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for me - well, it wouldn't much matter what became of me, as long as Fay
was happy.

Still I wished she wouldn't smile as if she saw through my armour with
those elfin eyes of hers.

Suddenly sounds of laughter came to us from the house.

"Let's go and see what's up," cried Fay, who never could resist the
sound of laughter.

So indoors she ran, with me after her, through the garden door and down
the passage into the great hall. And there a strange sight met our
eyes.

Frank, attired - in addition to his own ordinary garments - in one of St.
Etheldreda's flannel petticoats and St. James's calico shirts, and with
a baby's knitted bonnet on the top of his curly hair, was dancing a
break-down in the middle of the hall, whilst Annabel and Ponty and the
assistant housemaid were holding their sides with laughter at the
ridiculous sight of him.

Quick as thought Fay donned another of St. Etheldreda's scarlet
petticoats, snatched a large tartan shawl from some other parish heap
of garments, and started a sort of skirt-dance on her own account, and
her dancing was one of the loveliest things I have ever seen. As the
scarlet petticoat twirled round and round, and the tartan shawl wound
and unwound itself round her slight figure, she seemed the very
embodiment of youth and jollity - the living "goddess of heart-easing
mirth." It made me feel young even to look at her, so full of life and
joy and youth was she!

Then she and Frank began a wild dance together, like a pair of leaves
blown by the wind. To and fro they danced as light as air and as
bright as flame, flying apart and rushing together till one hardly
could tell which was which, while the old hall rang with the laughter
and applause of the onlookers, until at last - after a final whirl in
which their twinkling feet seemed hardly to touch the ground at
all - they sank down upon the floor breathless with laughter and
excitement.

My heart beat so fast that I couldn't speak: the sight of their
wonderful dancing had gone to my head like wine, but Annabel was
differently affected.

"Get up, you silly children," she said, wiping the tears of laughter
from her eyes; "I never saw such a wild pair as you are in my life!
But you must take off the Guild garments now and put them back in their
proper heaps, or else we shall never get all the things sorted and
packed in bundles."

I went out of the hall and down the passage to the library, the dance
had affected me more than I would allow anybody to see. It had made me
feel young again, and I knew that young was what I must never - for
Fay's sake - allow myself to feel. If I did it might weaken my resolve
to play the role of the devout lover.

"What a wonderful thing Youth is!" I said to myself. "Nothing but
Youth could have danced such a dance as that." And then I tried to
imagine Annabel and myself dressed up in Guild garments and springing
about the old hall till the world grew young again; but even my
imagination - which is generally supposed to be fairly rosy - bucked at
this. Such a thing was unimaginable.

"No," I added, with a sigh, "I was quite right. Miracles do happen
nowadays, but not that particular one: there is no setting the dial ten
degrees backward."




CHAPTER VII

THE GIFT

"I am afraid Fay is very ill: Dr. Jeffson is most anxious about her,"
said Annabel to me, as I came in rather late for luncheon one foggy
November day. I had been busy all morning looking after various
matters on the estate, as I had spent the three preceding days in
London, and work at home had accumulated in my absence.

My heart stood still for a second, as hearts have a habit of doing at
the sudden announcement of bad news, and a cold wave of sick misery
seemed to engulf me. Then out of the engulfing wave I heard my voice
saying: "What is the matter with her? I saw her just before I went to
town, and then she had nothing but a slight cold."

"It wasn't slight at all, Reggie; it was a very heavy cold, and she,
being young and foolish, didn't take proper care of it, with the
consequence that it went from her chest down to her lungs, and now she
is in for a sharp attack of pneumonia."

I sat down at the luncheon-table, but I could not eat anything.
Noonday had turned to darkness because Fay was ill. "She didn't seem
ill a few days ago, when she went for a walk with me," I persisted;
"she had only a little cough."

"It was a nasty cough, Reggie, a very nasty cough. I wonder that you
took her for a walk with it."

An agony of remorse overwhelmed my soul. What a fool I had been! What
a fool I always was! Whatever I did invariably turned out to be wrong.
"I shall never forgive myself for doing so," I groaned; "I deserve to
be shot for such crazy idiocy and selfishness. But she said she was
all right, and I was ass enough to believe her."

Annabel, as usual, stood between me and the consequences of my folly.
"It wasn't your fault, Reggie: the girl is old enough to take care of
herself. I really don't see how a bachelor of forty-two can be
expected to watch all the symptoms of a young girl's cold. You aren't
a nurse."

But I refused to be comforted. "I was a fool - as I am always, a
selfish, incompetent fool! I wanted her to go for a walk with me, and
it never occurred to me to doubt that she wanted it too. But Fay is so
unselfish, she would never think of herself where anybody else's
pleasure was concerned."

"I don't think it was unselfishness on her part, Reggie; it was simply
youthful recklessness. Young people are always so careless about their
health, and if you try to consider them it only makes them worse. I
remember once, years ago, going for a round of calls and ringing all
the bells myself, because the footman had such a bad cold I didn't
think he ought to ride on the box of the carriage, and when I got home
I found he'd spent the afternoon at a football match!"

"Why didn't you tell me as soon as I got home last night?"

"Because I didn't know. I went to the Rectory this morning about some
parish affairs, and then Arthur told me. He has sent for Frank to come
from Oxford, and they are both in a terrible state about Fay. It was
really sad to see Frank. What an affectionate nature that boy has! I
do feel for him. It is wretched for him to have his sister so ill."

"It is far more wretched for her," I said shortly.

"I don't know about that," replied Annabel, as if in a way she blamed
Fay for causing Frank this mental discomfort. My sister was one of
those women who would always sacrifice a woman to a man. Her
philosophy of life consisted in the theory that women must work, and
men must never on any account be allowed to weep. If they were, the
women were in some way to blame.

I got up from the table, pushing my untasted plate away from me. "I am
going across to the Rectory to see how she is now."

"Now, Reggie, don't be silly and make yourself ill by eating no lunch.
If you make yourself ill it won't make Fay any better, as two blacks
never make a white."

"It is all my fault that she is ill. If I hadn't been such an arrant
fool her cold wouldn't have got to this pitch," I said savagely.

Annabel looked at me with the placidity which had soothed me all my
life. "You needn't blame yourself, Reggie, you really needn't. I wish
to goodness I'd never mentioned that walk! It might have been wiser it
you had taken Frank instead of Fay, perhaps, and would have been
equally cheerful for you; but if Fay herself didn't suggest it, I don't
see that you were called upon to think of it. When I was Fay's age I
was quite capable of taking care of my own colds, and so ought she to
be. Though I must say in my young days young people had more stamina
than they have now, and wouldn't have thought of letting a cold fly to
their lungs in this hurried fashion. In my time a cold began in the
head and went down to the throat, and then on to the chest, and only
got to the lungs as a last resort - and not that, unless it was
neglected. The ordinary cold never went to the lungs at all."

Again I felt that Annabel was blaming Fay for allowing herself to have
been so rapidly overrun by the invading enemy; so, as I could not bear
to hear my darling blamed without standing up for her, and as I
likewise couldn't bear to stand up against Annabel for anybody, I went
out of the room, banging the door behind me.

Then followed an unspeakable time of heart-rending anxiety. The
pneumonia spread, and all the efforts of Jeffson and of a consultant
from London to stop it proved unavailing. I found myself face to face
with the crushing and incredible blow of the death of a dear one who
was younger than myself. The passing onwards of our beloved must
always be a sorrow to us; but if they are older than ourselves, the
sorrow seems more or less a natural one. But when they are our
juniors - and especially when they are considerably our juniors - the
agony becomes unnatural, even monstrous. It is against nature for the
young ones to be taken and the old ones to be left: an anguish
unbearable save to those blessed souls who have grasped the great truth
that death, after all, is only a semicolon - not a full stop.

To me, during those dreadful days of Fay's illness, the sun seemed to
be turned into darkness and the moon into blood; there was no light
anywhere, and I realised that if her sun went down while it was yet
day, there would be nothing henceforth for me but dreary twilight until
the dawn of the resurrection morning. Of course I prayed, but the
heavens were as brass above me: none answered, nor were there any that
regarded, and my soul went down into the darkness and the shadow of
death.

"Let us send for Mr. Henderson," I said to Arthur, as soon as I knew
how ill my darling was. "If he saved Frank, he could save her."

But Arthur shook his head. "I thought of that, and telephoned for him
to come. But I find he has gone on a trip to the Holy Land, and will
not be back for weeks and weeks. If he started back at once, he would
not be here in time to do anything for Fay, and besides, they do not
know exactly where to find him."

So that hope was extinguished.

On the eighth day - to me it seemed the eighth century - of Fay's
illness, I awoke in the morning (if one can call it waking when one
hardly sleeps) with certain words of Mr. Henderson's ringing in my
ears; words to which I had attached no importance at the time, which I
had never thought of since, but which suddenly came back to me now with
an emphasis they had not borne at first. The materialist, with his
deeper credulity and more unreasoning faith, would put this phenomenon
down to some strange and inexplicable vagary on the part of my
subconscious self; but my simpler and less complex mind was satisfied
with the more obvious explanation that God had, after all, heard my
prayer, and had let my cry come unto Him.

"I do not know, but I think you have the gift of healing," Henderson
had said to me just as he was leaving the Rectory, "utterly
uncultivated and undeveloped, but ready for Christ's use should He need
it."

And when I woke from my restless dozing on that particular morning,
those words of Mr. Henderson's were ringing in my ears as plainly as if
he had just uttered them.

I dressed hurriedly, and without waiting for any breakfast went
straight to the Rectory to remind Blathwayte of what Henderson had
said. It was too early as yet for the doctor's visit, and the
night-nurse was still upon duty; but she had nothing good to report, as
Fay's temperature kept up and her strength Was failing.

"Come and see," said Blathwayte, when I had recalled Henderson's words
to his mind. "If he was right, and you have the gift, you may save
Fay's life even yet."

And he took me into the sick-room, where the shadow of my darling lay
fighting for breath.

Then followed another of those experiences which sound incredible in
the telling, but which was so natural - so inevitable - at the time, that
it would have been impossible for anything else to have happened.

I knelt down by Fay's bed and laid my hand on her burning forehead, and
I lifted up my soul to God in prayer, as I had never lifted it before.
As I prayed I became conscious - as I had been when Frank seemed
dying - of a Presence in the room, the Presence of a living Christ who
was standing by my side so near that I could almost feel His Touch - so
real that I felt if I opened my eyes I should see His Face. And with
His coming all the sorrow and anxiety and misery disappeared, and I
knew that nothing could ever really harm her or pluck her out of His
Hand. Fear vanished, because with Him beside me there was nothing to
fear: sorrow disappeared, because He brought with Him fulness of joy:
death stood at bay, because He had conquered death. There was nothing
any longer except Him, because in Him and through Him and of Him are
all things. And I was conscious not only of a profound peace in this
Ineffable Presence: I was conscious also of an inexhaustible power. I
felt flowing into me, and through me into Fay, a sort of wonderful
electric current - a very elixir of life itself - which I can describe as
nothing but "the Power from on High." At that moment I felt that I had
the wings of eagles, and the strength of the angels that excel.

How long I knelt I know not. It was a moment snatched from eternity,
and therefore beyond the measurements of time. I realised that in His
glorious Presence there is neither past nor future, but only one
glorious, unending Now.

Gradually the Presence withdrew Itself, and the rush of Power flowing
through me subsided, and I opened my eyes and looked at Fay. The fever
flush in her cheeks was already fading, and the brow under my hand grew
cool and moist. I rose from my knees and told the nurse to take the
temperature: she did so, and found it rapidly subsiding. The pulse,
too, was slower, and the breathing much easier. By the time that the
doctor came he was able to say that the crisis was past, and that the
patient was on the way to recovery.

Of course, both the doctor and the nurses were amazed beyond words:
they could not account for such a sudden and unexpected turn for the
better. But I was not surprised. I had been too recently in the
Presence of Christ to wonder at any manifestation of His Power. The
wonder to me would have been if Fay had not recovered.




CHAPTER VIII

LOVE AMONG THE RUINS

Fay recovered rapidly, to the surprise of the doctors and the nurses,
but not to mine. After that ineffable moment by what seemed to be her
dying bed, I had no further anxiety about her health. I knew she was
going to be better and stronger than she had ever been before.

But though I felt no anxiety on that account, I was considerably
worried on another. I could not fail to see that the fact that I had
been used as God's instrument in restoring my darling to health had
greatly exaggerated my importance in her eyes. Although I tried my
utmost to convince her that it was all God's doing and not mine in the
least, I could not quell the uprush of undeserved gratitude to me which
filled her dear heart. Also, perhaps, the appeal of her weakness
loosened the armour of reserve which I had once buckled on so tightly,
and, strive as I might, I could no longer keep my love for her out of
my eyes and voice. It would work through, in spite of all my efforts
to suppress it.

I knew by now that Fay loved me: I knew that she knew that I loved her.
Then what was I to do?

I could never be grateful enough to God that He had used me as His
instrument in bringing my Beloved back to life and health, but of what
avail would that restored life be to her if I marred it by allowing her
to mate the fulness of her youth with crabbed age? Should I, who had
been granted, under God, the inestimable blessing of saving her life,
be the one to spoil it for her? Was it for me to mar what I had been
permitted to make: to destroy what I had been allowed to restore?

Yet how I loved her! Only God and my own soul knew how I loved her!
Surely no young man, however worthier of her he might be in every other
respect, could ever love her as much as I did.

In my perplexity I consulted Arthur. The advice of my parish
priest - or, as the Prayer Book puts it, of any discreet and learned
minister - ought to be of help to me in a perplexity such as this.
Being a clergyman, Arthur would know so much more about human nature
than I knew; for then - as always - I had no confidence in my own
judgment.

I put the case to Blathwayte as tersely as I could, begging him not to
allow his friendship for me to lure him into setting my happiness
before my duty.

"I am not thinking about your happiness," he replied in his blunt way,
"I'm thinking about Fay's."

"That is all I try to think about," I said, "and that is why I have
appealed to you. But I see, old man, you agree with me that I have no
right to set my happiness before hers by asking her to marry me and
link her young life with mine."

"I certainly don't think you have any right to sacrifice Fay's
happiness to your own."

"Then that settles it," I said.

"Or to a false idea of what your conscience conceives to be your duty,"
he went on, as if I had not spoken.

This gave me pause. "How do you mean?" I asked.

"I mean that if you love Fay, as I know you do, and if she loves you,
as I believe she does, you have no right to throw away this good and
perfect gift for the sake of some home-made scruple of yours. I mean
that you are not justified in spoiling Fay's life, even for the
pleasure of spoiling your own at the same time.

"Then what should you advise me to do?"

"I should advise you to tell Fay that you love her and to ask her to
marry you, and to abide by her decision whatever it is."

"But she is so young," I pleaded - against my own cause.

"If she is old enough to receive the gift of a good man's love, she is
old enough to know she has received it, and to thank Heaven fasting for
it."

"But I am so old - compared with her."

"That is her business - at least, so it seems to me," replied
Blathwayte. "If she thinks you are too old, she can refuse you. It is
a thing that has been done. But I do think that she is old enough to
choose for herself, and not to have things settled for her as if she
were a child or an imbecile. She has plenty of common sense."

"But I doubt if she is old enough and experienced enough to choose in a
thing like this. It would break my heart if she chose wrongly and
regretted it afterwards."

"Hearts run the risk of getting broken in this work-a-day world, and
they had better run that risk than remain wrapped up in cotton wool
until they stifle and suffocate. If you'll excuse my saying so,
Reggie, you are too fond of transferring personal responsibilities.
You let Miss Kingsnorth make up your mind for you, and in return you
propose to make up Fay's. For my part, I think it is best for people
to make up their own minds, and to be prepared to take the
consequences. It is in acting for oneself and in bearing the
consequences of one's actions that the education of life consists, also
the saving dogma of Free Will."

Thus inspired by Arthur I was tempted to put my scruples on one side
and my fate to the test; but even yet I was haunted by doubts as to
whether my doing so would be fair to Fay. I gave Arthur's counsel the
consideration that it deserved: as a clergyman he was, so to speak, a
specialist in the diagnosis of right and wrong, and also in all matters
connected with the human soul. But - when all was said and done - he was
a man and not a woman, and no episcopal laying on of hands can convey
the power rightly to discern the workings of the female heart. So I
decided that the person to help and advise me was not Blathwayte at
all, but Annabel, as she was a woman herself and therefore the best
judge as to how a woman would feel. I felt that my sister would
necessarily understand Fay far better than either Arthur or I could.
So I took Annabel into my confidence.

She listened to me carefully and sympathetically, just as she used to
listen to a category of my physical symptoms when I was a little boy,
and she feared I had caught some childish complaint.

"I am not surprised," she said, when I had finished; "I was afraid
there would be some trouble of this kind after Fay's most remarkable
recovery and your queer part in it." Annabel was one of the people who
would always describe any direct answer to prayer as "remarkable." But
"no offence meant," as the servants say. She absolutely believed in
the God of Revelation; she stringently urged the imperative duty of
prayer; yet when any obvious connection displayed itself between the
human request and the Divine Response, she at once relegated the
phenomenon to the realm of accidental coincidence, if not to that of
hysterical imagination.

"I shouldn't describe it exactly as 'trouble,'" I remonstrated.

"I felt sure you'd fall in love with her, as you call it after her
recovery seemed to be the result of your praying for her. Any man
would," continued my sister, just in the same tone as thirty years ago
she would have said, "I felt sure you would catch measles after having
been exposed to the infection. Any child would." Evidently, now as
then, Annabel pitied rather than blamed me. Her blame would be
reserved for those who had exposed me to the infection.

"I'm not asking you why I fell in love with her, Annabel; I shouldn't
be such an ass as to ask that. If you can tell me the reason why any
man falls in love with any woman, you have solved the riddle of the
ages. The Sphinx herself could not baffle you."

"The reason is generally looks or money," replied the undaunted Annabel.

"The reason for marriage, perhaps, but not for falling in love. Love
is beyond all reason, or it wouldn't be love."

"Then what are you asking me? How you can get over it?"

"Good heavens, no!" I cried. "I shall never 'get over it,' as you say,
and I never want to. What I am asking you is, do you think I am
justified in asking Fay to marry me?"

"I am very pleased you have consulted me in this way, Reggie, very much
pleased indeed. It shows a very proper feeling on your part, and is a
fresh proof of your unchanging affection for me, and of your confidence
in my judgment. As I have told you, I have seen this coming on ever
since Fay took that remarkable turn for the better, and I have tried to
face it in the proper spirit."

"And so you will," I exclaimed. "I have never known anything happen
that you haven't faced in the proper spirit."

Annabel looked pleased. "Of course, Reggie, I cannot deny that it is a
bit of a shock to me - especially after all these years; but on the
other hand papa always wished you to marry, and it does seem a pity for
the title to die out. I try to look at the matter from all sides."

"Yes, yes," I said impatiently, getting up from my seat and walking
about the great hall, where we had been sitting in the firelight after
tea. "But what we are discussing now is not whether I am justified in
marrying at all, but whether I am justified in marrying Fay."

Annabel shook her head. "That is what I am not sure about. I wish to
look at the question dispassionately, but I very much doubt if you are."

My heart fell fathoms deep; yet I felt how wise I had been to consult
Annabel before speaking to Fay. Arthur, looking at the matter from the
man's point of view, did not see the injustice of tying a young woman
to an old man; but Annabel, looking at it from the woman's standpoint,
evidently did.

"She is so young," I said.

"And so inexperienced," my sister added.

"That is what I feel. She has seen no society of her own class, except
Blathwayte and ourselves."

"Exactly, Reggie, and nothing but good society teaches a girl _savoir
faire_. Of course, even a girl as young as Fay who had seen more of
the world would be different; but she came here straight out of the
schoolroom."

How well Annabel understood, I thought to myself, and how exactly she
looked at the matter from my point of view! She really was a wonderful
woman. "Then you think even at her age - if she had seen more of the
world and had had more experience of life - I might have asked her to
marry me without making a mistake which would spoil both our lives?"

"I do indeed, Reggie. But as it is she is so very ignorant and
unsophisticated."

There was a pause, which I filled up by spoiling my right boot through
poking the fire with it. Then Annabel said, apparently à propos of


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