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breach between Fay and myself could never now be healed. There was now
no longer any hope of her coming back to me, and asking me to let
bygones be bygones and to begin our life together afresh. The bygones
were bygones indeed, and there was no beginning again for my darling
and me. Everything was over and past, and there was nothing left - not
even a happy memory. She could never again weigh me in her balance,
and this time more mercifully; nor could she ever cross out that
_Tekel_ she had written against my name. It must stand for ever to my
eternal undoing. The anguish of this thought was almost more than I
could bear, and yet live!

And across the intolerable anguish there came another feeling - an
intensity of hatred against him who had destroyed the happiness of my
life; and who now came back to complete the havoc he had wrought, by
the news of my darling's death. If I had found it impossible to
forgive Frank while Fay was alive, I found it still more impossible now!

After an eternity of such agony as I trust never to go through again,
it occurred to me to finish reading Isabel's letter. There was nothing
in it that could matter: nothing could ever matter any more now that
Fay was dead: but I felt I might as well read it. I had a dim feeling
that Isabel sympathised and was sorry, but I did not care whether she
was sorry or not. Neither she nor anybody else could ever help me any
more. Still she meant to be kind; and though her kindness was of no
use to me, I thought I might as well finish her letter. I owed that
much to her. So I went on with the reading of the letter that I had
begun to read ages ago, in that dim, far-off past before I knew that
Fay was dead.


"It appears," the letter continued, "that Fay and Frank had come over
for a trip through Belgium when the war began, as Fay was rather
overdone by acting and wanted a thorough rest and change: and instead
of trying to get away at once, they stayed on at Louvain in order to
help to look after the wounded. During the deliberate destruction of
the town, Fay rushed out of cover to save a child that had run into the
street by itself; and in so doing was struck by part of a shell, which
killed her. So she died to save another, which is the most splendid
death of all.

"Frank was so prostrated by the shock that he could no longer help to
nurse the wounded, so he got away, and came over to England with a lot
of Belgian refugees. I found him among these immediately after his
arrival in London, and knew him at once from his strong resemblance to
Fay. I brought him home with me to Prince's Gate, as he looked far too
fragile and delicate to be left among strangers; and he is here now - an
absolute wreck.

"Of course I shall only be too glad for Fay's sake to keep him here and
nurse him back to health: but he doesn't want to stay here: he wants to
go back to you.

"I have told him how you blame him - and justly so - for all that has
happened, and how impossible you find it to forgive him. I haven't
spared him at all. But in spite of all that I have said he still
persists that he wants to go back to Restham. He is dreadfully sorry
for what he has done: but of course that doesn't mend anything.

"Reggie, don't think it is unfeeling of me to bother you about all this
now. I need not tell you how deeply I grieve for you in your crushing
sorrow, nor how fully I realise that you are beyond the reach of any
grief or sympathy of mine. All this you know better than I could tell
you. But I feel I must tell you that Frank repents, and that he wants
to come back to you from the far country. This may be your one chance
of learning how to forgive your enemy: and I dare not stand between any
man and his hope of salvation. So I just tell you the facts: and leave
results in your hands - and God's.

"Ever yours, in truest sympathy,
"ISABEL CHAYFORD."


Yes, Isabel meant well. I was sure of that: though her meaning was of
no moment to me. But what she asked was impossible. If I could not
forgive Frank when Fay was alive and there was still the chance of
things coming right again between my darling and me, how could I
forgive him now, when the mischief he had wrought was irremediable, and
my life was spoiled beyond redemption?

No: I felt that Isabel, and - I say it in all reverence - even God
Himself were asking too much of me.

The forgiveness of Frank Wildacre was a demand too exorbitant to be met
by a man who was suffering as I was suffering. I could never forgive
him - never: especially now that Fay was dead. And suddenly, through
the clouds of my spiritual anguish and across the storms of my
passionate rebellion, I seemed to hear a Voice which said: "Behold, I
stand at the door, and knock!"

But I would not heed it.

I pushed my untasted breakfast away from me and rang the bell. Jeavons
answered it, and I heard myself saying to him in a voice that I did not
recognise as my own -

"Let all the blinds be pulled down at once. Her ladyship is dead."

Then - before he could utter the commonplace condolences which I felt
would kill me - I went along the passage to the library and shut the
door: and I sat down at my writing-table and laid my head on my arms
and wept like a child. And there was none to comfort me.

Everybody was very kind to me for the next few days, with that
combination of fear and pity which we always show towards the newly
bereaved, and which sets these apart from their fellows as completely
as if they were lepers. Arthur and Annabel came over at once from the
Deanery, and vainly endeavoured to console me in their different ways:
Annabel by letting me see what a sacrifice she had made on my behalf by
leaving Lowchester, even for a day, with all the work - Red Cross and
otherwise - which the war had thrown on her hands: and Arthur by saying
hardly anything at all, but gazing at me with the eyes of a faithful
dog.

And all the time that still small Voice kept sounding in my ears:
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock!"

I showed Arthur and Annabel Isabel's letter, and awaited their comments
upon it.

Annabel was very indignant with Lady Chayford. "It is just like Isabel
to begin bothering you about Frank at a time like this!" she exclaimed:
"but she never did have any sense. As if you hadn't trouble enough,
poor dear boy, without her trying to thrust Belgian refugees on to your
shoulders as well!"

"I could not possibly have Frank here," I said.

"Of course you couldn't," replied my sister: "it would be most
upsetting to you, with his likeness to Fay, and the way in which he has
treated you, and all! I cannot conceive what induced Isabel Chayford
to make such an improper suggestion. But she always was utterly
inconsiderate of other people's feelings."

My sense of justice rebelled at this. "I don't think you are quite
fair to her there, Annabel. Isabel may be unwise, but she is never
inconsiderate."

"Well, at any rate, she used to be," retorted Annabel; "and what people
used to be they generally are."

I could not deny the truth of this statement, broadly speaking: and I
had not the spirit to point out that there might be exceptions.

"What do you think?" I asked, appealing to Arthur.

He was silent for a moment; then he said in his slow, grave way: "It is
very difficult to judge for other people, and I agree with Annabel that
had I been in Lady Chayford's place I should never have ventured to
make such a daring suggestion. But I cannot help feeling that she is
right when she says that it may be your one chance."

"That is just Isabel's nonsense," interpolated Annabel. "I haven't
patience with her. As if Frank Wildacre deserved to be forgiven! And
even if he did - which he doesn't - it isn't the time to bother poor
Reggie about it now."

"I can never forgive him," I repeated.

"I didn't say you could, old man," replied Arthur: "neither does Lady
Chayford. She only says that this might be your one opportunity of
doing so: not that you could necessarily avail yourself of that
opportunity. As I take it, she does not suggest to you to forgive
Frank, but to put yourself in a position where it might become possible
for you to forgive him. There is a difference between the two, I
think."

"I can never forgive him," I repeated doggedly. And we left it at that.

Annabel pressed me to go back to Lowchester with her and Arthur: but I
declined to do that, or even to let them remain at Restham with me. I
wanted to be alone with my sorrow. And as they had their hands full of
all kinds of work connected with the war and could ill be spared from
Lowchester, they let me have my way.

I wrote a short note to Isabel Chayford thanking her for her sympathy
in my overwhelming sorrow: and saying that I found it impossible to
grant Frank's wish and to let him come to Restham. And then I sat
alone in my house that was left unto me desolate, and mourned my dead.

But was I alone?

Through the long sunless days and the dreary sleepless nights that
Voice kept ringing in my ears -

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock!"

And I knew that the Hand that knocked was pierced; yet I steeled my
soul against that incessant pleading, and kept fast shut the door.

Some æons of agony passed - I think in reality it was three or four days
as happy people count them - and Arthur came over to see me again.

We sat chiefly in silence, or else talked about impersonal matters,
Arthur looking at me all the time with his dog-like eyes. But just as
he was leaving he said -

"Have you thought any more about Lady Chayford's suggestion, old man?"

"I have thought about nothing else."

"Then don't you think you might do as - as - she suggests?" he asked
timidly: then: "for Fay's sake," he added, almost in a whisper.

I turned round upon him quickly.

"If I consent to have Frank Wildacre here, I shall not do it for Fay's
sake," I said, "but for Christ's sake."

And as I uttered the three words which are the greatest lever of power,
both human and Divine, which the world has ever known - those words
whereby Man is permitted to control the Actions of even God Himself - I
knew that at last the door had been opened to Him Who stood outside and
knocked. Once again the Galilean had conquered.




CHAPTER XXII

THE LAST OF THE WILDACRES

I wrote to Isabel that I had changed my mind, and that I consented to
have Frank at Restham for his convalescence: but I asked her to make it
quite clear to him that I felt it as impossible now as I did two years
ago to forgive him for having come between my wife and myself. I did
not want to have him at the Manor on false pretences that everything
was going to be smoothed over and made easy for him, as it had been
always before: for even if such condoning of his fault had been
possible on my part (which it was not), I knew him well enough to
realise that it would be extremely bad for him.

The fiat had gone forth from the altar of Restham Church on the
occasion of my marriage with Fay: "Those whom God hath joined together
let no man put asunder." Frank had done his best to put asunder two
Divinely united persons, and had succeeded. Therefore I felt it was
but meet that he should be punished as he deserved. To be allowed to
sin with impunity is the most terrible curse that can fall on the head
of any man: and I had no intention of becoming the instrument whereby
this curse should be directed to the head of Frank Wildacre.

Isabel sent him down to Restham in her car, and it was on a gloomy
autumn day that he arrived. I met him at the door, and at the first
moment was struck afresh by his marvellous likeness to Fay: it seemed
almost as if my dead darling had come back to me, and for a second I
was well-nigh unmanned. But after Jeavons had helped him in and laid
him down on the large Chesterfield by the hall fire, I saw that he was
not as much like Fay as I had at first thought. Both the Wildacres had
always been slight and slender, but it was the slightness and
slenderness of perfect health: now Frank's thinness amounted to
positive emaciation, and his face was pinched and peaked. Moreover, he
had lost that appearance of essential and eternal youth which had been
so marked a characteristic of him and of Fay, and without which he
hardly seemed a Wildacre at all.

But in one thing he was unchanged, and that was in his perfect ease of
manner and absolute unself-consciousness. Although I could see that it
required all his self-control to enable him to respond naturally to my
greeting, as indeed it required all my self-control to give it,
nevertheless he succeeded: and I could not help admiring the pluck and
courage of the boy when I remembered how much lay between his departure
from the Manor and his return to it.

As I recalled what bright and beautiful beings Wildacre and his
children had been at one time, and realised that this broken wreck of a
boy was all that was left of the once brilliant trio, a wave of misery
at the pity of it all swept over my soul. I thought of Wildacre as he
used to be in the old boyish days, and then of Frank and Fay when they
first came to the Rectory after their father's death: and I felt that I
was face to face with the hopeless tragedy of what might have been but
was not, because the folly and sin of man frustrated the Wisdom and
Righteousness of God, as for some hidden reason it has been permitted
to do ever since the forbidden tree was planted in the midst of the
garden.

And that is how the last of the Wildacres came to Restham.

For some days I saw but little of Frank. Ponty took him into her
tender keeping and set about nursing him back to health, only allowing
him to come downstairs and lie on the Chesterfield couch by the hall
fire for a few hours every day. It was astonishing to me to find Ponty
so good to Frank. She had always resented his presence at Restham even
before he had worked any mischief there: yet now she took him into her
charge, and nursed him as devotedly as if she had been his mother.

I remarked upon this change of front one day. "I am surprised you are
so kind to Mr. Wildacre, Ponty, considering how angry you were when
first I asked him to come and live at the Manor. I was afraid you
wouldn't like his coming back in this way."

"Well, you see, Master Reggie, when I was that set against his coming
to the Manor, he was strong and well, and so could stand up to me, as
you might say: but now he is too weak and ill to hurt a fly. There's
lots of folks as you can't stand at any price when they are able to
stick up for themselves: but when they are knocked down you'd do
anything you could to help them to get up again."

"Women are made like that - thank God!" I said.

"I remember there was a girl at Poppenhall who'd had a fine upstanding
young man after her for years and years, and she couldn't so much as
look at him, though all the other girls envied her for having such a
handsome beau: but he lost an arm and got his face scarred in an
accident down a coal-pit, and then she married him at once, and spent
the rest of her life in looking after him and trying to take the place
of his lost arm."

"A woman all over!" I remarked.

"And all the same, Master Reggie, I'm not such a woman as you seem to
think - though I dare say I'm as weak as most of them if I'm taken the
right way: but it was one thing to have Mr. Wildacre here when I felt
it in my bones that he'd come between you and her dear young ladyship,
and quite another to have him here when there is nobody to come
between. It wasn't that I objected to Mr. Wildacre himself - far from
it - any more than I objected to Miss Annabel, whom I'd had from a month
old: but what I did say - and always shall say - is that it's best for
married people to fight things out for themselves, without having any
relations on either side to back them up. And I shall stick to this
till my dying day, even if I was to hang for it!"

I had no intention of hanging my old nurse when she talked in this
strain, but I had every objection to listening to her. So I closed the
conversation by going out of the nursery.

Annabel came over to see Frank a few days after his arrival at Restham:
but Ponty, who was paramount in the sick room, forbade her entrance. I
had already perceived that my sister's despotic sway at the Manor was
gradually being undermined, in secret and insidious ways, by the
redoubtable Ponty, whenever a suitable opportunity presented itself.

"I'm not going to let Miss Annabel see Mr. Wildacre till he is
stronger," my old nurse said: "she's no good in a sick room isn't Miss
Annabel, being far too managing and interfering for invalids. And
after all that poor young gentleman has gone through, it would be
heathen cruelty to upset him still worse. Miss Annabel on the top of
the Germans would be too much for anybody!"

"But Miss Annabel, as you call her, used to be so fond of Mr.
Wildacre," I pleaded.

"Not after he crossed her will and ran off with her ladyship. You
could put on the top of a threepenny-bit all Miss Annabel's love for
them as don't do exactly as she tells them, and have room to spare. If
she is as fond of Mr. Wildacre as she used to be, she can go on with it
as soon as he is strong again, and able to stand her domineering ways;
though there won't be much fondness to go on with, if I know Miss
Annabel. But as long as he's ill, and in my charge, I can't have him
bothered with nobody - not even with Deans and Chapters and all other
dignities of the Church, including Miss Annabel. And so I tell you
straight, Master Reggie."

And Ponty had her way, having found a secret supporter in my humble
self.

As Frank under Ponty's care grew stronger, I saw more of him, and we
gradually got into the way of talking naturally about my lost darling.
He could not bear even yet to say much about his awful experiences
during that terrible time at Louvain; but he repeated the story of how
Fay had given her life to save another's after risking it for some time
in order to tend the sick and wounded. And that made me love her all
the more dearly, and mourn her all the more deeply.

"I don't want to bother you, Reggie," he said one day, when relations
had grown less strained between us; "but I just want you to know how
dreadfully sorry I am that I behaved as I did. Lady Chayford told me
that you couldn't forgive me, and I feel I haven't the right to ask you
to forgive me. But I just want to tell you that I am sorry, and that I
would give my life to undo what I did."

He was lying in his usual place on the couch, and I was sitting in an
easy-chair on the other side of the great fire-place. For a few
seconds I smoked in silence: then I said: "I hope you understand it
isn't that I _won't_ forgive you, Frank, but that _I can't_. I've
tried, and I find it impossible."

Frank nodded his head in the way that reminded me so keenly of Fay. "I
know: Lady Chayford told me. And she also told me how not forgiving me
had made you lose your wonderful gift of healing. It is dreadful to
think that I had power to spoil your life as much as that!"

I smiled sadly at the childishness which made the loss of my healing
powers seem greater than the loss of Fay. And then my smile faded as I
realised that it is only when we speak as little children that we speak
truth; for the loss of my healing powers stood sacramentally for more
than even the loss of my wife. It was the outward and visible sign of
my separation from God.

"I know it's no good saying I'm sorry now, but I must say it," Frank
continued; "and I shall go on feeling it as long as I live. I don't
really see how you could forgive me: I know I couldn't if I were in
your place. In fact, I shouldn't even want to."

"I do want to," I said slowly; "but I can't."

"But although I own I did my best towards the end to induce Fay to come
away with me," continued Frank, in that throaty and rather husky voice
which was so like Fay's that sometimes it thrilled my heart-strings to
breaking-point, "I can't help saying that she oughtn't to have listened
to me. After all, she was bound to you by vows, and I wasn't."

I lifted up my hand in protest. "Hush, hush!" I said sternly: "I
cannot allow you or anybody else to dare to say a word against my wife."

"You are very loyal to her," he replied, after a short pause, in which
I did him the justice to believe that he felt ashamed of himself.

"I loved her," I said. Then I corrected myself: "I mean I love her."

But it was not easy to suppress a Wildacre even when he did feel
ashamed of himself. "Then you have forgiven her," said Frank: "Lady
Chayford told me you hadn't."

There was a few minutes' silence whilst I tried to be honest with Frank
and with myself. Then I said slowly: "I don't believe I really did
forgive her altogether till I heard of her death, though I loved her
all the time more than I loved life itself. But after she died I
gradually realised that there was nothing to forgive. I had been
weighed in her balance, and had been found wanting, and she had no
further use for me: therefore she threw me on one side as worthless. I
was hers to do what she liked with, and she had a perfect right to
retain or to reject me as she thought fit. But, mind you, I didn't see
this at first. I am no better than my neighbours, and for a long time
I was as harsh and bitter and vindictive as any poor beggar of the
so-called 'criminal classes' could have been in the circumstances. It
is only since Fay's death that I have realised that she was justified
in the course she took."

"But she wasn't - - " Frank began; but I stopped him.

"No, no! Say what you like about yourself, my boy, but not a word
against Fay. And don't think that because I completely exonerate her I
also exonerate you. For I don't. Whatever lay between her and me, was
sacred to her and me, and no one had any right to intermeddle in it.
Neither had you nor anybody else a right to try to put asunder those
whom God had joined together: and that - unless I do you a grave
injustice - is what you did."

Frank pondered on my words for a short time and then he said: "To a
certain extent, perhaps, I did come between you and Fay, and, as I have
told you, I repent of what I did in dust and ashes. But I never meant
to come between you. On that score my conscience is clear. What I did
do was to persuade her to come away with me: but I never did that until
something or somebody had already come between you and her, and I saw
she was fretting her life out because of it."

I was startled. "Something had already come between us! What in
Heaven's name do you mean?"

"It is rather difficult to explain, Reggie," replied Frank, carefully
weighing his words in his endeavour to be lucid: "yet I think I must
try to do so even if I make a hash of it, because at present you are
absolutely in the dark about the whole affair. As far as I can make
out, you think that Fay went away because she didn't love you enough."

"That certainly was my impression," I said, trying in vain to keep the
pain out of my voice.

"Well, then, you are off on a wrong scent altogether. Fay went away
because she loved you too much."

"Loved me too much! I don't understand." I was dazed by Frank's
incomprehensible burst of confidence.

He did his best to make matters clearer. No Wildacre was ever at a
loss for words. "You see, it was in this way: Fay absolutely adored
you - simply worshipped the ground you walked on. I'm not justifying
her for feeling like this," he added, with the first touch of his old
whimsicalness that he had shown since his return; "I don't deny that it
was very foolish of her to set up any man as a god and worship him like
that: but that is what she did; and it is right for you to know it,
before you judge her for what she did besides."

"I shall never judge her," I interpolated; "God forbid!"

"Well, then, before you understand what she did, if you prefer the
word. It really was Fay's absorbing and unreasoning adoration of you
that upset the apple-cart and did all the mischief. If she'd been more
sensible and discriminating, all this trouble would never have
happened: but she was young and foolish, and madly in love at that.
And she was so wild with jealousy, because she thought you loved your
sister more than you loved her, that she hardly knew what she was
doing."

"I thought she found me old and dull and tiresome," I murmured.

"I know you did, and that really was too idiotic for anything! Why,
she was simply crazy for love of you from the first time she saw you


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