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or to believe it. The worst had happened. I had been weighed in her
balance, been found wanting, and cast aside as worthless: therefore
there would be nothing worth living for ever any more.

Yet I had to live. That was the crowning wretchedness. If I could
only have hidden my misery in the grave and have done with it - I, who
was a mere cumberer of the ground, and worse than a cumberer! But I
could not. My hateful existence still dragged on. Even the fig-tree
which bore no fruit was commanded by Divine Mercy to wither away: but I
was not granted even this much grace: I was cursed to live on, with
Fay's _Tekel_ branded on my brow. It was part of my punishment. Like
Cain, I learned that there is a heavier penalty than death: and that is
life. And, like him, I sometimes felt that my punishment was greater
than I could bear.

As my body grew stronger my spirit was gradually roused from
despondency to defiance. What had I done that such an unspeakable
retribution should be meted out to me? I began to feel that my
punishment was not only greater than I could bear, but greater than I
deserved. True, I had been weak and tactless and over-indulgent: but
was that enough to merit a life-sentence? For the first time in my
life I ceased to submit, but stood up like Job and challenged the Lord
to answer me out of the whirlwind, even though before Him I was as dust
and ashes. But I was not as dust and ashes before Fay and Frank; yet
they had treated me as if I were: and my heart was hot within me as I
mused upon their behaviour towards me.

At first I had been utterly crushed and prostrate: but as I regained my
health I became angry and bitter. All that had formerly been sweet in
my nature turned to gall, and I longed to curse God and die.

The hidden spirit of rebellion which I had unconsciously cherished for
forty-three years, and which I had originally inherited from my mother,
suddenly sprang into life, thereby changing my whole nature. I was no
longer the weak and amiable dilettante concealing a real tenderness of
heart under an assumed cloak of good-humoured cynicism: I was a fierce
and bitter Ishmael, driven out into the wilderness by human treachery,
and at war with God and man.

I hated Frank as vehemently as I still loved Fay. But I could forgive
neither of them. My anger was hot against them both.

I sternly refused to write to my wife, or to have any direct dealings
with her. I instructed Arthur to pay her an allowance of a thousand a
year, in addition to her own income, and to tell her from me that I
accepted her decision, and intended to abide by it.

"I will offer her the thousand per annum as you wish it, old boy," said
Blathwayte, "although I know her aunt and uncle have heaps of money and
nobody to give it to but Fay and Frank: but I am certain that in the
circumstances Fay will refuse it."

I laughed bitterly: "Probably; but Frank and 'Aunt Gertrude' won't, if
I know anything about them: and Fay will be over-persuaded by them."

And, as further events proved, I was right.

I am not justifying my conduct and feelings at this ghastly time: I am
only recording them, extenuating nothing and setting down naught in
malice. I had done once for all with what Fay called
"flapdoodle" - that bane of the generation to which Annabel and I
belonged. Thenceforth I made up my mind to be what I was, and not what
an artificially trained conscience thought that I ought to be.

The characters of the nineteenth century were rather like the gardens
of the eighteenth. Their lines were formal, their trees cut into
unnatural shapes, and their fruit carefully trained over stiff
espaliers. But Fay and Frank taught me to deal with my character, as
Annabel had already learned to deal with her garden: I swept away the
formal beds, flung the iron espaliers over the wall, and let the trees
grow according to their own will. That the result, as far as I was
concerned, was not ornamental, I admit: and if the former garden of my
soul had been transformed into a waste and horrible place where only
thorns and thistles and deadly nightshade grew, surely the
responsibility rested with my wife and her brother rather than with me!
At least so it appeared to me then.

In time I learned from Blathwayte that Fay and Frank had arrived safely
in Melbourne, and were settled in the house of the Sherards, who were
only too delighted to have their niece and nephew with them once more:
and that my wife and her brother were beginning at once to take up the
stage as their profession, Fay acting under her maiden name.

Although Annabel did not say "I told you so" in so many words, the
sentiment exuded from her every pore. And, truth to tell, she had told
me so. There was no getting away from that fact.

She and Arthur were kind enough to me in their respective ways, but I
had no longer any use for kindness. There was nothing now that anybody
could do to relieve the utter blankness of my misery.

Though I was bitterly angry with Fay - though I found it impossible to
excuse or condone her cruel behaviour towards me, her husband - I
nevertheless loved and longed for her with consuming and increasing
force. "Let no man dream but that I loved her still": therein lay the
bitterest sting of my agony. The more I loved her the more impossible
I found it to forgive her: had I cared for her less, I might have been
less implacable. That may not be a symptom of ideal love, but anyway
it was a symptom of mine.

But if I found it impossible to forgive Fay, I found it still further
out of my power to forgive Frank. That Annabel had had her finger in
the pie I could not deny: she was by no means free from blame with
regard to what had happened: but the chief instigator of the tragedy
was Frank; of that I had no manner of doubt whatever. Without his
baneful influence Fay would never have dreamed of running away from me:
without his practical assistance, she never could have accomplished it.

I sometimes wondered whether Annabel reproached herself too severely
for having, by her well-meant interference, made such havoc of my life:
had I spoiled hers, as she had spoiled mine, I felt I should have eaten
my heart out with unavailing remorse. But one day this doubt was set
for ever at rest by her saying to me -

"Do you know, Reggie dear, I am sometimes inclined to blame myself for
not having interfered with Fay more than I did, and for letting her
have so much of her own way. After all, she was young, and I knew so
much better about everything than she did."

After that remark, anxiety about Annabel's conscience no longer
troubled me.

She and Arthur were whole-heartedly on my side in this hideous
separation between my wife and me. Naturally they did not say much to
me in condemnation of Fay: I could neither have permitted nor endured
it: but I knew they were feeling it in my presence and expressing it in
each other's; and they put no curb upon their expressions of
indignation against Frank.

My old nurse, however, thought differently. To my surprise - though by
this time I ought not to have been surprised at any vagary of
Ponty's - the person she blamed in the whole affair was myself: and,
what is more, she did not hesitate to say so. I felt that she was
unjust - cruelly unjust - and all the more so that she had been so
indulgent to me all through my childhood: but what I thought of her had
no effect upon Ponty, any more than it had when I was a little boy.

"You've yourself to thank for the whole terrible business, Master
Reggie," she said to me after my restoration to what my friends and
doctors described as "health." She was far too good a nurse to utter
unwelcome words into ears that she did not consider strong enough to
receive them. To the needs of a sick soul neither she, nor anybody
else, paid any heed. "I knew there'd be trouble as soon as you began
that 'Oranges and Lemons' nonsense of having Miss Annabel and Mr. Frank
to live with you; and I said so, but you would have your own way, you
having a spice of obstinacy in your character as well as Miss Annabel.
You weren't your poor Papa's son for nothing."

"I don't call doing what you think will make other people happy exactly
obstinacy, Ponty," I pleaded.

"Call it what you like, Master Reggie, but that's what it is. Folks
always find pretty pet names for their own particular faults. There
was a man at Poppenhall who prided himself upon what he called his
firmness, and impulsiveness, and economy: those were the pet names he
used: and yet all the village knew that he was nothing but an
obstinate, ill-tempered old miser."

"But I thought I was doing right," I said. It was strange that Ponty
was the only person against whom I had no feeling of bitterness, and in
whose presence I felt less wretched than anywhere else. This might
have been because she had been associated with peace and comfort as
long as I could remember: but I think the real reason was that she was
the only person who blamed me and not Fay.

"And your Papa thought he was doing right when he arranged your poor
Mamma's whole time for her, and never let her have a will or a way of
her own. She didn't run away: she hadn't the spirit for it, poor
thing! - and besides wives didn't run away in those days as they do now.
But I saw what she didn't think anybody saw; and I watched the life die
out of her like it does out of a fire that's got the sun on it."

I started. So Ponty had consciously seen for herself what had only
been subconsciously revealed to me.

"I don't mean that Sir John was unkind to her ladyship: far from it:
but he just crushed the life out of her, like Miss Annabel does out of
folks, without knowing what he was up to. They've always meant well,
both Miss Annabel and her Papa: but their well-meaning has done more
harm than other folk's ill-meaning, in my humble judgment. And when
her ladyship died, Sir John was as cut up as anybody could wish to see,
and never married again nor nothing of that kind. He called her
ladyship's death a dispensation of Providence, and bore it most
beautiful; and nobody knew but me as it was nothing but a judgment on
him for forcing poor Lady Jane into his own mould, as you might say."

"But I never forced her ladyship into my mould, heaven knows!" I
exclaimed.

"No; but there was them as did. And you let 'em, and never interfered."

I felt I was a little boy again, being scolded by Ponty in the sunny
old nursery for some childish misdemeanour. It was a peaceful feeling
and somehow seemed to rest and soothe my weary and wounded heart.

"But I did interfere," I said: "I always interfered if I thought any
one was interfering with her ladyship. Surely no husband ever let his
wife have more of her own way than I did."

Ponty looked me up and down with scorn, as I lolled on the
chintz-covered window-seat. "And what good would your interfering do
as long as Miss Annabel was there, I should like to know? Mark my
words, Master Reggie: the King of England couldn't hold his own against
Miss Annabel; let alone a pretty young girl like her present ladyship.
I knew what would happen as soon as you told me Miss Annabel was going
to stay on here after you married. There's no throwing dust in my
eyes! I knew Miss Annabel before you were born, and I knew her Papa
too; and I know what they're like when they're set on moulding people.
I should pity the Pope of Rome hisself if he was being moulded by Miss
Annabel."

I agreed with her there.

"And if you ask me, Master Reggie" (I hadn't asked her, but that was
neither here nor there), "I should say that the dreadful trouble was
far more Miss Annabel's fault than Mr. Wildacre's, though I know some
do say as it was all his doing: and I dare say it was partly his doing
too, as more than one can play at 'Oranges and Lemons.' But to put a
young girl under Miss Annabel's thumb, as you may say (for when all's
said and done her ladyship is only a young girl), to my mind it was
like throwing Daniel into the den of lions; and unfortunately it didn't
turn out so well."

"I apparently was not successful in the role of the angel who shut the
lions' mouths," I said bitterly.

"Not you, Master Reggie! You haven't yet got it in you to stand up
against Miss Annabel, and never had: any more than your poor Mamma had
it in her to stand up against Sir John. Some folks can stand up and
some folks can't, and there's no blame either ways, it happening just
as you're made. There was a man at Poppenhall who married three times,
and his third wife was the only one of the three as ever stood up to
him. And nine weeks to the day from his third marriage he was laid to
rest in Poppenhall Churchyard. I remember it as if it was yesterday,
and the wreaths were something beautiful."

"I suppose he couldn't stand being stood up to after all those years,"
I suggested.

"No more than Sir John could have stood it, or Miss Annabel. Folks
isn't used to it, if they've had too much of the other thing: and
that's where the judgment comes in of letting them get like that. It
stands to reason that the Almighty didn't send folks into this world to
be always having their own way at the expense of other folks's: and
they shouldn't be given it. What was sauce for you was sauce for Miss
Annabel, as I've told your poor Mamma over and over again when you were
both children. But nobody but her Papa could stand up to Miss Annabel
even then; and it isn't likely that they'll begin now."

I knew it was very weak of me to go on trying to justify myself in
Ponty's eyes; but I did it nevertheless. "You see, I thought it would
be too quiet for her ladyship to be shut up to an old husband like me,
and that it would be more cheerful for her with Miss Annabel and Mr.
Wildacre here as well."

Ponty looked at me with a fresh influx of contempt: "That's just what
you would think, Master Reggie: even as a little boy you were always
one for taking the wrong end of a stick. You're not at all old - quite
a boy you seem to me; and old or not old, nobody could deny that you're
still a very handsome gentleman. And no woman ought to feel it dull to
live with her own husband, even if he were one of the plain sort, and
hadn't your good looks. She's taken him for better for worse, and for
rougher for smoother, according to the Marriage Service, and she ought
to abide by it."

"Always verify your quotations," I murmured, but Ponty took no notice
of my interruption.

"Not that I don't hold with relations," she went on, "in moderation,
and at the proper time and place. I remember when you and Miss Annabel
were children, her late ladyship gave me a fortnight's holiday after a
bad cold I'd had, and I went to stay with a sister-in-law who was a
widow, living some twenty miles from Poppenhall. It happened that my
sister-in-law died two days after I got there, which turned out most
fortunate for me, as such a lot of relations came to the funeral, I can
tell you I saw more of my own family then than I'd seen for years, and
I quite enjoyed myself. I always say there's nothing like your own
relations for a pick-me-up, as you might say: but you don't want 'em
hanging about all the time, and telling you how to manage your own home
and husband."

At that moment there was a tap at the nursery door, and Jeavons came in
to say that old Parkins had sent a message to know if I could come and
ease his pain as I had done before, it being specially severe that
morning.

I responded at once: and the request brought the first ray of light
that had shone on my life since Fay left me. It showed that I still
had my uses, and was not a mere cumberer of the ground. Even if life
was over as far as I myself was concerned, I could still help others by
means of my healing power. So I entered the Parkins's cottage less
miserable than I had been for months.

I found the poor old man in great agony, and I knelt down by the bed as
was my custom, laying my hand upon the painful part. But for the first
time since I had received the gift, I found the heavens as brass above
me. I was conscious of no Presence in the room - of no vital force
flowing through me. My prayers were dull and lifeless, and no virtue
went either in or out of me.

"It don't seem to answer this time, Sir Reginald," the old man groaned
at last: "the pain do get worse instead of better. Oh dear, oh dear,
what shall I do? Nothing seems to do me any good, not even you!"

Sick at heart I tried again, but to no purpose. There was no blinking
the fact. The power of healing had gone from me.

Making what poor excuse I could, I stumbled out of the cottage and into
the open air: and then I found my way into a little wood, and fell on
my face, and prayed that I might die. It seemed as if God Himself had
forsaken me.

But gradually the knowledge came to me that it was not so. It was not
that God had forsaken me, but that I had forsaken God.

Scientists and materialists would doubtless explain this loss of
healing power by the fact that my sickness and sorrow had so lowered my
vital force that there was no strength left in me, and that I could not
pass on to another what I no longer possessed myself. But I did not
trouble my head with such soothing and soporific sophistries. To me,
they were utterly beside the mark. Once again I adopted the simpler
course of accepting literally the words of Christ: "If ye forgive not
men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your
trespasses." That was what He said, and that was what I believe He
meant.

I had not forgiven - I could not forgive - Fay and Frank for the evil
that they had done me: therefore I was no longer a fit channel for
Divine Grace.

To my mind the thing was as clear as daylight, and needed no
(so-called) scientific explanation.

But that did not make it any easier to forgive them: on the contrary.
If I had found it too hard to forgive Frank for coming between me and
my wife, I found it a hundred times harder to forgive him for coming
between me and my God. I hated him for having spoilt this life: but I
hated him still more for having spoilt the life to come. It was bad
enough of him to have turned me out of my earthly Paradise: but it was
infinitely worse to have shut me out of Heaven as well!

And as I lay on my face writhing in spiritual agony, from the depths of
my soul I cursed Frank Wildacre.




CHAPTER XVIII

THE NEW DEAN

The days grew into weeks, and the weeks into months, but nothing
occurred to lessen my misery. As I look back upon that hideous time, I
can recall nothing but one long dreary stretch of unalloyed
wretchedness. I resumed my usual round of duties, domestic and
parochial; but nothing either in my own estate or in the surrounding
neighbourhood afforded me the slightest interest. And for all this, I
had to thank Frank Wildacre. This thought was always more or less with
me.

But about a year and a half after Fay left me, a most unexpected thing
happened.

Annabel came into the library one morning obviously bursting with news.

"Oh, Reggie, what do you think? I have just been to the Rectory to see
Mr. Blathwayte about some parish matters, and he has told me a most
exciting piece of news, and has asked me to come and tell you, because
he is too busy to do so this morning, but he will come to tea this
afternoon and consult you about it."

My heart began to beat furiously. Surely any exciting news that Arthur
received must be in some way connected with Fay. I never wrote to her,
nor she to me: I was too proud to do anything but submit to her
decision on that point. I was also too proud to ask Arthur direct
questions about her: but with a delicate tact, for which beforehand I
should never have given him credit, he gave me apparently casual
information about her from time to time. I was as bitterly angry with
her as ever; I was as far from forgiving her as ever: but I could not
forget that she was my wife, and I still loved her as I loved my own
soul.

"Well, what is it?" I asked, stifling the trembling of my voice as best
I could.

"Guess," said Annabel. "It's really the most wonderful thing!"

I was amazed - as, indeed, I often was in those days - at my sister's
unabated appetite for the trivial. After such an unprecedented
cataclysm as Fay's departure, the day of small things had gone by as I
thought for ever: and yet, though it had completely overturned my
world, it had left Annabel pretty much as it found her. It is at times
such as this that the unutterable loneliness of the human soul becomes
almost overwhelming, and one realises that the heart knoweth its own
bitterness, and a stranger - nay, not only a stranger, but also one's
nearest and dearest - cannot intermeddle with its joy. True, there was
no longer any joy in my heart for anybody to intermeddle with: but in
its bitterness it stood utterly alone.

To me Fay, in spite of my anger against her, was still sacrosanct.
Though fallen from her original estate, she was yet, in my eyes, an
angel. But to Annabel she was nothing but a naughty child that needed
punishment; and my sister troubled herself about her no more than she
would about a naughty child. Therefore I could not make trivial and
absurd guesses about anything concerning Fay.

"I can't guess," I said rather shortly: "please tell me."

"Mr. Blathwayte has been offered the Deanery of Lowchester."

My heart sank down into my boots again. What were Deaneries or even
Archbishoprics compared with Fay? Then I blamed myself for my
selfishness, and tried to atone for it. "What a splendid thing for old
Arthur!" I said: "I am awfully glad. Tell me all he said."

Whereupon Annabel proceeded to obey me more or less implicitly,
interspersing Arthur's quoted remarks with innumerable commentaries of
her own.

"It will be a splendid thing for him," she said in conclusion, "as he
is really a most able and gifted man, and such a capital organiser, and
there is no proper scope for him in a small village like this. I've
liked to have him here, but I have always felt he was a bit buried."

"Do you remember Mrs. Figshaw?" said I, "who kept saying that her
daughter wanted a _scoop_? I agree with you that Blathwayte is like
Mrs. Figshaw's daughter: he wants a scoop badly."

"_Scope_, Reggie; not _scoop_," corrected Annabel. I should have been
disappointed in her if she had not done so. At least I should have
been disappointed a year ago: but even Annabel had ceased to amuse me
now.

"We shall miss Blathwayte," I remarked: "at least you will."

"But why me particularly? Surely the Rector is more your friend than
mine."

"I know that. But I have lost the power of missing any person save
one. In my case all lesser griefs have been swallowed up in the one
great one."

"Poor Reggie! But it's a pity to feel like that, and all the same I
feel sure you'll miss Mr. Blathwayte more than you think you will when
the time comes. And I shall miss him too, as he has always been so
good in being guided by me, and has followed my advice in everything
connected with the parish."

I doubted this, though I should have considered it most unfair to
Arthur to say so: but there was a quiet obstinacy about him which might
raise him at times even to the height of standing up against Annabel.
Fortunately, however, she had never found it out and I should have been
the last to enlighten her.

"Of course," she continued, "cathedrals and daily services and things
like that are apt to lure men into ritualism: I only hope Mr.
Blathwayte will have the strength of mind to resist them: and you must
be very careful, Reggie, in selecting a new rector not to get any one
with leanings that way. I could never allow anything ritualistic in
our Church."

I wondered she didn't say "my Church," and have done with it: but I
hadn't the heart to chaff her as I used to do in those happy bygone
days, ages ago, before ever the Wildacres came to Restham: so I let it
pass.

"I expect I shall put the matter into the Bishop's hands," I said: "I
don't feel competent to select a spiritual pastor for Restham or
anywhere else."

"You selected Mr. Blathwayte, and he has been a great success. It is a
pity to get into the habit of thinking you can't do anything, Reggie,
because you really do some things extremely well."

"But not the things I care about," I added bitterly, "And in this case
I haven't another Arthur up my sleeve."

"The Bishop may have one," suggested Annabel encouragingly.

"Probably. He certainly has more room up his sleeve than I have. I
wonder if that was the origin of Bishops having such large


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