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CHAPTER XII SHAKSPERE AND THE MUSICAL GLASSES
One day as we were having luncheon—Blathwayte being one of the party—Annabel remarked: "I am terribly worried with one thing or another."

Arthur and I hastened to express our sympathy, and to inquire the cause of her disquietude.

"For one thing, I can\'t think how to raise a little money for the Parish Nurse Fund this year: we always have an entertainment of some kind every three or four years, you know, to eke out the subscriptions which aren\'t enough by themselves, and I really don\'t like the way this new cook fricassees: her gravy is so much too watery. Yet in other things—especially frying—she suits me so well; and changing servants, especially cooks, is always so very worrying. I can\'t think what induced Mrs. Wilkinson to get married."

Mrs. Wilkinson was our ex-cook-housekeeper, who had so far forgotten herself—and Annabel—as to enter the holy estate of matrimony shortly after I myself took that momentous plunge.

"I expect the same as induces most people," said Arthur: "she wanted to."

"Well, it was very inconsiderate and selfish after all my kindness and consideration for her," said Annabel severely; "only two years ago I kept the situation open for two months while she had something the matter with her leg—I forget what it was, but I think it began with an \'E\'—or was it an \'I\'?—and I put up with the kitchenmaid and scullerymaid and outside help for all that time, giving Mrs. Wilkinson her full wages. And after that, I think it was too bad of her to throw me over in this way."

"And for the sake of a mere man," I added.

"No worse for a mere man than for a mere woman; the wrong thing was throwing me over at all, after all my kindness to her, and waiting for her for two months. Of course, if I\'d known she was going to be married, I should have let her leg take her away permanently. But I can\'t imagine what put such an idea into her head."

"Probably the man she married," said Fay; "men have a way of putting such ideas into our heads at times."

"And at her age, too," continued the aggrieved one; "she owns to forty-five, and if people own to forty-five they\'ll own to anything. And as to the new cook\'s gravies, they really are not what we have been accustomed to at the Manor; so thin and tasteless; and I very much doubt if she is strict enough with Cutler about bringing in sufficient vegetables. Cutler requires a firm hand."

"And he gets it, Miss Kingsnorth," cried Frank: "so firm that I\'ve seen him stagger under it at times."

Fay giggled. In fact, during the whole conversation she and Frank had kept catching each other\'s eye, and indulging in suppressed mirth.

"I don\'t know if you have noticed it, Mr. Blathwayte," Annabel went on, "but gardeners are so dreadfully obstinate about bringing in sufficient vegetables. Cutler is really terrible about the peas. He seems to think they are planted to be looked at instead of eaten. And that is where Mrs. Wilkinson was so satisfactory: she mastered him completely, and made him bring in whatever vegetables she required."

"That augurs well for her chances of conjugal felicity, and less well for those of her husband," I remarked.

"It was so silly of her to want a husband at her time of life," continued Annabel; "besides being so unfair to me. And what we are to do this year to eke out the Parish Nurse money I cannot imagine. I had a Sale of Work two years ago, and a Concert two years before that, and I don\'t want to have either of them again so soon, though I don\'t see what else I can have, and we haven\'t money enough without."

"It is such a business getting up a Sale of Work in a small parish like this," said Arthur.

Annabel agreed with him. "And in a little village people don\'t want a lot of tea-cosies and antimacassars and fancy blotters," she added, as if in large towns the thirst for these articles was insatiable.

"Why not have a Jumble Sale?" suggested Fay. "Jumble sales are so splendid at killing three birds with one stone: they clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and clear out your wardrobe at the same time."

"I don\'t see how they feed the hungry," Arthur objected.

But Fay had her answer ready. "By the money they make, of course. And in the present instance feeding the hungry would be a synonym for supporting the Parish Nurse."

Annabel\'s brow was lined with anxiety. "I see what you mean about Jumble sales, but they have terrible disadvantages."

"As for instance?" I prompted her. I saw she was bursting to divulge the tragedies attendant upon Jumble sales.

"We had one, if you remember, five or six years ago for the village hall, and made quite a nice little sum by it. But Cutler bought one of Reggie\'s old suits at it, and wore it on a Sunday afternoon when he came up to see after the stove in the greenhouses; and I saw him standing in the peach-house and went up to him and put my hand on his shoulder, thinking he was Reggie! Wasn\'t it dreadful? I feel I shall never get over it as long as I live."

Of course the twins shouted with laughter at this, and Arthur and I were not far behind them in our exuberance of mirth. But Annabel looked quite serious—even distressed.

"I see nothing to laugh at in it—nothing at all," she said in accents of reproof; "it was a most embarrassing position both for me and for Cutler. I\'m sure I pitied him as much as I pitied myself."

"Did you say anything?" I asked as soon as I could speak—"while you still believed him to be me, I mean?"

Annabel blushed: five long years had not obliterated the disgrace of that terrible moment in the peach-house. "Unfortunately I did; I said: \'What are you doing here, my dear?\' It wouldn\'t have mattered so much if I hadn\'t said \'my dear.\' But I did."

Of course our mirth burst forth afresh. No one who knew Annabel could have blamed us.

"I see nothing funny in my calling Cutler \'my dear,\'" she said with dignity; "quite the reverse."

"But it was—it was excruciatingly funny," I gasped.

"I can assure you it was not intentional."

"You needn\'t assure us," I said; "we never for one mad moment suspected that it was."

"And you can now see," continued Annabel, "what a horror I have of Jumble sales. It would be terrible if such a thing occurred again. And I quite agree with what you were saying, Reggie, about the Prime Minister and the Income Tax."

For a moment I thought that Annabel had taken leave of her senses, but on looking round I perceived that this sudden change of subject was for the benefit of Jeavons and a footman, who had just entered the dining-room in order to introduce the pudding and remove our plates. My sister usually dropped into politics, or into other questions equally alien to her real thoughts and interests when the servants entered the room, and she believed that they believed that she was continuing a conversation. But I feel sure that they were not so easily taken in—at any rate, Jeavons was not; I cannot answer for the credulity of footmen, but my own private opinion is that they think exclusively of cricket and football matches, and never attend to the conversation of their so-called betters at all.

Without waiting for the withdrawal of the listening retainers, Frank exclaimed: "I\'ve got a ripping idea—a million times better than a Jumble Sale. Let\'s have a Pastoral Play."

"Papa always said that a shilling in the pound was far too much, except in time of war," said Annabel, in a raised tone of voice and with a warning look at Frank. Then, as Jeavons thoughtfully banged the door to show that he was no longer present, she continued in a softer voice: "Yes, my dear Frank, what was it you said? I never like to discuss arrangements before the servants."

"I didn\'t see any harm in suggesting a Pastoral Play before them," replied the irrepressible Frank; "but of course I shouldn\'t have gone on talking about the time when you kissed Cutler in the peach-house as long as they were in the room."

Annabel gave a little shriek. "My dear boy, what are you talking about? I didn\'t kiss Cutler, I only put my hand upon his shoulder."

"It makes a much better tale of it if you say you kissed him," persisted Frank; "it really does. I should tell it like that the next time, if I were you."

"I shall do nothing of the kind. It would sound so dreadful, and, besides, it wouldn\'t be true."

"Still it makes it much funnier," persisted Frank.

"But it couldn\'t possibly have happened," explained Annabel. "I should never have thought of kissing Reggie on a Sunday afternoon; such an idea would never have occurred to me. And if I hadn\'t tried to kiss Reggie, I should naturally not have kissed Cutler. But do go on with what you were saying about a Pastoral Play."

Annabel was one of those people who, whilst appearing utterly absent-minded and wrapped up in their own concerns, "take notice" (as nurses say of children) far more than one imagines. Frank\'s suggestion had not escaped her.

"I think a Pastoral Play would be simply ripping," he repeated, "and bring you in no end of money for your old District Nurse. Fay and I would get it up and run it for you, as we were always acting and being mixed up with theatrical things when Father was alive, and it would be like old times for us to be on the stage again, wouldn\'t it, Fay?"

My wife\'s eyes sparkled. "Rather! I should simply adore it."

It was news to me that the twins had been so much in the theatrical world during their father\'s lifetime, and not altogether pleasing news, either. But, considering that he had chosen his wife from "the Profession," I could hardly be surprised at his familiarity with it.

"Then that\'s settled," exclaimed Frank, as usual carrying Fay and Annabel with him on the wings of his enthusiasm. "It will be the greatest fun in the world! We\'ll get the Loxleys to come and stay here and help us with the principal parts, and we can train the choir-boys and the village children to do the crowds and the dances and things like that. It will be simply top-hole."

"But where should we have it?" asked Annabel, breathless with the rapidity of her flight.

"In the garden, of course: I\'ll show you an ideal spot. The audience will sit on rows of chairs on the lawn, and the stage will be on that, raised piece at the far end which sticks out into the shrubbery, and the actors will come on from behind the rhododendrons.

"And what play shall you act?" asked my sister, still gasping.

"It must be one of Shakspere\'s," said Arthur; "I never heard of a Pastoral Play that wasn\'t Shakspere\'s."

"And Shakspere\'s are sufficiently classical and improving and respectable," Fay chimed in, "to be in the same galère as the Parish Nurse."

Annabel beamed. "Fay is quite right: it would never do to have anything that was at all doubtful or risky in connection with the Parish Nursing Fund; but Shakspere\'s Plays almost count as lesson-books, they are so educational and instructive; they are regularly studied at girls\' schools, and were even in my schooldays. I have forgotten it all since, but we read a good deal of Shakspere when I was at school, and different girls took the different parts, which made it so much more interesting."

I daren\'t look at Fay, for fear of seeing and responding to an irreverent smile. "Shakespere is evidently the man for the place," I said.

"I always think he was a very clever writer," continued Annabel, "and nice-looking too, to judge from his portraits, with quite a distinct look of Reggie—especially about the beard."

"I am afraid the resemblance ended there," I sighed, "and did not ascend to the brain."

"And I a............
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