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shadow over her pleasure: and standing aside is not at all the proper
attitude for a husband. If you'd been so set on standing aside, you
should have stood aside altogether and not married her: but having
married her, the time for standing aside has gone by."

Indignant as I was I could not help admiring Annabel's power of
grasping a situation. In ordinary conversation she often appeared
_distraite_ - at times almost stupid; but when once her bed-rock of
common sense was touched, her judgment was excellent.

"For my part, as you know," she continued inexorably, "I do not approve
of old men marrying young wives. But if they do so, the wife must not
take her own young way and leave the husband to take his old one. They
must merge, and hit on a comfortable _via media_, or whatever it is
called in Latin. You are letting Fay go her own way too much, Reggie:
and mark my words - you will live to regret it."

"I don't agree with you," I said shortly, once more venting my
righteous indignation on the smouldering logs in the great fire-place.

"Don't do that, Reggie," said Annabel in her most elder-sisterly tone:
"you'll burn holes in the bottom of your boot, besides sending sparks
all over the carpet. And I know I'm right, whether you agree with me
or whether you don't. The first thing you have got to do is not to
have Frank here so much. Let him go back to live with Mr. Blathwayte
at the Rectory."

"I shall do nothing of the kind," I retorted angrily: "I couldn't very
well send away Frank as long as you are living here! What is sauce for
the goose is sauce for the gander: and my wife's brother has as much
right here as my sister."

"What utter nonsense!" exclaimed Annabel; "there is no parallel between
the two cases. This is my home: I have a right to be here; but Frank
is only a guest partaking of your hospitality, and therefore has no
claim to stay on longer than you choose."

This was more than I could stand. So as I did not want a final rupture
with my sister, I strode out of the hall, and flung myself into the
library. The fact that in my inmost heart I wanted Frank out of the
house made me all the more determined not to send him.

For the first time in my life I was furious with Annabel. How dared
she try to come between my wife and me? - I asked myself in my rage.
Yet all the time my better self whispered to me that it was not fair to
accuse Annabel of trying to separate us: according to her lights she
was doing her best to keep us together.

But on another score I felt that I did well to be angry. Her last
remark had put my back up with a vengeance. I should have been within
my rights had I allowed Annabel to leave the Manor on the occasion of
my marriage - as indeed she herself had suggested: I should not have
been in any way behaving shabbily to her had I adopted this suggestion:
but I felt I could not do it after all the years that she and I had
lived there together. But the fact that Fay and I had not the heart to
turn her out in no way altered the truth that it was a favour on our
part to keep her in. And she ought not to have forgotten this, I kept
repeating to myself, or to have regarded our kindness as something to
which she was entitled, and which - in my present fury - I considered she
had abused.

It is strange how quickly a favour develops into a right. We show a
kindness to some one, and the first time it is received with gratitude:
the second time it is accepted as a matter of course: and the third
time we are given to understand that any deviation from its accustomed
rendering would be regarded as a cause of justifiable offence.

There is another problem which has always puzzled me, and which I have
never been able to explain: and that is that we all behave so much
better to other people than other people behave to us. It would seem
as if there must be a converse to this, to set the balance right; but
there isn't; or, at any rate, nobody that I ever knew has been able to
find it. I have never yet met the man or the woman who, in common
parlance, got as good as they gave. So I have no doubt that while I
was aghast at Annabel's ingratitude to me, she was equally aghast at my
ingratitude to her. Such is that queer compound which we call human
nature.

And as I mused upon these mysteries my anger gradually evaporated; and
when its departing mists cleared away, I tried to look at the whole
matter calmly and dispassionately.

An old friend of mine used to say: "If any one says anything
disagreeable to you, see what good you can get out of it. You have had
the pain of it: so don't dismiss it from your mind until you have got
the profit as well."

Therefore I set about seeing what profit I could derive from my
sister's most unpleasant remarks.

Although she had irritated me almost beyond endurance, I knew that
Annabel possessed too much sound sense for her opinion to be lightly
set aside. Her words were worthy of consideration, even if
consideration did not induce me to agree with them. So I considered
them with as much impartiality as I could muster at the moment.

I was perfectly aware that certain kinds of men have sufficiently
strong personalities to make marriage with them a profession in
itself - a profession absorbing enough to occupy a wife's entire time
and thoughts. But I was not that kind of man; and it was no use
pretending that I was.

I hesitate before setting up my humble opinion in opposing that of
Shakspere: but I cannot believe that to "assume a virtue if you have it
not" is at all a wise course to pursue: for the reason that every
quality has its corresponding defect, and one is so apt to assume the
defect and to leave out the quality. When old women pose as young
ones, they assume the follies of youth without its compensating charms:
when dull men set up as wits, they indulge in the gaseousness of
repartee without its accompanying sparkle. Therefore it was of no use
for me to act as if I were an interesting or absorbing husband, while
all the time I was only a rather dull and very devoted one. I felt it
was not in me to be a profession for any lively and intelligent woman.
I was only fit for a pastime - or at best a hobby.

Now if Annabel had been a man, she would have been quite different.
She would have married a quiet, pliable sort of girl, and then would
have moulded the girl's character, and filled the girl's thoughts, and
ordered the girl's actions, until the girl's whole world would have
been summed up in Annabel. And the girl would have been quite content
and happy, and would have asked for nothing else. But it was out of my
power to do any of these things. Again I was brought face to face with
my old mistake of being the boy and letting Annabel be the girl: it
seemed as if I should never outlive the consequences of that early
error.

Things being as they were - that is to say, I being the quiet and
uninteresting person that I was - I did not see that I was justified in
taking away from Fay any legitimate source of pleasure and interest in
her life which might in some way make up for my limitations and
deficiencies.

So having carefully weighed Annabel's most unpalatable suggestions, I
decided to take no notice of them - at any rate, for the present: but to
leave my darling to go her own sweet way, unfettered by the rules and
restrictions of a middle-aged husband.




CHAPTER XV

DARKENING SKIES

Although I had made up my mind to ignore Annabel's warning as far as
action went, I could not altogether ignore it in thought, and I was
convinced in my own mind that she was right as to Frank. I could not
close my eyes to the fact that he was using his influence over
Fay - which undoubtedly was very great - to draw her away from me.

He had, not unnaturally, been jealous of me ever since his sister began
to care more for me than she did for him. I think most brothers - and
especially most twin-brothers - would have felt the same in the
circumstances; and I, for one, did not blame him as I - in my turn - was
jealous of him. But with most brothers it would have stopped there:
few would have taken the awful responsibility of endeavouring to come
between their married sisters and those sisters' husbands. But that
was where Frank Wildacre differed from the ordinary run of mortals;
that was where the elfin strain in him came in. His utter lack of any
sense of responsibility, and his absolute disregard of consequences,
sometimes seemed to me hardly human: just as his husky, girlish voice
and his delicate complexion made it impossible to realise that he was
now less of a boy than of a man, and therefore ought to think as a man,
and to put away childish things. He must have known - for he was no
longer a child, although he behaved as such - that a permanent
estrangement between Fay and myself could only end in misery for her,
and therefore, indirectly, for him. For my feelings in the matter I
did not expect him to show any regard; although I had been sincerely
attached to and attracted by him, I had sufficient acuteness to
perceive that he had no real affection for me, or indeed for anybody
except himself - unless, perhaps, for his sister; and his love for her
was entirely a selfish love. I do not believe he cared an atom about
her happiness, except in so far as it ministered to his own: but I
should have credited him with sufficient sense to realise that Fay's
marriage was, on the whole, a good thing for him as well as for her
from a worldly point of view: and Frank was certainly not accustomed to
look at anything from an altruistic standpoint.

Had his jealousy goaded him to oppose Fay's marriage in the first
instance, I could have understood it. But it did not. It was only
when the thing was a _fait accompli_ and my darling's fate was sealed
that - with Puck-like perversity - he set about making her dissatisfied
with it.

Herein he was - as might have been expected - the exact opposite of
Annabel. Before I had asked Fay to marry me, my sister tried her
utmost to dissuade me from so doing: but when once we were married, she
did all in her power - even to the point of nearly quarrelling with
me - to prevent us from drifting apart. But then there was nothing
impish or Puck-like about Annabel.

I admit that I watched Frank's veiled antagonism to myself with
increasing uneasiness. I realised the strength of the call of kinship
too fully to be able to defy its influence: and as I gradually came to
understand that this influence was hostile to my life's happiness, I
trembled at what suffering might be in store for myself, and for Fay
who was dearer to me than myself.

Although I would not have admitted it to Annabel for worlds, I could no
longer shut my eyes to the fact that this passion for everything
connected with the stage was gradually coming between my wife and
myself: and - now that Annabel had told me of Fay's former ambition to
take up acting as a profession - I was haunted by a horrible suspicion
that my wife had returned to her first love, and now wished that she
had chosen the stage instead of me.

Of course, when Annabel talked of Fay's passion for the stage becoming
a menace to our conjugal happiness, she confined that menace to the
admiration and excitement which are an inevitable accompaniment of a
theatrical career. She never saw the subtler and, to my mind, the more
real danger of the love of art for art's sake, which exists in the
breast of the true artist. It would never have occurred to my sister
to imagine the possibility of any woman's caring more for her art than
she cared for her husband: such things did not occur in the Victorian
days wherein Annabel was brought up. In those dark ages it not
infrequently happened that a man thought more about his profession or
his business than he did about his wife: but that was humbly accepted
as a matter of course by the meek helpmeet of those simpler times.
"She could not understand, she loved," was the typical attitude of the
wives of those days: and the possibility of the masculine mind failing
to understand anything was a thing undreamed of in mid-Victorian
philosophy.

But the things that satisfied our grandmothers will not satisfy our
wives; and the sooner we remnants of a bygone century learn that fact,
the better for all concerned: I am not saying that this awakening of
the Sleeping Beauty is either a good thing or a bad thing: I do not
feel competent to lay down the law on such a big question: I only say
that now she is awake, it is absurd to treat her as if she were still
asleep. My own personal opinion is that the awakening of the sex as a
whole makes for the improvement of Woman's character, but militates
against her happiness, though I cherish a larger hope that it will
finally conduce to her higher and truer happiness in the future.
Still, even if it doesn't ever conduce to her happiness, the thing is
there and has to be reckoned with. Childhood is the happiest part of
life; but that is no excuse for arrested development. Woman at last
has grown up, and has to be treated as a grown-up person and no longer
as a child. At least that is how I look at the matter: but I really
know so little about it that my opinion is neither here nor there.
What I do know is that women nowadays have their interests and their
professions the same as men have, and therefore it is just as likely
for a woman to set art before her husband as it is for a man to set
science before his wife - and, in my opinion, much more dangerous, as a
man has by nature a far stronger sense of proportion than a woman has.
The Victorian wife, who came second to her husband's profession, did
not really suffer much; but the twentieth-century husband, who comes
second to his wife's art, will probably suffer very much indeed, since
a man's heart is composed of water-tight compartments, and a woman's is
not.

Therefore I did not fear (as I knew Annabel did) that all this acting
would end in Fay's caring for some younger man more than she cared for
me - not because I had a high opinion of myself, but because I had such
a high opinion of Fay: what I did fear was that all this acting would
end in Fay's caring more for the thing itself than she cared for me;
and I knew that in the case of a really good woman a thing is a far
more dangerous rival to her husband than a person, simply because such
rivalry is without sin.

The more I thought about Annabel's hint, and the more firmly I decided
to take no notice of it, the deeper grew my conviction that my sister
was right, though not quite in the way that she thought she was: and I
gradually came to the conclusion that it was the love of acting in
itself - and not any excitement incidentally connected with it - that was
coming between myself and Fay. Moreover, behind this depressing
conviction there lurked a horrible and as yet unformulated fear that
even yet Fay might fulfil her original intention, and take to the stage
as a profession.

But on the other hand it went to my heart to contemplate the mere
possibility of casting the slightest cloud on my darling's present
happiness. How could I injure the thing that I so passionately loved?
Surrounded by the youthful, not to say rowdy, atmosphere of Frank and
the Loxleys, Fay bubbled over with jest and jollity, and was once more
the high-spirited, laughter-loving fairy that she had been when I saw
her first. It might be better for her in the long run, and it
certainly would be much better for me, if this new and absorbing
interest were nipped in the bud. Nevertheless I felt it was not in me
to nip it as long as it made my darling so light of heart.

Annabel's other suggestion I put away from me at once without even
playing with it. I knew it was out of the question for me to suggest
that Fay's brother should cease to make his home at the Manor as long
as my sister lived there. Such a course was more than repugnant to
me - it was impossible. But that did not prevent me from fearing the
effect of Frank's influence over Fay, nor from feeling the pain of his
sudden disaffection towards myself. We had got on so well together at
first - he and Fay and I; so well that I had almost persuaded myself
that at heart I was as young as they were. But now he had weighed me
in the balance of youth and had found me wanting: and my soul shivered
with dread lest Fay should do the same. I was used to having Tekel
written over my name: custom had gradually dulled the pain of this
superscription. But the hurt, which had been lulled by habit, awoke
into full vigour when Frank's boyish hand traced the usual word: and I
felt that when Fay wrote it too, my heart would break.

When Frank returned to Oxford and the Loxleys to town, there followed a
very quiet time at Restham Manor. I had looked forward to this quiet
time as a schoolboy looks forward to the holidays, thinking at last I
should have Fay to myself and could woo and win her back to me. But my
hopes were doomed to disappointment. My darling seemed just as far
from me as ever, only instead of being gay and laughter-loving she was
quiet and depressed.

Annabel and I did all in our power to cheer her, but in vain. It was
obvious that she was pining for society of her own age, and feeling the
reaction after the gaiety of the Christmas vacation.

Then my sister came to the rescue with one of her sensible suggestions.

Easter fell early that year; so early that Annabel decided it was
impossible to elude the East wind altogether, and yet to be at home in
time to prevent Blathwayte from succumbing to the temptations of
Paschal ritual: therefore - since in her sisterly eyes my chest was of
more importance than Arthur's soul - she suggested that she and Fay and
I should go to the South of France as soon as the East wind was due,
and remain there until after Easter. By this means (though this idea
was understood rather than expressed) not only should I be screened
from the wind that stirred the Vikings' blood, and Fay be spared the
dulness of a Restham Lent, but we should also be away during Frank's
next vacation, and so be beyond the sphere of his influence for a
longish period.

"Annabel has got such a splendid idea, darling," I said to my wife as
she was sitting listlessly in the library one morning, glancing
indifferently over the newspapers whilst I smoked.

"Has she?" Fay's irresponsive mood had become almost chronic by this
time.

"Wouldn't you like to know what it is?" I continued, valiantly trying
to cure her depression by not noticing it.

"Not particularly. I'm not an inquisitive person, you know."

This was decidedly crushing, but I persevered: "But it concerns you,
sweetheart."

"Does it?"

As Fay still did not ask what the idea was, I thought I had better
volunteer the information. "She thinks you look a little pale and
tired and out-of-sorts, and that a change would do you good," I began.

"I am quite all right, thank you. I don't require any doing good at
all - in fact, I'm not taking any at present. And as for being pale,
the same Providence that painted Annabel's cheeks pink painted mine
white, and so we must both stick to the colour ordained for us."

It was uphill work, but I struggled on. I wouldn't for the world have
let Fay see how much she was hurting me: it would have pained her
tender heart to know she was giving pain; and as long as she could be
spared suffering, I was ready to take her share as well as my own.
"But the spring is a trying time of the year for everybody," I feebly
urged.

"I thought the spring in England was considered such a top-hole sort of
affair: one of the seven wonders of the world. The poets simply spread
themselves over it."

"Well, darling, so it is in a way: but I think when the poets spread
themselves they refer to the later spring, and not to February and
March. Annabel always trembles before the East wind then, as you know."

"But nobody could accuse Annabel of being a poet."

This was undeniable, but it didn't help on the conversation. So I made
a fresh start. "She may not be a poet, but she is a very sensible
woman, and very devoted to you, sweetheart; and she thinks that you are
looking listless and tired and in need of a change. So she suggests
that she and I should take you to the South of France for Lent and
Easter." I was determined to give my sister her full share of credit
in this matter; all the more so that I suffered some compunction for my
summary treatment of her at Christmas.

Fay's pretty mouth began to pout. "Not for Easter, Reggie; I couldn't
possibly go away for Easter. Frank and I and the Loxleys are getting
up a play here for Easter week, to be performed in the village hall."

"I knew nothing of that. You never told me anything about it," I said
in some surprise.

"Why should I? You don't care a bit about theatricals, Reggie, or show
the slightest interest in them."

"Yes, I do. I am interested in anything that interests my wife, as
every good husband should be."

"Oh, Reggie, don't talk flapdoodle to me! It is ridiculous to think
you feel a thing simply because you think you ought to feel it. You
assume that because you ought to be interested in what interests me,
you are interested in it: but you really aren't in the least. I don't
say that it wouldn't be nice if we were both interested in the same
things. But if we aren't, it doesn't make it any nicer to pretend that
we are."

I felt as if the solid earth were slipping away from beneath my feet.
With the freedom of utterance vouchsafed to the rising generation, Fay
was shouting upon the house-tops the things which Annabel only
whispered to me in my private sanctum, and which I never breathed to a
living soul.

"You and Annabel are always pretending that things are quite different
from what they are," Fay went on; "and shutting your eyes to everything
you don't want to see. Frank and I are fed up with it."

At this I uttered a protest. "No, no, Fay, you and Frank are mistaken
there. Annabel is a most straightforward person, and I am sure I try
to be. It isn't fair to say that we pretend."

"Oh, I don't mean that you swank exactly: you take in yourselves more
than you take in anybody else. But, as Frank says, you cook up
everything and flavour it to taste, till there's nothing of the
original left. It's much better to face facts as they are, and try to
make the best of them, than to invent a heap of imaginary circumstances
to fit in with your own prejudices. You and Annabel live in painted
scenery - not in a real landscape: but I'll do you the justice to admit
that you believe the painted slips are real trees, and that the lake in
the distance is real water. Frank says you do. But when the time
comes for you to climb them and wash in it, you'll find your mistake."

I was beginning to find it already, and I felt sick with misery. I had
tried so hard to be a good husband to my darling, and to make her as
happy as she had made me: but it seemed that I was foredoomed to fail
in that as in everything else.

By this time Fay had risen from her chair and was standing with her
back to the fire. She looked more like a daring and defiant boy than a
dutiful and devoted wife. Her resemblance to Frank just then was very
marked; more so than I altogether liked, for although even now I could
not help being fond of my brother-in-law, I by no means either admired
or approved of him. I held out my arms to my wife, but she eluded me
with a boyish gesture.

"Now, Reggie, don't begin to be spoony, for I'm not in the mood for it.
You've got hold of a ridiculous masculine notion that kisses make up to
a woman for anything: but they don't. But because you think they ought
to, you imagine that they do; which is you all over! As Frank says,
you take all your thoughts and feelings, while they are in a liquid
stage, and pour them into moulds, like jellies and blancmanges: and
then your persuade yourself that they grew of themselves into those
stiff and artificial shapes. And now you are trying to do the same
with mine, and I simply won't have it. No mental and spiritual jellies
and blancmanges for me!"

I felt that I could not cope with Fay in this new mood: she was beyond
me: so I just let her have her say.

"You and Annabel have concocted a scheme," she went on, "that it is
correct for a girl of nineteen to enjoy foreign travel, and improving
to her mind to see strange countries: and that, therefore, the South of
France must be the one thing that I yearn for. But as a matter of
fact, I don't yearn for it at all: it would bore me to death, and I'm
not going there. Why should I do things that I hate, because you and


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