Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler.

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nothing: "Fay hasn't any money - at least, not any to speak of."

How well my sister read my thoughts, I said to myself. It was Fay's
lack of wealth - if she did not marry me - that weighed on my mind.
Wildacre had left his children about eight hundred a year apiece, but
that was not enough to keep my darling as she ought to be kept. Still
I admit I was surprised that this should have occurred to Annabel.

"But anyhow you have enough," she went on. "Papa left an adequate
fortune to endow a baronetage."

I admitted he did, though I could not see what on earth that had to do
with the question. "Still, I couldn't share it with Fay unless she
were my wife," I added.

Annabel looked puzzled. "Of course not. Whoever suggested such a
thing?"

"I thought you did."

"Good gracious, no! such an absurd idea never entered my head. I was
only thinking about your marrying Fay."

"I spoke to Arthur on the matter, as he is Fay's guardian," I
continued, "and also my own parish priest."

"It was quite right to consult him as Fay's guardian, but I do not see
what being a parish priest, as you call it, has to do with the
question. And I must say I very much hope, Reggie, that you did not
use that ridiculous expression in speaking to Arthur. He is too much
inclined to Romanism as it is, and expressions like that are apt to
give him false and popish notions of his own importance."

"And he said," I went on, "that I ought to tell Fay that I love her,
and to let the decision of accepting or refusing me lie with her."

"What ridiculous advice! Of course she would accept you at once."

Again I was grateful to Annabel for seeing my darling as I saw her.
She evidently realised, as I did, that Fay was far too unselfish to
consider her own happiness in comparison with mine. If Fay knew I
loved her, she would accept me, whatever the sacrifice to herself.

"Then you think Arthur was wrong?" I asked.

"Absolutely. He nearly always is when he acts or speaks on his own
judgment, though in other respects he is a most excellent man, and one
for whom I have the greatest regard. But he is like you, Reggie, in
requiring some one at his elbow to give him good advice, though I do
not think he is always as ready as you are to follow it."

My heart felt like lead. "And you think I am not justified in asking a
girl of eighteen to marry me?"

"Certainly not. How can there be any real and satisfactory
companionship between a girl of that age and a man of yours!"

I made one final appeal for happiness. "Not even if they love each
other very much?"

"I don't see what that has to do with it. Parents love their children
very much, but that doesn't prevent them from looking at things from
the different points of view of their different generations. And it is
natural that they should. I am sure I loved papa very much, but we did
not see eye to eye in heaps of things, because the ideas of his
generation were quite different from the ideas of ours. He was very
narrow in some things. But differences which are quite allowable
between parents and children seem to me to be unnatural between a
husband and wife, and even more aggravating."

"Then that finally settles the matter," I said, walking out of the hall
to the library, for fear that even the subdued glow of the firelight
should reveal the misery that I knew must be written on my face.
Arthur had opened the door of hope to me just a little; but Annabel had
firmly shut it again, and naturally I was more influenced by Annabel
than by Arthur - especially as her opinion coincided with my own.

But the matter was not finally closed after all.

After two bitter-sweet days - days when the happiness of my short visits
to Fay was clouded by the iron self-restraint I was forced to exercise
in her dear presence, and when love and duty waged their mortal combat
in my soul - Annabel came to me as I was smoking in the library. She
had just returned from the Rectory, and I noticed that the wintry wind
must have caught her eyes, they looked so red and swollen. There
certainly was a bitter wind that day.

"I have been talking to Arthur," she abruptly began, standing in front
of the table and resting her two hands upon it, "and I have come to the
conclusion that he was right and I was wrong."

I was surprised. It was so very unlike Annabel to own that she had
been wrong about anything, I feared she must be ill.

"But it really was not altogether my fault," she continued; "it really
was yours in not making things plainer to me."

I felt relieved: there was evidently nothing serious the matter with my
sister. It was absolutely normal for things to be my fault and not
hers. Annabel was herself again.

"What things didn't I make plain?" I asked.

"You didn't make it plain to me how much your feelings were involved in
this sort of affair with Fay Wildacre."

"But, my dear girl, I told you that I wanted to marry Fay, and what
better proof could I have given you of the depth of my feelings for
her?"

"Oh yes, you said you wanted to marry her, but I didn't understand that
you cared for her as much as Arthur says you do," persisted Annabel, as
if asking for a woman's hand in marriage was merely a sign of
transitory admiration, such as asking for her hand in a dance. "Of
course, that makes all the difference."

"All what difference?" I asked in bewilderment. "I am no orator as
Blathwayte is, and therefore I cannot express my feelings as he seems
able to express them; but I wish you to be under no delusion as to the
state of my feelings towards Fay. To me she is and always will be the
only woman I could possibly marry - the only woman with whom I could
ever fall in love. I love her to the very depths of my being and
always shall, and it is because I love her so much that I refuse to
take my happiness at the expense of hers, and to tie her for life to a
man old enough to be her father. There now, you have it. If I wasn't
clear enough before, surely I am now."

"That's you all over, Reggie, always ready to sacrifice yourself to
other people! I never knew anybody as absolutely unselfish as you
are - except, of course, mamma."

I was astonished, and showed it. "But you agreed with me, Annabel.
You said it wouldn't be fair to Fay to ask her to marry me."

It was now Annabel's turn to look surprised. "What nonsense, Reggie!
I don't know what you are talking about."

"You said I was too old to make her happy."

"I couldn't possibly have ever said anything so utterly idiotic. You
must be going off your head! Why, I think that to marry you would be
the greatest happiness any woman could possibly have, and I don't
believe that any woman living is worthy of it."

This, of course, was ridiculous sisterly exaggeration, and needed
nipping in the bud. But I was too busy just then thinking about Fay to
have time to nip Annabel. "You said I was too old for her," I
persisted.

"I didn't. I said she was too young for you, which is quite a
different thing. But I'll withdraw even that if you think she is
necessary to your happiness."

"There is no doubt of that. The only question that matters is whether
I am necessary to hers."

Annabel smiled her old, indulgent smile. "Oh, Reggie, how absurd you
are. You don't seem to realise that the woman who marries you will be
the luckiest woman on the face of the earth. And you really ought to
marry; papa would have wished it; I am sure it would have been a
dreadful disappointment to him if the baronetcy had died out. He had
great ideas of founding a family."

"He would have adored Fay. I wish he could have lived to see her," I
said softly, so softly that Annabel did not hear me.

"I know papa would have been pleased at your marrying; it is a great
support to me to feel sure of that. But the thing that I care most for
is your happiness, Reggie; I could never bear to feel that any words of
mine have ever stood between you and your heart's desire, and if you
feel certain that Fay will make you happy, by all means ask her to
marry you."

"I do feel certain of that. She will make me happier than my wildest
dreams."

Annabel turned to leave the room. "Had I been in your place," she
remarked thoughtfully, "I should have selected a woman of my own age
who would have known how to manage a large household and would have
been an agreeable and sympathetic companion, looking at life from my
own standpoint. But people know their own business best. And of
course there are other considerations," she added, opening the door.
"There's something to everything," she concluded, summing up with one
terse and enigmatical sentence the great law of compensation as she
closed the door behind her.

As soon as Annabel left me I rushed across to the Rectory. Now that my
sister had gone over to the beneficent enemy, and had joined forces
against my struggle to do what I considered to be my duty at the cost
of what I knew to be my happiness, there was no more fight left in me.
I capitulated at once, and decided to follow Blathwayte's advice and
leave the matter in my darling's hands. She was my queen, and it was
for her to rule and order my fate.

I found her, as usual, lying on a chintz-covered sofa by the fire in
the beautifully proportioned drawing-room.

"I am so glad you have come," said Fay, after I had greeted her and sat
down beside her sofa. "You are one of the tiresome people who make
things dreadfully dull by not being there."

"I'm sorry," I replied, "or rather, I'm glad."

"You have spoilt a lot of pleasure for me in that way," Fay continued,
"and I find it rather hard to forgive you. I used to enjoy myself
always, and now I only enjoy myself when you are about. It proves you
have a rather narrowing influence, don't you think?"

"It does seem to point that way," I agreed.

"And not an influence that makes for universal happiness, either, Sir
Reggie," Fay went on. "As you can only be in one place at once, there
can only be one cheerful place in the world at a time, while the number
of places you can't be at is unlimited, therefore the number of places
you make miserable are unlimited. I've come to the conclusion that the
really benevolent people are those who make a hell of whatever place
they are in, and a heaven of every other place because they aren't in
it. When you come to think of it, the amount of joy that these people
scatter about is simply enormous. Think of the countless little
heavens below that they create!"

"It is a beautiful thought, and shows how _nous autres_ ought to follow
their example. I say _nous autres_ advisedly, as you are made on the
same lines as I am - at least, as you say I am. In fact, I regret to
state that I never met anybody who had the knack of creating - by your
mere absence - such illimitable and chaotic blanks as you do."

I loved talking nonsense with Fay. As a matter of fact I have always
loved talking nonsense. I belong to the generation to which nonsense
appeals. The past generation is too serious for it, and the rising
generation is too strenuous: it was the prerogative of the last quarter
of the nineteenth century to bring nonsense to the level of a fine art.
And of all kinds of nonsense, the nonsense which is at the same time a
curtain and a channel for love-making is to me the most delightful.

When our parents made love, they discussed the intellectual questions
of the day; when their grandchildren make love, they discuss the social
problems of theirs; but in the middle ages that came between these two
eras, love-making belonged neither to the realm of mind nor to the
realm of morals, but rather to that of manners alone. Of course, love
was and is the same in all ages - and in all centuries: it is eternal,
and therefore has nothing to do with time. But the art of love-making
varies with each generation, and every period has its own particular
style. I am quite aware that by reason of her youth Fay had the right
to a lover who would discuss with her the origin of Sex-antagonism or
the economic relations of Capital and Labour; but Annabel and Arthur
robbed her of that right when they overthrew my scruples and bade me go
forth to woo the woman that I loved.

"You make places much more loathsome by not being there than I do,"
said Fay.

"Pardon me, that is the one subject on which I am more competent to
form a judgment than you are, as you have never been into those
abominations of desolation where you are not present, and can therefore
form no idea of their ghastly vacuity. But consciousness of sin should
result in amendment of life, and now that we know our faults the next
question is how are we to cure them?"

"We'll cure yours first, Sir Reggie. It seems to me that all you have
got to do is to go to all places and parties that I go to, so that I
shall never know how horrible they would have been if you hadn't been
there. Of course, if you could have been everywhere at once it would
have been best, as in that case there would have been no dull parties
or empty places - no abominations of desolations, that is to say - for
anybody. But that would be so difficult and trying for you, as it is
most fatiguing to be in even two places at once. Please notice what
self-restraint I am exercising in not quoting Sir Boyle Roche and his
bird. Ninety-nine persons out of every hundred would have done so at
the present point of the conversation."

"But you are always the hundredth," I explained.

"But not the Old Hundredth as yet! that is a pleasure still to come."

"Not in my time," I said, and though I smiled there was a sigh at the
back of the smile. How glorious it would have been if I had been young
too, so that Fay and I might have grown old together! But that could
never be.

"So, as you can't be in two, much less in two hundred places at once,
the only thing is for you to be in the same place as I am. That will
come to the same thing, as far as I am concerned, and beyond that I
really cannot manage matters. I have a most provincial mind, and the
world isn't my province, as it was Bacon's or Shakspere's or
somebody's. Whoever it was, he must have been a very interfering
person if he acted up to his principles, which I expect he didn't, as
nobody does, except Miss Kingsnorth and Mr. Blathwayte."

"They do," I agreed.

"Don't they, fearfully?"

I let this pass, as I was intent on other matters. "But about curing
this fault of mine," I went on; "if one person can't always be in two
places at once, two people can always be in one place at once, and
that - as you remark - practically amounts to the same thing in the long
run. That I could manage, I think - with, of course, a little help from
you. And, strange to say, it was about this arrangement that I came to
see you to-day."

"I saw you came about something. You hadn't the loose-endy sort of a
look you generally have."

"What sort of a look had I?"

Fay shrugged her shoulders airily. "Oh, a 'life-is-real,
life-is-earnest,' and
'England-expects-every-man-this-day-to-do-his-duty' sort of look. But
don't mind my mentioning it. It was rather a becoming look, as a
matter of fact, and nothing for you to worry about."

I took the little hand that was lying over the edge of the sofa. "Fay,
do you know what I came to say?" I said softly.

"Yes; but all the same, I'd rather you said it. I shan't take it as
read."

"It is so hard for me to put into words."

"But so nice for me to hear the words into which it is put."

"You vain child!" I whispered, stroking her curly hair.

The lovely eyes lifted to mine were full of laughter. But there was
something in them behind the laughter - that something which for weeks
and weeks I had been trying so hard not to see. "If I'm vain, you are
idle; so one is as bad as the other."

There were a few seconds of silence, then Fay said: "Go on, I'm
waiting."

"Well, then, it is no good my telling you that I love you, for you know
that already. And it is no good my attempting to tell you how much I
love you, because I could never do that if I talked from now till
doomsday."

"Still, it wouldn't be a bad way of passing the time from now till
then," Fay remarked.

"Then we'll pass it so, my darling," I said, kneeling down beside her
sofa and taking her in my arms, "and eternity shall be passed in the
same way, after doomsday is over. And even then I shan't have half
told you how much I love you." And I kissed her full on the lips, and
for the first time in my life knew the ecstasy of human love.

After a few minutes of blissful silence, Fay remarked: "If _I_ try to
tell _you_ how much I love you, I shall have my work cut out for me
too; and if I have to do it between now and doomsday it will take me
all I know to get it done in the time."

"Do you love me so very much, my little Fay?"

"Frightfully much, ridiculously much, far, far more than you deserve."

"But I am so old, sweetheart - so much too old for you. That is what is
worrying me."

Fay cuddled up to me, laughing contentedly. "I know. I have watched
it worrying you for ages. I have seen you for months now trying to
work out a sum that if you take away eighteen from forty-two nothing
remains, and you couldn't get it right."

"Still nothing did remain when there seemed a chance of eighteen being
taken away from forty-two; absolutely nothing at all."

Fay laughed again, a little gurgling laugh of pure delight. "How
dreadfully clever you are! If you go on being as clever as that you'll
have a headache, or softening of the brain, or something of that kind.
You make me quite anxious about you."

"But though I know that if eighteen were taken away from forty-two
nothing could remain - at least, nothing that would make life worth
living - I still can't make forty-two equal to eighteen. Eighteen is so
much more than forty-two in every dimension that matters - in youth and
health and joy and vigour and everything else that counts."

"Your language is charming, Sir Reggie, but your arithmetic leaves much
to be desired."

"Sir me no sirs, if you love me. Reggie, plain Reggie, an' it please
you. But, sweetheart, I have been struggling for months not to let you
know that I love you, as I felt it was not fair to ask a young girl
like you to marry a stuffy old fogey like me."

"Very thoughtful of you! As I said, I have noticed concealment like a
worm i' the bud feeding on your damask cheek for some time, but it
didn't bluff me. When did you fall in love with me?"

"The first moment that I saw you."

Fay nodded her head - as well as circumstances would permit it. "I'm
not surprised. That large black hat is very becoming."

"And when did you fall in love with me, my darling?" I asked.

"Not the first moment that I saw you."

I laughed. "I didn't expect you would."

"Long, long before that: from Frankie's description of you."

My face fell. "Oh, sweetheart, what a horrid way of falling in love."

"It wasn't horrid at all, silly - and anyway it was my way. From
Frankie's letters I had built up a sort of combination of King Arthur
and Sir Philip Sidney and Henry Esmond and the Scarlet Pimpernel, and
had called it You and fallen in love with it. And of course I felt
sure that when I met you you would fall far short of what I had
imagined, and so the rest of my life would be one bitter regret and
longing for a lost ideal. You know the sort of thing: just what a girl
would thoroughly enjoy. And then when I got to know the real You, you
were so much nicer than anything I had ever imagined that all my
unfulfilled plans were quite upset. And so instead of breaking my
heart, as I had intended, I lost it."

"You darling!" I whispered, covering her pretty curls with kisses.

"And now, since we are on the catechising task, would you mind telling
me what stopped concealment's meal, and why your damask cheek was
suddenly, as you might say, 'off' the menu?" Fay asked.

I told her the simple truth. "Because both Annabel and Arthur said
that you had a right to know that I loved you, and that it was for you
to decide whether I was too old for you."

Fay drew herself slightly out of my arms. "How very interfering of
them!" she said shortly.

I hastened to explain. "No, no, my darling, you mustn't think that.
You will be doing them both a grave injustice if you do. I asked for
their advice, they would never have offered it otherwise."

"I can't see that it was any business of theirs."

"But of course it was," I urged; I could not bear for there to be any
misunderstanding between Fay and Annabel. "Don't you see, sweetheart,
that it was certainly Arthur's business, because your father appointed
him your guardian? And Annabel has been more than a sister - almost
more than a mother - to me, so that everything which concerns me is her
business _par excellence_."

"I see," said Fay. But somehow - I do not know why - a cloud seemed to
have come over the full sunshine of our new happiness.

"And they were right," I continued in further exculpation of the two
who, next to Fay, were dearest to me in the world. "It is owing to
their advice that I have dared to ask you to marry me. Otherwise I
shouldn't have felt I was worthy to ask such a thing."

"Well, you haven't asked it - at least, not in my hearing," laughed Fay,
the sunshine breaking out once more after the passing cloud.

"Dearest, will you marry me?"

Fay's answer was characteristic. "Miss Wildacre begs to thank Sir
Reginald Kingsnorth for his kind invitation, and has much pleasure in
accepting it. Oh no, that wasn't quite right. Miss Wildacre begs to
thank Sir Reginald and Miss Kingsnorth for their kind invitation, and
has much pleasure in accepting it. That is better."

It pleased me to find her coupling my sister's name with mine in this
fashion, and I approved her amendment. I wanted her to recognise how
much my marriage meant to Annabel.

I sealed our compact with a kiss.

"I believe you really love me," said Fay.

"_Rather_! But I am afraid it is 'Love among the Ruins,' sweetheart:
the ruins being represented by Arthur and Annabel and myself."

Fay ran her fingers through my still bushy hair. "Not ruins - not
exactly ruins, my Reggie: say rather ancient monuments in the most
perfect state of preservation." And that was all the comfort she would
give me - at least, just then.

But after some further conversation, with no reporter present, she
looked up into my face and said: "So Love has performed the miracle
after all which you said could never be performed again. Love has made
us one at last, and has set the dial ten degrees backward. There is
nothing between us now, Reggie - not even those tiresome ten degrees."




CHAPTER IX

THINGS GREAT AND SMALL

The time of our engagement was a very happy time for me. It was so
heavenly to be continually with Fay, and not to feel myself bound in
honour to dissemble my love. And the more I saw of her the more
devotedly I loved her. Surely there never was anybody so gay and
loving and light-hearted as she.

When Frank came down from Oxford at Christmas, he added to the general
hilarity, and welcomed me as a brother with an unconscious
condescension which amused as much as it gratified me. He, Fay and I,
formed a Triple Entente, from which everything that appertained to
middle age was excluded. So that I was not only happy for the first
time in my life - I was also young.

There was only one drawback to my perfect bliss - one crumpled rose-leaf
in my bed of roses, and that was my consciousness of the fact that Fay
and Annabel did not appreciate one another as thoroughly as I could
have wished. Of course I could see the reasonableness - one might
almost say the inevitableness - of this. In the first place, I could
not disguise it from myself that my marriage, even to any one as
completely adorable as Fay, was something of a blow to Annabel, who had
ruled so long and so undisputedly over her family circle. Ever since
she had been old enough to take the reins, she had taken them and had
grasped them firmly; neither I nor my father before me had ever dared
to lay so much as a restraining finger on them: therefore it must have
been terribly hard for her to find herself equalled - in some things
even superseded - by a girl nearly thirty years her junior. It was not
in human nature to avoid, however silently, resenting this, and
Annabel, though one of the best and wisest women that ever lived, was
nevertheless quite human.

On the other hand, I could not fail to see that Annabel's admirable
behaviour in accepting the situation as she did was utterly lost upon


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