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HOME > Short Stories > Ten Degrees Backward > CHAPTER XIV ANNABEL\'S WARNING
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We had a very quiet and peaceful autumn after Frank went back to Oxford. But that Fay missed him I am sure, as she was not nearly so gay and light-hearted as she had been during the long vacation. But although this grieved me, I was not surprised at it: after all, Annabel and I were but dull old fogies compared with Frank and Fay.

The autumn was always a pleasant time to me, as I was extremely fond of both shooting and hunting: and now that Fay as well as Annabel was sitting by the fireside that beckoned me home after my long day\'s sport, my contentment was great indeed. My happiness would have been complete if only I had felt equally sure of Fay\'s.

That want of self-confidence which I must have inherited from my mother, since neither my father nor Annabel ever had a trace of it, made it impossible for me to believe in my own power of filling my young wife\'s life with joy and interest; but I had great faith in the soothing powers of Annabel, to say nothing of the increasingly absorbing little pleasures and interests which go to make up the sum of country life. Surely all these were enough to make any woman content. And in the depths of my soul I cherished an unspoken hope that there was a greater and more satisfying joy still in store for Fay in the dim and distant future—that highest joy of all, without which no woman\'s life is complete, and the lack of which had created the only cloud that ever dimmed the brightness of Isabel Chayford\'s blue eyes.

So I possessed my soul in patience, and prayed that in the years to come my darling might be as happy as she deserved and as I desired her to be. And I loved her so well that I was content to stand aside, if I thought others could succeed where I had failed. I only prayed that she might be happy: I never added a petition that her happiness might be found in me. It would have seemed to me presumption to do so.

Perhaps I was wrong in this: I dare say I was, as I nearly always am. It is the people who make the greatest demands that get the largest supplies. But it was not in me either to make the one or to claim the other; and we can only act according to our kind.

In looking back on past events I once used to think: "How much better things would have turned out, if only I had acted differently." But as I grew older and wiser I changed the formula to: "How much better things would have turned out, if only I had had the power to act differently." And at the back of my mind I knew that I never had had the power.

Of course this does not apply to wrongdoing: we are always able to avoid that if we wish. We are to blame for our sins, as they are caused by temptations which are outside us, and therefore possible to be resisted; but I do not think we are to blame for our blindness and our blunders, as they arise from our own limitations, which are inside us and part of ourselves. If I had my life to live over again, I hope—and believe—that I should not repeat the wrong things I have done; but I very much fear that I should repeat all the stupid things, given that I remained myself. Grace and Wisdom are both gifts from on high: but Grace is a far more common gift than Wisdom.

There was one thing that gave me great pleasure in that autumn, and that was the increasing friendliness between Fay and Annabel. Now that Fay was so much quieter, she naturally shocked Annabel much less frequently than she did in her high-spirited moods, though I adored Fay when she was wild and reckless and defiant, I knew that such qualities were far from exercising an ingratiating effect upon Annabel.

But when Frank came home for Christmas things once more began to hum; and he and Fay threw themselves with great zest into a succession of theatrical entertainments. Again the Loxleys invaded the house, and there were plays acted for the villagers and for our personal friends. And this time the plays were not Shakspere\'s. Fay and Frank always took the leading parts, and it amazed me to note how very quickly and with how little apparent trouble they learnt a new piece. But the histrionic art was in their blood, and all things connected with acting came easy to them.

It was the very opposite with Annabel and me. In our early youth anything connected with the theatre had been Anathema to our extremely Evangelical parents: and although in later years we so far broadened down as to be able now and again to attend the theatre in comparative spiritual comfort, there was always a lurking feeling at the back of our minds—and in Annabel\'s mind it frequently did more than merely lurk—that we were meddling with the accursed thing. Of course, my mature judgment repudiated and laughed at this archaic idea; but in nine cases out of ten early training is stronger than mature, judgment, and I was one of the nine.

Therefore in the secret recesses of my heart there sprang up a tiny doubt as to whether all this theatrical excitement was good for Fay. Naturally I did all in my power to trample upon this horrid little weed, and hid it away in darkness where neither light nor air could encourage its unhealthy growth; but suddenly Annabel threw all my precautions to the wind by remarking one day—

"Reggie dear, I don\'t want to interfere, and I suppose it really is no concern of mine, although everything that concerns you must concern me: but do you think it is wise to allow this acting spirit to take such possession of Fay?"

"I don\'t know what you mean," I said coldly: although I did know perfectly well.

"Of course I don\'t want to say a word against Fay——"

"Of course not," I interrupted, "and if you did, of course I should not listen." By this time I was striding up and down the great hall, while Annabel sat placidly by the fire.

"Now, Reggie, you are losing your temper, and it is such a pity to do that when I am only speaking for your good and Fay\'s. But you know as well as I do that her mother and her mother\'s people were on the stage."

"I don\'t see what that has got to do with it," I retorted hotly.

But Annabel remained unperturbed. "Then it is because you won\'t see. Everybody knows that what is bred in the bone comes out in the flesh."

"And I think it is horrid of you to throw the poor child\'s mother in her teeth in this way," I went on, lashing myself into greater fury.

"I\'m not throwing her mother in her teeth—I\'m only throwing her into yours, which is quite a different thing, and can\'t possibly hurt you as you never saw her," replied Annabel, with her usual clearness of thought and confusion of expression. "I shouldn\'t think of mentioning her mother\'s profession to Fay. There\'s nobody thinks more of the sacredness of motherhood than I do: I couldn\'t bear anybody to say even now that poor mamma hadn\'t any spirit or any go in her, though you and I know perfectly well that she hadn\'t, and that you are exactly like her in this respect. But I cannot see that there is anything particularly sacred about a mother-in-law—and especially a mother-in-law that you have never seen. And although Fay is a married woman she is really only a child, and an orphan at that: and I cannot help feeling that you and I, who are so much older, have a sort of responsibility about her."

"I, perhaps; but hardly you." I was still very angry.

Annabel\'s temper, however, continued unruffled. "That is so," she said, "but as you have never accepted your responsibilities, and never will, I am obliged to take them on to my shoulders, as I always have done. If Fay were an older woman, I shouldn\'t bother about her, but should leave her to shift for herself: and if you had ever managed your own affairs, I should expect you to manage them now. But as it is, I cannot see a young girl going into danger and temptation under my own roof, and not stretch out a helping hand to her."

I jibbed at Annabel\'s reference to her own roof, but did not say anything.

"Besides," she went on, "Fay told me that if she hadn\'t married, she and Frank would have gone on the stage as soon as they were of age and independent; and that shows the theatrical craving is in them both."

I wished with all my heart that Fay had confided this idea to me instead of to Annabel; but it was impossible to teach my darling wisdom. And even if it had been possible, grey heads on green shoulders are not an attractive combination. I loved Fay just as she was, and would not have had her different for anything, but I could not deny that that particular remark of hers to Annabel might have been omitted with advantage.

"I am not sure that Frank has a very good influence upon her," my sister continued, looking thoughtfully into the fire.

"Oh, so it\'s Frank\'s turn now," I replied, viciously kicking back a log of wood that slightly protruded from the hearth: "I thought you were so fond of Frank." Because I was jealous of Frank, I was all the more determined to do him justice.

"So I am, Reggie; extremely fond: but being fond of people doesn\'t blind me to their faults."

I could testify to the truth of this. "Far from it," I muttered.

"The fact that I am fond of Frank does not prevent my seeing that he is volatile and flighty and lacking in any sense of responsibility: any more than the fact that I am fond of you prevents my seeing that you are over-sensitive and over-indulgent, and have so exaggerated a sense of responsibility that you are frightened of it, and therefore inclined to shirk it."

"Pray, don\'t mind me!" I interrupted, with a harsh laugh. The fact that I knew my sister was speaking the truth in no way added to my relish for her remarks.

"Reggie, don\'t be foolish! I am not thinking about either you or Frank just now, but about Fay: and I feel bound to say that I do not think it does her any good to be so much u............
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