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HOME > Short Stories > Ten Degrees Backward > CHAPTER X A BIRTHDAY PRESENT
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Fay and I were married early in the year, which always appears to me the proper time for marrying and giving in marriage. It seems so appropriate for the new heaven and the new earth to begin at the same time. We went first to the Italian lakes and then back to Switzerland, so that spring met us in Italy, accompanied us through the Swiss mountains, and arrived at Restham Manor about the same time as we did. Thus our path was literally strewn with flowers all the way.

It would be both undignified and impossible, to describe what a heavenly time that honeymoon was to me. I had never imagined that such bliss was attainable in this work-a-day world: I thought it only existed in fairy-tales. And indeed my life was a fairy-tale just then, with Fay for the leading fairy.

I think that it was a very happy time for her, too; though I could not expect her to feel the absorbing delight in my society that I felt in hers. How could she, considering how dull and stupid I was, and how vivid and radiant was she? But she seemed contented with me, and delighted with the lakes and the mountains and the wealth of flowers: and she grew lovelier and more lovable every day. Her intoxicating society renewed my youth, and we walked and rode and boated together like a pair of happy and careless children, till I believed that she had spoken truth when she said that Love had indeed accomplished the impossible as far as I was concerned, and had set the shadow on the dial ten degrees backward.

The arrangements for our honeymoon had been highly approved of by Annabel, as they prevented that meeting between the east wind and me, which she spent her life in trying to avert, so that by the time we reached home at the end of April, the east wind was chained up again in his kennel with the keenest of his teeth extracted. At least so Annabel preached, and so she believed; for my part I had met him rushing loose about the fields on a May morning, with a tooth as keen as any ingratitude of man\'s.

We arrived at home on a lovely afternoon—one of those blue and golden afternoons of late spring—and found Annabel waiting in the hall to welcome us. How good it was to see her there! I should hardly have felt it was a real home-coming without Annabel, and nice as it was for me, I felt it was still nicer for Fay to have a woman to come home to—a woman who could comprehend and comfort and cherish her as no man, however devoted, could possibly do, and who could, to a certain extent, take the place of the mother whom—to her lifelong impoverishment—she had lost.

"Come and have some tea, my dear," said Annabel, after we had duly embraced her and greeted the entire household, who were likewise waiting in the hall to receive us.

The household melted away as if we had read the Riot Act over it, and we three drew near to the gate-legged tea-table.

"You had better pour out, Fay," said Annabel, "and take your place in your own house from the beginning."

Fay was looking so tired that I answered for her. "No, Annabel, you do it. Fay is really too tired to pour out for us two able-bodied beings. She ought not to wait upon other people, but to let other people wait upon her." She certainly did seem a fragile, fairy-like little thing beside Annabel and me.

"Shall I, Fay?" asked Annabel.

"Just as Reggie likes," replied my darling, with her lovely smile.

"Sweetheart, you are too tired to lift that heavy teapot. Let Annabel do it for you." The vessel in question was part of an extremely solid tea-service which had been presented to my father by an admiring constituency on the auspicious occasion of his marriage, and which resembled a flotilla of silver Dreadnoughts.

Fay laughed. "I think, as Reggie says, I had better not tackle the big teapot till it gets used to me: it might begin to buck or jib, and I\'m sure I shouldn\'t have strength to hold it in if it did."

"It couldn\'t very well do that," said Annabel, taking her accustomed seat at the table, while Fay sat on the other side of me; "but it might overflow and trickle down the spout, as it is by no means a good pourer, and Jeavons always fills it too full." (Jeavons was our butler.) "I can\'t think why servants always make as much tea for three people as for half-a-dozen."

"I hate teapots that dribble down their chins," remarked Fay: "they are so messy."

Annabel gently corrected her. "I said spout, my dear, not chin. Teapots don\'t have chins. And now, you two, tell me all your adventures since I saw you last." Whereupon she characteristically proceeded to tell us all hers, and we neither of us could get a word in edgeways.

"And the garden is looking perfectly lovely," she concluded, after an exhaustive recital of the recent happenings of Restham. "I have had my own way with the forget-me-nots this year, and they are going to be a great success. Even Cutler now owns that he was wrong and I was right." Whereby I perceived that Cutler knew on which side of his bread the butter lay.

"Of course they are not in their full perfection yet," continued Annabel; "but they will be a sight when they are. You see, I was away when they were planted last year, and he didn\'t put them in nearly closely enough; but this year I superintended them myself."

"Then it is sure to be all right," I said.

"It is," replied Annabel, unconscious of irony. "If only people would always do what they are told, what a great deal of trouble would be saved! The moment I saw them last year I told Cutler they weren\'t nearly thick enough, but he wouldn\'t believe me, and said they would spread."

"And didn\'t they?" I asked, loyalty to my own sex drawing me over to Cutler\'s side.

"Not as much as he said they would, so last spring was practically wasted as far as the forget-me-nots were concerned. But it taught him once for all that I knew better than he."

"A spring is never wasted in which one learns wisdom," I remarked.

"I do love forget-me-nots," exclaimed Fay. "Forget-me-not beds are like adorable blue pools, and I never see one without longing to jump into it and bathe."

"That you must never do, my dear," replied Annabel; "if you did, you would entirely spoil the appearance of the beds for that season. They would never close up again properly, but would always look straggling and untidy."

I caught Fay\'s eyes; but to our lasting credit we were both able to postpone our laughter. It is one of the most delightful things in the world to be with somebody who laughs at the same things as one laughs at oneself: it creates a bond that nothing can ever break: a bond devoid of all sentimentality, but none the less powerful on that account. In looking back on as much of life\'s road as we have already travelled, and recalling thoughts of our fellow-travellers therein, I am not sure that the memories of the friends who shared our jokes are not tenderer than the memories of the friends who shared our sorrows, and they are certainly much pleasanter. I do not, however, pretend that a similarity of taste in jokes is a sufficient basis for matrimony, though a very firm foundation for friendship; but since friendship forms a not inconsiderable part of an ideal marriage, this sympathy in matters humorous is an important consideration in matrimony also. And I am thankful to say that this sympathy existed in full measure between myself and Fay.

It existed also between myself and Frank, had I given it full run; but there were certain things—such as Annabel, for instance—over which I could not allow myself to laugh too much with Frank. But there was nothing—not even Annabel—over which it would be disloyal to laugh with Fay, since husband and wife are one, and many and many a time did she and I have together a merry time over the quaint humours which help considerably to make this present world as delightful a dwelling-place as it is.

But though Fay and I often laughed together at my sister\'s ways—which were certainly very laughter-provoking just then—our laughter was the laughter of love, and I never lost the opportunity of pointing out to Fay the sterling goodness which underlay Annabel\'s peculiarities. But I advisedly admitted the peculiarities, as there is nothing which so successfully sets one person against another as an assumption of the latter\'s flawlessness. The people whose geese are all swans are responsible for many an epidemic of cygnophobia.

But of course I never laughed with Annabel over Fay\'s little ways; they, and everything else connected with my darling, were then and always sacrosanct to me. It annoyed me even when Frank laughed at her—as he very frequently did—which I admit was inconsistent on my part, since if I had the right to laugh at my sister, he had certainly the right to laugh at his. But though Frank\'s jokes at Fay\'s expense might be lawful, to me they were highly inexpedient.

It was the first Sunday after our return home. In the morning Fay, Annabel and I attended Divine Service in Restham Church, and "sat under" Arthur, Annabel in her usual place at the top of the Manor pew, and Fay close to me at the bottom, so that during the lessons and the sermon, and such unoccupied times, we could slip our respective hands into one another\'s without any one perceiving it. As I knelt in the church where I had worshipped from my childhood, and realised that to me had been given my heart\'s desire, I felt as one who came home with joy, bringing his sheaves with him, and I gave God thanks.

After the service was over we walked round the Manor House garden accompanied by Arthur, which was as much a part of the morning\'s ritual as the Litany or the prayer for the King. I believe Annabel would have thought it almost wicked to omit this sabbatic peregrination, if the weather permitted it. Certainly I could not remember a time when we had not walked round the garden every Sunday after service, remarking how the vegetable kingdom had either advanced or receded (according to the season of the year) since the preceding Sunday.

But if my sister would have included an omission of that Sunday morning\'s walk round the garden among those things left undone which she ought to have done, she certainly would have considered the taking of any further exercise on a Sunday as among the things which she ought not to have done; therefore Fay and I started off for a long walk that Sunday afternoon, unhampered by the encompassing presence of Annabel. A nap between lunch and tea was one of the most sacred rites of Annabel\'s strict sabbatic ritual.

"Now isn\'t it lovely to set out for a walk together and to feel that we\'ve got the rest of our lives to finish it in, and that there\'s nothing to hurry home for?" exclaimed Fay, as we walked across the garden.

"There\'s nothing to hurry home for because we are home," I replied, as we went through the little gate which separated the lawn from the park: "wherever you are is home to me."

"Same here," retorted Fay; "like snails, we carry our home on our backs, which is very delightful and picnicky when you come to think of it."

"That\'s where we are so superior to snails," I pointed out; "they carry their own, while we carry each other\'s: a far finer type, if you\'ll permit me to say so."

"I remember once when I was a little girl, Mother corrected me for being vain, and said it was horrid of me to think I was pretty. I thought it over, and then I came back to her and explained that I didn\'t think I was pretty—I only thought I was better looking than a frog, and I asked her if it was \'vainness\' to think I was better looking than a frog, and she agreed it wasn\'t. In the same way I don\'t think it is a \'vainness\' of us to think we are finer characters than snails, do you?"

"By no means. And I go farther: I don\'t even think it is \'vainness\' on your part to think you are pretty."

Fay laughed. "I\'m glad it isn\'t, for I do."

"You darling!"

"And I\'m not selfish in my \'vainness\' either," she went on, "or narrow. I think you are very good looking too; much better looking than a frog, Reggie, much!"

"You silly child, what nonsense you are talking! You\'ll really make me horribly vain if you go on like this!" I said reprovingly. But I liked it, nevertheless.

"And a jolly good thing if I did! You aren\'t vain enough; it\'s the one flaw in your otherwise admirable character."

"It\'s much too soon for you to begin to find out your husband\'s faults, Fay; you oughtn\'t to have discovered one for at least six months. You\'ll make a terrible wife if you go on like this!"

"I\'m not finding out my husband\'s faults: I\'m only regretting that he doesn\'t possess one."

"He is all fault that hath no fault at all," I quoted.

"Oh, I didn\'t mean that you don\'t possess a fault at all, far from it; I mean you don\'t possess one particular fault, namely, vanity, and that it would be a jolly sight better for you if you did. You don\'t think half well enough of yourself, Reggie, you don\'t really, and it is such a pity. You\'ve no idea how perfectly good and clever and altogether splendid you are."

"Then you ought to commend me for my humility instead of scolding me like this," I urged in self-defence.

Fay shook her curly head. "Humility is a thing which can very soon be overdone—especially in a case like yours."

"For instance?"

"Well, you aren\'t properly proud of the things you ought to be proud of, and you\'ve got such lots of them," explained Fay, with some lack of lucidity.

"Anyhow I\'m jolly proud of the one thing I\'ve a right to be proud of, and that is my wife," I replied.

"That\'s you all over, wrapping other people up in the mantle of your own virtues, and then admiring the other people for being so awfully well dressed. It\'s really you that makes us such a tremendously attractive couple. People like me because I\'m your wife, and yet you\'ll always believe they like you because you\'re my husband. It really is stupid to put the cart before the horse in that way, Reggie."

I put my arm through Fay\'s, drawing her nearer to me. "Then what on earth do you want me to do, carry a pocket-mirror about with me, and keep taking it out and admiring myself, like Narcissus, or else thrust the sanguinary hand of my recent baronetcy into every stranger\'s face?"

"Oh, Reggie, what an idiot you are! Of course, I think it is perfectly sweet of you not to have a swelled head because you are rich............
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