A Pair of Blue Eyes, by Thomas Hardy
Part 3 out of 9
of her. She'd most likely have died an old maid if you hadn't
'All nonsense,' said Stephen, but not aloud.
'A nice little thing she is,' Mrs. Smith went on in a more
complacent tone now that Stephen had been talked down; 'there's
not a word to say against her, I'll own. I see her sometimes
decked out like a horse going to fair, and I admire her for't. A
perfect little lady. But people can't help their thoughts, and if
she'd learnt to make figures instead of letters when she was at
school 'twould have been better for her pocket; for as I said,
there never were worse times for such as she than now.'
'Now, now, mother!' said Stephen with smiling deprecation.
'But I will!' said his mother with asperity. 'I don't read the
papers for nothing, and I know men all move up a stage by
marriage. Men of her class, that is, parsons, marry squires'
daughters; squires marry lords' daughters; lords marry dukes'
daughters; dukes marry queens' daughters. All stages of gentlemen
mate a stage higher; and the lowest stage of gentlewomen are left
single, or marry out of their class.'
'But you said just now, dear mother----' retorted Stephen, unable
to resist the temptation of showing his mother her inconsistency.
Then he paused.
'Well, what did I say?' And Mrs. Smith prepared her lips for a new
Stephen, regretting that he had begun, since a volcano might be
the consequence, was obliged to go on.
'You said I wasn't out of her class just before.'
'Yes, there, there! That's you; that's my own flesh and blood.
I'll warrant that you'll pick holes in everything your mother
says, if you can, Stephen. You are just like your father for
that; take anybody's part but mine. Whilst I am speaking and
talking and trying and slaving away for your good, you are waiting
to catch me out in that way. So you are in her class, but 'tis
what HER people would CALL marrying out of her class. Don't be so
Stephen preserved a discreet silence, in which he was imitated by
his father, and for several minutes nothing was heard but the
ticking of the green-faced case-clock against the wall.
'I'm sure,' added Mrs. Smith in a more philosophic tone, and as a
terminative speech, 'if there'd been so much trouble to get a
husband in my time as there is in these days--when you must make a
god-almighty of a man to get en to hae ye--I'd have trod clay for
bricks before I'd ever have lowered my dignity to marry, or
there's no bread in nine loaves.'
The discussion now dropped, and as it was getting late, Stephen
bade his parents farewell for the evening, his mother none the
less warmly for their sparring; for although Mrs. Smith and
Stephen were always contending, they were never at enmity.
'And possibly,' said Stephen, 'I may leave here altogether to-
morrow; I don't know. So that if I shouldn't call again before
returning to London, don't be alarmed, will you?'
'But didn't you come for a fortnight?' said his mother. 'And
haven't you a month's holiday altogether? They are going to turn
you out, then?'
'Not at all. I may stay longer; I may go. If I go, you had
better say nothing about my having been here, for her sake. At
what time of the morning does the carrier pass Endelstow lane?'
And then he left them. His thoughts were, that should the vicar
permit him to become engaged, to hope for an engagement, or in any
way to think of his beloved Elfride, he might stay longer. Should
he be forbidden to think of any such thing, he resolved to go at
once. And the latter, even to young hopefulness, seemed the more
Stephen walked back to the vicarage through the meadows, as he had
come, surrounded by the soft musical purl of the water through
little weirs, the modest light of the moon, the freshening smell
of the dews out-spread around. It was a time when mere seeing is
meditation, and meditation peace. Stephen was hardly philosopher
enough to avail himself of Nature's offer. His constitution was
made up of very simple particulars; was one which, rare in the
spring-time of civilizations, seems to grow abundant as a nation
gets older, individuality fades, and education spreads; that is,
his brain had extraordinary receptive powers, and no great
creativeness. Quickly acquiring any kind of knowledge he saw
around him, and having a plastic adaptability more common in woman
than in man, he changed colour like a chameleon as the society he
found himself in assumed a higher and more artificial tone. He
had not many original ideas, and yet there was scarcely an idea to
which, under proper training, he could not have added a
He saw nothing outside himself to-night; and what he saw within
was a weariness to his flesh. Yet to a dispassionate observer,
his pretensions to Elfride, though rather premature, were far from
absurd as marriages go, unless the accidental proximity of simple
but honest parents could be said to make them so.
The clock struck eleven when he entered the house. Elfride had
been waiting with scarcely a movement since he departed. Before
he had spoken to her she caught sight of him passing into the
study with her father. She saw that he had by some means obtained
the private interview he desired.
A nervous headache had been growing on the excitable girl during
the absence of Stephen, and now she could do nothing beyond going
up again to her room as she had done before. Instead of lying
down she sat again in the darkness without closing the door, and
listened with a beating heart to every sound from downstairs. The
servants had gone to bed. She ultimately heard the two men come
from the study and cross to the dining-room, where supper had been
lingering for more than an hour. The door was left open, and she
found that the meal, such as it was, passed off between her father
and her lover without any remark, save commonplaces as to
cucumbers and melons, their wholesomeness and culture, uttered in
a stiff and formal way. It seemed to prefigure failure.
Shortly afterwards Stephen came upstairs to his bedroom, and was
almost immediately followed by her father, who also retired for
the night. Not inclined to get a light, she partly undressed and
sat on the bed, where she remained in pained thought for some
time, possibly an hour. Then rising to close her door previously
to fully unrobing, she saw a streak of light shining across the
landing. Her father's door was shut, and he could be heard
snoring regularly. The light came from Stephen's room, and the
slight sounds also coming thence emphatically denoted what he was
doing. In the perfect silence she could hear the closing of a lid
and the clicking of a lock,--he was fastening his hat-box. Then
the buckling of straps and the click of another key,--he was
securing his portmanteau. With trebled foreboding she opened her
door softly, and went towards his. One sensation pervaded her to
distraction. Stephen, her handsome youth and darling, was going
away, and she might never see him again except in secret and in
sadness--perhaps never more. At any rate, she could no longer
wait till the morning to hear the result of the interview, as she
had intended. She flung her dressing-gown round her, tapped
lightly at his door, and whispered 'Stephen!' He came instantly,
opened the door, and stepped out.
'Tell me; are we to hope?'
He replied in a disturbed whisper, and a tear approached its
outlet, though none fell.
'I am not to think of such a preposterous thing--that's what he
said. And I am going to-morrow. I should have called you up to
bid you good-bye.'
'But he didn't say you were to go--O Stephen, he didn't say that?'
'No; not in words. But I cannot stay.'
'Oh, don't, don't go! Do come and let us talk. Let us come down
to the drawing-room for a few minutes; he will hear us here.'
She preceded him down the staircase with the taper light in her
hand, looking unnaturally tall and thin in the long dove-coloured
dressing-gown she wore. She did not stop to think of the
propriety or otherwise of this midnight interview under such
circumstances. She thought that the tragedy of her life was
beginning, and, for the first time almost, felt that her existence
might have a grave side, the shade of which enveloped and rendered
invisible the delicate gradations of custom and punctilio.
Elfride softly opened the drawing-room door and they both went in.
When she had placed the candle on the table, he enclosed her with
his arms, dried her eyes with his handkerchief, and kissed their
'Stephen, it is over--happy love is over; and there is no more
'I will make a fortune, and come to you, and have you. Yes, I
'Papa will never hear of it--never--never! You don't know him. I
do. He is either biassed in favour of a thing, or prejudiced
against it. Argument is powerless against either feeling.'
'No; I won't think of him so,' said Stephen. 'If I appear before
him some time hence as a man of established name, he will accept
me--I know he will. He is not a wicked man.'
'No, he is not wicked. But you say "some time hence," as if it
were no time. To you, among bustle and excitement, it will be
comparatively a short time, perhaps; oh, to me, it will be its
real length trebled! Every summer will be a year--autumn a year--
winter a year! O Stephen! and you may forget me!'
Forget: that was, and is, the real sting of waiting to fond-
hearted woman. The remark awoke in Stephen the converse fear.
'You, too, may be persuaded to give me up, when time has made me
fainter in your memory. For, remember, your love for me must be
nourished in secret; there will be no long visits from me to
support you. Circumstances will always tend to obliterate me.'
'Stephen,' she said, filled with her own misgivings, and unheeding
his last words, 'there are beautiful women where you live--of
course I know there are--and they may win you away from me.' Her
tears came visibly as she drew a mental picture of his
faithlessness. 'And it won't be your fault,' she continued,
looking into the candle with doleful eyes. 'No! You will think
that our family don't want you, and get to include me with them.
And there will be a vacancy in your heart, and some others will be
'I could not, I would not. Elfie, do not be so full of
'Oh yes, they will,' she replied. 'And you will look at them, not
caring at first, and then you will look and be interested, and
after a while you will think, "Ah, they know all about city life,
and assemblies, and coteries, and the manners of the titled, and
poor little Elfie, with all the fuss that's made about her having
me, doesn't know about anything but a little house and a few
cliffs and a space of sea, far away." And then you'll be more
interested in them, and they'll make you have them instead of me,
on purpose to be cruel to me because I am silly, and they are
clever and hate me. And I hate them, too; yes, I do!'
Her impulsive words had power to impress him at any rate with the
recognition of the uncertainty of all that is not accomplished.
And, worse than that general feeling, there of course remained the
sadness which arose from the special features of his own case.
However remote a desired issue may be, the mere fact of having
entered the groove which leads to it, cheers to some extent with a
sense of accomplishment. Had Mr. Swancourt consented to an
engagement of no less length than ten years, Stephen would have
been comparatively cheerful in waiting; they would have felt that
they were somewhere on the road to Cupid's garden. But, with a
possibility of a shorter probation, they had not as yet any
prospect of the beginning; the zero of hope had yet to be reached.
Mr. Swancourt would have to revoke his formidable words before the
waiting for marriage could even set in. And this was despair.
'I wish we could marry now,' murmured Stephen, as an impossible
'So do I,' said she also, as if regarding an idle dream. ''Tis
the only thing that ever does sweethearts good!'
'Secretly would do, would it not, Elfie?'
'Yes, secretly would do; secretly would indeed be best,' she said,
and went on reflectively: 'All we want is to render it absolutely
impossible for any future circumstance to upset our future
intention of being happy together; not to begin being happy now.'
'Exactly,' he murmured in a voice and manner the counterpart of
hers. 'To marry and part secretly, and live on as we are living
now; merely to put it out of anybody's power to force you away
from me, dearest.'
'Or you away from me, Stephen.'
'Or me from you. It is possible to conceive a force of
circumstance strong enough to make any woman in the world marry
against her will: no conceivable pressure, up to torture or
starvation, can make a woman once married to her lover anybody
Now up to this point the idea of an immediate secret marriage had
been held by both as an untenable hypothesis, wherewith simply to
beguile a miserable moment. During a pause which followed
Stephen's last remark, a fascinating perception, then an alluring
conviction, flashed along the brain of both. The perception was
that an immediate marriage COULD be contrived; the conviction that
such an act, in spite of its daring, its fathomless results, its
deceptiveness, would be preferred by each to the life they must
lead under any other conditions.
The youth spoke first, and his voice trembled with the magnitude
of the conception he was cherishing. 'How strong we should feel,
Elfride! going on our separate courses as before, without the fear
of ultimate separation! O Elfride! think of it; think of it!'
It is certain that the young girl's love for Stephen received a
fanning from her father's opposition which made it blaze with a
dozen times the intensity it would have exhibited if left alone.
Never were conditions more favourable for developing a girl's
first passing fancy for a handsome boyish face--a fancy rooted in
inexperience and nourished by seclusion--into a wild unreflecting
passion fervid enough for anything. All the elements of such a
development were there, the chief one being hopelessness--a
necessary ingredient always to perfect the mixture of feelings
united under the name of loving to distraction.
'We would tell papa soon, would we not?' she inquired timidly.
'Nobody else need know. He would then be convinced that hearts
cannot be played with; love encouraged be ready to grow, love
discouraged be ready to die, at a moment's notice. Stephen, do
you not think that if marriages against a parent's consent are
ever justifiable, they are when young people have been favoured up
to a point, as we have, and then have had that favour suddenly
'Yes. It is not as if we had from the beginning acted in
opposition to your papa's wishes. Only think, Elfie, how pleasant
he was towards me but six hours ago! He liked me, praised me,
never objected to my being alone with you.'
'I believe he MUST like you now,' she cried. 'And if he found
that you irremediably belonged to me, he would own it and help
you. 'O Stephen, Stephen,' she burst out again, as the
remembrance of his packing came afresh to her mind, 'I cannot bear
your going away like this! It is too dreadful. All I have been
expecting miserably killed within me like this!'
Stephen flushed hot with impulse. 'I will not be a doubt to you--
thought of you shall not be a misery to me!' he said. 'We will be
wife and husband before we part for long!'
She hid her face on his shoulder. 'Anything to make SURE!' she
'I did not like to propose it immediately,' continued Stephen.
'It seemed to me--it seems to me now--like trying to catch you--a
girl better in the world than I.'
'Not that, indeed! And am I better in worldly station? What's the
use of have beens? We may have been something once; we are nothing
Then they whispered long and earnestly together; Stephen
hesitatingly proposing this and that plan, Elfride modifying them,
with quick breathings, and hectic flush, and unnaturally bright
eyes. It was two o'clock before an arrangement was finally
She then told him to leave her, giving him his light to go up to
his own room. They parted with an agreement not to meet again in
the morning. After his door had been some time closed he heard
her softly gliding into her chamber.
'Journeys end in lovers meeting.'
Stephen lay watching the Great Bear; Elfride was regarding a
monotonous parallelogram of window blind. Neither slept that
Early the next morning--that is to say, four hours after their
stolen interview, and just as the earliest servant was heard
moving about--Stephen Smith went downstairs, portmanteau in hand.
Throughout the night he had intended to see Mr. Swancourt again,
but the sharp rebuff of the previous evening rendered such an
interview particularly distasteful. Perhaps there was another and
less honest reason. He decided to put it off. Whatever of moral
timidity or obliquity may have lain in such a decision, no
perception of it was strong enough to detain him. He wrote a note
in his room, which stated simply that he did not feel happy in the
house after Mr. Swancourt's sudden veto on what he had favoured a
few hours before; but that he hoped a time would come, and that
soon, when his original feelings of pleasure as Mr. Swancourt's
guest might be recovered.
He expected to find the downstairs rooms wearing the gray and
cheerless aspect that early morning gives to everything out of the
sun. He found in the dining room a breakfast laid, of which
somebody had just partaken.
Stephen gave the maid-servant his note of adieu. She stated that
Mr. Swancourt had risen early that morning, and made an early
breakfast. He was not going away that she knew of.
Stephen took a cup of coffee, left the house of his love, and
turned into the lane. It was so early that the shaded places
still smelt like night time, and the sunny spots had hardly felt
the sun. The horizontal rays made every shallow dip in the ground
to show as a well-marked hollow. Even the channel of the path was
enough to throw shade, and the very stones of the road cast
tapering dashes of darkness westward, as long as Jael's tent-nail.
At a spot not more than a hundred yards from the vicar's residence
the lane leading thence crossed the high road. Stephen reached
the point of intersection, stood still and listened. Nothing
could be heard save the lengthy, murmuring line of the sea upon
the adjacent shore. He looked at his watch, and then mounted a
gate upon which he seated himself, to await the arrival of the
carrier. Whilst he sat he heard wheels coming in two directions.
The vehicle approaching on his right he soon recognized as the
carrier's. There were the accompanying sounds of the owner's
voice and the smack of his whip, distinct in the still morning
air, by which he encouraged his horses up the hill.
The other set of wheels sounded from the lane Stephen had just
traversed. On closer observation, he perceived that they were
moving from the precincts of the ancient manor-house adjoining the
vicarage grounds. A carriage then left the entrance gates of the
house, and wheeling round came fully in sight. It was a plain
travelling carriage, with a small quantity of luggage, apparently
a lady's. The vehicle came to the junction of the four ways half-
a-minute before the carrier reached the same spot, and crossed
directly in his front, proceeding by the lane on the other side.
Inside the carriage Stephen could just discern an elderly lady
with a younger woman, who seemed to be her maid. The road they
had taken led to Stratleigh, a small watering-place sixteen miles
He heard the manor-house gates swing again, and looking up saw
another person leaving them, and walking off in the direction of
the parsonage. 'Ah, how much I wish I were moving that way!' felt
he parenthetically. The gentleman was tall, and resembled Mr.
Swancourt in outline and attire. He opened the vicarage gate and
went in. Mr. Swancourt, then, it certainly was. Instead of
remaining in bed that morning Mr. Swancourt must have taken it
into his head to see his new neighbour off on a journey. He must
have been greatly interested in that neighbour to do such an
The carrier's conveyance had pulled up, and Stephen now handed in
his portmanteau and mounted the shafts. 'Who is that lady in the
carriage?' he inquired indifferently of Lickpan the carrier.
'That, sir, is Mrs. Troyton, a widder wi' a mint o' money. She's
the owner of all that part of Endelstow that is not Lord
Luxellian's. Only been here a short time; she came into it by
law. The owner formerly was a terrible mysterious party--never
lived here--hardly ever was seen here except in the month of
September, as I might say.'
The horses were started again, and noise rendered further
discourse a matter of too great exertion. Stephen crept inside
under the tilt, and was soon lost in reverie.
Three hours and a half of straining up hills and jogging down
brought them to St. Launce's, the market town and railway station
nearest to Endelstow, and the place from which Stephen Smith had
journeyed over the downs on the, to him, memorable winter evening
at the beginning of the same year. The carrier's van was so timed
as to meet a starting up-train, which Stephen entered. Two or
three hours' railway travel through vertical cuttings in
metamorphic rock, through oak copses rich and green, stretching
over slopes and down delightful valleys, glens, and ravines,
sparkling with water like many-rilled Ida, and he plunged amid the
hundred and fifty thousand people composing the town of Plymouth.
There being some time upon his hands he left his luggage at the
cloak-room, and went on foot along Bedford Street to the nearest
church. Here Stephen wandered among the multifarious tombstones
and looked in at the chancel window, dreaming of something that
was likely to happen by the altar there in the course of the
coming month. He turned away and ascended the Hoe, viewed the
magnificent stretch of sea and massive promontories of land, but
without particularly discerning one feature of the varied
perspective. He still saw that inner prospect--the event he hoped
for in yonder church. The wide Sound, the Breakwater, the light-
house on far-off Eddystone, the dark steam vessels, brigs,
barques, and schooners, either floating stilly, or gliding with
tiniest motion, were as the dream, then; the dreamed-of event was
as the reality.
Soon Stephen went down from the Hoe, and returned to the railway
station. He took his ticket, and entered the London train.
That day was an irksome time at Endelstow vicarage. Neither
father nor daughter alluded to the departure of Stephen. Mr.
Swancourt's manner towards her partook of the compunctious
kindness that arises from a misgiving as to the justice of some
Either from lack of the capacity to grasp the whole coup d'oeil,
or from a natural endowment for certain kinds of stoicism, women
are cooler than men in critical situations of the passive form.
Probably, in Elfride's case at least, it was blindness to the
greater contingencies of the future she was preparing for herself,
which enabled her to ask her father in a quiet voice if he could
give her a holiday soon, to ride to St. Launce's and go on to
Now, she had only once before gone alone to Plymouth, and that was
in consequence of some unavoidable difficulty. Being a country
girl, and a good, not to say a wild, horsewoman, it had been her
delight to canter, without the ghost of an attendant, over the
fourteen or sixteen miles of hard road intervening between their
home and the station at St. Launce's, put up the horse, and go on
the remainder of the distance by train, returning in the same
manner in the evening. It was then resolved that, though she had
successfully accomplished this journey once, it was not to be
repeated without some attendance.
But Elfride must not be confounded with ordinary young feminine
equestrians. The circumstances of her lonely and narrow life made
it imperative that in trotting about the neighbourhood she must
trot alone or else not at all. Usage soon rendered this perfectly
natural to herself. Her father, who had had other experiences,
did not much like the idea of a Swancourt, whose pedigree could be
as distinctly traced as a thread in a skein of silk, scampering
over the hills like a farmer's daughter, even though he could
habitually neglect her. But what with his not being able to
afford her a regular attendant, and his inveterate habit of
letting anything be to save himself trouble, the circumstance grew
customary. And so there arose a chronic notion in the villagers'
minds that all ladies rode without an attendant, like Miss
Swancourt, except a few who were sometimes visiting at Lord
'I don't like your going to Plymouth alone, particularly going to
St. Launce's on horseback. Why not drive, and take the man?'
'It is not nice to be so overlooked.' Worm's company would not
seriously have interfered with her plans, but it was her humour to
go without him.
'When do you want to go?' said her father.
She only answered, 'Soon.'
'I will consider,' he said.
Only a few days elapsed before she asked again. A letter had
reached her from Stephen. It had been timed to come on that day
by special arrangement between them. In it he named the earliest
morning on which he could meet her at Plymouth. Her father had
been on a journey to Stratleigh, and returned in unusual buoyancy
of spirit. It was a good opportunity; and since the dismissal of
Stephen her father had been generally in a mood to make small
concessions, that he might steer clear of large ones connected
with that outcast lover of hers.
'Next Thursday week I am going from home in a different
direction,' said her father. 'In fact, I shall leave home the
night before. You might choose the same day, for they wish to
take up the carpets, or some such thing, I think. As I said, I
don't like you to be seen in a town on horseback alone; but go if
Thursday week. Her father had named the very day that Stephen
also had named that morning as the earliest on which it would be
of any use to meet her; that was, about fifteen days from the day
on which he had left Endelstow. Fifteen days--that fragment of
duration which has acquired such an interesting individuality from
its connection with the English marriage law.
She involuntarily looked at her father so strangely, that on
becoming conscious of the look she paled with embarrassment. Her
father, too, looked confused. What was he thinking of?
There seemed to be a special facility offered her by a power
external to herself in the circumstance that Mr. Swancourt had
proposed to leave home the night previous to her wished-for day.
Her father seldom took long journeys; seldom slept from home
except perhaps on the night following a remote Visitation. Well,
she would not inquire too curiously into the reason of the
opportunity, nor did he, as would have been natural, proceed to
explain it of his own accord. In matters of fact there had
hitherto been no reserve between them, though they were not
usually confidential in its full sense. But the divergence of
their emotions on Stephen's account had produced an estrangement
which just at present went even to the extent of reticence on the
most ordinary household topics.
Elfride was almost unconsciously relieved, persuading herself that
her father's reserve on his business justified her in secrecy as
regarded her own--a secrecy which was necessarily a foregone
decision with her. So anxious is a young conscience to discover a
palliative, that the ex post facto nature of a reason is of no
account in excluding it.
The intervening fortnight was spent by her mostly in walking by
herself among the shrubs and trees, indulging sometimes in
sanguine anticipations; more, far more frequently, in misgivings.
All her flowers seemed dull of hue; her pets seemed to look
wistfully into her eyes, as if they no longer stood in the same
friendly relation to her as formerly. She wore melancholy
jewellery, gazed at sunsets, and talked to old men and women. It
was the first time that she had had an inner and private world
apart from the visible one about her. She wished that her father,
instead of neglecting her even more than usual, would make some
advance--just one word; she would then tell all, and risk
Stephen's displeasure. Thus brought round to the youth again, she
saw him in her fancy, standing, touching her, his eyes full of sad
affection, hopelessly renouncing his attempt because she had
renounced hers; and she could not recede.
On the Wednesday she was to receive another letter. She had
resolved to let her father see the arrival of this one, be the
consequences what they might: the dread of losing her lover by
this deed of honesty prevented her acting upon the resolve. Five
minutes before the postman's expected arrival she slipped out, and
down the lane to meet him. She met him immediately upon turning a
sharp angle, which hid her from view in the direction of the
vicarage. The man smilingly handed one missive, and was going on
to hand another, a circular from some tradesman.
'No,' she said; 'take that on to the house.'
'Why, miss, you are doing what your father has done for the last
She did not comprehend.
'Why, come to this corner, and take a letter of me every morning,
all writ in the same handwriting, and letting any others for him
go on to the house.' And on the postman went.
No sooner had he turned the corner behind her back than she heard
her father meet and address the man. She had saved her letter by
two minutes. Her father audibly went through precisely the same
performance as she had just been guilty of herself.
This stealthy conduct of his was, to say the least, peculiar.
Given an impulsive inconsequent girl, neglected as to her inner
life by her only parent, and the following forces alive within
her; to determine a resultant:
First love acted upon by a deadly fear of separation from its
object: inexperience, guiding onward a frantic wish to prevent the
above-named issue: misgivings as to propriety, met by hope of
ultimate exoneration: indignation at parental inconsistency in
first encouraging, then forbidding: a chilling sense of
disobedience, overpowered by a conscientious inability to brook a
breaking of plighted faith with a man who, in essentials, had
remained unaltered from the beginning: a blessed hope that
opposition would turn an erroneous judgement: a bright faith that
things would mend thereby, and wind up well.
Probably the result would, after all, have been nil, had not the
following few remarks been made one day at breakfast.
Her father was in his old hearty spirits. He smiled to himself at
stories too bad to tell, and called Elfride a little scamp for
surreptitiously preserving some blind kittens that ought to have
been drowned. After this expression, she said to him suddenly:
If Mr. Smith had been already in the family, you would not have
been made wretched by discovering he had poor relations?'
'Do you mean in the family by marriage?' he replied inattentively,
and continuing to peel his egg.
The accumulating scarlet told that was her meaning, as much as the
'I should have put up with it, no doubt,' Mr. Swancourt observed.
'So that you would not have been driven into hopeless melancholy,
but have made the best of him?'
Elfride's erratic mind had from her youth upwards been constantly
in the habit of perplexing her father by hypothetical questions,
based on absurd conditions. The present seemed to be cast so
precisely in the mould of previous ones that, not being given to
syntheses of circumstances, he answered it with customary
'If he were allied to us irretrievably, of course I, or any
sensible man, should accept conditions that could not be altered;
certainly not be hopelessly melancholy about it. I don't believe
anything in the world would make me hopelessly melancholy. And
don't let anything make you so, either.'
'I won't, papa,' she cried, with a serene brightness that pleased
Certainly Mr. Swancourt must have been far from thinking that the
brightness came from an exhilarating intention to hold back no
longer from the mad action she had planned.
In the evening he drove away towards Stratleigh, quite alone. It
was an unusual course for him. At the door Elfride had been again
almost impelled by her feelings to pour out all.
'Why are you going to Stratleigh, papa?' she said, and looked at
'I will tell you to-morrow when I come back,' he said cheerily;
'not before then, Elfride. Thou wilt not utter what thou dost not
know, and so far will I trust thee, gentle Elfride.'
She was repressed and hurt.
'I will tell you my errand to Plymouth, too, when I come back,'
He went away. His jocularity made her intention seem the lighter,
as his indifference made her more resolved to do as she liked.
It was a familiar September sunset, dark-blue fragments of cloud
upon an orange-yellow sky. These sunsets used to tempt her to
walk towards them, as any beautiful thing tempts a near approach.
She went through the field to the privet hedge, clambered into the
middle of it, and reclined upon the thick boughs. After looking
westward for a considerable time, she blamed herself for not
looking eastward to where Stephen was, and turned round.
Ultimately her eyes fell upon the ground.
A peculiarity was observable beneath her. A green field spread
itself on each side of the hedge, one belonging to the glebe, the
other being a part of the land attached to the manor-house
adjoining. On the vicarage side she saw a little footpath, the
distinctive and altogether exceptional feature of which consisted
in its being only about ten yards long; it terminated abruptly at
A footpath, suddenly beginning and suddenly ending, coming from
nowhere and leading nowhere, she had never seen before.
Yes, she had, on second thoughts. She had seen exactly such a
path trodden in the front of barracks by the sentry.
And this recollection explained the origin of the path here. Her
father had trodden it by pacing up and down, as she had once seen
Sitting on the hedge as she sat now, her eyes commanded a view of
both sides of it. And a few minutes later, Elfride looked over to
the manor side.
Here was another sentry path. It was like the first in length,
and it began and ended exactly opposite the beginning and ending
of its neighbour, but it was thinner, and less distinct.
Two reasons existed for the difference. This one might have been
trodden by a similar weight of tread to the other, exercised a
less number of times; or it might have been walked just as
frequently, but by lighter feet.
Probably a gentleman from Scotland-yard, had he been passing at
the time, might have considered the latter alternative as the more
probable. Elfride thought otherwise, so far as she thought at
all. But her own great To-Morrow was now imminent; all thoughts
inspired by casual sights of the eye were only allowed to exercise
themselves in inferior corners of her brain, previously to being
Elfride was at length compelled to reason practically upon her
undertaking. All her definite perceptions thereon, when the
emotion accompanying them was abstracted, amounted to no more than
'Say an hour and three-quarters to ride to St. Launce's.
'Say half an hour at the Falcon to change my dress.
'Say two hours waiting for some train and getting to Plymouth.
'Say an hour to spare before twelve o'clock.
'Total time from leaving Endelstow till twelve o'clock, five
'Therefore I shall have to start at seven.'
No surprise or sense of unwontedness entered the minds of the
servants at her early ride. The monotony of life we associate
with people of small incomes in districts out of the sound of the
railway whistle, has one exception, which puts into shade the
experience of dwellers about the great centres of population--that
is, in travelling. Every journey there is more or less an
adventure; adventurous hours are necessarily chosen for the most
commonplace outing. Miss Elfride had to leave early--that was
Elfride never went out on horseback but she brought home
something--something found, or something bought. If she trotted
to town or village, her burden was books. If to hills, woods, or
the seashore, it was wonderful mosses, abnormal twigs, a
handkerchief of wet shells or seaweed.
Once, in muddy weather, when Pansy was walking with her down the
street of Castle Boterel, on a fair-day, a packet in front of her
and a packet under her arm, an accident befell the packets, and
they slipped down. On one side of her, three volumes of fiction
lay kissing the mud; on the other numerous skeins of polychromatic
wools lay absorbing it. Unpleasant women smiled through windows
at the mishap, the men all looked round, and a boy, who was
minding a ginger-bread stall whilst the owner had gone to get
drunk, laughed loudly. The blue eyes turned to sapphires, and the
cheeks crimsoned with vexation.
After that misadventure she set her wits to work, and was
ingenious enough to invent an arrangement of small straps about
the saddle, by which a great deal could be safely carried thereon,
in a small compass. Here she now spread out and fastened a plain
dark walking-dress and a few other trifles of apparel. Worm
opened the gate for her, and she vanished away.
One of the brightest mornings of late summer shone upon her. The
heather was at its purplest, the furze at its yellowest, the
grasshoppers chirped loud enough for birds, the snakes hissed like
little engines, and Elfride at first felt lively. Sitting at ease
upon Pansy, in her orthodox riding-habit and nondescript hat, she
looked what she felt. But the mercury of those days had a trick
of falling unexpectedly. First, only for one minute in ten had
she a sense of depression. Then a large cloud, that had been
hanging in the north like a black fleece, came and placed itself
between her and the sun. It helped on what was already
inevitable, and she sank into a uniformity of sadness.
She turned in the saddle and looked back. They were now on an
open table-land, whose altitude still gave her a view of the sea
by Endelstow. She looked longingly at that spot.
During this little revulsion of feeling Pansy had been still
advancing, and Elfride felt it would be absurd to turn her little
mare's head the other way. 'Still,' she thought, 'if I had a
mamma at home I WOULD go back!'
And making one of those stealthy movements by which women let
their hearts juggle with their brains, she did put the horse's
head about, as if unconsciously, and went at a hand-gallop towards
home for more than a mile. By this time, from the inveterate
habit of valuing what we have renounced directly the alternative
is chosen, the thought of her forsaken Stephen recalled her, and
she turned about, and cantered on to St. Launce's again.
This miserable strife of thought now began to rage in all its
wildness. Overwrought and trembling, she dropped the rein upon
Pansy's shoulders, and vowed she would be led whither the horse
would take her.
Pansy slackened her pace to a walk, and walked on with her
agitated burden for three or four minutes. At the expiration of
this time they had come to a little by-way on the right, leading
down a slope to a pool of water. The pony stopped, looked towards
the pool, and then advanced and stooped to drink.
Elfride looked at her watch and discovered that if she were going
to reach St. Launce's early enough to change her dress at the
Falcon, and get a chance of some early train to Plymouth--there
were only two available--it was necessary to proceed at once.
She was impatient. It seemed as if Pansy would never stop
drinking; and the repose of the pool, the idle motions of the
insects and flies upon it, the placid waving of the flags, the
leaf-skeletons, like Genoese filigree, placidly sleeping at the
bottom, by their contrast with her own turmoil made her impatience
Pansy did turn at last, and went up the slope again to the high-
road. The pony came upon it, and stood cross-wise, looking up and
down. Elfride's heart throbbed erratically, and she thought,
'Horses, if left to themselves, make for where they are best fed.
Pansy will go home.'
Pansy turned and walked on towards St. Launce's
Pansy at home, during summer, had little but grass to live on.
After a run to St. Launce's she always had a feed of corn to
support her on the return journey. Therefore, being now more than
half way, she preferred St. Launce's.
But Elfride did not remember this now. All she cared to recognize
was a dreamy fancy that to-day's rash action was not her own. She
was disabled by her moods, and it seemed indispensable to adhere
to the programme. So strangely involved are motives that, more
than by her promise to Stephen, more even than by her love, she
was forced on by a sense of the necessity of keeping faith with
herself, as promised in the inane vow of ten minutes ago.
She hesitated no longer. Pansy went, like the steed of Adonis, as
if she told the steps. Presently the quaint gables and jumbled
roofs of St. Launce's were spread beneath her, and going down the
hill she entered the courtyard of the Falcon. Mrs. Buckle, the
landlady, came to the door to meet her.
The Swancourts were well known here. The transition from
equestrian to the ordinary guise of railway travellers had been
more than once performed by father and daughter in this
In less than a quarter of an hour Elfride emerged from the door in
her walking dress, and went to the railway. She had not told Mrs.
Buckle anything as to her intentions, and was supposed to have
gone out shopping.
An hour and forty minutes later, and she was in Stephen's arms at
the Plymouth station. Not upon the platform--in the secret
retreat of a deserted waiting-room.
Stephen's face boded ill. He was pale and despondent.
What is the matter?' she asked.
'We cannot be married here to-day, my Elfie! I ought to have known
it and stayed here. In my ignorance I did not. I have the
licence, but it can only be used in my parish in London. I only
came down last night, as you know.'
'What shall we do?' she said blankly.
'There's only one thing we can do, darling.'
'Go on to London by a train just starting, and be married there
'Passengers for the 11.5 up-train take their seats!' said a
guard's voice on the platform.
'Will you go, Elfride?'
In three minutes the train had moved off, bearing away with it
Stephen and Elfride.
'Adieu! she cries, and waved her lily hand.'
The few tattered clouds of the morning enlarged and united, the
sun withdrew behind them to emerge no more that day, and the
evening drew to a close in drifts of rain. The water-drops beat
like duck shot against the window of the railway-carriage
containing Stephen and Elfride.
The journey from Plymouth to Paddington, by even the most headlong
express, allows quite enough leisure for passion of any sort to
cool. Elfride's excitement had passed off, and she sat in a kind
of stupor during the latter half of the journey. She was aroused
by the clanging of the maze of rails over which they traced their
way at the entrance to the station.
Is this London?' she said.
'Yes, darling,' said Stephen in a tone of assurance he was far
from feeling. To him, no less than to her, the reality so greatly
differed from the prefiguring.
She peered out as well as the window, beaded with drops, would
allow her, and saw only the lamps, which had just been lit,
blinking in the wet atmosphere, and rows of hideous zinc chimney-
pipes in dim relief against the sky. She writhed uneasily, as
when a thought is swelling in the mind which must cause much pain
at its deliverance in words. Elfride had known no more about the
stings of evil report than the native wild-fowl knew of the
effects of Crusoe's first shot. Now she saw a little further, and
a little further still.
The train stopped. Stephen relinquished the soft hand he had held
all the day, and proceeded to assist her on to the platform.
This act of alighting upon strange ground seemed all that was
wanted to complete a resolution within her.
She looked at her betrothed with despairing eyes.
'O Stephen,' she exclaimed, 'I am so miserable! I must go home
again--I must--I must! Forgive my wretched vacillation. I don't
like it here--nor myself--nor you!'
Stephen looked bewildered, and did not speak.
'Will you allow me to go home?' she implored. 'I won't trouble
you to go with me. I will not be any weight upon you; only say
you will agree to my returning; that you will not hate me for it,
Stephen! It is better that I should return again; indeed it is,
'But we can't return now,' he said in a deprecatory tone.
'I must! I will!'
'How? When do you want to go?'
'Now. Can we go at once?'
The lad looked hopelessly along the platform.
'If you must go, and think it wrong to remain, dearest,' said he
sadly, 'you shall. You shall do whatever you like, my Elfride.
But would you in reality rather go now than stay till to-morrow,
and go as my wife?'
'Yes, yes--much--anything to go now. I must; I must!' she cried.
'We ought to have done one of two things,' he answered gloomily.
'Never to have started, or not to have returned without being
married. I don't like to say it, Elfride--indeed I don't; but you
must be told this, that going back unmarried may compromise your
good name in the eyes of people who may hear of it.'
'They will not; and I must go.'
'O Elfride! I am to blame for bringing you away.'
'Not at all. I am the elder.'
'By a month; and what's that? But never mind that now.' He looked
around. 'Is there a train for Plymouth to-night?' he inquired of
a guard. The guard passed on and did not speak.
'Is there a train for Plymouth to-night?' said Elfride to another.
'Yes, miss; the 8.10--leaves in ten minutes. You have come to the
wrong platform; it is the other side. Change at Bristol into the
night mail. Down that staircase, and under the line.'
They ran down the staircase--Elfride first--to the booking-office,
and into a carriage with an official standing beside the door.
'Show your tickets, please.' They are locked in--men about the
platform accelerate their velocities till they fly up and down
like shuttles in a loom--a whistle--the waving of a flag--a human
cry--a steam groan--and away they go to Plymouth again, just
catching these words as they glide off:
'Those two youngsters had a near run for it, and no mistake!'
Elfride found her breath.
'And have you come too, Stephen? Why did you?'
'I shall not leave you till I see you safe at St. Launce's. Do
not think worse of me than I am, Elfride.'
And then they rattled along through the night, back again by the
way they had come. The weather cleared, and the stars shone in
upon them. Their two or three fellow-passengers sat for most of
the time with closed eyes. Stephen sometimes slept; Elfride alone
was wakeful and palpitating hour after hour.
The day began to break, and revealed that they were by the sea.
Red rocks overhung them, and, receding into distance, grew livid
in the blue grey atmosphere. The sun rose, and sent penetrating
shafts of light in upon their weary faces. Another hour, and the
world began to be busy. They waited yet a little, and the train
slackened its speed in view of the platform at St. Launce's.
She shivered, and mused sadly.
'I did not see all the consequences,' she said. 'Appearances are
wofully against me. If anybody finds me out, I am, I suppose,
'Then appearances will speak falsely; and how can that matter,
even if they do? I shall be your husband sooner or later, for
certain, and so prove your purity.'
'Stephen, once in London I ought to have married you,' she said
firmly. 'It was my only safe defence. I see more things now than
I did yesterday. My only remaining chance is not to be
discovered; and that we must fight for most desperately.'
They stepped out. Elfride pulled a thick veil over her face.
A woman with red and scaly eyelids and glistening eyes was sitting
on a bench just inside the office-door. She fixed her eyes upon
Elfride with an expression whose force it was impossible to doubt,
but the meaning of which was not clear; then upon the carriage
they had left. She seemed to read a sinister story in the scene.
Elfride shrank back, and turned the other way.
'Who is that woman?' said Stephen. 'She looked hard at you.'
'Mrs. Jethway--a widow, and mother of that young man whose tomb we
sat on the other night. Stephen, she is my enemy. Would that God
had had mercy enough upon me to have hidden this from HER!'
'Do not talk so hopelessly,' he remonstrated. 'I don't think she
'I pray that she did not.'
He put on a more vigorous mood.
'Now, we will go and get some breakfast.'
'No, no!' she begged. 'I cannot eat. I MUST get back to
Elfride was as if she had grown years older than Stephen now.
'But you have had nothing since last night but that cup of tea at
'I can't eat, Stephen.'
'Wine and biscuit?'
'Nor tea, nor coffee?'
'A glass of water?'
'No. I want something that makes people strong and energetic for
the present, that borrows the strength of to-morrow for use to-
day--leaving to-morrow without any at all for that matter; or even
that would take all life away to-morrow, so long as it enabled me
to get home again now. Brandy, that's what I want. That woman's
eyes have eaten my heart away!'
'You are wild; and you grieve me, darling. Must it be brandy?'
'Yes, if you please.'
'I don't know. I have never drunk more than a teaspoonful at
once. All I know is that I want it. Don't get it at the Falcon.'
He left her in the fields, and went to the nearest inn in that
direction. Presently he returned with a small flask nearly full,
and some slices of bread-and-butter, thin as wafers, in a paper-
bag. Elfride took a sip or two.
'It goes into my eyes,' she said wearily. 'I can't take any more.
Yes, I will; I will close my eyes. Ah, it goes to them by an
inside route. I don't want it; throw it away.'
However, she could eat, and did eat. Her chief attention was
concentrated upon how to get the horse from the Falcon stables
without suspicion. Stephen was not allowed to accompany her into
the town. She acted now upon conclusions reached without any aid
from him: his power over her seemed to have departed.
'You had better not be seen with me, even here where I am so
little known. We have begun stealthily as thieves, and we must
end stealthily as thieves, at all hazards. Until papa has been
told by me myself, a discovery would be terrible.'
Walking and gloomily talking thus they waited till nearly nine
o'clock, at which time Elfride thought she might call at the
Falcon without creating much surprise. Behind the railway-station
was the river, spanned by an old Tudor bridge, whence the road
diverged in two directions, one skirting the suburbs of the town,
and winding round again into the high-road to Endelstow. Beside
this road Stephen sat, and awaited her return from the Falcon.
He sat as one sitting for a portrait, motionless, watching the
chequered lights and shades on the tree-trunks, the children
playing opposite the school previous to entering for the morning
lesson, the reapers in a field afar off. The certainty of
possession had not come, and there was nothing to mitigate the
youth's gloom, that increased with the thought of the parting now
At length she came trotting round to him, in appearance much as on
the romantic morning of their visit to the cliff, but shorn of the
radiance which glistened about her then. However, her comparative
immunity from further risk and trouble had considerably composed
her. Elfride's capacity for being wounded was only surpassed by
her capacity for healing, which rightly or wrongly is by some
considered an index of transientness of feeling in general.
'Elfride, what did they say at the Falcon?'
'Nothing. Nobody seemed curious about me. They knew I went to
Plymouth, and I have stayed there a night now and then with Miss
Bicknell. I rather calculated upon that.'
And now parting arose like a death to these children, for it was
imperative that she should start at once. Stephen walked beside
her for nearly a mile. During the walk he said sadly:
'Elfride, four-and-twenty hours have passed, and the thing is not
'But you have insured that it shall be done.'
'How have I?'
'O Stephen, you ask how! Do you think I could marry another man on
earth after having gone thus far with you? Have I not shown beyond
possibility of doubt that I can be nobody else's? Have I not
irretrievably committed myself?--pride has stood for nothing in
the face of my great love. You misunderstood my turning back, and
I cannot explain it. It was wrong to go with you at all; and
though it would have been worse to go further, it would have been
better policy, perhaps. Be assured of this, that whenever you
have a home for me--however poor and humble--and come and claim
me, I am ready.' She added bitterly, 'When my father knows of this
day's work, he may be only too glad to let me go.'
'Perhaps he may, then, insist upon our marriage at once!' Stephen
answered, seeing a ray of hope in the very focus of her remorse.
'I hope he may, even if we had still to part till I am ready for
you, as we intended.'
Elfride did not reply.
'You don't seem the same woman, Elfie, that you were yesterday.'
'Nor am I. But good-bye. Go back now.' And she reined the horse
for parting. 'O Stephen,' she cried, 'I feel so weak! I don't
know how to meet him. Cannot you, after all, come back with me?'
'Shall I come?'
Elfride paused to think.
'No; it will not do. It is my utter foolishness that makes me say
such words. But he will send for you.'
'Say to him,' continued Stephen, 'that we did this in the absolute
despair of our minds. Tell him we don't wish him to favour us--
only to deal justly with us. If he says, marry now, so much the
better. If not, say that all may be put right by his promise to
allow me to have you when I am good enough for you--which may be
soon. Say I have nothing to offer him in exchange for his
treasure--the more sorry I; but all the love, and all the life,
and all the labour of an honest man shall be yours. As to when
this had better be told, I leave you to judge.'
His words made her cheerful enough to toy with her position.
'And if ill report should come, Stephen,' she said smiling, 'why,
the orange-tree must save me, as it saved virgins in St. George's
time from the poisonous breath of the dragon. There, forgive me
for forwardness: I am going.'
Then the boy and girl beguiled themselves with words of half-
'Own wifie, God bless you till we meet again!'
'Till we meet again, good-bye!'
And the pony went on, and she spoke to him no more. He saw her
figure diminish and her blue veil grow gray--saw it with the
agonizing sensations of a slow death.
After thus parting from a man than whom she had known none greater
as yet, Elfride rode rapidly onwards, a tear being occasionally
shaken from her eyes into the road. What yesterday had seemed so
desirable, so promising, even trifling, had now acquired the
complexion of a tragedy.
She saw the rocks and sea in the neighbourhood of Endelstow, and
heaved a sigh of relief
When she passed a field behind the vicarage she heard the voices
of Unity and William Worm. They were hanging a carpet upon a
line. Unity was uttering a sentence that concluded with 'when
Miss Elfride comes.'
'When d'ye expect her?'
'Not till evening now. She's safe enough at Miss Bicknell's,
Elfride went round to the door. She did not knock or ring; and
seeing nobody to take the horse, Elfride led her round to the
yard, slipped off the bridle and saddle, drove her towards the
paddock, and turned her in. Then Elfride crept indoors, and
looked into all the ground-floor rooms. Her father was not there.
On the mantelpiece of the drawing-room stood a letter addressed to
her in his handwriting. She took it and read it as she went
upstairs to change her habit.
'DEAR ELFRIDE,--On second thoughts I will not return to-day, but
only come as far as Wadcombe. I shall be at home by to-morrow
afternoon, and bring a friend with me.--Yours, in haste,
After making a quick toilet she felt more revived, though still
suffering from a headache. On going out of the door she met Unity
at the top of the stair.
'O Miss Elfride! I said to myself 'tis her sperrit! We didn't
dream o' you not coming home last night. You didn't say anything
'I intended to come home the same evening, but altered my plan. I
wished I hadn't afterwards. Papa will be angry, I suppose?'
'Better not tell him, miss,' said Unity.
'I do fear to,' she murmured. 'Unity, would you just begin
telling him when he comes home?'
'What! and get you into trouble?'
'I deserve it.'
'No, indeed, I won't,' said Unity. 'It is not such a mighty
matter, Miss Elfride. I says to myself, master's taking a
hollerday, and because he's not been kind lately to Miss Elfride,
'Is imitating him. Well, do as you like. And will you now bring
me some luncheon?'
After satisfying an appetite which the fresh marine air had given
her in its victory over an agitated mind, she put on her hat and
went to the garden and summer-house. She sat down, and leant with
her head in a corner. Here she fell asleep.
Half-awake, she hurriedly looked at the time. She had been there
three hours. At the same moment she heard the outer gate swing
together, and wheels sweep round the entrance; some prior noise
from the same source having probably been the cause of her
awaking. Next her father's voice was heard calling to Worm.
Elfride passed along a walk towards the house behind a belt of
shrubs. She heard a tongue holding converse with her father,
which was not that of either of the servants. Her father and the
stranger were laughing together. Then there was a rustling of
silk, and Mr. Swancourt and his companion, or companions, to all
seeming entered the door of the house, for nothing more of them
was audible. Elfride had turned back to meditate on what friends
these could be, when she heard footsteps, and her father
exclaiming behind her:
'O Elfride, here you are! I hope you got on well?'
Elfride's heart smote her, and she did not speak.
'Come back to the summer-house a minute,' continued Mr. Swancourt;
'I have to tell you of that I promised to.'
They entered the summer-house, and stood leaning over the knotty
woodwork of the balustrade.
'Now,' said her father radiantly, 'guess what I have to say.' He
seemed to be regarding his own existence so intently, that he took
no interest in nor even saw the complexion of hers.
'I cannot, papa,' she said sadly.
'I would rather not, indeed.'
'You are tired. You look worn. The ride was too much for you.
Well, this is what I went away for. I went to be married!'
'Married!' she faltered, and could hardly check an involuntary 'So
did I.' A moment after and her resolve to confess perished like a
'Yes; to whom do you think? Mrs. Troyton, the new owner of the
estate over the hedge, and of the old manor-house. It was only
finally settled between us when I went to Stratleigh a few days
ago.' He lowered his voice to a sly tone of merriment. 'Now, as
to your stepmother, you'll find she is not much to look at, though
a good deal to listen to. She is twenty years older than myself,
for one thing.'
'You forget that I know her. She called here once, after we had
been, and found her away from home.'
'Of course, of course. Well, whatever her looks are, she's as
excellent a woman as ever breathed. She has had lately left her
as absolute property three thousand five hundred a year, besides
the devise of this estate--and, by the way, a large legacy came to
her in satisfaction of dower, as it is called.'
'Three thousand five hundred a year!'
'And a large--well, a fair-sized--mansion in town, and a pedigree
as long as my walking-stick; though that bears evidence of being
rather a raked-up affair--done since the family got rich--people
do those things now as they build ruins on maiden estates and cast
antiques at Birmingham.'
Elfride merely listened and said nothing.
He continued more quietly and impressively. 'Yes, Elfride, she is
wealthy in comparison with us, though with few connections.
However, she will introduce you to the world a little. We are
going to exchange her house in Baker Street for one at Kensington,
for your sake. Everybody is going there now, she says. At
Easters we shall fly to town for the usual three months--I shall
have a curate of course by that time. Elfride, I am past love,
you know, and I honestly confess that I married her for your sake.
Why a woman of her standing should have thrown herself away upon
me, God knows. But I suppose her age and plainness were too
pronounced for a town man. With your good looks, if you now play
your cards well, you may marry anybody. Of course, a little
contrivance will be necessary; but there's nothing to stand
between you and a husband with a title, that I can see. Lady
Luxellian was only a squire's daughter. Now, don't you see how
foolish the old fancy was? But come, she is indoors waiting to see
you. It is as good as a play, too,' continued the vicar, as they
walked towards the house. 'I courted her through the privet hedge
yonder: not entirely, you know, but we used to walk there of an
evening--nearly every evening at last. But I needn't tell you
details now; everything was terribly matter-of-fact, I assure you.
At last, that day I saw her at Stratleigh, we determined to settle
'And you never said a word to me,' replied Elfride, not
reproachfully either in tone or thought. Indeed, her feeling was
the very reverse of reproachful. She felt relieved and even
thankful. Where confidence had not been given, how could
confidence be expected?
Her father mistook her dispassionateness for a veil of politeness
over a sense of ill-usage. 'I am not altogether to blame,' he
said. 'There were two or three reasons for secrecy. One was the
recent death of her relative the testator, though that did not
apply to you. But remember, Elfride,' he continued in a stiffer
tone, 'you had mixed yourself up so foolishly with those low
people, the Smiths--and it was just, too, when Mrs. Troyton and
myself were beginning to understand each other--that I resolved to
say nothing even to you. How did I know how far you had gone with
them and their son? You might have made a point of taking tea with
them every day, for all that I knew.'
Elfride swallowed her feelings as she best could, and languidly
though flatly asked a question.
'Did you kiss Mrs. Troyton on the lawn about three weeks ago? That
evening I came into the study and found you had just had candles
Mr. Swancourt looked rather red and abashed, as middle-aged lovers
are apt to do when caught in the tricks of younger ones.
'Well, yes; I think I did,' he stammered; 'just to please her, you
know.' And then recovering himself he laughed heartily.
'And was this what your Horatian quotation referred to?'
'It was, Elfride.'
They stepped into the drawing-room from the verandah. At that
moment Mrs. Swancourt came downstairs, and entered the same room
by the door.
'Here, Charlotte, is my little Elfride,' said Mr. Swancourt, with
the increased affection of tone often adopted towards relations
when newly produced.
Poor Elfride, not knowing what to do, did nothing at all; but
stood receptive of all that came to her by sight, hearing, and
Mrs. Swancourt moved forward, took her step-daughter's hand, then
'Ah, darling!' she exclaimed good-humouredly, 'you didn't think
when you showed a strange old woman over the conservatory a month
or two ago, and explained the flowers to her so prettily, that she
would so soon be here in new colours. Nor did she, I am sure.'
The new mother had been truthfully enough described by Mr.
Swancourt. She was not physically attractive. She was dark--very
dark--in complexion, portly in figure, and with a plentiful
residuum of hair in the proportion of half a dozen white ones to
half a dozen black ones, though the latter were black indeed. No
further observed, she was not a woman to like. But there was more
to see. To the most superficial critic it was apparent that she
made no attempt to disguise her age. She looked sixty at the
first glance, and close acquaintanceship never proved her older.
Another and still more winning trait was one attaching to the
corners of her mouth. Before she made a remark these often
twitched gently: not backwards and forwards, the index of
nervousness; not down upon the jaw, the sign of determination; but
palpably upwards, in precisely the curve adopted to represent
mirth in the broad caricatures of schoolboys. Only this element
in her face was expressive of anything within the woman, but it
was unmistakable. It expressed humour subjective as well as
objective--which could survey the peculiarities of self in as
whimsical a light as those of other people.
This is not all of Mrs. Swancourt. She had held out to Elfride
hands whose fingers were literally stiff with rings, signis
auroque rigentes, like Helen's robe. These rows of rings were not
worn in vanity apparently. They were mostly antique and dull,
though a few were the reverse.
1st. Plainly set oval onyx, representing a devil's head. 2nd.
Green jasper intaglio, with red veins. 3rd. Entirely gold,
bearing figure of a hideous griffin. 4th. A sea-green monster
diamond, with small diamonds round it. 5th. Antique cornelian
intaglio of dancing figure of a satyr. 6th. An angular band
chased with dragons' heads. 7th. A facetted carbuncle accompanied
by ten little twinkling emeralds; &c. &c.
1st. A reddish-yellow toadstone. 2nd. A heavy ring enamelled in
colours, and bearing a jacynth. 3rd. An amethystine sapphire.
4th. A polished ruby, surrounded by diamonds. 5th. The engraved
ring of an abbess. 6th. A gloomy intaglio; &c. &c.
Beyond this rather quaint array of stone and metal Mrs. Swancourt
wore no ornament whatever.
Elfride had been favourably impressed with Mrs. Troyton at their
meeting about two months earlier; but to be pleased with a woman
as a momentary acquaintance was different from being taken with
her as a stepmother. However, the suspension of feeling was but
for a moment. Elfride decided to like her still.
Mrs. Swancourt was a woman of the world as to knowledge, the
reverse as to action, as her marriage suggested. Elfride and the
lady were soon inextricably involved in conversation, and Mr.
Swancourt left them to themselves.
'And what do you find to do with yourself here?' Mrs. Swancourt
said, after a few remarks about the wedding. 'You ride, I know.'
'Yes, I ride. But not much, because papa doesn't like my going
'You must have somebody to look after you.'
'And I read, and write a little.'
'You should write a novel. The regular resource of people who
don't go enough into the world to live a novel is to write one.'
'I have done it,' said Elfride, looking dubiously at Mrs.
Swancourt, as if in doubt whether she would meet with ridicule
'That's right. Now, then, what is it about, dear?'
'About--well, it is a romance of the Middle Ages.'
'Knowing nothing of the present age, which everybody knows about,
for safety you chose an age known neither to you nor other people.
That's it, eh? No, no; I don't mean it, dear.'
'Well, I have had some opportunities of studying mediaeval art and
manners in the library and private museum at Endelstow House, and
I thought I should like to try my hand upon a fiction. I know the
time for these tales is past; but I was interested in it, very
'When is it to appear?'
'Oh, never, I suppose.'
'Nonsense, my dear girl. Publish it, by all means. All ladies do
that sort of thing now; not for profit, you know, but as a
guarantee of mental respectability to their future husbands.'
'An excellent idea of us ladies.'
'Though I am afraid it rather resembles the melancholy ruse of
throwing loaves over castle-walls at besiegers, and suggests
desperation rather than plenty inside.'
'Did you ever try it?'
'No; I was too far gone even for that.'
'Papa says no publisher will take my book.'
'That remains to be proved. I'll give my word, my dear, that by
this time next year it shall be printed.'
'Will you, indeed?' said Elfride, partially brightening with
pleasure, though she was sad enough in her depths. 'I thought
brains were the indispensable, even if the only, qualification for
admission to the republic of letters. A mere commonplace creature
like me will soon be turned out again.'
'Oh no; once you are there you'll be like a drop of water in a
piece of rock-crystal--your medium will dignify your commonness.'
'It will be a great satisfaction,' Elfride murmured, and thought
of Stephen, and wished she could make a great fortune by writing
romances, and marry him and live happily.
'And then we'll go to London, and then to Paris,' said Mrs.
Swancourt. 'I have been talking to your father about it. But we
have first to move into the manor-house, and we think of staying
at Torquay whilst that is going on. Meanwhile, instead of going
on a honeymoon scamper by ourselves, we have come home to fetch
you, and go all together to Bath for two or three weeks.'
Elfride assented pleasantly, even gladly; but she saw that, by
this marriage, her father and herself had ceased for ever to be
the close relations they had been up to a few weeks ago. It was
impossible now to tell him the tale of her wild elopement with
He was still snugly housed in her heart. His absence had regained
for him much of that aureola of saintship which had been nearly
abstracted during her reproachful mood on that miserable journey
from London. Rapture is often cooled by contact with its cause,
especially if under awkward conditions. And that last experience
with Stephen had done anything but make him shine in her eyes.
His very kindness in letting her return was his offence. Elfride
had her sex's love of sheer force in a man, however ill-directed;
and at that critical juncture in London Stephen's only chance of
retaining the ascendancy over her that his face and not his parts
had acquired for him, would have been by doing what, for one
thing, he was too youthful to undertake--that was, dragging her by
the wrist to the rails of some altar, and peremptorily marrying
her. Decisive action is seen by appreciative minds to be
frequently objectless, and sometimes fatal; but decision, however
suicidal, has more charm for a woman than the most unequivocal
However, some of the unpleasant accessories of that occasion were
now out of sight again, and Stephen had resumed not a few of his
'He set in order many proverbs.'
It is London in October--two months further on in the story.
Bede's Inn has this peculiarity, that it faces, receives from, and
discharges into a bustling thoroughfare speaking only of wealth
and respectability, whilst its postern abuts on as crowded and
poverty-stricken a network of alleys as are to be found anywhere
in the metropolis. The moral consequences are, first, that those
who occupy chambers in the Inn may see a great deal of shirtless
humanity's habits and enjoyments without doing more than look down
from a back window; and second they may hear wholesome though
unpleasant social reminders through the medium of a harsh voice,
an unequal footstep, the echo of a blow or a fall, which
originates in the person of some drunkard or wife-beater, as he
crosses and interferes with the quiet of the square. Characters
of this kind frequently pass through the Inn from a little foxhole
of an alley at the back, but they never loiter there.
It is hardly necessary to state that all the sights and movements
proper to the Inn are most orderly. On the fine October evening
on which we follow Stephen Smith to this place, a placid porter is
sitting on a stool under a sycamore-tree in the midst, with a
little cane in his hand. We notice the thick coat of soot upon
the branches, hanging underneath them in flakes, as in a chimney.
The blackness of these boughs does not at present improve the
tree--nearly forsaken by its leaves as it is--but in the spring
their green fresh beauty is made doubly beautiful by the contrast.
Within the railings is a flower-garden of respectable dahlias and
chrysanthemums, where a man is sweeping the leaves from the grass.
Stephen selects a doorway, and ascends an old though wide wooden
staircase, with moulded balusters and handrail, which in a country
manor-house would be considered a noteworthy specimen of
Renaissance workmanship. He reaches a door on the first floor,
over which is painted, in black letters, 'Mr. Henry Knight'--
'Barrister-at-law' being understood but not expressed. The wall
is thick, and there is a door at its outer and inner face. The
outer one happens to be ajar: Stephen goes to the other, and taps.
'Come in!' from distant penetralia.
First was a small anteroom, divided from the inner apartment by a
wainscoted archway two or three yards wide. Across this archway
hung a pair of dark-green curtains, making a mystery of all within
the arch except the spasmodic scratching of a quill pen. Here was
grouped a chaotic assemblage of articles--mainly old framed prints
and paintings--leaning edgewise against the wall, like roofing
slates in a builder's yard. All the books visible here were
folios too big to be stolen--some lying on a heavy oak table in
one corner, some on the floor among the pictures, the whole
intermingled with old coats, hats, umbrellas, and walking-sticks.
Stephen pushed aside the curtain, and before him sat a man writing
away as if his life depended upon it--which it did.
A man of thirty in a speckled coat, with dark brown hair, curly
beard, and crisp moustache: the latter running into the beard on
each side of the mouth, and, as usual, hiding the real expression
of that organ under a chronic aspect of impassivity.
'Ah, my dear fellow, I knew 'twas you,' said Knight, looking up
with a smile, and holding out his hand.
Knight's mouth and eyes came to view now. Both features were
good, and had the peculiarity of appearing younger and fresher
than the brow and face they belonged to, which were getting
sicklied o'er by the unmistakable pale cast. The mouth had not
quite relinquished rotundity of curve for the firm angularities of
middle life; and the eyes, though keen, permeated rather than
penetrated: what they had lost of their boy-time brightness by a
dozen years of hard reading lending a quietness to their gaze
which suited them well.
A lady would have said there was a smell of tobacco in the room: a
man that there was not.
Knight did not rise. He looked at a timepiece on the mantelshelf,
then turned again to his letters, pointing to a chair.
'Well, I am glad you have come. I only returned to town
yesterday; now, don't speak, Stephen, for ten minutes; I have just
that time to the late post. At the eleventh minute, I'm your man.'
Stephen sat down as if this kind of reception was by no means new,
and away went Knight's pen, beating up and down like a ship in a
Cicero called the library the soul of the house; here the house
was all soul. Portions of the floor, and half the wall-space,
were taken up by book-shelves ordinary and extraordinary; the
remaining parts, together with brackets, side-tables, &c., being
occupied by casts, statuettes, medallions, and plaques of various
descriptions, picked up by the owner in his wanderings through
France and Italy.
One stream only of evening sunlight came into the room from a
window quite in the corner, overlooking a court. An aquarium
stood in the window. It was a dull parallelopipedon enough for
living creatures at most hours of the day; but for a few minutes
in the evening, as now, an errant, kindly ray lighted up and
warmed the little world therein, when the many-coloured zoophytes
opened and put forth their arms, the weeds acquired a rich
transparency, the shells gleamed of a more golden yellow, and the
timid community expressed gladness more plainly than in words.
Within the prescribed ten minutes Knight flung down his pen, rang
for the boy to take the letters to the post, and at the closing of
the door exclaimed, 'There; thank God, that's done. Now, Stephen,
pull your chair round, and tell me what you have been doing all
this time. Have you kept up your Greek?'
'I haven't enough spare time.'
'Well, I have done a great many things, if not that. And I have
done one extraordinary thing.'
Knight turned full upon Stephen. 'Ah-ha! Now, then, let me look
into your face, put two and two together, and make a shrewd
Stephen changed to a redder colour.
'Why, Smith,' said Knight, after holding him rigidly by the
shoulders, and keenly scrutinising his countenance for a minute in
silence, 'you have fallen in love.'
'Well--the fact is----'
'Now, out with it.' But seeing that Stephen looked rather
distressed, he changed to a kindly tone. 'Now Smith, my lad, you
know me well enough by this time, or you ought to; and you know
very well that if you choose to give me a detailed account of the
phenomenon within you, I shall listen; if you don't, I am the last
man in the world to care to hear it.'
'I'll tell this much: I HAVE fallen in love, and I want to be
Knight looked ominous as this passed Stephen's lips.
'Don't judge me before you have heard more,' cried Stephen
anxiously, seeing the change in his friend's countenance.
'I don't judge. Does your mother know about it?'
'No. But I'll tell you. The young person----'
'Come, that's dreadfully ungallant. But perhaps I understand the
frame of mind a little, so go on. Your sweetheart----'
'She is rather higher in the world than I am.'
'As it should be.'
'And her father won't hear of it, as I now stand.'
'Not an uncommon case.'
'And now comes what I want your advice upon. Something has
happened at her house which makes it out of the question for us to
ask her father again now. So we are keeping silent. In the
meantime an architect in India has just written to Mr. Hewby to
ask whether he can find for him a young assistant willing to go
over to Bombay to prepare drawings for work formerly done by the
engineers. The salary he offers is 350 rupees a month, or about
35 Pounds. Hewby has mentioned it to me, and I have been to Dr.
Wray, who says I shall acclimatise without much illness. Now,
would you go?'
'You mean to say, because it is a possible road to the young
'Yes; I was thinking I could go over and make a little money, and
then come back and ask for her. I have the option of practising
for myself after a year.'
'Would she be staunch?'
'Oh yes! For ever--to the end of her life!'
'How do you know?'
'Why, how do people know? Of course, she will.'
Knight leant back in his chair. 'Now, though I know her
thoroughly as she exists in your heart, Stephen, I don't know her
in the flesh. All I want to ask is, is this idea of going to
India based entirely upon a belief in her fidelity?'
'Yes; I should not go if it were not for her.'
'Well, Stephen, you have put me in rather an awkward position. If
I give my true sentiments, I shall hurt your feelings; if I don't,
I shall hurt my own judgment. And remember, I don't know much
'But you have had attachments, although you tell me very little
'And I only hope you'll continue to prosper till I tell you more.'
Stephen winced at this rap. 'I have never formed a deep
attachment,' continued Knight. 'I never have found a woman worth
it. Nor have I been once engaged to be married.'
'You write as if you had been engaged a hundred times, if I may be
allowed to say so,' said Stephen in an injured tone.
'Yes, that may be. But, my dear Stephen, it is only those who
half know a thing that write about it. Those who know it
thoroughly don't take the trouble. All I know about women, or men
either, is a mass of generalities. I plod along, and occasionally
lift my eyes and skim the weltering surface of mankind lying
between me and the horizon, as a crow might; no more.'
Knight stopped as if he had fallen into a train of thought, and
Stephen looked with affectionate awe at a master whose mind, he
believed, could swallow up at one meal all that his own head
There was affective sympathy, but no great intellectual
fellowship, between Knight and Stephen Smith. Knight had seen his
young friend when the latter was a cherry-cheeked happy boy, had
been interested in him, had kept his eye upon him, and generously
helped the lad to books, till the mere connection of patronage
grew to acquaintance, and that ripened to friendship. And so,
though Smith was not at all the man Knight would have deliberately
chosen as a friend--or even for one of a group of a dozen friends--
he somehow was his friend. Circumstance, as usual, did it all.
How many of us can say of our most intimate alter ego, leaving
alone friends of the outer circle, that he is the man we should
have chosen, as embodying the net result after adding up all the
points in human nature that we love, and principles we hold, and
subtracting all that we hate? The man is really somebody we got to
know by mere physical juxtaposition long maintained, and was taken
into our confidence, and even heart, as a makeshift.
'And what do you think of her?' Stephen ventured to say, after a
'Taking her merits on trust from you,' said Knight, 'as we do
those of the Roman poets of whom we know nothing but that they
lived, I still think she will not stick to you through, say, three
years of absence in India.'
'But she will!' cried Stephen desperately. 'She is a girl all
delicacy and honour. And no woman of that kind, who has committed
herself so into a man's hands as she has into mine, could possibly
'How has she committed herself?' asked Knight cunously.
Stephen did not answer. Knight had looked on his love so
sceptically that it would not do to say all that he had intended
to say by any means.
'Well, don't tell,' said Knight. 'But you are begging the
question, which is, I suppose, inevitable in love.'
'And I'll tell you another thing,' the younger man pleaded. 'You
remember what you said to me once about women receiving a kiss.
Don't you? Why, that instead of our being charmed by the
fascination of their bearing at such a time, we should immediately
doubt them if their confusion has any GRACE in it--that awkward
bungling was the true charm of the occasion, implying that we are
the first who has played such a part with them.'
'It is true, quite,' said Knight musingly.
It often happened that the disciple thus remembered the lessons of
the master long after the master himself had forgotten them.
'Well, that was like her!' cried Stephen triumphantly. 'She was
in such a flurry that she didn't know what she was doing.'
'Splendid, splendid!' said Knight soothingly. 'So that all I have
to say is, that if you see a good opening in Bombay there's no
reason why you should not go without troubling to draw fine
distinctions as to reasons. No man fully realizes what opinions
he acts upon, or what his actions mean.'
'Yes; I go to Bombay. I'll write a note here, if you don't mind.'
'Sleep over it--it is the best plan--and write to-morrow.
Meantime, go there to that window and sit down, and look at my
Humanity Show. I am going to dine out this evening, and have to
dress here out of my portmanteau. I bring up my things like this
to save the trouble of going down to my place at Richmond and back
Knight then went to the middle of the room and flung open his
portmanteau, and Stephen drew near the window. The streak of
sunlight had crept upward, edged away, and vanished; the zoophytes
slept: a dusky gloom pervaded the room. And now another volume of
light shone over the window.
'There!' said Knight, 'where is there in England a spectacle to
equal that? I sit there and watch them every night before I go
home. Softly open the sash.'
Beneath them was an alley running up to the wall, and thence
turning sideways and passing under an arch, so that Knight's back
window was immediately over the angle, and commanded a view of the
alley lengthwise. Crowds--mostly of women--were surging,
bustling, and pacing up and down. Gaslights glared from butchers'
stalls, illuminating the lumps of flesh to splotches of orange and
vermilion, like the wild colouring of Turner's later pictures,
whilst the purl and babble of tongues of every pitch and mood was
to this human wild-wood what the ripple of a brook is to the
Nearly ten minutes passed. Then Knight also came to the window.
'Well, now, I call a cab and vanish down the street in the
direction of Berkeley Square,' he said, buttoning his waistcoat
and kicking his morning suit into a corner. Stephen rose to
'What a heap of literature!' remarked the young man, taking a
final longing survey round the room, as if to abide there for ever
would be the great pleasure of his life, yet feeling that he had
almost outstayed his welcome-while. His eyes rested upon an arm-
chair piled full of newspapers, magazines, and bright new volumes
in green and red.
'Yes,' said Knight, also looking at them and breathing a sigh of
weariness; 'something must be done with several of them soon, I
suppose. Stephen, you needn't hurry away for a few minutes, you
know, if you want to stay; I am not quite ready. Overhaul those
volumes whilst I put on my coat, and I'll walk a little way with
Stephen sat down beside the arm-chair and began to tumble the
books about. Among the rest he found a novelette in one volume,
THE COURT OF KELLYON CASTLE. By Ernest Field.
'Are you going to review this?' inquired Stephen with apparent
unconcern, and holding up Elfride's effusion.
'Which? Oh, that! I may--though I don't do much light reviewing
now. But it is reviewable.'
'How do you mean?'
Knight never liked to be asked what he meant. 'Mean! I mean that
the majority of books published are neither good enough nor bad
enough to provoke criticism, and that that book does provoke it.'
'By its goodness or its badness?' Stephen said with some anxiety
on poor little Elfride's score.
'Its badness. It seems to be written by some girl in her teens.'
Stephen said not another word. He did not care to speak plainly
of Elfride after that unfortunate slip his tongue had made in
respect of her having committed herself; and, apart from that,
Knight's severe--almost dogged and self-willed--honesty in
criticizing was unassailable by the humble wish of a youthful
friend like Stephen.
Knight was now ready. Turning off the gas, and slamming together
the door, they went downstairs and into the street.
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