A Pair of Blue Eyes, by Thomas Hardy
Part 1 out of 9
A Pair of Blue Eyes
by Thomas Hardy
'A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute;
The following chapters were written at a time when the craze for
indiscriminate church-restoration had just reached the remotest
nooks of western England, where the wild and tragic features of
the coast had long combined in perfect harmony with the crude
Gothic Art of the ecclesiastical buildings scattered along it,
throwing into extraordinary discord all architectural attempts at
newness there. To restore the grey carcases of a mediaevalism
whose spirit had fled, seemed a not less incongruous act than to
set about renovating the adjoining crags themselves.
Hence it happened that an imaginary history of three human hearts,
whose emotions were not without correspondence with these material
circumstances, found in the ordinary incidents of such church-
renovations a fitting frame for its presentation.
The shore and country about 'Castle Boterel' is now getting well
known, and will be readily recognized. The spot is, I may add,
the furthest westward of all those convenient corners wherein I
have ventured to erect my theatre for these imperfect little
dramas of country life and passions; and it lies near to, or no
great way beyond, the vague border of the Wessex kingdom on that
side, which, like the westering verge of modern American
settlements, was progressive and uncertain.
This, however, is of little importance. The place is pre-
eminently (for one person at least) the region of dream and
mystery. The ghostly birds, the pall-like sea, the frothy wind,
the eternal soliloquy of the waters, the bloom of dark purple
cast, that seems to exhale from the shoreward precipices, in
themselves lend to the scene an atmosphere like the twilight of a
One enormous sea-bord cliff in particular figures in the
narrative; and for some forgotten reason or other this cliff was
described in the story as being without a name. Accuracy would
require the statement to be that a remarkable cliff which
resembles in many points the cliff of the description bears a name
that no event has made famous.
ELFRIDE SWANCOURT a young Lady
CHRISTOPHER SWANCOURT a Clergyman
STEPHEN SMITH an Architect
HENRY KNIGHT a Reviewer and Essayist
CHARLOTTE TROYTON a rich Widow
GERTRUDE JETHWAY a poor Widow
SPENSER HUGO LUXELLIAN a Peer
LADY LUXELLIAN his Wife
MARY AND KATE two little Girls
WILLIAM WORM a dazed Factotum
JOHN SMITH a Master-mason
JANE SMITH his Wife
MARTIN CANNISTER a Sexton
UNITY a Maid-servant
Other servants, masons, labourers, grooms, nondescripts, etc., etc.
Mostly on the outskirts of Lower Wessex.
'A fair vestal, throned in the west'
Elfride Swancourt was a girl whose emotions lay very near the
surface. Their nature more precisely, and as modified by the
creeping hours of time, was known only to those who watched the
circumstances of her history.
Personally, she was the combination of very interesting
particulars, whose rarity, however, lay in the combination itself
rather than in the individual elements combined. As a matter of
fact, you did not see the form and substance of her features when
conversing with her; and this charming power of preventing a
material study of her lineaments by an interlocutor, originated
not in the cloaking effect of a well-formed manner (for her manner
was childish and scarcely formed), but in the attractive crudeness
of the remarks themselves. She had lived all her life in
retirement--the monstrari gigito of idle men had not flattered
her, and at the age of nineteen or twenty she was no further on in
social consciousness than an urban young lady of fifteen.
One point in her, however, you did notice: that was her eyes. In
them was seen a sublimation of all of her; it was not necessary to
look further: there she lived.
These eyes were blue; blue as autumn distance--blue as the blue we
see between the retreating mouldings of hills and woody slopes on
a sunny September morning. A misty and shady blue, that had no
beginning or surface, and was looked INTO rather than AT.
As to her presence, it was not powerful; it was weak. Some women
can make their personality pervade the atmosphere of a whole
banqueting hall; Elfride's was no more pervasive than that of a
Elfride had as her own the thoughtfulness which appears in the
face of the Madonna della Sedia, without its rapture: the warmth
and spirit of the type of woman's feature most common to the
beauties--mortal and immortal--of Rubens, without their insistent
fleshiness. The characteristic expression of the female faces of
Correggio--that of the yearning human thoughts that lie too deep
for tears--was hers sometimes, but seldom under ordinary
The point in Elfride Swancourt's life at which a deeper current
may be said to have permanently set in, was one winter afternoon
when she found herself standing, in the character of hostess, face
to face with a man she had never seen before--moreover, looking at
him with a Miranda-like curiosity and interest that she had never
yet bestowed on a mortal.
On this particular day her father, the vicar of a parish on the
sea-swept outskirts of Lower Wessex, and a widower, was suffering
from an attack of gout. After finishing her household
supervisions Elfride became restless, and several times left the
room, ascended the staircase, and knocked at her father's chamber-
'Come in!' was always answered in a hearty out-of-door voice from
'Papa,' she said on one occasion to the fine, red-faced, handsome
man of forty, who, puffing and fizzing like a bursting bottle, lay
on the bed wrapped in a dressing-gown, and every now and then
enunciating, in spite of himself, about one letter of some word or
words that were almost oaths; 'papa, will you not come downstairs
this evening?' She spoke distinctly: he was rather deaf.
'Afraid not--eh-hh !--very much afraid I shall not, Elfride.
Piph-ph-ph! I can't bear even a handkerchief upon this deuced toe
of mine, much less a stocking or slipper--piph-ph-ph! There 'tis
again! No, I shan't get up till to-morrow.'
'Then I hope this London man won't come; for I don't know what I
should do, papa.'
'Well, it would be awkward, certainly.'
'I should hardly think he would come to-day.'
'Because the wind blows so.'
'Wind! What ideas you have, Elfride! Who ever heard of wind
stopping a man from doing his business? The idea of this toe of
mine coming on so suddenly!...If he should come, you must send him
up to me, I suppose, and then give him some food and put him to
bed in some way. Dear me, what a nuisance all this is!'
'Must he have dinner?'
'Too heavy for a tired man at the end of a tedious journey.'
'Not substantial enough.'
'High tea, then? There is cold fowl, rabbit-pie, some pasties, and
things of that kind.'
'Yes, high tea.'
'Must I pour out his tea, papa?'
'Of course; you are the mistress of the house.'
'What! sit there all the time with a stranger, just as if I knew
him, and not anybody to introduce us?'
'Nonsense, child, about introducing; you know better than that. A
practical professional man, tired and hungry, who has been
travelling ever since daylight this morning, will hardly be
inclined to talk and air courtesies to-night. He wants food and
shelter, and you must see that he has it, simply because I am
suddenly laid up and cannot. There is nothing so dreadful in
that, I hope? You get all kinds of stuff into your head from
reading so many of those novels.'
'Oh no; there is nothing dreadful in it when it becomes plainly a
case of necessity like this. But, you see, you are always there
when people come to dinner, even if we know them; and this is some
strange London man of the world, who will think it odd, perhaps.'
'Very well; let him.'
'Is he Mr. Hewby's partner?'
'I should scarcely think so: he may be.'
'How old is he, I wonder?'
'That I cannot tell. You will find the copy of my letter to Mr.
Hewby, and his answer, upon the table in the study. You may read
them, and then you'll know as much as I do about our visitor.'
'I have read them.'
'Well, what's the use of asking questions, then? They contain all
I know. Ugh-h-h!...Od plague you, you young scamp! don't put
anything there! I can't bear the weight of a fly.'
'Oh, I am sorry, papa. I forgot; I thought you might be cold,'
she said, hastily removing the rug she had thrown upon the feet of
the sufferer; and waiting till she saw that consciousness of her
offence had passed from his face, she withdrew from the room, and
retired again downstairs.
'Twas on the evening of a winter's day.'
When two or three additional hours had merged
the same afternoon in evening, some moving outlines might have
been observed against the sky on the summit of a wild lone hill in
that district. They circumscribed two men, having at present the
aspect of silhouettes, sitting in a dog-cart and pushing along in
the teeth of the wind. Scarcely a solitary house or man had been
visible along the whole dreary distance of open country they were
traversing; and now that night had begun to fall, the faint
twilight, which still gave an idea of the landscape to their
observation, was enlivened by the quiet appearance of the planet
Jupiter, momentarily gleaming in intenser brilliancy in front of
them, and by Sirius shedding his rays in rivalry from his position
over their shoulders. The only lights apparent on earth were some
spots of dull red, glowing here and there upon the distant hills,
which, as the driver of the vehicle gratuitously remarked to the
hirer, were smouldering fires for the consumption of peat and
gorse-roots, where the common was being broken up for agricultural
purposes. The wind prevailed with but little abatement from its
daytime boisterousness, three or four small clouds, delicate and
pale, creeping along under the sky southward to the Channel.
Fourteen of the sixteen miles intervening between the railway
terminus and the end of their journey had been gone over, when
they began to pass along the brink of a valley some miles in
extent, wherein the wintry skeletons of a more luxuriant
vegetation than had hitherto surrounded them proclaimed an
increased richness of soil, which showed signs of far more careful
enclosure and management than had any slopes they had yet passed.
A little farther, and an opening in the elms stretching up from
this fertile valley revealed a mansion.
'That's Endelstow House, Lord Luxellian's,' said the driver.
'Endelstow House, Lord Luxellian's,' repeated the other
mechanically. He then turned himself sideways, and keenly
scrutinized the almost invisible house with an interest which the
indistinct picture itself seemed far from adequate to create.
'Yes, that's Lord Luxellian's,' he said yet again after a while,
as he still looked in the same direction.
'What, be we going there?'
'No; Endelstow Vicarage, as I have told you.'
'I thought you m't have altered your mind, sir, as ye have stared
that way at nothing so long.'
'Oh no; I am interested in the house, that's all.'
'Most people be, as the saying is.'
'Not in the sense that I am.'
'Oh!...Well, his family is no better than my own, 'a b'lieve.'
'How is that?'
'Hedgers and ditchers by rights. But once in ancient times one of
'em, when he was at work, changed clothes with King Charles the
Second, and saved the king's life. King Charles came up to him
like a common man, and said off-hand, "Man in the smock-frock, my
name is Charles the Second, and that's the truth on't. Will you
lend me your clothes?" "I don't mind if I do," said Hedger
Luxellian; and they changed there and then. "Now mind ye," King
Charles the Second said, like a common man, as he rode away, "if
ever I come to the crown, you come to court, knock at the door,
and say out bold, 'Is King Charles the Second at home?' Tell your
name, and they shall let you in, and you shall be made a lord."
Now, that was very nice of Master Charley?'
'Very nice indeed.'
'Well, as the story is, the king came to the throne; and some
years after that, away went Hedger Luxellian, knocked at the
king's door, and asked if King Charles the Second was in. "No, he
isn't," they said. "Then, is Charles the Third?" said Hedger
Luxellian. "Yes," said a young feller standing by like a common
man, only he had a crown on, "my name is Charles the Third." And----'
'I really fancy that must be a mistake. I don't recollect
anything in English history about Charles the Third,' said the
other in a tone of mild remonstrance.
'Oh, that's right history enough, only 'twasn't prented; he was
rather a queer-tempered man, if you remember.'
'Very well; go on.'
'And, by hook or by crook, Hedger Luxellian was made a lord, and
everything went on well till some time after, when he got into a
most terrible row with King Charles the Fourth
'I can't stand Charles the Fourth. Upon my word, that's too
'Why? There was a George the Fourth, wasn't there?'
'Well, Charleses be as common as Georges. However I'll say no
more about it....Ah, well! 'tis the funniest world ever I lived
in--upon my life 'tis. Ah, that such should be!'
The dusk had thickened into darkness while they thus conversed,
and the outline and surface of the mansion gradually disappeared.
The windows, which had before been as black blots on a lighter
expanse of wall, became illuminated, and were transfigured to
squares of light on the general dark body of the night landscape
as it absorbed the outlines of the edifice into its gloomy
Not another word was spoken for some time, and they climbed a
hill, then another hill piled on the summit of the first. An
additional mile of plateau followed, from which could be discerned
two light-houses on the coast they were nearing, reposing on the
horizon with a calm lustre of benignity. Another oasis was
reached; a little dell lay like a nest at their feet, towards
which the driver pulled the horse at a sharp angle, and descended
a steep slope which dived under the trees like a rabbit's burrow.
They sank lower and lower.
'Endelstow Vicarage is inside here,' continued the man with the
reins. 'This part about here is West Endelstow; Lord Luxellian's
is East Endelstow, and has a church to itself. Pa'son Swancourt
is the pa'son of both, and bobs backward and forward. Ah, well!
'tis a funny world. 'A b'lieve there was once a quarry where this
house stands. The man who built it in past time scraped all the
glebe for earth to put round the vicarage, and laid out a little
paradise of flowers and trees in the soil he had got together in
this way, whilst the fields he scraped have been good for nothing
'How long has the present incumbent been here?'
'Maybe about a year, or a year and half: 'tisn't two years; for
they don't scandalize him yet; and, as a rule, a parish begins to
scandalize the pa'son at the end of two years among 'em familiar.
But he's a very nice party. Ay, Pa'son Swancourt knows me pretty
well from often driving over; and I know Pa'son Swancourt.'
They emerged from the bower, swept round in a curve, and the
chimneys and gables of the vicarage became darkly visible. Not a
light showed anywhere. They alighted; the man felt his way into
the porch, and rang the bell.
At the end of three or four minutes, spent in patient waiting
without hearing any sounds of a response, the stranger advanced
and repeated the call in a more decided manner. He then fancied
he heard footsteps in the hall, and sundry movements of the door-
knob, but nobody appeared.
'Perhaps they beant at home,' sighed the driver. 'And I promised
myself a bit of supper in Pa'son Swancourt's kitchen. Sich lovely
mate-pize and figged keakes, and cider, and drops o' cordial that
they do keep here!'
'All right, naibours! Be ye rich men or be ye poor men, that ye
must needs come to the world's end at this time o' night?'
exclaimed a voice at this instant; and, turning their heads, they
saw a rickety individual shambling round from the back door with a
horn lantern dangling from his hand.
'Time o' night, 'a b'lieve! and the clock only gone seven of 'em.
Show a light, and let us in, William Worm.'
'Oh, that you, Robert Lickpan?'
'Nobody else, William Worm.'
'And is the visiting man a-come?'
'Yes,' said the stranger. 'Is Mr. Swancourt at home?'
'That 'a is, sir. And would ye mind coming round by the back way?
The front door is got stuck wi' the wet, as he will do sometimes;
and the Turk can't open en. I know I am only a poor wambling man
that 'ill never pay the Lord for my making, sir; but I can show
the way in, sir.'
The new arrival followed his guide through a little door in a
wall, and then promenaded a scullery and a kitchen, along which he
passed with eyes rigidly fixed in advance, an inbred horror of
prying forbidding him to gaze around apartments that formed the
back side of the household tapestry. Entering the hall, he was
about to be shown to his room, when from the inner lobby of the
front entrance, whither she had gone to learn the cause of the
delay, sailed forth the form of Elfride. Her start of amazement
at the sight of the visitor coming forth from under the stairs
proved that she had not been expecting this surprising flank
movement, which had been originated entirely by the ingenuity of
She appeared in the prettiest of all feminine guises, that is to
say, in demi-toilette, with plenty of loose curly hair tumbling
down about her shoulders. An expression of uneasiness pervaded
her countenance; and altogether she scarcely appeared woman enough
for the situation. The visitor removed his hat, and the first
words were spoken; Elfride prelusively looking with a deal of
interest, not unmixed with surprise, at the person towards whom
she was to do the duties of hospitality.
'I am Mr. Smith,' said the stranger in a musical voice.
'I am Miss Swancourt,' said Elfride.
Her constraint was over. The great contrast between the reality
she beheld before her, and the dark, taciturn, sharp, elderly man
of business who had lurked in her imagination--a man with clothes
smelling of city smoke, skin sallow from want of sun, and talk
flavoured with epigram--was such a relief to her that Elfride
smiled, almost laughed, in the new-comer's face.
Stephen Smith, who has hitherto been hidden from us by the
darkness, was at this time of his life but a youth in appearance,
and barely a man in years. Judging from his look, London was the
last place in the world that one would have imagined to be the
scene of his activities: such a face surely could not be nourished
amid smoke and mud and fog and dust; such an open countenance
could never even have seen anything of 'the weariness, the fever,
and the fret' of Babylon the Second.
His complexion was as fine as Elfride's own; the pink of his
cheeks as delicate. His mouth as perfect as Cupid's bow in form,
and as cherry-red in colour as hers. Bright curly hair; bright
sparkling blue-gray eyes; a boy's blush and manner; neither
whisker nor moustache, unless a little light-brown fur on his
upper lip deserved the latter title: this composed the London
professional man, the prospect of whose advent had so troubled
Elfride hastened to say she was sorry to tell him that Mr.
Swancourt was not able to receive him that evening, and gave the
reason why. Mr. Smith replied, in a voice boyish by nature and
manly by art, that he was very sorry to hear this news; but that
as far as his reception was concerned, it did not matter in the
Stephen was shown up to his room. In his absence Elfride
stealthily glided into her father's.
'He's come, papa. Such a young man for a business man!'
'His face is--well--PRETTY; just like mine.'
'H'm! what next?'
'Nothing; that's all I know of him yet. It is rather nice, is it
'Well, we shall see that when we know him better. Go down and
give the poor fellow something to eat and drink, for Heaven's
sake. And when he has done eating, say I should like to have a
few words with him, if he doesn't mind coming up here.'
The young lady glided downstairs again, and whilst she awaits
young Smith's entry, the letters referring to his visit had better
1.--MR. SWANCOURT TO MR. HEWBY.
'ENDELSTOW VICARAGE, Feb. 18, 18--.
'SIR,--We are thinking of restoring the tower and aisle of the
church in this parish; and Lord Luxellian, the patron of the
living, has mentioned your name as that of a trustworthy architect
whom it would be desirable to ask to superintend the work.
'I am exceedingly ignorant of the necessary preliminary steps.
Probably, however, the first is that (should you be, as Lord
Luxellian says you are, disposed to assist us) yourself or some
member of your staff come and see the building, and report
thereupon for the satisfaction of parishioners and others.
'The spot is a very remote one: we have no railway within fourteen
miles; and the nearest place for putting up at--called a town,
though merely a large village--is Castle Boterel, two miles
further on; so that it would be most convenient for you to stay at
the vicarage--which I am glad to place at your disposal--instead
of pushing on to the hotel at Castle Boterel, and coming back
again in the morning.
'Any day of the next week that you like to name for the visit will
find us quite ready to receive you.--Yours very truly, CHRISTOPHER
2.--MR. HEWBY TO MR. SWANCOURT.
"PERCY PLACE, CHARING CROSS, Feb. 20, 18--.
'DEAR SIR,--Agreeably to your request of the 18th instant, I have
arranged to survey and make drawings of the aisle and tower of
your parish church, and of the dilapidations which have been
suffered to accrue thereto, with a view to its restoration.
'My assistant, Mr. Stephen Smith, will leave London by the early
train to-morrow morning for the purpose. Many thanks for your
proposal to accommodate him. He will take advantage of your
offer, and will probably reach your house at some hour of the
evening. You may put every confidence in him, and may rely upon
his discernment in the matter of church architecture.
'Trusting that the plans for the restoration, which I shall
prepare from the details of his survey, will prove satisfactory to
yourself and Lord Luxellian, I am, dear sir, yours faithfully,
'Melodious birds sing madrigals'
That first repast in Endelstow Vicarage was a very agreeable one
to young Stephen Smith. The table was spread, as Elfride had
suggested to her father, with the materials for the heterogeneous
meal called high tea--a class of refection welcome to all when
away from men and towns, and particularly attractive to youthful
palates. The table was prettily decked with winter flowers and
leaves, amid which the eye was greeted by chops, chicken, pie,
&c., and two huge pasties overhanging the sides of the dish with a
cheerful aspect of abundance.
At the end, towards the fireplace, appeared the tea-service, of
old-fashioned Worcester porcelain, and behind this arose the
slight form of Elfride, attempting to add matronly dignity to the
movement of pouring out tea, and to have a weighty and concerned
look in matters of marmalade, honey, and clotted cream. Having
made her own meal before he arrived, she found to her
embarrassment that there was nothing left for her to do but talk
when not assisting him. She asked him if he would excuse her
finishing a letter she had been writing at a side-table, and,
after sitting down to it, tingled with a sense of being grossly
rude. However, seeing that he noticed nothing personally wrong in
her, and that he too was embarrassed when she attentively watched
his cup to refill it, Elfride became better at ease; and when
furthermore he accidentally kicked the leg of the table, and then
nearly upset his tea-cup, just as schoolboys did, she felt herself
mistress of the situation, and could talk very well. In a few
minutes ingenuousness and a common term of years obliterated all
recollection that they were strangers just met. Stephen began to
wax eloquent on extremely slight experiences connected with his
professional pursuits; and she, having no experiences to fall back
upon, recounted with much animation stories that had been related
to her by her father, which would have astonished him had he heard
with what fidelity of action and tone they were rendered. Upon
the whole, a very interesting picture of Sweet-and-Twenty was on
view that evening in Mr. Swancourt's house.
Ultimately Stephen had to go upstairs and talk loud to the vicar,
receiving from him between his puffs a great many apologies for
calling him so unceremoniously to a stranger's bedroom. 'But,'
continued Mr. Swancourt, 'I felt that I wanted to say a few words
to you before the morning, on the business of your visit. One's
patience gets exhausted by staying a prisoner in bed all day
through a sudden freak of one's enemy--new to me, though--for I
have known very little of gout as yet. However, he's gone to my
other toe in a very mild manner, and I expect he'll slink off
altogether by the morning. I hope you have been well attended to
'Perfectly. And though it is unfortunate, and I am sorry to see
you laid up, I beg you will not take the slightest notice of my
being in the house the while.'
'I will not. But I shall be down to-morrow. My daughter is an
excellent doctor. A dose or two of her mild mixtures will fetch
me round quicker than all the drug stuff in the world. Well, now
about the church business. Take a seat, do. We can't afford to
stand upon ceremony in these parts as you see, and for this
reason, that a civilized human being seldom stays long with us;
and so we cannot waste time in approaching him, or he will be gone
before we have had the pleasure of close acquaintance. This tower
of ours is, as you will notice, entirely gone beyond the
possibility of restoration; but the church itself is well enough.
You should see some of the churches in this county. Floors
rotten: ivy lining the walls.'
'Oh, that's nothing. The congregation of a neighbour of mine,
whenever a storm of rain comes on during service, open their
umbrellas and hold them up till the dripping ceases from the roof.
Now, if you will kindly bring me those papers and letters you see
lying on the table, I will show you how far we have got.'
Stephen crossed the room to fetch them, and the vicar seemed to
notice more particularly the slim figure of his visitor.
'I suppose you are quite competent?' he said.
'Quite,' said the young man, colouring slightly.
'You are very young, I fancy--I should say you are not more than
I am nearly twenty-one.'
'Exactly half my age; I am forty-two.'
'By the way,' said Mr. Swancourt, after some conversation, 'you
said your whole name was Stephen Fitzmaurice, and that your
grandfather came originally from Caxbury. Since I have been
speaking, it has occurred to me that I know something of you. You
belong to a well-known ancient county family--not ordinary Smiths
in the least.'
'I don't think we have any of their blood in our veins.'
'Nonsense! you must. Hand me the "Landed Gentry." Now, let me
see. There, Stephen Fitzmaurice Smith--he lies in St. Mary's
Church, doesn't he? Well, out of that family Sprang the
Leaseworthy Smiths, and collaterally came General Sir Stephen
Fitzmaurice Smith of Caxbury----'
'Yes; I have seen his monument there,' shouted Stephen. 'But
there is no connection between his family and mine: there cannot
'There is none, possibly, to your knowledge. But look at this, my
dear sir,' said the vicar, striking his fist upon the bedpost for
emphasis. 'Here are you, Stephen Fitzmaurice Smith, living in
London, but springing from Caxbury. Here in this book is a
genealogical tree of the Stephen Fitzmaurice Smiths of Caxbury
Manor. You may be only a family of professional men now--I am not
inquisitive: I don't ask questions of that kind; it is not in me
to do so--but it is as plain as the nose in your face that there's
your origin! And, Mr. Smith, I congratulate you upon your blood;
blue blood, sir; and, upon my life, a very desirable colour, as
the world goes.'
'I wish you could congratulate me upon some more tangible
quality,' said the younger man, sadly no less than modestly.
'Nonsense! that will come with time. You are young: all your life
is before you. Now look--see how far back in the mists of
antiquity my own family of Swancourt have a root. Here, you see,'
he continued, turning to the page, 'is Geoffrey, the one among my
ancestors who lost a barony because he would cut his joke. Ah,
it's the sort of us! But the story is too long to tell now. Ay,
I'm a poor man--a poor gentleman, in fact: those I would be
friends with, won't be friends with me; those who are willing to
be friends with me, I am above being friends with. Beyond dining
with a neighbouring incumbent or two. and an occasional chat--
sometimes dinner--with Lord Luxellian, a connection of mine, I am
in absolute solitude--absolute.'
'You have your studies, your books, and your--daughter.'
'Oh yes, yes; and I don't complain of poverty. Canto coram
latrone. Well, Mr. Smith, don't let me detain you any longer in a
sick room. Ha! that reminds me of a story I once heard in my
younger days.' Here the vicar began a series of small private
laughs, and Stephen looked inquiry. 'Oh, no, no! it is too bad--
too bad to tell!' continued Mr. Swancourt in undertones of grim
mirth. 'Well, go downstairs; my daughter must do the best she can
with you this evening. Ask her to sing to you--she plays and
sings very nicely. Good-night; I feel as if I had known you for
five or six years. I'll ring for somebody to show you down.'
'Never mind,' said Stephen, 'I can find the way.' And he went
downstairs, thinking of the delightful freedom of manner in the
remoter counties in comparison with the reserve of London.
'I forgot to tell you that my father was rather deaf,' said
Elfride anxiously, when Stephen entered the little drawing-room.
'Never mind; I know all about it, and we are great friends,' the
man of business replied enthusiastically. 'And, Miss Swancourt,
will you kindly sing to me?'
To Miss Swancourt this request seemed, what in fact it was,
exceptionally point-blank; though she guessed that her father had
some hand in framing it, knowing, rather to her cost, of his
unceremonious way of utilizing her for the benefit of dull
sojourners. At the same time, as Mr. Smith's manner was too frank
to provoke criticism, and his age too little to inspire fear, she
was ready--not to say pleased--to accede. Selecting from the
canterbury some old family ditties, that in years gone by had been
played and sung by her mother, Elfride sat down to the pianoforte,
and began, "Twas on the evening of a winter's day,' in a pretty
'Do you like that old thing, Mr. Smith?' she said at the end.
'Yes, I do much,' said Stephen--words he would have uttered, and
sincerely, to anything on earth, from glee to requiem, that she
might have chosen.
'You shall have a little one by De Leyre, that was given me by a
young French lady who was staying at Endelstow House:
'"Je l'ai plante, je l'ai vu naitre,
Ce beau rosier ou les oiseaux," &c.;
and then I shall want to give you my own favourite for the very
last, Shelley's "When the lamp is shattered," as set to music by
my poor mother. I so much like singing to anybody who REALLY
cares to hear me.'
Every woman who makes a permanent impression on a man is usually
recalled to his mind's eye as she appeared in one particular
scene, which seems ordained to be her special form of
manifestation throughout the pages of his memory. As the patron
Saint has her attitude and accessories in mediaeval illumination,
so the sweetheart may be said to have hers upon the table of her
true Love's fancy, without which she is rarely introduced there
except by effort; and this though she may, on further
acquaintance, have been observed in many other phases which one
would imagine to be far more appropriate to love's young dream.
Miss Elfride's image chose the form in which she was beheld during
these minutes of singing, for her permanent attitude of visitation
to Stephen's eyes during his sleeping and waking hours in after
days. The profile is seen of a young woman in a pale gray silk
dress with trimmings of swan's-down, and opening up from a point
in front, like a waistcoat without a shirt; the cool colour
contrasting admirably with the warm bloom of her neck and face.
The furthermost candle on the piano comes immediately in a line
with her head, and half invisible itself, forms the accidentally
frizzled hair into a nebulous haze of light, surrounding her crown
like an aureola. Her hands are in their place on the keys, her
lips parted, and trilling forth, in a tender diminuendo, the
closing words of the sad apostrophe:
'O Love, who bewailest
The frailty of all things here,
Why choose you the frailest
For your cradle, your home, and your bier!'
Her head is forward a little, and her eyes directed keenly upward
to the top of the page of music confronting her. Then comes a
rapid look into Stephen's face, and a still more rapid look back
again to her business, her face having dropped its sadness, and
acquired a certain expression of mischievous archness the while;
which lingered there for some time, but was never developed into a
positive smile of flirtation.
Stephen suddenly shifted his position from her right hand to her
left, where there was just room enough for a small ottoman to
stand between the piano and the corner of the room. Into this
nook he squeezed himself, and gazed wistfully up into Elfride's
face. So long and so earnestly gazed he, that her cheek deepened
to a more and more crimson tint as each line was added to her
song. Concluding, and pausing motionless after the last word for
a minute or two, she ventured to look at him again. His features
wore an expression of unutterable heaviness.
'You don't hear many songs, do you, Mr. Smith, to take so much
notice of these of mine?'
'Perhaps it was the means and vehicle of the song that I was
noticing: I mean yourself,' he answered gently.
'Now, Mr. Smith!'
'It is perfectly true; I don't hear much singing. You mistake
what I am, I fancy. Because I come as a stranger to a secluded
spot, you think I must needs come from a life of bustle, and know
the latest movements of the day. But I don't. My life is as
quiet as yours, and more solitary; solitary as death.'
'The death which comes from a plethora of life? But seriously, I
can quite see that you are not the least what I thought you would
be before I saw you. You are not critical, or experienced, or--
much to mind. That's why I don't mind singing airs to you that I
only half know.' Finding that by this confession she had vexed him
in a way she did not intend, she added naively, 'I mean, Mr.
Smith, that you are better, not worse, for being only young and
not very experienced. You don't think my life here so very tame
and dull, I know.'
'I do not, indeed,' he said with fervour. 'It must be
delightfully poetical, and sparkling, and fresh, and----'
'There you go, Mr. Smith! Well, men of another kind, when I get
them to be honest enough to own the truth, think just the reverse:
that my life must be a dreadful bore in its normal state, though
pleasant for the exceptional few days they pass here.'
'I could live here always!' he said, and with such a tone and look
of unconscious revelation that Elfride was startled to find that
her harmonies had fired a small Troy, in the shape of Stephen's
heart. She said quickly:
'But you can't live here always.'
'Oh no.' And he drew himself in with the sensitiveness of a snail.
Elfride's emotions were sudden as his in kindling, but the least
of woman's lesser infirmities--love of admiration--caused an
inflammable disposition on his part, so exactly similar to her
own, to appear as meritorious in him as modesty made her own seem
culpable in her.
'Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap.'
For reasons of his own, Stephen Smith was stirring a short time
after dawn the next morning. From the window of his room he could
see, first, two bold escarpments sloping down together like the
letter V. Towards the bottom, like liquid in a funnel, appeared
the sea, gray and small. On the brow of one hill, of rather
greater altitude than its neighbour, stood the church which was to
be the scene of his operations. The lonely edifice was black and
bare, cutting up into the sky from the very tip of the hill. It
had a square mouldering tower, owning neither battlement nor
pinnacle, and seemed a monolithic termination, of one substance
with the ridge, rather than a structure raised thereon. Round the
church ran a low wall; over-topping the wall in general level was
the graveyard; not as a graveyard usually is, a fragment of
landscape with its due variety of chiaro-oscuro, but a mere
profile against the sky, serrated with the outlines of graves and
a very few memorial stones. Not a tree could exist up there:
nothing but the monotonous gray-green grass.
Five minutes after this casual survey was made his bedroom was
empty, and its occupant had vanished quietly from the house.
At the end of two hours he was again in the room, looking warm and
glowing. He now pursued the artistic details of dressing, which
on his first rising had been entirely omitted. And a very
blooming boy he looked, after that mysterious morning scamper.
His mouth was a triumph of its class. It was the cleanly-cut,
piquantly pursed-up mouth of William Pitt, as represented in the
well or little known bust by Nollekens--a mouth which is in itself
a young man's fortune, if properly exercised. His round chin,
where its upper part turned inward, still continued its perfect
and full curve, seeming to press in to a point the bottom of his
nether lip at their place of junction.
Once he murmured the name of Elfride. Ah, there she was! On the
lawn in a plain dress, without hat or bonnet, running with a boy's
velocity, superadded to a girl's lightness, after a tame rabbit
she was endeavouring to capture, her strategic intonations of
coaxing words alternating with desperate rushes so much out of
keeping with them, that the hollowness of such expressions was but
too evident to her pet, who darted and dodged in carefully timed
The scene down there was altogether different from that of the
hills. A thicket of shrubs and trees enclosed the favoured spot
from the wilderness without; even at this time of the year the
grass was luxuriant there. No wind blew inside the protecting
belt of evergreens, wasting its force upon the higher and stronger
trees forming the outer margin of the grove.
Then he heard a heavy person shuffling about in slippers, and
calling 'Mr. Smith!' Smith proceeded to the study, and found Mr.
Swancourt. The young man expressed his gladness to see his host
'Oh yes; I knew I should soon be right again. I have not made the
acquaintance of gout for more than two years, and it generally
goes off the second night. Well, where have you been this
morning? I saw you come in just now, I think!'
'Yes; I have been for a walk.'
'Very early, I think?'
'Yes, it was rather early.'
'Which way did you go? To the sea, I suppose. Everybody goes
'No; I followed up the river as far as the park wall.'
'You are different from your kind. Well, I suppose such a wild
place is a novelty, and so tempted you out of bed?'
'Not altogether a novelty. I like it.'
The youth seemed averse to explanation.
'You must, you must; to go cock-watching the morning after a
journey of fourteen or sixteen hours. But there's no accounting
for tastes, and I am glad to see that yours are no meaner. After
breakfast, but not before, I shall be good for a ten miles' walk,
Certainly there seemed nothing exaggerated in that assertion. Mr.
Swancourt by daylight showed himself to be a man who, in common
with the other two people under his roof, had really strong claims
to be considered handsome,--handsome, that is, in the sense in
which the moon is bright: the ravines and valleys which, on a
close inspection, are seen to diversify its surface being left out
of the argument. His face was of a tint that never deepened upon
his cheeks nor lightened upon his forehead, but remained uniform
throughout; the usual neutral salmon-colour of a man who feeds
well--not to say too well--and does not think hard; every pore
being in visible working order. His tout ensemble was that of a
highly improved class of farmer, dressed up in the wrong clothes;
that of a firm-standing perpendicular man, whose fall would have
been backwards indirection if he had ever lost his balance.
The vicar's background was at present what a vicar's background
should be, his study. Here the consistency ends. All along the
chimneypiece were ranged bottles of horse, pig, and cow medicines,
and against the wall was a high table, made up of the fragments of
an old oak Iychgate. Upon this stood stuffed specimens of owls,
divers, and gulls, and over them bunches of wheat and barley ears,
labelled with the date of the year that produced them. Some cases
and shelves, more or less laden with books, the prominent titles
of which were Dr. Brown's 'Notes on the Romans,' Dr. Smith's
'Notes on the Corinthians,' and Dr. Robinson's 'Notes on the
Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians,' just saved the character
of the place, in spite of a girl's doll's-house standing above
them, a marine aquarium in the window, and Elfride's hat hanging
on its corner.
'Business, business!' said Mr. Swancourt after breakfast. He began
to find it necessary to act the part of a fly-wheel towards the
somewhat irregular forces of his visitor.
They prepared to go to the church; the vicar, on second thoughts,
mounting his coal-black mare to avoid exerting his foot too much
at starting. Stephen said he should want a man to assist him.
'Worm!' the vicar shouted.
A minute or two after a voice was heard round the corner of the
building, mumbling, 'Ah, I used to be strong enough, but 'tis
altered now! Well, there, I'm as independent as one here and
there, even if they do write 'squire after their names.'
'What's the matter?' said the vicar, as William Worm appeared;
when the remarks were repeated to him.
'Worm says some very true things sometimes,' Mr. Swancourt said,
turning to Stephen. 'Now, as regards that word "esquire." Why,
Mr. Smith, that word "esquire" is gone to the dogs,--used on the
letters of every jackanapes who has a black coat. Anything else,
'Ay, the folk have begun frying again!'
'Dear me! I'm sorry to hear that.'
'Yes,' Worm said groaningly to Stephen, 'I've got such a noise in
my head that there's no living night nor day. 'Tis just for all
the world like people frying fish: fry, fry, fry, all day long in
my poor head, till I don't know whe'r I'm here or yonder. There,
God A'mighty will find it out sooner or later, I hope, and relieve
'Now, my deafness,' said Mr. Swancourt impressively, 'is a dead
silence; but William Worm's is that of people frying fish in his
head. Very remarkable, isn't it?'
'I can hear the frying-pan a-fizzing as naterel as life,' said
'Yes, it is remarkable,' said Mr. Smith.
'Very peculiar, very peculiar,' echoed the vicar; and they all
then followed the path up the hill, bounded on each side by a
little stone wall, from which gleamed fragments of quartz and
blood-red marbles, apparently of inestimable value, in their
setting of brown alluvium. Stephen walked with the dignity of a
man close to the horse's head, Worm stumbled along a stone's throw
in the rear, and Elfride was nowhere in particular, yet
everywhere; sometimes in front, sometimes behind, sometimes at the
sides, hovering about the procession like a butterfly; not
definitely engaged in travelling, yet somehow chiming in at points
with the general progress.
The vicar explained things as he went on: 'The fact is, Mr. Smith,
I didn't want this bother of church restoration at all, but it was
necessary to do something in self-defence, on account of those d----
dissenters: I use the word in its scriptural meaning, of
course, not as an expletive.'
'How very odd!' said Stephen, with the concern demanded of serious
'Odd? That's nothing to how it is in the parish of Twinkley. Both
the churchwardens are----; there, I won't say what they are; and
the clerk and the sexton as well.'
'How very strange!' said Stephen.
'Strange? My dear sir, that's nothing to how it is in the parish
of Sinnerton. However, as to our own parish, I hope we shall make
some progress soon.'
'You must trust to circumstances.'
'There are no circumstances to trust to. We may as well trust in
Providence if we trust at all. But here we are. A wild place,
isn't it? But I like it on such days as these.'
The churchyard was entered on this side by a stone stile, over
which having clambered, you remained still on the wild hill, the
within not being so divided from the without as to obliterate the
sense of open freedom. A delightful place to be buried in,
postulating that delight can accompany a man to his tomb under any
circumstances. There was nothing horrible in this churchyard, in
the shape of tight mounds bonded with sticks, which shout
imprisonment in the ears rather than whisper rest; or trim garden-
flowers, which only raise images of people in new black crape and
white handkerchiefs coming to tend them; or wheel-marks, which
remind us of hearses and mourning coaches; or cypress-bushes,
which make a parade of sorrow; or coffin-boards and bones lying
behind trees, showing that we are only leaseholders of our graves.
No; nothing but long, wild, untutored grass, diversifying the
forms of the mounds it covered,--themselves irregularly shaped,
with no eye to effect; the impressive presence of the old mountain
that all this was a part of being nowhere excluded by disguising
art. Outside were similar slopes and similar grass; and then the
serene impassive sea, visible to a width of half the horizon, and
meeting the eye with the effect of a vast concave, like the
interior of a blue vessel. Detached rocks stood upright afar, a
collar of foam girding their bases, and repeating in its whiteness
the plumage of a countless multitude of gulls that restlessly
'Now, Worm!' said Mr. Swancourt sharply; and Worm started into an
attitude of attention at once to receive orders. Stephen and
himself were then left in possession, and the work went on till
early in the afternoon, when dinner was announced by Unity of the
vicarage kitchen running up the hill without a bonnet.
Elfride did not make her appearance inside the building till late
in the afternoon, and came then by special invitation from Stephen
during dinner. She looked so intensely LIVING and full of
movement as she came into the old silent place, that young Smith's
world began to be lit by 'the purple light' in all its
definiteness. Worm was got rid of by sending him to measure the
height of the tower.
What could she do but come close--so close that a minute arc of
her skirt touched his foot--and asked him how he was getting on
with his sketches, and set herself to learn the principles of
practical mensuration as applied to irregular buildings? Then she
must ascend the pulpit to re-imagine for the hundredth time how it
would seem to be a preacher.
Presently she leant over the front of the pulpit.
'Don't you tell papa, will you, Mr. Smith, if I tell you
something?' she said with a sudden impulse to make a confidence.
'Oh no, that I won't,' said he, staring up.
'Well, I write papa's sermons for him very often, and he preaches
them better than he does his own; and then afterwards he talks to
people and to me about what he said in his sermon to-day, and
forgets that I wrote it for him. Isn't it absurd?'
'How clever you must be!' said Stephen. 'I couldn't write a
sermon for the world.'
'Oh, it's easy enough,' she said, descending from the pulpit and
coming close to him to explain more vividly. 'You do it like
this. Did you ever play a game of forfeits called "When is it?
where is it? what is it?"'
'Ah, that's a pity, because writing a sermon is very much like
playing that game. You take the text. You think, why is it? what
is it? and so on. You put that down under "Generally." Then you
proceed to the First, Secondly, and Thirdly. Papa won't have
Fourthlys--says they are all my eye. Then you have a final
Collectively, several pages of this being put in great black
brackets, writing opposite, "LEAVE THIS OUT IF THE FARMERS ARE
FALLING ASLEEP." Then comes your In Conclusion, then A Few Words
And I Have Done. Well, all this time you have put on the back of
each page, "KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN"--I mean,' she added, correcting
herself, 'that's how I do in papa's sermon-book, because otherwise
he gets louder and louder, till at last he shouts like a farmer up
a-field. Oh, papa is so funny in some things!'
Then, after this childish burst of confidence, she was frightened,
as if warned by womanly instinct, which for the moment her ardour
had outrun, that she had been too forward to a comparative
Elfride saw her father then, and went away into the wind, being
caught by a gust as she ascended the churchyard slope, in which
gust she had the motions, without the motives, of a hoiden; the
grace, without the self-consciousness, of a pirouetter. She
conversed for a minute or two with her father, and proceeded
homeward, Mr. Swancourt coming on to the church to Stephen. The
wind had freshened his warm complexion as it freshens the glow of
a brand. He was in a mood of jollity, and watched Elfride down
the hill with a smile.
'You little flyaway! you look wild enough now,' he said, and
turned to Stephen. 'But she's not a wild child at all, Mr. Smith.
As steady as you; and that you are steady I see from your
'I think Miss Swancourt very clever,' Stephen observed.
'Yes, she is; certainly, she is,' said papa, turning his voice as
much as possible to the neutral tone of disinterested criticism.
'Now, Smith, I'll tell you something; but she mustn't know it for
the world--not for the world, mind, for she insists upon keeping
it a dead secret. Why, SHE WRITES MY SERMONS FOR ME OFTEN, and a
very good job she makes of them!'
'She can do anything.'
'She can do that. The little rascal has the very trick of the
trade. But, mind you, Smith, not a word about it to her, not a
'Not a word,' said Smith.
'Look there,' said Mr. Swancourt. 'What do you think of my
roofing?' He pointed with his walking-stick at the chancel roof
'Did you do that, sir?'
'Yes, I worked in shirt-sleeves all the time that was going on. I
pulled down the old rafters, fixed the new ones, put on the
battens, slated the roof, all with my own hands, Worm being my
assistant. We worked like slaves, didn't we, Worm?'
'Ay, sure, we did; harder than some here and there--hee, hee!'
said William Worm, cropping up from somewhere. 'Like slaves, 'a
b'lieve--hee, hee! And weren't ye foaming mad, sir, when the nails
wouldn't go straight? Mighty I! There, 'tisn't so bad to cuss and
keep it in as to cuss and let it out, is it, sir?'
'Because you, sir, when ye were a-putting on the roof, only used
to cuss in your mind, which is, I suppose, no harm at all.'
'I don't think you know what goes on in my mind, Worm.'
'Oh, doan't I, sir--hee, hee! Maybe I'm but a poor wambling thing,
sir, and can't read much; but I can spell as well as some here and
there. Doan't ye mind, sir, that blustrous night when ye asked me
to hold the candle to ye in yer workshop, when you were making a
new chair for the chancel?'
'Yes; what of that?'
'I stood with the candle, and you said you liked company, if 'twas
only a dog or cat--maning me; and the chair wouldn't do nohow.'
'Ah, I remember.'
'No; the chair wouldn't do nohow. 'A was very well to look at;
'Worm, how often have I corrected you for irreverent speaking?'
'--'A was very well to look at, but you couldn't sit in the chair
nohow. 'Twas all a-twist wi' the chair, like the letter Z,
directly you sat down upon the chair. "Get up, Worm," says you,
when you seed the chair go all a-sway wi' me. Up you took the
chair, and flung en like fire and brimstone to t'other end of your
shop--all in a passion. "Damn the chair!" says I. "Just what I
was thinking," says you, sir. "I could see it in your face, sir,"
says I, "and I hope you and God will forgi'e me for saying what
you wouldn't." To save your life you couldn't help laughing, sir,
at a poor wambler reading your thoughts so plain. Ay, I'm as wise
as one here and there.'
'I thought you had better have a practical man to go over the
church and tower with you,' Mr. Swancourt said to Stephen the
following morning, 'so I got Lord Luxellian's permission to send
for a man when you came. I told him to be there at ten o'clock.
He's a very intelligent man, and he will tell you all you want to
know about the state of the walls. His name is John Smith.'
Elfride did not like to be seen again at the church with Stephen.
'I will watch here for your appearance at the top of the tower,'
she said laughingly. 'I shall see your figure against the sky.'
'And when I am up there I'll wave my handkerchief to you, Miss
Swancourt,' said Stephen. 'In twelve minutes from this present
moment,' he added, looking at his watch, 'I'll be at the summit
and look out for you.'
She went round to the corner of the sbrubbery, whence she could
watch him down the slope leading to the foot of the hill on which
the church stood. There she saw waiting for him a white spot--a
mason in his working clothes. Stephen met this man and stopped.
To her surprise, instead of their moving on to the churchyard,
they both leisurely sat down upon a stone close by their meeting-
place, and remained as if in deep conversation. Elfride looked at
the time; nine of the twelve minutes had passed, and Stephen
showed no signs of moving. More minutes passed--she grew cold
with waiting, and shivered. It was not till the end of a quarter
of an hour that they began to slowly wend up the hill at a snail's
'Rude and unmannerly!' she said to herself, colouring with pique.
'Anybody would think he was in love with that horrid mason instead
The sentence remained unspoken, though not unthought.
She returned to the porch.
'Is the man you sent for a lazy, sit-still, do-nothing kind of
man?' she inquired of her father.
'No,' he said surprised; 'quite the reverse. He is Lord
Luxellian's master-mason, John Smith.'
'Oh,' said Elfride indifferently, and returned towards her bleak
station, and waited and shivered again. It was a trifle, after
all--a childish thing--looking out from a tower and waving a
handkerchief. But her new friend had promised, and why should he
tease her so? The effect of a blow is as proportionate to the
texture of the object struck as to its own momentum; and she had
such a superlative capacity for being wounded that little hits
struck her hard.
It was not till the end of half an hour that two figures were seen
above the parapet of the dreary old pile, motionless as bitterns
on a ruined mosque. Even then Stephen was not true enough to
perform what he was so courteous to promise, and he vanished
without making a sign.
He returned at midday. Elfride looked vexed when unconscious that
his eyes were upon her; when conscious, severe. However, her
attitude of coldness had long outlived the coldness itself, and
she could no longer utter feigned words of indifference.
'Ah, you weren't kind to keep me waiting in the cold, and break
your promise,' she said at last reproachfully, in tones too low
for her father's powers of hearing.
'Forgive, forgive me!' said Stephen with dismay. 'I had
forgotten--quite forgotten! Something prevented my remembering.'
'Any further explanation?' said Miss Capricious, pouting.
He was silent for a few minutes, and looked askance.
'None,' he said, with the accent of one who concealed a sin.
'Bosom'd high in tufted trees.'
It was breakfast time.
As seen from the vicarage dining-room, which took a warm tone of
light from the fire, the weather and scene outside seemed to have
stereotyped themselves in unrelieved shades of gray. The long-
armed trees and shrubs of juniper, cedar, and pine varieties, were
grayish black; those of the broad-leaved sort, together with the
herbage, were grayish-green; the eternal hills and tower behind
them were grayish-brown; the sky, dropping behind all, gray of the
Yet in spite of this sombre artistic effect, the morning was not
one which tended to lower the spirits. It was even cheering. For
it did not rain, nor was rain likely to fall for many days to
Elfride had turned from the table towards the fire and was idly
elevating a hand-screen before her face, when she heard the click
of a little gate outside.
'Ah, here's the postman!' she said, as a shuffling, active man
came through an opening in the shrubbery and across the lawn. She
vanished, and met him in the porch, afterwards coming in with her
hands behind her back.
'How many are there? Three for papa, one for Mr. Smith, none for
Miss Swancourt. And, papa, look here, one of yours is from--whom
do you think?--Lord Luxellian. And it has something HARD in it--a
lump of something. I've been feeling it through the envelope, and
can't think what it is.'
'What does Luxellian write for, I wonder?' Mr. Swancourt had said
simultaneously with her words. He handed Stephen his letter, and
took his own, putting on his countenance a higher class of look
than was customary, as became a poor gentleman who was going to
read a letter from a peer.
Stephen read his missive with a countenance quite the reverse of
'PERCY PLACE, Thursday Evening.
'DEAR SMITH,--Old H. is in a towering rage with you for being so
long about the church sketches. Swears you are more trouble than
you are worth. He says I am to write and say you are to stay no
longer on any consideration--that he would have done it all in
three hours very easily. I told him that you were not like an
experienced hand, which he seemed to forget, but it did not make
much difference. However, between you and me privately, if I were
you I would not alarm myself for a day or so, if I were not
inclined to return. I would make out the week and finish my
spree. He will blow up just as much if you appear here on
Saturday as if you keep away till Monday morning.--Yours very
'Dear me--very awkward!' said Stephen, rather en l'air, and
confused with the kind of confusion that assails an understrapper
when he has been enlarged by accident to the dimensions of a
superior, and is somewhat rudely pared down to his original size.
'What is awkward?' said Miss Swancourt.
Smith by this time recovered his equanimity, and with it the
professional dignity of an experienced architect.
'Important business demands my immediate presence in London, I
regret to say,' he replied.
'What! Must you go at once?' said Mr. Swancourt, looking over the
edge of his letter. 'Important business? A young fellow like you
to have important business!'
'The truth is,' said Stephen blushing, and rather ashamed of
having pretended even so slightly to a consequence which did not
belong to him,--'the truth is, Mr. Hewby has sent to say I am to
come home; and I must obey him.'
'I see; I see. It is politic to do so, you mean. Now I can see
more than you think. You are to be his partner. I booked you for
that directly I read his letter to me the other day, and the way
he spoke of you. He thinks a great deal of you, Mr. Smith, or he
wouldn't be so anxious for your return.'
Unpleasant to Stephen such remarks as these could not sound; to
have the expectancy of partnership with one of the largest-
practising architects in London thrust upon him was cheering,
however untenable he felt the idea to be. He saw that, whatever
Mr. Hewby might think, Mr. Swancourt certainly thought much of him
to entertain such an idea on such slender ground as to be
absolutely no ground at all. And then, unaccountably, his
speaking face exhibited a cloud of sadness, which a reflection on
the remoteness of any such contingency could hardly have sufficed
Elfride was struck with that look of his; even Mr. Swancourt
'Well,' he said cheerfully, 'never mind that now. You must come
again on your own account; not on business. Come to see me as a
visitor, you know--say, in your holidays--all you town men have
holidays like schoolboys. When are they?'
'In August, I believe.'
'Very well; come in August; and then you need not hurry away so.
I am glad to get somebody decent to talk to, or at, in this
outlandish ultima Thule. But, by the bye, I have something to
say--you won't go to-day?'
'No; I need not,' said Stephen hesitatingly. 'I am not obliged to
get back before Monday morning.'
'Very well, then, that brings me to what I am going to propose.
This is a letter from Lord Luxellian. I think you heard me speak
of him as the resident landowner in this district, and patron of
'I--know of him.'
'He is in London now. It seems that he has run up on business for
a day or two, and taken Lady Luxellian with him. He has written
to ask me to go to his house, and search for a paper among his
private memoranda, which he forgot to take with him.'
'What did he send in the letter?' inquired Elfride.
'The key of a private desk in which the papers are. He doesn't
like to trust such a matter to any body else. I have done such
things for him before. And what I propose is, that we make an
afternoon of it--all three of us. Go for a drive to Targan Bay,
come home by way of Endelstow House; and whilst I am looking over
the documents you can ramble about the rooms where you like. I
have the run of the house at any time, you know. The building,
though nothing but a mass of gables outside, has a splendid hall,
staircase, and gallery within; and there are a few good pictures.'
'Yes, there are,' said Stephen.
'Have you seen the place, then?
'I saw it as I came by,' he said hastily.
'Oh yes; but I was alluding to the interior. And the church--St.
Eval's--is much older than our St. Agnes' here. I do duty in that
and this alternately, you know. The fact is, I ought to have some
help; riding across that park for two miles on a wet morning is
not at all the thing. If my constitution were not well seasoned,
as thank God it is,'--here Mr. Swancourt looked down his front, as
if his constitution were visible there,--'I should be coughing and
barking all the year round. And when the family goes away, there
are only about three servants to preach to when I get there.
Well, that shall be the arrangement, then. Elfride, you will like
Elfride assented; and the little breakfast-party separated.
Stephen rose to go and take a few final measurements at the
church, the vicar following him to the door with a mysterious
expression of inquiry on his face.
'You'll put up with our not having family prayer this morning, I
hope?' he whispered.
'Yes; quite so,' said Stephen.
'To tell you the truth,' he continued in the same undertone, 'we
don't make a regular thing of it; but when we have strangers
visiting us, I am strongly of opinion that it is the proper thing
to do, and I always do it. I am very strict on that point. But
you, Smith, there is something in your face which makes me feel
quite at home; no nonsense about you, in short. Ah, it reminds me
of a splendid story I used to hear when I was a helter-skelter
young fellow--such a story! But'--here the vicar shook his head
self-forbiddingly, and grimly laughed.
'Was it a good story?' said young Smith, smiling too.
'Oh yes; but 'tis too bad--too bad! Couldn't tell it to you for
Stephen went across the lawn, hearing the vicar chuckling
privately at the recollection as he withdrew.
They started at three o'clock. The gray morning had resolved
itself into an afternoon bright with a pale pervasive sunlight,
without the sun itself being visible. Lightly they trotted along--
the wheels nearly silent, the horse's hoofs clapping, almost
ringing, upon the hard, white, turnpike road as it followed the
level ridge in a perfectly straight line, seeming to be absorbed
ultimately by the white of the sky.
Targan Bay--which had the merit of being easily got at--was duly
visited. They then swept round by innumerable lanes, in which not
twenty consecutive yards were either straight or level, to the
domain of Lord Luxellian. A woman with a double chin and thick
neck, like Queen Anne by Dahl, threw open the lodge gate, a little
boy standing behind her.
'I'll give him something, poor little fellow,' said Elfride,
pulling out her purse and hastily opening it. From the interior
of her purse a host of bits of paper, like a flock of white birds,
floated into the air, and were blown about in all directions.
'Well, to be sure!' said Stephen with a slight laugh.
'What the dickens is all that?' said Mr. Swancourt. 'Not halves
of bank-notes, Elfride?'
Elfride looked annoyed and guilty. 'They are only something of
mine, papa,' she faltered, whilst Stephen leapt out, and, assisted
by the lodge-keeper's little boy, crept about round the wheels and
horse's hoofs till the papers were all gathered together again.
He handed them back to her, and remounted.
'I suppose you are wondering what those scraps were?' she said, as
they bowled along up the sycamore avenue. 'And so I may as well
tell you. They are notes for a romance I am writing.'
She could not help colouring at the confession, much as she tried
to avoid it.
'A story, do you mean?' said Stephen, Mr. Swancourt half
listening, and catching a word of the conversation now and then.
'Yes; THE COURT OF KELLYON CASTLE; a romance of the fifteenth
century. Such writing is out of date now, I know; but I like
'A romance carried in a purse! If a highwayman were to rob you, he
would be taken in.'
'Yes; that's my way of carrying manuscript. The real reason is,
that I mostly write bits of it on scraps of paper when I am on
horseback; and I put them there for convenience.'
'What are you going to do with your romance when you have written
it?' said Stephen.
'I don't know,' she replied, and turned her head to look at the
For by this time they had reached the precincts of Endelstow
House. Driving through an ancient gate-way of dun-coloured stone,
spanned by the high-shouldered Tudor arch, they found themselves
in a spacious court, closed by a facade on each of its three
sides. The substantial portions of the existing building dated
from the reign of Henry VIII.; but the picturesque and sheltered
spot had been the site of an erection of a much earlier date. A
licence to crenellate mansum infra manerium suum was granted by
Edward II. to 'Hugo Luxellen chivaler;' but though the faint
outline of the ditch and mound was visible at points, no sign of
the original building remained.
The windows on all sides were long and many-mullioned; the roof
lines broken up by dormer lights of the same pattern. The apex
stones of these dormers, together with those of the gables, were
surmounted by grotesque figures in rampant, passant, and couchant
variety. Tall octagonal and twisted chimneys thrust themselves
high up into the sky, surpassed in height, however, by some
poplars and sycamores at the back, which showed their gently
rocking summits over ridge and parapet. In the corners of the
court polygonal bays, whose surfaces were entirely occupied by
buttresses and windows, broke into the squareness of the
enclosure; and a far-projecting oriel, springing from a fantastic
series of mouldings, overhung the archway of the chief entrance to
As Mr. Swancourt had remarked, he had the freedom of the mansion
in the absence of its owner. Upon a statement of his errand they
were all admitted to the library, and left entirely to themselves.
Mr. Swancourt was soon up to his eyes in the examination of a heap
of papers he had taken from the cabinet described by his
correspondent. Stephen and Elfride had nothing to do but to
wander about till her father was ready.
Elfride entered the gallery, and Stephen followed her without
seeming to do so. It was a long sombre apartment, enriched with
fittings a century or so later in style than the walls of the
mansion. Pilasters of Renaissance workmanship supported a cornice
from which sprang a curved ceiling, panelled in the awkward twists
and curls of the period. The old Gothic quarries still remained
in the upper portion of the large window at the end, though they
had made way for a more modern form of glazing elsewhere.
Stephen was at one end of the gallery looking towards Elfride, who
stood in the midst, beginning to feel somewhat depressed by the
society of Luxellian shades of cadaverous complexion fixed by
Holbein, Kneller, and Lely, and seeming to gaze at and through her
in a moralizing mood. The silence, which cast almost a spell upon
them, was broken by the sudden opening of a door at the far end.
Out bounded a pair of little girls, lightly yet warmly dressed.
Their eyes were sparkling; their hair swinging about and around;
their red mouths laughing with unalloyed gladness.
'Ah, Miss Swancourt: dearest Elfie! we heard you. Are you going
to stay here? You are our little mamma, are you not--our big mamma
is gone to London,' said one.
'Let me tiss you,' said the other, in appearance very much like
the first, but to a smaller pattern.
Their pink cheeks and yellow hair were speedily intermingled with
the folds of Elfride's dress; she then stooped and tenderly
embraced them both.
'Such an odd thing,' said Elfride, smiling, and turning to
Stephen. 'They have taken it into their heads lately to call me
"little mamma," because I am very fond of them, and wore a dress
the other day something like one of Lady Luxellian's.'
These two young creatures were the Honourable Mary and the
Honourable Kate--scarcely appearing large enough as yet to bear
the weight of such ponderous prefixes. They were the only two
children of Lord and Lady Luxellian, and, as it proved, had been
left at home during their parents' temporary absence, in the
custody of nurse and governess. Lord Luxellian was dotingly fond
of the children; rather indifferent towards his wife, since she
had begun to show an inclination not to please him by giving him a
All children instinctively ran after Elfride, looking upon her
more as an unusually nice large specimen of their own tribe than
as a grown-up elder. It had now become an established rule, that
whenever she met them--indoors or out-of-doors, weekdays or
Sundays--they were to be severally pressed against her face and
bosom for the space of a quarter of a minute, and other--wise made
much of on the delightful system of cumulative epithet and caress
to which unpractised girls will occasionally abandon themselves.
A look of misgiving by the youngsters towards the door by which
they had entered directed attention to a maid-servant appearing
from the same quarter, to put an end to this sweet freedom of the
poor Honourables Mary and Kate.
'I wish you lived here, Miss Swancourt,' piped one like a
'So do I,' piped the other like a rather more melancholy
bullfinch. 'Mamma can't play with us so nicely as you do. I
don't think she ever learnt playing when she was little. When
shall we come to see you?'
'As soon as you like, dears.'
'And sleep at your house all night? That's what I mean by coming
to see you. I don't care to see people with hats and bonnets on,
and all standing up and walking about.'
'As soon as we can get mamma's permission you shall come and stay
as long as ever you like. Good-bye!'
The prisoners were then led off, Elfride again turning her
attention to her guest, whom she had left standing at the remote
end of the gallery. On looking around for him he was nowhere to
be seen. Elfride stepped down to the library, thinking he might
have rejoined her father there. But Mr. Swancourt, now cheerfully
illuminated by a pair of candles, was still alone, untying packets
of letters and papers, and tying them up again.
As Elfride did not stand on a sufficiently intimate footing with
the object of her interest to justify her, as a proper young lady,
to commence the active search for him that youthful impulsiveness
prompted, and as, nevertheless, for a nascent reason connected
with those divinely cut lips of his, she did not like him to be
absent from her side, she wandered desultorily back to the oak
staircase, pouting and casting her eyes about in hope of
discerning his boyish figure.
Though daylight still prevailed in the rooms, the corridors were
in a depth of shadow--chill, sad, and silent; and it was only by
looking along them towards light spaces beyond that anything or
anybody could be discerned therein. One of these light spots she
found to be caused by a side-door with glass panels in the upper
part. Elfride opened it, and found herself confronting a
secondary or inner lawn, separated from the principal lawn front
by a shrubbery.
And now she saw a perplexing sight. At right angles to the face
of the wing she had emerged from, and within a few feet of the
door, jutted out another wing of the mansion, lower and with less
architectural character. Immediately opposite to her, in the wall
of this wing, was a large broad window, having its blind drawn
down, and illuminated by a light in the room it screened.
On the blind was a shadow from somebody close inside it--a person
in profile. The profile was unmistakably that of Stephen. It was
just possible to see that his arms were uplifted, and that his
hands held an article of some kind. Then another shadow appeared--
also in profile--and came close to him. This was the shadow of a
woman. She turned her back towards Stephen: he lifted and held
out what now proved to be a shawl or mantle--placed it carefully--
so carefully--round the lady; disappeared; reappeared in her
front--fastened the mantle. Did he then kiss her? Surely not.
Yet the motion might have been a kiss. Then both shadows swelled
to colossal dimensions--grew distorted--vanished.
Two minutes elapsed.
'Ah, Miss Swancourt! I am so glad to find you. I was looking for
you,' said a voice at her elbow--Stephen's voice. She stepped
into the passage.
'Do you know any of the members of this establishment?' said she.
'Not a single one: how should I?' he replied.
'Fare thee weel awhile!'
Simultaneously with the conclusion of Stephen's remark, the sound
of the closing of an external door in their immediate
neighbourhood reached Elfride's ears. It came from the further
side of the wing containing the illuminated room. She then
discerned, by the aid of the dusky departing light, a figure,
whose sex was undistinguishable, walking down the gravelled path
by the parterre towards the river. The figure grew fainter, and
vanished under the trees.
Mr. Swancourt's voice was heard calling out their names from a
distant corridor in the body of the building. They retraced their
steps, and found him with his coat buttoned up and his hat on,
awaiting their advent in a mood of self-satisfaction at having
brought his search to a successful close. The carriage was
brought round, and without further delay the trio drove away from
the mansion, under the echoing gateway arch, and along by the
leafless sycamores, as the stars began to kindle their trembling
lights behind the maze of branches and twigs.
No words were spoken either by youth or maiden. Her unpractised
mind was completely occupied in fathoming its recent acquisition.
The young man who had inspired her with such novelty of feeling,
who had come directly from London on business to her father,
having been brought by chance to Endelstow House had, by some
means or other, acquired the privilege of approaching some lady he
had found therein, and of honouring her by petits soins of a
marked kind,--all in the space of half an hour.
What room were they standing in? thought Elfride. As nearly as
she could guess, it was Lord Luxellian's business-room, or office.
What people were in the house? None but the governess and
servants, as far as she knew, and of these he had professed a
total ignorance. Had the person she had indistinctly seen leaving
the house anything to do with the performance? It was impossible
to say without appealing to the culprit himself, and that she
would never do. The more Elfride reflected, the more certain did
it appear that the meeting was a chance rencounter, and not an
appointment. On the ultimate inquiry as to the individuality of
the woman, Elfride at once assumed that she could not be an
inferior. Stephen Smith was not the man to care about passages-
at-love with women beneath him. Though gentle, ambition was
visible in his kindling eyes; he evidently hoped for much; hoped
indefinitely, but extensively. Elfride was puzzled, and being
puzzled, was, by a natural sequence of girlish sensations, vexed
with him. No more pleasure came in recognizing that from liking
to attract him she was getting on to love him, boyish as he was
and innocent as he had seemed.
They reached the bridge which formed a link between the eastern
and western halves of the parish. Situated in a valley that was
bounded outwardly by the sea, it formed a point of depression from
which the road ascended with great steepness to West Endelstow and
the Vicarage. There was no absolute necessity for either of them
to alight, but as it was the vicar's custom after a long journey
to humour the horse in making this winding ascent, Elfride, moved
by an imitative instinct, suddenly jumped out when Pleasant had
just begun to adopt the deliberate stalk he associated with this
portion of the road.
The young man seemed glad of any excuse for breaking the silence.
'Why, Miss Swancourt, what a risky thing to do!' he exclaimed,
immediately following her example by jumping down on the other
'Oh no, not at all,' replied she coldly; the shadow phenomenon at
Endelstow House still paramount within her.
Stephen walked along by himself for two or three minutes, wrapped
in the rigid reserve dictated by her tone. Then apparently
thinking that it was only for girls to pout, he came serenely
round to her side, and offered his arm with Castilian gallantry,
to assist her in ascending the remaining three-quarters of the
Here was a temptation: it was the first time in her life that
Elfride had been treated as a grown-up woman in this way--offered
an arm in a manner implying that she had a right to refuse it.
Till to-night she had never received masculine attentions beyond
those which might be contained in such homely remarks as 'Elfride,
give me your hand;' 'Elfride, take hold of my arm,' from her
father. Her callow heart made an epoch of the incident; she
considered her array of feelings, for and against. Collectively
they were for taking this offered arm; the single one of pique
determined her to punish Stephen by refusing.
'No, thank you, Mr. Smith; I can get along better by myself'
It was Elfride's first fragile attempt at browbeating a lover.
Fearing more the issue of such an undertaking than what a gentle
young man might think of her waywardness, she immediately
afterwards determined to please herself by reversing her
'On second thoughts, I will take it,' she said.
They slowly went their way up the hill, a few yards behind the
'How silent you are, Miss Swancourt!' Stephen observed.
'Perhaps I think you silent too,' she returned.
'I may have reason to be.'
'Scarcely; it is sadness that makes people silent, and you can
'You don't know: I have a trouble; though some might think it less
a trouble than a dilemma.'
'What is it?' she asked impulsively.
Stephen hesitated. 'I might tell,' he said; 'at the same time,
perhaps, it is as well----'
She let go his arm and imperatively pushed it from her, tossing
her head. She had just learnt that a good deal of dignity is lost
by asking a question to which an answer is refused, even ever so
politely; for though politeness does good service in cases of
requisition and compromise, it but little helps a direct refusal.
'I don't wish to know anything of it; I don't wish it,' she went
on. 'The carriage is waiting for us at the top of the hill; we
must get in;' and Elfride flitted to the front. 'Papa, here is
your Elfride!' she exclaimed to the dusky figure of the old
gentleman, as she sprang up and sank by his side without deigning
to accept aid from Stephen.
'Ah, yes!' uttered the vicar in artificially alert tones, awaking
from a most profound sleep, and suddenly preparing to alight.
'Why, what are you doing, papa? We are not home yet.'
'Oh no, no; of course not; we are not at home yet,' Mr. Swancourt
said very hastily, endeavouring to dodge back to his original
position with the air of a man who had not moved at all. 'The
fact is I was so lost in deep meditation that I forgot whereabouts
we were.' And in a minute the vicar was snoring again.
That evening, being the last, seemed to throw an exceptional shade
of sadness over Stephen Smith, and the repeated injunctions of the
vicar, that he was to come and revisit them in the summer,
apparently tended less to raise his spirits than to unearth some
He left them in the gray light of dawn, whilst the colours of
earth were sombre, and the sun was yet hidden in the east. Elfride
had fidgeted all night in her little bed lest none of the
household should be awake soon enough to start him, and also lest
she might miss seeing again the bright eyes and curly hair, to
which their owner's possession of a hidden mystery added a deeper
tinge of romance. To some extent--so soon does womanly interest
take a solicitous turn--she felt herself responsible for his safe
conduct. They breakfasted before daylight; Mr. Swancourt, being
more and more taken with his guest's ingenuous appearance, having
determined to rise early and bid him a friendly farewell. It was,
however, rather to the vicar's astonishment, that he saw Elfride
walk in to the breakfast-table, candle in hand.
Whilst William Worm performed his toilet (during which performance
the inmates of the vicarage were always in the habit of waiting
with exemplary patience), Elfride wandered desultorily to the
summer house. Stephen followed her thither. The copse-covered
valley was visible from this position, a mist now lying all along
its length, hiding the stream which trickled through it, though
the observers themselves were in clear air.
They stood close together, leaning over the rustic balustrading
which bounded the arbour on the outward side, and formed the crest
of a steep slope beneath Elfride constrainedly pointed out some
features of the distant uplands rising irregularly opposite. But
the artistic eye was, either from nature or circumstance, very
faint in Stephen now, and he only half attended to her
description, as if he spared time from some other thought going on
'Well, good-bye,' he said suddenly; 'I must never see you again, I
suppose, Miss Swancourt, in spite of invitations.'
His genuine tribulation played directly upon the delicate chords
of her nature. She could afford to forgive him for a concealment
or two. Moreover, the shyness which would not allow him to look
her in the face lent bravery to her own eyes and tongue.
'Oh, DO come again, Mr. Smith!' she said prettily.
'I should delight in it; but it will be better if I do not.'
'Certain circumstances in connection with me make it undesirable.
Not on my account; on yours.'
'Goodness! As if anything in connection with you could hurt me,'
she said with serene supremacy; but seeing that this plan of
treatment was inappropriate, she tuned a smaller note. 'Ah, I
know why you will not come. You don't want to. You'll go home to
London and to all the stirring people there, and will never want
to see us any more!'
'You know I have no such reason.'
'And go on writing letters to the lady you are engaged to, just as
'What does that mean? I am not engaged.'
'You wrote a letter to a Miss Somebody; I saw it in the letter-
'Pooh! an elderly woman who keeps a stationer's shop; and it was
to tell her to keep my newspapers till I get back.'
'You needn't have explained: it was not my business at all.' Miss
Elfride was rather relieved to hear that statement, nevertheless.
'And you won't come again to see my father?' she insisted.
'I should like to--and to see you again, but----'
'Will you reveal to me that matter you hide?' she interrupted
'No; not now.'
She could not but go on, graceless as it might seem.
'Tell me this,' she importuned with a trembling mouth. 'Does any
meeting of yours with a lady at Endelstow Vicarage clash with--any
interest you may take in me?'
He started a little. 'It does not,' he said emphatically; and
looked into the pupils of her eyes with the confidence that only
honesty can give, and even that to youth alone.
The explanation had not come, but a gloom left her. She could not
but believe that utterance. Whatever enigma might lie in the
shadow on the blind, it was not an enigma of underhand passion.
She turned towards the house, entering it through the
conservatory. Stephen went round to the front door. Mr.
Swancourt was standing on the step in his slippers. Worm was
adjusting a buckle in the harness, and murmuring about his poor
head; and everything was ready for Stephen's departure.
'You named August for your visit. August it shall be; that is, if
you care for the society of such a fossilized Tory,' said Mr.
Mr. Smith only responded hesitatingly, that he should like to come
'You said you would, and you must,' insisted Elfride, coming to
the door and speaking under her father's arm.
Whatever reason the youth may have had for not wishing to enter
the house as a guest, it no longer predominated. He promised, and
bade them adieu, and got into the pony-carriage, which crept up
the slope, and bore him out of their sight.
'I never was so much taken with anybody in my life as I am with
that young fellow--never! I cannot understand it--can't understand
it anyhow,' said Mr. Swancourt quite energetically to himself; and
'No more of me you knew, my love!'
Stephen Smith revisited Endelstow Vicarage, agreeably to his
Back to Full Books