Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler.

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royal and romantic snail. It seems to give such a delicious old
flavour to houses, for her even to have dozed in them. But though she
was all right sleeping, I can't say that I am fond of her in her waking
moments, are you?"

"I consider she was a great woman," replied Annabel, "and such a friend
to the English Church."

But friendship towards the English Church was not the sort of thing to
appeal to Miss Wildacre. "Still, think of her behaviour to Mary Queen
of Scots," she expostulated: "I can never forgive her for that. Think
of cutting off that beautiful head out of sheer jealousy! It was
simply abominable!"

"Mary Stuart was a Papist," replied Annabel, as if that fact were in
itself an excuse for any atrocity. And to Annabel's mind I verily
believe it was.

"I don't see what that has to do with it, Miss Kingsnorth: I really
don't see that people's religion matters much to anybody except
themselves, provided, of course, that they're decent and don't practice
Obi or devil-worship, or go in for human sacrifices, or do any quite
impossible things of that kind. I think that religion is very much a
matter of temperament, don't you? - and that what's good for one person
is bad for another."

I felt it was high time for me to interfere, so, throwing off Frank's
affectionate arm, I joined the two ladies, and suggested that I should
show Fay over the house before tea.

It was an intense delight to show Fay Wildacre the house that was so
dear to me. At the time I wondered that so apparently small a thing
should afford such an infinity of pleasure; but later on I understood
the reason why. On we went through the old rooms and along the old
corridors, Fay enlivening the way with her deliciously naïve
conversation and comments, which - though always charming to me - I was
sometimes relieved that Annabel could not hear. I was fast coming to
the conclusion that Fay would have to be Bowdlerized for Annabel, and
that the work of Bowdlerization would fall upon me. And to Bowdlerize
one human being for another is a terrible task for any man, more
especially if the two people happen to be women, and most especially if
they happen to be women both dear to him.

Finally we came to the nursery, where Ponty sat in state.

"This is my old nurse," I said, introducing the curtsying Ponty to Fay,
"and this, Ponty, is Miss Wildacre, who has come to live at the
Rectory."

"How do you do?" said Fay, shaking hands in that charming manner of
hers which combined the candour of a child with the dignity of a
princess, and the smile which accompanied her words went straight to
Ponty's faithful old heart, and never came out again any more for ever.
"Sir Reginald has been showing me all over the house, and kept his old
nursery as the nicest bit of all to come at the end."

"And Master Reggie was quite right, miss," replied Ponty; "for sure and
certain no children ever had a cosier nursery than he and Miss Annabel
had here: so warm and light and airy, that it's no wonder they grew
into such a fine pair."

"Oh, I expect they owe their fineness to their nurse rather than to
their nursery," said Fay, with her ready tact; "they grew so tall
because you took such good care of them. I dare say if they hadn't had
you for a nurse they'd have been no bigger than my brother and me."

"Mr Wildacre is small, I admit, miss; but you're quite a good height,
though so thin. However, I doubt the Restham air will soon put that to
rights. I remember when I was a child there was a girl came to
Poppenhall - Poppenhall being my old home in the Midlands - so thin and
delicate-looking that you could see through her, as the saying is, she
having been brought up in London, where the air is half smoke and the
milk is half water. And by the time she'd been at Poppenhall three
months - being out-of-doors and milk warm from the cows three times a
day - she was that stout that she broke the springs of my grandfather's
gig when he took her back to the station in it."

Fay nodded her head in the engaging little way that she shared with her
brother. "I dare say Restham will have a similar effect on me, and
that when I leave I shall have to be drawn out of the place by a
traction-engine."

Ponty beamed. "I see you're like Mr. Wildacre, miss, always ready for
a bit of fun."

"Still you must admit that Restham hasn't made Sir Reginald very fat,"
said Fay, looking me up and down with a critical eye. (And for the
first time in my life I thanked Heaven that Restham hadn't.)

"No, miss; there you have me. Master Reggie was always one of
Pharaoh's lean kine, and always will be. It didn't seem to matter when
he was young, as I like to see young folks slim and active; but I must
say that at his time of life he ought to be getting a bit more flesh on
his bones, to help him to fill up his position and look more important
and like what a baronet should be."

Again I was conscious of a distinct wave of irritation. Why would
Annabel and Ponty rub it in so about my age? Surely they could have
left the subject alone - for this one afternoon, at any rate!

"I suppose when all's said and done," continued Ponty, "it is a
judgment on him for not getting married. Now if he'd only a wife and
half-a-dozen children to look after him - as he ought to have at his
age - he'd be as stout and well-liking as anybody."

"I don't believe a wife and half-a-dozen children would look after him
as well as you and Miss Kingsnorth do," said Fay, with some truth, in
nowise shocked at the mention of the half-dozen children, as Annabel
would have been at her age.

"But it 'ud be more natural, miss. Still, as I always say, there's
hope for all, and marrying late is in Sir Reginald's family on both
sides. Her ladyship was by no means young when she married, and Sir
John was getting on in years. Which being the case, I haven't but lost
hope for Sir Reginald or even for Miss Annabel; though I must own as
the gentleman as gets Miss Annabel will have found his master, whoever
he may be."

Fay smiled, and I tried hard not to. It seemed somehow more disloyal
to smile at Annabel with Fay than with Frank. "Come and see the view,"
I said, going to the deep bay-window, the window-seat of which had been
our toy-box in the years gone by.

Fay expressed her admiration in no measured terms, and then we said
good-bye to Ponty and retraced our steps.

"How lovely it must be to have had the same home all your life!"
exclaimed Fay. "To have moved on an axis instead of in an orbit, and
to have looked at the same things with the eyes of different ages!"

"I suppose you have had a good many different homes," I said.

"Oh, scores and scores. Both Father and Mother were very restless
people, and never could settle long in the same place. And after
Mother died, Father grew even more restless, and was always wanting to
be on the move. Frankie and I are annuals - not perennials - and have
never taken root anywhere."

"Still it must have been rather exciting to move about so much."

"It was, in a picnicky sort of way, and of course it kept one from
getting even the tiniest bit moss-grown or worm-eaten. But the
nuisance of it was that we never could find anything that we wanted,
because things get so awfully muddled up in a move, and no one can
remember where they have been put."

"I conclude that a move is even worse than a spring-cleaning," I
remarked.

"Much, much worse, though on the same lines; a sort of spring-cleaning
possessed by the Devil."

"And I suppose that all the lost goods turned up eventually?"

Fay nodded her head with the little trick of manner I had already
unconsciously begun to love. "A move - like the sea - will eventually
give up its dead; but it does so on the instalment principle."

By that time we were down in the entrance-hall again, where Annabel was
presiding over the tea-table, and Frank officiating as a sort of
acolyte.

"Come and have some tea," I said, giving Fay a seat at the gate-legged
table.

And I felt younger and gladder than I had felt for years at the sight
of poor Wildacre's daughter sitting at my board and eating my salt.




CHAPTER V

THE FIRST MIRACLE

That summer was to me a trip into fairyland.

In the first place I threw up the role of uncle which Annabel has so
thoughtfully cast for me, and played the part of Romeo instead: that is
to say, for the first time in all my forty-two years, I fell madly and
irretrievably in love.

There is no need to expatiate upon my symptoms. Those who have
themselves travelled through Arcady know all about the effect of the
excursion without any explanations from me, and to those who have never
set foot upon the enchanted shores, a description of the trip would be
both wearisome and unintelligible. Consequently I (as I think wisely)
forbear.

But I not only visited the paradise of Love that happy summer; I also
visited the paradise of Youth. For the first time in my life - save the
time of my residence in Oxford, when my constitutional shyness marred
the joy of intercourse with my contemporaries - I was thrown into the
society of young people, and lived in an atmosphere of joyous adventure
untainted by any breath of care or responsibility. Sometimes as I
stood on the lawn of the Manor House and looked at the moss-grown old
sundial, I thought to myself that for me the ancient miracle had once
again been wrought, and the shadow on the dial had been moved ten
degrees backward. But underneath this delightful fancy lay the hard,
unyielding truth - supported by Burke and Debrett in print, and by
Annabel and Ponty in practical politics - that, however juvenile and
sentimental I might feel, I was still a man of forty-two, with the
greater part of my life behind me, while Fay was standing on the
threshold of her opening womanhood, with the kingdoms of this world
still spread before her advancing feet.

The uncle-myth still held sway in Annabel's imagination; therefore it
never occurred to her that any sort of chaperonage was needful as
between myself and Fay. For this I was devoutly thankful. True, Frank
was with us whenever he could elude Blathwayte's conscientious
preparation of him for the University; but Arthur's rule, if kind, was
firm, and consequently Fay and I spent long and blissful hours together
with no one to intrude into our _solitude à deux_.

It did not take me long to discover that though the twins were so much
alike outwardly - not only in appearance, but also in voice and manner,
and in tricks of thought and speech - the resemblance was merely a
superficial one. Their bodies and their minds were cast in the same
mould; but their hearts and their souls differed fundamentally. Frank
was the elf throughout: his feelings were transient and wayward. But
underneath his sister's fairylike appearance and demeanour, there was
hidden the loving and faithful heart of a true woman. Frank was the
cold-blooded merman untouched by mortal pain and sorrow; but Fay was
the little sea-maid who had found a soul.

It was the time of hay-harvest, when all the world is filled with
fragrance, and every separate hayfield is a picture in itself. Fay and
I were sitting under a hedge in one of the upper meadows, watching the
old-world drama of haymaking being played in the valley below, in which
drama Frank was assisting.

"Isn't it all perfectly ideal?" Fay exclaimed. "I never in my life
knew anything so exquisite as an English summer!"

"I never in all my life knew anything so exquisite as this particular
English summer," I replied.

"I suppose it is unusually fine weather for the time of year," said
Fay, with a sly smile.

"It is not on the weather that this summer bases its claim to
super-excellence," I explained.

"Indeed: on the circumstances then, I suppose?"

"No, on the company. I have arrived at the interesting conclusion that
a summer minus you is not really a summer at all, only a sort of
dress-rehearsal of the real performance."

"I see," said Fay; "one swallow does not make a summer, but one
Wildacre does."

"One Fay Wildacre," I corrected her. "Frank alone would only be able
to make a spring: plenty of promise but no fulfilment, and a cold wind
at the back of the sunshine."

Fay nodded her pretty curly head. "That's rather a neat description of
Frankie. Now you mention it, he is like a brilliantly sunny day with a
cold wind in the background ready to pop round the corner at any moment
and shrivel you up. Although Frankie is so adorable when he likes, I
don't think he has got what people call a warm heart; do you?"

"I think he is very fond of you," I replied diplomatically.

"Of course he is, but that's different. You don't require a warm heart
to be fond of your own people: that's just nature and habit. What I
call a warm heart is the sort of heart that makes you adore your
friends, and worship your lovers, and find the world well lost for
somebody you've only met twice before."

Fay picked up a stalk of grass and began tickling her cheek with it.
For the first time in my life I became envious of the vegetable
kingdom. "Should you call me a person with a warm heart?" I asked.

"I think you are very fond of Miss Kingsnorth," replied Fay demurely.

"That's different: it's just nature and habit to be fond of your own
people. You see, you are not the only one who can quote. What I want
to know is, do you consider that I have a warm heart?"

"How on earth can I tell its temperature?"

"Better than anybody. You hold it in the hollow of your hand."

"Then it can't be very warm or else it would burn my fingers and I
should drop it," laughed the girl; "so that question answers itself."

"Then allow me to ask another. Have you got what people call a warm
heart?"

She shrugged her slender shoulders. "Temperature ninety-eight, point
four - absolutely normal. So no further bulletins will be issued." And
with that, for the time being, I had to be content.

"I do love a west wind," Fay said, after a few minutes of blissful
silence, "don't you? I think it is the nicest wind we have, combining
the softness of the South with the bracingness of the North: like
people with sharp tongues and sweet tempers."

I agreed with this - as indeed I was ready to do with any idea to which
Fay gave utterance; for Love is no whit behind Conscience in the
manufacture of cowards.

"I always think the different winds are different colours," she went
on; "the North wind is white, the South wind yellow, the East wind blue
and the West wind green. At least, that's how they always seem to me."

"And it's a very good description of them, too," I said, as I should
have said just then of any description given by Fay.

"What's going on down there," she suddenly exclaimed, pointing to the
field spread out at our feet where the hay-cutting machine was going
round and round in an ever-diminishing circle. "There seems to be a
sort of fuss on!"

My eyes were useless in a case like this, so I had to ask Fay for
further information. "The machine has stopped," she said, "and there
is a crowd of labourers round it, and all the haymakers from the next
field have left off haymaking and are rushing to join the crowd."

"There must have been an accident," I said, rising from my seat under
the hedge; "let us go down and see what is the matter. I always hate
all reaping machines, they are so apt to cut off people's legs."

"I hate machines of any kind," agreed Fay, as we hastened down the hill
together; "they are so ugly, and make such a noise. When I come out of
the machinery-in-motion part of an exhibition, I always feel as if I'd
been in hell."

I was thankful Annabel was not present to hear this description, but I
smiled at it nevertheless. "And machine-made things are so horrid,
too," I said; "they lose the individual touch, which makes for charm
and originality."

Fay nodded. "I know. You can't really be fond of things which are
made by the score exactly alike. I don't believe that even parents
would be fond of their children if they were turned out in dozens like
the plates of a dinner-service."

In a few minutes we reached the crowd in the hayfield, which
respectfully parted to make way for us; and then with an exceeding
bitter cry, which tore my heart-strings to breaking-point, Fay rushed
forward and fell on her knees beside the recumbent form of Frank, who
was lying white and unconscious on the ground.

Then there followed a dreadful time for Fay, and for me, too, as by
that time whatever hurt her hurt me also. Frank, with his usual
light-hearted carelessness, had stood too near to that horrible
Juggernaut, the hay-cutting machine, with the terrible consequence that
one of the scythes had nearly cut off his foot.

We carried him on a hurdle to the Rectory, and for days he hung between
life and death. Sometimes it seemed impossible to believe that a
creature so full of life as Frank could die, and then again it seemed
incredible that any one so terribly wounded could live. But at last
lock-jaw set in, and then the doctors pronounced the case absolutely
hopeless.

It was torture to me to see Fay's agony of mind; yet there was a
sweetness mingled with the bitterness in my knowledge of the fact that
she turned to me for help and comfort; at least, hardly for
comfort - the time for comfort had not yet arrived, but for that
sympathy in her sorrow, which is very near akin to consolation.

Annabel was very capable and efficient during this sad time - a
veritable rock of strength to all of us who clung to her. But although
she could have done far more for Fay than my poor, blundering, male
self could ever do, I could not blind my eyes to the fact that - with
sweet, childish perversity - Fay clung to me rather than to Annabel.
That the child was foolish in this, I could not but admit; but I loved
her all the more for her dear folly.

I had come to the Rectory to hear the verdict of the great specialist
from London, and he had gone back to town, leaving Jeffson, our local
doctor, to make Frank's passing as easy as possible. Fay was with the
nurses in Frank's room, and I was loafing aimlessly about with nothing
to do, and nothing that was worth doing. Like all days of great
sorrow, the day seemed neither a Sunday nor a weekday, but a sort of
terrible Good Friday, with the darkness and the earthquake looming
nearer every moment.

Apart from my agony of pity for Fay, I was sorely grieved on my own
account at the thought of losing Frank. A strong friendship had grown
up between the boy and myself - a friendship that was fraught with joy
for me. Although I had eschewed the avuncular attitude arranged for me
by Annabel towards Fay, I had accepted it with regard to Frank; and
when I heard the verdict of the great doctor from London, I felt as if
I were indeed losing a dearly-beloved nephew.

Whilst I was aimlessly wandering about the Rectory dining-room, Arthur
came in.

"How is the boy now?" I asked, though I knew too well what the answer
would be.

"Just the same. Jeffson says there will not be much change now until
the end."

"And Fay?"

"Bearing up wonderfully, poor child! She is so brave and calm now that
I fear it will be the worse for her when the need for calmness and
courage is over. Reggie, I have telephoned for Henderson, and he is
coming at once."

"Who is Henderson?" I asked.

"A great friend of mine."

I sighed. "I don't see the use of torturing the poor boy with any more
doctors, Arthur. Both Sir Frederic and Jeffson pronounced the case
absolutely hopeless."

"But Henderson isn't a doctor," replied Arthur in his leisurely way.

"Then why send for him?" I asked most unreasonably.

"He is a spiritual healer, and has worked some wonderful cures. If any
one can save Frank, he can."

"I don't believe in that sort of thing," I replied, with all the
irritability of helpless misery.

"Probably not; but I don't see what that has to do with it. Our belief
in anything doesn't affect the thing itself, it only affects us."

"Then do you believe that your friend can cure the boy, after three
doctors have given him up?"

Arthur thought for a moment, and then he said: "No, I don't believe
that Henderson can cure the boy; but I believe that Christ working
through Henderson can do so, and I am going to see if He will."

We were both silent for a few minutes, and then Blathwayte suddenly
said: "By the way, I have forgotten the thing I came down to say to
you. Fay wants you to go and sit with her in Frank's room."

I went at once. Fay's lightest word was law to me.

For an hour or two I sat in the sick-room, where the girl whom I loved
knelt beside her dying brother. The doctor and the day-nurse were
doing all they could to fan the flame that was so rapidly being
extinguished, but that all amounted to very little. Already the
beautiful boyish mouth was closed too tightly for any nourishment or
stimulant to pass through the once mobile lips, and the boy could not
have spoken even if he had wished to do so; but he was too ill now to
desire to speak, and lay in rigid unconsciousness waiting for the end
to come. Nobody spoke, except the doctor and the nurse; but I knew in
my soul that it helped Fay to feel me near, and so I stayed while the
hours rolled on and Frank's life ebbed away.

I had lost all count of time when the door was softly opened, and
Arthur, followed by a stranger, came into the room, which stranger was
the exact opposite of what I had expected.

I had pictured the Spiritual Healer to myself as a wild, emaciated,
long-haired figure - a sort of cross between an ideal poet and John the
Baptist: instead of which I beheld a tall, broad-shouldered,
immaculately dressed Londoner, with the quiet manners and easy
assurance of the typical man about town. I am almost ashamed to own
it, only one never should be ashamed to own the truth; but - absurd as
it may sound - it was the perfect cut of Mr. Henderson's coat that
suddenly made the man and his mission real to me. Had he worn the garb
of a monk, I should have relegated him to the sphere of mediæval
superstition; had he worn the dress of a priest, I should have placed
him in the category of hysterical revivalists; but I felt an
irresistible conviction that a man in such a well-cut and fashionable
coat as his could only preach a gospel as practical and convincing as
the _Times_ of that morning.

Blathwayte hurriedly indicated to Mr. Henderson who we all were, and
then they both knelt down beside the bed, the rest of us following
their example.

I cannot give a dramatic account of what followed, simply because there
was nothing dramatic about it. At the time it seemed - as it has always
seemed to me in recalling it - to be the most natural and simple thing
in the world. To make it any way thrilling or dramatic would rob it,
to my mind, of its strength, and convincingness.

First Mr. Henderson offered up aloud an extempore prayer that Frank's
sufferings might be relieved and his life spared. Even the word
"prayer" seems almost too stilted and transcendental to convey my
meaning: he rather besought a favour of a present Person, with an
assurance that that Person's sympathies were so entirely enlisted on
his side, that the granting of his petition was a foregone conclusion.

I had been brought up in a godly home, and had been conversant with
religious phrases and expressions all my life. But not until I heard
Mr. Henderson speaking to that Other Person, whose love for and
interest in Frank (so Henderson obviously took for granted) were
infinitely stronger and deeper than ours could ever be, did I realise
what was meant by the expression "a living Christ." From my childhood
I had loved and worshipped a dimly glorious Figure, half-hidden in a
haze of golden light, who had trodden the Syrian fields nearly two
thousand years ago, and had died, and risen again, and ascended
heavenwards leaving behind Him an inspired Gospel and a perfect
Example; but now I suddenly felt that the dimly-remembered Ideal was
not an Ideal at all, but a living Person, standing in Frank's room
close beside us, as actual and real as we were ourselves: that it was
no shadowy Syrian Prophet that I had worshipped, but a Man of to-day as
much as of yesterday - a Man of London and Paris as much as of Jerusalem
and Galilee - and a Man who was also God.

As a boy I remember being thrilled with the story of the unknown knight
who feasted with Robin Hood and his men, and who - at the end of the
day - lifted up his visor and they knew he was the King. And the same
thrill - though in a far greater degree - ran through me now. A Stranger


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