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HOME > Short Stories > Ten Degrees Backward > CHAPTER XVI A SORROWFUL SPRINGTIME
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It goes without saying that I forgave my darling, for the good reason that I had nothing to forgive. That part of the business was easy enough. It also goes without saying that Fay got her own way about the proposed trip to the South of France: but that part of the business was by no means easy.

Annabel was greatly surprised when I broke it to her that Fay did not wish to go abroad. But she was more than surprised, she was indignant, when she discovered that I intended to let my wife do as she pleased in the matter. If Fay did not want to go to France, to France she should not go: that I said and that I stuck to.

But the sticking was hard work.

I had always known that Annabel was obstinate: but until that unhappy spring I had no idea how colossally obstinate she could be. Nothing that I said had the slightest effect upon her. She merely waited until I had finished speaking, and then said her own say over again, as if I had never spoken. Fay was quite right. If Annabel thought that a person ought to want a thing, she firmly believed that, therefore, they did want it: and nothing that the person or that any other person could urge to the contrary in any way shook her in this belief. I suppose I was like my sister in this respect. Fay said I was, and so I must have been. But I am sure that I made every effort to struggle against this narrow-mindedness, and I am equally sure that Annabel made no such effort at all. On the contrary, she gloried in it.

"It is nonsense to say that young people don\'t enjoy being taken abroad, Reggie," she declared over and over again: "absolute nonsense. It is only natural that the young should enjoy variety of place and scene."

"It may be natural, but it isn\'t true in this particular instance," I vainly argued: "I have told you till I\'m sick of telling you that Fay doesn\'t want to go abroad just now: and if she doesn\'t want to go, she shan\'t go."

"I am sure you are making a mistake, Reggie, and that you will live to regret it."

"I have no doubt that I am. As a matter of fact I am always making mistakes and living to regret them. But that won\'t hinder me from making this one mistake more."

"She would enjoy it when once she got there: I know she would. I used to love travelling on the Continent when I was a girl."

"I dare say you did, but that has nothing to do with it. You and Fay are absolutely different people."

"Of course we are now, because I am so much older than she is: but when we were the same age, I expect Fay was very similar to me." And then I had it all over again about the normal desire of the young for variety of place and scene. I recognised the futility of argument. If Annabel believed that at any time or at any age she and Fay bore the slightest resemblance to one another, she could believe anything that she wished to believe: and she did.

Although my sister never shook me for a moment in my determination that Fay should have her own way, she never for a moment ceased trying to shake me; and I found it a most fatiguing process. Of late years we have heard much talk about "wars of attrition": that is the kind of war in which Annabel would have excelled.

There is a somewhat obscure passage in the Epistle of St. Jude about the Archangel Michael contending with the devil for the body of Moses. I don\'t in the least know what it means, but I know exactly what it felt like: and it felt like something very unpleasant indeed.

I suggested—and not altogether from unselfish motives—that Annabel should repair to sunnier climes alone: but she stoutly refused to leave me while the East wind was in the air. She seemed to think that with her at my side I could defy my (so-called) enemy more successfully than if I tackled him alone. I endeavoured to point out to her that, according to her ideas, at any rate, my vulnerable part was not my side—my heel of Achilles, so to speak, was situated in my chest, and that, therefore, a silk muffler would be a surer defence than a score of sisters. But she still held to her own opinion (as it was her nature to do) that by some indefinable means her bodily presence prevented the inclement breeze from visiting my chest too roughly: and with the best intentions and the worst results, she absolutely declined to go abroad unless Fay and I accompanied her.

But the tiresomeness of Annabel at this time was more than compensated for by the adorableness of Fay. Our little set-to in the smoking-room turned out to be one of those blessed fallings-out that all the more endear: and we had a heavenly time together, unclouded by either the presence of Frank or the persistence of Annabel. At any rate, for the time being we were all-in-all to each other. Tennyson remarked that "Sorrow\'s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things": but I must venture to disagree with him, as I once ventured to disagree with Shakspere. The memory of past happiness is a possession of which Time and Circumstance are powerless to rob one: at least I found it so in the dark days to come, when I lived over and over again in memory those happy weeks at Restham, after Fay and I quarrelled and made it up again, and before Frank came back.

Then a fresh storm broke. Annabel found out about the play which was being prepared for Easter week, and made herself extremely unpleasant over it. I did all in my power to smooth things over between her and Fay, but with little success. With all my affection for my sister and all my adoration of my wife, I cannot pretend that Fay was altogether easy and adaptable when once her back was up; whilst Annabel in such circumstances was absolutely impossible.

Therefore at this particular time life passed but roughly with me, as it did with the poet Cowper. But still rougher times were in store.

Frank\'s return complicated matters still further. He came back to Restham having left the dons and tutors of his college in a state of extreme dissatisfaction with him, on account of the things he did and the things he left undone. Naturally he took Fay\'s part—as indeed I did: but he made no effort to assist me in my endeavour to placate Annabel as far as possible without interfering with the theatrical scheme.

I do not wish to pretend to miseries to which I have no title: but I cannot help feeling that in this conflict between the twins and Annabel, it was I who suffered most. Subsequent history has taught us that in a war between two Powers the chief brunt falls upon the neutral states. Certainly it was so in my case. As poor Belgium has long been the cock-pit of Europe, so I became the cock-pit of Restham. A most unenviable position for either nations or individuals!

I was never alone for a minute with Annabel without her beginning all over again about the pernicious influence of amateur theatricals—as opposed to the beneficent effect of foreign travel—upon the rising generation: I was never alone for a minute with Frank without his rubbing into me the various difficulties which my sister raised with regard to the impending performance in the village hall: and—which was worst of all—I was never alone with Fay without knocking my head and bruising my heart against an impalpable barrier which had suddenly been raised up between us; for the building of which barrier I blamed Frank.

"You are behaving very foolishly, Reggie, and you will live to regret it," Annabel said, for about the two hundredth time: "I can\'t understand why you don\'t see the danger, as I see it."

I did see it: that was what made me so profoundly wretched: but I did not see how it was to be averted by any act of mine.

"I should simply put my foot down upon the whole thing, if I were you," she nagged on.

"The putting down of one\'s foot is not such a simple process as it used to be," I retorted: "or else my feet are not of the putting down sort."

"Papa could always put his foot down fast enough when he wanted to," argued Annabel.

"I know he could: but, as I have just told you, I haven\'t inherited his particular make of feet."

Annabel went on as if I had not spoken. "He always put his foot down when I was Fay\'s age, if I suggested doing anything that he didn\'t approve of."

"But you were his daughter and Fay is my wife. That makes all the difference."

"It didn\'t make any difference to him. He put his foot down just as much in dealing with poor Mamma as in dealing with me."

"I know he did. And she died of it."

Annabel looked surprised at the bitterness of my retort: but she would have looked more surprised still if she had seen the greater bitterness of heart which prompted it. I was surprised myself at the sudden rush of anger which flooded my soul at the memory of how my gentle mother had gradually faded away under the pressure of my father\'s kind, but dominating, heel. I had scarcely formulated it even in thought—I had certainly never put it into words before—but my subconscious mind must always have rebelled against the knowledge that my mother had really died of my father\'s strong will. That was what actually killed her, whatever the doctor\'s certificate might say: and I had always known it, though I did not know that I knew it until that moment.

It is strange how the dark subterranean rivers of knowledge and memory, which flow fathoms below the realm of conscious existence, now and again rise to the surface, as if upheaved by some mighty volcanic force of the spiritual world; and we suddenly know that we have always known something of which until that moment we had not the slightest idea. And we know more than this. We see how that undreamed of knowledge has moulded our minds and formed our characters independently of our conscious selves, and how in those dark, subterranean depths are laid the foundations of the temples, which it is our life-work to build and to make meet for the indwelling of the Spirit of God.

Thus suddenly I understood that it was owing to a great extent to my unconscious knowledge of my father\'s well-meant tyranny towards my mother, that I was what I was: a cowardly rebel, chafing under Annabel\'s sway even while I submitted to it—a weakly, indulgent husband, who would sooner relinquish his lawful authority altogether than enforce it.

I recalled my wandering thoughts to find my sister gazing at me in perplexity mingled with reproach.

"Really, Reggie, I don\'t know what you are coming to! I consider it shocking to speak of dear Papa in that way. I am sure he never controlled poor Mamma\'s actions except for her own good."

"Exactly: and that was what killed her. To be constantly controlled for her own g............
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