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blissful June morning, a shadow fell upon the grass, and we saw Jeavons
approaching us with a message from the house.

"If you please, Sir Reginald," he began, coming as close to us before
he spoke as if we had been deaf, after the manner of well-trained
servants, "Mrs. Parkins out of the village has called to ask if you
will kindly go and see her father-in-law, him being in terrible pain
this morning with his sciatica, and asking for you all the time."

Jeavons never used such words as "pray" or "heal" when he brought me
messages from the village people begging for my ministrations. He
reserved such expressions for what he considered their proper
place - namely, the church and the doctor's surgery respectively.
Though they knew their own places - and kept to them - Jeavons and
Annabel had much in common: the same absolute devotion to the
conventional and the commonplace - the same horror of the emotional and
the unusual.

I rose from my seat. "Tell Mrs. Parkins that I will come at once," I
said. "Fay, will you come with me?"

"Of course I will," she replied, and we crossed the lawn and went
through the heavy garden-door, hatless as we were, into the village,
and past the old inn to Parkins's cottage.

I often took my wife with me when I went to visit the sick, because I
believed that "two or three gathered together" literally meant two or
three gathered together, and that therefore, when Fay's supplications
were added to mine, my prayer was all the more efficacious.

I have found life so much simpler and easier since I learned to take
the Bible literally, and not to be always reading between the lines to
find out spiritual meanings which might or might not be there. I
remember an enlightened and eminent modern Dean once explaining to me
that when Christ said, "The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk and
the lepers are cleansed," He meant that those hitherto blind to
spiritual visions were enlightened, those hitherto deaf to sacred
truths were made to hear them, those who had aforetime stumbled were
able to walk in the paths of righteousness, and those steeped in sin
were washed clean. "Mr. Dean," I replied, "you, as a dignitary of the
Church, probably know better than I what Christ _meant_; a mere layman
such as myself can only deal with what He _said_: and He didn't say
anything at all like that."

I hate "reading between the lines," even in ordinary human
correspondence. At least a third of the troubles of this life have
their origin in their pernicious habit; for people read a great deal of
unintentional enmity - and, still worse, a great deal of imaginary
love - into pages actually virgin of either of these extremes. And when
they read between the lines of Holy Scripture, they read in all their
own prejudices and fads and fancies, until Divine Truth is distorted
and perverted.

I can stand many things, but I cannot stand a Bowdlerised Bible.

Fay and I entered the cottage, whither Mrs. Parkins had preceded us.

"It be good of you to come, Sir Reginald, and her ladyship too, but the
poor old man be sufferin' something fearful, and all twisted up with
the pain in his back and his legs. But he says if only you'll lay your
hands on him and say a prayer like as you did before, the pain'll be
bound to go."

"Then we'll go up to him at once," I said; and Mrs. Parkins straightway
preceded us up one of those steep and dark and narrow
cottage-staircases which never fail to arouse in me an undying wonder
that the poor ever keep their necks intact. I feel sure that guardian
angels are as thick on cottage-staircases as they ever were on Jacob's
ladder.

"Good-morning, Mr. Parkins," said Fay as she entered the pretty and
spotlessly clean bedchamber of old Parkins; "we are very sorry the pain
is so bad this morning, but Sir Reginald has come to cure it."

"Parkins knows better than that," I said as I bent my head to pass
through the low doorway, "don't you, Parkins? You know as well as I do
that it isn't I who cure the pain, but our Lord working through me."

"Ay, ay, Sir Reginald, I knows that well enough, becos you've told me;
and you ought to know for sure and certain. But I'd be glad if
somebody 'ud help me quick, for the pain's powerful bad this mornin',"
and the poor old soul fairly groaned in his agony.

Without more ado I knelt beside the bed and laid my hands on the poor,
twisted limbs: and as I prayed I was conscious of the Power descending
on me, and passing through me to the old man in the bed. Gradually the
groans ceased, and the look of anguish passed from the wrinkled face as
if it had been wiped off by a sponge, and Parkins fell into the
peaceful sleep of a tired child.

As I rose from my knees and stood by the sleeping sufferer whom I had
been permitted to relieve, a great longing filled my heart for the time
when there will no longer be any need for surgeons or physicians or
spiritual healers, or for any other channels whereby the Healing Power
of Christ is conveyed to sick and suffering humanity - to the time when
the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the
sea, and when there shall be no more sickness nor sorrow nor sighing,
neither shall there be any more pain, because Christ will be all in all.




CHAPTER XII

SHAKSPERE AND THE MUSICAL GLASSES

One day as we were having luncheon - Blathwayte being one of the
party - Annabel remarked: "I am terribly worried with one thing or
another."

Arthur and I hastened to express our sympathy, and to inquire the cause
of her disquietude.

"For one thing, I can't think how to raise a little money for the
Parish Nurse Fund this year: we always have an entertainment of some
kind every three or four years, you know, to eke out the subscriptions
which aren't enough by themselves, and I really don't like the way this
new cook fricassees: her gravy is so much too watery. Yet in other
things - especially frying - she suits me so well; and changing servants,
especially cooks, is always so very worrying. I can't think what
induced Mrs. Wilkinson to get married."

Mrs. Wilkinson was our ex-cook-housekeeper, who had so far forgotten
herself - and Annabel - as to enter the holy estate of matrimony shortly
after I myself took that momentous plunge.

"I expect the same as induces most people," said Arthur: "she wanted
to."

"Well, it was very inconsiderate and selfish after all my kindness and
consideration for her," said Annabel severely; "only two years ago I
kept the situation open for two months while she had something the
matter with her leg - I forget what it was, but I think it began with an
'E' - or was it an 'I'? - and I put up with the kitchenmaid and
scullerymaid and outside help for all that time, giving Mrs. Wilkinson
her full wages. And after that, I think it was too bad of her to throw
me over in this way."

"And for the sake of a mere man," I added.

"No worse for a mere man than for a mere woman; the wrong thing was
throwing me over at all, after all my kindness to her, and waiting for
her for two months. Of course, if I'd known she was going to be
married, I should have let her leg take her away permanently. But I
can't imagine what put such an idea into her head."

"Probably the man she married," said Fay; "men have a way of putting
such ideas into our heads at times."

"And at her age, too," continued the aggrieved one; "she owns to
forty-five, and if people own to forty-five they'll own to anything.
And as to the new cook's gravies, they really are not what we have been
accustomed to at the Manor; so thin and tasteless; and I very much
doubt if she is strict enough with Cutler about bringing in sufficient
vegetables. Cutler requires a firm hand."

"And he gets it, Miss Kingsnorth," cried Frank: "so firm that I've seen
him stagger under it at times."

Fay giggled. In fact, during the whole conversation she and Frank had
kept catching each other's eye, and indulging in suppressed mirth.

"I don't know if you have noticed it, Mr. Blathwayte," Annabel went on,
"but gardeners are so dreadfully obstinate about bringing in sufficient
vegetables. Cutler is really terrible about the peas. He seems to
think they are planted to be looked at instead of eaten. And that is
where Mrs. Wilkinson was so satisfactory: she mastered him completely,
and made him bring in whatever vegetables she required."

"That augurs well for her chances of conjugal felicity, and less well
for those of her husband," I remarked.

"It was so silly of her to want a husband at her time of life,"
continued Annabel; "besides being so unfair to me. And what we are to
do this year to eke out the Parish Nurse money I cannot imagine. I had
a Sale of Work two years ago, and a Concert two years before that, and
I don't want to have either of them again so soon, though I don't see
what else I can have, and we haven't money enough without."

"It is such a business getting up a Sale of Work in a small parish like
this," said Arthur.

Annabel agreed with him. "And in a little village people don't want a
lot of tea-cosies and antimacassars and fancy blotters," she added, as
if in large towns the thirst for these articles was insatiable.

"Why not have a Jumble Sale?" suggested Fay. "Jumble sales are so
splendid at killing three birds with one stone: they clothe the naked,
feed the hungry, and clear out your wardrobe at the same time."

"I don't see how they feed the hungry," Arthur objected.

But Fay had her answer ready. "By the money they make, of course. And
in the present instance feeding the hungry would be a synonym for
supporting the Parish Nurse."

Annabel's brow was lined with anxiety. "I see what you mean about
Jumble sales, but they have terrible disadvantages."

"As for instance?" I prompted her. I saw she was bursting to divulge
the tragedies attendant upon Jumble sales.

"We had one, if you remember, five or six years ago for the village
hall, and made quite a nice little sum by it. But Cutler bought one of
Reggie's old suits at it, and wore it on a Sunday afternoon when he
came up to see after the stove in the greenhouses; and I saw him
standing in the peach-house and went up to him and put my hand on his
shoulder, thinking he was Reggie! Wasn't it dreadful? I feel I shall
never get over it as long as I live."

Of course the twins shouted with laughter at this, and Arthur and I
were not far behind them in our exuberance of mirth. But Annabel
looked quite serious - even distressed.

"I see nothing to laugh at in it - nothing at all," she said in accents
of reproof; "it was a most embarrassing position both for me and for
Cutler. I'm sure I pitied him as much as I pitied myself."

"Did you say anything?" I asked as soon as I could speak - "while you
still believed him to be me, I mean?"

Annabel blushed: five long years had not obliterated the disgrace of
that terrible moment in the peach-house. "Unfortunately I did; I said:
'What are you doing here, my dear?' It wouldn't have mattered so much
if I hadn't said 'my dear.' But I did."

Of course our mirth burst forth afresh. No one who knew Annabel could
have blamed us.

"I see nothing funny in my calling Cutler 'my dear,'" she said with
dignity; "quite the reverse."

"But it was - it was excruciatingly funny," I gasped.

"I can assure you it was not intentional."

"You needn't assure us," I said; "we never for one mad moment suspected
that it was."

"And you can now see," continued Annabel, "what a horror I have of
Jumble sales. It would be terrible if such a thing occurred again.
And I quite agree with what you were saying, Reggie, about the Prime
Minister and the Income Tax."

For a moment I thought that Annabel had taken leave of her senses, but
on looking round I perceived that this sudden change of subject was for
the benefit of Jeavons and a footman, who had just entered the
dining-room in order to introduce the pudding and remove our plates.
My sister usually dropped into politics, or into other questions
equally alien to her real thoughts and interests when the servants
entered the room, and she believed that they believed that she was
continuing a conversation. But I feel sure that they were not so
easily taken in - at any rate, Jeavons was not; I cannot answer for the
credulity of footmen, but my own private opinion is that they think
exclusively of cricket and football matches, and never attend to the
conversation of their so-called betters at all.

Without waiting for the withdrawal of the listening retainers, Frank
exclaimed: "I've got a ripping idea - a million times better than a
Jumble Sale. Let's have a Pastoral Play."

"Papa always said that a shilling in the pound was far too much, except
in time of war," said Annabel, in a raised tone of voice and with a
warning look at Frank. Then, as Jeavons thoughtfully banged the door
to show that he was no longer present, she continued in a softer voice:
"Yes, my dear Frank, what was it you said? I never like to discuss
arrangements before the servants."

"I didn't see any harm in suggesting a Pastoral Play before them,"
replied the irrepressible Frank; "but of course I shouldn't have gone
on talking about the time when you kissed Cutler in the peach-house as
long as they were in the room."

Annabel gave a little shriek. "My dear boy, what are you talking
about? I didn't kiss Cutler, I only put my hand upon his shoulder."

"It makes a much better tale of it if you say you kissed him,"
persisted Frank; "it really does. I should tell it like that the next
time, if I were you."

"I shall do nothing of the kind. It would sound so dreadful, and,
besides, it wouldn't be true."

"Still it makes it much funnier," persisted Frank.

"But it couldn't possibly have happened," explained Annabel. "I should
never have thought of kissing Reggie on a Sunday afternoon; such an
idea would never have occurred to me. And if I hadn't tried to kiss
Reggie, I should naturally not have kissed Cutler. But do go on with
what you were saying about a Pastoral Play."

Annabel was one of those people who, whilst appearing utterly
absent-minded and wrapped up in their own concerns, "take notice" (as
nurses say of children) far more than one imagines. Frank's suggestion
had not escaped her.

"I think a Pastoral Play would be simply ripping," he repeated, "and
bring you in no end of money for your old District Nurse. Fay and I
would get it up and run it for you, as we were always acting and being
mixed up with theatrical things when Father was alive, and it would be
like old times for us to be on the stage again, wouldn't it, Fay?"

My wife's eyes sparkled. "_Rather_! I should simply adore it."

It was news to me that the twins had been so much in the theatrical
world during their father's lifetime, and not altogether pleasing news,
either. But, considering that he had chosen his wife from "the
Profession," I could hardly be surprised at his familiarity with it.

"Then that's settled," exclaimed Frank, as usual carrying Fay and
Annabel with him on the wings of his enthusiasm. "It will be the
greatest fun in the world! We'll get the Loxleys to come and stay here
and help us with the principal parts, and we can train the choir-boys
and the village children to do the crowds and the dances and things
like that. It will be simply top-hole."

"But where should we have it?" asked Annabel, breathless with the
rapidity of her flight.

"In the garden, of course: I'll show you an ideal spot. The audience
will sit on rows of chairs on the lawn, and the stage will be on that,
raised piece at the far end which sticks out into the shrubbery, and
the actors will come on from behind the rhododendrons.

"And what play shall you act?" asked my sister, still gasping.

"It must be one of Shakspere's," said Arthur; "I never heard of a
Pastoral Play that wasn't Shakspere's."

"And Shakspere's are sufficiently classical and improving and
respectable," Fay chimed in, "to be in the same _galère_ as the Parish
Nurse."

Annabel beamed. "Fay is quite right: it would never do to have
anything that was at all doubtful or risky in connection with the
Parish Nursing Fund; but Shakspere's Plays almost count as
lesson-books, they are so educational and instructive; they are
regularly studied at girls' schools, and were even in my schooldays. I
have forgotten it all since, but we read a good deal of Shakspere when
I was at school, and different girls took the different parts, which
made it so much more interesting."

I daren't look at Fay, for fear of seeing and responding to an
irreverent smile. "Shakespere is evidently the man for the place," I
said.

"I always think he was a very clever writer," continued Annabel, "and
nice-looking too, to judge from his portraits, with quite a distinct
look of Reggie - especially about the beard."

"I am afraid the resemblance ended there," I sighed, "and did not
ascend to the brain."

"And I always think it is so tiresome," my sister went on, "of people
to say he was the same as Bacon. If he had been, people would have
known it at the time, and would not have had to wait two or three
hundred years to find it out. It seems to me a most absurd idea. What
should you think if two or three hundred years hence people said that
Bernard Shaw and Mr. Gladstone were the same?"

"I should say they were mistaken," I answered.

Here Frank put in his oar, and said that Bernard Shaw was his especial
idol, and that therefore such an accusation on the part of posterity
would cause him the keenest pain. "I simply adore Bernard Shaw," he
added.

"And papa simply adored Mr. Gladstone," said Annabel; "so that
naturally I do not wish to say a word against either of them. All I
say is that it would be a mistake to mix them up."

The meeting unanimously agreeing with her, we passed on to the subject
in chief.

"Which play shall we select?" asked Blathwayte.

"We can do either _As You Like It_, or _A Midsummer Night's Dream_,"
replied Frank. "Fay and I have acted in both. We used to do a lot of
that sort of thing in Father's time, ever since we were quite little.
Mother's sister, Aunt Gertrude, was an actress before she married, you
know, as Mother was, only Mother was a dancer, and she and Mother used
to teach us to dance and act from our cradles."

I had heard a good deal of this aunt from both Fay and Frank, and I
freely admit I was decidedly jealous both of her and of what she
represented. She was an actress who had married an Australian
squatter, and she had had more to do with the upbringing of the twins
than their own mother had. She had been a second mother to them both
before and after their own mother's death, as the Wildacres frequently
stayed with her and her husband on that far-off Australian sheep-farm.
I gathered that Wildacre had put the little money he possessed into his
brother-in-law's farm, and it had repaid him handsomely. When he came
to England to complete his children's education (and, incidentally, his
own life), the wrench of parting from their aunt had been as great a
sorrow to the twins as their mother's death. But I could read between
the lines that his wife's people belonged to a much lower social
stratum than he did himself, and that he felt it his duty to his
children to launch them on the world in the position to which by right
they belonged. Therefore he took them from Mr. and Mrs. Sherard, their
maternal aunt and uncle, and left them to the guardianship of his old
college-chum, Arthur Blathwayte.

I knew that it had been - and still was, as far as Frank was
concerned - the fixed intention of the twins to return to Australia to
see their beloved aunt as soon as they came of age and could do as they
liked; but marriage had modified this decision on the part of Fay; she
still, however, cherished a hope of visiting her maternal relations
some time, though I cannot say that the letters of Mrs. Sherard to her
niece induced me to share this hope.

That Mrs. Sherard was still a handsome woman, her photograph testified;
but the refined beauty which Mrs. Wildacre had not been permitted to
survive had developed - in the case of her sister - into something not
far removed from coarseness.

"I don't know about _As You Like It_," said Annabel doubtfully.
"Doesn't a girl dress up as a boy, or something of that kind in it?"

"Of course," replied Frank: "Rosalind. Fay makes a perfectly spiffing
Rosalind. She played it at a Pastoral Play some of Father's friends
had at Richmond; and she looked positively ripping in her green doublet
and trunk hose, and little green cap with a feather in it. All the
girls fell in love with her."

"I don't think I could have any doublet or trunk hose in connection
with the Parish Nurse," said Annabel solemnly; "the Fund is not very
popular as it is, and I couldn't bear to do anything to make it less
so."

I laughed at Annabel's way of putting it; but at the back of my mind I
was conscious of a spasm of what Fay would have called "Kingsnorthism,"
which violently protested against the idea of my wife's appearing in
doublet and trunk hose. "Then what about _A Midsummer Night's Dream_?"
I suggested.

"Fay is awfully good in that, too," replied Frank; "she plays Titania
and I play Puck, and we introduce a little dance of our own in the
middle. Then Bob Loxley can play Bottom, and Elsie Hermia and Mamie
Helena; and we can easily get people to take the other parts. The
choir-boys can do the rest of the Athenian workmen, and the village
children the rest of the fairies. They will soon pick it up, when
there's one good actor to lead them."

And so, after much consultation among ourselves, and much searchings of
heart on the part of Annabel as to whether the Parish Nurse would
suffer in any way from this identification of her interests with those
of Shakspere, it was decided that _A Midsummer Night's Dream_ should be
performed in the garden of the Manor House at the end of July, just
before the time when some of our neighbours flitted to the seaside for
their children's holidays, and others, whose children were of a larger
growth, repaired to shoots in Scotland. The Loxleys came for a good
long time (longer, in fact, than Annabel considered necessary), in
order to assist in coaching the village infants in their parts. They
were good-looking, good-tempered young people, their looks and their
tempers being, in my humble opinion, superior to their form; but Fay
and Frank thoroughly enjoyed and entered into their high spirits and
youthful pranks. There was no harm in them, but they were rather too
theatrical for my provincial taste, and very much too theatrical for
Annabel's and Arthur's. They brought out a side of the twins that I
had never seen - that side which had been fostered by their mother and
aunt, and afterwards indulged by their father, and although it rejoiced
my heart to see my darling so happy and in such good spirits, I could
not altogether stifle a wish that her tastes and mine were rather more
on the same lines.

That, I think, is one of the disadvantages of marrying late in life: it
is so much less easy to adapt oneself than it was when one was young.
Fay, of course, was young enough to adapt herself to anything; but I
didn't feel it was playing the game to let her do so, unless I was
prepared to meet her half-way; and I was confronted by the horrible
fact that the half-way meeting-place is sometimes too long an excursion
for persons of advancing years. However sincerely we may wish to do
so, we cannot walk so far.

I remember once remarking upon this to my sister, with regret at my
loss of adaptability; but she saw otherwise, and said that one of the
comforts of middle life is that by that time you have found the right
groove and can stick to it, unswayed by any passing winds of doctrine
that may blow your way. But I cannot feel like this. All I know is
that I have found a rut and am unable to climb out of it; but that it
is the right rut or even a desirable rut I have very serious doubts.

I think that this increasing difficulty of altering ourselves as we
grow older applies to men more than to women, since women are far more
adaptable by nature than we are. But I very much doubt whether the
adaptability of the middle-aged woman goes far below the surface. I
feel sure that the bride who forgot her own people and her father's
house was a very young bride indeed.

Thus to my infinite regret I discovered that - try as I would - I could
not make myself like the same things and people and pleasures as Fay
liked; and I recognised that this want of unanimity arose not from the


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Online LibraryEllen Thorneycroft FowlerTen Degrees Backward → online text (page 12 of 22)