate
Johns and Roberts and Marias, with their individual characteristics,
are swallowed up in the great Nirvana of Jonesism and Smithism."

"And Jonesism and Smithism are consequently tremendously intensified,"
Fay chimed in; "it is only at such family gatherings that one realises
the hugeness of the Jones nose, or the bitterness of the Smith temper.
I expect when all the Hapsburgs are together the size of their
historical under lip becomes something stupendous."

"I do not quite see how a Christmas party can lengthen anybody's nose
or swell their under lip," remarked Annabel, full of patient endeavour
to discover a grain of sense in all the chaff of our nonsense.

"Unless it ended in a fight," suggested Frank.

"Oh, of course, in that case it might; but I thought you were talking
of friendly family gatherings."

"So we were, Annabel," I explained; "Fay and Frank were only speaking
figuratively." I was always so dreadfully afraid that my sister would
consider Fay foolish.

Fay went on with the conversation. It was a matter of absolute
indifference to her whether Annabel considered her foolish or not, and
this grieved me, as I was so anxious for Annabel to do my darling
justice, and I could see that Fay herself sometimes rendered this
difficult. "But when members of a family marry," she said, "and go to
houses of their own, their respective personalities develop, and what
Frank calls the Jones-and-Smith Nirvana is broken up. Then we see that
what we imagined to be a complete tea-set was really a collection of
separate pieces of different kinds of china."

"But throw them together at their Christmas party," added Frank, "and
they will at once grow into each other's likeness, and your tribal
tea-set will be complete once more."

"You children talk so fast that I really cannot follow you," said
Annabel good-naturedly from behind the coffee-urn. "I don't see how
noses and under lips can turn into tea-sets."

"They can't," I agreed. "All we were saying is that when members of
the same family are together, they bring out the family characteristics
in each other."

But Annabel was not grateful for my efforts on her behalf. "You said
that some time ago, Reggie; of course I understood that, though I don't
altogether agree with it. But it is the things that the children have
said since that slightly confused me."

I wished Annabel would not always speak of Frank and Fay as "the
children." It seemed so to emphasise the gulf between Fay and myself.
But Annabel had got into the habit of thus speaking of them before my
marriage; and Annabel and a habit, when once formed, were inseparable.

"I know why you said it, Reggie," said Fay, who could always read me
like a book. I often wished that I could as easily read her! "You
were thinking that when Frank is here I am much more of a Wildacre than
when he isn't: just as when you are with Annabel you are much more of a
Kingsnorth than when you are alone with me."

That was exactly what I had been thinking - at least, the former part of
it; I did not at all agree with Fay that I was more of a Kingsnorth
when I was with Annabel, but it was rather a shock to hear it thus
crudely put into words. That is what strikes me about the young people
of to-day: they are so much more outspoken than we were at their age.
Our parents veiled Truth - we clothed her - but the present generation
treats her as the Earl of Mercia treated Godiva. And this treatment is
slightly upsetting to us who were brought up so differently.

Annabel answered for me. "That is only natural, my dear, considering
that Frank and you are the same age, and Reggie and I are so much
older. It is nice for the young to be with the young, it keeps them
bright and cheerful, and it is depressing for them to be constantly
with persons old enough to be their parents."

Fay's grey eyes flashed. "I never find it depressing to be with
Reggie," she retorted, somewhat hotly. "He always bucks me up."

But Annabel's temper remained impregnable. It was only Cutler who had
the power to shake that fortress. "I never said you did, my dear. You
are far too loyal a little wife ever to think of such a thing. But it
is natural for youth to cling to youth; it would be abnormal of it if
it didn't."

Fay still looked angry. "I don't care a twopenny dam if I am abnormal
or not. I never want to cling to anybody but Reggie."

I felt it was time to step in. I didn't want Fay to say anything to
offend Annabel. "Of course you don't, darling, and I am only too
delighted to be clung to to any extent; it is most warming and
comforting to me. But I fear Annabel is right in regarding me as the
old oak tree to which the ivy clings."

Fay slipped her hand into mine, under cover of the breakfast-table.
"You aren't a bit old, Reggie!" she said indignantly. "Is he, Frank?"

"I've known older," replied Frank guardedly.

At this we all laughed - especially Annabel. Frank's jokes usually
appealed to her, though Fay's didn't, which was strange, as the twins
resembled each other mentally almost as much as they did physically: it
was only in the deeper places of the spirit that the resemblance ended.

"Reggie is not old and he is not young," said Annabel; "I never can
understand why people make such a fuss about their ages. I am
forty-eight and Reggie is forty-three this year, and I make no bones
about it, and it would be no good if I did, as it's in _Burke_ and
_Debrett_ for all the world to read. And I really don't think, my dear
Fay, that 'a twopenny dam' is at all a nice expression for a young lady
to use: I cannot bear to hear women swear."

"It isn't swearing, Miss Kingsnorth," cried Frank, who was always ready
to stick up for his sister; "it's a foreign coin which was much used by
the great Duke of Wellington."

"So I've heard," replied Annabel, with doubt in her tone. "But all I
can say is that if it isn't swearing, it sounds uncommonly like it, and
I'm sure that any ordinary person hearing it would do Fay an injustice,
and imagine that she was given to bad language."

I felt it was time to read the Riot Act and disperse the company; so I
rose from the table and took my pipe out of my pocket, saying: "Come
on, little girl, and watch me smoking in the garden. It will be a
soothing, soporific sight."

Fay jumped up and followed me, as I knew she would. One of her most
fascinating tricks was a habit she had of trotting about the house and
garden after me like a little child. And yet in some things she was so
much of a woman!

"I say, sweetheart," I said as soon as we were out of earshot of the
house, "I wouldn't use strong language before Annabel, if I were you.
She doesn't understand it, and it gives her false ideas of you."

Fay's scarlet lips pouted. "It wasn't strong language. Frank told you
it wasn't."

It always annoyed me when Fay quoted Frank, and especially when she did
so in order to confute me. "I know, my darling; but Annabel thought it
was."

"I can't help Annabel's thoughts. She thought you were old!"

I laughed, and patted the soft, white cheek so near to my own as we sat
down side by side on a garden-seat. "No, she didn't, little one."

"Well, anyway she said so."

"No, she didn't. She said I was forty-three - which I am, and
forty-three seems quite young to Annabel, though old to you."

Fay still looked angry. "Indeed it doesn't. It seems quite young to
me. And whatever it seems, I don't see the good of harping on it and
rubbing it in, as Annabel is always doing. If she says 'forty-three'
again, I shall say 'twopenny dam.'"

I laughed outright. Fay was so delicious when she was annoyed, like a
brilliant little bird with ruffled plumage. Then I said softly, as I
put my arms round her slender waist: "No you won't, sweetheart, you'll
never say it again, if it vexes Annabel. I want you and Annabel to
love each other more than I want anything in the world."

"More than you want you and me to love each other?"

"That wish has been already fulfilled - by the greatest miracle that
ever happened."

Fay nestled closer to me. "It isn't very polite of you to say that
your loving me is anything in the miracle line."

"I didn't. It is in your loving me that the miracle comes in. I
didn't set the dial ten degrees forward: you set it ten degrees
backward."

My wife looked up at me with laughter in her wonderful eyes. "And you
want me to do the trick again with Annabel? Really, Reggie, that is a
little bit too thick! And besides, she wouldn't like it. The dial of
Annabel is quite a different make from the dial of Ahaz. It is one of
those that can't be put back even five minutes without upsetting all
the machinery and making the strikes go wrong, like our dining-room
clock. And I wouldn't upset Annabel's machinery for worlds! I should
feel like Cutler if I did."

"And even Cutler didn't upset it this year, if I remember rightly."

Fay shook her head. "No, the forget-me-not bed this last spring was
the last word in forget-me-not beds. It was a thing of beauty and a
joy for the end of April and quite the whole of May. I wanted to bathe
in it, if you remember, but Annabel thought I might get drowned or
something, and so I refrained."

"Annabel has her funny little ways, I admit," I said, feeling that this
was the moment for a word in season on my sister's behalf; "but she is
the best and kindest woman in the world, and she is really devoted to
you, my darling, though she doesn't always understand you."

"She does not like me anything like as much as she likes Frank."

"She really does - underneath her quiet manner; but she has always been
a most undemonstrative woman," I persisted, feeling bound to defend my
sister against an accusation of such arrant folly.

Fay smiled. "What a darling old ostrich it is!" she said, stroking my
hand. "Does it like to keep its dear head in the sand, and go on
pretending to itself that rocks are palm-trees and dry streams wells of
water? Then it shall, if it likes. But all the same, my Reggie, it's
rather stupid of you always to pretend that things are what you want
them to be; because they aren't, and you'll have a tremendous waking up
some fine morning."

"I'm not pretending," I said stoutly.

"Yes, you are. You are always pretending to yourself that Annabel is
devoted to me, and she really isn't one little bit. Frank says she
isn't, and if he can see it I'm sure you ought to, Reggie. There is no
harm in her not admiring me: it would be very strange if she did,
considering how much older she is and how different we are; and she
really is awfully nice to me, considering everything. Frank admits
that. But when you go on pretending that she spends her life in
sighing like a furnace for me, and writing odes to my eyebrows - why,
then, I get so impatient of it all that I find it difficult to see how
nice she really is."

"All that would be quite right, sweetheart, if I really were
pretending. But I'm not. I know Annabel a jolly sight better than you
do, and I know she is absolutely devoted to you."

And at that I left it and made love to my wife instead, a much more
agreeable occupation, in spite of that jealousy of Frank seething at
the back of my mind.

As I had said to Fay, I was absolutely convinced of Annabel's devotion
to her. And what wonder in that? Who could live with my child-wife,
as Annabel and I lived with her, and see all her charms of person and
beauties of character without loving her with all one's heart? She was
made for love, my brilliant, beautiful darling, and she had it showered
upon her in full measure. But I was not equally sure of Fay's
affection for Annabel. I knew all my sister's virtues - none better;
but I could see they were not exactly the brand of virtues most
calculated to appeal to the young. Annabel was prim and fussy and
masterful; there was no denying it, and these characteristics - one
could hardly call them faults - were just the qualities to blind the
eyes of a girl to any corresponding virtues. Therefore I felt it was
for me, who really knew and understood my sister, to show both her
superior points and screen her inferior ones when they were alike
exposed to the piercing gaze of youthful eyes. Though Fay's youthful
eyes were kind enough, Frank's were quite the reverse, and I was
becoming increasingly afraid of the influence of Frank's clear-sighted
callousness upon my wife. To him I was - I must inevitably be - an old
fogey; but I did not like the idea of his sharing that impression of my
fogeydom with Fay.

As Fay and I were sitting hand-in-hand upon the garden-seat that


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