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HOME > Short Stories > Ten Degrees Backward > CHAPTER XIX A SURPRISE
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So Arthur Blathwayte was made Dean of Lowchester, and at once began his preparations for vacating Restham Rectory; while his promotion gradually subsided from a nine days\' wonder into an ordinary and commonplace event.

But there was still a greater surprise in store for me and for Restham.

Annabel came into the library one morning with the ominous words: "I\'ve got something to say to you, Reggie."

I looked up from the letter I was writing, and wondered indifferently what fresh vexation was in store. Nothing had any longer the power to vex me very much: but I could guess from Annabel\'s expression that something was coming which would vex me as much as it was able.

"Well, what is it?" I asked.

Annabel remained standing opposite to me on the other side of the writing-table.

"I expect it will surprise you a good deal, Reggie."

"Well, out with it. Has Blathwayte been offered another Deanery, or has the cook given notice? And don\'t you think you\'d better sit down?"

Annabel sat down on the most uncomfortable chair within reach. "Mr. Blathwayte has asked me to marry him, and I\'ve accepted," she blurted out.

She was right. It did surprise me more than I had thought I could ever be surprised again. It fairly took my breath away.

"Good Heavens, Annabel!" I gasped, when my breath returned to me. "This is astounding news indeed."

The murder being out, Annabel was herself again, and went on explaining with her accustomed volubility: "I was surprised myself, Reggie, when Arthur (I shall call him Arthur now) proposed to me, as I had given up the idea of marrying years ago. Just at first the notion seemed to me ridiculous. But after I\'d thought it over for a bit, I saw how necessary it was for anybody as important as a Dean to have a wife at his elbow to tell him what to do, and what not to do. It didn\'t matter while he was only Rector of a small village like this, though even here he rarely acted without my advice: but I don\'t see how he could possibly manage to be Dean of Lowchester all by himself, do you?"

I admitted the difficulties of undertaking such a situation single-handed, and my sister continued: "Although I have the greatest respect—I think I may say the deepest affection—for Mr. Bl——Arthur (I find it a little difficult to remember to say Arthur at present, but I shall soon get into the way), I cannot blind my eyes to the fact that he is inclined to have ritualistic tendencies, and a cathedral, I consider, is just the place to encourage that sort of thing, what with the anthems and daily services, and goodness knows what! So different from the quiet routine of a mere parish church. But, you see, if I was there, he couldn\'t give himself over altogether to ritualism."

I did see that—clearly—in spite of my dazed condition.

"I should be dreadfully vexed," Annabel went on, as I was still more or less speechless with amazement, "if after having got such a splendid appointment, Mr. Blathwayte, I mean Arthur, spoilt it all by ritualism or any folly of that kind. It would be such a dreadful pity! I have often noticed that people wait for a thing for years, and then when they get it at last, they do something that makes you wish they had never had it at all. And I should blame myself if Arthur did anything of that kind."

I winced. I had waited for forty-three years for the happiness that comes to most men in their twenties, and then somebody had done something that made me wish I had never had it at all: but I was as yet far from seeing that that somebody was myself.

"And then, of course," continued Annabel, with a change in her voice, "there is you."

"Yes, there is me," I replied grimly. I wondered how Annabel was going to explain me away.

"At first I felt I really couldn\'t leave you—especially now you are quite alone; and that I must refuse Mr. Blath—Arthur, in consequence. But on thinking the matter over and looking at it sensibly, I remembered that a man must leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, which of course includes a woman and her brother. And, when all\'s said and done, you married, so why shouldn\'t I?"

By this time I had recovered my speech, and also my better feelings. At the first shock the idea of Annabel\'s marriage was revolting to me: I do not attempt to deny it: and the thought of her leaving me seemed Fate\'s final blow. But as I pulled myself together I realised that the selfishness of sorrow was swallowing me up, and I determined to escape from it before it was too late.

Much is said on behalf of the sweetening uses of adversity; but, for my part, when people talk about the discipline of suffering, I always want to substitute the word "temptation" for "discipline," as I know few greater temptations to selfishness than bodily sickness and mental anguish. I cannot believe that either sickness or sorrow in itself makes men better: but if men grow better in spite of sickness and sorrow, then they are conquerors indeed. When we are told that the Captain of our Salvation was made "perfect through suffering," I do not think it is a proof of the beauty of suffering, but of the Divinity of Christ. Even that crowning temptation was powerless to hurt Him. And if He could be perfect in spite of the things He suffered, so can we, provided that we abide in Him and He in us.

But I was not abiding in Him just then. I had gone out into the far country, because the one restriction of the Father\'s House was too hard for me: that restriction which I had persistently set aside: "If ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

Still there was enough Grace left in me to enable me to struggle, however vainly, against the wave of selfishness which was overwhelming my tortured soul, and I struggled. "You are quite right, Annabel, in saying and thinking that you have as much right to marry as I had; and it would be abominable selfishness on my part to say a word to dissuade you from any course which tended to your happiness."

Here Annabel\'s sense of justice interrupted me. "Still, Reggie, I did say no end of words to try to dissuade you: there\'s no shutting your eyes to that fact; and therefore you have a perfect right to say anything you like to dissuade me. But I think I can honestly say that when I tried to prevent you from marrying Fay, I was thinking of your happiness rather than of my own."

"I\'d take my oath on that," I said warmly.

"And of course I\'d no idea that things would turn out as they have," Annabel continued, "or else I should have tried to dissuade you much more strongly than I did. It would have been my duty to do so. Just as it would be your duty to do anything you could to prevent me from marrying Mr. Blath—Arthur, if you thought there was any probability of his running off to Australia and going on to the stage."

I was again able to take my oath that I apprehended no such dangers. "But do you love him?" I added. "That is the main thing."

"Well, I should hardly like to apply such a term as \'love\' to the feelings of a woman of my age, but I must admit that I am sincerely attached to Arthur, and have the greatest respect for his character. And I must also admit that the lot he asks me to share presents the greatest attractions to me. I don\'t wish to appear conceited, but I do think that I am rather wasted on a small place like this, just as Arthur is. I mean there is more work in me than Restham requires."

"You mean that, like Mrs. Figshaw\'s daughter, you also want a \'scoop\'?"

"A scope, Reggie: that is what I do mean. I love arranging things, and I\'ve arranged and planned and organised here till there\'s nothing left to plan or arrange or organise. And we shan\'t be far off—only about an hour\'s ride in the car; so that you can always come over and consult me about anything, and I can come over here constantly and keep my eye on your servants. I really don\'t see that with me within an hour\'s motor-ride they can go very far wrong."

"Nor do I. Moreover, Ponty\'s eye is almost as all-seeing as yours."

"Of course," added Annabel thoughtfully, "Mr. Blathwayte, I mean Arthur, is five years younger than I am: but if he doesn\'t mind that, I don\'t see why you should."

"I don\'t," I hastened to assure her: "that is nobody\'s business but his and yours. And the experience of life has taught me that there are distinct disadvantages to a woman in having a husband older than herself. But, Annabel," I added, getting up from my seat and going across to where she sat and laying my hand on her shoulder, "although I am naturally surprised at what you have told me, and am very sorry to lose you, I am very glad as well: for I am sure it would be impossible for any woman to have a better husband than old Arthur. I hope you will be very happy, and, what is more, I am sure you will."

"Thank you, Reggie: and as for leaving you I feel I can do it more easily now than I could before you were married. I\'m nothing like so necessary to you now as I was then."

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