A Pair of Blue Eyes, by Thomas Hardy
Part 2 out of 9
promise. He had a genuine artistic reason for coming, though no
such reason seemed to be required. Six-and-thirty old seat ends,
of exquisite fifteenth-century workmanship, were rapidly decaying
in an aisle of the church; and it became politic to make drawings
of their worm-eaten contours ere they were battered past
recognition in the turmoil of the so-called restoration.
He entered the house at sunset, and the world was pleasant again
to the two fair-haired ones. A momentary pang of disappointment
had, nevertheless, passed through Elfride when she casually
discovered that he had not come that minute post-haste from
London, but had reached the neighbourhood the previous evening.
Surprise would have accompanied the feeling, had she not
remembered that several tourists were haunting the coast at this
season, and that Stephen might have chosen to do likewise.
They did little besides chat that evening, Mr. Swancourt beginning
to question his visitor, closely yet paternally, and in good part,
on his hopes and prospects from the profession he had embraced.
Stephen gave vague answers. The next day it rained. In the
evening, when twenty-four hours of Elfride had completely
rekindled her admirer's ardour, a game of chess was proposed
The game had its value in helping on the developments of their
Elfride soon perceived that her opponent was but a learner. She
next noticed that he had a very odd way of handling the pieces
when castling or taking a man. Antecedently she would have
supposed that the same performance must be gone through by all
players in the same manner; she was taught by his differing action
that all ordinary players, who learn the game by sight,
unconsciously touch the men in a stereotyped way. This impression
of indescribable oddness in Stephen's touch culminated in speech
when she saw him, at the taking of one of her bishops, push it
aside with the taking man instead of lifting it as a preliminary
to the move.
'How strangely you handle the men, Mr. Smith!'
'Do I? I am sorry for that.'
'Oh no--don't be sorry; it is not a matter great enough for
sorrow. But who taught you to play?'
'Nobody, Miss Swancourt,' he said. 'I learnt from a book lent me
by my friend Mr. Knight, the noblest man in the world.'
'But you have seen people play?'
'I have never seen the playing of a single game. This is the
first time I ever had the opportunity of playing with a living
opponent. I have worked out many games from books, and studied
the reasons of the different moves, but that is all.'
This was a full explanation of his mannerism; but the fact that a
man with the desire for chess should have grown up without being
able to see or engage in a game astonished her not a little. She
pondered on the circumstance for some time, looking into vacancy
and hindering the play.
Mr. Swancourt was sitting with his eyes fixed on the board, but
apparently thinking of other things. Half to himself he said,
pending the move of Elfride:
'"Quae finis aut quod me manet stipendium?"'
Stephen replied instantly:
'"Effare: jussas cum fide poenas luam."'
'Excellent--prompt--gratifying!' said Mr. Swancourt with feeling,
bringing down his hand upon the table, and making three pawns and
a knight dance over their borders by the shaking. 'I was musing
on those words as applicable to a strange course I am steering--
but enough of that. I am delighted with you, Mr. Smith, for it is
so seldom in this desert that I meet with a man who is gentleman
and scholar enough to continue a quotation, however trite it may
'I also apply the words to myself,' said Stephen quietly.
'You? The last man in the world to do that, I should have
'Come,' murmured Elfride poutingly, and insinuating herself
between them, 'tell me all about it. Come, construe, construe!'
Stephen looked steadfastly into her face, and said slowly, and in
a voice full of a far-off meaning that seemed quaintly premature
in one so young:
'Quae finis WHAT WILL BE THE END, aut OR, quod stipendium WHAT
FINE, manet me AWAITS ME? Effare SPEAK OUT; luam I WILL PAY, cum
fide WITH FAITH, jussas poenas THE PENALTY REQUIRED.'
The vicar, who had listened with a critical compression of the
lips to this school-boy recitation, and by reason of his imperfect
hearing had missed the marked realism of Stephen's tone in the
English words, now said hesitatingly: 'By the bye, Mr. Smith (I
know you'll excuse my curiosity), though your translation was
unexceptionably correct and close, you have a way of pronouncing
your Latin which to me seems most peculiar. Not that the
pronunciation of a dead language is of much importance; yet your
accents and quantities have a grotesque sound to my ears. I
thought first that you had acquired your way of breathing the
vowels from some of the northern colleges; but it cannot be so
with the quantities. What I was going to ask was, if your
instructor in the classics could possibly have been an Oxford or
'Yes; he was an Oxford man--Fellow of St. Cyprian's.'
'Oh yes; there's no doubt about it.
'The oddest thing ever I heard of!' said Mr. Swancourt, starting
with astonishment. 'That the pupil of such a man----'
'The best and cleverest man in England!' cried Stephen
'That the pupil of such a man should pronounce Latin in the way
you pronounce it beats all I ever heard. How long did he instruct
'It is not so strange when I explain,' Stephen hastened to say.
'It was done in this way--by letter. I sent him exercises and
construing twice a week, and twice a week he sent them back to me
corrected, with marginal notes of instruction. That is how I
learnt my Latin and Greek, such as it is. He is not responsible
for my scanning. He has never heard me scan a line.'
'A novel case, and a singular instance of patience!' cried the
'On his part, not on mine. Ah, Henry Knight is one in a thousand!
I remember his speaking to me on this very subject of
pronunciation. He says that, much to his regret, he sees a time
coming when every man will pronounce even the common words of his
own tongue as seems right in his own ears, and be thought none the
worse for it; that the speaking age is passing away, to make room
for the writing age.'
Both Elfride and her father had waited attentively to hear Stephen
go on to what would have been the most interesting part of the
story, namely, what circumstances could have necessitated such an
unusual method of education. But no further explanation was
volunteered; and they saw, by the young man's manner of
concentrating himself upon the chess-board, that he was anxious to
drop the subject.
The game proceeded. Elfride played by rote; Stephen by thought.
It was the cruellest thing to checkmate him after so much labour,
she considered. What was she dishonest enough to do in her
compassion? To let him checkmate her. A second game followed; and
being herself absolutely indifferent as to the result (her playing
was above the average among women, and she knew it), she allowed
him to give checkmate again. A final game, in which she adopted
the Muzio gambit as her opening, was terminated by Elfride's
victory at the twelfth move.
Stephen looked up suspiciously. His heart was throbbing even more
excitedly than was hers, which itself had quickened when she
seriously set to work on this last occasion. Mr. Swancourt had
left the room.
'You have been trifling with me till now!' he exclaimed, his face
flushing. 'You did not play your best in the first two games?'
Elfride's guilt showed in her face. Stephen became the picture of
vexation and sadness, which, relishable for a moment, caused her
the next instant to regret the mistake she had made.
'Mr. Smith, forgive me!' she said sweetly. 'I see now, though I
did not at first, that what I have done seems like contempt for
your skill. But, indeed, I did not mean it in that sense. I
could not, upon my conscience, win a victory in those first and
second games over one who fought at such a disadvantage and so
He drew a long breath, and murmured bitterly, 'Ah, you are
cleverer than I. You can do everything--I can do nothing! O Miss
Swancourt!' he burst out wildly, his heart swelling in his throat,
'I must tell you how I love you! All these months of my absence I
have worshipped you.'
He leapt from his seat like the impulsive lad that he was, slid
round to her side, and almost before she suspected it his arm was
round her waist, and the two sets of curls intermingled.
So entirely new was full-blown love to Elfride, that she trembled
as much from the novelty of the emotion as from the emotion
itself. Then she suddenly withdrew herself and stood upright,
vexed that she had submitted unresistingly even to his momentary
pressure. She resolved to consider this demonstration as
'You must not begin such things as those,' she said with
coquettish hauteur of a very transparent nature 'And--you must not
do so again--and papa is coming.'
'Let me kiss you--only a little one,' he said with his usual
delicacy, and without reading the factitiousness of her manner.
'No; not one.'
'Only on your cheek?'
'You care for somebody else, then? Ah, I thought so!'
'I am sure I do not.'
'Nor for me either?'
'How can I tell?' she said simply, the simplicity lying merely in
the broad outlines of her manner and speech. There were the
semitone of voice and half-hidden expression of eyes which tell
the initiated how very fragile is the ice of reserve at these
Footsteps were heard. Mr. Swancourt then entered the room, and
their private colloquy ended.
The day after this partial revelation, Mr. Swancourt proposed a
drive to the cliffs beyond Targan Bay, a distance of three or four
Half an hour before the time of departure a crash was heard in the
back yard, and presently Worm came in, saying partly to the world
in general, part]y to himself, and slightly to his auditors:
'Ay, ay, sure! That frying of fish will be the end of William
Worm. They be at it again this morning--same as ever--fizz, fizz,
'Your head bad again, Worm?' said Mr. Swancourt. 'What was that
noise we heard in the yard?'
'Ay, sir, a weak wambling man am I; and the frying have been going
on in my poor head all through the long night and this morning as
usual; and I was so dazed wi' it that down fell a piece of leg-
wood across the shaft of the pony-shay, and splintered it off.
"Ay," says I, "I feel it as if 'twas my own shay; and though I've
done it, and parish pay is my lot if I go from here, perhaps I am
as independent as one here and there."'
'Dear me, the shaft of the carriage broken!' cried Elfride. She
was disappointed: Stephen doubly so. The vicar showed more warmth
of temper than the accident seemed to demand, much to Stephen's
uneasiness and rather to his surprise. He had not supposed so
much latent sternness could co-exist with Mr. Swancourt's
frankness and good-nature.
'You shall not be disappointed,' said the vicar at length. 'It is
almost too long a distance for you to walk. Elfride can trot down
on her pony, and you shall have my old nag, Smith.'
Elfride exclaimed triumphantly, 'You have never seen me on
horseback--Oh, you must!' She looked at Stephen and read his
thoughts immediately. 'Ah, you don't ride, Mr. Smith?'
'I am sorry to say I don't.'
'Fancy a man not able to ride!' said she rather pertly.
The vicar came to his rescue. 'That's common enough; he has had
other lessons to learn. Now, I recommend this plan: let Elfride
ride on horseback, and you, Mr. Smith, walk beside her.'
The arrangement was welcomed with secret delight by Stephen. It
seemed to combine in itself all the advantages of a long slow
ramble with Elfride, without the contingent possibility of the
enjoyment being spoilt by her becoming weary. The pony was
saddled and brought round.
'Now, Mr. Smith,' said the lady imperatively, coming downstairs,
and appearing in her riding-habit, as she always did in a change
of dress, like a new edition of a delightful volume, 'you have a
task to perform to-day. These earrings are my very favourite
darling ones; but the worst of it is that they have such short
hooks that they are liable to be dropped if I toss my head about
much, and when I am riding I can't give my mind to them. It would
be doing me knight service if you keep your eyes fixed upon them,
and remember them every minute of the day, and tell me directly I
drop one. They have had such hairbreadth escapes, haven't they,
Unity?' she continued to the parlour-maid who was standing at the
'Yes, miss, that they have!' said Unity with round-eyed
'Once 'twas in the lane that I found one of them,' pursued Elfride
'And then 'twas by the gate into Eighteen Acres,' Unity chimed in.
'And then 'twas on the carpet in my own room,' rejoined Elfride
'And then 'twas dangling on the embroidery of your petticoat,
miss; and then 'twas down your back, miss, wasn't it? And oh, what
a way you was in, miss, wasn't you? my! until you found it!'
Stephen took Elfride's slight foot upon his hand: 'One, two,
three, and up!' she said.
Unfortunately not so. He staggered and lifted, and the horse
edged round; and Elfride was ultimately deposited upon the ground
rather more forcibly than was pleasant. Smith looked all
'Never mind,' said the vicar encouragingly; 'try again! 'Tis a
little accomplishment that requires some practice, although it
looks so easy. Stand closer to the horse's head, Mr. Smith.'
'Indeed, I shan't let him try again,' said she with a microscopic
look of indignation. 'Worm, come here, and help me to mount.'
Worm stepped forward, and she was in the saddle in a trice.
Then they moved on, going for some distance in silence, the hot
air of the valley being occasionally brushed from their faces by a
cool breeze, which wound its way along ravines leading up from the
'I suppose,' said Stephen, 'that a man who can neither sit in a
saddle himself nor help another person into one seems a useless
incumbrance; but, Miss Swancourt, I'll learn to do it all for your
sake; I will, indeed.'
'What is so unusual in you,' she said, in a didactic tone
justifiable in a horsewoman's address to a benighted walker, 'is
that your knowledge of certain things should be combined with your
ignorance of certain other things.'
Stephen lifted his eyes earnestly to hers.
'You know,' he said, 'it is simply because there are so many other
things to be learnt in this wide world that I didn't trouble about
that particular bit of knowledge. I thought it would be useless
to me; but I don't think so now. I will learn riding, and all
connected with it, because then you would like me better. Do you
like me much less for this?'
She looked sideways at him with critical meditation tenderly
'Do I seem like LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI?' she began suddenly,
without replying to his question. 'Fancy yourself saying, Mr.
"I sat her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A fairy's song,
She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew; "
and that's all she did.'
'No, no,' said the young man stilly, and with a rising colour.
'"And sure in language strange she said,
I love thee true."'
'Not at all,' she rejoined quickly. 'See how I can gallop. Now,
Pansy, off!' And Elfride started; and Stephen beheld her light
figure contracting to the dimensions of a bird as she sank into
the distance--her hair flowing.
He walked on in the same direction, and for a considerable time
could see no signs of her returning. Dull as a flower without the
sun he sat down upon a stone, and not for fifteen minutes was any
sound of horse or rider to be heard. Then Elfride and Pansy
appeared on the hill in a round trot.
'Such a delightful scamper as we have had!' she said, her face
flushed and her eyes sparkling. She turned the horse's head,
Stephen arose, and they went on again.
'Well, what have you to say to me, Mr. Smith, after my long
'Do you remember a question you could not exactly answer last
night--whether I was more to you than anybody else?' said he.
'I cannot exactly answer now, either.'
'Why can't you?'
'Because I don't know if I am more to you than any one else.'
'Yes, indeed, you are!' he exclaimed in a voice of intensest
appreciation, at the same time gliding round and looking into her
'Eyes in eyes,' he murmured playfully; and she blushingly obeyed,
looking back into his.
'And why not lips on lips?' continued Stephen daringly.
'No, certainly not. Anybody might look; and it would be the death
of me. You may kiss my hand if you like.'
He expressed by a look that to kiss a hand through a glove, and
that a riding-glove, was not a great treat under the
'There, then; I'll take my glove off. Isn't it a pretty white
hand? Ah, you don't want to kiss it, and you shall not now!'
'If I do not, may I never kiss again, you severe Elfride! You know
I think more of you than I can tell; that you are my queen. I
would die for you, Elfride!'
A rapid red again filled her cheeks, and she looked at him
meditatively. What a proud moment it was for Elfride then! She
was ruling a heart with absolute despotism for the first time in
Stephen stealthily pounced upon her hand.
'No; I won't, I won't!' she said intractably; 'and you shouldn't
take me by surprise.'
There ensued a mild form of tussle for absolute possession of the
much-coveted hand, in which the boisterousness of boy and girl was
far more prominent than the dignity of man and woman. Then Pansy
became restless. Elfride recovered her position and remembered
'You make me behave in not a nice way at all!' she exclaimed, in a
tone neither of pleasure nor anger, but partaking of both. 'I
ought not to have allowed such a romp! We are too old now for that
sort of thing.'
'I hope you don't think me too--too much of a creeping-round sort
of man,' said he in a penitent tone, conscious that he too had
lost a little dignity by the proceeding.
'You are too familiar; and I can't have it! Considering the
shortness of the time we have known each other, Mr. Smith, you
take too much upon you. You think I am a country girl, and it
doesn't matter how you behave to me!'
'I assure you, Miss Swancourt, that I had no idea of freak in my
mind. I wanted to imprint a sweet--serious kiss upon your hand;
and that's all.'
'Now, that's creeping round again! And you mustn't look into my
eyes so,' she said, shaking her head at him, and trotting on a few
paces in advance. Thus she led the way out of the lane and across
some fields in the direction of the cliffs. At the boundary of
the fields nearest the sea she expressed a wish to dismount. The
horse was tied to a post. and they both followed an irregular
path, which ultimately terminated upon a flat ledge passing round
the face of the huge blue-black rock at a height about midway
between the sea and the topmost verge. There, far beneath and
before them, lay the everlasting stretch of ocean; there, upon
detached rocks, were the white screaming gulls, seeming ever
intending to settle, and yet always passing on. Right and left
ranked the toothed and zigzag line of storm-torn heights, forming
the series which culminated in the one beneath their feet.
Behind the youth and maiden was a tempting alcove and seat, formed
naturally in the beetling mass, and wide enough to admit two or
three persons. Elfride sat down, and Stephen sat beside her.
'I am afraid it is hardly proper of us to be here, either,' she
said half inquiringly. 'We have not known each other long enough
for this kind of thing, have we!'
'Oh yes,' he replied judicially; 'quite long enough.'
'How do you know?'
'It is not length of time, but the manner in which our minutes
beat, that makes enough or not enough in our acquaintanceship.'
'Yes, I see that. But I wish papa suspected or knew what a VERY
NEW THING I am doing. He does not think of it at all.'
'Darling Elfie, I wish we could be married! It is wrong for me to
say it--I know it is--before you know more; but I wish we might
be, all the same. Do you love me deeply, deeply?'
'No!' she said in a fluster.
At this point-blank denial, Stephen turned his face away
decisively, and preserved an ominous silence; the only objects of
interest on earth for him being apparently the three or four-score
sea-birds circling in the air afar off.
'I didn't mean to stop you quite,' she faltered with some alarm;
and seeing that he still remained silent, she added more
anxiously, 'If you say that again, perhaps, I will not be quite--
quite so obstinate--if--if you don't like me to be.'
'Oh, my Elfride!' he exclaimed, and kissed her.
It was Elfride's first kiss. And so awkward and unused was she;
full of striving--no relenting. There was none of those apparent
struggles to get out of the trap which only results in getting
further in: no final attitude of receptivity: no easy close of
shoulder to shoulder, hand upon hand, face upon face, and, in
spite of coyness, the lips in the right place at the supreme
moment. That graceful though apparently accidental falling into
position, which many have noticed as precipitating the end and
making sweethearts the sweeter, was not here. Why? Because
experience was absent. A woman must have had many kisses before
she kisses well.
In fact, the art of tendering the lips for these amatory salutes
follows the principles laid down in treatises on legerdemain for
performing the trick called Forcing a Card. The card is to be
shifted nimbly, withdrawn, edged under, and withal not to be
offered till the moment the unsuspecting person's hand reaches the
pack; this forcing to be done so modestly and yet so coaxingly,
that the person trifled with imagines he is really choosing what
is in fact thrust into his hand.
Well, there were no such facilities now; and Stephen was conscious
of it--first with a momentary regret that his kiss should be
spoilt by her confused receipt of it, and then with the pleasant
perception that her awkwardness was her charm.
'And you do care for me and love me?' said he.
'And I mustn't ask you if you'll wait for me, and be my wife some
'Why not?' she said naively.
'There is a reason why, my Elfride.'
'Not any one that I know of.'
'Suppose there is something connected with me which makes it
almost impossible for you to agree to be my wife, or for your
father to countenance such an idea?'
'Nothing shall make me cease to love you: no blemish can be found
upon your personal nature. That is pure and generous, I know; and
having that, how can I be cold to you?'
'And shall nothing else affect us--shall nothing beyond my nature
be a part of my quality in your eyes, Elfie?'
'Nothing whatever,' she said with a breath of relief. 'Is that
all? Some outside circumstance? What do I care?'
'You can hardly judge, dear, till you know what has to be judged.
For that, we will stop till we get home. I believe in you, but I
cannot feel bright.'
'Love is new, and fresh to us as the dew; and we are together. As
the lover's world goes, this is a great deal. Stephen, I fancy I
see the difference between me and you--between men and women
generally, perhaps. I am content to build happiness on any
accidental basis that may lie near at hand; you are for making a
world to suit your happiness.'
'Elfride, you sometimes say things which make you seem suddenly to
become five years older than you are, or than I am; and that
remark is one. I couldn't think so OLD as that, try how I
might....And no lover has ever kissed you before?'
'I knew that; you were so unused. You ride well, but you don't
kiss nicely at all; and I was told once, by my friend Knight, that
that is an excellent fault in woman.'
'Now, come; I must mount again, or we shall not be home by dinner-
time.' And they returned to where Pansy stood tethered. 'Instead
of entrusting my weight to a young man's unstable palm,' she
continued gaily, 'I prefer a surer "upping-stock" (as the
villagers call it), in the form of a gate. There--now I am myself
They proceeded homeward at the same walking pace.
Her blitheness won Stephen out of his thoughtfulness, and each
forgot everything but the tone of the moment.
'What did you love me for?' she said, after a long musing look at
a flying bird.
'I don't know,' he replied idly.
'Oh yes, you do,' insisted Elfride.
'Perhaps, for your eyes.'
'What of them?--now, don't vex me by a light answer. What of my
'Oh, nothing to be mentioned. They are indifferently good.'
'Come, Stephen, I won't have that. What did you love me for?'
'It might have been for your mouth?'
'Well, what about my mouth?'
'I thought it was a passable mouth enough----'
'That's not very comforting.'
'With a pretty pout and sweet lips; but actually, nothing more
than what everybody has.'
'Don't make up things out of your head as you go on, there's a
dear Stephen. Now--what--did--you--love--me--for?'
'Perhaps, 'twas for your neck and hair; though I am not sure: or
for your idle blood, that did nothing but wander away from your
cheeks and back again; but I am not sure. Or your hands and arms,
that they eclipsed all other hands and arms; or your feet, that
they played about under your dress like little mice; or your
tongue, that it was of a dear delicate tone. But I am not
'Ah, that's pretty to say; but I don't care for your love, if it
made a mere flat picture of me in that way, and not being sure,
and such cold reasoning; but what you FELT I was, you know,
Stephen' (at this a stealthy laugh and frisky look into his face),
'when you said to yourself, "I'll certainly love that young
'I never said it.'
'When you said to yourself, then, "I never will love that young
'I didn't say that, either.'
'Then was it, "I suppose I must love that young lady?"'
''Twas much more fluctuating--not so definite.'
'Tell me; do, do.'
'It was that I ought not to think about you if I loved you truly.'
'Ah, that I don't understand. There's no getting it out of you.
And I'll not ask you ever any more--never more--to say out of the
deep reality of your heart what you loved me for.'
'Sweet tantalizer, what's the use? It comes to this sole simple
thing: That at one time I had never seen you, and I didn't love
you; that then I saw you, and I did love you. Is that enough?'
'Yes; I will make it do....I know, I think, what I love you for.
You are nice-looking, of course; but I didn't mean for that. It
is because you are so docile and gentle.'
'Those are not quite the correct qualities for a man to be loved
for,' said Stephen, in rather a dissatisfied tone of self-
criticism. 'Well, never mind. I must ask your father to allow us
to be engaged directly we get indoors. It will be for a long
'I like it the better....Stephen, don't mention it till to-
'Because, if he should object--I don't think he will; but if he
should--we shall have a day longer of happiness from our
ignorance....Well, what are you thinking of so deeply?'
'I was thinking how my dear friend Knight would enjoy this scene.
I wish he could come here.'
'You seem very much engrossed with him,' she answered, with a
jealous little toss. 'He must be an interesting man to take up so
much of your attention.'
'Interesting!' said Stephen, his face glowing with his fervour;
'noble, you ought to say.'
'Oh yes, yes; I forgot,' she said half satirically. 'The noblest
man in England, as you told us last night.'
'He is a fine fellow, laugh as you will, Miss Elfie.'
'I know he is your hero. But what does he do? anything?'
'What does he write? I have never heard of his name.'
'Because his personality, and that of several others like him, is
absorbed into a huge WE, namely, the impalpable entity called the
PRESENT--a social and literary Review.'
'Is he only a reviewer?'
'ONLY, Elfie! Why, I can tell you it is a fine thing to be on the
staff of the PRESENT. Finer than being a novelist considerably.'
'That's a hit at me, and my poor COURT OF KELLYON CASTLE.'
'No, Elfride,' he whispered; 'I didn't mean that. I mean that he
is really a literary man of some eminence, and not altogether a
reviewer. He writes things of a higher class than reviews, though
he reviews a book occasionally. His ordinary productions are
social and ethical essays--all that the PRESENT contains which is
not literary reviewing.'
'I admit he must be talented if he writes for the PRESENT. We
have it sent to us irregularly. I want papa to be a subscriber,
but he's so conservative. Now the next point in this Mr. Knight--
I suppose he is a very good man.'
'An excellent man. I shall try to be his intimate friend some
'But aren't you now?'
'No; not so much as that,' replied Stephen, as if such a
supposition were extravagant. 'You see, it was in this way--he
came originally from the same place as I, and taught me things;
but I am not intimate with him. Shan't I be glad when I get
richer and better known, and hob and nob with him!' Stephen's eyes
A pout began to shape itself upon Elfride's soft lips. 'You think
always of him, and like him better than you do me!'
'No, indeed, Elfride. The feeling is different quite. But I do
like him, and he deserves even more affection from me than I
'You are not nice now, and you make me as jealous as possible!'
she exclaimed perversely. 'I know you will never speak to any
third person of me so warmly as you do to me of him.'
'But you don't understand, Elfride,' he said with an anxious
movement. 'You shall know him some day. He is so brilliant--no,
it isn't exactly brilliant; so thoughtful--nor does thoughtful
express him--that it would charm you to talk to him. He's a most
desirable friend, and that isn't half I could say.'
'I don't care how good he is; I don't want to know him, because he
comes between me and you. You think of him night and day, ever so
much more than of anybody else; and when you are thinking of him,
I am shut out of your mind.'
'No, dear Elfride; I love you dearly.'
'And I don't like you to tell me so warmly about him when you are
in the middle of loving me. Stephen, suppose that I and this man
Knight of yours were both drowning, and you could only save one of
'Yes--the stupid old proposition--which would I save?
'Well, which? Not me.'
'Both of you,' he said, pressing her pendent hand.
'No, that won't do; only one of us.'
'I cannot say; I don't know. It is disagreeable--quite a horrid
idea to have to handle.'
'A-ha, I know. You would save him, and let me drown, drown,
drown; and I don't care about your love!'
She had endeavoured to give a playful tone to her words, but the
latter speech was rather forced in its gaiety.
At this point in the discussion she trotted off to turn a corner
which was avoided by the footpath, the road and the path reuniting
at a point a little further on. On again making her appearance
she continually managed to look in a direction away from him, and
left him in the cool shade of her displeasure. Stephen was soon
beaten at this game of indifference. He went round and entered
the range of her vision.
'Are you offended, Elfie? Why don't you talk?'
'Save me, then, and let that Mr. Clever of yours drown. I hate
him. Now, which would you?'
'Really, Elfride, you should not press such a hard question. It
'Then I won't be alone with you any more. Unkind, to wound me
so!' She laughed at her own absurdity but persisted.
'Come, Elfie, let's make it up and be friends.'
'Say you would save me, then, and let him drown.'
'I would save you--and him too.'
'And let him drown. Come, or you don't love me!' she teasingly
'And let him drown,' he ejaculated despairingly.
'There; now I am yours!' she said, and a woman's flush of triumph
lit her eyes.
'Only one earring, miss, as I'm alive,' said Unity on their
entering the hall.
With a face expressive of wretched misgiving, Elfride's hand flew
like an arrow to her ear.
'There!' she exclaimed to Stephen, looking at him with eyes full
'I quite forgot, indeed. If I had only remembered!' he answered,
with a conscience-stricken face.
She wheeled herself round, and turned into the shrubbery. Stephen
'If you had told me to watch anything, Stephen, I should have
religiously done it,' she capriciously went on, as soon as she
heard him behind her.
'Forgetting is forgivable.'
'Well, you will find it, if you want me to respect you and be
engaged to you when we have asked papa.' She considered a moment,
and added more seriously, 'I know now where I dropped it, Stephen.
It was on the cliff. I remember a faint sensation of some change
about me, but I was too absent to think of it then. And that's
where it is now, and you must go and look there.'
'I'll go at once.'
And he strode away up the valley, under a broiling sun and amid
the deathlike silence of early afternoon. He ascended, with
giddy-paced haste, the windy range of rocks to where they had sat,
felt and peered about the stones and crannies, but Elfride's stray
jewel was nowhere to be seen. Next Stephen slowly retraced his
steps, and, pausing at a cross-road to reflect a while, he left
the plateau and struck downwards across some fields, in the
direction of Endelstow House.
He walked along the path by the river without the slightest
hesitation as to its bearing, apparently quite familiar with every
inch of the ground. As the shadows began to lengthen and the
sunlight to mellow, he passed through two wicket-gates, and drew
near the outskirts of Endelstow Park. The river now ran along
under the park fence, previous to entering the grove itself, a
little further on.
Here stood a cottage, between the fence and the stream, on a
slightly elevated spot of ground, round which the river took a
turn. The characteristic feature of this snug habitation was its
one chimney in the gable end, its squareness of form disguised by
a huge cloak of ivy, which had grown so luxuriantly and extended
so far from its base, as to increase the apparent bulk of the
chimney to the dimensions of a tower. Some little distance from
the back of the house rose the park boundary, and over this were
to be seen the sycamores of the grove, making slow inclinations to
the just-awakening air.
Stephen crossed the little wood bridge in front, went up to the
cottage door, and opened it without knock or signal of any kind.
Exclamations of welcome burst from some person or persons when the
door was thrust ajar, followed by the scrape of chairs on a stone
floor, as if pushed back by their occupiers in rising from a
table. The door was closed again, and nothing could now be heard
from within, save a lively chatter and the rattle of plates.
'Allen-a-Dale is no baron or lord.'
The mists were creeping out of pools and swamps for their
pilgrimages of the night when Stephen came up to the front door of
the vicarage. Elfride was standing on the step illuminated by a
lemon-hued expanse of western sky.
'You never have been all this time looking for that earring?' she
'Oh no; and I have not found it.'
'Never mind. Though I am much vexed; they are my prettiest. But,
Stephen, what ever have you been doing--where have you been? I
have been so uneasy. I feared for you, knowing not an inch of the
country. I thought, suppose he has fallen over the cliff! But now
I am inclined to scold you for frightening me so.'
'I must speak to your father now,' he said rather abruptly; 'I
have so much to say to him--and to you, Elfride.'
'Will what you have to say endanger this nice time of ours, and is
it that same shadowy secret you allude to so frequently, and will
it make me unhappy?'
She breathed heavily, and looked around as if for a prompter.
'Put it off till to-morrow,' she said.
He involuntarily sighed too.
'No; it must come to-night. Where is your father, Elfride?'
'Somewhere in the kitchen garden, I think,' she replied. 'That is
his favourite evening retreat. I will leave you now. Say all
that's to be said--do all there is to be done. Think of me
waiting anxiously for the end.' And she re-entered the house.
She waited in the drawing-room, watching the lights sink to
shadows, the shadows sink to darkness, until her impatience to
know what had occurred in the garden could no longer be
controlled. She passed round the shrubbery, unlatched the garden
door, and skimmed with her keen eyes the whole twilighted space
that the four walls enclosed and sheltered: they were not there.
She mounted a little ladder, which had been used for gathering
fruit, and looked over the wall into the field. This field
extended to the limits of the glebe, which was enclosed on that
side by a privet-hedge. Under the hedge was Mr. Swancourt,
walking up and down, and talking aloud--to himself, as it sounded
at first. No: another voice shouted occasional replies ; and this
interlocutor seemed to be on the other side of the hedge. The
voice, though soft in quality, was not Stephen's.
The second speaker must have been in the long-neglected garden of
an old manor-house hard by, which, together with a small estate
attached, had lately been purchased by a person named Troyton,
whom Elfride had never seen. Her father might have struck up an
acquaintanceship with some member of that family through the
privet-hedge, or a stranger to the neighbourhood might have
Well, there was no necessity for disturbing him.
And it seemed that, after all, Stephen had not yet made his
desired communication to her father. Again she went indoors,
wondering where Stephen could be. For want of something better to
do, she went upstairs to her own little room. Here she sat down
at the open window, and, leaning with her elbow on the table and
her cheek upon her hand, she fell into meditation.
It was a hot and still August night. Every disturbance of the
silence which rose to the dignity of a noise could be heard for
miles, and the merest sound for a long distance. So she remained,
thinking of Stephen, and wishing he had not deprived her of his
company to no purpose, as it appeared. How delicate and sensitive
he was, she reflected; and yet he was man enough to have a private
mystery, which considerably elevated him in her eyes. Thus,
looking at things with an inward vision, she lost consciousness of
the flight of time.
Strange conjunctions of circumstances, particularly those of a
trivial everyday kind, are so frequent in an ordinary life, that
we grow used to their unaccountableness, and forget the question
whether the very long odds against such juxtaposition is not
almost a disproof of it being a matter of chance at all. What
occurred to Elfride at this moment was a case in point. She was
vividly imagining, for the twentieth time, the kiss of the
morning, and putting her lips together in the position another
such a one would demand, when she heard the identical operation
performed on the lawn, immediately beneath her window.
A kiss--not of the quiet and stealthy kind, but decisive, loud,
Her face flushed and she looked out, but to no purpose. The dark
rim of the upland drew a keen sad line against the pale glow of
the sky, unbroken except where a young cedar on the lawn, that had
outgrown its fellow trees, shot its pointed head across the
horizon, piercing the firmamental lustre like a sting.
It was just possible that, had any persons been standing on the
grassy portions of the lawn, Elfride might have seen their dusky
forms. But the shrubs, which once had merely dotted the glade,
had now grown bushy and large, till they hid at least half the
enclosure containing them. The kissing pair might have been
behind some of these; at any rate, nobody was in sight.
Had no enigma ever been connected with her lover by his hints and
absences, Elfride would never have thought of admitting into her
mind a suspicion that he might be concerned in the foregoing
enactment. But the reservations he at present insisted on, while
they added to the mystery without which perhaps she would never
have seriously loved him at all, were calculated to nourish doubts
of all kinds, and with a slow flush of jealousy she asked herself,
might he not be the culprit?
Elfride glided downstairs on tiptoe, and out to the precise spot
on which she had parted from Stephen to enable him to speak
privately to her father. Thence she wandered into all the nooks
around the place from which the sound seemed to proceed--among the
huge laurestines, about the tufts of pampas grasses, amid the
variegated hollies, under the weeping wych-elm--nobody was there.
Returning indoors she called 'Unity!'
'She is gone to her aunt's, to spend the evening,' said Mr.
Swancourt, thrusting his head out of his study door, and letting
the light of his candles stream upon Elfride's face--less
revealing than, as it seemed to herself, creating the blush of
uneasy perplexity that was burning upon her cheek.
'I didn't know you were indoors, papa,' she said with surprise.
'Surely no light was shining from the window when I was on the
lawn?' and she looked and saw that the shutters were still open.
'Oh yes, I am in,' he said indifferently. 'What did you want
Unity for? I think she laid supper before she went out.'
'Did she?--I have not been to see--I didn't want her for that.'
Elfride scarcely knew, now that a definite reason was required,
what that reason was. Her mind for a moment strayed to another
subject, unimportant as it seemed. The red ember of a match was
lying inside the fender, which explained that why she had seen no
rays from the window was because the candles had only just been
'I'll come directly,' said the vicar. 'I thought you were out
somewhere with Mr. Smith.'
Even the inexperienced Elfride could not help thinking that her
father must be wonderfully blind if he failed to perceive what was
the nascent consequence of herself and Stephen being so
unceremoniously left together; wonderfully careless, if he saw it
and did not think about it; wonderfully good, if, as seemed to her
by far the most probable supposition, he saw it and thought about
it and approved of it. These reflections were cut short by the
appearance of Stephen just outside the porch, silvered about the
head and shoulders with touches of moonlight, that had begun to
creep through the trees.
'Has your trouble anything to do with a kiss on the lawn?' she
asked abruptly, almost passionately.
'Kiss on the lawn?'
'Yes!' she said, imperiously now.
'I didn't comprehend your meaning, nor do I now exactly. I
certainly have kissed nobody on the lawn, if that is really what
you want to know, Elfride.'
'You know nothing about such a performance?'
'Nothing whatever. What makes you ask?'
'Don't press me to tell; it is nothing of importance. And,
Stephen, you have not yet spoken to papa about our engagement?'
'No,' he said regretfully, 'I could not find him directly; and
then I went on thinking so much of what you said about objections,
refusals--bitter words possibly--ending our happiness, that I
resolved to put it off till to-morrow; that gives us one more day
of delight--delight of a tremulous kind.'
'Yes; but it would be improper to be silent too long, I think,'
she said in a delicate voice, which implied that her face had
grown warm. 'I want him to know we love, Stephen. Why did you
adopt as your own my thought of delay?'
'I will explain; but I want to tell you of my secret first--to
tell you now. It is two or three hours yet to bedtime. Let us
walk up the hill to the church.'
Elfride passively assented, and they went from the lawn by a side
wicket, and ascended into the open expanse of moonlight which
streamed around the lonely edifice on the summit of the hill.
The door was locked. They turned from the porch, and walked hand
in hand to find a resting-place in the churchyard. Stephen chose
a flat tomb, showing itself to be newer and whiter than those
around it, and sitting down himself, gently drew her hand towards
'No, not there,' she said.
'Why not here?'
'A mere fancy; but never mind.' And she sat down.
'Elfie, will you love me, in spite of everything that may be said
'O Stephen, what makes you repeat that so continually and so
sadly? You know I will. Yes, indeed,' she said, drawing closer,
'whatever may be said of you--and nothing bad can be--I will cling
to you just the same. Your ways shall be my ways until I die.'
'Did you ever think what my parents might be, or what society I
originally moved in?'
'No, not particularly. I have observed one or two little points
in your manners which are rather quaint--no more. I suppose you
have moved in the ordinary society of professional people.'
'Supposing I have not--that none of my family have a profession
'I don't mind. What you are only concerns me.'
'Where do you think I went to school--I mean, to what kind of
'Dr. Somebody's academy,' she said simply.
'No. To a dame school originally, then to a national school.'
'Only to those! Well, I love you just as much, Stephen, dear
Stephen,' she murmured tenderly, 'I do indeed. And why should you
tell me these things so impressively? What do they matter to me?'
He held her closer and proceeded:
'What do you think my father is--does for his living, that is to
'He practises some profession or calling, I suppose.'
'No; he is a mason.'
'No; a cottager and journeyman mason.'
Elfride said nothing at first. After a while she whispered:
'That is a strange idea to me. But never mind; what does it
'But aren't you angry with me for not telling you before?'
'No, not at all. Is your mother alive?'
'Is she a nice lady?'
'Very--the best mother in the world. Her people had been well-to-
do yeomen for centuries, but she was only a dairymaid.'
'O Stephen!' came from her in whispered exclamation.
'She continued to attend to a dairy long after my father married
her,' pursued Stephen, without further hesitation. 'And I
remember very well how, when I was very young, I used to go to the
milking, look on at the skimming, sleep through the churning, and
make believe I helped her. Ah, that was a happy time enough!'
'No, never--not happy.'
'Yes, it was.'
'I don't see how happiness could be where the drudgery of dairy-
work had to be done for a living--the hands red and chapped, and
the shoes clogged....Stephen, I do own that it seems odd to regard
you in the light of--of--having been so rough in your youth, and
done menial things of that kind.' (Stephen withdrew an inch or two
from her side.) 'But I DO LOVE YOU just the same,' she continued,
getting closer under his shoulder again, 'and I don't care
anything about the past; and I see that you are all the worthier
for having pushed on in the world in such a way.'
'It is not my worthiness; it is Knight's, who pushed me.'
'Ah, always he--always he!'
'Yes, and properly so. Now, Elfride, you see the reason of his
teaching me by letter. I knew him years before he went to Oxford,
but I had not got far enough in my reading for him to entertain
the idea of helping me in classics till he left home. Then I was
sent away from the village, and we very seldom met; but he kept up
this system of tuition by correspondence with the greatest
regularity. I will tell you all the story, but not now. There is
nothing more to say now, beyond giving places, persons, and
dates.' His voice became timidly slow at this point.
'No; don't take trouble to say more. You are a dear honest fellow
to say so much as you have; and it is not so dreadful either. It
has become a normal thing that millionaires commence by going up
to London with their tools at their back, and half-a-crown in
their pockets. That sort of origin is getting so respected,' she
continued cheerfully, 'that it is acquiring some of the odour of
'Ah, if I had MADE my fortune, I shouldn't mind. But I am only a
possible maker of it as yet.'
'It is quite enough. And so THIS is what your trouble was?'
'I thought I was doing wrong in letting you love me without
telling you my story; and yet I feared to do so, Elfie. I dreaded
to lose you, and I was cowardly on that account.'
'How plain everything about you seems after this explanation! Your
peculiarities in chess-playing, the pronunciation papa noticed in
your Latin, your odd mixture of book-knowledge with ignorance of
ordinary social accomplishments, are accounted for in a moment.
And has this anything to do with what I saw at Lord Luxellian's?'
'What did you see?'
'I saw the shadow of yourself putting a cloak round a lady. I was
at the side door; you two were in a room with the window towards
me. You came to me a moment later.'
'She was my mother.'
'Your mother THERE!' She withdrew herself to look at him silently
in her interest.
'Elfride,' said Stephen, 'I was going to tell you the remainder
to-morrow--I have been keeping it back--I must tell it now, after
all. The remainder of my revelation refers to where my parents
are. Where do you think they live? You know them--by sight at any
'I know them!' she said in suspended amazement.
'Yes. My father is John Smith, Lord Luxellian's master-mason, who
lives under the park wall by the river.'
'O Stephen! can it be?'
'He built--or assisted at the building of the house you live in,
years ago. He put up those stone gate piers at the lodge entrance
to Lord Luxellian's park. My grandfather planted the trees that
belt in your lawn; my grandmother--who worked in the fields with
him--held each tree upright whilst he filled in the earth: they
told me so when I was a child. He was the sexton, too, and dug
many of the graves around us.'
'And was your unaccountable vanishing on the first morning of your
arrival, and again this afternoon, a run to see your father and
mother?...I understand now; no wonder you seemed to know your way
about the village!'
'No wonder. But remember, I have not lived here since I was nine
years old. I then went to live with my uncle, a blacksmith, near
Exonbury, in order to be able to attend a national school as a day
scholar; there was none on this remote coast then. It was there I
met with my friend Knight. And when I was fifteen and had been
fairly educated by the school-master--and more particularly by
Knight--I was put as a pupil in an architect's office in that
town, because I was skilful in the use of the pencil. A full
premium was paid by the efforts of my mother and father, rather
against the wishes of Lord Luxellian, who likes my father,
however, and thinks a great deal of him. There I stayed till six
months ago, when I obtained a situation as improver, as it is
called, in a London office. That's all of me.'
'To think YOU, the London visitor, the town man, should have been
born here, and have known this village so many years before I did.
How strange--how very strange it seems to me!' she murmured.
'My mother curtseyed to you and your father last Sunday,' said
Stephen, with a pained smile at the thought of the incongruity.
'And your papa said to her, "I am glad to see you so regular at
'I remember it, but I have never spoken to her. We have only been
here eighteen months, and the parish is so large.'
'Contrast with this,' said Stephen, with a miserable laugh, 'your
father's belief in my "blue blood," which is still prevalent in
his mind. The first night I came, he insisted upon proving my
descent from one of the most ancient west-county families, on
account of my second Christian name; when the truth is, it was
given me because my grandfather was assistant gardener in the
Fitzmaurice-Smith family for thirty years. Having seen your face,
my darling, I had not heart to contradict him, and tell him what
would have cut me off from a friendly knowledge of you.'
She sighed deeply. 'Yes, I see now how this inequality may be
made to trouble us,' she murmured, and continued in a low, sad
whisper, 'I wouldn't have minded if they had lived far away. Papa
might have consented to an engagement between us if your
connection had been with villagers a hundred miles off; remoteness
softens family contrasts. But he will not like--O Stephen,
Stephen! what can I do?'
'Do?' he said tentatively, yet with heaviness. 'Give me up; let
me go back to London, and think no more of me.'
'No, no; I cannot give you up! This hopelessness in our affairs
makes me care more for you....I see what did not strike me at
first. Stephen, why do we trouble? Why should papa object? An
architect in London is an architect in London. Who inquires
there? Nobody. We shall live there, shall we not? Why need we be
'And Elfie,' said Stephen, his hopes kindling with hers, 'Knight
thinks nothing of my being only a cottager's son; he says I am as
worthy of his friendship as if I were a lord's; and if I am worthy
of his friendship, I am worthy of you, am I not, Elfride?'
'I not only have never loved anybody but you,' she said, instead
of giving an answer, 'but I have not even formed a strong
friendship, such as you have for Knight. I wish you hadn't. It
'Now, Elfride, you know better,' he said wooingly. 'And had you
really never any sweetheart at all?'
'None that was ever recognized by me as such.'
'But did nobody ever love you?'
'Yes--a man did once; very much, he said.'
'How long ago?'
'Oh, a long time.'
'How long, dearest?
'That's not VERY long' (rather disappointedly).
'I said long, not very long.'
'And did he want to marry you?'
'I believe he did. But I didn't see anything in him. He was not
good enough, even if I had loved him.'
'May I ask what he was?'
'A farmer not good enough--how much better than my family!'
'Where is he now?' he continued to Elfride.
'Here! what do you mean by that?'
'I mean that he is here.'
'Under us. He is under this tomb. He is dead, and we are sitting
on his grave.'
'Elfie,' said the young man, standing up and looking at the tomb,
'how odd and sad that revelation seems! It quite depresses me for
'Stephen! I didn't wish to sit here; but you would do so.'
'You never encouraged him?'
'Never by look, word, or sign,' she said solemnly. 'He died of
consumption, and was buried the day you first came.'
'Let us go away. I don't like standing by HIM, even if you never
loved him. He was BEFORE me.'
'Worries make you unreasonable,' she half pouted, following
Stephen at the distance of a few steps. 'Perhaps I ought to have
told you before we sat down. Yes; let us go.'
'Her father did fume'
Oppressed, in spite of themselves, by a foresight of impending
complications, Elfride and Stephen returned down the hill hand in
hand. At the door they paused wistfully, like children late at
Women accept their destiny more readily than men. Elfride had now
resigned herself to the overwhelming idea of her lover's sorry
antecedents; Stephen had not forgotten the trifling grievance that
Elfride had known earlier admiration than his own.
'What was that young man's name?' he inquired.
'Felix Jethway; a widow's only son.'
'I remember the family.'
'She hates me now. She says I killed him.'
Stephen mused, and they entered the porch.
'Stephen, I love only you,' she tremulously whispered. He pressed
her fingers, and the trifling shadow passed away, to admit again
the mutual and more tangible trouble.
The study appeared to be the only room lighted up. They entered,
each with a demeanour intended to conceal the inconcealable fact
that reciprocal love was their dominant chord. Elfride perceived
a man, sitting with his back towards herself, talking to her
father. She would have retired, but Mr. Swancourt had seen her.
'Come in,' he said; 'it is only Martin Cannister, come for a copy
of the register for poor Mrs. Jethway.'
Martin Cannister, the sexton, was rather a favourite with Elfride.
He used to absorb her attention by telling her of his strange
experiences in digging up after long years the bodies of persons
he had known, and recognizing them by some little sign (though in
reality he had never recognized any). He had shrewd small eyes
and a great wealth of double chin, which compensated in some
measure for considerable poverty of nose.
The appearance of a slip of paper in Cannister's hand, and a few
shillings lying on the table in front of him, denoted that the
business had been transacted, and the tenor of their conversation
went to show that a summary of village news was now engaging the
attention of parishioner and parson.
Mr. Cannister stood up and touched his forehead over his eye with
his finger, in respectful salutation of Elfride, gave half as much
salute to Stephen (whom he, in common with other villagers, had
never for a moment recognized), then sat down again and resumed
'Where had I got on to, sir?'
'To driving the pile,' said Mr. Swancourt.
'The pile 'twas. So, as I was saying, Nat was driving the pile in
this manner, as I might say.' Here Mr. Cannister held his walking-
stick scrupulously vertical with his left hand, and struck a blow
with great force on the knob of the stick with his right. 'John
was steadying the pile so, as I might say.' Here he gave the stick
a slight shake, and looked firmly in the various eyes around to
see that before proceeding further his listeners well grasped the
subject at that stage. 'Well, when Nat had struck some half-dozen
blows more upon the pile, 'a stopped for a second or two. John,
thinking he had done striking, put his hand upon the top o' the
pile to gie en a pull, and see if 'a were firm in the ground.' Mr.
Cannister spread his hand over the top of the stick, completely
covering it with his palm. 'Well, so to speak, Nat hadn't maned
to stop striking, and when John had put his hand upon the pile,
'Oh dreadful!' said Elfride.
'The beetle was already coming down, you see, sir. Nat just
caught sight of his hand, but couldn't stop the blow in time.
Down came the beetle upon poor John Smith's hand, and squashed en
to a pummy.'
'Dear me, dear me! poor fellow!' said the vicar, with an
intonation like the groans of the wounded in a pianoforte
performance of the 'Battle of Prague.'
'John Smith, the master-mason?' cried Stephen hurriedly.
'Ay, no other; and a better-hearted man God A'mighty never made.'
'Is he so much hurt?'
'I have heard,' said Mr. Swancourt, not noticing Stephen, 'that he
has a son in London, a very promising young fellow.'
'Oh, how he must be hurt!' repeated Stephen.
'A beetle couldn't hurt very little. Well, sir, good-night t'ye;
and ye, sir; and you, miss, I'm sure.'
Mr. Cannister had been making unnoticeable motions of withdrawal,
and by the time this farewell remark came from his lips he was
just outside the door of the room. He tramped along the hall,
stayed more than a minute endeavouring to close the door properly,
and then was lost to their hearing.
Stephen had meanwhile turned and said to the vicar:
'Please excuse me this evening! I must leave. John Smith is my
The vicar did not comprehend at first.
'What did you say?' he inquired.
'John Smith is my father,' said Stephen deliberately.
A surplus tinge of redness rose from Mr. Swancourt's neck, and
came round over his face, the lines of his features became more
firmly defined, and his lips seemed to get thinner. It was
evident that a series of little circumstances, hitherto unheeded,
were now fitting themselves together, and forming a lucid picture
in Mr. Swancourt's mind in such a manner as to render useless
further explanation on Stephen's part.
'Indeed,' the vicar said, in a voice dry and without inflection.
This being a word which depends entirely upon its tone for its
meaning, Mr. Swancourt's enunciation was equivalent to no
expression at all.
'I have to go now,' said Stephen, with an agitated bearing, and a
movement as if he scarcely knew whether he ought to run off or
stay longer. 'On my return, sir, will you kindly grant me a few
minutes' private conversation?'
'Certainly. Though antecedently it does not seem possible that
there can be anything of the nature of private business between
Mr. Swancourt put on his straw hat, crossed the drawing-room, into
which the moonlight was shining, and stepped out of the French
window into the verandah. It required no further effort to
perceive what, indeed, reasoning might have foretold as the
natural colour of a mind whose pleasures were taken amid
genealogies, good dinners, and patrician reminiscences, that Mr.
Swancourt's prejudices were too strong for his generosity, and
that Stephen's moments as his friend and equal were numbered, or
had even now ceased.
Stephen moved forward as if he would follow the vicar, then as if
he would not, and in absolute perplexity whither to turn himself,
went awkwardly to the door. Elfride followed lingeringly behind
him. Before he had receded two yards from the doorstep, Unity and
Ann the housemaid came home from their visit to the village.
'Have you heard anything about John Smith? The accident is not so
bad as was reported, is it?' said Elfride intuitively.
'Oh no; the doctor says it is only a bad bruise.'
'I thought so!' cried Elfride gladly.
'He says that, although Nat believes he did not check the beetle
as it came down, he must have done so without knowing it--checked
it very considerably too; for the full blow would have knocked his
hand abroad, and in reality it is only made black-and-blue like.'
'How thankful I am!' said Stephen.
The perplexed Unity looked at him with her mouth rather than with
'That will do, Unity,' said Elfride magisterially; and the two
maids passed on.
'Elfride, do you forgive me?' said Stephen with a faint smile.
'No man is fair in love;' and he took her fingers lightly in his
With her head thrown sideways in the Greuze attitude, she looked a
tender reproach at his doubt and pressed his hand. Stephen
returned the pressure threefold, then hastily went off to his
father's cottage by the wall of Endelstow Park.
'Elfride, what have you to say to this?' inquired her father,
coming up immediately Stephen had retired.
With feminine quickness she grasped at any straw that would enable
her to plead his cause. 'He had told me of it,' she faltered; 'so
that it is not a discovery in spite of him. He was just coming in
to tell you.'
'COMING to tell! Why hadn't he already told? I object as much, if
not more, to his underhand concealment of this, than I do to the
fact itself. It looks very much like his making a fool of me, and
of you too. You and he have been about together, and
corresponding together, in a way I don't at all approve of--in a
most unseemly way. You should have known how improper such
conduct is. A woman can't be too careful not to be seen alone
'You saw us, papa, and have never said a word.'
'My fault, of course; my fault. What the deuce could I be
thinking of! He, a villager's son; and we, Swancourts, connections
of the Luxellians. We have been coming to nothing for centuries,
and now I believe we have got there. What shall I next invite
here, I wonder!'
Elfride began to cry at this very unpropitious aspect of affairs.
'O papa, papa, forgive me and him! We care so much for one
another, papa--O, so much! And what he was going to ask you is, if
you will allow of an engagement between us till he is a gentleman
as good as you. We are not in a hurry, dear papa; we don't want
in the least to marry now; not until he is richer. Only will you
let us be engaged, because I love him so, and he loves me?'
Mr. Swancourt's feelings were a little touched by this appeal, and
he was annoyed that such should be the case. 'Certainly not!' he
replied. He pronounced the inhibition lengthily and sonorously,
so that the 'not' sounded like 'n-o-o-o-t!'
'No, no, no; don't say it!'
'Foh! A fine story. It is not enough that I have been deluded and
disgraced by having him here,--the son of one of my village
peasants,--but now I am to make him my son-in-law! Heavens above
us, are you mad, Elfride?'
'You have seen his letters come to me ever since his first visit,
papa, and you knew they were a sort of--love-letters; and since he
has been here you have let him be alone with me almost entirely;
and you guessed, you must have guessed, what we were thinking of,
and doing, and you didn't stop him. Next to love-making comes
love-winning, and you knew it would come to that, papa.'
The vicar parried this common-sense thrust. 'I know--since you
press me so--I know I did guess some childish attachment might
arise between you; I own I did not take much trouble to prevent
it; but I have not particularly countenanced it; and, Elfride, how
can you expect that I should now? It is impossible; no father in
England would hear of such a thing.'
'But he is the same man, papa; the same in every particular; and
how can he be less fit for me than he was before?'
'He appeared a young man with well-to-do friends, and a little
property; but having neither, he is another man.'
'You inquired nothing about him?'
'I went by Hewby's introduction. He should have told me. So
should the young man himself; of course he should. I consider it
a most dishonourable thing to come into a man's house like a
'But he was afraid to tell you, and so should I have been. He
loved me too well to like to run the risk. And as to speaking of
his friends on his first visit, I don't see why he should have
done so at all. He came here on business: it was no affair of
ours who his parents were. And then he knew that if he told you
he would never be asked here, and would perhaps never see me
again. And he wanted to see me. Who can blame him for trying, by
any means, to stay near me--the girl he loves? All is fair in
love. I have heard you say so yourself, papa; and you yourself
would have done just as he has--so would any man.'
'And any man, on discovering what I have discovered, would also do
as I do, and mend my mistake; that is, get shot of him again, as
soon as the laws of hospitality will allow.' But Mr. Swancourt
then remembered that he was a Christian. 'I would not, for the
world, seem to turn him out of doors,' he added; 'but I think he
will have the tact to see that he cannot stay long after this,
with good taste.'
'He will, because he's a gentleman. See how graceful his manners
are,' Elfride went on; though perhaps Stephen's manners, like the
feats of Euryalus, owed their attractiveness in her eyes rather to
the attractiveness of his person than to their own excellence.
'Ay; anybody can be what you call graceful, if he lives a little
time in a city, and keeps his eyes open. And he might have picked
up his gentlemanliness by going to the galleries of theatres, and
watching stage drawing-room manners. He reminds me of one of the
worst stories I ever heard in my life.'
'What story was that?'
'Oh no, thank you! I wouldn't tell you such an improper matter for
'If his father and mother had lived in the north or east of
England,' gallantly persisted Elfride, though her sobs began to
interrupt her articulation, 'anywhere but here--you--would have--
only regarded--HIM, and not THEM! His station--would have--been
what--his profession makes it,--and not fixed by--his father's
humble position--at all; whom he never lives with--now. Though
John Smith has saved lots of money, and is better off than we are,
they say, or he couldn't have put his son to such an expensive
profession. And it is clever and--honourable--of Stephen, to be
the best of his family.'
'Yes. "Let a beast be lord of beasts, and his crib shall stand at
the king's mess."'
'You insult me, papa!' she burst out. 'You do, you do! He is my
own Stephen, he is!'
'That may or may not be true, Elfride,' returned her father, again
uncomfortably agitated in spite of himself 'You confuse future
probabilities with present facts,--what the young man may be with
what he is. We must look at what he is, not what an improbable
degree of success in his profession may make him. The case is
this: the son of a working-man in my parish who may or may not be
able to buy me up--a youth who has not yet advanced so far into
life as to have any income of his own deserving the name, and
therefore of his father's degree as regards station--wants to be
engaged to you. His family are living in precisely the same spot
in England as yours, so throughout this county--which is the world
to us--you would always be known as the wife of Jack Smith the
mason's son, and not under any circumstances as the wife of a
London professional man. It is the drawback, not the compensating
fact, that is talked of always. There, say no more. You may
argue all night, and prove what you will; I'll stick to my words.'
Elfride looked silently and hopelessly out of the window with
large heavy eyes and wet cheeks.
'I call it great temerity--and long to call it audacity--in
Hewby,' resumed her father. 'I never heard such a thing--giving
such a hobbledehoy native of this place such an introduction to me
as he did. Naturally you were deceived as well as I was. I don't
blame you at all, so far.' He went and searched for Mr. Hewby's
original letter. 'Here's what he said to me: "Dear Sir,--
Agreeably to your request of the 18th instant, I have arranged to
survey and make drawings," et cetera. "My assistant, Mr. Stephen
Smith"--assistant, you see he called him, and naturally I
understood him to mean a sort of partner. Why didn't he say
'They never call them clerks in that profession, because they do
not write. Stephen--Mr. Smith--told me so. So that Mr. Hewby
simply used the accepted word.'
'Let me speak, please, Elfride! "My assistant, Mr. Stephen Smith,
will leave London by the early train to-morrow morning...MANY
THANKS FOR YOUR PROPOSAL TO ACCOMMODATE HIM...YOU MAY PUT EVERY
CONFIDENCE IN HIM, and may rely upon his discernment in the matter
of church architecture." Well, I repeat that Hewby ought to be
ashamed of himself for making so much of a poor lad of that sort.'
'Professional men in London,' Elfride argued, 'don't know anything
about their clerks' fathers and mothers. They have assistants who
come to their offices and shops for years, and hardly even know
where they live. What they can do--what profits they can bring
the firm--that's all London men care about. And that is helped in
him by his faculty of being uniformly pleasant.'
'Uniform pleasantness is rather a defect than a faculty. It shows
that a man hasn't sense enough to know whom to despise.'
'It shows that he acts by faith and not by sight, as those you
claim succession from directed.'
'That's some more of what he's been telling you, I suppose! Yes, I
was inclined to suspect him, because he didn't care about sauces
of any kind. I always did doubt a man's being a gentleman if his
palate had no acquired tastes. An unedified palate is the
irrepressible cloven foot of the upstart. The idea of my bringing
out a bottle of my '40 Martinez--only eleven of them left now--to
a man who didn't know it from eighteenpenny! Then the Latin line
he gave to my quotation; it was very cut-and-dried, very; or I,
who haven't looked into a classical author for the last eighteen
years, shouldn't have remembered it. Well, Elfride, you had
better go to your room; you'll get over this bit of tomfoolery in
'No, no, no, papa,' she moaned. For of all the miseries attaching
to miserable love, the worst is the misery of thinking that the
passion which is the cause of them all may cease.
'Elfride,' said her father with rough friendliness, 'I have an
excellent scheme on hand, which I cannot tell you of now. A
scheme to benefit you and me. It has been thrust upon me for some
little time--yes, thrust upon me--but I didn't dream of its value
till this afternoon, when the revelation came. I should be most
unwise to refuse to entertain it.'
'I don't like that word,' she returned wearily. 'You have lost so
much already by schemes. Is it those wretched mines again?'
'No; not a mining scheme.'
'Nor railways. It is like those mysterious offers we see
advertised, by which any gentleman with no brains at all may make
so much a week without risk, trouble, or soiling his fingers.
However, I am intending to say nothing till it is settled, though
I will just say this much, that you soon may have other fish to
fry than to think of Stephen Smith. Remember, I wish, not to be
angry, but friendly, to the young man; for your sake I'll regard
him as a friend in a certain sense. But this is enough; in a few
days you will be quite my way of thinking. There, now, go to your
bedroom. Unity shall bring you up some supper. I wish you not to
be here when he comes back.'
'Beneath the shelter of an aged tree.'
Stephen retraced his steps towards the cottage he had visited only
two or three hours previously. He drew near and under the rich
foliage growing about the outskirts of Endelstow Park, the spotty
lights and shades from the shining moon maintaining a race over
his head and down his back in an endless gambol. When he crossed
the plank bridge and entered the garden-gate, he saw an
illuminated figure coming from the enclosed plot towards the house
on the other side. It was his father, with his hand in a sling,
taking a general moonlight view of the garden, and particularly of
a plot of the youngest of young turnips, previous to closing the
cottage for the night.
He saluted his son with customary force. 'Hallo, Stephen! We
should ha' been in bed in another ten minutes. Come to see what's
the matter wi' me, I suppose, my lad?'
The doctor had come and gone, and the hand had been pronounced as
injured but slightly, though it might possibly have been
considered a far more serious case if Mr. Smith had been a more
important man. Stephen's anxious inquiry drew from his father
words of regret at the inconvenience to the world of his doing
nothing for the next two days, rather than of concern for the pain
of the accident. Together they entered the house.
John Smith--brown as autumn as to skin, white as winter as to
clothes--was a satisfactory specimen of the village artificer in
stone. In common with most rural mechanics, he had too much
individuality to be a typical 'working-man'--a resultant of that
beach-pebble attrition with his kind only to be experienced in
large towns, which metamorphoses the unit Self into a fraction of
the unit Class.
There was not the speciality in his labour which distinguishes the
handicraftsmen of towns. Though only a mason, strictly speaking,
he was not above handling a brick, if bricks were the order of the
day; or a slate or tile, if a roof had to be covered before the
wet weather set in, and nobody was near who could do it better.
Indeed, on one or two occasions in the depth of winter, when frost
peremptorily forbids all use of the trowel, making foundations to
settle, stones to fly, and mortar to crumble, he had taken to
felling and sawing trees. Moreover, he had practised gardening in
his own plot for so many years that, on an emergency, he might
have made a living by that calling.
Probably our countryman was not such an accomplished artificer in
a particular direction as his town brethren in the trades. But he
was, in truth, like that clumsy pin-maker who made the whole pin,
and who was despised by Adam Smith on that account and respected
by Macaulay, much more the artist nevertheless.
Appearing now, indoors, by the light of the candle, his stalwart
healthiness was a sight to see. His beard was close and knotted
as that of a chiselled Hercules; his shirt sleeves were partly
rolled up, his waistcoat unbuttoned; the difference in hue between
the snowy linen and the ruddy arms and face contrasting like the
white of an egg and its yolk. Mrs. Smith, on hearing them enter,
advanced from the pantry.
Mrs. Smith was a matron whose countenance addressed itself to the
mind rather than to the eye, though not exclusively. She retained
her personal freshness even now, in the prosy afternoon-time of
her life; but what her features were primarily indicative of was a
sound common sense behind them; as a whole, appearing to carry
with them a sort of argumentative commentary on the world in
The details of the accident were then rehearsed by Stephen's
father, in the dramatic manner also common to Martin Cannister,
other individuals of the neighbourhood, and the rural world
generally. Mrs. Smith threw in her sentiments between the acts,
as Coryphaeus of the tragedy, to make the description complete.
The story at last came to an end, as the longest will, and Stephen
directed the conversation into another channel.
'Well, mother, they know everything about me now,' he said
'Well done!' replied his father; 'now my mind's at peace.'
'I blame myself--I never shall forgive myself--for not telling
them before,' continued the young man.
Mrs. Smith at this point abstracted her mind from the former
subject. 'I don't see what you have to grieve about, Stephen,'
she said. 'People who accidentally get friends don't, as a first
stroke, tell the history of their families.'
'Ye've done no wrong, certainly,' said his father.
'No; but I should have spoken sooner. There's more in this visit
of mine than you think--a good deal more.'
'Not more than I think,' Mrs. Smith replied, looking
contemplatively at him. Stephen blushed; and his father looked
from one to the other in a state of utter incomprehension.
'She's a pretty piece enough,' Mrs. Smith continued, 'and very
lady-like and clever too. But though she's very well fit for you
as far as that is, why, mercy 'pon me, what ever do you want any
woman at all for yet?'
John made his naturally short mouth a long one, and wrinkled his
forehead, 'That's the way the wind d'blow, is it?' he said.
'Mother,' exclaimed Stephen, 'how absurdly you speak! Criticizing
whether she's fit for me or no, as if there were room for doubt on
the matter! Why, to marry her would be the great blessing of my
life--socially and practically, as well as in other respects. No
such good fortune as that, I'm afraid; she's too far above me.
Her family doesn't want such country lads as I in it.'
'Then if they don't want you, I'd see them dead corpses before I'd
want them, and go to better families who do want you.'
'Ah, yes; but I could never put up with the distaste of being
welcomed among such people as you mean, whilst I could get
indifference among such people as hers.'
'What crazy twist o' thinking will enter your head next?' said his
mother. 'And come to that, she's not a bit too high for you, or
you too low for her. See how careful I be to keep myself up. I'm
sure I never stop for more than a minute together to talk to any
journeymen people; and I never invite anybody to our party o'
Christmases who are not in business for themselves. And I talk to
several toppermost carriage people that come to my lord's without
saying ma'am or sir to 'em, and they take it as quiet as lambs.'
'You curtseyed to the vicar, mother; and I wish you hadn't.'
'But it was before he called me by my Christian name, or he would
have got very little curtseying from me!' said Mrs. Smith,
bridling and sparkling with vexation. 'You go on at me, Stephen,
as if I were your worst enemy! What else could I do with the man
to get rid of him, banging it into me and your father by side and
by seam, about his greatness, and what happened when he was a
young fellow at college, and I don't know what-all; the tongue o'
en flopping round his mouth like a mop-rag round a dairy. That 'a
did, didn't he, John?'
'That's about the size o't,' replied her husband.
'Every woman now-a-days,' resumed Mrs. Smith, 'if she marry at
all, must expect a father-in-law of a rank lower than her father.
The men have gone up so, and the women have stood still. Every
man you meet is more the dand than his father; and you are just
level wi' her.'
'That's what she thinks herself.'
'It only shows her sense. I knew she was after 'ee, Stephen--I
'After me! Good Lord, what next!'
'And I really must say again that you ought not to be in such a
hurry, and wait for a few years. You might go higher than a
bankrupt pa'son's girl then.'
'The fact is, mother,' said Stephen impatiently, 'you don't know
anything about it. I shall never go higher, because I don't want
to, nor should I if I lived to be a hundred. As to you saying
that she's after me, I don't like such a remark about her, for it
implies a scheming woman, and a man worth scheming for, both of
which are not only untrue, but ludicrously untrue, of this case.
Isn't it so, father?'
'I'm afraid I don't understand the matter well enough to gie my
opinion,' said his father, in the tone of the fox who had a cold
and could not smell.
'She couldn't have been very backward anyhow, considering the
short time you have known her,' said his mother. 'Well I think
that five years hence you'll be plenty young enough to think of
such things. And really she can very well afford to wait, and
will too, take my word. Living down in an out-step place like
this, I am sure she ought to be very thankful that you took notice
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