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pertinently.

"That was quite different, Master Reggie." Like the rest of her kind,
Ponty recognised the incalculable difference between her own case and
the case of everybody else. "Although Miss Annabel's hair didn't curl
what you might call naturally, like yours, it was very easy to curl,
and it kept in something beautiful: and it seemed very hard for your
poor mamma to have a boy whose curls had to be cut off and a girl who
hadn't any. And then her ladyship's children were her ladyship's
children, and not like ordinary common folk." Ponty's logic always
roused my wonder and admiration.

While she was speaking, my wandering gaze fell upon two portraits hung
on the nursery wall: a fat little girl with pink cheeks and blue eyes,
and stiff curls like great yellow sausages, who was dressed in a white
frock and a blue sash; and a thin, little, dark-eyed boy with pale
cheeks and terrible brown ringlets, and who was disfigured still
further by a green velvet suit and a ghastly lace collar. These
caricatures were supposed to reproduce Annabel and myself in early
youth; and in Ponty's eyes they represented the perfection of personal
beauty as depicted by the highest form of human art.

But while I smiled - as I had often smiled before - at the hideousness of
these pictures, a great wave of envy of the children whom they
represented swept over me; an overwhelming longing to be once more the
sheltered little boy in the frightful green suit, whose world was
Annabel and whose Heaven was Ponty and his mother. Happy little boy,
upon whose wrath the sun never went down, and who knew no sorrow so
great that his mother could not cure it! I would gladly have changed
places with him, even though the change involved the handicaps of long
brown curls and a large lace collar.




CHAPTER XX

ISABEL, _née_ CARNABY

Arthur and Annabel were married very quietly at Restham Church; and,
after a short honeymoon, took up their abode at The Deanery of
Lowchester - a beautiful old house which fulfilled my sister's most
exorbitant dreams.

I did not appoint Arthur's successor: I felt I was too much out of
touch with things spiritual to be competent to undertake so solemn a
responsibility: so I gave the matter over into the Bishop's hands, and
left the selection of a new rector to him.

With the simplicity which has always characterised my views regarding
that other world which is known to us as the Kingdom of Heaven, I
accepted the fact that as long as Frank Wildacre was unforgiven by me I
had no right to expect help from on High in any of my undertakings.
How could I claim the rights of citizenship if I did not conform to the
rules of citizenship? The rule was there in black and white for
everybody to read: "If ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will
your Father forgive your trespasses." And how could I ask my Father in
Heaven to fulfil His part of the contract, unless I were ready to
fulfil mine?

And I was not ready: I was no readier than I had been when Frank
Wildacre stole my wife away from me a year and a half ago. My anger
against him was hotter and bitterer than it had ever been: time seemed
to increase rather than to diminish its intensity. I advisedly say
Frank, as my heart was gradually softening towards my darling. I still
was set against making the first advances: but I felt that if she would
only come back to me of her own free will, I was prepared to let
bygones be bygones, and to take up the thread of our married life again
exactly where she had broken it off. At least that is how I felt
sometimes: at others I was plunged in despair by the thought that
everything was over for ever between Fay and myself, and that I should
never see her dear face again. But even in my more hopeful moods I
recognised that it would be impossible for Fay and Annabel to live
together again; and that it was, therefore, a good thing on the whole
that Arthur had transplanted my sister from Restham to Lowchester.

But although I was sometimes ungracious enough to feel relieved by the
removal of Annabel's restraining presence, there were times when my
loneliness and desolation seemed almost more than I could bear. Though
in one way I could not miss Fay more than I had done for the past
eighteen months, in another way the absence of any feminine influence
in the house seemed to emphasise her absence as it had never been
emphasised before. As long as Annabel was still there, I only, so to
speak, missed my wife personally: but after Annabel had gone away I
missed Fay officially as well. I had always missed her in the spirit,
but now I also missed her in the letter: and my active yearning for her
was supplemented by a passive need. And underneath all my
emotions - underneath even my love and longing for Fay - there was ever
with me the consciousness of that condition which was known as
"excommunication" in the Mediæval Church and as "conviction of sin" in
the Evangelical Revival. I was not beyond reach of the love of God - no
one could be that: but I was outside the pale of what old-fashioned
theologists could call "His covenanted mercies." I did not think of
myself as a lost soul: that expression was robbed of all meaning for me
after I once realised with my heart as well as with my head Who it was
That came to seek and to save that which was lost: but I knew that I
was in the plight of that servant who, though His Lord forgave him his
debt, failed to extend the like clemency to his fellow-servant, and so
was cast into prison and not allowed to come thence until he should
have paid the uttermost farthing. To use the beautiful language of our
forefathers, I was no longer at peace with God.

This to me was the most terrible part of my sorrow. Fay's going had
taken all the sunshine out of life: but this took away even the
security of death. There seemed no hope for me anywhere.

I knew perfectly well that I myself was my own Hell: that it was
nothing but my attitude towards Frank that consigned me to this outer
darkness. Yet - knowing this - I could not bring myself to condone the
wrong which he had done me. It was not that I wouldn't forgive him: I
would willingly have pardoned him if I could; at least, so I thought at
the time, and so I think still, but one can never quite trust the
deceitfulness of the human heart. Whether I _would_ not, or whether I
_could_ not forgive Frank Wildacre, God only knoweth; but anyway I
_did_ not forgive him: and consequently my soul went out into the
wilderness to perish alone like the scapegoat of old, and my spiritual
wretchedness assumed proportions beyond the description of any form of
words.

It was in the spring after Annabel's marriage that I received the
following letter from Lady Chayford -


"MY DEAR REGGIE,

"As the number of one's years grows more, and the number of one's
friends correspondingly less, one feels compelled to grapple the
residue to one's heart with hoops of steel. Therefore please come to
us for a week-end and be grappled.

"Besides, we want to show you this great Babylon that we have built,
and wherein we are now abiding. It is such a comfort to be securely
planted in a country home of one's own, after having been potted-out
for years in furnished houses; and the facts that our particular
Babylon is not at all great, and that its hot-water supply leaves much
to be desired in the way of heat, in no way imperil our fundamental
happiness in the creation of our own hands. And the garden is lovely,
although we cannot live in it entirely until it has been thoroughly
aired, as both Paul and I have been indulging in those
Entreat-me-not-to-leave-thee sort of colds which are so prevalent just
now. Therefore so far we can only take walking exercise under our own
vine and fig-tree: it is too cold to sit under them at present.

"I send you a selection of all the week-ends between now and Easter to
choose from.

"Always your friend,
"ISABEL CHAYFORD.


Isabel's letter was kind, like herself; and it was kind of her to take
pity on a lonely and desolate man like me: but all the same, I did not
avail myself of her kindness.

I knew that it would be indeed a sort of comfort to tell her all my
troubles, and to ask for her opinion the tragedy of my life, and she
was the only person to whom I felt I could speak freely about the blow
which had fallen on me. I believe that a truly manly man locks up all
his sorrows in his own breast, and throws the key into the dust-bin of
dead memories. But I have never been the sort of manly creature that
female novelists delight to honour. There is a great strain of woman
in me, and always has been: and not the most heroic sort of woman,
either.

But though I longed for the consolation and counsel of Isabel, I felt
that in my present morbid condition I could not stand the principles
and politics of Paul. In the old days I had put up with Paul on
account of Isabel: now I gave up Isabel on account of Paul. The
difference was merely chronological. When we are young, the pleasure
of anything always swallows up the attendant pain: as we grow older,
the attendant pain swallows up any possible pleasure. And that is life.

So I refused Lady Chayford's kind invitation.

But the woman who had once been Isabel Carnaby was not the woman to be
put off by a mere refusal. So she invited herself to motor over and
have lunch with me instead: and she never even suggested to bring his
lordship with her.

She was one of those rare people - and most especially rare women - who
could put herself in another person's place: and though at one time she
had wanted Paul Seaton dreadfully - wanted him more than anything in the
world - she was still capable of knowing that at another time I might
not want him at all. And she acted upon this knowledge.

She arrived just in time for luncheon, and of course we could talk of
only surface matters as long as the servants were coming in and out of
the room. But it was a comfort to hear her talk, even of only surface
matters, and to feel her feminine presence in the house.

Of course Annabel often came over to see me, and to have what she
called her eye upon my establishment: in fact, she seemed to keep one
eye always at Restham, as some men always keep a change of clothes at
their Club; but Annabel's was never a "feminine presence," in the sense
that Isabel's and Fay's were. Even the cult of the "Ladies' Needlework
Guild," ultra-feminine though the name of the fetish sounds, had never
taken away the true gentlemanliness from Annabel. I now always called
my sister and her husband "the Dean and the Sub-Dean." They thought
that by the "Sub-Dean" I meant Annabel. But I did not.

When lunch was over and we were having coffee in the great hall, Isabel
settled herself comfortably on the big Chesterfield by the fire.
Unlike most women, she could sit for hours with unoccupied hands.
Though her tongue was never idle, her hands often were. To me there
had always been something fatiguing in the ceaseless travail of
Annabel's fingers. I don't remember ever seeing them at rest, except
on a Sunday; and even then they were not unoccupied: they always held
some book or other containing sound Evangelical doctrine. But just now
Isabel's hands held nothing: and the sight somehow rested me.

"Please begin to smoke at once, Reggie," she said: "I shan't enjoy
myself a bit if you don't. I shall get exhausted like people do in
Egypt, and places like that, when there is no atmosphere, don't you
know? - nothing but black Pyramids and bright yellow sand, till
everybody thirsts for a real London fog."

"Won't you?" I asked.

She shook her head where the once dark hair was beginning to turn grey.
"No. I'm not really modern, you know: I've advanced as far as
motor-cars and the economic position of women and central heating, but
I draw the line at smoking and going in flying machines and wearing
pyjamas. I'm really almost grandmotherly in some things."

I demurred.

"Yes, I am," she persisted. "If I were modern, I should draw out my
own little cigarette-case and offer you an Egyptian or a Virginian, as
if I were a slave-driver in the Babylonian marriage market: but as it
is, you must consume your own smoke like a manufacturing chimney. As I
told you once before, I budded in the 'eighties and blossomed in the
'nineties, and now I'm only fit to be sewn up in lavender-bags and kept
in the linen-cupboard. And now, Reggie, tell me all about it."

So I told her, as briefly and truthfully as I could, the whole story of
my married life and its culminating tragedy. I told of how doubtful I
had been from the beginning of my power to make Fay happy: of my qualms
of conscience as to whether at my age I had a right to ask so young a
girl to marry me: of how Annabel and Frank - especially Frank - had
gradually come between Fay and me: of how I had hated the theatrical
entertainments and all that they involved, and yet for Fay's sake had
upheld them in the teeth of Annabel's opposition: of how further events
had proved that Annabel was right and I was wrong, since the passion
for acting - in conjunction with Frank's influence - had finally driven
Fay from me: of my increasing anger against Frank and my incapacity to
forgive him: of my former gift of healing and of how my enmity towards
him had deprived me of this gift: and finally of how this increasing
and consuming hatred had driven me into the wilderness, and shut me out
from communion with God or man. All this I told without enlargement or
restraint. But from one thing I strenuously refrained: I said no word
of blame nor uttered a single complaint against my darling. Surely, as
her husband, this was the least that I could do. She had weighed me in
her balances and found me wanting and rejected me: but she was still my
wife, and my loyalty to her was unshaken.

All the time that I was pouring into Isabel's sympathetic ears the
feelings that had been pent up in my own breast for two years, she
hardly spoke a word: but her blue eyes never left my face, and I felt
in every fibre of me that she sympathised and understood.

When I had finished there was a short silence, during which I waited
for her verdict, wondering whether she would blame me or Frank or
Annabel: or merely insist on the irrevocableness of the marriage-vow;
and suggest that I should endeavour - by means of that exploded
blunderbuss called marital authority - to compel my wife to come back to
me, whether she wished it or whether she did not.

But to my surprise Lady Chayford did none of these things. Her first
words were -

"You're up against it now, Reggie: what you've got to do is to forgive
Frank Wildacre."

"But I can't," I cried: "it is absolutely impossible."

Isabel nodded her head. "I know that. It was absolutely impossible
for the sick and the maimed and the halt to take up their beds and
walk: but they did it."

"Frank has entirely spoilt my life: I can never forgive him - never," I
pleaded.

"But you'll have to, Reggie: there's no getting away from it and the
more impossible it is, the more you'll have to do it. Don't think I'm
not sorry for you, or don't understand how hideous it all is, for I am
and do: but there's no use in shutting your eyes to the truth. Lots of
people would tell you not to bother about Frank at all, but to give
your whole attention to Fay and how to get her back again, and they
would add that your first duty is to your wife."

"And so it is," I cried.

"No, it isn't, Reggie, and you know it. Your first duty is to God: and
if the Bible means anything, it means that if we don't forgive other
people we don't get forgiveness ourselves. I don't want to preach at
you, goodness knows, or to be priggish or anything of that kind: and I
know it sounds awfully antiquated and Victorian to 'be good, sweet
maid, and let who will be clever,' but, all the same, as you grow
older, you learn that it's the only thing that really counts."

I groaned. I knew so well that Isabel was right.

"Of course there have been faults all round - plenty of them," she went
on; "and it seems to me that while Annabel and Frank were busy doing
that which they ought not to have done, you were equally busy leaving
undone that which you ought to have done: but that's neither here nor
there. It's no good bothering over the day that's past and over: what
we've got to do is to see that to-morrow is an improvement on it: and
the job to hand at present is that before you do anything else you've
got to forgive Frank Wildacre."

"Damn him!" I exclaimed, getting up from my chair and kicking the logs
in the fireplace as if they had been Frank himself.

Isabel smiled sweetly. "That's all very well, Reggie; but you aren't
damning him, you see: you're only damning yourself. That's my whole
point."

I began to walk up and down the great hall. This was plain speaking
indeed.

"I know I'm being very horrid," she went on, "and I don't wonder you
detest me. I feel like that man in the Bible - Balaam, wasn't it? - who
was invited out to curse somebody and blessed them instead: only it is
just the other way round with me. But, all the same, you'll never be
happy, and Fay will never be happy, until you forgive Frank. Of
course, you've got to forgive Fay too, and you haven't really done that
yet: but you soon will when you see her again. I'm not worrying about
that. The nut to crack is not Fay but Frank."

And that was all the comfort I got from Isabel Chayford. From the
depths of my desolate heart I knew that what Isabel said was true: and
equally from the depths of my soul I knew that as long as he lived I
could never forgive Frank Wildacre.




CHAPTER XXI

THE GREAT WAR

Isabel Chayford came over to see me in the early spring, and
immediately after Easter, Annabel, Arthur and I went for a short trip
to the Canary Isles. Now that she was Dean and Chapter of Lowchester,
Annabel had not as much time as formerly to stand between me and the
East wind: but she still did what she could; and on this particular
occasion hid me in the shelter of the Canary Isles until the tyranny of
my traditional enemy was overpast.

Nothing particular happened during the early part of the summer. My
longing for Fay and my hatred of Frank were as great as they had ever
been: neither feeling seemed to diminish in intensity: and I felt that
forgiveness of Frank was as far from me as ever.

I was still very unhappy: but I had now been unhappy for so long that I
was fast coming to regard it as my normal state.

I did not see much of the new Rector, though what I did see I liked,
and he was most popular in the parish: but I was at war with the King,
whose ambassador he was, and I felt that, therefore, his embassage
meant nothing to me.

So the long, dreary, sunny days dragged on until the beginning of
August: and then suddenly the incredible happened, and the world as we
had known it was turned upside down.

It is not for me to attempt to tell the story of the Great War: that is
already written in blood and tears on the heart of the civilised world;
and likewise on the pages of those books which shall be opened before
the Great White Throne, when the earth and the heaven shall flee away
and there shall be found no place for them. Germany ruthlessly broke
the laws of God and of Man, and England upheld them and defended them
even to the death. Hell was let loose with all its furies, but the
hosts of Heaven were also in the field.

And whilst on the continent of Europe the awful battle raged between
Right and Might, between Righteousness and Unrighteousness, between the
Prince of Peace and the Lust of Power, we at home saw our old world
tumbling about our ears, and a new one rising phoenix-like from its
ashes.

Suddenly the whole scale of values was changed. In the old days before
the War, the important people were the middle-aged, wealthy,
intellectual people, the brains and backbone of the nation. Now those
people had ceased to matter at all. The only people that mattered were
the young and the strong and the fearless, the blood and the sinews of
the nation. The wisdom of the wise had become a thing of no moment
compared with the strength and the courage of the brave. It was the
boys that counted now: not the mature man of weight and position. The
old standards had passed away and new ones were set up in their place.
County magnates and landed proprietors sank into abysmal insignificance
beside the village lads in their new khaki: rank and wealth became
worthless, except in so far as they could be adapted to serve the
soldiers fighting at the front.

The world which had hitherto bowed down before us middle-aged,
influential, well-to-do people, simply because we were middle-aged and
influential and well-to-do, suddenly found it had no use for us, and so
cast us ruthlessly aside. It had heavier work on hand - work that was
beyond our over-ripe powers. And the strange thing was that this
casting aside did not hurt our pride as it would have done at another
time, for the reason that our personal pride was dead, and in its place
had come a newer and a better feeling, the sense of a corporate unity.
The boys who were preferred before us were no rivals, but part of
ourselves, because we were all part of one great and united Empire.
For the first time in the memory of living men we knew experimentally
what it meant to be members one of another.

At the coming of the Great War old things passed away and all things
were made new, and life was suddenly charged with a terrible and yet
glorious meaning. Our very prayers were changed. For the first time
for a century we comprehended the Litany, and offered it up with
understanding hearts. The "hands of our enemies," which had for so
long been merely figurative dangers, were now an actual and hideous
menace: and because we believed we were fighting not for greed of gain
nor for lust of power, but for love of abstract righteousness, we dared
to raise from our hearts that solemn and compelling plea: "O Lord,
arise, help us and deliver us for Thine honour."

Naturally I passionately wanted to enlist, and equally naturally my age
and short-sightedness rendered me unable to respond to my country's
need: but for the first time in my life, failure had lost the power to
hurt me. What mattered it that I was worthless, if there were younger
and better men ready to take my place? The individual unit had ceased
to signify.

Time also had changed its values. Everything that had happened before
the war was almost lost in the haze of a half-forgotten past: the
trifling events of the last week of July seemed as far off as the
happenings of my boyhood. A new era had begun on that fateful Fourth
of August, nineteen hundred and fourteen.

It was only a few weeks according to the old reckoning of time, though
it seemed as if a long stretch of years had elapsed since the setting
of the sun of peace, that another crushing blow fell, and I received
the following letter from Isabel Chayford -


"My DEAR REGGIE,

"I have terrible news to tell you - the very worst - and trying to break
it gently is no good at all. I have seen Frank Wildacre, who has just
come over from Belgium with a lot of Belgian refugees and he tells me
that Fay is dead - killed by a shell at Louvain."


I put the letter down as I could not see to read any more. A thick red
mist was before my eyes, and my brain reeled.

Fay dead - my beautiful, light-hearted little Fay! The thought was
unthinkable.

Yet though it was unthinkable, the certainty of it crushed me to the
earth. I could not believe - I felt I never could believe - that Fay was
dead: yet on the other hand I felt as if she had been dead for years
and years, and that I had always known it. Sorrow is always so old.
The moment that its shadow touches us we feel that it has enshrouded us
for ages.

As long as I live I shall never forget the agony of that moment. The
sun shone through the dining-room window as I sat at the
breakfast-table, and I hated it for shining. It seemed as if it ought
never to shine again now that Fay was dead. And all the familiar
objects around me - the furniture and the flowers and the
breakfast-things - suddenly became charged with a terrible and sinister
meaning, as if they were all part of a grotesque and unspeakably
horrible dream.

I sat for what seemed an eternity trying to realise, though in vain,
that Fay was dead; and yet feeling that I had realised it, from the
foundation of the world, in every fibre of my being.

So it was all over, the joy and the pain of my married life! The


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