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HOME > Short Stories > Ten Degrees Backward > CHAPTER XV DARKENING SKIES
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Although I had made up my mind to ignore Annabel\'s warning as far as action went, I could not altogether ignore it in thought, and I was convinced in my own mind that she was right as to Frank. I could not close my eyes to the fact that he was using his influence over Fay—which undoubtedly was very great—to draw her away from me.

He had, not unnaturally, been jealous of me ever since his sister began to care more for me than she did for him. I think most brothers—and especially most twin-brothers—would have felt the same in the circumstances; and I, for one, did not blame him as I—in my turn—was jealous of him. But with most brothers it would have stopped there: few would have taken the awful responsibility of endeavouring to come between their married sisters and those sisters\' husbands. But that was where Frank Wildacre differed from the ordinary run of mortals; that was where the elfin strain in him came in. His utter lack of any sense of responsibility, and his absolute disregard of consequences, sometimes seemed to me hardly human: just as his husky, girlish voice and his delicate complexion made it impossible to realise that he was now less of a boy than of a man, and therefore ought to think as a man, and to put away childish things. He must have known—for he was no longer a child, although he behaved as such—that a permanent estrangement between Fay and myself could only end in misery for her, and therefore, indirectly, for him. For my feelings in the matter I did not expect him to show any regard; although I had been sincerely attached to and attracted by him, I had sufficient acuteness to perceive that he had no real affection for me, or indeed for anybody except himself—unless, perhaps, for his sister; and his love for her was entirely a selfish love. I do not believe he cared an atom about her happiness, except in so far as it ministered to his own: but I should have credited him with sufficient sense to realise that Fay\'s marriage was, on the whole, a good thing for him as well as for her from a worldly point of view: and Frank was certainly not accustomed to look at anything from an altruistic standpoint.

Had his jealousy goaded him to oppose Fay\'s marriage in the first instance, I could have understood it. But it did not. It was only when the thing was a fait accompli and my darling\'s fate was sealed that—with Puck-like perversity—he set about making her dissatisfied with it.

Herein he was—as might have been expected—the exact opposite of Annabel. Before I had asked Fay to marry me, my sister tried her utmost to dissuade me from so doing: but when once we were married, she did all in her power—even to the point of nearly quarrelling with me—to prevent us from drifting apart. But then there was nothing impish or Puck-like about Annabel.

I admit that I watched Frank\'s veiled antagonism to myself with increasing uneasiness. I realised the strength of the call of kinship too fully to be able to defy its influence: and as I gradually came to understand that this influence was hostile to my life\'s happiness, I trembled at what suffering might be in store for myself, and for Fay who was dearer to me than myself.

Although I would not have admitted it to Annabel for worlds, I could no longer shut my eyes to the fact that this passion for everything connected with the stage was gradually coming between my wife and myself: and—now that Annabel had told me of Fay\'s former ambition to take up acting as a profession—I was haunted by a horrible suspicion that my wife had returned to her first love, and now wished that she had chosen the stage instead of me.

Of course, when Annabel talked of Fay\'s passion for the stage becoming a menace to our conjugal happiness, she confined that menace to the admiration and excitement which are an inevitable accompaniment of a theatrical career. She never saw the subtler and, to my mind, the more real danger of the love of art for art\'s sake, which exists in the breast of the true artist. It would never have occurred to my sister to imagine the possibility of any woman\'s caring more for her art than she cared for her husband: such things did not occur in the Victorian days wherein Annabel was brought up. In those dark ages it not infrequently happened that a man thought more about his profession or his business than he did about his wife: but that was humbly accepted as a matter of course by the meek helpmeet of those simpler times. "She could not understand, she loved," was the typical attitude of the wives of those days: and the possibility of the masculine mind failing to understand anything was a thing undreamed of in mid-Victorian philosophy.

But the things that satisfied our grandmothers will not satisfy our wives; and the sooner we remnants of a bygone century learn that fact, the better for all concerned: I am not saying that this awakening of the Sleeping Beauty is either a good thing or a bad thing: I do not feel competent to lay down the law on such a big question: I only say that now she is awake, it is absurd to treat her as if she were still asleep. My own personal opinion is that the awakening of the sex as a whole makes for the improvement of Woman\'s character, but militates against her happiness, though I cherish a larger hope that it will finally conduce to her higher and truer happiness in the future. Still, even if it doesn\'t ever conduce to her happiness, the thing is there and has to be reckoned with. Childhood is the happiest part of life; but that is no excuse for arrested development. Woman at last has grown up, and has to be treated as a grown-up person and no longer as a child. At least that is how I look at the matter: but I really know so little about it that my opinion is neither here nor there. What I do know is that women nowadays have their interests and their professions the same as men have, and therefore it is just as likely for a woman to set art before her husband as it is for a man to set science before his wife—and, in my opinion, much more dangerous, as a man has by nature a far stronger sense of proportion than a woman has. The Victorian wife, who came second to her husband\'s profession, did not really suffer much; but the twentieth-century husband, who comes second to his wife\'s art, will probably suffer very much indeed, since a man\'s heart is composed of water-tight compartments, and a woman\'s is not.

Therefore I did not fear (as I knew Annabel did) that all this acting would end in Fay\'s caring for some younger man more than she cared for me—not because I had a high opinion of myself, but because I had such a high opinion of Fay: what I did fear was that all this acting would end in Fay\'s caring more for the thing itself than she cared for me; and I knew that in the case of a really good woman a thing is a far more dangerous rival to her husband than a person, simply because such rivalry is without sin.

The more I thought about Annabel\'s hint, and the more firmly I decided to take no notice of it, the deeper grew my conviction that my sister was right, though not quite in the way that she thought she was: and I gradually came to the conclusion that it was the love of acting in itself—and not any excitement incidentally connected with it—that was coming between myself and Fay. Moreover, behind this depressing conviction there lurked a horrible and as yet unformulated fear that even yet Fay might fulfil her original intention, and take to the stage as a profession.

But on the other hand it went to my heart to contemplate the mere possibility of casting the slightest cloud on my darling\'s present happiness. How could I injure the thing that I so passionately loved? Surrounded by the youthful, not to say rowdy, atmosphere of Frank and the Loxleys, Fay bubbled over with jest and jollity, and was once more the high-spirited, laughter-loving fairy that she had been when I saw her first. It might be better for her in the long run, and it certainly would be much better for me, if this new and absorbing interest were nipped in the bud. Nevertheless I felt it was not in me to nip it as long as it made my darling so light of heart.

Annabel\'s other suggestion I put away from me at once without even playing with it. I knew it was out of the question for me to suggest that Fay\'s brother should cease to make his home at the Manor as long as my sister lived there. Such a course was more than repugnant to me—it was impossible. But that did not prevent me from fearing the effect of Frank\'s influence over Fay, nor from feeling the pain of his sudden disaffection towards myself. We had got on so well together at first—he and Fay and I; so well that I had almost persuaded myself that at heart I was as young as they were. But now he had weighed me in the balance of youth and had found me wanting: and my soul shivered with dread lest Fay should do the same. I was used to having Tekel written over my name: custom had gradually dulled the pain of this superscription. But the hurt, which had been lulled by habit, awoke into full vigour when Frank\'s boyish hand traced the usual word: and I felt that when Fay wrote it too, my heart would break.

When Frank returned to Oxford and the Loxleys to town, there followed a very quiet time at Restham Manor. I had looked forward to this quiet time as a schoolboy looks forward to the holidays, thinking at last I should have Fay to myself and could woo and win her back to me. But my hopes were doomed to disappointment. My darling seemed just as far from me as ever, only instead of being gay and laughter-loving she was quiet and depressed.

Annabel and I did all in our power to cheer her, but in vain. It was obvious that she was pining for society of her own age, and feeling the reaction after the gaiety of the Christmas vacation.

Then my sister came to the rescue with one of her sensible suggestions.

Easter fell early that year; so early that Annabel decided it was impossible to elude the East wind altogether, and yet to be at home in time t............
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