Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler.

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"Of course she would," I cried, as usual waxing eloquent over my
sister's perfections; "but when you come to that, she'd have made an
admirable Prime Minister or Archbishop of Canterbury. There is no
office which Annabel is not competent adequately to fill!"

"I wonder what she will think about the whole affair; and whether she
will consider I have made a mistake, and am not worthy of the
responsibility which Wildacre has thrust upon me."

"Let us go and ask her," I replied, rising from the table and throwing
the end of my cigarette into the ash-tray.

Whereat we both left the dining-room and went into the great hall
adjoining it, where Annabel was sitting by the fire knitting socks for
me.




CHAPTER II

RESTHAM MANOR

The village of Restham - where I was born and brought up, and where
later I sinned and suffered and repented - lay in a hollow in that long,
low range of Kentish hills known as the North Downs. The road
northwards was a steep ascent to the top of the hill, from whence one
saw spread at one's feet the glorious panorama of the Weald of Kent.
To a traveller coming down the hill the village seemed to lie in a
sheltered and secluded valley. On the right of the slope was the
rectory - a fine old white house, surrounded by a beautiful park and
gardens. Then, lower down, was the village square, with its
half-timbered inn and cottages, and its grand, twelfth-century church.
I don't know that the church itself was different from most churches of
its date, except in one particular: just outside the building itself,
at the west end, was a vaulted passage leading from north to south, in
the middle of which was a large window, from which one looked right up
to the high altar. Opposite to this window and set in the walls of the
passage was a stone brought, during one of the earlier Crusades, from
Palestine. The pilgrims of the Middle Ages, in travelling from London
to Canterbury, passed through Restham and along the vaulted passage,
saying a prayer at the holy stone as they went by, and their countless
fingers - as year by year and century by century they made the Sign of
the Cross upon the stone - engraved the Symbol thereon, as if it had
been carved by a chisel; and there it stands to this day, an indelible
testimony to the faith of our fathers in the days that are gone.

The church stood on the east side of the village square; immediately
beyond it the road turned sharp to the east towards Canterbury, leaving
on its left the ruins of an archi-episcopal palace, and on the west
side of the square the road turned equally sharply to the right towards
Sevenoaks. On the south side of the square - exactly opposite the road
which came down the hill - were the gates of Restham Manor House: heavy
old oak gates, studded with huge iron nails, and set in a fine old wall
of that rose-coloured brick which only the Tudors seemed able to
manufacture. The house inside the walls was of the same brick, with
stone mullioned windows and twisted chimneys, and was considered one of
the most perfectly preserved specimens of Tudor architecture in Kent.
The heavily-studded front door led straight into a great hall: a hall
made beautiful by its carved-oak roof and chimney-piece, and its
black-and-white marble floor, and comfortable by the numerous rugs and
tapestries which my father and I had spent years in collecting. It was
in this hall that Annabel and I chiefly lived and moved and had our
being. Out of it, on the left of the huge fire-place, two steps and a
door led up to the drawing-room - a typical "withdrawing-room" of the
olden times; and on the right of the fire-place another door opened
into a corridor, which in turn led to the dining-room, the library, the
staircase, and finally to the kitchen department. Upstairs the whole
front of the house was taken up by an oak-pannelled picture-gallery,
from the windows of which one learned what a mistake one had made in
imagining that Restham lay at the bottom of the hill; for below it the
ground still sloped away and away, fading at last into the blue
distance of the Weald of Kent.

Such was the spot which I had the happiness to call home, and which
played its part - as I believe all natural surroundings do - in the
formation of my character. Surely it was from the natural beauty
around me from my birth that I derived my appreciation of - nay, rather
my passion for - beauty in all its forms, and from the peculiar
spiritual atmosphere of a place which pilgrim feet had trod for
centuries, and on which pilgrim fingers had traced the Sign of the
Cross, that I imbibed that pervading consciousness of the unseen world
surrounding us, and that unquestioning acceptance of the phenomena
which men call miracles, which have been the most powerful influences
of my life, and which are as strong in me to-day as they were when I
was a child.

It was in the oak-pannelled dining-room, which commanded a view of the
sunny garden and of the blue distance beyond, that Annabel and I were
sitting at breakfast the morning after Blathwayte had imparted to us
his astounding news. Naturally we were discussing the absorbing theme.
This intense interest in one's neighbours' affairs may appear strange
to dwellers in cities; but to any one who has lived in that day of
small things in which is the epitome of village life it will seem the
most natural thing in the world.

Annabel was looking particularly well that morning. She was always
rather handsome, in a stately, sandy-haired, Queen Elizabethan sort of
way; but our trip to Madeira had revived and refreshed her, and had
elevated her always excellent health to a still higher degree of
excellence. We were both tall, but Annabel was a far finer specimen of
humanity than I was (another proof of the heinousness of my mistake in
not insisting upon her being the son and me the daughter of the house
of Kingsnorth), and while she had inherited my father's fair hair and
ruddy complexion, I was dark and pale like my mother. I remember we
once went to a fancy-dress ball at Canterbury as Queen Elizabeth and
Charles the First, and our friends said we were exactly like the
originals. How our friends knew this I am at a loss to imagine; but I
give their opinion for what it is worth. If brown eyes and hair and a
pointed brown beard constitute a resemblance to the ill-fated monarch
and martyr, then I certainly could boast that resemblance; but I had
neither been accused of losing my head nor of breaking my coronation
oath - at least not at the time when this story begins.

"I cannot imagine how Arthur Blathwayte will manage with those Wildacre
children," remarked Annabel; "he will have to come to me for advice.
You see he has had no experience in bringing up young people."

"Neither have you, my dear, when it comes to that," I ventured to
suggest.

"But I know all about it through being so long an active associate of
the G.F.S. And, besides, I brought up you."

"I should advise you to go to the G.F.S. for a testimonial. I am no
credit to you."

Annabel smiled indulgently; she had smiled at me indulgently all my
forty-two years. "It will be rather a pleasant change to have some
fresh young people to influence and educate; don't you think so,
Reggie?"

"Heaven forbid!" I exclaimed. "I am expecting them to influence and
educate me."

"How absurd! As if children of that age could teach a clever man like
you anything!"

"But I expect them to teach me everything, Annabel; everything that
I've been too stupid and idle and lethargic to learn for myself."

The afterglow of Annabel's indulgent smile still lingered. "You do
talk a lot of nonsense, Reggie!"

"What is nonsense to you is sense to me, and vice versa," I explained.
"To me you appear to be uttering balderdash when you talk about the
G.F.S. and the S.P.G., and the S.P.C.K., and seams, and stitches, and
purling, and running, and felling; but to you these cabalistic signs
embody the wisdom of the ages. And in the same way my wisdom is
foolishness to you."

"I wish you'd look over Green's bill for seeds this spring," said
Annabel, foraging among her letters and throwing a rather dirty
envelope at me; "I think he has charged too much for the new sweet peas
I ordered."

I was not surprised at Annabel's sudden change of subject. I was
accustomed to these alarms and excursions in her improving
conversation. So I obediently raised the nurseryman's bill close to my
short-sighted eyes. But before I had time to examine it, she began
again: "It is very foolish of you to try your eyes in that way, Reggie!
You really ought to wear glasses."

"I dislike wearing glasses."

"That's neither here nor there - what you like or dislike."

"Yes, it is, it's most decidedly here. If - like Cardinal Newman - 'I do
not ask to see the distant scene,' why, my dear Annabel, should you
intrude it upon my notice?"

"It's simply vanity on your part; absurd vanity! You are so proud of
the Winterford eyes that you don't like to hide them with glasses."

Annabel always talked of the Winterford eyes as if they were the only
genuine brand of human eyes on the market, all other makes being but
spurious imitations.

"It isn't vanity at all," I remonstrated; "quite the reverse. I
abstain from eyeglasses not for the sake of my own good looks, but for
the sake of the good looks of others. On the rare occasions when I do
wear spectacles, I find people so much plainer than I have hitherto
imagined them to be that Christian charity compels me to pluck off the
offending super-members at once."

"And distant views," added Annabel; "think what you miss in distant
views."

"I miss nothing," I firmly replied, "that had better not be missed.
The glorious blue haze of the distance is mine, unmarred by the details
that disfigure the foreground for persons like yourself."

"I can tell the time by a clock three or four miles off."

I shook my forefinger reprovingly. "Annabel, don't be boastful:
remember boasting always goes before a fall. Moreover, what is the
object of seeing the time by a clock three or four miles off? I'd much
rather not see it. I like to gaze at abstract beauty untrammelled by
the temporary limitations of time and space."

"What age did he say they were?" asked Annabel after a moment's pause,
as if the incident of the overcharged sweet peas had never interrupted
our conversation.

I wilfully misunderstood her. "Time and space, do you mean? That, of
course, depends upon the date at which you compute the creation of the
world. According to certain authorities - - "

"Oh, Reggie, how silly you are! You knew perfectly well what I was
talking about."

"What you were not talking about, you mean; yes, of course I knew. A
lifelong experience has taught me to follow unerringly the trapeze-like
manoeuvres of your acrobatic conversation. Eighteen."

"Then they'll be leaving school soon."

"At once. The boy for Oxford and the girl for wherever girls go to
when they grow up: Arcady, I believe, is the name of the place. But I,
alas! have never been in Arcady, nor you either, Annabel, worse luck
for us both!"

"I can't tell whether I've been there or not. I've travelled so much
that I can't remember the names of half the places I've been to. I
don't see how anybody can, unless they make a rule of buying picture
post-cards at all the places where they stay. I wish I'd done this
from the beginning, I went to so many interesting places with dear
papa. But I don't think picture post-cards were so much used then as
they are now." Annabel was the type of woman who loves to have a view
of every hotel she stays at, and to mark with a cross her own bedroom
window.

"I should have thought valentines rather than postcards would have
supplied views of Arcady," I murmured.

"Yes; and isn't it rather interesting to see how as picture post-cards
have come in, valentines have gone out? I think it is so instructive
to note little things like that; they show the march of the times."
Annabel always had a wonderful nose for instruction; she scented it
miles off - and in such strange places, too. For her there was
certainly no stone without its sermon, and no running brook without its
book.

"Arthur and I were saying last night that you would have made a good
Prime Minister or Archbishop of Canterbury," I remarked, gazing at her
thoughtfully.

"How ridiculous you two boys are! Besides, I never heard of a woman
filling either of those posts." Annabel was nothing if not literal,
and I found her literalness very restful.

"A woman once became Pope of Rome," I said, "somewhere in the Middle
Ages. At least there is a legend to that effect." I smiled and spoke
most benignly. There is something very invigorating in being regarded
as a boy when one is over forty.

But Annabel shook her head. "I could never have been a Pope on
principle; I so disapprove of Roman Catholics. At least if I had been
I should have turned Protestant."

"But you couldn't have done so at the time of which am speaking.
Protestants weren't invented."

"Then I should have invented them," retorted the intrepid Annabel. And
I felt sure that she would. She was quite capable of it.

"And I really don't see how Arthur will be able to manage them," she
went on without a pause; "he isn't at all cut out for that sort of
thing."

I resisted a temptation to ask why Arthur wasn't cut out for the proper
management of Protestants, and replied: "He feels that himself; but he
couldn't very well refuse when Wildacre asked him, and seemed so set on
it, you see."

"Francis Wildacre was very attractive when he used to come and stay
here more than twenty years ago," said Annabel. "He had 'such a way
with him,' as Ponty used to say." (Ponty was our old nurse.)

"And such a way with you, too, in those days," I hastened to add. "I
used to think you were a little in love with him."

Annabel owned the soft impeachment without a blush: in spite of the
fairness of her complexion, she was not of the blushing order. "I
believe I was, in a young and foolish sort of way."

"That is the only sort of way in which anybody can be in love. Love
that isn't young and foolish in its essence, is not love at all."

"Oh, Reggie, what nonsense! The sensible mutual attachment of older
people is far more lasting."

"It may be lasting, but it isn't love. The charm of love is its divine
folly."

"What a ridiculous idea! Supposing my divine folly, as you call it,
had led me into marrying Francis Wildacre, where should I have been
now, I should like to know? A widow with two tiresome young people to
look after."

"But you are yearning to help Blathwayte to look after them, so why
shouldn't you have helped Wildacre to look after them? I don't see
where the difference comes in. And, besides, they mightn't have been
there."

"I don't see any necessity to go into that," said Annabel, doing the
heavy sister to perfection.

"Nor do I. But it was you who went into it, if you remember, not I.
You dragged those young people into the discussion, so to speak, by the
hair of their heads."

Annabel carried the war into the enemy's camp. "And where should you
have been if I had married Francis Wildacre, I should like to know?"
she asked triumphantly.

"Exactly where I am now. There was no talk of my marrying Wildacre."

"And all alone, with no one to look after you!"

"Pardon me, my dear Annabel, but you are confusing dates. I should
have been all right now, because you would be a widow, and would be
living here with me, and with a young niece and nephew to whom I should
be devoted. Where I should have come short would have been in the
intervening twenty years between your supposititious marriage with
Wildacre and the present time."

Like all typical elder sisters, Annabel loved to be poked fun at by a
younger brother. That she never saw the point of my feeble jokes in
nowise lessened her admiration of them; her faith in their excellence
was a perfect faith, being in truth the evidence of things not seen.

"I think you'd have made a very nice uncle, Reggie. I've noticed that
good brothers make good uncles, just as good sons make good husbands.
I think it is very interesting to notice little things like that."

"And instructive," I added; "you've forgotten the instructiveness."

"And instructive, too, of course. All interesting things are more or
less instructive."

"But not invariably in the most elevating kinds of knowledge," I
murmured.

"And besides being such a kind uncle, you'd have had a very good
personal influence on young people." Annabel was very keen on what she
called "personal influence" - a force which I myself consider is grossly
over-rated. "For though you are sometimes very silly on the surface,
Reggie, you have plenty of good sound sense underneath."

"You flatter me," I murmured.

"No, I don't; I never flatter people" (she never did). "But I think it
encourages them to be told their good points sometimes. And now I come
to think of it, you will not be wasted as an uncle altogether: you can
behave as an uncle to these Wildacre children after all."

"Certainly; they will provide an admirable outlet for my avuncular
energies." But I was pleased at the idea all the same. The role of an
uncle had always had its attractiveness for me; it possessed a good
deal of the charm of fatherhood with none of its soul-crushing
responsibility. I felt I could never have started a son in life; but I
should have enjoyed to take a nephew to the Zoo. Therefore this
suggestion of Annabel's, that in the Wildacre children I should find a
ready-made niece and nephew, filled me with distinct pleasure.

"I must go and see Cutler about them at once," said Annabel, rising
from the breakfast-table (Cutler was our gardener); "I'm sure they are
not nearly as advanced as they were this time last year."

"About what? The Wildacres, do you mean?"

"The forget-me-nots, of course. How stupid you are!"

"But, my dear girl, you have never mentioned the forget-me-nots," I
replied in self-defence.

"But I was thinking about them all the time. They seem to me very
backward in that big bed on the lawn; I am sure he has not planted them
half thickly enough. It is very annoying, as I do so love a mass of
blue in contrast to the wallflowers. I'm really dreadfully
disappointed about this bed, it is usually so lovely, and extremely
angry with Cutler. I don't know what to do about it. What should you
do, Reggie?"

"I should knock Cutler down, and tell him that as he has made his bed
so he must lie on it."

"Oh, Reggie, how ridiculous you are! As if people nowadays ever
knocked their servants down as they used to do when they were slaves!"

"I really think your distress is premature," I said in a consoling
voice; "it is early yet for forget-me-nots. They'll be all right when
they begin to flower. The green sheet looks inadequate, I admit; but
when it puts on its blue counterpane, that bed will be a dream."

But Annabel refused to be comforted. "The plants aren't sufficiently
close together. I'm going into the garden to see about them at once,
and that iniquitous charge for sweet peas. But that is the worst of
leaving bills so long unpaid, it tempts tradespeople to put prices on."

"Then why not pay sooner?"

"I always pay at once - the minute the bills come in. Do you think
papa's daughter could ever sleep upon an unpaid bill? It is the
tradespeople who won't send them in - just in order to run them up; but
there is no throwing dust in my eyes! And if Arthur wants a little
womanly advice about how to deal with them, especially the girl, he can
always have it from me, and you can tell him so the next time you see
him."

And before I could frame a suitable reply to this varied and voluminous
remark, Annabel was out on the lawn and making a bee-line for the
inadequate forget-me-nots.

As for myself, a sort of subconscious sex-sympathy caused me to shrink
from hearing Annabel deliver her soul to Cutler with regard to these
and the sweet peas; so I wended my way upstairs to the nursery of our
childhood, where our old nurse, Ponting - called by the other servants
_Miss Ponting_ and by Annabel and me _Ponty_ - still held sway, as she
had done ever since Annabel was a baby.

Ponty came from the Midlands, and was what is known in her class of
life as "a character." She had a great flow of language, unchecked by
any pedantic tendency to verify her quotations, and she boasted an
inexhaustible supply of legendary acquaintances, who served as modern
instances to point her morals and adorn her tales. She was a
connoisseur in, or rather a collector of, what she called "judgments,"
and (according to Ponty) her native place - an obscure village in the
Midlands, Poppenhall by name - was a modern Sodom and Gomorrah.
Possibly the inhabitants of Poppenhall - like the eight upon whom the
tower of Siloam fell - were no worse than the majority of their
contemporaries; but (again according to Ponty) they seemed to have been
specially selected as warnings and examples to the rest of the world.
For instance, our childhood was enlivened by the story of a boy at
Poppenhall who swallowed a cherry-stone which grew into a cherry-tree
in his inside, until finally the youth was choked by the cherries which
clustered in his throat: this was to prevent any swallowing of
cherry-stones on our part. And there was an equally improving legend
of a Poppenhall girl who drank water out of the village stream, and
thereby swallowed an eft which developed into an internal monster,
whose head was always popping in and out of her mouth, thus spoiling
both her conversation and her appearance: this was to prevent any
consumption by my sister and myself of unfiltered and so unhallowed
water.

"Well, Master Reggie," began Ponty, as soon as I entered the nursery (I
was always Master Reggie to Ponty, just as I was always a boy to
Annabel), "this is a piece of news I hear about the rector's adopting
two children! It fairly took my breath away when Miss Annabel told me
about it."

"I thought it would," I answered, sitting down on one of the
comfortable chintz-covered chairs.

"It did; and I said to Miss Annabel, says I, 'No good can come of it, a
flying in the face of Providence like that!' I'm surprised at the
rector, and him a clergyman too," continued Ponty, as if the majority
of rectors were not in Holy Orders.

"Come, come, Ponty," I exclaimed, "you are carrying matters a little
too far. I see no flying in the face of Providence in the thing at
all. Quite the contrary."

"That is all you know, Master Reggie; twisting things about till you
don't know whether you are standing on your head or on your heels."

"Yes, I do know; neither at the present moment. I have you there,
Ponty."

But my feeble attempts at humour were as much lost upon Ponty as they
were upon Annabel. "I call it flying in the face of Providence to
adopt children when you haven't got any," she persisted; "if the rector
had been meant to have children he'd have had them, without going and
borrowing other folks' leavings. That's what I say. I don't hold with
adopting, I never did. Why, there was a woman at Poppenhall when I was
a girl, who went and adopted a boy because she'd no children of her
own, and when he grew up he murdered her."

This was Ponty at her best. I began to enjoy myself.

"This is interesting," I exclaimed; "but why did he murder her?"

"A judgment on her, I suppose, for adopting him."

"A severe punishment for a kindly action," I remarked. "I hope the
young Wildacres will not live to murder Mr. Blathwayte."

"I'm sure I hope so too, but you never can tell with strangers. You
don't know what's in them, as you might say, like you do with those
that you've had from their birth."

"And even those give shocks sometimes to their upbringers," I added,
lighting a cigarette. "I know you don't mind my smoking, Ponty."

"Not for a moment, as far as I'm concerned, Master Reggie; but for your
own sake I doubt you smoke too much. I don't hold with making a
chimney of your throat, I never did, it's agen nature."

"But think of the relief to my overstrained nerves, Ponty."

"Overstrained fiddlesticks, Master Reggie, if you'd excuse my saying
so! Why, what have you got to overstrain your nerves, I should like to
know?"

"There's trouble in the forget-me-not bed," I answered solemnly.

Ponty's bright brown eyes twinkled. She and I had laughed together at
Annabel ever since I could remember. "Oh, she's found it out, has she,
Master Reggie? I knew there'd be trouble when I saw Cutler planting


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