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CHAPTER XX ISABEL, née CARNABY
Arthur and Annabel were married very quietly at Restham Church; and, after a short honeymoon, took up their abode at The Deanery of Lowchester—a beautiful old house which fulfilled my sister\'s most exorbitant dreams.

I did not appoint Arthur\'s successor: I felt I was too much out of touch with things spiritual to be competent to undertake so solemn a responsibility: so I gave the matter over into the Bishop\'s hands, and left the selection of a new rector to him.

With the simplicity which has always characterised my views regarding that other world which is known to us as the Kingdom of Heaven, I accepted the fact that as long as Frank Wildacre was unforgiven by me I had no right to expect help from on High in any of my undertakings. How could I claim the rights of citizenship if I did not conform to the rules of citizenship? The rule was there in black and white for everybody to read: "If ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." And how could I ask my Father in Heaven to fulfil His part of the contract, unless I were ready to fulfil mine?

And I was not ready: I was no readier than I had been when Frank Wildacre stole my wife away from me a year and a half ago. My anger against him was hotter and bitterer than it had ever been: time seemed to increase rather than to diminish its intensity. I advisedly say Frank, as my heart was gradually softening towards my darling. I still was set against making the first advances: but I felt that if she would only come back to me of her own free will, I was prepared to let bygones be bygones, and to take up the thread of our married life again exactly where she had broken it off. At least that is how I felt sometimes: at others I was plunged in despair by the thought that everything was over for ever between Fay and myself, and that I should never see her dear face again. But even in my more hopeful moods I recognised that it would be impossible for Fay and Annabel to live together again; and that it was, therefore, a good thing on the whole that Arthur had transplanted my sister from Restham to Lowchester.

But although I was sometimes ungracious enough to feel relieved by the removal of Annabel\'s restraining presence, there were times when my loneliness and desolation seemed almost more than I could bear. Though in one way I could not miss Fay more than I had done for the past eighteen months, in another way the absence of any feminine influence in the house seemed to emphasise her absence as it had never been emphasised before. As long as Annabel was still there, I only, so to speak, missed my wife personally: but after Annabel had gone away I missed Fay officially as well. I had always missed her in the spirit, but now I also missed her in the letter: and my active yearning for her was supplemented by a passive need. And underneath all my emotions—underneath even my love and longing for Fay—there was ever with me the consciousness of that condition which was known as "excommunication" in the Medi?val Church and as "conviction of sin" in the Evangelical Revival. I was not beyond reach of the love of God—no one could be that: but I was outside the pale of what old-fashioned theologists could call "His covenanted mercies." I did not think of myself as a lost soul: that expression was robbed of all meaning for me after I once realised with my heart as well as with my head Who it was That came to seek and to save that which was lost: but I knew that I was in the plight of that servant who, though His Lord forgave him his debt, failed to extend the like clemency to his fellow-servant, and so was cast into prison and not allowed to come thence until he should have paid the uttermost farthing. To use the beautiful language of our forefathers, I was no longer at peace with God.

This to me was the most terrible part of my sorrow. Fay\'s going had taken all the sunshine out of life: but this took away even the security of death. There seemed no hope for me anywhere.

I knew perfectly well that I myself was my own Hell: that it was nothing but my attitude towards Frank that consigned me to this outer darkness. Yet—knowing this—I could not bring myself to condone the wrong which he had done me. It was not that I wouldn\'t forgive him: I would willingly have pardoned him if I could; at least, so I thought at the time, and so I think still, but one can never quite trust the deceitfulness of the human heart. Whether I would not, or whether I could not forgive Frank Wildacre, God only knoweth; but anyway I did not forgive him: and consequently my soul went out into the wilderness to perish alone like the scapegoat of old, and my spiritual wretchedness assumed proportions beyond the description of any form of words.

It was in the spring after Annabel\'s marriage that I received the following letter from Lady Chayford—


"MY DEAR REGGIE,

"As the number of one\'s years grows more, and the number of one\'s friends correspondingly less, one feels compelled to grapple the residue to one\'s heart with hoops of steel. Therefore please come to us for a week-end and be grappled.

"Besides, we want to show you this great Babylon that we have built, and wherein we are now abiding. It is such a comfort to be securely planted in a country home of one\'s own, after having been potted-out for years in furnished houses; and the facts that our particular Babylon is not at all great, and that its hot-water supply leaves much to be desired in the way of heat, in no way imperil our fundamental happiness in the creation of our own hands. And the garden is lovely, although we cannot live in it entirely until it has been thoroughly aired, as both Paul and I have been indulging in those Entreat-me-not-to-leave-thee sort of colds which are so prevalent just now. Therefore so far we can only take walking exercise under our own vine and fig-tree: it is too cold to sit under them at present.

"I send you a selection of all the week-ends between now and Easter to choose from.

"Always your friend,
        "ISABEL CHAYFORD.


Isabel\'s letter was kind, like herself; and it was kind of her to take pity on a lonely and desolate man like me: but all the same, I did not avail myself of her kindness.

I knew that it would be indeed a sort of comfort to tell her all my troubles, and to ask for her opinion the tragedy of my life, and she was the only person to whom I felt I could speak freely about the blow which had fallen on me. I believe that a truly manly man locks up all his sorrows in his own breast, and throws the key into the dust-bin of dead memories. But I have never been the sort of manly creature that female novelists delight to honour. There is a great strain of woman in me, and always has been: and not the most heroic sort of woman, either.

But though I longed for the consolation and counsel of Isabel, I felt that in my present morbid condition I could not stand the principles and politics of Paul. In the old days I had put up with Paul on account of Isabel: now I gave up Isabel on account of Paul. The difference was merely chronological. When we are young, the pleasure of anything always swallows up the attendant pain: as we grow older, the attendant pain swallows up any possible pleasure. And that is life.

So I refused Lady Chayford\'s kind invitation.

But the woman who had once been Isabel Carnaby was not the woman to be put off by a mere refusal. So she invited herself to motor over and have lunch with me instead: and she never even suggested to bring his lordship with her.

She was one of those rare people—and most especially rare women—who could put herself in another person\'s place: and though at one time she had wanted Paul Seaton dreadfully—wanted him more than anything in the world—she was still capable of knowing that at another time I might not want him at all. And she acted upon this knowledge.

She arrived just in time for luncheon, and of course we could talk of only surface matter............
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