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HOME > Short Stories > Ten Degrees Backward > CHAPTER XIII THE GARDEN OF DREAMS
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After the excitement of the Pastoral Play had subsided into calm satisfaction with the handsome sum of money which it had provided for supplying the future needs of the Parish Nurse, Fay and I went off for a second little honeymoon by our two selves. I urged Annabel to come with us, as she had been baulked by my marriage of her usual trip abroad with me in the spring; but she declined, preferring to visit some old friends of hers who had a place in Scotland. In the depths of my selfish and undisciplined heart there was hidden an unholy relief and joy at the thought of having Fay to myself for a time; but I loyally strove to hide and quench this unbrotherly feeling, of which I was glad to know I was thoroughly ashamed. How could I shut out my sister from any happiness of mine, when I was confident that she would never exclude me from any joy of hers? Nay, more than this, I was convinced that Annabel was incapable of finding happiness, or even pleasure in anything that she did not share with me.

We had decided to go for two or three weeks to an hotel in a little village on the East Coast, where Annabel and I had once spent a month some few years previously, and had found the air wonderfully invigorating. It is marvellous, that East Coast air, for blowing cobwebs out of tired brains, and making the weak grow strong and the old feel young again.

"I am sorry that Annabel will not come with us," I said to Fay one glorious afternoon in early August as we were sitting in the garden at home; and my secret knowledge that I really was not as sorry as I ought to have been made me say it all the more vehemently: "she has had a tiring summer, and it would have done her good."

Fay happened to be in one of her unresponsive moods. "She is going to Scotland," she said.

"I know she is; but she will not find Scotland as bracing as Bythesea. In fact, I always think the Macdonalds\' place decidedly relaxing."

"Well, she had her choice. She could have come with us if she had wanted to. You asked her."

It occurred to me that perhaps Fay was a little hurt at Annabel\'s having preferred, for the time being, the Macdonalds\' society to ours; so I hastened to put this right. "You mustn\'t misjudge Annabel, my darling, and think that her refusal to go with us to Bythesea shows any want of affection for you, or any lack of appreciation of your dear society, because I know it really isn\'t so."

"I never thought anything of the kind," replied Fay, and her usually gay voice sounded a little flat.

"I expect that it was really her unselfishness that made her refuse to come with us. Annabel always puts other people\'s pleasure before her own. She evidently thought we should enjoy a bit of time to ourselves."

"Well, we shall, shan\'t we?"

I agreed with Fay to the bottom of my heart; but I would not let her see that I did. I felt it would be disloyal to Annabel. "Of course we shall, darling; but we should also have enjoyed it if Annabel had been there, and I could not bear to feel that we took our pleasure at the expense of hers."

"Still, she may think that a change of society is rather jolly sometimes. You are always such a one for sending out whole families together, Reggie, as if they were in Noah\'s Ark."

"I am sure Annabel would not think that as far as you and I are concerned," I answered; "she loves to be with us."

Fay did not reply, so I still thought she was hurt by Annabel\'s refusal. Then suddenly another possible cause for her lack of enthusiasm struck me, and I hastened to say: "Would you like us to take Frank with us, darling? We certainly will if you would like it. It would be rather a good plan, I think, as it would be so much more cheerful for you." Of course that was what had vexed Fay, I thought to myself: I had asked Annabel to go with us, and had not thought of asking Frank. How stupid I had been! And I tried hard to stifle that selfish longing on my part to have Fay all to myself. "By all means let us take Frank."

"But he is supposed to be reading with Mr. Blathwayte." To my surprise Fay did not jump at the suggestion.

"Bother his reading! Frank\'s education doesn\'t matter half as much as your pleasure. I\'ll go and ask him at once," I said, attempting to rise from my seat.

But Fay pulled me down again. "You\'ll do nothing of the kind, Reggie. We won\'t have either Frank or Annabel, but only just our two selves, and we\'ll talk nonsense and make love to each other all the time."

And then that selfish longing, which I had tried to stifle so hard, rose up full grown, and I could have shouted for joy to know that my darling wanted nobody except me, just as I wanted nobody except her. There is something shockingly exclusive about love!

So Fay and I went to Bythesea together, and had a glorious time. The days were not half long enough for all we had to do and say in them. We walked by the blue North Sea, and breathed the strong North wind, and felt that it was indeed a good thing to be alive. Being left exclusively to ourselves, we grew nearer to each other, and gazed into each other\'s souls with no wall of partition between.

I have always loved Bythesea, ever since I first went there with Annabel, and I call it the Place of the Two Gardens, for with two gardens it is always associated in my mind.

The first garden is the Garden of Sleep. On the very edge of the cliff stands—or rather, there stood when last I was there, and for aught I know to the contrary there is still standing to-day—the tower of a ruined church. The rest of the church fell into the sea years ago, but the tower still remains, its wall on one side running down sheer with the cliff. Such of the churchyard as the encroaching sea has not yet swallowed lies to the backward of the tower, and all around it are fields, which in their season are clothed with scarlet and other delights, for it is the land of poppies.

"It was rather cruel of the sea to wake up all the sleeping people when they were resting so peacefully," said Fay with a shiver, as we sat in the sunshine on the low bank which encloses what is left of the churchyard.

I hastened to comfort her. "It didn\'t wake them up, sweetheart. They wakened up long ago, and had been living and serving and praising somewhere else, years before the sea washed away their worn-out, cast-off bodies."

"I feel as if they had been drowned," Fay persisted: "drowned in their sleep."

"Silly little child," I said, putting my arms round her, "to think that the people themselves were washed away with their poor old bodies! And they weren\'t even the bodies they were wearing at the time: they were old, worn-out things. And do you think, too, that when the church was washed away, the Spirit that sanctified the church was washed away also?"

Fay nestled up to me. "Of course not."

"No," I continued: "as the Spirit which sanctified this old church still lives and moves and works among men to-day, so the spirits which inhabited those old bodies live and move and work to-day, either here on earth or in other spheres. The temples made with hands, and the temples not made with hands, may pass away and perish; but the Life that transformed them from mere dwelling-places into temples of God abides for ever."

"You really are very comforting, Reggie, and have such beautiful thoughts. I really think you\'ve got an awfully nice mind—much nicer than most people\'s."

"Not a millionth part as nice as yours, sweetheart."

"Much, much nicer. I really haven\'t got a very nice one, as minds go. I\'m jealous, and selfish and frivolous, and all sorts of horrid things."

I put my hand over the small scarlet mouth. "Hush, hush! I cannot allow anybody—not even you—to say a word against my wife."

The other garden at Bythesea I called, in opposition to the Garden of Sleep, the Garden of Dreams: and a wonderful garden it was. It was as young as the other garden was old, and as carefully tended as the other was neglected. It also was situated on the edge of the cliff, and was more like a garden out of the Arabian Nights which had been called into being in one night by some beneficent Djin, than a garden in matter-of-fact England. It was a garden of infinite variety and of constant surprises, where nothing grew but the unexpected; but where the unexpected flourished in great profusion and luxuriance. It was a most inconsequent garden, and to wander through its changing scenes was like wandering through the exquisite inconsistencies of a delightful dream. The dream began on a velvety lawn, where the velvet was edged with gay flowers and still gayer flowering shrubs, and the blue sea made an effective background. Then it turned into a formal garden, with paved paths between the square grass-plots, and a large fountain in the middle lined with sky-blue tiles, as if a bit of sky had fallen down to earth and had found earth so fascinating that it could not tear itself away again. Then the dream took a more serious turn, and led along sombre cloisters veiled with creepers. But it could not keep serious for long: it soon floated back into the sunlight, and dipped into a sunk garden paved with coral and amethyst, as only pink and purple flowers were allowed to grow therein. Then it changed into a rosery where it was always the time of roses, and where roses red and roses white, roses pink and roses yellow, ran riot in well-ordered confusion. Then the dream took quite another turn, and passed into a Japanese garden of streams and pagodas and strange bright flowers, till the dreamer felt as if he were living on a willow-pattern plate. But he soon came back to England again, and found himself in an ideal fruit-garden, where the pear-trees and the apple-trees were woven into walls and arches and architraves of green and gold. Then a wrought-iron gateway led him still nearer to the heart of England, for there lay a cricket field surrounded by large trees: and beyond that again stretched the grassy alleys and shady paths of dream-land till they culminated in the very centre of the dream—a huge herbaceous border so glorious in its riot of colour that the dreamer\'s heart leaped up, like Wordsworth\'s, to behold a rainbow: but this time not a rainbow in the sky, but on the ground.

The house belonging to this wonderful garden was more or less to match. It had begun life quite as a small house: but the magic of the garden had lured it on to venture farther and farther into the enchanted ground, until finally it grew into a very large house indeed. And one could not really blame it for stretching out longing arms and pointing willing feet towards all the beauty which surrounded it: one felt that one would have done exactly the same in its place.

Fay and I had many excursions into this modern fairyland, as the chatelaine thereof was an old friend of ours who loved to share with others the joy of her Garden of Dreams; so we went there often. But one special excursion stands out in my memory above all the rest.

It was on a Saturday afternoon, and Fay and I had been having tea in the Garden of Dreams. It was glorious weather, and there were many interesting people there—as indeed there usually were: choice spirits flourished in the Garden of Dreams as well as choice flowers. We were all grouped about near the sky-paved fountain after tea, holding sweet converse with friends new and old, when a man and a woman came round the corner of the house to greet our hostess. They were by no means young; on the sunny side of fifty, I should say, by which, as an old Bishop once explained, he meant the side nearest heaven. Fay would consider them quite old, I felt sure: but I saw the old youth in them, which I had known when I was little more than a boy and they in the full zenith of their successful career, and so they would never seem old to me.

The man had a worn, tired face, and the woman was plump and cheerful and well dressed. But the sight of them carried me back to the time when he was a rising star in the political firmament, and she an equally brilliant planet in the constellation of society: and when I lived in London, and read for the Bar, and waited for the briefs that never came.

His name in those days had been Paul Seaton, and his success had been brilliant and rapid. He was a nobody when he entered Parliament; but his marked talents and undoubted ability soon made him a name in the House of Commons, while his marriage to a woman of position and fortune and considerable charm assured his position in society. He was one of those brilliant young politicians who start life with the intention of setting the Thames on fire and the world in order, and exchanging old lamps for new, wherever they have the chance; but although he succeeded in attaining a place in the Government, and then a seat in the Cabinet, the Thames remained too damp to ignite, the world became increasingly out of order, and the new lamps lost infinitely more in magical properties than they gained in additional candle-power.

It would be untrue to say that Paul Seaton\'s vaulting ambition "o\'er-leaped itself and tumbled down on t\'other." It did nothing of the kind. It raised him to the respected elevation of the high-table, and bade him feast and make merry above the salt; but as to those rose-tinted mountain-tops, which he had beheld in the light of dawn, and which he had then fondly imagined he was going to scale—well, they were practically as far above the high-table as they were above the ground.

The tide which Paul Seaton had taken at the flood and which had therefore led him on to fortune, in due season began to ebb: the reforms, on which he had spent his enthusiastic youth, had either materialised into the impedimenta of practical politics, or else had faded into the mist of forgotten dreams: younger men with newer schemes hurried past him along the road which seemed to lead to the mountain-tops; and he sat still and watched them go by, wishing them God-speed with all his heart, since he also had passed that way: yet knowing all the time that they too, in their turn, would watch the rose-colour fade from those peaks which were inaccessible to the foot of man.

So he who had marched to battle with the vanguard stayed at home by the stuff, and occupied himself in safeguarding those institutions which he had once fondly hoped to sweep away. From a dangerously daring pioneer he had developed into a steady and unswerving follower. He was therefore chosen as one of the new peers whose creation lends glory to a Coronation; and he strove as conscientiously to keep back his Party in the Lords as he had once striven to urge it forward in the Commons.

As for his wife, I could not judge her as dispassionately as I judged him, since I knew her so much better. She was considerably older than I, and I adored her in the days when she was a grown-up young lady, and I a shy and awkward schoolboy. She was an orphan and lived with her uncle, Sir Benjamin Farley: and Sir Benjamin and my father were old and fast friends. When I was about fourteen I made up my mind that when I grew up I would marry the exact counterpart of Isabel Carnaby, as Mrs. Paul Seaton was called in that prehistoric time: and after I became a man and she a married woman, she still ranked among my most admired friends. Of late years I had not seen much of her, she being a busy woman and I an idle man; but we kept a book-marker in the volume of our friendship, and always began again exactly where we left off. She changed outwardly very little, and inwardly not at all. She was the same woman as Mrs. Seaton that she had been as Isabel Carnaby, and the same as Lady Chayford that she had been as Mrs. Seaton.

Life had not shattered her illusions as it had those of her husband, because—even in her young days—she had so few to shatter. She had always been one of those clear-sighted people who see things pretty much as they are. But she too had her disappointments and her unsatisfied yearnings. The Coronation peerage was ordained by an inscrutable Providence to remain merely a life-peerage. There were no children to fill their mother\'s large heart, and (incidentally) to carry on their father\'s well-earned honours.

As soon as Isabel had greeted her hostess, she came straight a............
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