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them so far apart, but he wouldn't listen to me. The other servants
are foolish not to take my advice, for I knew Miss Annabel before some
of them were born or thought of. She must have her own way, and she
must have it done in her own way, or there's no peace for anybody."

"That being the case, you see my urgent need for the soothing effects
of tobacco."

But Ponty shook her head. "I should try and get soothed in some other
way, if I was you, Master Reggie: say with a peppermint drop or an
Albert biscuit. Why, there was once a man at Poppenhall when my father
was a lad - - "

"I knew there was," I murmured. I felt that there was a judgment
impending, and I would not have missed it for worlds.

"Who smoked and smoked till his throat was all lined with soot, like a
kitchen-chimney," continued Ponty; "and one day a spark went down his
throat from his pipe and set fire to the soot, and he was burned to
death in a few minutes. You see, the fire being inside him, no one
could get at it to put it out."

"How very shocking! But why didn't the soot choke him before he had
time to get it on fire? I should have thought an accumulation of soot
in the throat was a most unwholesome thing, apart from the danger of
fire."

"It was a judgment upon him, that's all I can say, and it isn't for us
to dictate whether Providence shall punish evildoers by choking or by
burning."

"Certainly not," I replied. "I am the last person to take it upon
myself to dictate to Providence."

"But smoking or no smoking, it's a fair treat to see you and Miss
Annabel at home again," said Ponty with a most gracious smile; "for
when all's said and done the house don't seem like the house without
you. For my part, I don't hold with so much gadding about; I never
did; but you and Miss Annabel was always set on having your own way,
and I doubt always will be."

"Set on having Annabel's way, you mean," I amended.

"Just so, Master Reggie; from the time you were a little boy Miss
Annabel always made up your mind for you, and I doubt if she'll ever
get out of the habit now. But it's a pity! For though I'm the last to
say a word against Miss Annabel, me having nursed her ever since she
was a month old, and the most beautiful baby you ever saw, with a
complexion like wax, still she's a bit too wilful, and you and your
poor papa always having given way to her has made her worse. It
doesn't do to be too self-willed."

"But I'm not," I pleaded.

"No; more's the pity! It would be a sight better for Miss Annabel if
you were. I don't hold with folks always getting their own way,
especially women. I remember a well-to-do woman at Poppenhall when I
was a girl who was that set on marrying a particular man as never was,
and nothing else would do to content her. And they lived on at her
house after they were married, her being a woman of means. He caught
the fever from drinking the water out of her well, the well not having
been cleaned out for years and most unhealthy, and died just a month
after their wedding-day, which I hold was a judgment on her for being
so set on marrying that particular man."

"But any other man might have got the fever from the insanitary well,"
I suggested.

"But no other man ever did. Which is a lesson to us all not to be too
set on having our own way, nor to let other people be too set either.
I doubt that trouble will come some day from your being so under the
thumb of Miss Annabel; I do indeed; and I'm sure I'm sorry in my heart
for Cutler when the things in the garden don't come exactly as she
meant them to."

"I'm sorry for him, too," I added. And I really was.

"No, I don't hold with folks as have beautiful houses spending half
their time away from them. It isn't right to leave fine houses and
beautiful furniture with only a lot of ignorant young housemaids to
keep them all clean. It's agen nature. Of course I see after them to
the best of my power, but I'm not what I was, and they are more so. I
remember a gentleman living near Poppenhall, when my father was a lad,
who was always leaving his beautiful house with only servants to look
after it, and spending months and months in foreign parts, and the
consequence was that once when he was away the house was struck by
lightning!"

"But I don't see what the difference his absence could make to the
lightning," I ventured to suggest.

But Ponty would have none of my casuistry. "It made all the
difference, Master Reggie; for the house was never struck as long as he
was at home. It was just a judgment upon him for leaving it."

That was the charm of Ponty: she could always wriggle with grace and
dignity out of her own statements. Had she only been a man this gift
would assuredly have raised her to eminence in Parliament, and would
have made her a shining ornament of any Ministry.

After a little more improving conversation with my old nurse I strolled
downstairs and out of doors, where I found Annabel talking to a
chastened Cutler by the forget-me-not bed.

"Come for a stroll round the garden," I said, slipping my arm into
hers, "and let us see if the vine has flourished and the pomegranates
have budded, as they did in the Song of Solomon."

"I don't see how we can do that," replied Annabel, "considering that it
is too early for grapes, and we have no pomegranates. As a matter of
fact, I don't believe pomegranates ever do grow in England. Do you
know whether they do?"

"No, I don't, and I don't want to. I only know that vines and
pomegranates and all the other glorious things of the Song of Songs
seem to be in the air when spring begins. It is a Song of Spring."

"It always seems to me a very peculiar sort of song," remarked Annabel;
"and I don't understand it and don't pretend to. I remember Uncle
William once expounding it at prayers for the sake of the servants, but
I doubt if they were much the wiser for his exposition. I know I
wasn't."

"_I_ should have been," I exclaimed fervently. "It must have been a
liberal education to hear him. And to think that it was wasted upon
you and the servants, when I - who alone could have appreciated it - was
not there!"

"It wasn't only me and the servants: papa was there and Aunt Maria, and
there were several people staying in the house."

"By the way, Ponty has delivered herself of a simply priceless judgment
to-day," I said, and proceeded to retail to my sister the story of the
man whose house was struck by lightning because he left it too much to
servants.

Annabel laughed heartily. Then, after a moment's pause, she said: "But
all the same, Reggie, I don't quite see what difference his being at
home would have made."

I stood still in the garden path, and regarded my sister with profound
admiration not unmixed with wonder. "Annabel," I exclaimed, "in your
own particular way you are almost as priceless as Ponty!"




CHAPTER III

FRANK

One afternoon a few days after the foregoing conversations, when
Annabel and I were seated round (as far as it is in the power of two
persons to sit round anything) the old gate-legged table in the hall at
the Manor, having our respective teas, the door-bell clanged, and the
butler in due sequence ushered into our midst Arthur Blathwayte and
another - which other was destined to play an important part in the
dawning drama of my life.

I will try to describe him, though to my mind the Wildacres always
beggared description: they were so utterly unlike everybody else that
there were no known standards by which to measure them. On that April
afternoon when he first crossed my path, Frank Wildacre was eighteen,
and looked both more and less. He was by no means tall, but so
slenderly built that he seemed taller than he really was until one
compared him with other men, and this smallness and slightness added to
the boyishness of his appearance. His face was neither old nor
young - or, rather, it was both. It possessed somehow the youthfulness
of dawn and of springtime, and of all those things which have retained
their undimmed youth through the march of the centuries. It was not so
much that Frank Wildacre was young; everybody has been young at some
time or another, and has got over it sooner or later: it was rather
that he was youth itself.

I could not tell when first I saw him whether his face was beautiful or
not: I cannot tell now; I only knew that it was wonderful, strange,
glorious, unlike any other face in the world - save one: and that one I
had not yet seen.

I perceived that his hair was dark and curly, and that his eyes were of
that deep and mysterious grey which sometimes looks blue and sometimes
black: also that he had that pale delicacy of skin and complexion which
makes other people appear coarse and clumsy by contrast. Thus far even
my short-sighted eyes could carry me. But it was not by their aid that
I became conscious of that strange and subtle gift, possessed to such
an extreme degree by Wildacre and his children, which for want of a
better name men call charm. It was elusive, it was bewitching, it was
indescribable; but all the same it was _there_.

It was not the usual human charm of ordinary attractive people. It was
something far more magical and spell-weaving than that. In fact it was
so unusual that there was almost something uncanny about it. It was
the charm of fairies and of elves rather than of "golden boys and
girls": it was a spell woven out of moonbeams and will-o'-the-wisp
rather than out of breezes and the sunshine of a soft spring day. I
never met any one with that peculiar kind of charm save Wildacre and
his son and daughter, and his children - more especially the
daughter - had it to a far greater extent than he. But it was that
strange fascination of Wildacre's that induced Blathwayte to upset his
whole scheme of existence in order to gratify Wildacre's whim, and it
was that same attribute intensified in the twins that turned my world
upside down and reduced its orderly routine to chaos.

Big, ugly Arthur - looking bigger and uglier than usual beside the
ethereal boy - shook hands with us, and introduced his guest, and in a
few moments the fairy changeling was sitting at the gate-legged table
with us three ordinary mortals, drinking tea like any English
schoolboy. But he was not like an English schoolboy in any other
respect.

He was perfectly at ease with us at once, as indeed he was with
everybody. There was no such word as _shyness_ in Frank Wildacre's
dictionary. But the funny thing was that - quite unconsciously to
himself - he seemed to be bestowing a favour upon Annabel and me in
condescending to drink tea with us, while (if the truth must be told)
Annabel and I generally considered it rather an act of graciousness on
our part to invite any one to tea at Restham Manor. I think it must
have been the Winterford blood bubbling in our veins that produced this
exclusive and archaic feeling, or it might have been merely a symptom
of the general grooviness of single middle age.

Frank was delighted with Restham, and hastened to tell us so, thereby
grappling Annabel to his soul with hoops of steel. Blathwayte had
already told him the history and legends of the place; and he had
assimilated these as if he had known them for years. And he not only
assimilated them: he seemed to give them back again to us so enriched
with the decoration of his fancy that we - who had been brought up on
them - realised for the first time how beautiful they were.

"So Mr. Blathwayte has told you that we are situated on the Pilgrim's
Road," said Annabel, after the conversation had flowed for some minutes
like a river in spate.

"Of course he has," replied the boy, his delicate face aglow; "and that
is one of the things that has made Restham so awfully interesting. But
what makes it even more thrilling to me is that the road was a Roman
road too, and so was trodden by Cæsar's legions before such things as
pilgrims were ever invented. Do you know, Miss Kingsnorth, I'm not
tremendously keen on pilgrims myself? They seem to have made
themselves so unnecessarily uncomfortable, with peas in their shoes,
and hair-shirts, and things of that kind. And they were so dirty, too,
and seemed to think there was some sort of virtue in not having a bath
when they needed one."

"And they were Papists also," added Annabel.

Frank, however, treated this fault with considerable leniency. "I
don't mind so much about that; you see you had to be a Papist in those
days or else a heathen; and though I am nuts on heathens myself, I know
that lots of people don't approve of them. Of course I don't care for
the modern sort of common or garden heathens, who wear black skins
instead of clothes, and are the stock-in-trade of missionaries. What I
like are the dear old Greek and Roman heathens, who worshipped the gods
and the heroes, and who had groves instead of churches, and vestal
virgins instead of nuns."

To my surprise Annabel was not at all shocked by this, as she ought to
have been. But you never can tell what will shock or will not shock a
thoroughly nice-minded woman. "I am glad you do not approve of nuns,"
was all she said, and she said it quite amiably.

"Oh, I can't bear them," replied Frank; "their dresses are so
hideous - just like mummy-costumes; and pilgrims, you know, were all
more or less on the same lines - trying to make themselves as ugly and
as uncomfortable as possible. I'll bet you anything that when they
came to the top of Restham Hill they were looking down and counting
their beads instead of revelling in the view of the weald and the wind
over the downs, and all the rest of the open-air jolliness."

Here Blathwayte gently interposed. "I think, my dear boy, that you are
rather mixing up the Greek and the Roman periods. Remember they were
two distinct civilizations."

"But the principle was the same," retorted Frank airily; "gods and
goddesses and marble temples, instead of priests and pilgrims and
stuffy churches. No, Miss Kingsnorth," he added, flashing his
brilliant smile on Annabel, as if it had been a searchlight, "none of
your mediæval pilgrims on the Canterbury Road for me, but rather the
Roman Johnnies making a bee-line for London, with the adventures of a
new country shouting to them to come on. Of course they'd think that
if the England south of Restham was so jolly, the England north of
Restham would be ten times jollier, because the things in front always
seem so much nicer than the things behind, don't you know!"

"Only when you are young," I remarked. "I believe it was merely the
young Roman legionaries who felt like that. I expect the older ones
longed to stay in the pleasant Kentish county for fear that by going
further they would eventually fare worse."

The boy laughed gaily. "No, no, Sir Reginald, they weren't so stuffy
as all that! They were out on an adventure, you see, and the
adventure-spirit turned everything into a picnic. Therefore when I
climb up Restham Hill I like to feel the Roman legions marching beside
me, with all the fun of a new World in front of them. They shall be my
ghostly companions rather than the stodgy old pilgrims who looked down
at their beads and limped on their peas."

"But the pilgrims were adventurous too," I argued. "Remember there are
adventures of the soul as well as of the body, and to my mind the tramp
of the paid legionaries, marching stolidly up the hill in the wake of
the Roman eagles, was nothing like so thrilling an adventure as the
descent of the same hill by the bands of pilgrims on their way to
Canterbury. The Roman soldier had no individual interests: he was part
of a huge system or machine. It mattered little to him personally
whether the particular eagle which he followed hovered over Britain or
over Gaul."

Here Arthur interrupted me. "The pilgrim was part of a huge system
also, only his system was not called an Empire, but a Church."

"Precisely," I answered; "and there is where the greater
adventurousness of the pilgrim comes in; for it is far more exciting to
belong to a Church than to an Empire."

"My hat!" exclaimed the irrepressible boy; "if a fellow will say that
he'll say anything!"

"I _will_ say anything," I replied, "often I do, provided, of course,
that anything is true."

"Or that you think it true," amended Arthur.

"Which comes to the same thing, as far as I am concerned," I added.

"I do not agree with you in that," said Annabel; "thinking things are
so, doesn't make them so."

"Morally speaking it does," I argued. "If I think it is wrong to eat
meat on a Friday, it is wrong of me to eat it; and if I think it is
wrong to play games on a Sunday, it is wrong of me to play them."

"Not at all," retorted Annabel; "the cases are absolutely different.
It _is_ wrong to play games on a Sunday, and would be just as wrong for
you as for anybody else. But as to there being anything wrong in
eating meat on a Friday, the idea is absolutely absurd, and nothing
that you could think about it would make it an atom less ridiculous."

"Annabel, you are simply priceless!" I exclaimed.

"I see no pricelessness in that," replied my sister; "I'm only talking
common sense."

"Not common, Annabel; far from common; sense as rare as it is
priceless!"

"Oh, Reggie, how silly you are! Isn't he absurd, Mr. Wildacre?"

"Please don't call me Mr. Wildacre, it makes me feel a hundred, and an
enemy at that. Call me Frank, and in return I'll call Sir Reginald any
name you like. And now, Sir Reginald, please tell us why you think
your pilgrims had more fun in the long run than my legions?"

"Simply because their run was so much longer, and so could hold so much
more. You admit that the adventure of the legions consisted in their
anticipations of seeing and possessing a new country; but I maintain
that the adventure on which the pilgrims had embarked included not only
a new country, but a new heaven and a new earth. The Pilgrims' Way was
not merely the way to Canterbury: it was the way, via Canterbury, to
the New Jerusalem."

The mocking grey eyes suddenly grew thoughtful. "I see what you are
driving at, Sir Reginald. You are thinking of all that the pilgrimage
stood for rather than of just the pilgrimage itself."

"Of course I am. And to find the true value of anything, you must
think of all that it stands for rather than of the thing itself. The
Crown of England means more than the bejewelled head-gear which is kept
in a glass case in the Tower; the colours of a regiment are not valued
at the rate of so much per yard of tattered silk; and a wedding-ring
means far more to a woman than an ounce or so of twenty-two carat gold."

"Are wedding-rings made of twenty-two carat gold?" asked Annabel in her
unquenchable thirst for information; "I thought eighteen carat was the
purest gold ever used."

"So it is for ordinary jewellery," explained Arthur; "but
wedding-rings, I have always heard, are made of twenty-two carat. At
least that is what is generally believed; but I cannot say whether it
is more than a tradition, like the idea that the sun will put a fire
out."

"But is that only a tradition?" Annabel asked. "I always pull the
blinds down when the sunshine falls on the fire, for fear of putting it
out."

"For fear of putting which out," I inquired, "the sunshine or the fire?"

"The fire, of course. How could anything put the sunshine out, Reggie?
How silly you are!"

"It is pure superstition," answered Blathwayte, who found it as blessed
to give information as did my sister to receive it; "a fire naturally
by force of contrast looks less brilliant in the sunlight than in the
shade, but the sunlight has no actual effect on it whatsoever."

At this juncture I happened to catch Frank's eye, and to my delight
perceived that the humour of the situation struck him as it struck me.
Of course I knew how funny it was of Annabel and Arthur to take hold of
all the romance of life, and transmute it - by some strange alchemy of
their own - into useful and intelligent information; I had seen them at
it for years and years, and had never failed to enjoy the sight; but it
was very clever of Frank, who had known Arthur for two months and
Annabel for twenty minutes, to see that it was funny also.

"My last question was not so silly after all," I remarked. "I think
the sunshine of life is frequently extinguished by a too great
absorption in the cares of the domestic hearth. See, for instance,
those numerous cases where the energy of the spring-fever expends
itself upon the exigencies of the spring-cleaning."

"I hate a spring-cleaning," exclaimed Frank: "it always means that
everything is put back into something else's place, and you can never
find anything you want till you've left off wanting it."

"But you find all the things you wanted the spring before last," I
added, "and have now forgotten that you ever possessed, and have no
longer any use for."

"And all your books seem to have played General Post," continued Frank;
"Volume One has changed places with Volume Six, and the dictionary is
where the Bible ought to be, and the cookery book is among the poems."

"I never keep a Bible in a bookcase," remarked Annabel; "it somehow
doesn't seem reverent to do so."

I could not let this pass. "Yes, you do: you keep one in that bookcase
in your bedroom. I've seen it there."

"Oh! a bookcase in a bedroom is quite a different thing from an
ordinary library bookcase, Reggie; in fact I never keep any but
religious books in my bedroom bookcase. One doesn't, somehow."

"I cannot see," I argued, "why a hanging bookcase in a
bedroom - forming, mark you, a companion ornament to the medicine-chest
on the other side of the wardrobe - is a more reverent resting-place for
a Bible than is the shelf of a well-stocked library. Why should
clothes and drugs exhale a more holy atmosphere than secular
literature?"

But no arguments ever shook Annabel. "I can't explain why it's
different, but it is different, Reggie; and if you don't see it, you
ought to. And I'm sure the sun does put it out, Arthur, because I've
seen it do it."

Whereupon Arthur proceeded to expound at some length the reason why it
was scientifically impossible for sunlight to put out firelight; whilst
Frank and I took the opportunity of stepping out-of-doors into the
garden.

"I see what you mean about things being so much more than they actually
are, Sir Reginald," began the boy as soon as we were out of earshot of
the effects - or rather the non-effects - of sun upon fire; "it never
struck me quite like that before, but it makes everything most awfully
interesting when you look at it in that way."

"I know it does. And it is not only the most interesting way - it is
also the truest way - of looking at things. You see, when you realise
how much is involved in even the smallest happenings - how much romance
and excitement and general thrilliness - it turns everything into the
most glorious adventure."

Frank nodded his approval of these sentiments. "I know, and adventures
are such splendid things, aren't they? But I say, it's most awfully
decent of you to have ideas like this, and to be so keen on adventures
and things of that kind!"

"At my age, you mean?" I added, with a smile; but I cannot affirm that
the smile was untainted by bitterness.

Frank nodded again. "You might be the same age as Fay and me, to hear
you talk," he replied, with more graciousness than grammar. "I'll tell
you what: Fay will like you most awfully. She is tremendously keen on
people who have queer ideas and talk about feelings and things of that
kind. She hates ordinary sort of talk about clothes and the weather
and other people's servants, and she positively loathes information, or
anything at all instructive."

"Then I am afraid she and my sister will not have much in common," I
said, little dreaming that, like Micaiah the son of Imlah, I was
prophesying evil concerning me.

"Not they! Fay'll have no use for Miss Kingsnorth, and not much for
old Blathwayte. They'll be altogether too improving for her. But
she'll take to you most tremendously, you bet!"

I was elated at this. The approval of one's juniors is apt to go to
one's head like wine. But at the same time I felt a certain disloyalty
in being uplifted at Annabel's expense. "Fay will find my sister a
very kind friend as well as a very competent one," I replied rather
stiffly.

But my stiffness was wasted on the desert air. "Oh, I'm sure Miss
Kingsnorth is awfully kind," said Frank airily, "and so is old
Blathwayte, if you come to that. But they aren't a bit Fay's sort.


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