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the first time that I have been permitted to do such a thing since Fay
went away." Then I changed the subject hastily, with that shyness
which all Englishmen feel when speaking about the matters that concern
their own souls. "And there is yet another thing I want to say; that
is to ask you to make your permanent home with me here. You can go
over and visit your relations in Australia as often as you like; but I
want you to feel that this is your real home. I have been very lonely
ever since Fay went away. I was going to add, 'and ever since Annabel
was married,' but candidly I don't think that really made much
difference. When the worst has happened, minor troubles don't count.
But you seem almost part of Fay - a sort of legacy that she has left me,
because she loved us both: and I feel that it would please her if we
devoted the rest of our lives to taking care of each other."

Frank was trying so hard to choke back his sob that he could not speak.
He was still very weak after his awful experiences in Belgium. So I
went on, order to give him time to recover himself.

"I think we shall be happy together, my boy, in a second-rate sort of
way; but we can never be really perfectly happy until we see Fay again.
At least I know I can't. But that is the worst of wrong-doing, or of
any infringement of the great law of Love." I still continued talking,
seeing that the boy was not yet master of himself: "We repent our
wrong-doing, and God forgives us, and we know it will all come right
again some day: but not here, or now. Between us you and I managed to
spoil Fay's life; and no repentance of ours will set that right in this
life, nor undo the harm that we (however unconsciously) wrought. There
is no bringing the shadow on the dial ten degrees backward. We may
pretend to ourselves that there is, but there isn't really. God still
performs many miracles, but not that one. Of course He _could_ if He
so willed it, but He certainly _doesn't_; and so what is done is done,
and what is past is past, and it is only left to us to bear with God's
help the consequences of our own misdeeds."

To my surprise the usually undemonstrative Frank sprang up from the
couch where he was lying, and flung himself on his knees beside my
chair, at the same time throwing his thin arms round my neck. "Yes,
Reggie, He can," he gasped between his sobs: "He can and He will and He
does."

I turned my head in surprise, and for the first time since Frank's
return to Restham, I saw his face within close range of my
short-sighted eyes. For a moment I was literally paralysed with
amazement, and my heart and pulses seemed to stand still and then to
rush on in a very delirium of unheard-of joy. For the face into which
I looked at such close quarters - the face quivering with emotion and
disfigured with tears, and yet to me the dearest and most beautiful
face in the whole world - was not Frank's at all - but Fay's!




CHAPTER XXIV

CONCLUSION

This then is the story of the drama of my life; the story of how in my
case the greatest miracle of all was accomplished, and the shadow on
the dial was brought ten degrees backward. She who had been dead was
alive again, she who had been lost was found. The past was given back
to me to be lived over again, with its misdeeds expiated and its
mistakes retrieved.

I learnt from my darling that the greater part of what she had told me
was absolutely true; only that it was Frank who gave his life to save
the child that was playing in the sun when the shells began to fall in
that doomed street of Louvain - not Fay.

So Frank Wildacre died the death of a hero: for there is no more
glorious death for any man than to give his life for another's. Again
it struck me afresh, as it had often struck me before, how since the
beginning of the Great War the prophecy had been literally fulfilled
that the last should be first, and the first last. Frank, who had been
thoughtless and irresponsible and frivolous, had been called to lay
down his life for one of those little ones whose angels do always
behold the Face of the Father: whilst I, who had taken the world so
seriously, and had ever longed to do great deeds and think high
thoughts, was left amongst the useless ones at home. Yet we were all
part of the great army of the living God, and it was not for us to pick
and choose who should go forth with the hosts and who should stay at
home by the stuff. That was all left in the Hands of "Our Captain,
Christ, under Whose colours we had fought so long."

Frank only lived for about an hour after he was hit. They managed to
carry him into a house, but there was no hope from the first. He was
conscious almost to the end; and he devoted those last moments to
careful thought for his sister. He told her to cut off her long hair
and dress herself up in his clothes, and try to get away to England as
soon as she could, as it was not safe for her to remain in Belgium now
that he was no longer there to take care of her: and as terrible and
ghastly rumours were already current as to the unspeakable way in which
the ruthless invaders were treating such women as were hapless enough
to fall into their hands, he thought Fay would be safer if her sex were
not known. And so he fell on sleep.

As soon as Frank had passed to his well-earned reward, Fay followed out
all his instructions to the letter, and succeeded, after many
vicissitudes, in escaping to England with a crowd of Belgian refugees.
No one penetrated her disguise - not even Isabel Chayford, who put down
Fay's extraordinary likeness to her own self to the fact that she and
Frank were twins, and so were expected to resemble one another. And
Fay kept to her own room most of the time that she was at the
Chayfords', for fear Isabel should discover her identity. Ponty found
her out at once: there was never any deceiving Ponty! But Fay could
always twist my old nurse round her little finger, and therefore Ponty
kept her secret for her.

To this hour I cannot conceive how I could have been such a fool as not
to know my darling the moment I set eyes on her. But the grim fact
remains that I am by nature a fool, and this was one of the occasions
of my displaying my folly. My one excuse - and a feeble one it is! - is
my extreme short-sightedness: the first moment that Fay's dear face was
close to my own I recognised her like a shot: but lying in the
Chesterfield on the other side of the fire-place, with her short curly
hair and elfin face, she looked so like Frank that I took it for
granted she was Frank; and she was so much aged and changed, alas! by
all she had suffered, that she had lost much of her likeness to the Fay
of the past. As to her voice, Frank's was so high for a man's and hers
was so deep for a woman's that I frequently had mistaken the one for
the other in the old days: so no wonder I did so now, when I was
convinced in my own mind that Fay was dead, and that Frank was talking
to me from the other side of the great fire-place.

I gathered that Fay's original idea was to find out whether or not I
had forgiven her. If I had, she meant to reveal herself to me and to
ask me to take her back as my wife: but if I had not forgiven her, she
intended to return to Australia, leaving me with the idea that she was
dead and I was free. A wild, childish scheme, just like my
impracticable darling!

But when Isabel told her how deeply my anger against Frank had eaten
into my very soul, destroying my gift of healing and coming between me
and my God, Fay realised that there was far more at stake than just the
relations between herself and me. The salvation of my soul was hanging
in the balance, and it was for her dear hands to adjust the scales.
With an insight beyond her years, she understood that before I could
find peace I must forgive Frank, believing him to be alive: the easy
forgiveness which we accord to the dead, who can no longer hurt or be
hurt by us, was not the thing that was demanded of me. I was called
upon to forgive Frank fully and freely, even although I believed that
it was through him that my darling had gone to her death, and that
therefore there was no possibility of her ever coming back to me, or of
the wrong which he had done me ever being rectified.

This my darling enabled me to do, and thereby saved my soul alive.

And now we are once more all in all to each other; and the love that is
stronger than death can lighten even the long shadows cast by the Great
War.


I do not think there is any more to add to my story, save the
interesting fact that we have christened our first-born son _Francis_.

At present he finds his sole occupation in mewling and puking in his
nurse's arms; but his beloved mother and I have every reason to hope
that eventually he will learn to employ his time with more profit both
to himself and to the world at large.

I think that some day "Sir Francis Kingsnorth" will be quite an
effective name and sound very well indeed. But I shall not be there to
hear it.



THE END













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Online LibraryEllen Thorneycroft FowlerTen Degrees Backward → online text (page 22 of 22)