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The intimacy between Frank Wildacre and myself developed apace. We discussed everything from Shakespeare to the musical glasses (whatever that may mean), and found ourselves wonderfully agreed on most points. On the few points where we did not see eye to eye, our differences were as pleasant as our agreements, for Frank loved argument for argument\'s sake, and never came within a mile of losing his temper. In my humble opinion people who lose their tempers over arguments are as tiresome as people who lose their tempers over games, and both should respectively be talked to and played with at the expense of the State rather than of Society.

Frank not only firmly established himself in my affections: he made equally secure resting-places in the affections of Annabel and Arthur, and even of Ponty. But—so weak was I—it flattered my vanity to perceive that in his eyes I found the most favour of the four. It was so delightful to feel myself in touch with youth, and to know that youth was not altogether out of touch with me. The angel of youth stirred the pool of my backwater, and rippled the stagnant surface with the breath of healing.

"You seem to have taken to Frank," Annabel remarked. "I am glad, as it will be so nice for him to have a friend like you."

"I should rather put it that it will be nice for me to have a friend like him." Already a week\'s intimacy with young Wildacre had shaken my hitherto unquestioning acceptance of the dogma that one\'s elders are of necessity one\'s betters; but nothing would ever shake Annabel\'s.

"That is an absurd way of looking at it, Reggie. Young people may be rather a nuisance to us, but we must always be a help and comfort to them, and especially when—as in Frank\'s case—they have no parents of their own. You will try to prove next that even parents are no help to the young!"

"Far from it! I would ever go so far as to urge that they are more than a help—that they amount to a necessity. I quite agree that children can—and ought to—learn much from their parents; but the relation of a parent is unique. Because children must submit to their parents, it doesn\'t follow that they must submit to all their elders."

"Yes, it does, because it would be impossible for the parents not to be older than the children," replied Annabel triumphantly, "so that the one includes the other."

I marvelled at the reasoning powers of the female mind, and held my peace. Feeling that her logic had utterly confounded me, Annabel condescended to be gracious. "Still, of course, it is pleasant for you to have Frank as a companion," she deigned to admit. "He takes the place of that nephew which I always regret you never had."

"The remedy was in your own hands," I ventured to remark.

"Reggie, don\'t be coarse! I think the relation of uncles and aunts is a very agreeable one, as it provides all the pleasure of being a parent with none of the responsibility: at least, none of the overpowering responsibilities. Now if you\'d had children, they would have been a source of great interest and pleasure to me."

"Who is being coarse now?" I demanded.

"Certainly not I; and it isn\'t very nice-minded of you to suggest such a thing. To the pure all things are pure."

I had never for a moment doubted Annabel\'s purity, so I humbly ceded the point. "I wonder if you would have been an equal source of interest and pleasure to them," I speculated.

"Of course I should. I should have been a second mother to them," replied Annabel briskly, without, however, lifting the veil, which evidently, in her imagination, shrouded the fate of their first mother, and prevented the latter from fulfilling her appointed maternal duties.

Annabel was in particularly good spirits just then. Easter Day had passed without developing in Arthur any symptoms of blatant ritualism: the forget-me-nots were flourishing with such vigour that the blue blush, which was just beginning to tint their surface, promised to spread over the whole bed, and the results of the spring-cleaning, which had been conducted during our absence abroad, appeared to be more than usually drastic and complete. Therefore my sister\'s cup of happiness was inclined to brim over.

As for myself, I was impatient, I admit, for the coming of Miss Wildacre. As I was generally talking to Frank, and as Frank was generally talking about his sister, that sister necessarily was often in my thoughts, and I was extremely curious to see what manner of girl she would prove to be.

"When is your sister coming?" I asked him one day. "I thought you had left school this last term, and were coming to settle down at Restham for the summer: you on your way to Oxford in October, and your sister more or less for what people call \'good.\'"

"So we are. Fay has left school as school; but she is so awfully keen on her old schoolmistresses that she is spending her last Easter with them just for pleasure, after all the other girls have gone home for the holidays, except one that has only a father and mother in India, and an aunt who is too full just now to take her in."

"I wonder at Miss Fay being so fond of her school-mistresses, as you told me she hated anything in the shape of improvement or instruction."

"So she does. But the Miss Wylies never improved her at all: she is just as nice now as she was when she first went there. And as for teaching her anything, they simply couldn\'t, for she knew a sight more when she was a kid of ten than they know now."

"A most harmless seminary," I murmured.

"But she is coming at the end of this week," Frank continued; "she says she can\'t keep away any longer, she is in such a tremendous hurry to see you, after all I\'ve told her about you."

"What have you told her about me?" I asked, with pardonable curiosity.

"Oh, lots and lots of things! I\'ve told her how good looking you are in a queer, Charles the First kind of way, and how you resemble the Miss Wylies in being so young for your age, and not seeming anything like as old as you really are, and how you like the things we like, and laugh at the things we laugh at."

"A fairly accurate description, but not altogether a complimentary one," I remarked.

"Well, anyhow—complimentary or not complimentary—it\'s made her wild to see you, and I\'m sure that ought to satisfy a fellow."

"It does," I replied; "but the important question is, shall I satisfy Miss Wildacre when she comes here expecting a combination of Charles the First and the Miss Wylies and herself and yourself rolled into one?"

"Oh, she\'ll be satisfied right enough; trust her! I will say that for Fay: she\'s very easily pleased."

"In that case she and I are bound to get on well together," I said, stroking my moustache in order to hide a smile.

On the Saturday afternoon before Low Sunday I was sitting smoking on the lawn. It was one of those precocious spring days which give themselves the airs of the height of summer, and I treated it as if it were really summer, and behaved myself accordingly. Not so Annabel. She regulated her conduct by the almanac rather than the atmosphere, and never considered it safe to sit out-of-doors until May was overpast. Let the sun beat down never so fiercely upon her covered head, Annabel stood upon her feet as long as she was out-of-doors. Why it was warmer to stand still than to sit still, I never was able to make out; but Annabel considered that it was, and therefore to her it was so. But when once the calendar assured her that "May was out" and that consequently she would be justified in casting as many clouts as she desired, the conduct as well as the costume of my sister underwent a complete transformation. She would then sit out-of-doors in a linen gown, defying the inclemency of an English June for hours together, whilst the fire-places at the Manor became suddenly clad with such a superabundance of verdure that the lighting of a fire would have been a veritable upheaval of Nature.

On this particular Saturday afternoon, the thermometer being sixty-three in the shade, Annabel was keeping herself warm by standing perfectly still watching Cutler ply the mowing-machine, whilst I was keeping myself equally cool by sitting on the terrace doing nothing in particular, when suddenly the big oak door which led into the village opened, and Frank Wildacre, with a girl in deep mourning, came down the stone steps into the garden.

As long as I live I shall never forget the vision of Fay Wildacre as she stepped into my life that sunny afternoon. Although, according to Annabel, the time for clout-casting was still more than a month ahead, the girl\'s dress had no memory of winter clinging to it: it was of a diaphanous texture, falling in soft folds round her slight figure, and the neck and arms of it were transparent, showing the dazzlingly fair skin underneath. On her head was a big black hat, which threw her curly hair and her starry eyes into most becoming shadow, making them look darker than they really were. She was certainly very like Frank, though rather taller for a woman than he was for a man, and she shared his elfin grace and vitality, and his transparent white complexion and bright scarlet lips. She was a replica of her brother, only more fairy-like. Perhaps my short-sightedness, which hid any defects she might have had, caused me then, as afterwards, to exaggerate her beauty. Of that I am unable to judge. But all I know is that as Fay Wildacre stood before me that afternoon, she appeared the embodiment of everything that is exquisite and enchanting and elusive in womankind: I had never seen—I had never even imagined—anything quite so entrancing.

And that was the girl towards whom Annabel had decreed that I should play the part of an affectionate uncle!

"This is Fay," was Frank\'s succinct introduction as we met in the middle of the lawn. "Now isn\'t he just what I told you?" he added, turning to his sister.

For a second a cool little hand lay in my own, and a pair of glorious grey eyes looked laughingly into mine, while a deep, almost boyish, voice replied: "Quite a look of Charles the First, and distinct dash of us but not the faintest flavour of Wylie."

"Thank you," I rejoined, "you have relieved my mind considerably."

Fay laughed Frank\'s merry gurgle. "It really was hard lines on you to be told you were Wylie-ish, and so untrue, too! Frankie, how could you be such a brute to the poor man?"

"I wasn\'t the least bit of a brute. I only meant he was like the Wylies in not looking or seeming his age. And, besides, you\'re always so keen on the Wylies that I thought you\'d think it a compliment for anybody to be thought like them."

The mocking eyes were now turned upon Frank. "But no one is attached to many people whom one would hate to resemble. I adore the Wylies myself; but if you said I was like them I should knock you down."

Frank grinned. "If you could."

"I could—easily. I am quite as tall as you are and much stronger," retorted the redoubtable Miss Wildacre.

"And I am quite ready to keep the ring," I added.

Fay shook her head. "No, Sir Reginald; as I am strong I will be merciful, especially as I have put my best frock on in order to produce a favourable impression on you and Miss Kingsnorth. I\'m not dressed for prize-fighting."

"As regards myself, the frock has succeeded beyond your wildest expectations. I cannot, of course, answer for my sister; but here she comes to answer for herself," I replied, as Annabel joined us. "Annabel, let me introduce you to Miss Wildacre."

"I am very pleased to see you, my dear, and to welcome you to Restham," said my sister in her most gracious manner. "I very much hope that you will like the place and be happy here."

"Of course she will," Frank chimed in; "because I do: Fay and I invariably like the same things."

"I trust that Miss Wildacre will endorse your good opinion," said Annabel.

"Oh, please don\'t call me Miss Wildacre. If you do I shall get home-sick at once; and that would be a pity, as I\'ve no home to go to to cure it. If I\'m to be happy, everybody must call me Fay: otherwise I shall wrap myself in a green-and-yellow melancholy, and sit, like Patience on a monument, smiling at Restham."

Annabel beamed at this suggestion. "I certainly think it will sound more friendly for me to call you by your Christian name, and for Reginald to do so too. It seems rather absurd for people of our age to call children of yours Mr. and Miss. Besides, we want to take the place of an uncle and an aunt to you, and uncles and aunts always call nephews and nieces by their Christian names."

I felt a distinct wave of irritation against Annabel. I was fully aware that I was twenty-four years older than the twins, but I saw no necessity for rubbing it in like this, and, after all, I was five years younger than Annabel.

After a little desultory conversation, my sister asked the young people to walk round the garden, before tea; so we started on one of those horticultural pilgrimages which are an absolute necessity to the moral welfare of all garden-lovers. Frank, having shared in the forget-me-not tribulation, was a partaker in Annabel\'s joy at the sky-blue blush now spreading over the bed; and Fay asked all the right questions and said all the right things. She even went so far as to wonder whether Queen Elizabeth ever sat under the mulberry tree, thereby giving Annabel her always-longed-for opportunity of explaining that mulberry trees were unknown in England until the reign of James the First.

Frank pulled up in ecstasy opposite a flame-coloured azalea that was just bursting into bloom. "Isn\'t it simply ripping?" he exclaimed. "It\'s for all the world like a coloured picture of the Burning Bush in a Sunday book!"

"It reminds one of Mrs. Browning\'s \'common bush afire with God,\'" added his sister.

"The flame-coloured azaleas are not as common as the pink-and-white ones," explained Annabel the Literal. "And I am sorry to see that this particular plant is becoming overshadowed by an elder-tree," she added, fiercely breaking off an overhanging branch of the offending elder with her own hands.

"Poor little azalea!" exclaimed Fay; "I pity it. It is so crushing to be overshadowed by one\'s elders. We have all been through it, and so we know exactly how it feels."

Annabel apparently did not hear the joke, and she most certainly did not see it. "I must speak to Cutler about the elder-trees," she went on, "and tell him to cut them down more. To my mind he is letting them have their own way far too much."

"It\'s an awful mistake to let one\'s elders have too much of their own way," said Frank. "Let us be careful that we don\'t do it, Fay."

Annabel heard that time. "You are confusing two words, Frank," she kindly explained. "I was referring to elder-trees. There are two kinds of elders: the people who are older than ourselves, and the elders that grow in the garden."

"And the elders that grew in Susanna\'s garden," added the irrepressible Frank, "that\'s a third kind."

I smothered a laugh, and Annabel looked shocked: Fay\'s laugh showed no signs of any smothering. "I do not approve of young people reading the Apocrypha," my sister said rather stiffly: "it is not suitable for them."

"But it\'s in the Bible in a sort of way," pleaded Fay, "we were allowed to read it at Miss Wylies\'."

"Not exactly the Bible; I could not call it the Bible." Annabel was relentless.

Fay nodded airily. "I know what you mean: sort of, but not quite. Rather like an Irish peer: no seat in the Lords, but a peer for all practical purposes."

Annabel looked puzzled. "We were talking of the Bible, not of the Peerage," she explained, as if the two words were of a similar nature and so apt to be confused with one another. And to her mind I believe they were.

"Of course we were," said Fay; "how stupid of me to mix up the two!" Then she went on: "The forget-me-nots will be divine in a week or two!" (She was looking at the debatable bed from a becoming distance.) "A lovely blue pool that you will long to bathe in."

Frank opened his mouth to reply, but I was too quick for him. "No further reference to Susanna, if you please," I said sotto voce, laying a firm hand on his arm: "this is no place for her."

"I was thinking of her," he replied, with his bubbling laugh, "when Fay began about bathing in the pool."

"I knew you were: that\'s why I stopped you."

Frank\'s suppressed bubble continued. I wanted to join in it, but I daren\'t.

"How exquisite the house looks from here," exclaimed Fay. "I do adore the rose-colour of the bricks that the Tudors used. They had a nice taste in bricks."

"I think they were a jolly old rosy lot altogether," said Frank. "Took everything as couleur de rose, don\'t you know, till it got into their bones and their bricks!"

Fay agreed with this sentiment. "I dare say that was it: a sort of Christian Science idea that if you thought your bricks were couleur de rose they really became couleur de rose. And I suppose that is why all the new houses about London have that horrid yellow tinge: people nowadays look at everything through blasé, jaundiced eyes, and so everything is yellow to them, and eventually gets really yellow."

"Perhaps you would like to see over the house," suggested Annabel. "It is considered one of the finest specimens of Tudor architecture in Kent, and has never been touched since the time of Henry the Eighth."

"And to what do you attribute that neglect?—as the County Councillor asked when he was shown a house that hadn\'t been touched since the reign of Elizabeth," bubbled Frank.

I admit I laughed then: I couldn\'t help it.

"I knew you\'d appreciate that," murmured he, confidentially slipping his arm into mine; "I\'ve been saving it for days, but never remembered to get it off my chest when you were there. You see, you\'ve got rather a strong Kingsnorth strain in you: it\'s a pity, but you can\'t help it, and when the Kingsnorth strain comes to the top, it\'s rather a waste of good material telling you anything really funny. You take so long being shocked, that by the time the shock has subsided the freshness of the joke has evaporated."

"I wonder if you are right," I said. I always consider it a mistake to neglect any opportunity of seeing myself through another person\'s eyes, and if that other person happens to be considerably my junior, I think the educational advantages of the vision are enhanced. To tell the truth—down at the bottom of my deceitful and desperately wicked heart—I had always cherished a secret belief that the Kingsnorth strain in me was very faint—that I was almost pure Winterford, and it was a considerable and not altogether pleasant surprise to discover that the strain, which I had fondly imagined non-existent, was so strong that it hit onlookers in the face!

Fortunately Annabel had not heard Frank\'s remark anent the Kingsnorth strain: she was busy preparing the virgin soil of Fay\'s mind for an inspection of the Manor, by casting abroad seeds of information respecting that ancient building.

"And how nice of Queen Elizabeth to have slept here!" I heard Fay say. "I think it was too sweet that way she had of sleeping about all over everywhere so as to leave a sort of historical train behind her, like a 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 na?ve 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.

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