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HOME > Short Stories > Ten Degrees Backward > CHAPTER XI IN JUNE
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Frank came home from Oxford early in June—nominally to read with Blathwayte during the Long; and then we had indeed a merry time at Restham, the maddest, merriest time I ever had in my life, before or since. In fact, the whole of the summer was as a midsummer night\'s dream to me. I suggested that although Frank had to work at the Rectory for such part of the day as he deigned to waste upon study, there was no reason why he should not render his home at the Manor. I thought that, this arrangement would make the house more cheerful for Fay; for—though she was far too sweet and unselfish ever to betray such a feeling—I could not help being conscious that the society of two such middle-aged fogies as Annabel and myself was but poor company for a girl of nineteen. Of course Fay was delighted at this suggestion of mine, and Annabel not much less so. If my sister had a soft place in her heart, except the one reserved for me, that place was most certainly occupied by Frank Wildacre.

To my surprise the only person who did not approve of this arrangement was Ponty.

"So I hear Mr. Wildacre is coming to live here now," she said to me one morning, in her most ungracious manner; "the Manor will soon be as full of couples as Noah\'s Ark."

"But I thought you were fond of Mr. Wildacre," I feebly urged.

"So I am, Sir Reginald—in his proper place: just as I am of Miss Annabel. But things out of their own place are worse than useless, as the woman said when she found the cat in the tea-kettle." Ponty never addressed me as "Sir Reginald" unless I was in dire disgrace with her.

"And he will be such nice company for her ladyship," I went on, ashamed of my own cowardice, yet persisting in it. My passion for peace at any price has always been one of my most unworthy characteristics. I envy those people who can annoy their fellows without turning a hair.

"Of course, Sir Reginald, you are master in your own house—at least, you ought to be," said Ponty darkly; "and if you are set on spending your married life in playing \'Oranges and Lemons,\' nobody can stop you. Everybody\'s got the right to spoil their own lives in their own way, more\'s the pity! I remember a married couple at Poppenhall who would have the wife\'s brother to live with them, and he fell into the fire and was burnt to death, through having epileptic fits."

"But he\'d have fallen into the fire just the same if he hadn\'t lived with them," I argued, with a culpable lack of dignity; "and then they would always have blamed themselves for having neglected him."

"That is as may be, Sir Reginald: he might or he might not. But as it was, they did blame themselves, I can tell you, and the husband took to drink in consequence, he blamed himself so much."

"Well, I don\'t think he need have gone to such lengths as that by way of expiating his mistake," I said cheerfully. "And besides, that has no bearing upon the present case, as Mr. Wildacre doesn\'t suffer from fits."

Ponty sighed the heavy sigh of disapproval. "There are other things besides fits, Sir Reginald."

I remarked that fortunately there were, and then left the nursery. I should have been irritated with Ponty, but her unbounded admiration of Fay made me freely forgive her anything and everything. Still I wondered at her attitude, though I was fast learning not to be surprised at any vagary of the feminine mind, but just to accept it as one of the unfathomable mysteries.

Frank\'s presence at the Manor made a wonderful difference to Fay. He stimulated what I called the elfin side of her nature, and brought out those qualities which she possessed in common with him. I have frequently noticed that when members of the same family are together, all the family traits rise to the surface, while individual characteristics fall into abeyance for the time being. The unit is, so to speak, merged in the tribe.

I remarked upon this one day at breakfast.

"I know what you mean," said Frank. (The Wildacres were always very quick to catch an idea.) "The Joneses become all Jones, and the Smiths become all Smith at their Christmas family dinner, and the separate Johns and Roberts and Marias, with their individual characteristics, are swallowed up in the great Nirvana of Jonesism and Smithism."

"And Jonesism and Smithism are consequently tremendously intensified," Fay chimed in; "it is only at such family gatherings that one realises the hugeness of the Jones nose, or the bitterness of the Smith temper. I expect when all the Hapsburgs are together the size of their historical under lip becomes something stupendous."

"I do not quite see how a Christmas party can lengthen anybody\'s nose or swell their under lip," remarked Annabel, full of patient endeavour to discover a grain of sense in all the chaff of our nonsense.

"Unless it ended in a fight," suggested Frank.

"Oh, of course, in that case it might; but I thought you were talking of friendly family gatherings."

"So we were, Annabel," I explained; "Fay and Frank were only speaking figuratively." I was always so dreadfully afraid that my sister would consider Fay foolish.

Fay went on with the conversation. It was a matter of absolute indifference to her whether Annabel considered her foolish or not, and this grieved me, as I was so anxious for Annabel to do my darling justice, and I could see that Fay herself sometimes rendered this difficult. "But when members of a family marry," she said, "and go to houses of their own, their respective personalities develop, and what Frank calls the Jones-and-Smith Nirvana is broken up. Then we see that what we imagined to be a complete tea-set was really a collection of separate pieces of different kinds of china."

"But throw them together at their Christmas party," added Frank, "and they will at once grow into each other\'s likeness, and your tribal tea-set will be complete once more."

"You children talk so fast that I really cannot follow you," said Annabel good-naturedly from behind the coffee-urn. "I don\'t see how noses and under lips can turn into tea-sets."

"They can\'t," I agreed. "All we were saying is that when members of the same family are together, they bring out the family characteristics in each other."

But Annabel was not grateful for my efforts on her behalf. "You said that some time ago, Reggie; of course I understood that, though I don\'t altogether agree with it. But it is the things that the children have said since that slightly confused me."

I wished Annabel would not always speak of Frank and Fay as "the children." It seemed so to emphasise the gulf between Fay and myself. But Annabel had got into the habit of thus speaking of them before my marriage; and Annabel and a habit, when once formed, were inseparable.

"I know why you said it, Reggie," said Fay, who could always read me like a book. I often wished that I could as easily read her! "You were thinking that when Frank is here I am much more of a Wildacre than when he isn\'t: just as when you are with Annabel you are much more of a Kingsnorth than when you are alone with me."

That was exactly what I had been thinking—at least, the former part of it; I did not at all agree with Fay that I was more of a Kingsnorth when I was with Annabel, but it was rather a shock to hear it thus crudely put into words. That is what strikes me about the young people of to-day: they are so much more outspoken than we were at their age. Our parents veiled Truth—we clothed her—but the present generation treats her as the Earl of Mercia treated Godiva. And this treatment is slightly upsetting to us who were brought up so differently.

Annabel answered for me. "That is only natural, my dear, considering that Frank and you are the same age, and Reggie and I are so much older. It is nice for the young to be with the young, it keeps them bright and cheerful, and it is depressing for them to be constantly with persons old enough to be their parents."

Fay\'s grey eyes flashed. "I never find it depressing to be with Reggie," she retorted, somewhat hotly. "He always bucks me up."

But Annabel\'s temper remained impregnable. It was only Cutler who had the power to shake that fortress. "I never said you did, my dear. You are far too loyal a little wife ever to think of such a thing. But it is natural for youth to cling to youth; it would be abnormal of it if it didn\'t."

Fay still looked angry. "I don\'t care a twopenny dam if I am abnormal or not. I never want to cling to anybody but Reggie."

I felt it was time to step in. I didn\'t want Fay to say anything to offend Annabel. "Of course you don\'t, darling, and I am only too delighted to be clung to to any extent; it is most warming and comforting to me. But I fear Annabel is right in regarding me as the old oak tree to which the ivy clings."

Fay slipped her hand into mine, under cover of the breakfast-table. "You aren\'t a bit old, Reggie!" she said indignantly. "Is he, Frank?"

"I\'ve known older," replied Frank guardedly.

At this we all laughed—especially Annabel. Frank\'s jokes usually appealed to her, though Fay\'s didn\'t, which was strange, as the twins resembled each other mentally almost as much as they did physically: it was only in the deeper places of the spirit that the resemblance ended.

"Reggie is not old and he is not young," said Annabel; "I never can understand why people make such a fuss about their ages. I am forty-eight and Reggie is forty-three this year, and I make no bones about it, and it would be no good if I did, as it\'s in Burke and Debrett for all the world to read. And I really don\'t think, my dear Fay, that \'a twopenny dam\' is at all a nice expression for a young lady to use: I cannot bear to hear women swear."

"It isn\'t swearing, Miss Kingsnorth," cried Frank, who was always ready to stick up for his sister; "it\'s a foreign coin which was much used by the great Duke of Wellington."

"So I\'ve heard," replied Annabel, with doubt in her tone. "But all I can say is that if it isn\'t swearing, it sounds uncommonly like it, and I\'m sure that any ordinary person hearing it would do Fay an injustice, and imagine that she was given to bad language."

I felt it was time to read the Riot Act and disperse the company; so I rose from the table and took my pipe out of my pocket, saying: "Come on, little girl, and watch me smoking in the garden. It will be a soothing, soporific sight."

Fay jumped up and followed me, as I knew she would. One of her most fascinating tricks was a habit she had of trotting about the house and garden after me like a little child. And yet in some things she was so much of a woman!

"I say, sweetheart," I said as soon as we were out of earshot of the house, "I wouldn\'t use strong language before Annabel, if I were you. She doesn\'t understand it, and it gives her false ideas of you."

Fay\'s scarlet lips pouted. "It wasn\'t strong language. Frank told you it wasn\'t.&qu............
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