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till the day she ran away; but you footled the whole thing! I'm sorry
to say it, Reggie, but you really did."

Amazement had rendered me humble. I realised that if any one had known
Fay thoroughly, Frank had; and it was as an expert that he spoke.
"Please explain," I said meekly.

Nothing loth, he continued: "Well, if you want the truth, you shall
have it. And of course you must bear in mind that, if Fay hadn't been
so ridiculously in love, silly little things wouldn't have hurt her as
they did, and she wouldn't have gone off her head with jealousy of Miss
Kingsnorth. I know men like to feel that their wives are very much in
love with them: but the wives who aren't so much in love are really the
best for everyday wear. They are more tolerant and much less exacting."

Frank was a wiser man than he had been when he left Restham. I noted
that. And for the first time a tiny doubt crept into my mind as to
whether even then he had been the most unwise man there.

"In the first place," he went on, "Fay was most frightfully upset at
your asking Miss Kingsnorth to stay on living with you after you were
married. That started the feeling."

"I thought that as Fay was still such a child it would be a comfort to
her to have a kind and loving woman to turn to and lean upon," I
explained.

"Kind and loving fiddlesticks!" retorted Frank, by no means
respectfully; but I was so glad to see him once more a little like his
old self that I rejoiced in rather than resented his impertinence. In
spite of my underlying enmity against him, I could not hide it from
myself that Frank had attracted and fascinated me since his return as
he had never attracted and fascinated me before: and this in spite of
the fact that his good looks were faded, and his brilliance was
quenched. "When girls are first married they don't want kind and
loving women to lean upon: they want to lean upon the husbands whose
business it is to be leant upon. And they hate anybody who comes
between them and their husbands."

"But remember, Frank, I asked you to live with us as well as Annabel.
It isn't as if I had asked my sister, and left my wife's brother out."
I appeared to be exculpating myself to Frank; but in reality I was
exculpating myself to myself.

"But that only made the matter worse. Fay didn't want me any more than
she wanted Miss Kingsnorth to come poking my nose in between you and
her. She wanted you to herself."

"I'm afraid that she and Annabel did not get on together as well as I
had hoped," I said.

Frank shrugged his thin shoulders. "They'd have got on all right
together in their proper places. Fay was quite fond of Miss Kingsnorth
as a sister-in-law: but when she found Miss Kingsnorth put in place of
her husband, why of course she kicked. Anybody would."

"Annabel wasn't put in place of her husband," I argued.

"Yes, she was; and of course the thing didn't work. You seemed to have
an idea that Fay's love was transferable, like a ticket for a concert,
and that if you didn't use it your sister could. But it's no good
trying to transfer other people's affections any more than it's any use
trying to change other people's religions. You can take the old one
away, but you can't give them a new one in its place."

"But I never attempted to do such a ridiculous thing," I argued.

But Frank was firm. "Yes, you did. Or, at any rate, Fay thought you
did, which comes to the same thing as far as she was concerned, and
that was what made her so mad. For instance, when she particularly
asked you to give her a Prayer Book with her name written in it by you,
so that religion and you might all get mixed up together in her mind,
and you be part of religion and religion part of you, what did you do?
You got Miss Kingsnorth to give her the Prayer Book, so that Miss
Kingsnorth should become part of her religion instead of you! Now it
really was absurd to expect Miss Kingsnorth - I beg her pardon, I mean
Mrs. Blathwayte - to become part of anybody's religion, except of old
Blathwayte's - I mean the Dean's. I suppose she's part of his religion
now, right enough. But she wasn't the kind of person to be ever part
of Fay's religion, and I should have thought you could have seen that
for yourself."

"Did Fay tell you that about the Prayer Book?" I asked, with a stab of
anguish. It was incomprehensible to me how my darling could have
discussed, even with her brother, things which lay entirely between her
and me. I could never have talked to Annabel about matters which
concerned Fay and myself alone! I should have regarded them as too
sacred. But that is where men and women are so different from each
other, and where women are so much less reserved than men. I believe
that good wives tell more about their husbands than bad husbands ever
tell about their wives.

But good Heavens, how it hurt!

"Yes," replied Frank, quite unconscious of my pain, "she told me
everything. And it was only after she had told me everything, and I
saw how miserable you were making her by setting Miss Kingsnorth above
and before her that I began to urge her to run away and begin life over
again. Of course I see now it was wicked of me to do so, although I
was so furious with you for thinking more of your sister than of your
wife; and besides being wicked, it was useless. Fay loved you so much
that being away from you didn't seem to mend matters at all, but only
to make them worse. But I thought that when once she'd got away from
you and your treatment of her, she'd begin to forget you, and be happy
again as she was before she and you had ever met. But unfortunately I
was wrong."

I groaned. I couldn't help it.

"Then another time," Frank went on, the Wildacres never having been
denied freedom of utterance, "she was almost mad with joy because you
came all the way from Restham to Liverpool Street to meet her on her
way home from Bythesea. It looked as if you really were as much in
love with her as she was with you. And then you went and spoilt it all
by saying that you had come to please your sister. Now, I ask you,
what wife could stand that? I'm sure you wouldn't have liked to feel
that Fay married you in order to please me: and in the same way she
didn't like to feel that you had married her to please Mrs. Blathwayte."

"But it was absurd of her to feel like that! She must have known that
I worshipped the very ground she walked on, and that the only fly in my
ointment was that I felt I was too old and dull to make her happy."

Frank still had me on the hip. "Then that was equally absurd of you!
Fay wasn't the only absurd one apparently. You see all the time that
you were inventing trouble by thinking that you were too old and dull
for her, she was inventing trouble by thinking that she was too young
and silly for you, and that you were comparing her with your sister,
and finding her inferior. And you know how mad a woman gets when she
thinks her husband likes anybody else more than he likes her. There's
nothing she wouldn't do to punish him and hurt herself at the same
time! And that is how Fay got. She was so wild at finding you thought
more of Miss Kingsnorth than you did of her, that she didn't care what
happened. She thought you despised her, and that simply finished her
off altogether. And when she was unhappy she tried to drown her
unhappiness in theatricals and fallals of that kind, which didn't
really do her the slightest good: but when husbands fail, women set up
all sorts of ridiculous scarecrows in their place. It's the way
they're made, I suppose. And when the theatricals turned out to be no
good in helping her to forget, she took to travelling, and that was how
we came to be in Belgium when the war broke out. But travelling didn't
really help her either, though she had an idea that the old cities of
Flanders might be rather soothing. But as things panned out they were
quite the reverse, and we'd far better have remained in Australia!"

"It is all incredible to me," I said.

But Frank had no mercy. "The long and the short of it is you were so
busy worrying yourself about the relations between Fay and your sister,
that you let the relations between Fay and yourself slide. And that
was really the only thing that mattered. Then Fay got it into her head
that you regretted having married her when you compared her with Miss
Kingsnorth and saw how young and silly she was in comparison: and so
she decided to leave you and your sister once more alone together, as
she believed that that was what really could make you happy. And even
now I can't help admitting that Miss Kingsnorth is far more your sort
than Fay was."

I was silent for a time. The solid earth seemed slipping away beneath
my feet. Then I said: "Do you mean to tell me, on your word of honour,
that to the best of your belief neither you nor Annabel tried to come
between my wife and me?"

Without hesitation the answer came: "Certainly I do. I am positive
that I never did, and in my own mind I am equally certain that Mrs.
Blathwayte never did either. But where I was to blame was that when I
saw matters had gone wrong, I tried to set them right in my own way:
and I think probably that is what Mrs. Blathwayte tried to do also.
But there was some excuse for us. The happiness of her brother and my
sister mattered more to us than anything else in the world. Of course
I see now that you asked Miss Kingsnorth here on Fay's account, though
it was a ridiculous thing to do: but I own now you did it from a right
motive. But Fay believed you did it because you thought you would find
her too young and silly to be enough for you by herself, and so you
wanted your sister and me to relieve the tedium, and make things more
cheerful for you. That was Fay's idea, and I agreed with her. And
naturally I resented your putting your sister before mine. Any fellow
would."

"I never meant to."

"But you did. And it is for what we do that we are punished - not for
what we meant to do. It is a way of yours to mix up essentials with
non-essentials, and I expect always will be: I suppose you are made
like that, and can't help it. But if you'd only realised that the
important thing was not how Fay and Miss Kingsnorth got on together,
but how Fay and you got on together, all this misery would never have
happened."

I felt I could bear no more: so I went out alone into the autumn dusk
to commune with my own soul on the revelations which Frank had
vouchsafed to me. And when we met again, we did not refer to it, but
talked only on indifferent things. For the boy not only knew when to
speak: with a wisdom beyond his years he knew also when to be silent.

For several days I continued to commune with my own soul on the matters
which Frank had revealed to me. And as I did so the conviction
gradually took hold of me that I had been right in my ruthless decision
that as long as I lived I could never forgive the man who had come
between my wife and me: who had left my house unto me desolate, and had
driven forth my darling to her death.

And then wherever I went I heard nothing but one awful message: the
dying leaves whispered it, the dropping rain repeated it, and the
autumn winds thundered it in my ears: the message which long ago struck
terror and remorse to the heart of a great King struck terror and
remorse also to mine. Wherever I went and whatever I did I kept
hearing the appalling word of condemnation: "Thou art the man."




CHAPTER XXIII

THE PEACE OF GOD

I awoke one morning with a strange feeling that something wonderful had
happened during the night: and as my mind gradually cleared, I realised
what that something was.

I had forgiven Frank Wildacre.

Or, rather, I had come to the knowledge that there was nothing to
forgive: that the man whose insensate folly had spoilt my life and
Fay's was not Frank at all, but myself.

But the result was the same. After nearly three years of the outer
darkness I had come once more into the light: I was at peace with Man
and therefore with God: and that seemed to be all that signified.

On myself I had no mercy. I could not forgive myself - I cannot forgive
myself now - I never shall forgive myself. But that was a matter of no
moment. Self-pardon is never the way of salvation. I knew - how I knew
I cannot tell, but I did know it - that God had forgiven me: I believed
from the depths of my heart that Fay, with the more perfect
comprehension of those who are already on the Other Side, had forgiven
me also: therefore my self-condemnation was no bar across the path of
life, but rather a healthy and permanent discipline of the soul.

With a joy beyond all earthly joy I rose and dressed and went out into
the hazy autumn morning. It was Sunday: and as I stood in the grey
mist which still lay over everything and which shrouded the garden and
the fields from my view, I heard the church-bell ringing for the eight
o'clock Celebration. And for the first time for more than two years
that bell called to me, and bade me come and take my place at the
Eucharistic Feast: for at last I was in love and charity with all men,
and intended to lead a new life.

I answered the Call and entered the Church which was hallowed by the
worship of centuries: and there I made my confession to Almighty God,
meekly kneeling upon my knees, as the pilgrims had knelt there ages and
ages before me. And as in lowly adoration I partook of the Blessed
Food Which Christ Himself had ordained, I thereby received Him into my
heart by faith: and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,
once more filled my heart and mind with the knowledge and love of God
and of His Son, Jesus Christ.

And so I began life over again in that autumn morning in Restham
Church, at the beginning of the Great War.

I did not see Frank when I came home after the Service was over, as he
never came down to breakfast: but as I sat at my solitary meal I knew
no loneliness: the glory of the Great Reconciliation was about me still.

After breakfast Jeavons came to me in a somewhat deprecating manner.

"I am sorry to trouble you, Sir Reginald," he began, "and I told Maggie
Pearson so, but she wouldn't take no, and begged me to come and give
you her message."

Maggie Pearson was the daughter of one of my keepers - a respectable man
with a tidy wife and a large family.

"And what was her message?" I asked.

Jeavons still appeared confused. "I really did my best, Sir Reginald,
to make her understand that you'd given up all that sort of thing and
never went in for it now, finding it more or less uncertain, as you
might say, and out of the usual course of events, and so not altogether
to be depended upon; and that she'd much better stick to the doctor and
not trouble you, Mr. Wildacre being laid up in the house, and you with
enough on your hands as it is. But she went on crying, and said her
mother'd never forgive her if she didn't give you the message."

I felt that such unaccustomed loquacity was a sign of serious mental
disturbance on the part of Jeavons. He was generally so very brief and
to the point.

"Well, what _was_ the message?" I repeated, with (I cannot help
thinking) commendable patience.

"Well, Sir Reginald, begging your pardon, the fact is that Mrs.
Pearson's baby is dying of brownchitis or pewmonia or some other
disease connected with its teething, and nothing will satisfy her but
that you should come and lay your hands on it, like as was your custom
at one time, having outgrown it since. I told Maggie as how you had
given up the habit long ago, which she said her mother knew: but all
the same, Mrs. Pearson still persisted that she was sure you could cure
the baby if you tried, which was just like her obstinacy, and to my
thinking a great impertinence."

"Have they had the doctor, do you know?" I asked.

"Yes, Sir Reginald, and he can't do nothing more than what he has done,
he says, and he is afraid the child will die. Though what they wants
with that extra child at all, beats me, having six besides, and none
too much food for them all, with the dreadful war sending up the prices
of everything."

For two years now I had refused all the villagers' requests that I
would exercise my gift of healing upon them, as I knew, alas! that the
gift was no longer mine: and they had gradually ceased to proffer these
requests. Therefore it struck me as noteworthy that on the very day
when, as the old theologists put it, I had "found peace," I should be
asked to exercise this lost power once more. It seemed to be one of
those wonderful instances of direct Interposition which we of this
faithless and perverse generation disguise under the pseudonym of
"remarkable coincidences."

"Tell Maggie that I will come at once," I said.

And Jeavons accordingly departed, leaving behind him an atmosphere of
respectful disapproval and regret. Anything bordering on the
unusual - let alone the miraculous - filled my excellent butler with
horror and dismay.

When I am tempted - as indeed I often am, and frequently
successfully - to despise those Jeavons-like souls who delight to burrow
in the commonplace whenever the light of the supernatural shows above
the horizon, I remind myself of the first Order that was given after
the dread gates of death had been flung open and the ruler's little
daughter had come through them back to life. He Who had performed the
stupendous miracle did not take this unique opportunity of preaching a
sermon to the company assembled in the house of mourning, with His Own
Action as the text: on the contrary "He commanded that something should
be given her to eat."

How joyfully those who had laughed Him to scorn when He contradicted
their conventional assumption that death was the final ending - laughed,
doubtless with the uncomfortable, mocking laughter of all materially
minded people when confronted with things undreamed of in their smug
philosophy - must have hurried to lay the table and prepare the meal,
and perform all the trivial little duties which form the essence of the
normal and the commonplace. How relieved they must have felt to find
themselves once more in the ordinary routine of everyday existence!

And I like to think that it was then His turn to smile - He Who knew
them so well, and remembered that they were but dust; yet the dust
wherein He had clothed Himself in order to identify Himself with them.
But I am sure that in His smile there was no scorn. He knew what they
needed, and He supplied all their need.

Obedient to the Call which had come to me, I went through the village,
hardly conscious of any volition on my own part. I had merged my will
in another's, and had no longer any desire to act on my own initiative.
It is a strange feeling, this absolute surrender of self, and brings
with it that peace which the world can never give nor take away.

Still as in a dream I entered the cottage at the far end of the
village, and found Mrs. Pearson rocking in her arms her dying child;
the other children hanging round, all more or less in a state of tears.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Pearson," I said, when Maggie had ushered me into
the midst of the weeping group. "I have come because you sent for me."

"And right thankful I am to you, Sir Reginald," replied the poor woman:
"I says to myself, when the doctor give my baby up, 'If anybody can
save her, Sir Reginald can.'"

"I will do what I can," I said, "but it is years now since I have had
the power to heal anybody. I lost it when her ladyship went away."

"So I've heard, Sir Reginald. But I minded that story of the woman who
wouldn't take 'No' even from the Blessed Lord Himself, but begged for
just the crumbs under the table: and her child was healed in
consequence."

I knelt down beside the rocking-chair, and laid my hands upon the
little form lying on the mother's lap, at the same time lifting up my
whole soul in prayer. And straightway the answer came - as in my heart
of hearts I had known it would come. Like a mighty electrical force
the healing power rushed through me to the child. I could feel it in
every vein and every fibre of my body. And at the same time my
consciousness of the Presence of Christ was so acute that it was almost
as if I actually saw and heard and felt Him close beside me.

Whilst I prayed the moaning of the child ceased, and its laboured
breathing grew gradually soft and easy: and when I rose from my knees
and looked at it, I knew that it would live.

The poor mother clung to my hand, and wept tears of gratitude. But I
told her - as I always made a point of telling those whom I was
permitted to help - that her thanksgivings were not due to me, but to
Another Whose messenger for the time I was allowed to be: and then I
hurried back through the village to the Church, there to render thanks,
with the rest of the congregation at the office of Matins, for the
blessings that had (in my case so wonderfully) been vouchsafed to me.

When I returned home after the morning service, I found Frank dressed
and downstairs: but it was not until lunch was over and we had settled
down in our usual places - he on the Chesterfield on one side of the
hall fire, and I in my easy-chair on the other - that I found an
opportunity of telling him, without fear of interruption, of the
marvellous thing that had happened to me.

"Frank, my boy, I have something to say to you," I began.

"Yes, Reggie, what is it?"

"To me it is so wonderful that I find difficulty in putting it into
words. But though I may be slow to speak, you are always swift to
hear, so I dare say you will understand in spite of my blundering way
of telling it."

"Fire away," said Frank encouragingly. "I shall catch on right enough,
never fear."

"Well, first and foremost, I want you to know that I have forgiven you
completely for any share that you may have had in helping Fay to leave
me."

Frank gave a little cry of joy. "Oh, Reggie, how splendid of you!" he
began.

But I lifted up my hand to stop him. "Wait a bit, my boy. Please hear
all I have got to say before you cut in. I was going to tell you that
I forgave you freely because I had found that there was nothing to
forgive. It sounds rather Irish, I know: but I think you will
understand that we are obliged to forgive people when we think they
have injured us, even when we find they haven't really injured us at
all. I mean we are bound to get back into love and charity with them,
whether the lapse from love and charity was their fault or ours."

Frank nodded his head in the way that reminded me so of Fay. "I know
exactly what you are driving at. When we quarrel with anybody we've
got to bury the hatchet before we can be happy or good again: and the
original ownership of the hatchet has no effect whatever upon the
importance of the funeral."

"Precisely so. I'd got to forgive you whether you'd done anything
needing forgiveness or not: because I believed you had, and acted
according to that belief. Therefore it was imperative upon me to root
the bitterness towards you out of my heart: the fact that the
bitterness to a great extent was undeserved, did not altogether rob it
of its flavour. Well, then, that is the first thing: I want you to
know that at last I am at peace with you after nearly three years of
hot anger against you: whether you in any way deserved that anger, is
your affair not mine."

Here Frank's enforced silence broke down. "I didn't deserve it as much
as you thought, but I did deserve it a bit. I never tried to set Fay
against you: but when I saw she was set against you, I induced her to
cut and run, instead of using my influence to make her see things in a
different light, and to bring you and her together again. After all is
said and done, you were her husband: and when I saw the bond between
you was loosening I ought to have helped to tie it tight again instead
of undoing it altogether. Let's try to be just all round!"

"I am trying to be just," I replied: "and therefore I admit that though
I myself was the principal culprit, you were not altogether free from
blame."

"No, I wasn't. Neither was Fay, when you come to that, though I know
you won't let me say so."

"Certainly I won't: so don't try it on. Let us pass on to the next
thing. And that is that as I have forgiven you, so God has forgiven
me, and has restored to me my power of healing."

"Oh, Reggie, is that really true? I minded that more than anything!"
Frank's voice was hoarse with emotion and his language was confused:
but I understood him right enough.

"Yes: I was instrumental in healing Mrs. Pearson's baby this morning;


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