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Title: A Pair of Blue Eyes
Author: Hardy, Thomas
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A PAIR OF BLUE EYES

by Thomas Hardy



      ‘A violet in the youth of primy nature,
       Forward, not permanent, sweet not lasting,
       The perfume and suppliance of a minute;
       No more.’



PREFACE

The following chapters were written at a time when the craze for
indiscriminate church-restoration had just reached the remotest nooks
of western England, where the wild and tragic features of the coast
had long combined in perfect harmony with the crude Gothic Art of the
ecclesiastical buildings scattered along it, throwing into extraordinary
discord all architectural attempts at newness there. To restore the
grey carcases of a mediaevalism whose spirit had fled, seemed a not
less incongruous act than to set about renovating the adjoining crags
themselves.

Hence it happened that an imaginary history of three human hearts,
whose emotions were not without correspondence with these
material circumstances, found in the ordinary incidents of such
church-renovations a fitting frame for its presentation.

The shore and country about ‘Castle Boterel’ is now getting well known,
and will be readily recognized. The spot is, I may add, the furthest
westward of all those convenient corners wherein I have ventured to
erect my theatre for these imperfect little dramas of country life and
passions; and it lies near to, or no great way beyond, the vague border
of the Wessex kingdom on that side, which, like the westering verge of
modern American settlements, was progressive and uncertain.

This, however, is of little importance. The place is pre-eminently (for
one person at least) the region of dream and mystery. The ghostly birds,
the pall-like sea, the frothy wind, the eternal soliloquy of the waters,
the bloom of dark purple cast, that seems to exhale from the shoreward
precipices, in themselves lend to the scene an atmosphere like the
twilight of a night vision.

One enormous sea-bord cliff in particular figures in the narrative; and
for some forgotten reason or other this cliff was described in the story
as being without a name. Accuracy would require the statement to be
that a remarkable cliff which resembles in many points the cliff of the
description bears a name that no event has made famous.

                                         T. H.
March 1899



                          THE PERSONS

        ELFRIDE SWANCOURT            a young Lady
        CHRISTOPHER SWANCOURT        a Clergyman
        STEPHEN SMITH                an Architect
        HENRY KNIGHT                 a Reviewer and Essayist
        CHARLOTTE TROYTON            a rich Widow
        GERTRUDE JETHWAY             a poor Widow
        SPENSER HUGO LUXELLIAN       a Peer
        LADY LUXELLIAN               his Wife
        MARY AND KATE                two little Girls
        WILLIAM WORM                 a dazed Factotum
        JOHN SMITH                   a Master-mason
        JANE SMITH                   his Wife
        MARTIN CANNISTER             a Sexton
        UNITY                        a Maid-servant

  Other servants, masons, labourers, grooms, nondescripts, etc., etc.


THE SCENE

Mostly on the outskirts of Lower Wessex.



Chapter I

     ‘A fair vestal, throned in the west’


Elfride Swancourt was a girl whose emotions lay very near the surface.
Their nature more precisely, and as modified by the creeping hours
of time, was known only to those who watched the circumstances of her
history.

Personally, she was the combination of very interesting particulars,
whose rarity, however, lay in the combination itself rather than in the
individual elements combined. As a matter of fact, you did not see the
form and substance of her features when conversing with her; and this
charming power of preventing a material study of her lineaments by an
interlocutor, originated not in the cloaking effect of a well-formed
manner (for her manner was childish and scarcely formed), but in the
attractive crudeness of the remarks themselves. She had lived all her
life in retirement--the monstrari gigito of idle men had not flattered
her, and at the age of nineteen or twenty she was no further on in
social consciousness than an urban young lady of fifteen.

One point in her, however, you did notice: that was her eyes. In them
was seen a sublimation of all of her; it was not necessary to look
further: there she lived.

These eyes were blue; blue as autumn distance--blue as the blue we see
between the retreating mouldings of hills and woody slopes on a sunny
September morning. A misty and shady blue, that had no beginning or
surface, and was looked INTO rather than AT.

As to her presence, it was not powerful; it was weak. Some women can
make their personality pervade the atmosphere of a whole banqueting
hall; Elfride’s was no more pervasive than that of a kitten.

Elfride had as her own the thoughtfulness which appears in the face of
the Madonna della Sedia, without its rapture: the warmth and spirit
of the type of woman’s feature most common to the beauties--mortal
and immortal--of Rubens, without their insistent fleshiness. The
characteristic expression of the female faces of Correggio--that of the
yearning human thoughts that lie too deep for tears--was hers sometimes,
but seldom under ordinary conditions.

The point in Elfride Swancourt’s life at which a deeper current may be
said to have permanently set in, was one winter afternoon when she found
herself standing, in the character of hostess, face to face with a man
she had never seen before--moreover, looking at him with a Miranda-like
curiosity and interest that she had never yet bestowed on a mortal.

On this particular day her father, the vicar of a parish on the
sea-swept outskirts of Lower Wessex, and a widower, was suffering from
an attack of gout. After finishing her household supervisions Elfride
became restless, and several times left the room, ascended the
staircase, and knocked at her father’s chamber-door.

‘Come in!’ was always answered in a hearty out-of-door voice from the
inside.

‘Papa,’ she said on one occasion to the fine, red-faced, handsome man of
forty, who, puffing and fizzing like a bursting bottle, lay on the bed
wrapped in a dressing-gown, and every now and then enunciating, in spite
of himself, about one letter of some word or words that were almost
oaths; ‘papa, will you not come downstairs this evening?’ She spoke
distinctly: he was rather deaf.

‘Afraid not--eh-hh!--very much afraid I shall not, Elfride. Piph-ph-ph!
I can’t bear even a handkerchief upon this deuced toe of mine, much less
a stocking or slipper--piph-ph-ph! There ‘tis again! No, I shan’t get up
till to-morrow.’

‘Then I hope this London man won’t come; for I don’t know what I should
do, papa.’

‘Well, it would be awkward, certainly.’

‘I should hardly think he would come to-day.’

‘Why?’

‘Because the wind blows so.’

‘Wind! What ideas you have, Elfride! Who ever heard of wind stopping a
man from doing his business? The idea of this toe of mine coming on so
suddenly!...If he should come, you must send him up to me, I suppose,
and then give him some food and put him to bed in some way. Dear me,
what a nuisance all this is!’

‘Must he have dinner?’

‘Too heavy for a tired man at the end of a tedious journey.’

‘Tea, then?’

‘Not substantial enough.’

‘High tea, then? There is cold fowl, rabbit-pie, some pasties, and
things of that kind.’

‘Yes, high tea.’

‘Must I pour out his tea, papa?’

‘Of course; you are the mistress of the house.’

‘What! sit there all the time with a stranger, just as if I knew him,
and not anybody to introduce us?’

‘Nonsense, child, about introducing; you know better than that. A
practical professional man, tired and hungry, who has been travelling
ever since daylight this morning, will hardly be inclined to talk and
air courtesies to-night. He wants food and shelter, and you must see
that he has it, simply because I am suddenly laid up and cannot. There
is nothing so dreadful in that, I hope? You get all kinds of stuff into
your head from reading so many of those novels.’

‘Oh no; there is nothing dreadful in it when it becomes plainly a case
of necessity like this. But, you see, you are always there when people
come to dinner, even if we know them; and this is some strange London
man of the world, who will think it odd, perhaps.’

‘Very well; let him.’

‘Is he Mr. Hewby’s partner?’

‘I should scarcely think so: he may be.’

‘How old is he, I wonder?’

‘That I cannot tell. You will find the copy of my letter to Mr. Hewby,
and his answer, upon the table in the study. You may read them, and then
you’ll know as much as I do about our visitor.’

‘I have read them.’

‘Well, what’s the use of asking questions, then? They contain all I
know. Ugh-h-h!...Od plague you, you young scamp! don’t put anything
there! I can’t bear the weight of a fly.’

‘Oh, I am sorry, papa. I forgot; I thought you might be cold,’ she said,
hastily removing the rug she had thrown upon the feet of the sufferer;
and waiting till she saw that consciousness of her offence had passed
from his face, she withdrew from the room, and retired again downstairs.



Chapter II

     ‘Twas on the evening of a winter’s day.’


When two or three additional hours had merged the same afternoon in
evening, some moving outlines might have been observed against the sky
on the summit of a wild lone hill in that district. They circumscribed
two men, having at present the aspect of silhouettes, sitting in a
dog-cart and pushing along in the teeth of the wind. Scarcely a solitary
house or man had been visible along the whole dreary distance of open
country they were traversing; and now that night had begun to fall,
the faint twilight, which still gave an idea of the landscape to
their observation, was enlivened by the quiet appearance of the planet
Jupiter, momentarily gleaming in intenser brilliancy in front of them,
and by Sirius shedding his rays in rivalry from his position over their
shoulders. The only lights apparent on earth were some spots of dull
red, glowing here and there upon the distant hills, which, as the driver
of the vehicle gratuitously remarked to the hirer, were smouldering
fires for the consumption of peat and gorse-roots, where the common was
being broken up for agricultural purposes. The wind prevailed with but
little abatement from its daytime boisterousness, three or four small
clouds, delicate and pale, creeping along under the sky southward to the
Channel.

Fourteen of the sixteen miles intervening between the railway terminus
and the end of their journey had been gone over, when they began to pass
along the brink of a valley some miles in extent, wherein the wintry
skeletons of a more luxuriant vegetation than had hitherto surrounded
them proclaimed an increased richness of soil, which showed signs of far
more careful enclosure and management than had any slopes they had yet
passed. A little farther, and an opening in the elms stretching up from
this fertile valley revealed a mansion.

‘That’s Endelstow House, Lord Luxellian’s,’ said the driver.

‘Endelstow House, Lord Luxellian’s,’ repeated the other mechanically.
He then turned himself sideways, and keenly scrutinized the almost
invisible house with an interest which the indistinct picture itself
seemed far from adequate to create. ‘Yes, that’s Lord Luxellian’s,’ he
said yet again after a while, as he still looked in the same direction.

‘What, be we going there?’

‘No; Endelstow Vicarage, as I have told you.’

‘I thought you m’t have altered your mind, sir, as ye have stared that
way at nothing so long.’

‘Oh no; I am interested in the house, that’s all.’

‘Most people be, as the saying is.’

‘Not in the sense that I am.’

‘Oh!...Well, his family is no better than my own, ‘a b’lieve.’

‘How is that?’

‘Hedgers and ditchers by rights. But once in ancient times one of ‘em,
when he was at work, changed clothes with King Charles the Second, and
saved the king’s life. King Charles came up to him like a common man,
and said off-hand, “Man in the smock-frock, my name is Charles the
Second, and that’s the truth on’t. Will you lend me your clothes?” “I
don’t mind if I do,” said Hedger Luxellian; and they changed there and
then. “Now mind ye,” King Charles the Second said, like a common man, as
he rode away, “if ever I come to the crown, you come to court, knock at
the door, and say out bold, ‘Is King Charles the Second at home?’ Tell
your name, and they shall let you in, and you shall be made a lord.”
 Now, that was very nice of Master Charley?’

‘Very nice indeed.’

‘Well, as the story is, the king came to the throne; and some years
after that, away went Hedger Luxellian, knocked at the king’s door,
and asked if King Charles the Second was in. “No, he isn’t,” they said.
“Then, is Charles the Third?” said Hedger Luxellian. “Yes,” said a young
feller standing by like a common man, only he had a crown on, “my name
is Charles the Third.” And----’

‘I really fancy that must be a mistake. I don’t recollect anything in
English history about Charles the Third,’ said the other in a tone of
mild remonstrance.

‘Oh, that’s right history enough, only ‘twasn’t prented; he was rather a
queer-tempered man, if you remember.’

‘Very well; go on.’

‘And, by hook or by crook, Hedger Luxellian was made a lord, and
everything went on well till some time after, when he got into a most
terrible row with King Charles the Fourth.

‘I can’t stand Charles the Fourth. Upon my word, that’s too much.’

‘Why? There was a George the Fourth, wasn’t there?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Well, Charleses be as common as Georges. However I’ll say no more about
it....Ah, well! ‘tis the funniest world ever I lived in--upon my life
‘tis. Ah, that such should be!’

The dusk had thickened into darkness while they thus conversed, and the
outline and surface of the mansion gradually disappeared. The windows,
which had before been as black blots on a lighter expanse of wall,
became illuminated, and were transfigured to squares of light on the
general dark body of the night landscape as it absorbed the outlines of
the edifice into its gloomy monochrome.

Not another word was spoken for some time, and they climbed a hill, then
another hill piled on the summit of the first. An additional mile of
plateau followed, from which could be discerned two light-houses on the
coast they were nearing, reposing on the horizon with a calm lustre of
benignity. Another oasis was reached; a little dell lay like a nest at
their feet, towards which the driver pulled the horse at a sharp angle,
and descended a steep slope which dived under the trees like a rabbit’s
burrow. They sank lower and lower.

‘Endelstow Vicarage is inside here,’ continued the man with the reins.
‘This part about here is West Endelstow; Lord Luxellian’s is East
Endelstow, and has a church to itself. Pa’son Swancourt is the pa’son
of both, and bobs backward and forward. Ah, well! ‘tis a funny world.
‘A b’lieve there was once a quarry where this house stands. The man who
built it in past time scraped all the glebe for earth to put round the
vicarage, and laid out a little paradise of flowers and trees in the
soil he had got together in this way, whilst the fields he scraped have
been good for nothing ever since.’

‘How long has the present incumbent been here?’

‘Maybe about a year, or a year and half: ‘tisn’t two years; for they
don’t scandalize him yet; and, as a rule, a parish begins to scandalize
the pa’son at the end of two years among ‘em familiar. But he’s a very
nice party. Ay, Pa’son Swancourt knows me pretty well from often driving
over; and I know Pa’son Swancourt.’

They emerged from the bower, swept round in a curve, and the chimneys
and gables of the vicarage became darkly visible. Not a light showed
anywhere. They alighted; the man felt his way into the porch, and rang
the bell.

At the end of three or four minutes, spent in patient waiting without
hearing any sounds of a response, the stranger advanced and repeated the
call in a more decided manner. He then fancied he heard footsteps in the
hall, and sundry movements of the door-knob, but nobody appeared.

‘Perhaps they beant at home,’ sighed the driver. ‘And I promised myself
a bit of supper in Pa’son Swancourt’s kitchen. Sich lovely mate-pize and
figged keakes, and cider, and drops o’ cordial that they do keep here!’

‘All right, naibours! Be ye rich men or be ye poor men, that ye must
needs come to the world’s end at this time o’ night?’ exclaimed a voice
at this instant; and, turning their heads, they saw a rickety individual
shambling round from the back door with a horn lantern dangling from his
hand.

‘Time o’ night, ‘a b’lieve! and the clock only gone seven of ‘em. Show a
light, and let us in, William Worm.’

‘Oh, that you, Robert Lickpan?’

‘Nobody else, William Worm.’

‘And is the visiting man a-come?’

‘Yes,’ said the stranger. ‘Is Mr. Swancourt at home?’

‘That ‘a is, sir. And would ye mind coming round by the back way? The
front door is got stuck wi’ the wet, as he will do sometimes; and the
Turk can’t open en. I know I am only a poor wambling man that ‘ill never
pay the Lord for my making, sir; but I can show the way in, sir.’

The new arrival followed his guide through a little door in a wall, and
then promenaded a scullery and a kitchen, along which he passed with
eyes rigidly fixed in advance, an inbred horror of prying forbidding
him to gaze around apartments that formed the back side of the household
tapestry. Entering the hall, he was about to be shown to his room, when
from the inner lobby of the front entrance, whither she had gone to
learn the cause of the delay, sailed forth the form of Elfride. Her
start of amazement at the sight of the visitor coming forth from under
the stairs proved that she had not been expecting this surprising flank
movement, which had been originated entirely by the ingenuity of William
Worm.

She appeared in the prettiest of all feminine guises, that is to say, in
demi-toilette, with plenty of loose curly hair tumbling down about her
shoulders. An expression of uneasiness pervaded her countenance; and
altogether she scarcely appeared woman enough for the situation. The
visitor removed his hat, and the first words were spoken; Elfride
prelusively looking with a deal of interest, not unmixed with surprise,
at the person towards whom she was to do the duties of hospitality.

‘I am Mr. Smith,’ said the stranger in a musical voice.

‘I am Miss Swancourt,’ said Elfride.

Her constraint was over. The great contrast between the reality she
beheld before her, and the dark, taciturn, sharp, elderly man of
business who had lurked in her imagination--a man with clothes smelling
of city smoke, skin sallow from want of sun, and talk flavoured with
epigram--was such a relief to her that Elfride smiled, almost laughed,
in the new-comer’s face.

Stephen Smith, who has hitherto been hidden from us by the darkness, was
at this time of his life but a youth in appearance, and barely a man
in years. Judging from his look, London was the last place in the world
that one would have imagined to be the scene of his activities: such a
face surely could not be nourished amid smoke and mud and fog and dust;
such an open countenance could never even have seen anything of ‘the
weariness, the fever, and the fret’ of Babylon the Second.

His complexion was as fine as Elfride’s own; the pink of his cheeks as
delicate. His mouth as perfect as Cupid’s bow in form, and as cherry-red
in colour as hers. Bright curly hair; bright sparkling blue-gray eyes;
a boy’s blush and manner; neither whisker nor moustache, unless a
little light-brown fur on his upper lip deserved the latter title: this
composed the London professional man, the prospect of whose advent had
so troubled Elfride.

Elfride hastened to say she was sorry to tell him that Mr. Swancourt was
not able to receive him that evening, and gave the reason why. Mr. Smith
replied, in a voice boyish by nature and manly by art, that he was very
sorry to hear this news; but that as far as his reception was concerned,
it did not matter in the least.

Stephen was shown up to his room. In his absence Elfride stealthily
glided into her father’s.

‘He’s come, papa. Such a young man for a business man!’

‘Oh, indeed!’

‘His face is--well--PRETTY; just like mine.’

‘H’m! what next?’

‘Nothing; that’s all I know of him yet. It is rather nice, is it not?’

‘Well, we shall see that when we know him better. Go down and give the
poor fellow something to eat and drink, for Heaven’s sake. And when he
has done eating, say I should like to have a few words with him, if he
doesn’t mind coming up here.’

The young lady glided downstairs again, and whilst she awaits young
Smith’s entry, the letters referring to his visit had better be given.


1.--MR. SWANCOURT TO MR. HEWBY.

‘ENDELSTOW VICARAGE, Feb. 18, 18--.

‘SIR,--We are thinking of restoring the tower and aisle of the church in
this parish; and Lord Luxellian, the patron of the living, has mentioned
your name as that of a trustworthy architect whom it would be desirable
to ask to superintend the work.

‘I am exceedingly ignorant of the necessary preliminary steps. Probably,
however, the first is that (should you be, as Lord Luxellian says you
are, disposed to assist us) yourself or some member of your staff come
and see the building, and report thereupon for the satisfaction of
parishioners and others.

‘The spot is a very remote one: we have no railway within fourteen
miles; and the nearest place for putting up at--called a town, though
merely a large village--is Castle Boterel, two miles further on; so that
it would be most convenient for you to stay at the vicarage--which I am
glad to place at your disposal--instead of pushing on to the hotel at
Castle Boterel, and coming back again in the morning.

‘Any day of the next week that you like to name for the visit will find
us quite ready to receive you.--Yours very truly,

CHRISTOPHER SWANCOURT.


2.--MR. HEWBY TO MR. SWANCOURT.

“PERCY PLACE, CHARING CROSS, Feb. 20, 18--.

‘DEAR SIR,--Agreeably to your request of the 18th instant, I have
arranged to survey and make drawings of the aisle and tower of your
parish church, and of the dilapidations which have been suffered to
accrue thereto, with a view to its restoration.

‘My assistant, Mr. Stephen Smith, will leave London by the early train
to-morrow morning for the purpose. Many thanks for your proposal to
accommodate him. He will take advantage of your offer, and will
probably reach your house at some hour of the evening. You may put every
confidence in him, and may rely upon his discernment in the matter of
church architecture.

‘Trusting that the plans for the restoration, which I shall prepare from
the details of his survey, will prove satisfactory to yourself and Lord
Luxellian, I am, dear sir, yours faithfully,

WALTER HEWBY.’



Chapter III

     ‘Melodious birds sing madrigals’


That first repast in Endelstow Vicarage was a very agreeable one to
young Stephen Smith. The table was spread, as Elfride had suggested to
her father, with the materials for the heterogeneous meal called high
tea--a class of refection welcome to all when away from men and towns,
and particularly attractive to youthful palates. The table was prettily
decked with winter flowers and leaves, amid which the eye was greeted by
chops, chicken, pie, &c., and two huge pasties overhanging the sides of
the dish with a cheerful aspect of abundance.

At the end, towards the fireplace, appeared the tea-service, of
old-fashioned Worcester porcelain, and behind this arose the slight
form of Elfride, attempting to add matronly dignity to the movement of
pouring out tea, and to have a weighty and concerned look in matters of
marmalade, honey, and clotted cream. Having made her own meal before he
arrived, she found to her embarrassment that there was nothing left for
her to do but talk when not assisting him. She asked him if he would
excuse her finishing a letter she had been writing at a side-table, and,
after sitting down to it, tingled with a sense of being grossly rude.
However, seeing that he noticed nothing personally wrong in her, and
that he too was embarrassed when she attentively watched his cup to
refill it, Elfride became better at ease; and when furthermore he
accidentally kicked the leg of the table, and then nearly upset his
tea-cup, just as schoolboys did, she felt herself mistress of the
situation, and could talk very well. In a few minutes ingenuousness
and a common term of years obliterated all recollection that they were
strangers just met. Stephen began to wax eloquent on extremely slight
experiences connected with his professional pursuits; and she, having
no experiences to fall back upon, recounted with much animation stories
that had been related to her by her father, which would have astonished
him had he heard with what fidelity of action and tone they were
rendered. Upon the whole, a very interesting picture of Sweet-and-Twenty
was on view that evening in Mr. Swancourt’s house.

Ultimately Stephen had to go upstairs and talk loud to the vicar,
receiving from him between his puffs a great many apologies for calling
him so unceremoniously to a stranger’s bedroom. ‘But,’ continued Mr.
Swancourt, ‘I felt that I wanted to say a few words to you before the
morning, on the business of your visit. One’s patience gets exhausted
by staying a prisoner in bed all day through a sudden freak of one’s
enemy--new to me, though--for I have known very little of gout as yet.
However, he’s gone to my other toe in a very mild manner, and I expect
he’ll slink off altogether by the morning. I hope you have been well
attended to downstairs?’

‘Perfectly. And though it is unfortunate, and I am sorry to see you
laid up, I beg you will not take the slightest notice of my being in the
house the while.’

‘I will not. But I shall be down to-morrow. My daughter is an excellent
doctor. A dose or two of her mild mixtures will fetch me round quicker
than all the drug stuff in the world. Well, now about the church
business. Take a seat, do. We can’t afford to stand upon ceremony in
these parts as you see, and for this reason, that a civilized human
being seldom stays long with us; and so we cannot waste time in
approaching him, or he will be gone before we have had the pleasure of
close acquaintance. This tower of ours is, as you will notice, entirely
gone beyond the possibility of restoration; but the church itself is
well enough. You should see some of the churches in this county. Floors
rotten: ivy lining the walls.’

‘Dear me!’

‘Oh, that’s nothing. The congregation of a neighbour of mine, whenever
a storm of rain comes on during service, open their umbrellas and hold
them up till the dripping ceases from the roof. Now, if you will kindly
bring me those papers and letters you see lying on the table, I will
show you how far we have got.’

Stephen crossed the room to fetch them, and the vicar seemed to notice
more particularly the slim figure of his visitor.

‘I suppose you are quite competent?’ he said.

‘Quite,’ said the young man, colouring slightly.

‘You are very young, I fancy--I should say you are not more than
nineteen?’

I am nearly twenty-one.’

‘Exactly half my age; I am forty-two.’

‘By the way,’ said Mr. Swancourt, after some conversation, ‘you said
your whole name was Stephen Fitzmaurice, and that your grandfather came
originally from Caxbury. Since I have been speaking, it has occurred
to me that I know something of you. You belong to a well-known ancient
county family--not ordinary Smiths in the least.’

‘I don’t think we have any of their blood in our veins.’

‘Nonsense! you must. Hand me the “Landed Gentry.” Now, let me see.
There, Stephen Fitzmaurice Smith--he lies in St. Mary’s Church,
doesn’t he? Well, out of that family Sprang the Leaseworthy Smiths, and
collaterally came General Sir Stephen Fitzmaurice Smith of Caxbury----’

‘Yes; I have seen his monument there,’ shouted Stephen. ‘But there is no
connection between his family and mine: there cannot be.’

‘There is none, possibly, to your knowledge. But look at this, my dear
sir,’ said the vicar, striking his fist upon the bedpost for emphasis.
‘Here are you, Stephen Fitzmaurice Smith, living in London, but
springing from Caxbury. Here in this book is a genealogical tree of the
Stephen Fitzmaurice Smiths of Caxbury Manor. You may be only a family
of professional men now--I am not inquisitive: I don’t ask questions of
that kind; it is not in me to do so--but it is as plain as the nose in
your face that there’s your origin! And, Mr. Smith, I congratulate you
upon your blood; blue blood, sir; and, upon my life, a very desirable
colour, as the world goes.’

‘I wish you could congratulate me upon some more tangible quality,’ said
the younger man, sadly no less than modestly.

‘Nonsense! that will come with time. You are young: all your life is
before you. Now look--see how far back in the mists of antiquity my own
family of Swancourt have a root. Here, you see,’ he continued, turning
to the page, ‘is Geoffrey, the one among my ancestors who lost a barony
because he would cut his joke. Ah, it’s the sort of us! But the story
is too long to tell now. Ay, I’m a poor man--a poor gentleman, in fact:
those I would be friends with, won’t be friends with me; those who are
willing to be friends with me, I am above being friends with. Beyond
dining with a neighbouring incumbent or two, and an occasional
chat--sometimes dinner--with Lord Luxellian, a connection of mine, I am
in absolute solitude--absolute.’

‘You have your studies, your books, and your--daughter.’

‘Oh yes, yes; and I don’t complain of poverty. Canto coram latrone.
Well, Mr. Smith, don’t let me detain you any longer in a sick room. Ha!
that reminds me of a story I once heard in my younger days.’ Here
the vicar began a series of small private laughs, and Stephen looked
inquiry. ‘Oh, no, no! it is too bad--too bad to tell!’ continued Mr.
Swancourt in undertones of grim mirth. ‘Well, go downstairs; my daughter
must do the best she can with you this evening. Ask her to sing to
you--she plays and sings very nicely. Good-night; I feel as if I had
known you for five or six years. I’ll ring for somebody to show you
down.’

‘Never mind,’ said Stephen, ‘I can find the way.’ And he went
downstairs, thinking of the delightful freedom of manner in the remoter
counties in comparison with the reserve of London.


‘I forgot to tell you that my father was rather deaf,’ said Elfride
anxiously, when Stephen entered the little drawing-room.

‘Never mind; I know all about it, and we are great friends,’ the man of
business replied enthusiastically. ‘And, Miss Swancourt, will you kindly
sing to me?’

To Miss Swancourt this request seemed, what in fact it was,
exceptionally point-blank; though she guessed that her father had some
hand in framing it, knowing, rather to her cost, of his unceremonious
way of utilizing her for the benefit of dull sojourners. At the same
time, as Mr. Smith’s manner was too frank to provoke criticism, and his
age too little to inspire fear, she was ready--not to say pleased--to
accede. Selecting from the canterbury some old family ditties, that in
years gone by had been played and sung by her mother, Elfride sat down
to the pianoforte, and began, ‘’Twas on the evening of a winter’s day,’
in a pretty contralto voice.

‘Do you like that old thing, Mr. Smith?’ she said at the end.

‘Yes, I do much,’ said Stephen--words he would have uttered, and
sincerely, to anything on earth, from glee to requiem, that she might
have chosen.

‘You shall have a little one by De Leyre, that was given me by a young
French lady who was staying at Endelstow House:


     ‘“Je l’ai plante, je l’ai vu naitre,
       Ce beau rosier ou les oiseaux,” &c.;


and then I shall want to give you my own favourite for the very last,
Shelley’s “When the lamp is shattered,” as set to music by my poor
mother. I so much like singing to anybody who REALLY cares to hear me.’

Every woman who makes a permanent impression on a man is usually
recalled to his mind’s eye as she appeared in one particular scene,
which seems ordained to be her special form of manifestation throughout
the pages of his memory. As the patron Saint has her attitude and
accessories in mediaeval illumination, so the sweetheart may be said to
have hers upon the table of her true Love’s fancy, without which she is
rarely introduced there except by effort; and this though she may, on
further acquaintance, have been observed in many other phases which one
would imagine to be far more appropriate to love’s young dream.

Miss Elfride’s image chose the form in which she was beheld during
these minutes of singing, for her permanent attitude of visitation to
Stephen’s eyes during his sleeping and waking hours in after days.
The profile is seen of a young woman in a pale gray silk dress with
trimmings of swan’s-down, and opening up from a point in front, like a
waistcoat without a shirt; the cool colour contrasting admirably with
the warm bloom of her neck and face. The furthermost candle on the piano
comes immediately in a line with her head, and half invisible itself,
forms the accidentally frizzled hair into a nebulous haze of light,
surrounding her crown like an aureola. Her hands are in their place on
the keys, her lips parted, and trilling forth, in a tender diminuendo,
the closing words of the sad apostrophe:


  ‘O Love, who bewailest
     The frailty of all things here,
   Why choose you the frailest
     For your cradle, your home, and your bier!’


Her head is forward a little, and her eyes directed keenly upward to the
top of the page of music confronting her. Then comes a rapid look into
Stephen’s face, and a still more rapid look back again to her business,
her face having dropped its sadness, and acquired a certain expression
of mischievous archness the while; which lingered there for some time,
but was never developed into a positive smile of flirtation.

Stephen suddenly shifted his position from her right hand to her left,
where there was just room enough for a small ottoman to stand between
the piano and the corner of the room. Into this nook he squeezed
himself, and gazed wistfully up into Elfride’s face. So long and so
earnestly gazed he, that her cheek deepened to a more and more crimson
tint as each line was added to her song. Concluding, and pausing
motionless after the last word for a minute or two, she ventured to look
at him again. His features wore an expression of unutterable heaviness.

‘You don’t hear many songs, do you, Mr. Smith, to take so much notice of
these of mine?’

‘Perhaps it was the means and vehicle of the song that I was noticing: I
mean yourself,’ he answered gently.

‘Now, Mr. Smith!’

‘It is perfectly true; I don’t hear much singing. You mistake what I am,
I fancy. Because I come as a stranger to a secluded spot, you think I
must needs come from a life of bustle, and know the latest movements of
the day. But I don’t. My life is as quiet as yours, and more solitary;
solitary as death.’

‘The death which comes from a plethora of life? But seriously, I can
quite see that you are not the least what I thought you would be before
I saw you. You are not critical, or experienced, or--much to mind.
That’s why I don’t mind singing airs to you that I only half know.’
Finding that by this confession she had vexed him in a way she did not
intend, she added naively, ‘I mean, Mr. Smith, that you are better, not
worse, for being only young and not very experienced. You don’t think my
life here so very tame and dull, I know.’

‘I do not, indeed,’ he said with fervour. ‘It must be delightfully
poetical, and sparkling, and fresh, and----’

‘There you go, Mr. Smith! Well, men of another kind, when I get them to
be honest enough to own the truth, think just the reverse: that my life
must be a dreadful bore in its normal state, though pleasant for the
exceptional few days they pass here.’

‘I could live here always!’ he said, and with such a tone and look
of unconscious revelation that Elfride was startled to find that her
harmonies had fired a small Troy, in the shape of Stephen’s heart. She
said quickly:

‘But you can’t live here always.’

‘Oh no.’ And he drew himself in with the sensitiveness of a snail.

Elfride’s emotions were sudden as his in kindling, but the least of
woman’s lesser infirmities--love of admiration--caused an inflammable
disposition on his part, so exactly similar to her own, to appear as
meritorious in him as modesty made her own seem culpable in her.



Chapter IV

     ‘Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap.’


For reasons of his own, Stephen Smith was stirring a short time after
dawn the next morning. From the window of his room he could see, first,
two bold escarpments sloping down together like the letter V. Towards
the bottom, like liquid in a funnel, appeared the sea, gray and small.
On the brow of one hill, of rather greater altitude than its neighbour,
stood the church which was to be the scene of his operations. The lonely
edifice was black and bare, cutting up into the sky from the very tip
of the hill. It had a square mouldering tower, owning neither battlement
nor pinnacle, and seemed a monolithic termination, of one substance with
the ridge, rather than a structure raised thereon. Round the church ran
a low wall; over-topping the wall in general level was the graveyard;
not as a graveyard usually is, a fragment of landscape with its due
variety of chiaro-oscuro, but a mere profile against the sky, serrated
with the outlines of graves and a very few memorial stones. Not a tree
could exist up there: nothing but the monotonous gray-green grass.

Five minutes after this casual survey was made his bedroom was empty,
and its occupant had vanished quietly from the house.

At the end of two hours he was again in the room, looking warm and
glowing. He now pursued the artistic details of dressing, which on
his first rising had been entirely omitted. And a very blooming boy he
looked, after that mysterious morning scamper. His mouth was a triumph
of its class. It was the cleanly-cut, piquantly pursed-up mouth of
William Pitt, as represented in the well or little known bust by
Nollekens--a mouth which is in itself a young man’s fortune, if properly
exercised. His round chin, where its upper part turned inward, still
continued its perfect and full curve, seeming to press in to a point the
bottom of his nether lip at their place of junction.

Once he murmured the name of Elfride. Ah, there she was! On the lawn
in a plain dress, without hat or bonnet, running with a boy’s
velocity, superadded to a girl’s lightness, after a tame rabbit she
was endeavouring to capture, her strategic intonations of coaxing words
alternating with desperate rushes so much out of keeping with them, that
the hollowness of such expressions was but too evident to her pet, who
darted and dodged in carefully timed counterpart.

The scene down there was altogether different from that of the hills.
A thicket of shrubs and trees enclosed the favoured spot from the
wilderness without; even at this time of the year the grass was
luxuriant there. No wind blew inside the protecting belt of evergreens,
wasting its force upon the higher and stronger trees forming the outer
margin of the grove.

Then he heard a heavy person shuffling about in slippers, and calling
‘Mr. Smith!’ Smith proceeded to the study, and found Mr. Swancourt. The
young man expressed his gladness to see his host downstairs.

‘Oh yes; I knew I should soon be right again. I have not made the
acquaintance of gout for more than two years, and it generally goes off
the second night. Well, where have you been this morning? I saw you come
in just now, I think!’

‘Yes; I have been for a walk.’

‘Start early?’

‘Yes.’

‘Very early, I think?’

‘Yes, it was rather early.’

‘Which way did you go? To the sea, I suppose. Everybody goes seaward.’

‘No; I followed up the river as far as the park wall.’

‘You are different from your kind. Well, I suppose such a wild place is
a novelty, and so tempted you out of bed?’

‘Not altogether a novelty. I like it.’

The youth seemed averse to explanation.

‘You must, you must; to go cock-watching the morning after a journey of
fourteen or sixteen hours. But there’s no accounting for tastes, and
I am glad to see that yours are no meaner. After breakfast, but not
before, I shall be good for a ten miles’ walk, Master Smith.’

Certainly there seemed nothing exaggerated in that assertion. Mr.
Swancourt by daylight showed himself to be a man who, in common with
the other two people under his roof, had really strong claims to be
considered handsome,--handsome, that is, in the sense in which the moon
is bright: the ravines and valleys which, on a close inspection, are
seen to diversify its surface being left out of the argument. His face
was of a tint that never deepened upon his cheeks nor lightened upon
his forehead, but remained uniform throughout; the usual neutral
salmon-colour of a man who feeds well--not to say too well--and does not
think hard; every pore being in visible working order. His tout ensemble
was that of a highly improved class of farmer, dressed up in the wrong
clothes; that of a firm-standing perpendicular man, whose fall would
have been backwards in direction if he had ever lost his balance.

The vicar’s background was at present what a vicar’s background should
be, his study. Here the consistency ends. All along the chimneypiece
were ranged bottles of horse, pig, and cow medicines, and against the
wall was a high table, made up of the fragments of an old oak Iychgate.
Upon this stood stuffed specimens of owls, divers, and gulls, and over
them bunches of wheat and barley ears, labelled with the date of the
year that produced them. Some cases and shelves, more or less laden
with books, the prominent titles of which were Dr. Brown’s ‘Notes on
the Romans,’ Dr. Smith’s ‘Notes on the Corinthians,’ and Dr. Robinson’s
‘Notes on the Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians,’ just saved the
character of the place, in spite of a girl’s doll’s-house standing above
them, a marine aquarium in the window, and Elfride’s hat hanging on its
corner.

‘Business, business!’ said Mr. Swancourt after breakfast. He began to
find it necessary to act the part of a fly-wheel towards the somewhat
irregular forces of his visitor.

They prepared to go to the church; the vicar, on second thoughts,
mounting his coal-black mare to avoid exerting his foot too much at
starting. Stephen said he should want a man to assist him. ‘Worm!’ the
vicar shouted.

A minute or two after a voice was heard round the corner of the
building, mumbling, ‘Ah, I used to be strong enough, but ‘tis altered
now! Well, there, I’m as independent as one here and there, even if they
do write ‘squire after their names.’

‘What’s the matter?’ said the vicar, as William Worm appeared; when the
remarks were repeated to him.

‘Worm says some very true things sometimes,’ Mr. Swancourt said, turning
to Stephen. ‘Now, as regards that word “esquire.” Why, Mr. Smith,
that word “esquire” is gone to the dogs,--used on the letters of every
jackanapes who has a black coat. Anything else, Worm?’

‘Ay, the folk have begun frying again!’

‘Dear me! I’m sorry to hear that.’

‘Yes,’ Worm said groaningly to Stephen, ‘I’ve got such a noise in my
head that there’s no living night nor day. ‘Tis just for all the world
like people frying fish: fry, fry, fry, all day long in my poor head,
till I don’t know whe’r I’m here or yonder. There, God A’mighty will
find it out sooner or later, I hope, and relieve me.’

‘Now, my deafness,’ said Mr. Swancourt impressively, ‘is a dead silence;
but William Worm’s is that of people frying fish in his head. Very
remarkable, isn’t it?’

‘I can hear the frying-pan a-fizzing as naterel as life,’ said Worm
corroboratively.

‘Yes, it is remarkable,’ said Mr. Smith.

‘Very peculiar, very peculiar,’ echoed the vicar; and they all then
followed the path up the hill, bounded on each side by a little stone
wall, from which gleamed fragments of quartz and blood-red marbles,
apparently of inestimable value, in their setting of brown alluvium.
Stephen walked with the dignity of a man close to the horse’s head, Worm
stumbled along a stone’s throw in the rear, and Elfride was nowhere
in particular, yet everywhere; sometimes in front, sometimes behind,
sometimes at the sides, hovering about the procession like a butterfly;
not definitely engaged in travelling, yet somehow chiming in at points
with the general progress.

The vicar explained things as he went on: ‘The fact is, Mr. Smith,
I didn’t want this bother of church restoration at all, but it
was necessary to do something in self-defence, on account of those
d----dissenters: I use the word in its scriptural meaning, of course,
not as an expletive.’

‘How very odd!’ said Stephen, with the concern demanded of serious
friendliness.

‘Odd? That’s nothing to how it is in the parish of Twinkley. Both the
churchwardens are----; there, I won’t say what they are; and the clerk
and the sexton as well.’

‘How very strange!’ said Stephen.

‘Strange? My dear sir, that’s nothing to how it is in the parish of
Sinnerton. However, as to our own parish, I hope we shall make some
progress soon.’

‘You must trust to circumstances.’

‘There are no circumstances to trust to. We may as well trust in
Providence if we trust at all. But here we are. A wild place, isn’t it?
But I like it on such days as these.’

The churchyard was entered on this side by a stone stile, over which
having clambered, you remained still on the wild hill, the within not
being so divided from the without as to obliterate the sense of open
freedom. A delightful place to be buried in, postulating that delight
can accompany a man to his tomb under any circumstances. There was
nothing horrible in this churchyard, in the shape of tight mounds bonded
with sticks, which shout imprisonment in the ears rather than whisper
rest; or trim garden-flowers, which only raise images of people in new
black crape and white handkerchiefs coming to tend them; or wheel-marks,
which remind us of hearses and mourning coaches; or cypress-bushes,
which make a parade of sorrow; or coffin-boards and bones lying behind
trees, showing that we are only leaseholders of our graves. No; nothing
but long, wild, untutored grass, diversifying the forms of the mounds
it covered,--themselves irregularly shaped, with no eye to effect; the
impressive presence of the old mountain that all this was a part of
being nowhere excluded by disguising art. Outside were similar slopes
and similar grass; and then the serene impassive sea, visible to a
width of half the horizon, and meeting the eye with the effect of a
vast concave, like the interior of a blue vessel. Detached rocks stood
upright afar, a collar of foam girding their bases, and repeating in its
whiteness the plumage of a countless multitude of gulls that restlessly
hovered about.

‘Now, Worm!’ said Mr. Swancourt sharply; and Worm started into an
attitude of attention at once to receive orders. Stephen and himself
were then left in possession, and the work went on till early in the
afternoon, when dinner was announced by Unity of the vicarage kitchen
running up the hill without a bonnet.


Elfride did not make her appearance inside the building till late in
the afternoon, and came then by special invitation from Stephen during
dinner. She looked so intensely LIVING and full of movement as she came
into the old silent place, that young Smith’s world began to be lit
by ‘the purple light’ in all its definiteness. Worm was got rid of by
sending him to measure the height of the tower.

What could she do but come close--so close that a minute arc of her
skirt touched his foot--and asked him how he was getting on with
his sketches, and set herself to learn the principles of practical
mensuration as applied to irregular buildings? Then she must ascend the
pulpit to re-imagine for the hundredth time how it would seem to be a
preacher.

Presently she leant over the front of the pulpit.

‘Don’t you tell papa, will you, Mr. Smith, if I tell you something?’ she
said with a sudden impulse to make a confidence.

‘Oh no, that I won’t,’ said he, staring up.

‘Well, I write papa’s sermons for him very often, and he preaches them
better than he does his own; and then afterwards he talks to people and
to me about what he said in his sermon to-day, and forgets that I wrote
it for him. Isn’t it absurd?’

‘How clever you must be!’ said Stephen. ‘I couldn’t write a sermon for
the world.’

‘Oh, it’s easy enough,’ she said, descending from the pulpit and coming
close to him to explain more vividly. ‘You do it like this. Did you ever
play a game of forfeits called “When is it? where is it? what is it?”’

‘No, never.’

‘Ah, that’s a pity, because writing a sermon is very much like playing
that game. You take the text. You think, why is it? what is it? and so
on. You put that down under “Generally.” Then you proceed to the First,
Secondly, and Thirdly. Papa won’t have Fourthlys--says they are all my
eye. Then you have a final Collectively, several pages of this being
put in great black brackets, writing opposite, “LEAVE THIS OUT IF THE
FARMERS ARE FALLING ASLEEP.” Then comes your In Conclusion, then A Few
Words And I Have Done. Well, all this time you have put on the back
of each page, “KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN”--I mean,’ she added, correcting
herself, ‘that’s how I do in papa’s sermon-book, because otherwise he
gets louder and louder, till at last he shouts like a farmer up a-field.
Oh, papa is so funny in some things!’

Then, after this childish burst of confidence, she was frightened, as if
warned by womanly instinct, which for the moment her ardour had outrun,
that she had been too forward to a comparative stranger.

Elfride saw her father then, and went away into the wind, being caught
by a gust as she ascended the churchyard slope, in which gust she had
the motions, without the motives, of a hoiden; the grace, without the
self-consciousness, of a pirouetter. She conversed for a minute or two
with her father, and proceeded homeward, Mr. Swancourt coming on to
the church to Stephen. The wind had freshened his warm complexion as it
freshens the glow of a brand. He was in a mood of jollity, and watched
Elfride down the hill with a smile.

‘You little flyaway! you look wild enough now,’ he said, and turned to
Stephen. ‘But she’s not a wild child at all, Mr. Smith. As steady as
you; and that you are steady I see from your diligence here.’

‘I think Miss Swancourt very clever,’ Stephen observed.

‘Yes, she is; certainly, she is,’ said papa, turning his voice as much
as possible to the neutral tone of disinterested criticism. ‘Now, Smith,
I’ll tell you something; but she mustn’t know it for the world--not for
the world, mind, for she insists upon keeping it a dead secret. Why, SHE
WRITES MY SERMONS FOR ME OFTEN, and a very good job she makes of them!’

‘She can do anything.’

‘She can do that. The little rascal has the very trick of the trade.
But, mind you, Smith, not a word about it to her, not a single word!’

‘Not a word,’ said Smith.

‘Look there,’ said Mr. Swancourt. ‘What do you think of my roofing?’ He
pointed with his walking-stick at the chancel roof,

‘Did you do that, sir?’

‘Yes, I worked in shirt-sleeves all the time that was going on. I pulled
down the old rafters, fixed the new ones, put on the battens, slated
the roof, all with my own hands, Worm being my assistant. We worked like
slaves, didn’t we, Worm?’

‘Ay, sure, we did; harder than some here and there--hee, hee!’ said
William Worm, cropping up from somewhere. ‘Like slaves, ‘a b’lieve--hee,
hee! And weren’t ye foaming mad, sir, when the nails wouldn’t go
straight? Mighty I! There, ‘tisn’t so bad to cuss and keep it in as to
cuss and let it out, is it, sir?’

‘Well--why?’

‘Because you, sir, when ye were a-putting on the roof, only used to cuss
in your mind, which is, I suppose, no harm at all.’

‘I don’t think you know what goes on in my mind, Worm.’

‘Oh, doan’t I, sir--hee, hee! Maybe I’m but a poor wambling thing, sir,
and can’t read much; but I can spell as well as some here and there.
Doan’t ye mind, sir, that blustrous night when ye asked me to hold the
candle to ye in yer workshop, when you were making a new chair for the
chancel?’

‘Yes; what of that?’

‘I stood with the candle, and you said you liked company, if ‘twas only
a dog or cat--maning me; and the chair wouldn’t do nohow.’

‘Ah, I remember.’

‘No; the chair wouldn’t do nohow. ‘A was very well to look at; but,
Lord!----’

‘Worm, how often have I corrected you for irreverent speaking?’

‘--‘A was very well to look at, but you couldn’t sit in the chair nohow.
‘Twas all a-twist wi’ the chair, like the letter Z, directly you sat
down upon the chair. “Get up, Worm,” says you, when you seed the chair
go all a-sway wi’ me. Up you took the chair, and flung en like fire
and brimstone to t’other end of your shop--all in a passion. “Damn the
chair!” says I. “Just what I was thinking,” says you, sir. “I could see
it in your face, sir,” says I, “and I hope you and God will forgi’e
me for saying what you wouldn’t.” To save your life you couldn’t help
laughing, sir, at a poor wambler reading your thoughts so plain. Ay, I’m
as wise as one here and there.’

‘I thought you had better have a practical man to go over the church and
tower with you,’ Mr. Swancourt said to Stephen the following morning,
‘so I got Lord Luxellian’s permission to send for a man when you came. I
told him to be there at ten o’clock. He’s a very intelligent man, and
he will tell you all you want to know about the state of the walls. His
name is John Smith.’

Elfride did not like to be seen again at the church with Stephen. ‘I
will watch here for your appearance at the top of the tower,’ she said
laughingly. ‘I shall see your figure against the sky.’

‘And when I am up there I’ll wave my handkerchief to you, Miss
Swancourt,’ said Stephen. ‘In twelve minutes from this present moment,’
he added, looking at his watch, ‘I’ll be at the summit and look out for
you.’

She went round to the corner of the shrubbery, whence she could watch
him down the slope leading to the foot of the hill on which the church
stood. There she saw waiting for him a white spot--a mason in his
working clothes. Stephen met this man and stopped.

To her surprise, instead of their moving on to the churchyard, they
both leisurely sat down upon a stone close by their meeting-place, and
remained as if in deep conversation. Elfride looked at the time; nine
of the twelve minutes had passed, and Stephen showed no signs of moving.
More minutes passed--she grew cold with waiting, and shivered. It was
not till the end of a quarter of an hour that they began to slowly wend
up the hill at a snail’s pace.

‘Rude and unmannerly!’ she said to herself, colouring with pique.
‘Anybody would think he was in love with that horrid mason instead of
with----’

The sentence remained unspoken, though not unthought.

She returned to the porch.

‘Is the man you sent for a lazy, sit-still, do-nothing kind of man?’ she
inquired of her father.

‘No,’ he said surprised; ‘quite the reverse. He is Lord Luxellian’s
master-mason, John Smith.’

‘Oh,’ said Elfride indifferently, and returned towards her bleak
station, and waited and shivered again. It was a trifle, after all--a
childish thing--looking out from a tower and waving a handkerchief. But
her new friend had promised, and why should he tease her so? The effect
of a blow is as proportionate to the texture of the object struck as
to its own momentum; and she had such a superlative capacity for being
wounded that little hits struck her hard.

It was not till the end of half an hour that two figures were seen above
the parapet of the dreary old pile, motionless as bitterns on a ruined
mosque. Even then Stephen was not true enough to perform what he was so
courteous to promise, and he vanished without making a sign.

He returned at midday. Elfride looked vexed when unconscious that his
eyes were upon her; when conscious, severe. However, her attitude of
coldness had long outlived the coldness itself, and she could no longer
utter feigned words of indifference.

‘Ah, you weren’t kind to keep me waiting in the cold, and break your
promise,’ she said at last reproachfully, in tones too low for her
father’s powers of hearing.

‘Forgive, forgive me!’ said Stephen with dismay. ‘I had forgotten--quite
forgotten! Something prevented my remembering.’

‘Any further explanation?’ said Miss Capricious, pouting.

He was silent for a few minutes, and looked askance.

‘None,’ he said, with the accent of one who concealed a sin.



Chapter V

     ‘Bosom’d high in tufted trees.’


It was breakfast time.

As seen from the vicarage dining-room, which took a warm tone of light
from the fire, the weather and scene outside seemed to have stereotyped
themselves in unrelieved shades of gray. The long-armed trees and shrubs
of juniper, cedar, and pine varieties, were grayish black; those of the
broad-leaved sort, together with the herbage, were grayish-green;
the eternal hills and tower behind them were grayish-brown; the sky,
dropping behind all, gray of the purest melancholy.

Yet in spite of this sombre artistic effect, the morning was not one
which tended to lower the spirits. It was even cheering. For it did not
rain, nor was rain likely to fall for many days to come.

Elfride had turned from the table towards the fire and was idly
elevating a hand-screen before her face, when she heard the click of a
little gate outside.

‘Ah, here’s the postman!’ she said, as a shuffling, active man came
through an opening in the shrubbery and across the lawn. She vanished,
and met him in the porch, afterwards coming in with her hands behind her
back.

‘How many are there? Three for papa, one for Mr. Smith, none for Miss
Swancourt. And, papa, look here, one of yours is from--whom do you
think?--Lord Luxellian. And it has something HARD in it--a lump of
something. I’ve been feeling it through the envelope, and can’t think
what it is.’

‘What does Luxellian write for, I wonder?’ Mr. Swancourt had said
simultaneously with her words. He handed Stephen his letter, and took
his own, putting on his countenance a higher class of look than was
customary, as became a poor gentleman who was going to read a letter
from a peer.

Stephen read his missive with a countenance quite the reverse of the
vicar’s.


                 ‘PERCY PLACE, Thursday Evening.
‘DEAR SMITH,--Old H. is in a towering rage with you for being so long
about the church sketches. Swears you are more trouble than you are
worth. He says I am to write and say you are to stay no longer on
any consideration--that he would have done it all in three hours very
easily. I told him that you were not like an experienced hand, which he
seemed to forget, but it did not make much difference. However, between
you and me privately, if I were you I would not alarm myself for a day
or so, if I were not inclined to return. I would make out the week and
finish my spree. He will blow up just as much if you appear here on
Saturday as if you keep away till Monday morning.--Yours very truly,

‘SIMPKINS JENKINS.



‘Dear me--very awkward!’ said Stephen, rather en l’air, and confused
with the kind of confusion that assails an understrapper when he has
been enlarged by accident to the dimensions of a superior, and is
somewhat rudely pared down to his original size.

‘What is awkward?’ said Miss Swancourt.

Smith by this time recovered his equanimity, and with it the
professional dignity of an experienced architect.

‘Important business demands my immediate presence in London, I regret to
say,’ he replied.

‘What! Must you go at once?’ said Mr. Swancourt, looking over the edge
of his letter. ‘Important business? A young fellow like you to have
important business!’

‘The truth is,’ said Stephen blushing, and rather ashamed of having
pretended even so slightly to a consequence which did not belong to
him,--‘the truth is, Mr. Hewby has sent to say I am to come home; and I
must obey him.’

‘I see; I see. It is politic to do so, you mean. Now I can see more than
you think. You are to be his partner. I booked you for that directly
I read his letter to me the other day, and the way he spoke of you. He
thinks a great deal of you, Mr. Smith, or he wouldn’t be so anxious for
your return.’

Unpleasant to Stephen such remarks as these could not sound; to have the
expectancy of partnership with one of the largest-practising architects
in London thrust upon him was cheering, however untenable he felt the
idea to be. He saw that, whatever Mr. Hewby might think, Mr. Swancourt
certainly thought much of him to entertain such an idea on such slender
ground as to be absolutely no ground at all. And then, unaccountably,
his speaking face exhibited a cloud of sadness, which a reflection on
the remoteness of any such contingency could hardly have sufficed to
cause.

Elfride was struck with that look of his; even Mr. Swancourt noticed it.

‘Well,’ he said cheerfully, ‘never mind that now. You must come again
on your own account; not on business. Come to see me as a visitor,
you know--say, in your holidays--all you town men have holidays like
schoolboys. When are they?’

‘In August, I believe.’

‘Very well; come in August; and then you need not hurry away so. I am
glad to get somebody decent to talk to, or at, in this outlandish ultima
Thule. But, by the bye, I have something to say--you won’t go to-day?’

‘No; I need not,’ said Stephen hesitatingly. ‘I am not obliged to get
back before Monday morning.’

‘Very well, then, that brings me to what I am going to propose. This is
a letter from Lord Luxellian. I think you heard me speak of him as the
resident landowner in this district, and patron of this living?’

‘I--know of him.’

‘He is in London now. It seems that he has run up on business for a day
or two, and taken Lady Luxellian with him. He has written to ask me to
go to his house, and search for a paper among his private memoranda,
which he forgot to take with him.’

‘What did he send in the letter?’ inquired Elfride.

‘The key of a private desk in which the papers are. He doesn’t like to
trust such a matter to any body else. I have done such things for him
before. And what I propose is, that we make an afternoon of it--all
three of us. Go for a drive to Targan Bay, come home by way of Endelstow
House; and whilst I am looking over the documents you can ramble about
the rooms where you like. I have the run of the house at any time, you
know. The building, though nothing but a mass of gables outside, has a
splendid hall, staircase, and gallery within; and there are a few good
pictures.’

‘Yes, there are,’ said Stephen.

‘Have you seen the place, then?

‘I saw it as I came by,’ he said hastily.

‘Oh yes; but I was alluding to the interior. And the church--St.
Eval’s--is much older than our St. Agnes’ here. I do duty in that and
this alternately, you know. The fact is, I ought to have some help;
riding across that park for two miles on a wet morning is not at all
the thing. If my constitution were not well seasoned, as thank God it
is,’--here Mr. Swancourt looked down his front, as if his constitution
were visible there,--‘I should be coughing and barking all the year
round. And when the family goes away, there are only about three
servants to preach to when I get there. Well, that shall be the
arrangement, then. Elfride, you will like to go?’

Elfride assented; and the little breakfast-party separated. Stephen
rose to go and take a few final measurements at the church, the vicar
following him to the door with a mysterious expression of inquiry on his
face.

‘You’ll put up with our not having family prayer this morning, I hope?’
he whispered.

‘Yes; quite so,’ said Stephen.

‘To tell you the truth,’ he continued in the same undertone, ‘we don’t
make a regular thing of it; but when we have strangers visiting us, I am
strongly of opinion that it is the proper thing to do, and I always do
it. I am very strict on that point. But you, Smith, there is something
in your face which makes me feel quite at home; no nonsense about you,
in short. Ah, it reminds me of a splendid story I used to hear when I
was a helter-skelter young fellow--such a story! But’--here the vicar
shook his head self-forbiddingly, and grimly laughed.

‘Was it a good story?’ said young Smith, smiling too.

‘Oh yes; but ‘tis too bad--too bad! Couldn’t tell it to you for the
world!’

Stephen went across the lawn, hearing the vicar chuckling privately at
the recollection as he withdrew.


They started at three o’clock. The gray morning had resolved itself
into an afternoon bright with a pale pervasive sunlight, without the
sun itself being visible. Lightly they trotted along--the wheels nearly
silent, the horse’s hoofs clapping, almost ringing, upon the hard,
white, turnpike road as it followed the level ridge in a perfectly
straight line, seeming to be absorbed ultimately by the white of the
sky.

Targan Bay--which had the merit of being easily got at--was duly
visited. They then swept round by innumerable lanes, in which not twenty
consecutive yards were either straight or level, to the domain of Lord
Luxellian. A woman with a double chin and thick neck, like Queen Anne by
Dahl, threw open the lodge gate, a little boy standing behind her.

‘I’ll give him something, poor little fellow,’ said Elfride, pulling out
her purse and hastily opening it. From the interior of her purse a host
of bits of paper, like a flock of white birds, floated into the air, and
were blown about in all directions.

‘Well, to be sure!’ said Stephen with a slight laugh.

‘What the dickens is all that?’ said Mr. Swancourt. ‘Not halves of
bank-notes, Elfride?’

Elfride looked annoyed and guilty. ‘They are only something of mine,
papa,’ she faltered, whilst Stephen leapt out, and, assisted by the
lodge-keeper’s little boy, crept about round the wheels and horse’s
hoofs till the papers were all gathered together again. He handed them
back to her, and remounted.

‘I suppose you are wondering what those scraps were?’ she said, as they
bowled along up the sycamore avenue. ‘And so I may as well tell you.
They are notes for a romance I am writing.’

She could not help colouring at the confession, much as she tried to
avoid it.

‘A story, do you mean?’ said Stephen, Mr. Swancourt half listening, and
catching a word of the conversation now and then.

‘Yes; THE COURT OF KELLYON CASTLE; a romance of the fifteenth century.
Such writing is out of date now, I know; but I like doing it.’

‘A romance carried in a purse! If a highwayman were to rob you, he would
be taken in.’

‘Yes; that’s my way of carrying manuscript. The real reason is, that I
mostly write bits of it on scraps of paper when I am on horseback; and I
put them there for convenience.’

‘What are you going to do with your romance when you have written it?’
said Stephen.

‘I don’t know,’ she replied, and turned her head to look at the
prospect.

For by this time they had reached the precincts of Endelstow House.
Driving through an ancient gate-way of dun-coloured stone, spanned by
the high-shouldered Tudor arch, they found themselves in a spacious
court, closed by a facade on each of its three sides. The substantial
portions of the existing building dated from the reign of Henry VIII.;
but the picturesque and sheltered spot had been the site of an erection
of a much earlier date. A licence to crenellate mansum infra manerium
suum was granted by Edward II. to ‘Hugo Luxellen chivaler;’ but though
the faint outline of the ditch and mound was visible at points, no sign
of the original building remained.

The windows on all sides were long and many-mullioned; the roof lines
broken up by dormer lights of the same pattern. The apex stones of these
dormers, together with those of the gables, were surmounted by grotesque
figures in rampant, passant, and couchant variety. Tall octagonal and
twisted chimneys thrust themselves high up into the sky, surpassed in
height, however, by some poplars and sycamores at the back, which showed
their gently rocking summits over ridge and parapet. In the corners
of the court polygonal bays, whose surfaces were entirely occupied by
buttresses and windows, broke into the squareness of the enclosure; and
a far-projecting oriel, springing from a fantastic series of mouldings,
overhung the archway of the chief entrance to the house.

As Mr. Swancourt had remarked, he had the freedom of the mansion in
the absence of its owner. Upon a statement of his errand they were all
admitted to the library, and left entirely to themselves. Mr. Swancourt
was soon up to his eyes in the examination of a heap of papers he had
taken from the cabinet described by his correspondent. Stephen and
Elfride had nothing to do but to wander about till her father was ready.

Elfride entered the gallery, and Stephen followed her without seeming to
do so. It was a long sombre apartment, enriched with fittings a century
or so later in style than the walls of the mansion. Pilasters of
Renaissance workmanship supported a cornice from which sprang a curved
ceiling, panelled in the awkward twists and curls of the period. The old
Gothic quarries still remained in the upper portion of the large window
at the end, though they had made way for a more modern form of glazing
elsewhere.

Stephen was at one end of the gallery looking towards Elfride, who stood
in the midst, beginning to feel somewhat depressed by the society of
Luxellian shades of cadaverous complexion fixed by Holbein, Kneller, and
Lely, and seeming to gaze at and through her in a moralizing mood. The
silence, which cast almost a spell upon them, was broken by the sudden
opening of a door at the far end.

Out bounded a pair of little girls, lightly yet warmly dressed. Their
eyes were sparkling; their hair swinging about and around; their red
mouths laughing with unalloyed gladness.

‘Ah, Miss Swancourt: dearest Elfie! we heard you. Are you going to stay
here? You are our little mamma, are you not--our big mamma is gone to
London,’ said one.

‘Let me tiss you,’ said the other, in appearance very much like the
first, but to a smaller pattern.

Their pink cheeks and yellow hair were speedily intermingled with the
folds of Elfride’s dress; she then stooped and tenderly embraced them
both.

‘Such an odd thing,’ said Elfride, smiling, and turning to Stephen.
‘They have taken it into their heads lately to call me “little mamma,”
 because I am very fond of them, and wore a dress the other day something
like one of Lady Luxellian’s.’

These two young creatures were the Honourable Mary and the Honourable
Kate--scarcely appearing large enough as yet to bear the weight of such
ponderous prefixes. They were the only two children of Lord and Lady
Luxellian, and, as it proved, had been left at home during their
parents’ temporary absence, in the custody of nurse and governess. Lord
Luxellian was dotingly fond of the children; rather indifferent towards
his wife, since she had begun to show an inclination not to please him
by giving him a boy.

All children instinctively ran after Elfride, looking upon her more as
an unusually nice large specimen of their own tribe than as a grown-up
elder. It had now become an established rule, that whenever she met
them--indoors or out-of-doors, weekdays or Sundays--they were to be
severally pressed against her face and bosom for the space of a quarter
of a minute, and other-wise made much of on the delightful system
of cumulative epithet and caress to which unpractised girls will
occasionally abandon themselves.

A look of misgiving by the youngsters towards the door by which they
had entered directed attention to a maid-servant appearing from the same
quarter, to put an end to this sweet freedom of the poor Honourables
Mary and Kate.

‘I wish you lived here, Miss Swancourt,’ piped one like a melancholy
bullfinch.

‘So do I,’ piped the other like a rather more melancholy bullfinch.
‘Mamma can’t play with us so nicely as you do. I don’t think she ever
learnt playing when she was little. When shall we come to see you?’

‘As soon as you like, dears.’

‘And sleep at your house all night? That’s what I mean by coming to
see you. I don’t care to see people with hats and bonnets on, and all
standing up and walking about.’

‘As soon as we can get mamma’s permission you shall come and stay as
long as ever you like. Good-bye!’

The prisoners were then led off, Elfride again turning her attention to
her guest, whom she had left standing at the remote end of the gallery.
On looking around for him he was nowhere to be seen. Elfride stepped
down to the library, thinking he might have rejoined her father there.
But Mr. Swancourt, now cheerfully illuminated by a pair of candles, was
still alone, untying packets of letters and papers, and tying them up
again.

As Elfride did not stand on a sufficiently intimate footing with the
object of her interest to justify her, as a proper young lady, to
commence the active search for him that youthful impulsiveness prompted,
and as, nevertheless, for a nascent reason connected with those divinely
cut lips of his, she did not like him to be absent from her side, she
wandered desultorily back to the oak staircase, pouting and casting her
eyes about in hope of discerning his boyish figure.

Though daylight still prevailed in the rooms, the corridors were in
a depth of shadow--chill, sad, and silent; and it was only by looking
along them towards light spaces beyond that anything or anybody could be
discerned therein. One of these light spots she found to be caused by
a side-door with glass panels in the upper part. Elfride opened it, and
found herself confronting a secondary or inner lawn, separated from the
principal lawn front by a shrubbery.

And now she saw a perplexing sight. At right angles to the face of the
wing she had emerged from, and within a few feet of the door, jutted
out another wing of the mansion, lower and with less architectural
character. Immediately opposite to her, in the wall of this wing, was
a large broad window, having its blind drawn down, and illuminated by a
light in the room it screened.

On the blind was a shadow from somebody close inside it--a person in
profile. The profile was unmistakably that of Stephen. It was just
possible to see that his arms were uplifted, and that his hands held an
article of some kind. Then another shadow appeared--also in profile--and
came close to him. This was the shadow of a woman. She turned her back
towards Stephen: he lifted and held out what now proved to be a shawl or
mantle--placed it carefully--so carefully--round the lady; disappeared;
reappeared in her front--fastened the mantle. Did he then kiss her?
Surely not. Yet the motion might have been a kiss. Then both shadows
swelled to colossal dimensions--grew distorted--vanished.

Two minutes elapsed.

‘Ah, Miss Swancourt! I am so glad to find you. I was looking for
you,’ said a voice at her elbow--Stephen’s voice. She stepped into the
passage.

‘Do you know any of the members of this establishment?’ said she.

‘Not a single one: how should I?’ he replied.



Chapter VI

     ‘Fare thee weel awhile!’


Simultaneously with the conclusion of Stephen’s remark, the sound of
the closing of an external door in their immediate neighbourhood reached
Elfride’s ears. It came from the further side of the wing containing the
illuminated room. She then discerned, by the aid of the dusky departing
light, a figure, whose sex was undistinguishable, walking down the
gravelled path by the parterre towards the river. The figure grew
fainter, and vanished under the trees.

Mr. Swancourt’s voice was heard calling out their names from a distant
corridor in the body of the building. They retraced their steps, and
found him with his coat buttoned up and his hat on, awaiting their
advent in a mood of self-satisfaction at having brought his search to
a successful close. The carriage was brought round, and without further
delay the trio drove away from the mansion, under the echoing gateway
arch, and along by the leafless sycamores, as the stars began to kindle
their trembling lights behind the maze of branches and twigs.

No words were spoken either by youth or maiden. Her unpractised mind was
completely occupied in fathoming its recent acquisition. The young man
who had inspired her with such novelty of feeling, who had come directly
from London on business to her father, having been brought by chance to
Endelstow House had, by some means or other, acquired the privilege
of approaching some lady he had found therein, and of honouring her by
petits soins of a marked kind,--all in the space of half an hour.

What room were they standing in? thought Elfride. As nearly as she could
guess, it was Lord Luxellian’s business-room, or office. What people
were in the house? None but the governess and servants, as far as she
knew, and of these he had professed a total ignorance. Had the person
she had indistinctly seen leaving the house anything to do with the
performance? It was impossible to say without appealing to the culprit
himself, and that she would never do. The more Elfride reflected, the
more certain did it appear that the meeting was a chance rencounter, and
not an appointment. On the ultimate inquiry as to the individuality of
the woman, Elfride at once assumed that she could not be an inferior.
Stephen Smith was not the man to care about passages-at-love with women
beneath him. Though gentle, ambition was visible in his kindling eyes;
he evidently hoped for much; hoped indefinitely, but extensively.
Elfride was puzzled, and being puzzled, was, by a natural sequence of
girlish sensations, vexed with him. No more pleasure came in recognizing
that from liking to attract him she was getting on to love him, boyish
as he was and innocent as he had seemed.

They reached the bridge which formed a link between the eastern and
western halves of the parish. Situated in a valley that was bounded
outwardly by the sea, it formed a point of depression from which the
road ascended with great steepness to West Endelstow and the Vicarage.
There was no absolute necessity for either of them to alight, but as
it was the vicar’s custom after a long journey to humour the horse in
making this winding ascent, Elfride, moved by an imitative instinct,
suddenly jumped out when Pleasant had just begun to adopt the deliberate
stalk he associated with this portion of the road.

The young man seemed glad of any excuse for breaking the silence. ‘Why,
Miss Swancourt, what a risky thing to do!’ he exclaimed, immediately
following her example by jumping down on the other side.

‘Oh no, not at all,’ replied she coldly; the shadow phenomenon at
Endelstow House still paramount within her.

Stephen walked along by himself for two or three minutes, wrapped in the
rigid reserve dictated by her tone. Then apparently thinking that it was
only for girls to pout, he came serenely round to her side, and offered
his arm with Castilian gallantry, to assist her in ascending the
remaining three-quarters of the steep.

Here was a temptation: it was the first time in her life that Elfride
had been treated as a grown-up woman in this way--offered an arm in a
manner implying that she had a right to refuse it. Till to-night she
had never received masculine attentions beyond those which might be
contained in such homely remarks as ‘Elfride, give me your hand;’
‘Elfride, take hold of my arm,’ from her father. Her callow heart made
an epoch of the incident; she considered her array of feelings, for and
against. Collectively they were for taking this offered arm; the single
one of pique determined her to punish Stephen by refusing.

‘No, thank you, Mr. Smith; I can get along better by myself’

It was Elfride’s first fragile attempt at browbeating a lover. Fearing
more the issue of such an undertaking than what a gentle young man
might think of her waywardness, she immediately afterwards determined to
please herself by reversing her statement.

‘On second thoughts, I will take it,’ she said.

They slowly went their way up the hill, a few yards behind the carriage.

‘How silent you are, Miss Swancourt!’ Stephen observed.

‘Perhaps I think you silent too,’ she returned.

‘I may have reason to be.’

‘Scarcely; it is sadness that makes people silent, and you can have
none.’

‘You don’t know: I have a trouble; though some might think it less a
trouble than a dilemma.’

‘What is it?’ she asked impulsively.

Stephen hesitated. ‘I might tell,’ he said; ‘at the same time, perhaps,
it is as well----’

She let go his arm and imperatively pushed it from her, tossing her
head. She had just learnt that a good deal of dignity is lost by asking
a question to which an answer is refused, even ever so politely;
for though politeness does good service in cases of requisition and
compromise, it but little helps a direct refusal. ‘I don’t wish to know
anything of it; I don’t wish it,’ she went on. ‘The carriage is waiting
for us at the top of the hill; we must get in;’ and Elfride flitted
to the front. ‘Papa, here is your Elfride!’ she exclaimed to the dusky
figure of the old gentleman, as she sprang up and sank by his side
without deigning to accept aid from Stephen.

‘Ah, yes!’ uttered the vicar in artificially alert tones, awaking from a
most profound sleep, and suddenly preparing to alight.

‘Why, what are you doing, papa? We are not home yet.’

‘Oh no, no; of course not; we are not at home yet,’ Mr. Swancourt said
very hastily, endeavouring to dodge back to his original position with
the air of a man who had not moved at all. ‘The fact is I was so lost in
deep meditation that I forgot whereabouts we were.’ And in a minute the
vicar was snoring again.


That evening, being the last, seemed to throw an exceptional shade of
sadness over Stephen Smith, and the repeated injunctions of the vicar,
that he was to come and revisit them in the summer, apparently tended
less to raise his spirits than to unearth some misgiving.

He left them in the gray light of dawn, whilst the colours of earth were
sombre, and the sun was yet hidden in the east. Elfride had fidgeted all
night in her little bed lest none of the household should be awake
soon enough to start him, and also lest she might miss seeing again
the bright eyes and curly hair, to which their owner’s possession of a
hidden mystery added a deeper tinge of romance. To some extent--so
soon does womanly interest take a solicitous turn--she felt herself
responsible for his safe conduct. They breakfasted before daylight;
Mr. Swancourt, being more and more taken with his guest’s ingenuous
appearance, having determined to rise early and bid him a friendly
farewell. It was, however, rather to the vicar’s astonishment, that he
saw Elfride walk in to the breakfast-table, candle in hand.

Whilst William Worm performed his toilet (during which performance
the inmates of the vicarage were always in the habit of waiting with
exemplary patience), Elfride wandered desultorily to the summer house.
Stephen followed her thither. The copse-covered valley was visible from
this position, a mist now lying all along its length, hiding the stream
which trickled through it, though the observers themselves were in clear
air.

They stood close together, leaning over the rustic balustrading which
bounded the arbour on the outward side, and formed the crest of a steep
slope beneath Elfride constrainedly pointed out some features of the
distant uplands rising irregularly opposite. But the artistic eye was,
either from nature or circumstance, very faint in Stephen now, and he
only half attended to her description, as if he spared time from some
other thought going on within him.

‘Well, good-bye,’ he said suddenly; ‘I must never see you again, I
suppose, Miss Swancourt, in spite of invitations.’

His genuine tribulation played directly upon the delicate chords of
her nature. She could afford to forgive him for a concealment or two.
Moreover, the shyness which would not allow him to look her in the face
lent bravery to her own eyes and tongue.

‘Oh, DO come again, Mr. Smith!’ she said prettily.

‘I should delight in it; but it will be better if I do not.’

‘Why?’

‘Certain circumstances in connection with me make it undesirable. Not on
my account; on yours.’

‘Goodness! As if anything in connection with you could hurt me,’ she
said with serene supremacy; but seeing that this plan of treatment was
inappropriate, she tuned a smaller note. ‘Ah, I know why you will
not come. You don’t want to. You’ll go home to London and to all the
stirring people there, and will never want to see us any more!’

‘You know I have no such reason.’

‘And go on writing letters to the lady you are engaged to, just as
before.’

‘What does that mean? I am not engaged.’

‘You wrote a letter to a Miss Somebody; I saw it in the letter-rack.’

‘Pooh! an elderly woman who keeps a stationer’s shop; and it was to tell
her to keep my newspapers till I get back.’

‘You needn’t have explained: it was not my business at all.’ Miss
Elfride was rather relieved to hear that statement, nevertheless. ‘And
you won’t come again to see my father?’ she insisted.

‘I should like to--and to see you again, but----’

‘Will you reveal to me that matter you hide?’ she interrupted
petulantly.

‘No; not now.’

She could not but go on, graceless as it might seem.

‘Tell me this,’ she importuned with a trembling mouth. ‘Does any meeting
of yours with a lady at Endelstow Vicarage clash with--any interest you
may take in me?’

He started a little. ‘It does not,’ he said emphatically; and looked
into the pupils of her eyes with the confidence that only honesty can
give, and even that to youth alone.

The explanation had not come, but a gloom left her. She could not but
believe that utterance. Whatever enigma might lie in the shadow on the
blind, it was not an enigma of underhand passion.

She turned towards the house, entering it through the conservatory.
Stephen went round to the front door. Mr. Swancourt was standing on the
step in his slippers. Worm was adjusting a buckle in the harness, and
murmuring about his poor head; and everything was ready for Stephen’s
departure.

‘You named August for your visit. August it shall be; that is, if you
care for the society of such a fossilized Tory,’ said Mr. Swancourt.

Mr. Smith only responded hesitatingly, that he should like to come
again.

‘You said you would, and you must,’ insisted Elfride, coming to the door
and speaking under her father’s arm.

Whatever reason the youth may have had for not wishing to enter the
house as a guest, it no longer predominated. He promised, and bade them
adieu, and got into the pony-carriage, which crept up the slope, and
bore him out of their sight.

‘I never was so much taken with anybody in my life as I am with that
young fellow--never! I cannot understand it--can’t understand it
anyhow,’ said Mr. Swancourt quite energetically to himself; and went
indoors.



Chapter VII

     ‘No more of me you knew, my love!’


Stephen Smith revisited Endelstow Vicarage, agreeably to his 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 between them.

The game had its value in helping on the developments of their future.

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 be.’

‘I also apply the words to myself,’ said Stephen quietly.

‘You? The last man in the world to do that, I should have thought.’

‘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 Cambridge man?’

‘Yes; he was an Oxford man--Fellow of St. Cyprian’s.’

‘Really?’

‘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 enthusiastically.

‘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 you?’

‘Four years.’

‘Four years!’

‘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 vicar.

‘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 manfully.’

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 premature.

‘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?’

‘No.’

‘Forehead?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘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 times.

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 miles.

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,
partly 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, 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 door.

‘Yes, miss, that they have!’ said Unity with round-eyed commiseration.

‘Once ‘twas in the lane that I found one of them,’ pursued Elfride
reflectively.

‘And then ‘twas by the gate into Eighteen Acres,’ Unity chimed in.

‘And then ‘twas on the carpet in my own room,’ rejoined Elfride merrily.

‘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 contrition.

‘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 sea.

‘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 rendered.

‘Do I seem like LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI?’ she began suddenly, without
replying to his question. ‘Fancy yourself saying, Mr. Smith:


    “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 absence?’

‘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 face.

‘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 circumstances.

‘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 her life.

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 herself.

‘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.

‘Yes.’

‘Very much?’

‘Yes.’

‘And I mustn’t ask you if you’ll wait for me, and be my wife some day?’

‘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?’

‘Never.’

‘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 again.’

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 eyes?’

‘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 altogether sure.’

‘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 lady.”’

‘I never said it.’

‘When you said to yourself, then, “I never will love that young lady.”’

‘I didn’t say that, either.’

‘Then was it, “I suppose I must love that young lady?”’

‘No.’

‘What, then?’

‘’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 time.’

‘I like it the better....Stephen, don’t mention it till to-morrow.’

‘Why?’

‘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?’

‘He writes.’

‘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 day.’

‘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 sparkled.

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 give.’

‘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 us----’

‘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 is
ridiculous.’

‘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 went on.

‘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 of
reproach.

‘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
followed.

‘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.



Chapter VIII

     ‘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 said
anxiously.

‘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?’

‘Possibly.’

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 wandered thither.

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, and
smart.

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 lighted.

‘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 him.

‘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
against me?’

‘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 except
me?’

‘I don’t mind. What you are only concerns me.’

‘Where do you think I went to school--I mean, to what kind of school?’

‘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 say?’

‘He practises some profession or calling, I suppose.’

‘No; he is a mason.’

‘A Freemason?’

‘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 matter?’

‘But aren’t you angry with me for not telling you before?’

‘No, not at all. Is your mother alive?’

‘Yes.’

‘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 Norman ancestry.’

‘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 rate.’

‘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 church, JANE.”’

‘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 so alarmed?’

‘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 diminishes me.’

‘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?

‘A twelvemonth.’

‘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.’

‘A farmer not good enough--how much better than my family!’ Stephen
murmured.

‘Where is he now?’ he continued to Elfride.

‘HERE.’

‘Here! what do you mean by that?’

‘I mean that he is here.’

‘Where 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 the
moment.’

‘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.’



Chapter IX

    ‘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 school.

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 his discourse.

‘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,
the beetle----’

‘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 father.’

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 us.’

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 her
eyes.

‘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 own.

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 with I-don’t-know-whom.’

‘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 treacherous
I-don’t-know-what.’

‘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 the
world!’

‘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
“clerk”?’

‘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 time.’

‘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.’

‘Railways?’

‘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.’



Chapter X

     ‘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 general.

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 quietly.

‘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 knew it.’

‘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 of her. She’d most likely have died an old
maid if you hadn’t turned up.’

‘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
campaign.

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 quarrelsome, Stephen!’

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?’

‘Seven o’clock.’

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 probable alternative.

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 respectable
co-ordinate.

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 lids.

‘Stephen, it is over--happy love is over; and there is no more sunshine
now!’

‘I will make a fortune, and come to you, and have you. Yes, I will!’

‘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 let in.’

‘I could not, I would not. Elfie, do not be so full of forebodings.’

‘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 fancy.

‘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 else’s wife.’

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 withdrawn?’

‘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
whispered.

‘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 now.’

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 concluded.

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.



Chapter XI

     ‘Journeys end in lovers meeting.’


Stephen lay watching the Great Bear; Elfride was regarding a monotonous
parallelogram of window blind. Neither slept that night.

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 north.

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 unusual thing.

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 previous act.

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 Plymouth.

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 Luxellian’s.

‘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 you will.’

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
fortnight.’

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
affirmative reply.

‘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 complacency.

‘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 him.

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 him
longingly.

‘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,’ she
murmured.

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 each end.

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 him doing.

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 banished altogether.

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 these:

‘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 hours.

‘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 all.

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 greater.

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 establishment.

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.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Go on to London by a train just starting, and be married there
to-morrow.’

‘Passengers for the 11.5 up-train take their seats!’ said a guard’s
voice on the platform.

‘Will you go, Elfride?’

‘I will.’

In three minutes the train had moved off, bearing away with it Stephen
and Elfride.



Chapter XII

     ‘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, Stephen.’

‘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, disgraced.’

‘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
recognized us.’

‘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 Endelstow.’

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
Bristol.’

‘I can’t eat, Stephen.’

‘Wine and biscuit?’

‘No.’

‘Nor tea, nor coffee?’

‘No.’

‘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.’

‘How much?’

‘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 so near.

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 done.’

‘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-parting
only.

‘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, bless ye.’

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.


STRATLEIGH, Thursday.

‘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,

C. S.’


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 about staying.’

‘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, she----’

‘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.

‘Try, dear.’

‘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 bubble.

‘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
it off-hand.’

‘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 in?’

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 touch.

Mrs. Swancourt moved forward, took her step-daughter’s hand, then kissed
her.

‘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.


RIGHT HAND.

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.


LEFT HAND.

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 alone.’

‘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 there.

‘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 much interested.’

‘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 Stephen Smith.

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 Fabian success.

However, some of the unpleasant accessories of that occasion were now
out of sight again, and Stephen had resumed not a few of his fancy
colours.



Chapter XIII

     ‘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 storm.

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?’

‘No.’

‘How’s that?’

‘I haven’t enough spare time.’

‘That’s nonsense.’

‘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 guess.’

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 MARRIED.’

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?’

‘Nothing definite.’

‘Father?’

‘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 lady.’

‘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 about women.’

‘But you have had attachments, although you tell me very little about
them.’

‘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 contained.

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
silence.

‘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 marry another.’

‘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 again.’

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 natural forest.

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 leave.

‘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 you.’

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.



Chapter XIV

     ‘We frolic while ‘tis May.’


It has now to be realized that nearly three-quarters of a year have
passed away. In place of the autumnal scenery which formed a setting to
the previous enactments, we have the culminating blooms of summer in the
year following.

Stephen is in India, slaving away at an office in Bombay; occasionally
going up the country on professional errands, and wondering why people
who had been there longer than he complained so much of the effect of
the climate upon their constitutions. Never had a young man a finer
start than seemed now to present itself to Stephen. It was just in that
exceptional heyday of prosperity which shone over Bombay some few years
ago, that he arrived on the scene. Building and engineering partook
of the general impetus. Speculation moved with an accelerated velocity
every successive day, the only disagreeable contingency connected with
it being the possibility of a collapse.

Elfride had never told her father of the four-and-twenty-hours’ escapade
with Stephen, nor had it, to her knowledge, come to his ears by any
other route. It was a secret trouble and grief to the girl for a short
time, and Stephen’s departure was another ingredient in her sorrow. But
Elfride possessed special facilities for getting rid of trouble after a
decent interval. Whilst a slow nature was imbibing a misfortune little
by little, she had swallowed the whole agony of it at a draught and was
brightening again. She could slough off a sadness and replace it by a
hope as easily as a lizard renews a diseased limb.

And two such excellent distractions had presented themselves. One was
bringing out the romance and looking for notices in the papers, which,
though they had been significantly short so far, had served to divert
her thoughts. The other was migrating from the vicarage to the more
commodious old house of Mrs. Swancourt’s, overlooking the same valley.
Mr. Swancourt at first disliked the idea of being transplanted to
feminine soil, but the obvious advantages of such an accession of
dignity reconciled him to the change. So there was a radical ‘move;’ the
two ladies staying at Torquay as had been arranged, the vicar going to
and fro.

Mrs. Swancourt considerably enlarged Elfride’s ideas in an aristocratic
direction, and she began to forgive her father for his politic marriage.
Certainly, in a worldly sense, a handsome face at three-and-forty had
never served a man in better stead.


The new house at Kensington was ready, and they were all in town.

The Hyde Park shrubs had been transplanted as usual, the chairs ranked
in line, the grass edgings trimmed, the roads made to look as if they
were suffering from a heavy thunderstorm; carriages had been called for
by the easeful, horses by the brisk, and the Drive and Row were again
the groove of gaiety for an hour. We gaze upon the spectacle, at six
o’clock on this midsummer afternoon, in a melon-frame atmosphere and
beneath a violet sky. The Swancourt equipage formed one in the stream.

Mrs. Swancourt was a talker of talk of the incisive kind, which her low
musical voice--the only beautiful point in the old woman--prevented from
being wearisome.

‘Now,’ she said to Elfride, who, like AEneas at Carthage, was full
of admiration for the brilliant scene, ‘you will find that our
companionless state will give us, as it does everybody, an extraordinary
power in reading the features of our fellow-creatures here. I always
am a listener in such places as these--not to the narratives told by my
neighbours’ tongues, but by their faces--the advantage of which is, that
whether I am in Row, Boulevard, Rialto, or Prado, they all speak the
same language. I may have acquired some skill in this practice through
having been an ugly lonely woman for so many years, with nobody to give
me information; a thing you will not consider strange when the parallel
case is borne in mind,--how truly people who have no clocks will tell
the time of day.’

‘Ay, that they will,’ said Mr. Swancourt corroboratively. ‘I have known
labouring men at Endelstow and other farms who had framed complete
systems of observation for that purpose. By means of shadows, winds,
clouds, the movements of sheep and oxen, the singing of birds, the
crowing of cocks, and a hundred other sights and sounds which people
with watches in their pockets never know the existence of, they are
able to pronounce within ten minutes of the hour almost at any required
instant. That reminds me of an old story which I’m afraid is too
bad--too bad to repeat.’ Here the vicar shook his head and laughed
inwardly.

‘Tell it--do!’ said the ladies.

‘I mustn’t quite tell it.’

‘That’s absurd,’ said Mrs. Swancourt.

‘It was only about a man who, by the same careful system of observation,
was known to deceive persons for more than two years into the belief
that he kept a barometer by stealth, so exactly did he foretell all
changes in the weather by the braying of his ass and the temper of his
wife.’

Elfride laughed.

‘Exactly,’ said Mrs. Swancourt. ‘And in just the way that those learnt
the signs of nature, I have learnt the language of her illegitimate
sister--artificiality; and the fibbing of eyes, the contempt of
nose-tips, the indignation of back hair, the laughter of clothes, the
cynicism of footsteps, and the various emotions lying in walking-stick
twirls, hat-liftings, the elevation of parasols, the carriage of
umbrellas, become as A B C to me.

‘Just look at that daughter’s sister class of mamma in the carriage
across there,’ she continued to Elfride, pointing with merely a turn of
her eye. ‘The absorbing self-consciousness of her position that is shown
by her countenance is most humiliating to a lover of one’s country. You
would hardly believe, would you, that members of a Fashionable World,
whose professed zero is far above the highest degree of the humble,
could be so ignorant of the elementary instincts of reticence.’

‘How?’

‘Why, to bear on their faces, as plainly as on a phylactery, the
inscription, “Do, pray, look at the coronet on my panels.”’

‘Really, Charlotte,’ said the vicar, ‘you see as much in faces as Mr.
Puff saw in Lord Burleigh’s nod.’

Elfride could not but admire the beauty of her fellow countrywomen,
especially since herself and her own few acquaintances had always
been slightly sunburnt or marked on the back of the hands by a
bramble-scratch at this time of the year.

‘And what lovely flowers and leaves they wear in their bonnets!’ she
exclaimed.

‘Oh yes,’ returned Mrs. Swancourt. ‘Some of them are even more striking
in colour than any real ones. Look at that beautiful rose worn by the
lady inside the rails. Elegant vine-tendrils introduced upon the stem as
an improvement upon prickles, and all growing so naturally just over her
ear--I say growing advisedly, for the pink of the petals and the pink
of her handsome cheeks are equally from Nature’s hand to the eyes of the
most casual observer.’

‘But praise them a little, they do deserve it!’ said generous Elfride.

‘Well, I do. See how the Duchess of----waves to and fro in her seat,
utilizing the sway of her landau by looking around only when her head
is swung forward, with a passive pride which forbids a resistance to
the force of circumstance. Look at the pretty pout on the mouths of that
family there, retaining no traces of being arranged beforehand, so well
is it done. Look at the demure close of the little fists holding the
parasols; the tiny alert thumb, sticking up erect against the ivory stem
as knowing as can be, the satin of the parasol invariably matching the
complexion of the face beneath it, yet seemingly by an accident,
which makes the thing so attractive. There’s the red book lying on the
opposite seat, bespeaking the vast numbers of their acquaintance. And
I particularly admire the aspect of that abundantly daughtered woman on
the other side--I mean her look of unconsciousness that the girls
are stared at by the walkers, and above all the look of the girls
themselves--losing their gaze in the depths of handsome men’s eyes
without appearing to notice whether they are observing masculine eyes or
the leaves of the trees. There’s praise for you. But I am only jesting,
child--you know that.’

‘Piph-ph-ph--how warm it is, to be sure!’ said Mr. Swancourt, as if his
mind were a long distance from all he saw. ‘I declare that my watch is
so hot that I can scarcely bear to touch it to see what the time is, and
all the world smells like the inside of a hat.’

‘How the men stare at you, Elfride!’ said the elder lady. ‘You will kill
me quite, I am afraid.’

‘Kill you?’

‘As a diamond kills an opal in the same setting.’

‘I have noticed several ladies and gentlemen looking at me,’ said
Elfride artlessly, showing her pleasure at being observed.

‘My dear, you mustn’t say “gentlemen” nowadays,’ her stepmother answered
in the tones of arch concern that so well became her ugliness. ‘We have
handed over “gentlemen” to the lower middle class, where the word is
still to be heard at tradesmen’s balls and provincial tea-parties, I
believe. It is done with here.’

‘What must I say, then?’

‘“Ladies and MEN” always.’

At this moment appeared in the stream of vehicles moving in the contrary
direction a chariot presenting in its general surface the rich indigo
hue of a midnight sky, the wheels and margins being picked out in
delicate lines of ultramarine; the servants’ liveries were dark-blue
coats and silver lace, and breeches of neutral Indian red. The whole
concern formed an organic whole, and moved along behind a pair of dark
chestnut geldings, who advanced in an indifferently zealous trot, very
daintily performed, and occasionally shrugged divers points of their
veiny surface as if they were rather above the business.

In this sat a gentleman with no decided characteristics more than
that he somewhat resembled a good-natured commercial traveller of
the superior class. Beside him was a lady with skim-milky eyes and
complexion, belonging to the “interesting” class of women, where that
class merges in the sickly, her greatest pleasure being apparently to
enjoy nothing. Opposite this pair sat two little girls in white hats and
blue feathers.

The lady saw Elfride, smiled and bowed, and touched her husband’s elbow,
who turned and received Elfride’s movement of recognition with a gallant
elevation of his hat. Then the two children held up their arms to
Elfride, and laughed gleefully.

‘Who is that?’

‘Why, Lord Luxellian, isn’t it?’ said Mrs. Swancourt, who with the vicar
had been seated with her back towards them.

‘Yes,’ replied Elfride. ‘He is the one man of those I have seen here
whom I consider handsomer than papa.’

‘Thank you, dear,’ said Mr. Swancourt.

‘Yes; but your father is so much older. When Lord Luxellian gets a
little further on in life, he won’t be half so good-looking as our man.’

‘Thank you, dear, likewise,’ said Mr. Swancourt.

‘See,’ exclaimed Elfride, still looking towards them, ‘how those little
dears want me! Actually one of them is crying for me to come.’

‘We were talking of bracelets just now. Look at Lady Luxellian’s,’ said
Mrs. Swancourt, as that baroness lifted up her arm to support one of the
children. ‘It is slipping up her arm--too large by half. I hate to see
daylight between a bracelet and a wrist; I wonder women haven’t better
taste.’

‘It is not on that account, indeed,’ Elfride expostulated. ‘It is that
her arm has got thin, poor thing. You cannot think how much she has
altered in this last twelvemonth.’

The carriages were now nearer together, and there was an exchange of
more familiar greetings between the two families. Then the Luxellians
crossed over and drew up under the plane-trees, just in the rear of the
Swancourts. Lord Luxellian alighted, and came forward with a musical
laugh.

It was his attraction as a man. People liked him for those tones, and
forgot that he had no talents. Acquaintances remembered Mr. Swancourt by
his manner; they remembered Stephen Smith by his face, Lord Luxellian by
his laugh.

Mr. Swancourt made some friendly remarks--among others things upon the
heat.

‘Yes,’ said Lord Luxellian, ‘we were driving by a furrier’s window this
afternoon, and the sight filled us all with such a sense of suffocation
that we were glad to get away. Ha-ha!’ He turned to Elfride. ‘Miss
Swancourt, I have hardly seen or spoken to you since your literary feat
was made public. I had no idea a chiel was taking notes down at quiet
Endelstow, or I should certainly have put myself and friends upon our
best behaviour. Swancourt, why didn’t you give me a hint!’

Elfride fluttered, blushed, laughed, said it was nothing to speak of,
&c. &c.

‘Well, I think you were rather unfairly treated by the PRESENT, I
certainly do. Writing a heavy review like that upon an elegant trifle
like the COURT OF KELLYON CASTLE was absurd.’

‘What?’ said Elfride, opening her eyes. ‘Was I reviewed in the PRESENT?’

‘Oh yes; didn’t you see it? Why, it was four or five months ago!’

‘No, I never saw it. How sorry I am! What a shame of my publishers! They
promised to send me every notice that appeared.’

‘Ah, then, I am almost afraid I have been giving you disagreeable
information, intentionally withheld out of courtesy. Depend upon it
they thought no good would come of sending it, and so would not pain you
unnecessarily.’

‘Oh no; I am indeed glad you have told me, Lord Luxellian. It is quite a
mistaken kindness on their part. Is the review so much against me?’ she
inquired tremulously.

‘No, no; not that exactly--though I almost forget its exact purport
now. It was merely--merely sharp, you know--ungenerous, I might say. But
really my memory does not enable me to speak decidedly.’

‘We’ll drive to the PRESENT office, and get one directly; shall we,
papa?’

‘If you are so anxious, dear, we will, or send. But to-morrow will do.’

‘And do oblige me in a little matter now, Elfride,’ said Lord Luxellian
warmly, and looking as if he were sorry he had brought news that
disturbed her. ‘I am in reality sent here as a special messenger by my
little Polly and Katie to ask you to come into our carriage with them
for a short time. I am just going to walk across into Piccadilly, and
my wife is left alone with them. I am afraid they are rather spoilt
children; but I have half promised them you shall come.’

The steps were let down, and Elfride was transferred--to the intense
delight of the little girls, and to the mild interest of loungers with
red skins and long necks, who cursorily eyed the performance with their
walking-sticks to their lips, occasionally laughing from far down their
throats and with their eyes, their mouths not being concerned in the
operation at all. Lord Luxellian then told the coachman to drive on,
lifted his hat, smiled a smile that missed its mark and alighted on a
total stranger, who bowed in bewilderment. Lord Luxellian looked long at
Elfride.

The look was a manly, open, and genuine look of admiration; a momentary
tribute of a kind which any honest Englishman might have paid to
fairness without being ashamed of the feeling, or permitting it to
encroach in the slightest degree upon his emotional obligations as
a husband and head of a family. Then Lord Luxellian turned away, and
walked musingly to the upper end of the promenade.

Mr. Swancourt had alighted at the same time with Elfride, crossing over
to the Row for a few minutes to speak to a friend he recognized there;
and his wife was thus left sole tenant of the carriage.

Now, whilst this little act had been in course of performance, there
stood among the promenading spectators a man of somewhat different
description from the rest. Behind the general throng, in the rear of the
chairs, and leaning against the trunk of a tree, he looked at Elfride
with quiet and critical interest.

Three points about this unobtrusive person showed promptly to
the exercised eye that he was not a Row man pur sang. First, an
irrepressible wrinkle or two in the waist of his frock-coat--denoting
that he had not damned his tailor sufficiently to drive that tradesman
up to the orthodox high pressure of cunning workmanship. Second, a
slight slovenliness of umbrella, occasioned by its owner’s habit of
resting heavily upon it, and using it as a veritable walking-stick,
instead of letting its point touch the ground in the most coquettish of
kisses, as is the proper Row manner to do. Third, and chief reason, that
try how you might, you could scarcely help supposing, on looking at his
face, that your eyes were not far from a well-finished mind, instead of
the well-finished skin et praeterea nihil, which is by rights the Mark
of the Row.

The probability is that, had not Mrs. Swancourt been left alone in her
carriage under the tree, this man would have remained in his unobserved
seclusion. But seeing her thus, he came round to the front, stooped
under the rail, and stood beside the carriage-door.

Mrs. Swancourt looked reflectively at him for a quarter of a minute,
then held out her hand laughingly:

‘Why, Henry Knight--of course it is! My--second--third--fourth
cousin--what shall I say? At any rate, my kinsman.’

‘Yes, one of a remnant not yet cut off. I scarcely was certain of you,
either, from where I was standing.’

‘I have not seen you since you first went to Oxford; consider the number
of years! You know, I suppose, of my marriage?’

And there sprang up a dialogue concerning family matters of birth,
death, and marriage, which it is not necessary to detail. Knight
presently inquired:

‘The young lady who changed into the other carriage is, then, your
stepdaughter?’

‘Yes, Elfride. You must know her.’

‘And who was the lady in the carriage Elfride entered; who had an
ill-defined and watery look, as if she were only the reflection of
herself in a pool?’

‘Lady Luxellian; very weakly, Elfride says. My husband is remotely
connected with them; but there is not much intimacy on account of----.
However, Henry, you’ll come and see us, of course. 24 Chevron Square.
Come this week. We shall only be in town a week or two longer.’

‘Let me see. I’ve got to run up to Oxford to-morrow, where I shall be
for several days; so that I must, I fear, lose the pleasure of seeing
you in London this year.’

‘Then come to Endelstow; why not return with us?’

‘I am afraid if I were to come before August I should have to leave
again in a day or two. I should be delighted to be with you at the
beginning of that month; and I could stay a nice long time. I have
thought of going westward all the summer.’

‘Very well. Now remember that’s a compact. And won’t you wait now and
see Mr. Swancourt? He will not be away ten minutes longer.’

‘No; I’ll beg to be excused; for I must get to my chambers again this
evening before I go home; indeed, I ought to have been there now--I have
such a press of matters to attend to just at present. You will explain
to him, please. Good-bye.’

‘And let us know the day of your appearance as soon as you can.’

‘I will’



Chapter XV

    ‘A wandering voice.’


Though sheer and intelligible griefs are not charmed away by being
confided to mere acquaintances, the process is a palliative to certain
ill-humours. Among these, perplexed vexation is one--a species of
trouble which, like a stream, gets shallower by the simple operation of
widening it in any quarter.

On the evening of the day succeeding that of the meeting in the
Park, Elfride and Mrs. Swancourt were engaged in conversation in the
dressing-room of the latter. Such a treatment of such a case was in
course of adoption here.

Elfride had just before received an affectionate letter from Stephen
Smith in Bombay, which had been forwarded to her from Endelstow. But
since this is not the case referred to, it is not worth while to pry
further into the contents of the letter than to discover that, with rash
though pardonable confidence in coming times, he addressed her in high
spirits as his darling future wife. Probably there cannot be instanced a
briefer and surer rule-of-thumb test of a man’s temperament--sanguine
or cautious--than this: did he or does he ante-date the word wife in
corresponding with a sweet-heart he honestly loves?

She had taken this epistle into her own room, read a little of it, then
SAVED the rest for to-morrow, not wishing to be so extravagant as to
consume the pleasure all at once. Nevertheless, she could not resist the
wish to enjoy yet a little more, so out came the letter again, and in
spite of misgivings as to prodigality the whole was devoured. The letter
was finally reperused and placed in her pocket.

What was this? Also a newspaper for Elfride, which she had overlooked
in her hurry to open the letter. It was the old number of the PRESENT,
containing the article upon her book, forwarded as had been requested.

Elfride had hastily read it through, shrunk perceptibly smaller, and had
then gone with the paper in her hand to Mrs. Swancourt’s dressing-room,
to lighten or at least modify her vexation by a discriminating estimate
from her stepmother.

She was now looking disconsolately out of the window.

‘Never mind, my child,’ said Mrs. Swancourt after a careful perusal of
the matter indicated. ‘I don’t see that the review is such a terrible
one, after all. Besides, everybody has forgotten about it by this time.
I’m sure the opening is good enough for any book ever written. Just
listen--it sounds better read aloud than when you pore over it silently:
“THE COURT OF KELLYON CASTLE. A ROMANCE OF THE MIDDLE AGES. BY ERNEST
FIELD. In the belief that we were for a while escaping the monotonous
repetition of wearisome details in modern social scenery, analyses of
uninteresting character, or the unnatural unfoldings of a sensation
plot, we took this volume into our hands with a feeling of pleasure. We
were disposed to beguile ourselves with the fancy that some new change
might possibly be rung upon donjon keeps, chain and plate armour, deeply
scarred cheeks, tender maidens disguised as pages, to which we had not
listened long ago.” Now, that’s a very good beginning, in my opinion,
and one to be proud of having brought out of a man who has never seen
you.’

‘Ah, yes,’ murmured Elfride wofully. ‘But, then, see further on!’

‘Well the next bit is rather unkind, I must own,’ said Mrs. Swancourt,
and read on. ‘“Instead of this we found ourselves in the hands of some
young lady, hardly arrived at years of discretion, to judge by the silly
device it has been thought worth while to adopt on the title-page, with
the idea of disguising her sex.”’

‘I am not “silly”!’ said Elfride indignantly. ‘He might have called me
anything but that.’

‘You are not, indeed. Well:--“Hands of a young lady...whose chapters are
simply devoted to impossible tournaments, towers, and escapades, which
read like flat copies of like scenes in the stories of Mr. G. P. R.
James, and the most unreal portions of IVANHOE. The bait is so palpably
artificial that the most credulous gudgeon turns away.” Now, my dear,
I don’t see overmuch to complain of in that. It proves that you were
clever enough to make him think of Sir Walter Scott, which is a great
deal.’

‘Oh yes; though I cannot romance myself, I am able to remind him of
those who can!’ Elfride intended to hurl these words sarcastically
at her invisible enemy, but as she had no more satirical power than a
wood-pigeon, they merely fell in a pretty murmur from lips shaped to a
pout.

‘Certainly: and that’s something. Your book is good enough to be bad in
an ordinary literary manner, and doesn’t stand by itself in a melancholy
position altogether worse than assailable.--“That interest in an
historical romance may nowadays have any chance of being sustained, it
is indispensable that the reader find himself under the guidance of
some nearly extinct species of legendary, who, in addition to an impulse
towards antiquarian research and an unweakened faith in the mediaeval
halo, shall possess an inventive faculty in which delicacy of sentiment
is far overtopped by a power of welding to stirring incident a spirited
variety of the elementary human passions.” Well, that long-winded
effusion doesn’t refer to you at all, Elfride, merely something put in
to fill up. Let me see, when does he come to you again;...not till the
very end, actually. Here you are finally polished off:

‘“But to return to the little work we have used as the text of this
article. We are far from altogether disparaging the author’s powers. She
has a certain versatility that enables her to use with effect a style
of narration peculiar to herself, which may be called a murmuring of
delicate emotional trifles, the particular gift of those to whom the
social sympathies of a peaceful time are as daily food. Hence, where
matters of domestic experience, and the natural touches which make
people real, can be introduced without anachronisms too striking, she is
occasionally felicitous; and upon the whole we feel justified in saying
that the book will bear looking into for the sake of those portions
which have nothing whatever to do with the story.”

‘Well, I suppose it is intended for satire; but don’t think anything
more of it now, my dear. It is seven o’clock.’ And Mrs. Swancourt rang
for her maid.

Attack is more piquant than concord. Stephen’s letter was concerning
nothing but oneness with her: the review was the very reverse. And a
stranger with neither name nor shape, age nor appearance, but a mighty
voice, is naturally rather an interesting novelty to a lady he chooses
to address. When Elfride fell asleep that night she was loving the
writer of the letter, but thinking of the writer of that article.



Chapter XVI

     ‘Then fancy shapes--as fancy can.’


On a day about three weeks later, the Swancourt trio were sitting
quietly in the drawing-room of The Crags, Mrs. Swancourt’s house at
Endelstow, chatting, and taking easeful survey of their previous month
or two of town--a tangible weariness even to people whose acquaintances
there might be counted on the fingers.

A mere season in London with her practised step-mother had so advanced
Elfride’s perceptions, that her courtship by Stephen seemed emotionally
meagre, and to have drifted back several years into a childish past.
In regarding our mental experiences, as in visual observation, our own
progress reads like a dwindling of that we progress from.

She was seated on a low chair, looking over her romance with melancholy
interest for the first time since she had become acquainted with the
remarks of the PRESENT thereupon.

‘Still thinking of that reviewer, Elfie?’

‘Not of him personally; but I am thinking of his opinion. Really, on
looking into the volume after this long time has elapsed, he seems to
have estimated one part of it fairly enough.’

‘No, no; I wouldn’t show the white feather now! Fancy that of all people
in the world the writer herself should go over to the enemy. How shall
Monmouth’s men fight when Monmouth runs away?’

‘I don’t do that. But I think he is right in some of his arguments,
though wrong in others. And because he has some claim to my respect I
regret all the more that he should think so mistakenly of my motives in
one or two instances. It is more vexing to be misunderstood than to
be misrepresented; and he misunderstands me. I cannot be easy whilst
a person goes to rest night after night attributing to me intentions I
never had.’

‘He doesn’t know your name, or anything about you. And he has doubtless
forgotten there is such a book in existence by this time.’

‘I myself should certainly like him to be put right upon one or two
matters,’ said the vicar, who had hitherto been silent. ‘You see,
critics go on writing, and are never corrected or argued with, and
therefore are never improved.’

‘Papa,’ said Elfride brightening, ‘write to him!’

‘I would as soon write to him as look at him, for the matter of that,’
said Mr. Swancourt.

‘Do! And say, the young person who wrote the book did not adopt a
masculine pseudonym in vanity or conceit, but because she was afraid it
would be thought presumptuous to publish her name, and that she did not
mean the story for such as he, but as a sweetener of history for young
people, who might thereby acquire a taste for what went on in their own
country hundreds of years ago, and be tempted to dive deeper into the
subject. Oh, there is so much to explain; I wish I might write myself!’

‘Now, Elfie, I’ll tell you what we will do,’ answered Mr. Swancourt,
tickled with a sort of bucolic humour at the idea of criticizing the
critic. ‘You shall write a clear account of what he is wrong in, and I
will copy it and send it as mine.’

‘Yes, now, directly!’ said Elfride, jumping up. ‘When will you send it,
papa?’

‘Oh, in a day or two, I suppose,’ he returned. Then the vicar paused and
slightly yawned, and in the manner of elderly people began to cool from
his ardour for the undertaking now that it came to the point. ‘But,
really, it is hardly worth while,’ he said.

‘O papa!’ said Elfride, with much disappointment. ‘You said you would,
and now you won’t. That is not fair!’

‘But how can we send it if we don’t know whom to send it to?’

‘If you really want to send such a thing it can easily be done,’ said
Mrs. Swancourt, coming to her step-daughter’s rescue. ‘An envelope
addressed, “To the Critic of THE COURT OF KELLYON CASTLE, care of the
Editor of the PRESENT,” would find him.’

‘Yes, I suppose it would.’

‘Why not write your answer yourself, Elfride?’ Mrs. Swancourt inquired.

‘I might,’ she said hesitatingly; ‘and send it anonymously: that would
be treating him as he has treated me.’

‘No use in the world!’

‘But I don’t like to let him know my exact name. Suppose I put my
initials only? The less you are known the more you are thought of.’

‘Yes; you might do that.’

Elfride set to work there and then. Her one desire for the last
fortnight seemed likely to be realized. As happens with sensitive and
secluded minds, a continual dwelling upon the subject had magnified to
colossal proportions the space she assumed herself to occupy or to have
occupied in the occult critic’s mind. At noon and at night she had
been pestering herself with endeavours to perceive more distinctly his
conception of her as a woman apart from an author: whether he really
despised her; whether he thought more or less of her than of ordinary
young women who never ventured into the fire of criticism at all. Now
she would have the satisfaction of feeling that at any rate he knew
her true intent in crossing his path, and annoying him so by her
performance, and be taught perhaps to despise it a little less.

Four days later an envelope, directed to Miss Swancourt in a strange
hand, made its appearance from the post-bag.

‘Oh,’ said Elfride, her heart sinking within her. ‘Can it be from that
man--a lecture for impertinence? And actually one for Mrs. Swancourt in
the same hand-writing!’ She feared to open hers. ‘Yet how can he know my
name? No; it is somebody else.’

‘Nonsense!’ said her father grimly. ‘You sent your initials, and the
Directory was available. Though he wouldn’t have taken the trouble to
look there unless he had been thoroughly savage with you. I thought
you wrote with rather more asperity than simple literary discussion
required.’ This timely clause was introduced to save the character of
the vicar’s judgment under any issue of affairs.

‘Well, here I go,’ said Elfride, desperately tearing open the seal.

‘To be sure, of course,’ exclaimed Mrs. Swancourt; and looking up
from her own letter. ‘Christopher, I quite forgot to tell you, when
I mentioned that I had seen my distant relative, Harry Knight, that I
invited him here for whatever length of time he could spare. And now he
says he can come any day in August.’

‘Write, and say the first of the month,’ replied the indiscriminate
vicar.

She read on, ‘Goodness me--and that isn’t all. He is actually the
reviewer of Elfride’s book. How absurd, to be sure! I had no idea
he reviewed novels or had anything to do with the PRESENT. He is a
barrister--and I thought he only wrote in the Quarterlies. Why, Elfride,
you have brought about an odd entanglement! What does he say to you?’

Elfride had put down her letter with a dissatisfied flush on her face.
‘I don’t know. The idea of his knowing my name and all about me!...Why,
he says nothing particular, only this--


‘“MY DEAR MADAM,--Though I am sorry that my remarks should have seemed
harsh to you, it is a pleasure to find that they have been the means of
bringing forth such an ingeniously argued reply. Unfortunately, it is
so long since I wrote my review, that my memory does not serve me
sufficiently to say a single word in my defence, even supposing there
remains one to be said, which is doubtful. You will find from a letter
I have written to Mrs. Swancourt, that we are not such strangers to each
other as we have been imagining. Possibly, I may have the pleasure of
seeing you soon, when any argument you choose to advance shall receive
all the attention it deserves.”


‘That is dim sarcasm--I know it is.’

‘Oh no, Elfride.’

‘And then, his remarks didn’t seem harsh--I mean I did not say so.’

‘He thinks you are in a frightful temper,’ said Mr. Swancourt, chuckling
in undertones.

‘And he will come and see me, and find the authoress as contemptible in
speech as she has been impertinent in manner. I do heartily wish I had
never written a word to him!’

‘Never mind,’ said Mrs. Swancourt, also laughing in low quiet jerks; ‘it
will make the meeting such a comical affair, and afford splendid by-play
for your father and myself. The idea of our running our heads against
Harry Knight all the time! I cannot get over that.’

The vicar had immediately remembered the name to be that of Stephen
Smith’s preceptor and friend; but having ceased to concern himself in
the matter he made no remark to that effect, consistently forbearing
to allude to anything which could restore recollection of the (to him)
disagreeable mistake with regard to poor Stephen’s lineage and position.
Elfride had of course perceived the same thing, which added to the
complication of relationship a mesh that her stepmother knew nothing of.

The identification scarcely heightened Knight’s attractions now, though
a twelvemonth ago she would only have cared to see him for the interest
he possessed as Stephen’s friend. Fortunately for Knight’s advent, such
a reason for welcome had only begun to be awkward to her at a time
when the interest he had acquired on his own account made it no longer
necessary.


These coincidences, in common with all relating to him, tended to keep
Elfride’s mind upon the stretch concerning Knight. As was her custom
when upon the horns of a dilemma, she walked off by herself among the
laurel bushes, and there, standing still and splitting up a leaf without
removing it from its stalk, fetched back recollections of Stephen’s
frequent words in praise of his friend, and wished she had listened
more attentively. Then, still pulling the leaf, she would blush at some
fancied mortification that would accrue to her from his words when they
met, in consequence of her intrusiveness, as she now considered it, in
writing to him.

The next development of her meditations was the subject of what this
man’s personal appearance might be--was he tall or short, dark or fair,
gay or grim? She would have asked Mrs. Swancourt but for the risk she
might thereby incur of some teasing remark being returned. Ultimately
Elfride would say, ‘Oh, what a plague that reviewer is to me!’ and turn
her face to where she imagined India lay, and murmur to herself, ‘Ah,
my little husband, what are you doing now? Let me see, where are
you--south, east, where? Behind that hill, ever so far behind!’



Chapter XVII

     ‘Her welcome, spoke in faltering phrase.’


‘There is Henry Knight, I declare!’ said Mrs. Swancourt one day.

They were gazing from the jutting angle of a wild enclosure not far from
The Crags, which almost overhung the valley already described as leading
up from the sea and little port of Castle Boterel. The stony escarpment
upon which they stood had the contour of a man’s face, and it was
covered with furze as with a beard. People in the field above were
preserved from an accidental roll down these prominences and hollows
by a hedge on the very crest, which was doing that kindly service for
Elfride and her mother now.

Scrambling higher into the hedge and stretching her neck further over
the furze, Elfride beheld the individual signified. He was walking
leisurely along the little green path at the bottom, beside the stream,
a satchel slung upon his left hip, a stout walking-stick in his hand,
and a brown-holland sun-hat upon his head. The satchel was worn and old,
and the outer polished surface of the leather was cracked and peeling
off.

Knight having arrived over the hills to Castle Boterel upon the top of a
crazy omnibus, preferred to walk the remaining two miles up the valley,
leaving his luggage to be brought on.

Behind him wandered, helter-skelter, a boy of whom Knight had briefly
inquired the way to Endelstow; and by that natural law of physics which
causes lesser bodies to gravitate towards the greater, this boy had
kept near to Knight, and trotted like a little dog close at his heels,
whistling as he went, with his eyes fixed upon Knight’s boots as they
rose and fell.

When they had reached a point precisely opposite that in which Mrs. and
Miss Swancourt lay in ambush, Knight stopped and turned round.

‘Look here, my boy,’ he said.

The boy parted his lips, opened his eyes, and answered nothing.

‘Here’s sixpence for you, on condition that you don’t again come within
twenty yards of my heels, all the way up the valley.’

The boy, who apparently had not known he had been looking at Knight’s
heels at all, took the sixpence mechanically, and Knight went on again,
wrapt in meditation.

‘A nice voice,’ Elfride thought; ‘but what a singular temper!’

‘Now we must get indoors before he ascends the slope,’ said Mrs.
Swancourt softly. And they went across by a short cut over a stile,
entering the lawn by a side door, and so on to the house.

Mr. Swancourt had gone into the village with the curate, and Elfride
felt too nervous to await their visitor’s arrival in the drawing-room
with Mrs. Swancourt. So that when the elder lady entered, Elfride made
some pretence of perceiving a new variety of crimson geranium, and
lingered behind among the flower beds.

There was nothing gained by this, after all, she thought; and a few
minutes after boldly came into the house by the glass side-door. She
walked along the corridor, and entered the drawing-room. Nobody was
there.

A window at the angle of the room opened directly into an octagonal
conservatory, enclosing the corner of the building. From the
conservatory came voices in conversation--Mrs. Swancourt’s and the
stranger’s.

She had expected him to talk brilliantly. To her surprise he was asking
questions in quite a learner’s manner, on subjects connected with the
flowers and shrubs that she had known for years. When after the lapse of
a few minutes he spoke at some length, she considered there was a hard
square decisiveness in the shape of his sentences, as if, unlike her own
and Stephen’s, they were not there and then newly constructed, but were
drawn forth from a large store ready-made. They were now approaching the
window to come in again.

‘That is a flesh-coloured variety,’ said Mrs. Swancourt. ‘But oleanders,
though they are such bulky shrubs, are so very easily wounded as to be
unprunable--giants with the sensitiveness of young ladies. Oh, here is
Elfride!’

Elfride looked as guilty and crestfallen as Lady Teazle at the dropping
of the screen. Mrs. Swancourt presented him half comically, and Knight
in a minute or two placed himself beside the young lady.

A complexity of instincts checked Elfride’s conventional smiles of
complaisance and hospitality; and, to make her still less comfortable,
Mrs. Swancourt immediately afterwards left them together to seek her
husband. Mr. Knight, however, did not seem at all incommoded by his
feelings, and he said with light easefulness:

‘So, Miss Swancourt, I have met you at last. You escaped me by a few
minutes only when we were in London.’

‘Yes. I found that you had seen Mrs. Swancourt.’

‘And now reviewer and reviewed are face to face,’ he added
unconcernedly.

‘Yes: though the fact of your being a relation of Mrs. Swancourt’s takes
off the edge of it. It was strange that you should be one of her family
all the time.’ Elfride began to recover herself now, and to look into
Knight’s face. ‘I was merely anxious to let you know my REAL meaning in
writing the book--extremely anxious.’

‘I can quite understand the wish; and I was gratified that my remarks
should have reached home. They very seldom do, I am afraid.’

Elfride drew herself in. Here he was, sticking to his opinions as
firmly as if friendship and politeness did not in the least require an
immediate renunciation of them.

‘You made me very uneasy and sorry by writing such things!’ she
murmured, suddenly dropping the mere cacueterie of a fashionable first
introduction, and speaking with some of the dudgeon of a child towards a
severe schoolmaster.

‘That is rather the object of honest critics in such a case. Not to
cause unnecessary sorrow, but: “To make you sorry after a proper manner,
that ye may receive damage by us in nothing,” as a powerful pen once
wrote to the Gentiles. Are you going to write another romance?’

‘Write another?’ she said. ‘That somebody may pen a condemnation and
“nail’t wi’ Scripture” again, as you do now, Mr. Knight?’

‘You may do better next time,’ he said placidly: ‘I think you will. But
I would advise you to confine yourself to domestic scenes.’

‘Thank you. But never again!’

‘Well, you may be right. That a young woman has taken to writing is not
by any means the best thing to hear about her.’

‘What is the best?’

‘I prefer not to say.’

‘Do you know? Then, do tell me, please.’

‘Well’--(Knight was evidently changing his meaning)--‘I suppose to hear
that she has married.’

Elfride hesitated. ‘And what when she has been married?’ she said at
last, partly in order to withdraw her own person from the argument.

‘Then to hear no more about her. It is as Smeaton said of his
lighthouse: her greatest real praise, when the novelty of her
inauguration has worn off, is that nothing happens to keep the talk of
her alive.’

‘Yes, I see,’ said Elfride softly and thoughtfully. ‘But of course it is
different quite with men. Why don’t you write novels, Mr. Knight?’

‘Because I couldn’t write one that would interest anybody.’

‘Why?’

‘For several reasons. It requires a judicious omission of your real
thoughts to make a novel popular, for one thing.’

‘Is that really necessary? Well, I am sure you could learn to do that
with practice,’ said Elfride with an ex-cathedra air, as became a person
who spoke from experience in the art. ‘You would make a great name for
certain,’ she continued.

‘So many people make a name nowadays, that it is more distinguished to
remain in obscurity.’

‘Tell me seriously--apart from the subject--why don’t you write a volume
instead of loose articles?’ she insisted.

‘Since you are pleased to make me talk of myself, I will tell you
seriously,’ said Knight, not less amused at this catechism by his young
friend than he was interested in her appearance. ‘As I have implied, I
have not the wish. And if I had the wish, I could not now concentrate
sufficiently. We all have only our one cruse of energy given us to make
the best of. And where that energy has been leaked away week by week,
quarter by quarter, as mine has for the last nine or ten years, there is
not enough dammed back behind the mill at any given period to supply
the force a complete book on any subject requires. Then there is the
self-confidence and waiting power. Where quick results have grown
customary, they are fatal to a lively faith in the future.’

‘Yes, I comprehend; and so you choose to write in fragments?’

‘No, I don’t choose to do it in the sense you mean; choosing from a
whole world of professions, all possible. It was by the constraint of
accident merely. Not that I object to the accident.’

‘Why don’t you object--I mean, why do you feel so quiet about things?’
Elfride was half afraid to question him so, but her intense curiosity to
see what the inside of literary Mr. Knight was like, kept her going on.

Knight certainly did not mind being frank with her. Instances of this
trait in men who are not without feeling, but are reticent from habit,
may be recalled by all of us. When they find a listener who can by no
possibility make use of them, rival them, or condemn them, reserved and
even suspicious men of the world become frank, keenly enjoying the inner
side of their frankness.

‘Why I don’t mind the accidental constraint,’ he replied, ‘is because,
in making beginnings, a chance limitation of direction is often better
than absolute freedom.’

‘I see--that is, I should if I quite understood what all those
generalities mean.’

‘Why, this: That an arbitrary foundation for one’s work, which no length
of thought can alter, leaves the attention free to fix itself on the
work itself, and make the best of it.’

‘Lateral compression forcing altitude, as would be said in that tongue,’
she said mischievously. ‘And I suppose where no limit exists, as in the
case of a rich man with a wide taste who wants to do something, it will
be better to choose a limit capriciously than to have none.’

‘Yes,’ he said meditatively. ‘I can go as far as that.’

‘Well,’ resumed Elfride, ‘I think it better for a man’s nature if he
does nothing in particular.’

‘There is such a case as being obliged to.’

‘Yes, yes; I was speaking of when you are not obliged for any other
reason than delight in the prospect of fame. I have thought many times
lately that a thin widespread happiness, commencing now, and of a piece
with the days of your life, is preferable to an anticipated heap far
away in the future, and none now.’

‘Why, that’s the very thing I said just now as being the principle of
all ephemeral doers like myself.’

‘Oh, I am sorry to have parodied you,’ she said with some confusion.
‘Yes, of course. That is what you meant about not trying to be famous.’
And she added, with the quickness of conviction characteristic of her
mind: ‘There is much littleness in trying to be great. A man must think
a good deal of himself, and be conceited enough to believe in himself,
before he tries at all.’

‘But it is soon enough to say there is harm in a man’s thinking a good
deal of himself when it is proved he has been thinking wrong, and too
soon then sometimes. Besides, we should not conclude that a man who
strives earnestly for success does so with a strong sense of his own
merit. He may see how little success has to do with merit, and his
motive may be his very humility.’

This manner of treating her rather provoked Elfride. No sooner did she
agree with him than he ceased to seem to wish it, and took the other
side. ‘Ah,’ she thought inwardly, ‘I shall have nothing to do with a man
of this kind, though he is our visitor.’

‘I think you will find,’ resumed Knight, pursuing the conversation
more for the sake of finishing off his thoughts on the subject than for
engaging her attention, ‘that in actual life it is merely a matter of
instinct with men--this trying to push on. They awake to a recognition
that they have, without premeditation, begun to try a little, and they
say to themselves, “Since I have tried thus much, I will try a little
more.” They go on because they have begun.’

Elfride, in her turn, was not particularly attending to his words at
this moment. She had, unconsciously to herself, a way of seizing any
point in the remarks of an interlocutor which interested her, and
dwelling upon it, and thinking thoughts of her own thereupon, totally
oblivious of all that he might say in continuation. On such occasions
she artlessly surveyed the person speaking; and then there was a time
for a painter. Her eyes seemed to look at you, and past you, as you were
then, into your future; and past your future into your eternity--not
reading it, but gazing in an unused, unconscious way--her mind still
clinging to its original thought.

This is how she was looking at Knight.

Suddenly Elfride became conscious of what she was doing, and was
painfully confused.

‘What were you so intent upon in me?’ he inquired.

‘As far as I was thinking of you at all, I was thinking how clever you
are,’ she said, with a want of premeditation that was startling in its
honesty and simplicity.

Feeling restless now that she had so unwittingly spoken, she arose and
stepped to the window, having heard the voices of her father and Mrs.
Swancourt coming up below the terrace. ‘Here they are,’ she said, going
out. Knight walked out upon the lawn behind her. She stood upon the edge
of the terrace, close to the stone balustrade, and looked towards the
sun, hanging over a glade just now fair as Tempe’s vale, up which her
father was walking.

Knight could not help looking at her. The sun was within ten degrees
of the horizon, and its warm light flooded her face and heightened the
bright rose colour of her cheeks to a vermilion red, their moderate pink
hue being only seen in its natural tone where the cheek curved round
into shadow. The ends of her hanging hair softly dragged themselves
backwards and forwards upon her shoulder as each faint breeze thrust
against or relinquished it. Fringes and ribbons of her dress, moved by
the same breeze, licked like tongues upon the parts around them, and
fluttering forward from shady folds caught likewise their share of the
lustrous orange glow.

Mr. Swancourt shouted out a welcome to Knight from a distance of
about thirty yards, and after a few preliminary words proceeded to a
conversation of deep earnestness on Knight’s fine old family name, and
theories as to lineage and intermarriage connected therewith. Knight’s
portmanteau having in the meantime arrived, they soon retired to prepare
for dinner, which had been postponed two hours later than the usual time
of that meal.

An arrival was an event in the life of Elfride, now that they were again
in the country, and that of Knight necessarily an engrossing one. And
that evening she went to bed for the first time without thinking of
Stephen at all.



Chapter XVIII

     ‘He heard her musical pants.’


The old tower of West Endelstow Church had reached the last weeks of its
existence. It was to be replaced by a new one from the designs of Mr.
Hewby, the architect who had sent down Stephen. Planks and poles had
arrived in the churchyard, iron bars had been thrust into the venerable
crack extending down the belfry wall to the foundation, the bells had
been taken down, the owls had forsaken this home of their forefathers,
and six iconoclasts in white fustian, to whom a cracked edifice was a
species of Mumbo Jumbo, had taken lodgings in the village previous to
beginning the actual removal of the stones.

This was the day after Knight’s arrival. To enjoy for the last time the
prospect seaward from the summit, the vicar, Mrs. Swancourt, Knight, and
Elfride, all ascended the winding turret--Mr. Swancourt stepping
forward with many loud breaths, his wife struggling along silently, but
suffering none the less. They had hardly reached the top when a large
lurid cloud, palpably a reservoir of rain, thunder, and lightning, was
seen to be advancing overhead from the north.

The two cautious elders suggested an immediate return, and proceeded to
put it in practice as regarded themselves.

‘Dear me, I wish I had not come up,’ exclaimed Mrs. Swancourt.

‘We shall be slower than you two in going down,’ the vicar said over his
shoulder, ‘and so, don’t you start till we are nearly at the bottom, or
you will run over us and break our necks somewhere in the darkness of
the turret.’

Accordingly Elfride and Knight waited on the leads till the staircase
should be clear. Knight was not in a talkative mood that morning.
Elfride was rather wilful, by reason of his inattention, which she
privately set down to his thinking her not worth talking to. Whilst
Knight stood watching the rise of the cloud, she sauntered to the other
side of the tower, and there remembered a giddy feat she had performed
the year before. It was to walk round upon the parapet of the
tower--which was quite without battlement or pinnacle, and presented a
smooth flat surface about two feet wide, forming a pathway on all the
four sides. Without reflecting in the least upon what she was doing she
now stepped upon the parapet in the old way, and began walking along.

‘We are down, cousin Henry,’ cried Mrs. Swancourt up the turret. ‘Follow
us when you like.’

Knight turned and saw Elfride beginning her elevated promenade. His face
flushed with mingled concern and anger at her rashness.

‘I certainly gave you credit for more common sense,’ he said.

She reddened a little and walked on.

‘Miss Swancourt, I insist upon your coming down,’ he exclaimed.

‘I will in a minute. I am safe enough. I have done it often.’

At that moment, by reason of a slight perturbation his words had caused
in her, Elfride’s foot caught itself in a little tuft of grass growing
in a joint of the stone-work, and she almost lost her balance. Knight
sprang forward with a face of horror. By what seemed the special
interposition of a considerate Providence she tottered to the inner edge
of the parapet instead of to the outer, and reeled over upon the lead
roof two or three feet below the wall.

Knight seized her as in a vice, and he said, panting, ‘That ever I
should have met a woman fool enough to do a thing of that kind! Good
God, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!’

The close proximity of the Shadow of Death had made her sick and pale
as a corpse before he spoke. Already lowered to that state, his words
completely over-powered her, and she swooned away as he held her.

Elfride’s eyes were not closed for more than forty seconds. She opened
them, and remembered the position instantly. His face had altered its
expression from stern anger to pity. But his severe remarks had rather
frightened her, and she struggled to be free.

‘If you can stand, of course you may,’ he said, and loosened his arms.
‘I hardly know whether most to laugh at your freak or to chide you for
its folly.’

She immediately sank upon the lead-work. Knight lifted her again. ‘Are
you hurt?’ he said.

She murmured an incoherent expression, and tried to smile; saying, with
a fitful aversion of her face, ‘I am only frightened. Put me down, do
put me down!’

‘But you can’t walk,’ said Knight.

‘You don’t know that; how can you? I am only frightened, I tell you,’
she answered petulantly, and raised her hand to her forehead. Knight
then saw that she was bleeding from a severe cut in her wrist,
apparently where it had descended upon a salient corner of the
lead-work. Elfride, too, seemed to perceive and feel this now for the
first time, and for a minute nearly lost consciousness again. Knight
rapidly bound his handkerchief round the place, and to add to the
complication, the thundercloud he had been watching began to shed some
heavy drops of rain. Knight looked up and saw the vicar striding towards
the house, and Mrs. Swancourt waddling beside him like a hard-driven
duck.

‘As you are so faint, it will be much better to let me carry you down,’
said Knight; ‘or at any rate inside out of the rain.’ But her objection
to be lifted made it impossible for him to support her for more than
five steps.

‘This is folly, great folly,’ he exclaimed, setting her down.

‘Indeed!’ she murmured, with tears in her eyes. ‘I say I will not be
carried, and you say this is folly!’

‘So it is.’

‘No, it isn’t!’

‘It is folly, I think. At any rate, the origin of it all is.’

‘I don’t agree to it. And you needn’t get so angry with me; I am not
worth it.’

‘Indeed you are. You are worth the enmity of princes, as was said of
such another. Now, then, will you clasp your hands behind my neck, that
I may carry you down without hurting you?’

‘No, no.’

‘You had better, or I shall foreclose.’

‘What’s that!’

‘Deprive you of your chance.’

Elfride gave a little toss.

‘Now, don’t writhe so when I attempt to carry you.’

‘I can’t help it.’

‘Then submit quietly.’

‘I don’t care. I don’t care,’ she murmured in languid tones and with
closed eyes.

He took her into his arms, entered the turret, and with slow and
cautious steps descended round and round. Then, with the gentleness of
a nursing mother, he attended to the cut on her arm. During his progress
through the operations of wiping it and binding it up anew, her face
changed its aspect from pained indifference to something like bashful
interest, interspersed with small tremors and shudders of a trifling
kind.

In the centre of each pale cheek a small red spot the size of a wafer
had now made its appearance, and continued to grow larger. Elfride
momentarily expected a recurrence to the lecture on her foolishness, but
Knight said no more than this--

‘Promise me NEVER to walk on that parapet again.’

‘It will be pulled down soon: so I do.’ In a few minutes she continued
in a lower tone, and seriously, ‘You are familiar of course, as
everybody is, with those strange sensations we sometimes have, that our
life for the moment exists in duplicate.’

‘That we have lived through that moment before?’

‘Or shall again. Well, I felt on the tower that something similar to
that scene is again to be common to us both.’

‘God forbid!’ said Knight. ‘Promise me that you will never again walk on
any such place on any consideration.’

‘I do.’

‘That such a thing has not been before, we know. That it shall not be
again, you vow. Therefore think no more of such a foolish fancy.’

There had fallen a great deal of rain, but unaccompanied by lightning. A
few minutes longer, and the storm had ceased.

‘Now, take my arm, please.’

‘Oh no, it is not necessary.’ This relapse into wilfulness was because
he had again connected the epithet foolish with her.

‘Nonsense: it is quite necessary; it will rain again directly, and you
are not half recovered.’ And without more ado Knight took her hand, drew
it under his arm, and held it there so firmly that she could not have
removed it without a struggle. Feeling like a colt in a halter for the
first time, at thus being led along, yet afraid to be angry, it was to
her great relief that she saw the carriage coming round the corner to
fetch them.

Her fall upon the roof was necessarily explained to some extent upon
their entering the house; but both forbore to mention a word of what she
had been doing to cause such an accident. During the remainder of the
afternoon Elfride was invisible; but at dinner-time she appeared as
bright as ever.

In the drawing-room, after having been exclusively engaged with Mr. and
Mrs. Swancourt through the intervening hour, Knight again found himself
thrown with Elfride. She had been looking over a chess problem in one of
the illustrated periodicals.

‘You like chess, Miss Swancourt?’

‘Yes. It is my favourite scientific game; indeed, excludes every other.
Do you play?’

‘I have played; though not lately.’

‘Challenge him, Elfride,’ said the vicar heartily. ‘She plays very well
for a lady, Mr. Knight.’

‘Shall we play?’ asked Elfride tentatively.

‘Oh, certainly. I shall be delighted.’

The game began. Mr. Swancourt had forgotten a similar performance with
Stephen Smith the year before. Elfride had not; but she had begun to
take for her maxim the undoubted truth that the necessity of continuing
faithful to Stephen, without suspicion, dictated a fickle behaviour
almost as imperatively as fickleness itself; a fact, however, which
would give a startling advantage to the latter quality should it ever
appear.

Knight, by one of those inexcusable oversights which will sometimes
afflict the best of players, placed his rook in the arms of one of her
pawns. It was her first advantage. She looked triumphant--even ruthless.

‘By George! what was I thinking of?’ said Knight quietly; and then
dismissed all concern at his accident.

‘Club laws we’ll have, won’t we, Mr. Knight?’ said Elfride suasively.

‘Oh yes, certainly,’ said Mr. Knight, a thought, however, just occurring
to his mind, that he had two or three times allowed her to replace a
man on her religiously assuring him that such a move was an absolute
blunder.

She immediately took up the unfortunate rook and the contest proceeded,
Elfride having now rather the better of the game. Then he won the
exchange, regained his position, and began to press her hard. Elfride
grew flurried, and placed her queen on his remaining rook’s file.

‘There--how stupid! Upon my word, I did not see your rook. Of course
nobody but a fool would have put a queen there knowingly!’

She spoke excitedly, half expecting her antagonist to give her back the
move.

‘Nobody, of course,’ said Knight serenely, and stretched out his hand
towards his royal victim.

‘It is not very pleasant to have it taken advantage of, then,’ she said
with some vexation.

‘Club laws, I think you said?’ returned Knight blandly, and mercilessly
appropriating the queen.

She was on the brink of pouting, but was ashamed to show it; tears
almost stood in her eyes. She had been trying so hard--so very
hard--thinking and thinking till her brain was in a whirl; and it seemed
so heartless of him to treat her so, after all.

‘I think it is----’ she began.

‘What?’

--‘Unkind to take advantage of a pure mistake I make in that way.’

‘I lost my rook by even a purer mistake,’ said the enemy in an
inexorable tone, without lifting his eyes.

‘Yes, but----’ However, as his logic was absolutely unanswerable, she
merely registered a protest. ‘I cannot endure those cold-blooded ways of
clubs and professional players, like Staunton and Morphy. Just as if it
really mattered whether you have raised your fingers from a man or no!’

Knight smiled as pitilessly as before, and they went on in silence.

‘Checkmate,’ said Knight.

‘Another game,’ said Elfride peremptorily, and looking very warm.

‘With all my heart,’ said Knight.

‘Checkmate,’ said Knight again at the end of forty minutes.

‘Another game,’ she returned resolutely.

‘I’ll give you the odds of a bishop,’ Knight said to her kindly.

‘No, thank you,’ Elfride replied in a tone intended for courteous
indifference; but, as a fact, very cavalier indeed.

‘Checkmate,’ said her opponent without the least emotion.

Oh, the difference between Elfride’s condition of mind now, and when she
purposely made blunders that Stephen Smith might win!

It was bedtime. Her mind as distracted as if it would throb itself out
of her head, she went off to her chamber, full of mortification at being
beaten time after time when she herself was the aggressor. Having for
two or three years enjoyed the reputation throughout the globe of her
father’s brain--which almost constituted her entire world--of being an
excellent player, this fiasco was intolerable; for unfortunately the
person most dogged in the belief in a false reputation is always that
one, the possessor, who has the best means of knowing that it is not
true.

In bed no sleep came to soothe her; that gentle thing being the very
middle-of-summer friend in this respect of flying away at the merest
troublous cloud. After lying awake till two o’clock an idea seemed to
strike her. She softly arose, got a light, and fetched a Chess Praxis
from the library. Returning and sitting up in bed, she diligently
studied the volume till the clock struck five, and her eyelids felt
thick and heavy. She then extinguished the light and lay down again.

‘You look pale, Elfride,’ said Mrs. Swancourt the next morning at
breakfast. ‘Isn’t she, cousin Harry?’

A young girl who is scarcely ill at all can hardly help becoming so when
regarded as such by all eyes turning upon her at the table in obedience
to some remark. Everybody looked at Elfride. She certainly was pale.

‘Am I pale?’ she said with a faint smile. ‘I did not sleep much. I could
not get rid of armies of bishops and knights, try how I would.’

‘Chess is a bad thing just before bedtime; especially for excitable
people like yourself, dear. Don’t ever play late again.’

‘I’ll play early instead. Cousin Knight,’ she said in imitation of Mrs.
Swancourt, ‘will you oblige me in something?’

‘Even to half my kingdom.’

‘Well, it is to play one game more.’

‘When?’

‘Now, instantly; the moment we have breakfasted.’

‘Nonsense, Elfride,’ said her father. ‘Making yourself a slave to the
game like that.’

‘But I want to, papa! Honestly, I am restless at having been so
ignominiously overcome. And Mr. Knight doesn’t mind. So what harm can
there be?’

‘Let us play, by all means, if you wish it,’ said Knight.

So, when breakfast was over, the combatants withdrew to the quiet of the
library, and the door was closed. Elfride seemed to have an idea
that her conduct was rather ill-regulated and startlingly free from
conventional restraint. And worse, she fancied upon Knight’s face a
slightly amused look at her proceedings.

‘You think me foolish, I suppose,’ she said recklessly; ‘but I want to
do my very best just once, and see whether I can overcome you.’

‘Certainly: nothing more natural. Though I am afraid it is not the plan
adopted by women of the world after a defeat.’

‘Why, pray?’

‘Because they know that as good as overcoming is skill in effacing
recollection of being overcome, and turn their attention to that
entirely.’

‘I am wrong again, of course.’

‘Perhaps your wrong is more pleasing than their right.’

‘I don’t quite know whether you mean that, or whether you are laughing
at me,’ she said, looking doubtingly at him, yet inclining to accept the
more flattering interpretation. ‘I am almost sure you think it vanity in
me to think I am a match for you. Well, if you do, I say that vanity is
no crime in such a case.’

‘Well, perhaps not. Though it is hardly a virtue.’

‘Oh yes, in battle! Nelson’s bravery lay in his vanity.’

‘Indeed! Then so did his death.’

Oh no, no! For it is written in the book of the prophet Shakespeare--


   “Fear and be slain? no worse can come to fight;
    And fight and die, is death destroying death!”


And down they sat, and the contest began, Elfride having the first move.
The game progressed. Elfride’s heart beat so violently that she could
not sit still. Her dread was lest he should hear it. And he did discover
it at last--some flowers upon the table being set throbbing by its
pulsations.

‘I think we had better give over,’ said Knight, looking at her gently.
‘It is too much for you, I know. Let us write down the position, and
finish another time.’

‘No, please not,’ she implored. ‘I should not rest if I did not know the
result at once. It is your move.’

Ten minutes passed.

She started up suddenly. ‘I know what you are doing?’ she cried, an
angry colour upon her cheeks, and her eyes indignant. ‘You were thinking
of letting me win to please me!’

‘I don’t mind owning that I was,’ Knight responded phlegmatically, and
appearing all the more so by contrast with her own turmoil.

‘But you must not! I won’t have it.’

‘Very well.’

‘No, that will not do; I insist that you promise not to do any such
absurd thing. It is insulting me!’

‘Very well, madam. I won’t do any such absurd thing. You shall not win.’

‘That is to be proved!’ she returned proudly; and the play went on.

Nothing is now heard but the ticking of a quaint old timepiece on the
summit of a bookcase. Ten minutes pass; he captures her knight; she
takes his knight, and looks a very Rhadamanthus.

More minutes tick away; she takes his pawn and has the advantage,
showing her sense of it rather prominently.

Five minutes more: he takes her bishop: she brings things even by taking
his knight.

Three minutes: she looks bold, and takes his queen: he looks placid, and
takes hers.

Eight or ten minutes pass: he takes a pawn; she utters a little pooh!
but not the ghost of a pawn can she take in retaliation.

Ten minutes pass: he takes another pawn and says, ‘Check!’ She flushes,
extricates herself by capturing his bishop, and looks triumphant. He
immediately takes her bishop: she looks surprised.

Five minutes longer: she makes a dash and takes his only remaining
bishop; he replies by taking her only remaining knight.

Two minutes: he gives check; her mind is now in a painful state of
tension, and she shades her face with her hand.

Yet a few minutes more: he takes her rook and checks again. She
literally trembles now lest an artful surprise she has in store for him
shall be anticipated by the artful surprise he evidently has in store
for her.

Five minutes: ‘Checkmate in two moves!’ exclaims Elfride.

‘If you can,’ says Knight.

‘Oh, I have miscalculated; that is cruel!’

‘Checkmate,’ says Knight; and the victory is won.

Elfride arose and turned away without letting him see her face. Once in
the hall she ran upstairs and into her room, and flung herself down upon
her bed, weeping bitterly.


‘Where is Elfride?’ said her father at luncheon.

Knight listened anxiously for the answer. He had been hoping to see her
again before this time.

‘She isn’t well, sir,’ was the reply.

Mrs. Swancourt rose and left the room, going upstairs to Elfride’s
apartment.

At the door was Unity, who occupied in the new establishment a position
between young lady’s maid and middle-housemaid.

‘She is sound asleep, ma’am,’ Unity whispered.

Mrs. Swancourt opened the door. Elfride was lying full-dressed on the
bed, her face hot and red, her arms thrown abroad. At intervals of a
minute she tossed restlessly from side to side, and indistinctly moaned
words used in the game of chess.

Mrs. Swancourt had a turn for doctoring, and felt her pulse. It was
twanging like a harp-string, at the rate of nearly a hundred and fifty
a minute. Softly moving the sleeping girl to a little less cramped
position, she went downstairs again.

‘She is asleep now,’ said Mrs. Swancourt. ‘She does not seem very well.
Cousin Knight, what were you thinking of? her tender brain won’t bear
cudgelling like your great head. You should have strictly forbidden her
to play again.’

In truth, the essayist’s experience of the nature of young women was
far less extensive than his abstract knowledge of them led himself and
others to believe. He could pack them into sentences like a workman, but
practically was nowhere.

‘I am indeed sorry,’ said Knight, feeling even more than he expressed.
‘But surely, the young lady knows best what is good for her!’

‘Bless you, that’s just what she doesn’t know. She never thinks of such
things, does she, Christopher? Her father and I have to command her and
keep her in order, as you would a child. She will say things worthy of a
French epigrammatist, and act like a robin in a greenhouse. But I think
we will send for Dr. Granson--there can be no harm.’

A man was straightway despatched on horseback to Castle Boterel, and the
gentleman known as Dr. Granson came in the course of the afternoon.
He pronounced her nervous system to be in a decided state of disorder;
forwarded some soothing draught, and gave orders that on no account
whatever was she to play chess again.

The next morning Knight, much vexed with himself, waited with a
curiously compounded feeling for her entry to breakfast. The women
servants came in to prayers at irregular intervals, and as each entered,
he could not, to save his life, avoid turning his head with the hope
that she might be Elfride. Mr. Swancourt began reading without waiting
for her. Then somebody glided in noiselessly; Knight softly glanced up:
it was only the little kitchen-maid. Knight thought reading prayers a
bore.

He went out alone, and for almost the first time failed to recognize
that holding converse with Nature’s charms was not solitude. On nearing
the house again he perceived his young friend crossing a slope by a path
which ran into the one he was following in the angle of the field. Here
they met. Elfride was at once exultant and abashed: coming into his
presence had upon her the effect of entering a cathedral.

Knight had his note-book in his hand, and had, in fact, been in the very
act of writing therein when they came in view of each other. He left off
in the midst of a sentence, and proceeded to inquire warmly concerning
her state of health. She said she was perfectly well, and indeed had
never looked better. Her health was as inconsequent as her actions. Her
lips were red, WITHOUT the polish that cherries have, and their redness
margined with the white skin in a clearly defined line, which had
nothing of jagged confusion in it. Altogether she stood as the last
person in the world to be knocked over by a game of chess, because too
ephemeral-looking to play one.

‘Are you taking notes?’ she inquired with an alacrity plainly arising
less from interest in the subject than from a wish to divert his
thoughts from herself.

‘Yes; I was making an entry. And with your permission I will complete
it.’ Knight then stood still and wrote. Elfride remained beside him a
moment, and afterwards walked on.

‘I should like to see all the secrets that are in that book,’ she gaily
flung back to him over her shoulder.

‘I don’t think you would find much to interest you.’

‘I know I should.’

‘Then of course I have no more to say.’

‘But I would ask this question first. Is it a book of mere facts
concerning journeys and expenditure, and so on, or a book of thoughts?’

‘Well, to tell the truth, it is not exactly either. It consists for
the most part of jottings for articles and essays, disjointed and
disconnected, of no possible interest to anybody but myself.’

‘It contains, I suppose, your developed thoughts in embryo?’

‘Yes.’

‘If they are interesting when enlarged to the size of an article, what
must they be in their concentrated form? Pure rectified spirit, above
proof; before it is lowered to be fit for human consumption: “words that
burn” indeed.’

‘Rather like a balloon before it is inflated: flabby, shapeless, dead.
You could hardly read them.’

‘May I try?’ she said coaxingly. ‘I wrote my poor romance in that way--I
mean in bits, out of doors--and I should like to see whether your way of
entering things is the same as mine.’

‘Really, that’s rather an awkward request. I suppose I can hardly refuse
now you have asked so directly; but----’

‘You think me ill-mannered in asking. But does not this justify me--your
writing in my presence, Mr. Knight? If I had lighted upon your book by
chance, it would have been different; but you stand before me, and say,
“Excuse me,” without caring whether I do or not, and write on, and then
tell me they are not private facts but public ideas.’

‘Very well, Miss Swancourt. If you really must see, the consequences
be upon your own head. Remember, my advice to you is to leave my book
alone.’

‘But with that caution I have your permission?’

‘Yes.’

She hesitated a moment, looked at his hand containing the book, then
laughed, and saying, ‘I must see it,’ withdrew it from his fingers.

Knight rambled on towards the house, leaving her standing in the path
turning over the leaves. By the time he had reached the wicket-gate he
saw that she had moved, and waited till she came up.

Elfride had closed the note-book, and was carrying it disdainfully by
the corner between her finger and thumb; her face wore a nettled look.
She silently extended the volume towards him, raising her eyes no higher
than her hand was lifted.

‘Take it,’ said Elfride quickly. ‘I don’t want to read it.’

‘Could you understand it?’ said Knight.

‘As far as I looked. But I didn’t care to read much.’

‘Why, Miss Swancourt?’

‘Only because I didn’t wish to--that’s all.’

‘I warned you that you might not.’

‘Yes, but I never supposed you would have put me there.’

‘Your name is not mentioned once within the four corners.’

‘Not my name--I know that.’

‘Nor your description, nor anything by which anybody would recognize
you.’

‘Except myself. For what is this?’ she exclaimed, taking it from him and
opening a page. ‘August 7. That’s the day before yesterday. But I won’t
read it,’ Elfride said, closing the book again with pretty hauteur. ‘Why
should I? I had no business to ask to see your book, and it serves me
right.’

Knight hardly recollected what he had written, and turned over the book
to see. He came to this:

‘Aug. 7. Girl gets into her teens, and her self-consciousness is born.
After a certain interval passed in infantine helplessness it begins to
act. Simple, young, and inexperienced at first. Persons of observation
can tell to a nicety how old this consciousness is by the skill it has
acquired in the art necessary to its success--the art of hiding
itself. Generally begins career by actions which are popularly termed
showing-off. Method adopted depends in each case upon the disposition,
rank, residence, of the young lady attempting it. Town-bred girl will
utter some moral paradox on fast men, or love. Country miss adopts the
more material media of taking a ghastly fence, whistling, or making your
blood run cold by appearing to risk her neck. (MEM. On Endelstow Tower.)

‘An innocent vanity is of course the origin of these displays. “Look
at me,” say these youthful beginners in womanly artifice, without
reflecting whether or not it be to their advantage to show so very much
of themselves. (Amplify and correct for paper on Artless Arts.)’

‘Yes, I remember now,’ said Knight. ‘The notes were certainly suggested
by your manoeuvre on the church tower. But you must not think too much
of such random observations,’ he continued encouragingly, as he noticed
her injured looks. ‘A mere fancy passing through my head assumes a
factitious importance to you, because it has been made permanent by
being written down. All mankind think thoughts as bad as those of people
they most love on earth, but such thoughts never getting embodied on
paper, it becomes assumed that they never existed. I daresay that you
yourself have thought some disagreeable thing or other of me, which
would seem just as bad as this if written. I challenge you, now, to tell
me.’

‘The worst thing I have thought of you?’

‘Yes.’

‘I must not.’

‘Oh yes.’

‘I thought you were rather round-shouldered.’

Knight looked slightly redder.

‘And that there was a little bald spot on the top of your head.’

‘Heh-heh! Two ineradicable defects,’ said Knight, there being a faint
ghastliness discernible in his laugh. ‘They are much worse in a lady’s
eye than being thought self-conscious, I suppose.’

‘Ah, that’s very fine,’ she said, too inexperienced to perceive her hit,
and hence not quite disposed to forgive his notes. ‘You alluded to me in
that entry as if I were such a child, too. Everybody does that. I cannot
understand it. I am quite a woman, you know. How old do you think I am?’

‘How old? Why, seventeen, I should say. All girls are seventeen.’

‘You are wrong. I am nearly nineteen. Which class of women do you like
best, those who seem younger, or those who seem older than they are?’

‘Off-hand I should be inclined to say those who seem older.’

So it was not Elfride’s class.

‘But it is well known,’ she said eagerly, and there was something
touching in the artless anxiety to be thought much of which she revealed
by her words, ‘that the slower a nature is to develop, the richer the
nature. Youths and girls who are men and women before they come of age
are nobodies by the time that backward people have shown their full
compass.’

‘Yes,’ said Knight thoughtfully. ‘There is really something in that
remark. But at the risk of offence I must remind you that you there take
it for granted that the woman behind her time at a given age has not
reached the end of her tether. Her backwardness may be not because she
is slow to develop, but because she soon exhausted her capacity for
developing.’

Elfride looked disappointed. By this time they were indoors. Mrs.
Swancourt, to whom match-making by any honest means was meat and
drink, had now a little scheme of that nature concerning this pair. The
morning-room, in which they both expected to find her, was empty; the
old lady having, for the above reason, vacated it by the second door as
they entered by the first.

Knight went to the chimney-piece, and carelessly surveyed two portraits
on ivory.

‘Though these pink ladies had very rudimentary features, judging by what
I see here,’ he observed, ‘they had unquestionably beautiful heads of
hair.’

‘Yes; and that is everything,’ said Elfride, possibly conscious of her
own, possibly not.

‘Not everything; though a great deal, certainly.’

‘Which colour do you like best?’ she ventured to ask.

‘More depends on its abundance than on its colour.’

‘Abundances being equal, may I inquire your favourite colour?’

‘Dark.’

‘I mean for women,’ she said, with the minutest fall of countenance, and
a hope that she had been misunderstood.

‘So do I,’ Knight replied.

It was impossible for any man not to know the colour of Elfride’s hair.
In women who wear it plainly such a feature may be overlooked by men not
given to ocular intentness. But hers was always in the way. You saw her
hair as far as you could see her sex, and knew that it was the palest
brown. She knew instantly that Knight, being perfectly aware of this,
had an independent standard of admiration in the matter.

Elfride was thoroughly vexed. She could not but be struck with the
honesty of his opinions, and the worst of it was, that the more they
went against her, the more she respected them. And now, like a reckless
gambler, she hazarded her last and best treasure. Her eyes: they were
her all now.

‘What coloured eyes do you like best, Mr. Knight?’ she said slowly.

‘Honestly, or as a compliment?’

‘Of course honestly; I don’t want anybody’s compliment!’

And yet Elfride knew otherwise: that a compliment or word of approval
from that man then would have been like a well to a famished Arab.

‘I prefer hazel,’ he said serenely.

She had played and lost again.



Chapter XIX

     ‘Love was in the next degree.’


Knight had none of those light familiarities of speech which, by
judicious touches of epigrammatic flattery, obliterate a woman’s
recollection of the speaker’s abstract opinions. So no more was said by
either on the subject of hair, eyes, or development. Elfride’s mind
had been impregnated with sentiments of her own smallness to an
uncomfortable degree of distinctness, and her discomfort was visible in
her face. The whole tendency of the conversation latterly had been to
quietly but surely disparage her; and she was fain to take Stephen into
favour in self-defence. He would not have been so unloving, she said,
as to admire an idiosyncrasy and features different from her own. True,
Stephen had declared he loved her: Mr. Knight had never done anything
of the sort. Somehow this did not mend matters, and the sensation of
her smallness in Knight’s eyes still remained. Had the position been
reversed--had Stephen loved her in spite of a differing taste, and had
Knight been indifferent in spite of her resemblance to his ideal, it
would have engendered far happier thoughts. As matters stood, Stephen’s
admiration might have its root in a blindness the result of passion.
Perhaps any keen man’s judgment was condemnatory of her.

During the remainder of Saturday they were more or less thrown with
their seniors, and no conversation arose which was exclusively their
own. When Elfride was in bed that night her thoughts recurred to the
same subject. At one moment she insisted that it was ill-natured of him
to speak so decisively as he had done; the next, that it was sterling
honesty.

‘Ah, what a poor nobody I am!’ she said, sighing. ‘People like him, who
go about the great world, don’t care in the least what I am like either
in mood or feature.’

Perhaps a man who has got thoroughly into a woman’s mind in this manner,
is half way to her heart; the distance between those two stations is
proverbially short.

‘And are you really going away this week?’ said Mrs. Swancourt to Knight
on the following evening, which was Sunday.

They were all leisurely climbing the hill to the church, where a last
service was now to be held at the rather exceptional time of evening
instead of in the afternoon, previous to the demolition of the ruinous
portions.

‘I am intending to cross to Cork from Bristol,’ returned Knight; ‘and
then I go on to Dublin.’

‘Return this way, and stay a little longer with us,’ said the vicar. ‘A
week is nothing. We have hardly been able to realize your presence yet.
I remember a story which----’

The vicar suddenly stopped. He had forgotten it was Sunday, and would
probably have gone on in his week-day mode of thought had not a turn in
the breeze blown the skirt of his college gown within the range of his
vision, and so reminded him. He at once diverted the current of his
narrative with the dexterity the occasion demanded.

‘The story of the Levite who journeyed to Bethlehem-judah, from which
I took my text the Sunday before last, is quite to the point,’ he
continued, with the pronunciation of a man who, far from having intended
to tell a week-day story a moment earlier, had thought of nothing but
Sabbath matters for several weeks. ‘What did he gain after all by his
restlessness? Had he remained in the city of the Jebusites, and not been
so anxious for Gibeah, none of his troubles would have arisen.’

‘But he had wasted five days already,’ said Knight, closing his eyes
to the vicar’s commendable diversion. ‘His fault lay in beginning the
tarrying system originally.’

‘True, true; my illustration fails.’

‘But not the hospitality which prompted the story.’

‘So you are to come just the same,’ urged Mrs. Swancourt, for she had
seen an almost imperceptible fall of countenance in her stepdaughter at
Knight’s announcement.

Knight half promised to call on his return journey; but the uncertainty
with which he spoke was quite enough to fill Elfride with a regretful
interest in all he did during the few remaining hours. The curate having
already officiated twice that day in the two churches, Mr. Swancourt had
undertaken the whole of the evening service, and Knight read the lessons
for him. The sun streamed across from the dilapidated west window, and
lighted all the assembled worshippers with a golden glow, Knight as he
read being illuminated by the same mellow lustre. Elfride at the organ
regarded him with a throbbing sadness of mood which was fed by a sense
of being far removed from his sphere. As he went deliberately through
the chapter appointed--a portion of the history of Elijah--and ascended
that magnificent climax of the wind, the earthquake, the fire, and
the still small voice, his deep tones echoed past with such apparent
disregard of her existence, that his presence inspired her with a
forlorn sense of unapproachableness, which his absence would hardly have
been able to cause.

At the same time, turning her face for a moment to catch the glory of
the dying sun as it fell on his form, her eyes were arrested by the
shape and aspect of a woman in the west gallery. It was the bleak barren
countenance of the widow Jethway, whom Elfride had not seen much of
since the morning of her return with Stephen Smith. Possessing the
smallest of competencies, this unhappy woman appeared to spend her life
in journeyings between Endelstow Churchyard and that of a village near
Southampton, where her father and mother were laid.

She had not attended the service here for a considerable time, and she
now seemed to have a reason for her choice of seat. From the gallery
window the tomb of her son was plainly visible--standing as the nearest
object in a prospect which was closed outwardly by the changeless
horizon of the sea.

The streaming rays, too, flooded her face, now bent towards Elfride with
a hard and bitter expression that the solemnity of the place raised to
a tragic dignity it did not intrinsically possess. The girl resumed her
normal attitude with an added disquiet.

Elfride’s emotion was cumulative, and after a while would assert itself
on a sudden. A slight touch was enough to set it free--a poem, a sunset,
a cunningly contrived chord of music, a vague imagining, being the usual
accidents of its exhibition. The longing for Knight’s respect, which
was leading up to an incipient yearning for his love, made the present
conjuncture a sufficient one. Whilst kneeling down previous to leaving,
when the sunny streaks had gone upward to the roof, and the lower
part of the church was in soft shadow, she could not help thinking
of Coleridge’s morbid poem ‘The Three Graves,’ and shuddering as she
wondered if Mrs. Jethway were cursing her, she wept as if her heart
would break.

They came out of church just as the sun went down, leaving the landscape
like a platform from which an eloquent speaker has retired, and nothing
remains for the audience to do but to rise and go home. Mr. and Mrs.
Swancourt went off in the carriage, Knight and Elfride preferring to
walk, as the skilful old matchmaker had imagined. They descended the
hill together.

‘I liked your reading, Mr. Knight,’ Elfride presently found herself
saying. ‘You read better than papa.’

‘I will praise anybody that will praise me. You played excellently, Miss
Swancourt, and very correctly.’

‘Correctly--yes.’

‘It must be a great pleasure to you to take an active part in the
service.’

‘I want to be able to play with more feeling. But I have not a good
selection of music, sacred or secular. I wish I had a nice little
music-library--well chosen, and that the only new pieces sent me were
those of genuine merit.’

‘I am glad to hear such a wish from you. It is extraordinary how many
women have no honest love of music as an end and not as a means, even
leaving out those who have nothing in them. They mostly like it for its
accessories. I have never met a woman who loves music as do ten or a
dozen men I know.’

‘How would you draw the line between women with something and women with
nothing in them?’

‘Well,’ said Knight, reflecting a moment, ‘I mean by nothing in them
those who don’t care about anything solid. This is an instance: I knew a
man who had a young friend in whom he was much interested; in fact, they
were going to be married. She was seemingly poetical, and he offered her
a choice of two editions of the British poets, which she pretended to
want badly. He said, “Which of them would you like best for me to send?”
 She said, “A pair of the prettiest earrings in Bond Street, if you don’t
mind, would be nicer than either.” Now I call her a girl with not much
in her but vanity; and so do you, I daresay.’

‘Oh yes,’ replied Elfride with an effort.

Happening to catch a glimpse of her face as she was speaking, and
noticing that her attempt at heartiness was a miserable failure, he
appeared to have misgivings.

‘You, Miss Swancourt, would not, under such circumstances, have
preferred the nicknacks?’

‘No, I don’t think I should, indeed,’ she stammered.

‘I’ll put it to you,’ said the inflexible Knight. ‘Which will you have
of these two things of about equal value--the well-chosen little library
of the best music you spoke of--bound in morocco, walnut case, lock and
key--or a pair of the very prettiest earrings in Bond Street windows?’

‘Of course the music,’ Elfride replied with forced earnestness.

‘You are quite certain?’ he said emphatically.

‘Quite,’ she faltered; ‘if I could for certain buy the earrings
afterwards.’

Knight, somewhat blamably, keenly enjoyed sparring with the palpitating
mobile creature, whose excitable nature made any such thing a species of
cruelty.

He looked at her rather oddly, and said, ‘Fie!’

‘Forgive me,’ she said, laughing a little, a little frightened, and
blushing very deeply.

‘Ah, Miss Elfie, why didn’t you say at first, as any firm woman would
have said, I am as bad as she, and shall choose the same?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Elfride wofully, and with a distressful smile.

‘I thought you were exceptionally musical?’

‘So I am, I think. But the test is so severe--quite painful.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Music doesn’t do any real good, or rather----’

‘That IS a thing to say, Miss Swancourt! Why, what----’

‘You don’t understand! you don’t understand!’

‘Why, what conceivable use is there in jimcrack jewellery?’

‘No, no, no, no!’ she cried petulantly; ‘I didn’t mean what you think. I
like the music best, only I like----’

‘Earrings better--own it!’ he said in a teasing tone. ‘Well, I think I
should have had the moral courage to own it at once, without pretending
to an elevation I could not reach.’

Like the French soldiery, Elfride was not brave when on the defensive.
So it was almost with tears in her eyes that she answered desperately:

‘My meaning is, that I like earrings best just now, because I lost one
of my prettiest pair last year, and papa said he would not buy any more,
or allow me to myself, because I was careless; and now I wish I had some
like them--that’s what my meaning is--indeed it is, Mr. Knight.’

‘I am afraid I have been very harsh and rude,’ said Knight, with a look
of regret at seeing how disturbed she was. ‘But seriously, if women only
knew how they ruin their good looks by such appurtenances, I am sure
they would never want them.’

‘They were lovely, and became me so!’

‘Not if they were like the ordinary hideous things women stuff their
ears with nowadays--like the governor of a steam-engine, or a pair
of scales, or gold gibbets and chains, and artists’ palettes, and
compensation pendulums, and Heaven knows what besides.’

‘No; they were not one of those things. So pretty--like this,’ she said
with eager animation. And she drew with the point of her parasol an
enlarged view of one of the lamented darlings, to a scale that would
have suited a giantess half-a-mile high.

‘Yes, very pretty--very,’ said Knight dryly. ‘How did you come to lose
such a precious pair of articles?’

‘I only lost one--nobody ever loses both at the same time.’

She made this remark with embarrassment, and a nervous movement of
the fingers. Seeing that the loss occurred whilst Stephen Smith was
attempting to kiss her for the first time on the cliff, her confusion
was hardly to be wondered at. The question had been awkward, and
received no direct answer.

Knight seemed not to notice her manner.

‘Oh, nobody ever loses both--I see. And certainly the fact that it was a
case of loss takes away all odour of vanity from your choice.’

‘As I never know whether you are in earnest, I don’t now,’ she said,
looking up inquiringly at the hairy face of the oracle. And coming
gallantly to her own rescue, ‘If I really seem vain, it is that I am
only vain in my ways--not in my heart. The worst women are those vain in
their hearts, and not in their ways.’

‘An adroit distinction. Well, they are certainly the more objectionable
of the two,’ said Knight.

‘Is vanity a mortal or a venial sin? You know what life is: tell me.’

‘I am very far from knowing what life is. A just conception of life is
too large a thing to grasp during the short interval of passing through
it.’

‘Will the fact of a woman being fond of jewellery be likely to make her
life, in its higher sense, a failure?’

‘Nobody’s life is altogether a failure.’

‘Well, you know what I mean, even though my words are badly selected and
commonplace,’ she said impatiently. ‘Because I utter commonplace words,
you must not suppose I think only commonplace thoughts. My poor stock
of words are like a limited number of rough moulds I have to cast all my
materials in, good and bad; and the novelty or delicacy of the substance
is often lost in the coarse triteness of the form.’

‘Very well; I’ll believe that ingenious representation. As to the
subject in hand--lives which are failures--you need not trouble
yourself. Anybody’s life may be just as romantic and strange and
interesting if he or she fails as if he or she succeed. All the
difference is, that the last chapter is wanting in the story. If a man
of power tries to do a great deed, and just falls short of it by an
accident not his fault, up to that time his history had as much in it as
that of a great man who has done his great deed. It is whimsical of the
world to hold that particulars of how a lad went to school and so on
should be as an interesting romance or as nothing to them, precisely in
proportion to his after renown.’

They were walking between the sunset and the moonrise. With the dropping
of the sun a nearly full moon had begun to raise itself. Their shadows,
as cast by the western glare, showed signs of becoming obliterated in
the interest of a rival pair in the opposite direction which the moon
was bringing to distinctness.

‘I consider my life to some extent a failure,’ said Knight again after a
pause, during which he had noticed the antagonistic shadows.

‘You! How?’

‘I don’t precisely know. But in some way I have missed the mark.’

‘Really? To have done it is not much to be sad about, but to feel that
you have done it must be a cause of sorrow. Am I right?’

‘Partly, though not quite. For a sensation of being profoundly
experienced serves as a sort of consolation to people who are conscious
of having taken wrong turnings. Contradictory as it seems, there is
nothing truer than that people who have always gone right don’t know
half as much about the nature and ways of going right as those do who
have gone wrong. However, it is not desirable for me to chill your
summer-time by going into this.’

‘You have not told me even now if I am really vain.’

‘If I say Yes, I shall offend you; if I say No, you’ll think I don’t
mean it,’ he replied, looking curiously into her face.

‘Ah, well,’ she replied, with a little breath of distress, ‘“That which
is exceeding deep, who will find it out?” I suppose I must take you as I
do the Bible--find out and understand all I can; and on the strength of
that, swallow the rest in a lump, by simple faith. Think me vain, if you
will. Worldly greatness requires so much littleness to grow up in, that
an infirmity more or less is not a matter for regret.’

‘As regards women, I can’t say,’ answered Knight carelessly; ‘but it is
without doubt a misfortune for a man who has a living to get, to be born
of a truly noble nature. A high soul will bring a man to the workhouse;
so you may be right in sticking up for vanity.’

‘No, no, I don’t do that,’ she said regretfully.

Mr. Knight, when you are gone, will you send me something you have
written? I think I should like to see whether you write as you have
lately spoken, or in your better mood. Which is your true self--the
cynic you have been this evening, or the nice philosopher you were up to
to-night?’

‘Ah, which? You know as well as I.’

Their conversation detained them on the lawn and in the portico till the
stars blinked out. Elfride flung back her head, and said idly--

‘There’s a bright star exactly over me.’

‘Each bright star is overhead somewhere.’

‘Is it? Oh yes, of course. Where is that one?’ and she pointed with her
finger.

‘That is poised like a white hawk over one of the Cape Verde Islands.’

‘And that?’

‘Looking down upon the source of the Nile.’

‘And that lonely quiet-looking one?’

‘He watches the North Pole, and has no less than the whole equator for
his horizon. And that idle one low down upon the ground, that we have
almost rolled away from, is in India--over the head of a young friend of
mine, who very possibly looks at the star in our zenith, as it hangs
low upon his horizon, and thinks of it as marking where his true love
dwells.’

Elfride glanced at Knight with misgiving. Did he mean her? She could not
see his features; but his attitude seemed to show unconsciousness.

‘The star is over MY head,’ she said with hesitation.

‘Or anybody else’s in England.’

‘Oh yes, I see:’ she breathed her relief.

‘His parents, I believe, are natives of this county. I don’t know
them, though I have been in correspondence with him for many years till
lately. Fortunately or unfortunately for him he fell in love, and then
went to Bombay. Since that time I have heard very little of him.’

Knight went no further in his volunteered statement, and though Elfride
at one moment was inclined to profit by the lessons in honesty he had
just been giving her, the flesh was weak, and the intention dispersed
into silence. There seemed a reproach in Knight’s blind words, and yet
she was not able to clearly define any disloyalty that she had been
guilty of.



Chapter XX

     ‘A distant dearness in the hill.’


Knight turned his back upon the parish of Endelstow, and crossed over to
Cork.

One day of absence superimposed itself on another, and proportionately
weighted his heart. He pushed on to the Lakes of Killarney, rambled amid
their luxuriant woods, surveyed the infinite variety of island, hill,
and dale there to be found, listened to the marvellous echoes of that
romantic spot; but altogether missed the glory and the dream he formerly
found in such favoured regions.

Whilst in the company of Elfride, her girlish presence had not
perceptibly affected him to any depth. He had not been conscious that
her entry into his sphere had added anything to himself; but now
that she was taken away he was very conscious of a great deal being
abstracted. The superfluity had become a necessity, and Knight was in
love.

Stephen fell in love with Elfride by looking at her: Knight by ceasing
to do so. When or how the spirit entered into him he knew not: certain
he was that when on the point of leaving Endelstow he had felt none of
that exquisite nicety of poignant sadness natural to such severances,
seeing how delightful a subject of contemplation Elfride had been ever
since. Had he begun to love her when she met his eye after her mishap
on the tower? He had simply thought her weak. Had he grown to love her
whilst standing on the lawn brightened all over by the evening sun? He
had thought her complexion good: no more. Was it her conversation
that had sown the seed? He had thought her words ingenious, and very
creditable to a young woman, but not noteworthy. Had the chess-playing
anything to do with it? Certainly not: he had thought her at that time a
rather conceited child.

Knight’s experience was a complete disproof of the assumption that
love always comes by glances of the eye and sympathetic touches of the
fingers: that, like flame, it makes itself palpable at the moment of
generation. Not till they were parted, and she had become sublimated in
his memory, could he be said to have even attentively regarded her.

Thus, having passively gathered up images of her which his mind did not
act upon till the cause of them was no longer before him, he appeared
to himself to have fallen in love with her soul, which had temporarily
assumed its disembodiment to accompany him on his way.

She began to rule him so imperiously now that, accustomed to analysis,
he almost trembled at the possible result of the introduction of this
new force among the nicely adjusted ones of his ordinary life. He became
restless: then he forgot all collateral subjects in the pleasure of
thinking about her.

Yet it must be said that Knight loved philosophically rather than with
romance.

He thought of her manner towards him. Simplicity verges on coquetry. Was
she flirting? he said to himself. No forcible translation of favour into
suspicion was able to uphold such a theory. The performance had been
too well done to be anything but real. It had the defects without which
nothing is genuine. No actress of twenty years’ standing, no bald-necked
lady whose earliest season ‘out’ was lost in the discreet mist of
evasive talk, could have played before him the part of ingenuous girl
as Elfride lived it. She had the little artful ways which partly make up
ingenuousness.

There are bachelors by nature and bachelors by circumstance: spinsters
there doubtless are also of both kinds, though some think only those
of the latter. However, Knight had been looked upon as a bachelor by
nature. What was he coming to? It was very odd to himself to look at his
theories on the subject of love, and reading them now by the full light
of a new experience, to see how much more his sentences meant than he
had felt them to mean when they were written. People often discover the
real force of a trite old maxim only when it is thrust upon them by a
chance adventure; but Knight had never before known the case of a man
who learnt the full compass of his own epigrams by such means.

He was intensely satisfied with one aspect of the affair. Inbred in him
was an invincible objection to be any but the first comer in a woman’s
heart. He had discovered within himself the condition that if ever
he did make up his mind to marry, it must be on the certainty that
no cropping out of inconvenient old letters, no bow and blush to
a mysterious stranger casually met, should be a possible source of
discomposure. Knight’s sentiments were only the ordinary ones of a man
of his age who loves genuinely, perhaps exaggerated a little by his
pursuits. When men first love as lads, it is with the very centre of
their hearts, nothing else being concerned in the operation. With added
years, more of the faculties attempt a partnership in the passion, till
at Knight’s age the understanding is fain to have a hand in it. It may
as well be left out. A man in love setting up his brains as a gauge of
his position is as one determining a ship’s longitude from a light at
the mast-head.

Knight argued from Elfride’s unwontedness of manner, which was matter
of fact, to an unwontedness in love, which was matter of inference only.
Incredules les plus credules. ‘Elfride,’ he said, ‘had hardly looked
upon a man till she saw me.’

He had never forgotten his severity to her because she preferred
ornament to edification, and had since excused her a hundred times
by thinking how natural to womankind was a love of adornment, and how
necessary became a mild infusion of personal vanity to complete the
delicate and fascinating dye of the feminine mind. So at the end of the
week’s absence, which had brought him as far as Dublin, he resolved to
curtail his tour, return to Endelstow, and commit himself by making a
reality of the hypothetical offer of that Sunday evening.

Notwithstanding that he had concocted a great deal of paper theory on
social amenities and modern manners generally, the special ounce of
practice was wanting, and now for his life Knight could not recollect
whether it was considered correct to give a young lady personal
ornaments before a regular engagement to marry had been initiated.
But the day before leaving Dublin he looked around anxiously for a
high-class jewellery establishment, in which he purchased what he
considered would suit her best.

It was with a most awkward and unwonted feeling that after entering and
closing the door of his room he sat down, opened the morocco case, and
held up each of the fragile bits of gold-work before his eyes. Many
things had become old to the solitary man of letters, but these were
new, and he handled like a child an outcome of civilization which had
never before been touched by his fingers. A sudden fastidious decision
that the pattern chosen would not suit her after all caused him to rise
in a flurry and tear down the street to change them for others. After
a great deal of trouble in reselecting, during which his mind became so
bewildered that the critical faculty on objects of art seemed to have
vacated his person altogether, Knight carried off another pair of
ear-rings. These remained in his possession till the afternoon, when,
after contemplating them fifty times with a growing misgiving that the
last choice was worse than the first, he felt that no sleep would visit
his pillow till he had improved upon his previous purchases yet again.
In a perfect heat of vexation with himself for such tergiversation, he
went anew to the shop-door, was absolutely ashamed to enter and give
further trouble, went to another shop, bought a pair at an enormously
increased price, because they seemed the very thing, asked the
goldsmiths if they would take the other pair in exchange, was told that
they could not exchange articles bought of another maker, paid down the
money, and went off with the two pairs in his possession, wondering what
on earth to do with the superfluous pair. He almost wished he could
lose them, or that somebody would steal them, and was burdened with an
interposing sense that, as a capable man, with true ideas of economy,
he must necessarily sell them somewhere, which he did at last for a mere
song. Mingled with a blank feeling of a whole day being lost to him in
running about the city on this new and extraordinary class of errand,
and of several pounds being lost through his bungling, was a slight
sense of satisfaction that he had emerged for ever from his antediluvian
ignorance on the subject of ladies’ jewellery, as well as secured a
truly artistic production at last. During the remainder of that day
he scanned the ornaments of every lady he met with the profoundly
experienced eye of an appraiser.

Next morning Knight was again crossing St. George’s Channel--not
returning to London by the Holyhead route as he had originally intended,
but towards Bristol--availing himself of Mr. and Mrs. Swancourt’s
invitation to revisit them on his homeward journey.

We flit forward to Elfride.

Woman’s ruling passion--to fascinate and influence those more powerful
than she--though operant in Elfride, was decidedly purposeless. She had
wanted her friend Knight’s good opinion from the first: how much more
than that elementary ingredient of friendship she now desired, her fears
would hardly allow her to think. In originally wishing to please
the highest class of man she had ever intimately known, there was no
disloyalty to Stephen Smith. She could not--and few women can--realize
the possible vastness of an issue which has only an insignificant
begetting.

Her letters from Stephen were necessarily few, and her sense of fidelity
clung to the last she had received as a wrecked mariner clings to
flotsam. The young girl persuaded herself that she was glad Stephen
had such a right to her hand as he had acquired (in her eyes) by the
elopement. She beguiled herself by saying, ‘Perhaps if I had not so
committed myself I might fall in love with Mr. Knight.’

All this made the week of Knight’s absence very gloomy and distasteful
to her. She retained Stephen in her prayers, and his old letters were
re-read--as a medicine in reality, though she deceived herself into the
belief that it was as a pleasure.

These letters had grown more and more hopeful. He told her that he
finished his work every day with a pleasant consciousness of having
removed one more stone from the barrier which divided them. Then he drew
images of what a fine figure they two would cut some day. People would
turn their heads and say, ‘What a prize he has won!’ She was not to be
sad about that wild runaway attempt of theirs (Elfride had repeatedly
said that it grieved her). Whatever any other person who knew of it
might think, he knew well enough the modesty of her nature. The only
reproach was a gentle one for not having written quite so devotedly
during her visit to London. Her letter had seemed to have a liveliness
derived from other thoughts than thoughts of him.


Knight’s intention of an early return to Endelstow having originally
been faint, his promise to do so had been fainter. He was a man who kept
his words well to the rear of his possible actions. The vicar was rather
surprised to see him again so soon: Mrs. Swancourt was not. Knight
found, on meeting them all, after his arrival had been announced, that
they had formed an intention to go to St. Leonards for a few days at the
end of the month.

No satisfactory conjuncture offered itself on this first evening of his
return for presenting Elfride with what he had been at such pains to
procure. He was fastidious in his reading of opportunities for such an
intended act. The next morning chancing to break fine after a week of
cloudy weather, it was proposed and decided that they should all drive
to Barwith Strand, a local lion which neither Mrs. Swancourt nor Knight
had seen. Knight scented romantic occasions from afar, and foresaw that
such a one might be expected before the coming night.

The journey was along a road by neutral green hills, upon which
hedgerows lay trailing like ropes on a quay. Gaps in these uplands
revealed the blue sea, flecked with a few dashes of white and a solitary
white sail, the whole brimming up to a keen horizon which lay like a
line ruled from hillside to hillside. Then they rolled down a pass, the
chocolate-toned rocks forming a wall on both sides, from one of which
fell a heavy jagged shade over half the roadway. A spout of fresh water
burst from an occasional crevice, and pattering down upon broad green
leaves, ran along as a rivulet at the bottom. Unkempt locks of heather
overhung the brow of each steep, whence at divers points a bramble swung
forth into mid-air, snatching at their head-dresses like a claw.

They mounted the last crest, and the bay which was to be the end of
their pilgrimage burst upon them. The ocean blueness deepened its colour
as it stretched to the foot of the crags, where it terminated in a
fringe of white--silent at this distance, though moving and heaving
like a counterpane upon a restless sleeper. The shadowed hollows of the
purple and brown rocks would have been called blue had not that tint
been so entirely appropriated by the water beside them.

The carriage was put up at a little cottage with a shed attached, and
an ostler and the coachman carried the hamper of provisions down to the
shore.

Knight found his opportunity. ‘I did not forget your wish,’ he began,
when they were apart from their friends.

Elfride looked as if she did not understand.

‘And I have brought you these,’ he continued, awkwardly pulling out the
case, and opening it while holding it towards her.

‘O Mr. Knight!’ said Elfride confusedly, and turning to a lively red; ‘I
didn’t know you had any intention or meaning in what you said. I thought
it a mere supposition. I don’t want them.’

A thought which had flashed into her mind gave the reply a greater
decisiveness than it might otherwise have possessed. To-morrow was the
day for Stephen’s letter.

‘But will you not accept them?’ Knight returned, feeling less her master
than heretofore.

‘I would rather not. They are beautiful--more beautiful than any I
have ever seen,’ she answered earnestly, looking half-wishfully at the
temptation, as Eve may have looked at the apple. ‘But I don’t want to
have them, if you will kindly forgive me, Mr. Knight.’

‘No kindness at all,’ said Mr. Knight, brought to a full stop at this
unexpected turn of events.

A silence followed. Knight held the open case, looking rather wofully
at the glittering forms he had forsaken his orbit to procure; turning it
about and holding it up as if, feeling his gift to be slighted by her,
he were endeavouring to admire it very much himself.

‘Shut them up, and don’t let me see them any longer--do!’ she said
laughingly, and with a quaint mixture of reluctance and entreaty.

‘Why, Elfie?’

‘Not Elfie to you, Mr. Knight. Oh, because I shall want them. There,
I am silly, I know, to say that! But I have a reason for not taking
them--now.’ She kept in the last word for a moment, intending to imply
that her refusal was finite, but somehow the word slipped out, and undid
all the rest.

‘You will take them some day?’

‘I don’t want to.’

‘Why don’t you want to, Elfride Swancourt?’

‘Because I don’t. I don’t like to take them.’

‘I have read a fact of distressing significance in that,’ said Knight.
‘Since you like them, your dislike to having them must be towards me?’

‘No, it isn’t.’

‘What, then? Do you like me?’

Elfride deepened in tint, and looked into the distance with features
shaped to an expression of the nicest criticism as regarded her answer.

‘I like you pretty well,’ she at length murmured mildly.

‘Not very much?’

‘You are so sharp with me, and say hard things, and so how can I?’ she
replied evasively.

‘You think me a fogey, I suppose?’

‘No, I don’t--I mean I do--I don’t know what I think you, I mean. Let us
go to papa,’ responded Elfride, with somewhat of a flurried delivery.

‘Well, I’ll tell you my object in getting the present,’ said Knight,
with a composure intended to remove from her mind any possible
impression of his being what he was--her lover. ‘You see it was the very
least I could do in common civility.’

Elfride felt rather blank at this lucid statement.

Knight continued, putting away the case: ‘I felt as anybody naturally
would have, you know, that my words on your choice the other day were
invidious and unfair, and thought an apology should take a practical
shape.’

‘Oh yes.’

Elfride was sorry--she could not tell why--that he gave such a
legitimate reason. It was a disappointment that he had all the time a
cool motive, which might be stated to anybody without raising a smile.
Had she known they were offered in that spirit, she would certainly
have accepted the seductive gift. And the tantalizing feature was that
perhaps he suspected her to imagine them offered as a lover’s token,
which was mortifying enough if they were not.

Mrs. Swancourt came now to where they were sitting, to select a flat
boulder for spreading their table-cloth upon, and, amid the discussion
on that subject, the matter pending between Knight and Elfride was
shelved for a while. He read her refusal so certainly as the bashfulness
of a girl in a novel position, that, upon the whole, he could tolerate
such a beginning. Could Knight have been told that it was a sense of
fidelity struggling against new love, whilst no less assuring as to his
ultimate victory, it might have entirely abstracted the wish to secure
it.

At the same time a slight constraint of manner was visible between
them for the remainder of the afternoon. The tide turned, and they were
obliged to ascend to higher ground. The day glided on to its end with
the usual quiet dreamy passivity of such occasions--when every deed done
and thing thought is in endeavouring to avoid doing and thinking
more. Looking idly over the verge of a crag, they beheld their stone
dining-table gradually being splashed upon and their crumbs and
fragments all washed away by the incoming sea. The vicar drew a moral
lesson from the scene; Knight replied in the same satisfied strain. And
then the waves rolled in furiously--the neutral green-and-blue tongues
of water slid up the slopes, and were metamorphosed into foam by a
careless blow, falling back white and faint, and leaving trailing
followers behind.

The passing of a heavy shower was the next scene--driving them to
shelter in a shallow cave--after which the horses were put in, and they
started to return homeward. By the time they reached the higher levels
the sky had again cleared, and the sunset rays glanced directly upon
the wet uphill road they had climbed. The ruts formed by their
carriage-wheels on the ascent--a pair of Liliputian canals--were as
shining bars of gold, tapering to nothing in the distance. Upon this
also they turned their backs, and night spread over the sea.

The evening was chilly, and there was no moon. Knight sat close to
Elfride, and, when the darkness rendered the position of a person a
matter of uncertainty, particularly close. Elfride edged away.

‘I hope you allow me my place ungrudgingly?’ he whispered.

‘Oh yes; ‘tis the least I can do in common civility,’ she said,
accenting the words so that he might recognize them as his own returned.

Both of them felt delicately balanced between two possibilities. Thus
they reached home.

To Knight this mild experience was delightful. It was to him a gentle
innocent time--a time which, though there may not be much in it, seldom
repeats itself in a man’s life, and has a peculiar dearness when glanced
at retrospectively. He is not inconveniently deep in love, and is lulled
by a peaceful sense of being able to enjoy the most trivial thing with
a childlike enjoyment. The movement of a wave, the colour of a stone,
anything, was enough for Knight’s drowsy thoughts of that day to
precipitate themselves upon. Even the sermonizing platitudes the
vicar had delivered himself of--chiefly because something seemed to
be professionally required of him in the presence of a man of Knight’s
proclivities--were swallowed whole. The presence of Elfride led him not
merely to tolerate that kind of talk from the necessities of ordinary
courtesy; but he listened to it--took in the ideas with an enjoyable
make-believe that they were proper and necessary, and indulged in a
conservative feeling that the face of things was complete.

Entering her room that evening Elfride found a packet for herself on
the dressing-table. How it came there she did not know. She tremblingly
undid the folds of white paper that covered it. Yes; it was the treasure
of a morocco case, containing those treasures of ornament she had
refused in the daytime.

Elfride dressed herself in them for a moment, looked at herself in the
glass, blushed red, and put them away. They filled her dreams all that
night. Never had she seen anything so lovely, and never was it more
clear that as an honest woman she was in duty bound to refuse them.
Why it was not equally clear to her that duty required more vigorous
co-ordinate conduct as well, let those who dissect her say.

The next morning glared in like a spectre upon her. It was Stephen’s
letter-day, and she was bound to meet the postman--to stealthily do a
deed she had never liked, to secure an end she now had ceased to desire.

But she went.

There were two letters.

One was from the bank at St. Launce’s, in which she had a small private
deposit--probably something about interest. She put that in her
pocket for a moment, and going indoors and upstairs to be safer from
observation, tremblingly opened Stephen’s.

What was this he said to her?

She was to go to the St. Launce’s Bank and take a sum of money which
they had received private advices to pay her.

The sum was two hundred pounds.

There was no check, order, or anything of the nature of guarantee. In
fact the information amounted to this: the money was now in the St.
Launce’s Bank, standing in her name.

She instantly opened the other letter. It contained a deposit-note from
the bank for the sum of two hundred pounds which had that day been
added to her account. Stephen’s information, then, was correct, and the
transfer made.

‘I have saved this in one year,’ Stephen’s letter went on to say, ‘and
what so proper as well as pleasant for me to do as to hand it over to
you to keep for your use? I have plenty for myself, independently of
this. Should you not be disposed to let it lie idle in the bank, get
your father to invest it in your name on good security. It is a little
present to you from your more than betrothed. He will, I think, Elfride,
feel now that my pretensions to your hand are anything but the dream of
a silly boy not worth rational consideration.’

With a natural delicacy, Elfride, in mentioning her father’s marriage,
had refrained from all allusion to the pecuniary resources of the lady.

Leaving this matter-of-fact subject, he went on, somewhat after his
boyish manner:

‘Do you remember, darling, that first morning of my arrival at your
house, when your father read at prayers the miracle of healing the sick
of the palsy--where he is told to take up his bed and walk? I do, and I
can now so well realize the force of that passage. The smallest piece of
mat is the bed of the Oriental, and yesterday I saw a native perform the
very action, which reminded me to mention it. But you are better read
than I, and perhaps you knew all this long ago....One day I bought some
small native idols to send home to you as curiosities, but afterwards
finding they had been cast in England, made to look old, and shipped
over, I threw them away in disgust.

‘Speaking of this reminds me that we are obliged to import all our
house-building ironwork from England. Never was such foresight required
to be exercised in building houses as here. Before we begin, we have
to order every column, lock, hinge, and screw that will be required.
We cannot go into the next street, as in London, and get them cast at
a minute’s notice. Mr. L. says somebody will have to go to England very
soon and superintend the selection of a large order of this kind. I only
wish I may be the man.’

There before her lay the deposit-receipt for the two hundred pounds,
and beside it the elegant present of Knight. Elfride grew cold--then her
cheeks felt heated by beating blood. If by destroying the piece of paper
the whole transaction could have been withdrawn from her experience, she
would willingly have sacrificed the money it represented. She did
not know what to do in either case. She almost feared to let the two
articles lie in juxtaposition: so antagonistic were the interests they
represented that a miraculous repulsion of one by the other was almost
to be expected.

That day she was seen little of. By the evening she had come to a
resolution, and acted upon it. The packet was sealed up--with a tear
of regret as she closed the case upon the pretty forms it
contained--directed, and placed upon the writing-table in Knight’s room.
And a letter was written to Stephen, stating that as yet she hardly
understood her position with regard to the money sent; but declaring
that she was ready to fulfil her promise to marry him. After this letter
had been written she delayed posting it--although never ceasing to feel
strenuously that the deed must be done.

Several days passed. There was another Indian letter for Elfride. Coming
unexpectedly, her father saw it, but made no remark--why, she could not
tell. The news this time was absolutely overwhelming. Stephen, as he
had wished, had been actually chosen as the most fitting to execute the
iron-work commission he had alluded to as impending. This duty completed
he would have three months’ leave. His letter continued that he should
follow it in a week, and should take the opportunity to plainly ask
her father to permit the engagement. Then came a page expressive of his
delight and hers at the reunion; and finally, the information that he
would write to the shipping agents, asking them to telegraph and tell
her when the ship bringing him home should be in sight--knowing how
acceptable such information would be.

Elfride lived and moved now as in a dream. Knight had at first become
almost angry at her persistent refusal of his offering--and no less with
the manner than the fact of it. But he saw that she began to look worn
and ill--and his vexation lessened to simple perplexity.

He ceased now to remain in the house for long hours together as before,
but made it a mere centre for antiquarian and geological excursions in
the neighbourhood. Throw up his cards and go away he fain would have
done, but could not. And, thus, availing himself of the privileges of
a relative, he went in and out the premises as fancy led him--but still
lingered on.

‘I don’t wish to stay here another day if my presence is distasteful,’
he said one afternoon. ‘At first you used to imply that I was severe
with you; and when I am kind you treat me unfairly.’

‘No, no. Don’t say so.’

The origin of their acquaintanceship had been such as to render their
manner towards each other peculiar and uncommon. It was of a kind to
cause them to speak out their minds on any feelings of objection and
difference: to be reticent on gentler matters.

‘I have a good mind to go away and never trouble you again,’ continued
Knight.

She said nothing, but the eloquent expression of her eyes and wan face
was enough to reproach him for harshness.

‘Do you like me to be here, then?’ inquired Knight gently.

‘Yes,’ she said. Fidelity to the old love and truth to the new were
ranged on opposite sides, and truth virtuelessly prevailed.

‘Then I’ll stay a little longer,’ said Knight.

‘Don’t be vexed if I keep by myself a good deal, will you? Perhaps
something may happen, and I may tell you something.’

‘Mere coyness,’ said Knight to himself; and went away with a lighter
heart. The trick of reading truly the enigmatical forces at work in
women at given times, which with some men is an unerring instinct, is
peculiar to minds less direct and honest than Knight’s.

The next evening, about five o’clock, before Knight had returned from
a pilgrimage along the shore, a man walked up to the house. He was a
messenger from Camelton, a town a few miles off, to which place the
railway had been advanced during the summer.

‘A telegram for Miss Swancourt, and three and sixpence to pay for the
special messenger.’ Miss Swancourt sent out the money, signed the paper,
and opened her letter with a trembling hand. She read:


‘Johnson, Liverpool, to Miss Swancourt, Endelstow, near Castle Boterel.

‘Amaryllis telegraphed off Holyhead, four o’clock. Expect will dock and
land passengers at Canning’s Basin ten o’clock to-morrow morning.’


Her father called her into the study.

‘Elfride, who sent you that message?’ he asked suspiciously.

‘Johnson.’ ‘Who is Johnson, for Heaven’s sake?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘The deuce you don’t! Who is to know, then?’

‘I have never heard of him till now.’

‘That’s a singular story, isn’t it.’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Come, come, miss! What was the telegram?’

‘Do you really wish to know, papa?’

‘Well, I do.’

‘Remember, I am a full-grown woman now.’

‘Well, what then?’

‘Being a woman, and not a child, I may, I think, have a secret or two.’

‘You will, it seems.’

‘Women have, as a rule.’

‘But don’t keep them. So speak out.’

‘If you will not press me now, I give my word to tell you the meaning of
all this before the week is past.’

‘On your honour?’

‘On my honour.’

‘Very well. I have had a certain suspicion, you know; and I shall be
glad to find it false. I don’t like your manner lately.’

‘At the end of the week, I said, papa.’

Her father did not reply, and Elfride left the room.

She began to look out for the postman again. Three mornings later he
brought an inland letter from Stephen. It contained very little matter,
having been written in haste; but the meaning was bulky enough. Stephen
said that, having executed a commission in Liverpool, he should arrive
at his father’s house, East Endelstow, at five or six o’clock that same
evening; that he would after dusk walk on to the next village, and meet
her, if she would, in the church porch, as in the old time. He proposed
this plan because he thought it unadvisable to call formally at her
house so late in the evening; yet he could not sleep without having seen
her. The minutes would seem hours till he clasped her in his arms.

Elfride was still steadfast in her opinion that honour compelled her to
meet him. Probably the very longing to avoid him lent additional weight
to the conviction; for she was markedly one of those who sigh for the
unattainable--to whom, superlatively, a hope is pleasing because not a
possession. And she knew it so well that her intellect was inclined to
exaggerate this defect in herself.

So during the day she looked her duty steadfastly in the face; read
Wordsworth’s astringent yet depressing ode to that Deity; committed
herself to her guidance; and still felt the weight of chance desires.

But she began to take a melancholy pleasure in contemplating the
sacrifice of herself to the man whom a maidenly sense of propriety
compelled her to regard as her only possible husband. She would meet
him, and do all that lay in her power to marry him. To guard against
a relapse, a note was at once despatched to his father’s cottage for
Stephen on his arrival, fixing an hour for the interview.



Chapter XXI

     ‘On thy cold grey stones, O sea!’


Stephen had said that he should come by way of Bristol, and thence by a
steamer to Castle Boterel, in order to avoid the long journey over the
hills from St. Launce’s. He did not know of the extension of the railway
to Camelton.

During the afternoon a thought occurred to Elfride, that from any cliff
along the shore it would be possible to see the steamer some hours
before its arrival.

She had accumulated religious force enough to do an act of
supererogation. The act was this--to go to some point of land and watch
for the ship that brought her future husband home.

It was a cloudy afternoon. Elfride was often diverted from a purpose by
a dull sky; and though she used to persuade herself that the weather was
as fine as possible on the other side of the clouds, she could not bring
about any practical result from this fancy. Now, her mood was such that
the humid sky harmonized with it.

Having ascended and passed over a hill behind the house, Elfride came to
a small stream. She used it as a guide to the coast. It was smaller than
that in her own valley, and flowed altogether at a higher level. Bushes
lined the slopes of its shallow trough; but at the bottom, where the
water ran, was a soft green carpet, in a strip two or three yards wide.

In winter, the water flowed over the grass; in summer, as now, it
trickled along a channel in the midst.

Elfride had a sensation of eyes regarding her from somewhere. She
turned, and there was Mr. Knight. He had dropped into the valley from
the side of the hill. She felt a thrill of pleasure, and rebelliously
allowed it to exist.

‘What utter loneliness to find you in!’

‘I am going to the shore by tracking the stream. I believe it empties
itself not far off, in a silver thread of water, over a cascade of great
height.’

‘Why do you load yourself with that heavy telescope?’

‘To look over the sea with it,’ she said faintly.

‘I’ll carry it for you to your journey’s end.’ And he took the glass
from her unresisting hands. ‘It cannot be half a mile further. See,
there is the water.’ He pointed to a short fragment of level muddy-gray
colour, cutting against the sky.

Elfride had already scanned the small surface of ocean visible, and had
seen no ship.

They walked along in company, sometimes with the brook between them--for
it was no wider than a man’s stride--sometimes close together. The green
carpet grew swampy, and they kept higher up.

One of the two ridges between which they walked dwindled lower and
became insignificant. That on the right hand rose with their advance,
and terminated in a clearly defined edge against the light, as if it
were abruptly sawn off. A little further, and the bed of the rivulet
ended in the same fashion.

They had come to a bank breast-high, and over it the valley was no
longer to be seen. It was withdrawn cleanly and completely. In its
place was sky and boundless atmosphere; and perpendicularly down beneath
them--small and far off--lay the corrugated surface of the Atlantic.

The small stream here found its death. Running over the precipice it was
dispersed in spray before it was half-way down, and falling like rain
upon projecting ledges, made minute grassy meadows of them. At the
bottom the water-drops soaked away amid the debris of the cliff. This
was the inglorious end of the river.

‘What are you looking for? said Knight, following the direction of her
eyes.

She was gazing hard at a black object--nearer to the shore than to the
horizon--from the summit of which came a nebulous haze, stretching like
gauze over the sea.

‘The Puffin, a little summer steamboat--from Bristol to Castle Boterel,’
she said. ‘I think that is it--look. Will you give me the glass?’

Knight pulled open the old-fashioned but powerful telescope, and handed
it to Elfride, who had looked on with heavy eyes.

‘I can’t keep it up now,’ she said.

‘Rest it on my shoulder.’

‘It is too high.’

‘Under my arm.’

‘Too low. You may look instead,’ she murmured weakly.

Knight raised the glass to his eye, and swept the sea till the Puffin
entered its field.

‘Yes, it is the Puffin--a tiny craft. I can see her figure-head
distinctly--a bird with a beak as big as its head.’

‘Can you see the deck?’

‘Wait a minute; yes, pretty clearly. And I can see the black forms
of the passengers against its white surface. One of them has taken
something from another--a glass, I think--yes, it is--and he is
levelling it in this direction. Depend upon it we are conspicuous
objects against the sky to them. Now, it seems to rain upon them, and
they put on overcoats and open umbrellas. They vanish and go below--all
but that one who has borrowed the glass. He is a slim young fellow, and
still watches us.’

Elfride grew pale, and shifted her little feet uneasily.

Knight lowered the glass.

‘I think we had better return,’ he said. ‘That cloud which is raining on
them may soon reach us. Why, you look ill. How is that?’

‘Something in the air affects my face.’

‘Those fair cheeks are very fastidious, I fear,’ returned Knight
tenderly. ‘This air would make those rosy that were never so before, one
would think--eh, Nature’s spoilt child?’

Elfride’s colour returned again.

‘There is more to see behind us, after all,’ said Knight.

She turned her back upon the boat and Stephen Smith, and saw, towering
still higher than themselves, the vertical face of the hill on the
right, which did not project seaward so far as the bed of the valley,
but formed the back of a small cove, and so was visible like a concave
wall, bending round from their position towards the left.

The composition of the huge hill was revealed to its backbone and marrow
here at its rent extremity. It consisted of a vast stratification of
blackish-gray slate, unvaried in its whole height by a single change of
shade.

It is with cliffs and mountains as with persons; they have what is
called a presence, which is not necessarily proportionate to their
actual bulk. A little cliff will impress you powerfully; a great one not
at all. It depends, as with man, upon the countenance of the cliff.

‘I cannot bear to look at that cliff,’ said Elfride. ‘It has a horrid
personality, and makes me shudder. We will go.’

‘Can you climb?’ said Knight. ‘If so, we will ascend by that path over
the grim old fellow’s brow.’

‘Try me,’ said Elfride disdainfully. ‘I have ascended steeper slopes
than that.’

From where they had been loitering, a grassy path wound along inside a
bank, placed as a safeguard for unwary pedestrians, to the top of the
precipice, and over it along the hill in an inland direction.

‘Take my arm, Miss Swancourt,’ said Knight.

‘I can get on better without it, thank you.’

When they were one quarter of the way up, Elfride stopped to take
breath. Knight stretched out his hand.

She took it, and they ascended the remaining slope together. Reaching
the very top, they sat down to rest by mutual consent.

‘Heavens, what an altitude!’ said Knight between his pants, and looking
far over the sea. The cascade at the bottom of the slope appeared a mere
span in height from where they were now.

Elfride was looking to the left. The steamboat was in full view again,
and by reason of the vast surface of sea their higher position uncovered
it seemed almost close to the shore.

‘Over that edge,’ said Knight, ‘where nothing but vacancy appears, is a
moving compact mass. The wind strikes the face of the rock, runs up it,
rises like a fountain to a height far above our heads, curls over us
in an arch, and disperses behind us. In fact, an inverted cascade is
there--as perfect as the Niagara Falls--but rising instead of falling,
and air instead of water. Now look here.’

Knight threw a stone over the bank, aiming it as if to go onward over
the cliff. Reaching the verge, it towered into the air like a bird,
turned back, and alighted on the ground behind them. They themselves
were in a dead calm.

‘A boat crosses Niagara immediately at the foot of the falls, where
the water is quite still, the fallen mass curving under it. We are in
precisely the same position with regard to our atmospheric cataract
here. If you run back from the cliff fifty yards, you will be in a brisk
wind. Now I daresay over the bank is a little backward current.’

Knight rose and leant over the bank. No sooner was his head above it
than his hat appeared to be sucked from his head--slipping over his
forehead in a seaward direction.

‘That’s the backward eddy, as I told you,’ he cried, and vanished over
the little bank after his hat.

Elfride waited one minute; he did not return. She waited another, and
there was no sign of him.

A few drops of rain fell, then a sudden shower.

She arose, and looked over the bank. On the other side were two or three
yards of level ground--then a short steep preparatory slope--then the
verge of the precipice.

On the slope was Knight, his hat on his head. He was on his hands and
knees, trying to climb back to the level ground. The rain had wetted the
shaly surface of the incline. A slight superficial wetting of the soil
hereabout made it far more slippery to stand on than the same soil
thoroughly drenched. The inner substance was still hard, and was
lubricated by the moistened film.

‘I find a difficulty in getting back,’ said Knight.

Elfride’s heart fell like lead.

‘But you can get back?’ she wildly inquired.

Knight strove with all his might for two or three minutes, and the drops
of perspiration began to bead his brow.

‘No, I am unable to do it,’ he answered.

Elfride, by a wrench of thought, forced away from her mind the sensation
that Knight was in bodily danger. But attempt to help him she must. She
ventured upon the treacherous incline, propped herself with the closed
telescope, and gave him her hand before he saw her movements.

‘O Elfride! why did you?’ said he. ‘I am afraid you have only endangered
yourself.’

And as if to prove his statement, in making an endeavour by her
assistance they both slipped lower, and then he was again stayed. His
foot was propped by a bracket of quartz rock, balanced on the verge of
the precipice. Fixed by this, he steadied her, her head being about a
foot below the beginning of the slope. Elfride had dropped the glass; it
rolled to the edge and vanished over it into a nether sky.

‘Hold tightly to me,’ he said.

She flung her arms round his neck with such a firm grasp that whilst he
remained it was impossible for her to fall.

‘Don’t be flurried,’ Knight continued. ‘So long as we stay above this
block we are perfectly safe. Wait a moment whilst I consider what we had
better do.’

He turned his eyes to the dizzy depths beneath them, and surveyed the
position of affairs.

Two glances told him a tale with ghastly distinctness. It was that,
unless they performed their feat of getting up the slope with the
precision of machines, they were over the edge and whirling in mid-air.

For this purpose it was necessary that he should recover the breath and
strength which his previous efforts had cost him. So he still waited,
and looked in the face of the enemy.

The crest of this terrible natural facade passed among the neighbouring
inhabitants as being seven hundred feet above the water it overhung.
It had been proved by actual measurement to be not a foot less than six
hundred and fifty.

That is to say, it is nearly three times the height of Flamborough, half
as high again as the South Foreland, a hundred feet higher than
Beachy Head--the loftiest promontory on the east or south side of this
island--twice the height of St. Aldhelm’s, thrice as high as the Lizard,
and just double the height of St. Bee’s. One sea-bord point on the
western coast is known to surpass it in altitude, but only by a few
feet. This is Great Orme’s Head, in Caernarvonshire.

And it must be remembered that the cliff exhibits an intensifying
feature which some of those are without--sheer perpendicularity from the
half-tide level.

Yet this remarkable rampart forms no headland: it rather walls in an
inlet--the promontory on each side being much lower. Thus, far from
being salient, its horizontal section is concave. The sea, rolling
direct from the shores of North America, has in fact eaten a chasm into
the middle of a hill, and the giant, embayed and unobtrusive, stands in
the rear of pigmy supporters. Not least singularly, neither hill, chasm,
nor precipice has a name. On this account I will call the precipice the
Cliff without a Name.*

     * See Preface

What gave an added terror to its height was its blackness. And upon this
dark face the beating of ten thousand west winds had formed a kind of
bloom, which had a visual effect not unlike that of a Hambro’ grape.
Moreover it seemed to float off into the atmosphere, and inspire terror
through the lungs.

‘This piece of quartz, supporting my feet, is on the very nose of
the cliff,’ said Knight, breaking the silence after his rigid stoical
meditation. ‘Now what you are to do is this. Clamber up my body till
your feet are on my shoulders: when you are there you will, I think, be
able to climb on to level ground.’

‘What will you do?’

‘Wait whilst you run for assistance.’

‘I ought to have done that in the first place, ought I not?’

‘I was in the act of slipping, and should have reached no stand-point
without your weight, in all probability. But don’t let us talk. Be
brave, Elfride, and climb.’

She prepared to ascend, saying, ‘This is the moment I anticipated when
on the tower. I thought it would come!’

‘This is not a time for superstition,’ said Knight. ‘Dismiss all that.’

‘I will,’ she said humbly.

‘Now put your foot into my hand: next the other. That’s good--well done.
Hold to my shoulder.’

She placed her feet upon the stirrup he made of his hand, and was high
enough to get a view of the natural surface of the hill over the bank.

‘Can you now climb on to level ground?’

‘I am afraid not. I will try.’

‘What can you see?’

‘The sloping common.’

‘What upon it?’

‘Purple heather and some grass.’

‘Nothing more--no man or human being of any kind?’

‘Nobody.’

‘Now try to get higher in this way. You see that tuft of sea-pink above
you. Get that well into your hand, but don’t trust to it entirely. Then
step upon my shoulder, and I think you will reach the top.’

With trembling limbs she did exactly as he told her. The preternatural
quiet and solemnity of his manner overspread upon herself, and gave her
a courage not her own. She made a spring from the top of his shoulder,
and was up.

Then she turned to look at him.

By an ill fate, the force downwards of her bound, added to his own
weight, had been too much for the block of quartz upon which his feet
depended. It was, indeed, originally an igneous protrusion into the
enormous masses of black strata, which had since been worn away from the
sides of the alien fragment by centuries of frost and rain, and now left
it without much support.

It moved. Knight seized a tuft of sea-pink with each hand.

The quartz rock which had been his salvation was worse than useless now.
It rolled over, out of sight, and away into the same nether sky that had
engulfed the telescope.

One of the tufts by which he held came out at the root, and Knight began
to follow the quartz. It was a terrible moment. Elfride uttered a low
wild wail of agony, bowed her head, and covered her face with her hands.

Between the turf-covered slope and the gigantic perpendicular rock
intervened a weather-worn series of jagged edges, forming a face yet
steeper than the former slope. As he slowly slid inch by inch upon
these, Knight made a last desperate dash at the lowest tuft of
vegetation--the last outlying knot of starved herbage ere the rock
appeared in all its bareness. It arrested his further descent. Knight
was now literally suspended by his arms; but the incline of the
brow being what engineers would call about a quarter in one, it was
sufficient to relieve his arms of a portion of his weight, but was very
far from offering an adequately flat face to support him.

In spite of this dreadful tension of body and mind, Knight found time
for a moment of thankfulness. Elfride was safe.

She lay on her side above him--her fingers clasped. Seeing him again
steady, she jumped upon her feet.

‘Now, if I can only save you by running for help!’ she cried. ‘Oh, I
would have died instead! Why did you try so hard to deliver me?’ And she
turned away wildly to run for assistance.

‘Elfride, how long will it take you to run to Endelstow and back?’

‘Three-quarters of an hour.’

‘That won’t do; my hands will not hold out ten minutes. And is there
nobody nearer?’

‘No; unless a chance passer may happen to be.’

‘He would have nothing with him that could save me. Is there a pole or
stick of any kind on the common?’

She gazed around. The common was bare of everything but heather and
grass.

A minute--perhaps more time--was passed in mute thought by both. On a
sudden the blank and helpless agony left her face. She vanished over the
bank from his sight.

Knight felt himself in the presence of a personalized loneliness.



Chapter XXII

     ‘A woman’s way.’


Haggard cliffs, of every ugly altitude, are as common as sea-fowl along
the line of coast between Exmoor and Land’s End; but this outflanked and
encompassed specimen was the ugliest of them all. Their summits are not
safe places for scientific experiment on the principles of air-currents,
as Knight had now found, to his dismay.

He still clutched the face of the escarpment--not with the frenzied
hold of despair, but with a dogged determination to make the most of
his every jot of endurance, and so give the longest possible scope to
Elfride’s intentions, whatever they might be.

He reclined hand in hand with the world in its infancy. Not a blade, not
an insect, which spoke of the present, was between him and the past. The
inveterate antagonism of these black precipices to all strugglers for
life is in no way more forcibly suggested than by the paucity of tufts
of grass, lichens, or confervae on their outermost ledges.

Knight pondered on the meaning of Elfride’s hasty disappearance, but
could not avoid an instinctive conclusion that there existed but a
doubtful hope for him. As far as he could judge, his sole chance of
deliverance lay in the possibility of a rope or pole being brought; and
this possibility was remote indeed. The soil upon these high downs was
left so untended that they were unenclosed for miles, except by a
casual bank or dry wall, and were rarely visited but for the purpose
of collecting or counting the flock which found a scanty means of
subsistence thereon.

At first, when death appeared improbable, because it had never visited
him before, Knight could think of no future, nor of anything connected
with his past. He could only look sternly at Nature’s treacherous
attempt to put an end to him, and strive to thwart her.

From the fact that the cliff formed the inner face of the segment of a
huge cylinder, having the sky for a top and the sea for a bottom, which
enclosed the cove to the extent of more than a semicircle, he could see
the vertical face curving round on each side of him. He looked far down
the facade, and realized more thoroughly how it threatened him. Grimness
was in every feature, and to its very bowels the inimical shape was
desolation.

By one of those familiar conjunctions of things wherewith the inanimate
world baits the mind of man when he pauses in moments of suspense,
opposite Knight’s eyes was an imbedded fossil, standing forth in low
relief from the rock. It was a creature with eyes. The eyes, dead and
turned to stone, were even now regarding him. It was one of the early
crustaceans called Trilobites. Separated by millions of years in their
lives, Knight and this underling seemed to have met in their death. It
was the single instance within reach of his vision of anything that had
ever been alive and had had a body to save, as he himself had now.

The creature represented but a low type of animal existence, for never
in their vernal years had the plains indicated by those numberless slaty
layers been traversed by an intelligence worthy of the name. Zoophytes,
mollusca, shell-fish, were the highest developments of those ancient
dates. The immense lapses of time each formation represented had known
nothing of the dignity of man. They were grand times, but they were mean
times too, and mean were their relics. He was to be with the small in
his death.

Knight was a geologist; and such is the supremacy of habit over
occasion, as a pioneer of the thoughts of men, that at this dreadful
juncture his mind found time to take in, by a momentary sweep, the
varied scenes that had had their day between this creature’s epoch and
his own. There is no place like a cleft landscape for bringing home such
imaginings as these.

Time closed up like a fan before him. He saw himself at one extremity
of the years, face to face with the beginning and all the intermediate
centuries simultaneously. Fierce men, clothed in the hides of beasts,
and carrying, for defence and attack, huge clubs and pointed spears,
rose from the rock, like the phantoms before the doomed Macbeth.
They lived in hollows, woods, and mud huts--perhaps in caves of the
neighbouring rocks. Behind them stood an earlier band. No man was there.
Huge elephantine forms, the mastodon, the hippopotamus, the tapir,
antelopes of monstrous size, the megatherium, and the myledon--all, for
the moment, in juxtaposition. Further back, and overlapped by these,
were perched huge-billed birds and swinish creatures as large as horses.
Still more shadowy were the sinister crocodilian outlines--alligators
and other uncouth shapes, culminating in the colossal lizard, the
iguanodon. Folded behind were dragon forms and clouds of flying
reptiles: still underneath were fishy beings of lower development; and
so on, till the lifetime scenes of the fossil confronting him were
a present and modern condition of things. These images passed before
Knight’s inner eye in less than half a minute, and he was again
considering the actual present. Was he to die? The mental picture of
Elfride in the world, without himself to cherish her, smote his heart
like a whip. He had hoped for deliverance, but what could a girl do? He
dared not move an inch. Was Death really stretching out his hand? The
previous sensation, that it was improbable he would die, was fainter
now.

However, Knight still clung to the cliff.

To those musing weather-beaten West-country folk who pass the greater
part of their days and nights out of doors, Nature seems to have moods
in other than a poetical sense: predilections for certain deeds at
certain times, without any apparent law to govern or season to account
for them. She is read as a person with a curious temper; as one who does
not scatter kindnesses and cruelties alternately, impartially, and in
order, but heartless severities or overwhelming generosities in lawless
caprice. Man’s case is always that of the prodigal’s favourite or the
miser’s pensioner. In her unfriendly moments there seems a feline fun
in her tricks, begotten by a foretaste of her pleasure in swallowing the
victim.

Such a way of thinking had been absurd to Knight, but he began to adopt
it now. He was first spitted on to a rock. New tortures followed. The
rain increased, and persecuted him with an exceptional persistency which
he was moved to believe owed its cause to the fact that he was in such
a wretched state already. An entirely new order of things could be
observed in this introduction of rain upon the scene. It rained upwards
instead of down. The strong ascending air carried the rain-drops with
it in its race up the escarpment, coming to him with such velocity that
they stuck into his flesh like cold needles. Each drop was virtually a
shaft, and it pierced him to his skin. The water-shafts seemed to lift
him on their points: no downward rain ever had such a torturing effect.
In a brief space he was drenched, except in two places. These were on
the top of his shoulders and on the crown of his hat.

The wind, though not intense in other situations was strong here. It
tugged at his coat and lifted it. We are mostly accustomed to look upon
all opposition which is not animate, as that of the stolid, inexorable
hand of indifference, which wears out the patience more than the
strength. Here, at any rate, hostility did not assume that slow and
sickening form. It was a cosmic agency, active, lashing, eager for
conquest: determination; not an insensate standing in the way.

Knight had over-estimated the strength of his hands. They were getting
weak already. ‘She will never come again; she has been gone ten
minutes,’ he said to himself.

This mistake arose from the unusual compression of his experiences just
now: she had really been gone but three.

‘As many more minutes will be my end,’ he thought.

Next came another instance of the incapacity of the mind to make
comparisons at such times.

‘This is a summer afternoon,’ he said, ‘and there can never have been
such a heavy and cold rain on a summer day in my life before.’

He was again mistaken. The rain was quite ordinary in quantity; the air
in temperature. It was, as is usual, the menacing attitude in which they
approached him that magnified their powers.

He again looked straight downwards, the wind and the water-dashes
lifting his moustache, scudding up his cheeks, under his eyelids,
and into his eyes. This is what he saw down there: the surface of
the sea--visually just past his toes, and under his feet; actually
one-eighth of a mile, or more than two hundred yards, below them. We
colour according to our moods the objects we survey. The sea would have
been a deep neutral blue, had happier auspices attended the gazer it was
now no otherwise than distinctly black to his vision. That narrow white
border was foam, he knew well; but its boisterous tosses were so distant
as to appear a pulsation only, and its plashing was barely audible. A
white border to a black sea--his funeral pall and its edging.

The world was to some extent turned upside down for him. Rain descended
from below. Beneath his feet was aerial space and the unknown; above him
was the firm, familiar ground, and upon it all that he loved best.

Pitiless nature had then two voices, and two only. The nearer was the
voice of the wind in his ears rising and falling as it mauled and thrust
him hard or softly. The second and distant one was the moan of that
unplummetted ocean below and afar--rubbing its restless flank against
the Cliff without a Name.

Knight perseveringly held fast. Had he any faith in Elfride? Perhaps.
Love is faith, and faith, like a gathered flower, will rootlessly live
on.

Nobody would have expected the sun to shine on such an evening as this.
Yet it appeared, low down upon the sea. Not with its natural golden
fringe, sweeping the furthest ends of the landscape, not with the
strange glare of whiteness which it sometimes puts on as an alternative
to colour, but as a splotch of vermilion red upon a leaden ground--a red
face looking on with a drunken leer.

Most men who have brains know it, and few are so foolish as to disguise
this fact from themselves or others, even though an ostentatious display
may be called self-conceit. Knight, without showing it much, knew that
his intellect was above the average. And he thought--he could not help
thinking--that his death would be a deliberate loss to earth of good
material; that such an experiment in killing might have been practised
upon some less developed life.

A fancy some people hold, when in a bitter mood, is that inexorable
circumstance only tries to prevent what intelligence attempts. Renounce
a desire for a long-contested position, and go on another tack, and
after a while the prize is thrown at you, seemingly in disappointment
that no more tantalizing is possible.

Knight gave up thoughts of life utterly and entirely, and turned to
contemplate the Dark Valley and the unknown future beyond. Into the
shadowy depths of these speculations we will not follow him. Let it
suffice to state what ensued.

At that moment of taking no more thought for this life, something
disturbed the outline of the bank above him. A spot appeared. It was the
head of Elfride.

Knight immediately prepared to welcome life again.

The expression of a face consigned to utter loneliness, when a friend
first looks in upon it, is moving in the extreme. In rowing seaward to
a light-ship or sea-girt lighthouse, where, without any immediate terror
of death, the inmates experience the gloom of monotonous seclusion, the
grateful eloquence of their countenances at the greeting, expressive of
thankfulness for the visit, is enough to stir the emotions of the most
careless observer.

Knight’s upward look at Elfride was of a nature with, but far
transcending, such an instance as this. The lines of his face had
deepened to furrows, and every one of them thanked her visibly. His lips
moved to the word ‘Elfride,’ though the emotion evolved no sound. His
eyes passed all description in their combination of the whole diapason
of eloquence, from lover’s deep love to fellow-man’s gratitude for a
token of remembrance from one of his kind.

Elfride had come back. What she had come to do he did not know. She
could only look on at his death, perhaps. Still, she had come back, and
not deserted him utterly, and it was much.

It was a novelty in the extreme to see Henry Knight, to whom Elfride
was but a child, who had swayed her as a tree sways a bird’s nest, who
mastered her and made her weep most bitterly at her own insignificance,
thus thankful for a sight of her face. She looked down upon him, her
face glistening with rain and tears. He smiled faintly.

‘How calm he is!’ she thought. ‘How great and noble he is to be so
calm!’ She would have died ten times for him then.

The gliding form of the steamboat caught her eye: she heeded it no
longer.

‘How much longer can you wait?’ came from her pale lips and along the
wind to his position.

‘Four minutes,’ said Knight in a weaker voice than her own.

‘But with a good hope of being saved?’

‘Seven or eight.’

He now noticed that in her arms she bore a bundle of white linen, and
that her form was singularly attenuated. So preternaturally thin and
flexible was Elfride at this moment, that she appeared to bend under the
light blows of the rain-shafts, as they struck into her sides and bosom,
and splintered into spray on her face. There is nothing like a thorough
drenching for reducing the protuberances of clothes, but Elfride’s
seemed to cling to her like a glove.

Without heeding the attack of the clouds further than by raising her
hand and wiping away the spirts of rain when they went more particularly
into her eyes, she sat down and hurriedly began rending the linen into
strips. These she knotted end to end, and afterwards twisted them like
the strands of a cord. In a short space of time she had formed a perfect
rope by this means, six or seven yards long.

‘Can you wait while I bind it?’ she said, anxiously extending her gaze
down to him.

‘Yes, if not very long. Hope has given me a wonderful instalment of
strength.’

Elfride dropped her eyes again, tore the remaining material into narrow
tape-like ligaments, knotted each to each as before, but on a smaller
scale, and wound the lengthy string she had thus formed round and round
the linen rope, which, without this binding, had a tendency to spread
abroad.

‘Now,’ said Knight, who, watching the proceedings intently, had by this
time not only grasped her scheme, but reasoned further on, ‘I can
hold three minutes longer yet. And do you use the time in testing the
strength of the knots, one by one.’

She at once obeyed, tested each singly by putting her foot on the rope
between each knot, and pulling with her hands. One of the knots slipped.

‘Oh, think! It would have broken but for your forethought,’ Elfride
exclaimed apprehensively.

She retied the two ends. The rope was now firm in every part.

‘When you have let it down,’ said Knight, already resuming his position
of ruling power, ‘go back from the edge of the slope, and over the bank
as far as the rope will allow you. Then lean down, and hold the end with
both hands.’

He had first thought of a safer plan for his own deliverance, but it
involved the disadvantage of possibly endangering her life.

‘I have tied it round my waist,’ she cried, ‘and I will lean directly
upon the bank, holding with my hands as well.’

It was the arrangement he had thought of, but would not suggest.

‘I will raise and drop it three times when I am behind the bank,’ she
continued, ‘to signify that I am ready. Take care, oh, take the greatest
care, I beg you!’

She dropped the rope over him, to learn how much of its length it
would be necessary to expend on that side of the bank, went back, and
disappeared as she had done before.

The rope was trailing by Knight’s shoulders. In a few moments it
twitched three times.

He waited yet a second or two, then laid hold.

The incline of this upper portion of the precipice, to the length only
of a few feet, useless to a climber empty-handed, was invaluable now.
Not more than half his weight depended entirely on the linen rope. Half
a dozen extensions of the arms, alternating with half a dozen seizures
of the rope with his feet, brought him up to the level of the soil.

He was saved, and by Elfride.

He extended his cramped limbs like an awakened sleeper, and sprang over
the bank.

At sight of him she leapt to her feet with almost a shriek of joy.
Knight’s eyes met hers, and with supreme eloquence the glance of each
told a long-concealed tale of emotion in that short half-moment. Moved
by an impulse neither could resist, they ran together and into each
other’s arms.

At the moment of embracing, Elfride’s eyes involuntarily flashed towards
the Puffin steamboat. It had doubled the point, and was no longer to be
seen.

An overwhelming rush of exultation at having delivered the man she
revered from one of the most terrible forms of death, shook the gentle
girl to the centre of her soul. It merged in a defiance of duty to
Stephen, and a total recklessness as to plighted faith. Every nerve
of her will was now in entire subjection to her feeling--volition as a
guiding power had forsaken her. To remain passive, as she remained now,
encircled by his arms, was a sufficiently complete result--a glorious
crown to all the years of her life. Perhaps he was only grateful, and
did not love her. No matter: it was infinitely more to be even the slave
of the greater than the queen of the less. Some such sensation as this,
though it was not recognized as a finished thought, raced along the
impressionable soul of Elfride.

Regarding their attitude, it was impossible for two persons to go nearer
to a kiss than went Knight and Elfride during those minutes of impulsive
embrace in the pelting rain. Yet they did not kiss. Knight’s peculiarity
of nature was such that it would not allow him to take advantage of the
unguarded and passionate avowal she had tacitly made.

Elfride recovered herself, and gently struggled to be free.

He reluctantly relinquished her, and then surveyed her from crown to
toe. She seemed as small as an infant. He perceived whence she had
obtained the rope.

‘Elfride, my Elfride!’ he exclaimed in gratified amazement.

‘I must leave you now,’ she said, her face doubling its red, with
an expression between gladness and shame ‘You follow me, but at some
distance.’

‘The rain and wind pierce you through; the chill will kill you. God
bless you for such devotion! Take my coat and put it on.’

‘No; I shall get warm running.’

Elfride had absolutely nothing between her and the weather but her
exterior robe or ‘costume.’ The door had been made upon a woman’s wit,
and it had found its way out. Behind the bank, whilst Knight reclined
upon the dizzy slope waiting for death, she had taken off her whole
clothing, and replaced only her outer bodice and skirt. Every thread of
the remainder lay upon the ground in the form of a woollen and cotton
rope.

‘I am used to being wet through,’ she added. ‘I have been drenched on
Pansy dozens of times. Good-bye till we meet, clothed and in our right
minds, by the fireside at home!’

She then ran off from him through the pelting rain like a hare; or more
like a pheasant when, scampering away with a lowered tail, it has a mind
to fly, but does not. Elfride was soon out of sight.

Knight felt uncomfortably wet and chilled, but glowing with fervour
nevertheless. He fully appreciated Elfride’s girlish delicacy in
refusing his escort in the meagre habiliments she wore, yet felt
that necessary abstraction of herself for a short half-hour as a most
grievous loss to him.

He gathered up her knotted and twisted plumage of linen, lace, and
embroidery work, and laid it across his arm. He noticed on the ground
an envelope, limp and wet. In endeavouring to restore this to its proper
shape, he loosened from the envelope a piece of paper it had contained,
which was seized by the wind in falling from Knight’s hand. It was blown
to the right, blown to the left--it floated to the edge of the cliff and
over the sea, where it was hurled aloft. It twirled in the air, and then
flew back over his head.

Knight followed the paper, and secured it. Having done so, he looked to
discover if it had been worth securing.

The troublesome sheet was a banker’s receipt for two hundred pounds,
placed to the credit of Miss Swancourt, which the impractical girl had
totally forgotten she carried with her.

Knight folded it as carefully as its moist condition would allow, put it
in his pocket, and followed Elfride.



Chapter XXIII

     ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot?’


By this time Stephen Smith had stepped out upon the quay at Castle
Boterel, and breathed his native air.

A darker skin, a more pronounced moustache, and an incipient beard, were
the chief additions and changes noticeable in his appearance.

In spite of the falling rain, which had somewhat lessened, he took a
small valise in his hand, and, leaving the remainder of his luggage at
the inn, ascended the hills towards East Endelstow. This place lay in
a vale of its own, further inland than the west village, and though so
near it, had little of physical feature in common with the latter. East
Endelstow was more wooded and fertile: it boasted of Lord Luxellian’s
mansion and park, and was free from those bleak open uplands which lent
such an air of desolation to the vicinage of the coast--always excepting
the small valley in which stood the vicarage and Mrs. Swancourt’s old
house, The Crags.

Stephen had arrived nearly at the summit of the ridge when the rain
again increased its volume, and, looking about for temporary shelter, he
ascended a steep path which penetrated dense hazel bushes in the lower
part of its course. Further up it emerged upon a ledge immediately over
the turnpike-road, and sheltered by an overhanging face of rubble rock,
with bushes above. For a reason of his own he made this spot his refuge
from the storm, and turning his face to the left, conned the landscape
as a book.

He was overlooking the valley containing Elfride’s residence.

From this point of observation the prospect exhibited the peculiarity
of being either brilliant foreground or the subdued tone of distance, a
sudden dip in the surface of the country lowering out of sight all the
intermediate prospect. In apparent contact with the trees and bushes
growing close beside him appeared the distant tract, terminated suddenly
by the brink of the series of cliffs which culminated in the tall giant
without a name--small and unimportant as here beheld. A leaf on a bough
at Stephen’s elbow blotted out a whole hill in the contrasting district
far away; a green bunch of nuts covered a complete upland there, and the
great cliff itself was outvied by a pigmy crag in the bank hard by him.
Stephen had looked upon these things hundreds of times before to-day,
but he had never viewed them with such tenderness as now.

Stepping forward in this direction yet a little further, he could see
the tower of West Endelstow Church, beneath which he was to meet his
Elfride that night. And at the same time he noticed, coming over the
hill from the cliffs, a white speck in motion. It seemed first to be a
sea-gull flying low, but ultimately proved to be a human figure, running
with great rapidity. The form flitted on, heedless of the rain which
had caused Stephen’s halt in this place, dropped down the heathery hill,
entered the vale, and was out of sight.

Whilst he meditated upon the meaning of this phenomenon, he was
surprised to see swim into his ken from the same point of departure
another moving speck, as different from the first as well could be,
insomuch that it was perceptible only by its blackness. Slowly and
regularly it took the same course, and there was not much doubt that
this was the form of a man. He, too, gradually descended from the upper
levels, and was lost in the valley below.

The rain had by this time again abated, and Stephen returned to the
road. Looking ahead, he saw two men and a cart. They were soon obscured
by the intervention of a high hedge. Just before they emerged again he
heard voices in conversation.

‘’A must soon be in the naibourhood, too, if so be he’s a-coming,’
said a tenor tongue, which Stephen instantly recognized as Martin
Cannister’s.

‘’A must ‘a b’lieve,’ said another voice--that of Stephen’s father.

Stephen stepped forward, and came before them face to face. His father
and Martin were walking, dressed in their second best suits, and beside
them rambled along a grizzel horse and brightly painted spring-cart.

‘All right, Mr. Cannister; here’s the lost man!’ exclaimed young Smith,
entering at once upon the old style of greeting. ‘Father, here I am.’

‘All right, my sonny; and glad I be for’t!’ returned John Smith,
overjoyed to see the young man. ‘How be ye? Well, come along home, and
don’t let’s bide out here in the damp. Such weather must be terrible bad
for a young chap just come from a fiery nation like Indy; hey, naibour
Cannister?’

‘Trew, trew. And about getting home his traps? Boxes, monstrous bales,
and noble packages of foreign description, I make no doubt?’

‘Hardly all that,’ said Stephen laughing.

‘We brought the cart, maning to go right on to Castle Boterel afore ye
landed,’ said his father. ‘“Put in the horse,” says Martin. “Ay,” says
I, “so we will;” and did it straightway. Now, maybe, Martin had better
go on wi’ the cart for the things, and you and I walk home-along.’

‘And I shall be back a’most as soon as you. Peggy is a pretty step
still, though time d’ begin to tell upon her as upon the rest o’ us.’

Stephen told Martin where to find his baggage, and then continued his
journey homeward in the company of his father.

‘Owing to your coming a day sooner than we first expected,’ said John,
‘you’ll find us in a turk of a mess, sir--“sir,” says I to my own son!
but ye’ve gone up so, Stephen. We’ve killed the pig this morning for
ye, thinking ye’d be hungry, and glad of a morsel of fresh mate. And ‘a
won’t be cut up till to-night. However, we can make ye a good supper
of fry, which will chaw up well wi’ a dab o’ mustard and a few nice new
taters, and a drop of shilling ale to wash it down. Your mother have
scrubbed the house through because ye were coming, and dusted all
the chimmer furniture, and bought a new basin and jug of a travelling
crockery-woman that came to our door, and scoured the cannel-sticks, and
claned the winders! Ay, I don’t know what ‘a ha’n’t a done. Never were
such a steer, ‘a b’lieve.’

Conversation of this kind and inquiries of Stephen for his mother’s
wellbeing occupied them for the remainder of the journey. When they
drew near the river, and the cottage behind it, they could hear the
master-mason’s clock striking off the bygone hours of the day at
intervals of a quarter of a minute, during which intervals Stephen’s
imagination readily pictured his mother’s forefinger wandering round the
dial in company with the minute-hand.

‘The clock stopped this morning, and your mother in putting en right
seemingly,’ said his father in an explanatory tone; and they went up the
garden to the door.

When they had entered, and Stephen had dutifully and warmly greeted his
mother--who appeared in a cotton dress of a dark-blue ground, covered
broadcast with a multitude of new and full moons, stars, and planets,
with an occasional dash of a comet-like aspect to diversify the
scene--the crackle of cart-wheels was heard outside, and Martin
Cannister stamped in at the doorway, in the form of a pair of legs
beneath a great box, his body being nowhere visible. When the luggage
had been all taken down, and Stephen had gone upstairs to change his
clothes, Mrs. Smith’s mind seemed to recover a lost thread.

‘Really our clock is not worth a penny,’ she said, turning to it and
attempting to start the pendulum.

‘Stopped again?’ inquired Martin with commiseration.

‘Yes, sure,’ replied Mrs. Smith; and continued after the manner of
certain matrons, to whose tongues the harmony of a subject with a casual
mood is a greater recommendation than its pertinence to the occasion,
‘John would spend pounds a year upon the jimcrack old thing, if he
might, in having it claned, when at the same time you may doctor it
yourself as well. “The clock’s stopped again, John,” I say to him.
“Better have en claned,” says he. There’s five shillings. “That clock
grinds again,” I say to en. “Better have en claned,” ‘a says again.
“That clock strikes wrong, John,” says I. “Better have en claned,” he
goes on. The wheels would have been polished to skeletons by this
time if I had listened to en, and I assure you we could have bought a
chainey-faced beauty wi’ the good money we’ve flung away these last ten
years upon this old green-faced mortal. And, Martin, you must be wet. My
son is gone up to change. John is damper than I should like to be,
but ‘a calls it nothing. Some of Mrs. Swancourt’s servants have been
here--they ran in out of the rain when going for a walk--and I assure
you the state of their bonnets was frightful.’

‘How’s the folks? We’ve been over to Castle Boterel, and what wi’
running and stopping out of the storms, my poor head is beyond
everything! fizz, fizz fizz; ‘tis frying o’ fish from morning to night,’
said a cracked voice in the doorway at this instant.

‘Lord so’s, who’s that?’ said Mrs. Smith, in a private exclamation,
and turning round saw William Worm, endeavouring to make himself look
passing civil and friendly by overspreading his face with a large smile
that seemed to have no connection with the humour he was in. Behind him
stood a woman about twice his size, with a large umbrella over her head.
This was Mrs. Worm, William’s wife.

‘Come in, William,’ said John Smith. ‘We don’t kill a pig every day.
And you, likewise, Mrs. Worm. I make ye welcome. Since ye left Parson
Swancourt, William, I don’t see much of ‘ee.’

‘No, for to tell the truth, since I took to the turn-pike-gate line,
I’ve been out but little, coming to church o’ Sundays not being my duty
now, as ‘twas in a parson’s family, you see. However, our boy is able to
mind the gate now, and I said, says I, “Barbara, let’s call and see John
Smith.”’

‘I am sorry to hear yer pore head is so bad still.’

‘Ay, I assure you that frying o’ fish is going on for nights and days.
And, you know, sometimes ‘tisn’t only fish, but rashers o’ bacon and
inions. Ay, I can hear the fat pop and fizz as nateral as life; can’t I,
Barbara?’

Mrs. Worm, who had been all this time engaged in closing her umbrella,
corroborated this statement, and now, coming indoors, showed herself to
be a wide-faced, comfortable-looking woman, with a wart upon her cheek,
bearing a small tuft of hair in its centre.

‘Have ye ever tried anything to cure yer noise, Maister Worm?’ inquired
Martin Cannister.

‘Oh ay; bless ye, I’ve tried everything. Ay, Providence is a merciful
man, and I have hoped He’d have found it out by this time, living so
many years in a parson’s family, too, as I have, but ‘a don’t seem to
relieve me. Ay, I be a poor wambling man, and life’s a mint o’ trouble!’

‘True, mournful true, William Worm. ‘Tis so. The world wants looking to,
or ‘tis all sixes and sevens wi’ us.’

‘Take your things off, Mrs. Worm,’ said Mrs. Smith. ‘We be rather in a
muddle, to tell the truth, for my son is just dropped in from Indy a day
sooner than we expected, and the pig-killer is coming presently to cut
up.’

Mrs. Barbara Worm, not wishing to take any mean advantage of persons
in a muddle by observing them, removed her bonnet and mantle with eyes
fixed upon the flowers in the plot outside the door.

‘What beautiful tiger-lilies!’ said Mrs. Worm.

‘Yes, they be very well, but such a trouble to me on account of the
children that come here. They will go eating the berries on the stem,
and call ‘em currants. Taste wi’ junivals is quite fancy, really.’

‘And your snapdragons look as fierce as ever.’

‘Well, really,’ answered Mrs. Smith, entering didactically into the
subject, ‘they are more like Christians than flowers. But they make up
well enough wi’ the rest, and don’t require much tending. And the same
can be said o’ these miller’s wheels. ‘Tis a flower I like very much,
though so simple. John says he never cares about the flowers o’ ‘em,
but men have no eye for anything neat. He says his favourite flower is
a cauliflower. And I assure you I tremble in the springtime, for ‘tis
perfect murder.’

‘You don’t say so, Mrs. Smith!’

‘John digs round the roots, you know. In goes his blundering spade,
through roots, bulbs, everything that hasn’t got a good show above
ground, turning ‘em up cut all to slices. Only the very last fall I went
to move some tulips, when I found every bulb upside down, and the stems
crooked round. He had turned ‘em over in the spring, and the cunning
creatures had soon found that heaven was not where it used to be.’

‘What’s that long-favoured flower under the hedge?’

‘They? O Lord, they are the horrid Jacob’s ladders! Instead of praising
‘em, I be mad wi’ ‘em for being so ready to bide where they are not
wanted. They be very well in their way, but I do not care for things
that neglect won’t kill. Do what I will, dig, drag, scrap, pull, I get
too many of ‘em. I chop the roots: up they’ll come, treble strong. Throw
‘em over hedge; there they’ll grow, staring me in the face like a hungry
dog driven away, and creep back again in a week or two the same as
before. ‘Tis Jacob’s ladder here, Jacob’s ladder there, and plant ‘em
where nothing in the world will grow, you get crowds of ‘em in a month
or two. John made a new manure mixen last summer, and he said, “Maria,
now if you’ve got any flowers or such like, that you don’t want, you may
plant ‘em round my mixen so as to hide it a bit, though ‘tis not likely
anything of much value will grow there.” I thought, “There’s them
Jacob’s ladders; I’ll put them there, since they can’t do harm in such a
place;” and I planted the Jacob’s ladders sure enough. They growed, and
they growed, in the mixen and out of the mixen, all over the litter,
covering it quite up. When John wanted to use it about the garden, ‘a
said, “Nation seize them Jacob’s ladders of yours, Maria! They’ve eat
the goodness out of every morsel of my manure, so that ‘tis no better
than sand itself!” Sure enough the hungry mortals had. ‘Tis my belief
that in the secret souls o’ ‘em, Jacob’s ladders be weeds, and not
flowers at all, if the truth was known.’

Robert Lickpan, pig-killer and carrier, arrived at this moment. The
fatted animal hanging in the back kitchen was cleft down the middle of
its backbone, Mrs. Smith being meanwhile engaged in cooking supper.

Between the cutting and chopping, ale was handed round, and Worm and
the pig-killer listened to John Smith’s description of the meeting with
Stephen, with eyes blankly fixed upon the table-cloth, in order that
nothing in the external world should interrupt their efforts to conjure
up the scene correctly.

Stephen came downstairs in the middle of the story, and after the little
interruption occasioned by his entrance and welcome, the narrative was
again continued, precisely as if he had not been there at all, and
was told inclusively to him, as to somebody who knew nothing about the
matter.

‘“Ay,” I said, as I catched sight o’ en through the brimbles, “that’s
the lad, for I d’ know en by his grand-father’s walk;” for ‘a stapped
out like poor father for all the world. Still there was a touch o’ the
frisky that set me wondering. ‘A got closer, and I said, “That’s the
lad, for I d’ know en by his carrying a black case like a travelling
man.” Still, a road is common to all the world, and there be more
travelling men than one. But I kept my eye cocked, and I said to Martin,
“‘Tis the boy, now, for I d’ know en by the wold twirl o’ the stick and
the family step.” Then ‘a come closer, and a’ said, “All right.” I could
swear to en then.’

Stephen’s personal appearance was next criticised.

‘He d’ look a deal thinner in face, surely, than when I seed en at the
parson’s, and never knowed en, if ye’ll believe me,’ said Martin.

‘Ay, there,’ said another, without removing his eyes from Stephen’s
face, ‘I should ha’ knowed en anywhere. ‘Tis his father’s nose to a T.’

‘It has been often remarked,’ said Stephen modestly.

‘And he’s certainly taller,’ said Martin, letting his glance run over
Stephen’s form from bottom to top.

‘I was thinking ‘a was exactly the same height,’ Worm replied.

‘Bless thy soul, that’s because he’s bigger round likewise.’ And the
united eyes all moved to Stephen’s waist.

‘I be a poor wambling man, but I can make allowances,’ said William
Worm. ‘Ah, sure, and how he came as a stranger and pilgrim to Parson
Swancourt’s that time, not a soul knowing en after so many years! Ay,
life’s a strange picter, Stephen: but I suppose I must say Sir to ye?’

‘Oh, it is not necessary at present,’ Stephen replied, though mentally
resolving to avoid the vicinity of that familiar friend as soon as he
had made pretensions to the hand of Elfride.

‘Ah, well,’ said Worm musingly, ‘some would have looked for no less than
a Sir. There’s a sight of difference in people.’

‘And in pigs likewise,’ observed John Smith, looking at the halved
carcass of his own.

Robert Lickpan, the pig-killer, here seemed called upon to enter the
lists of conversation.

‘Yes, they’ve got their particular naters good-now,’ he remarked
initially. ‘Many’s the rum-tempered pig I’ve knowed.’

‘I don’t doubt it, Master Lickpan,’ answered Martin, in a tone
expressing that his convictions, no less than good manners, demanded the
reply.

‘Yes,’ continued the pig-killer, as one accustomed to be heard. ‘One
that I knowed was deaf and dumb, and we couldn’t make out what was the
matter wi’ the pig. ‘A would eat well enough when ‘a seed the trough,
but when his back was turned, you might a-rattled the bucket all day,
the poor soul never heard ye. Ye could play tricks upon en behind his
back, and a’ wouldn’t find it out no quicker than poor deaf Grammer
Cates. But a’ fatted well, and I never seed a pig open better when a’
was killed, and ‘a was very tender eating, very; as pretty a bit of mate
as ever you see; you could suck that mate through a quill.

‘And another I knowed,’ resumed the killer, after quietly letting a pint
of ale run down his throat of its own accord, and setting down the
cup with mathematical exactness upon the spot from which he had raised
it--‘another went out of his mind.’

‘How very mournful!’ murmured Mrs. Worm.

‘Ay, poor thing, ‘a did! As clean out of his mind as the cleverest
Christian could go. In early life ‘a was very melancholy, and never
seemed a hopeful pig by no means. ‘Twas Andrew Stainer’s pig--that’s
whose pig ‘twas.’

‘I can mind the pig well enough,’ attested John Smith.

‘And a pretty little porker ‘a was. And you all know Farmer Buckle’s
sort? Every jack o’ em suffer from the rheumatism to this day, owing to
a damp sty they lived in when they were striplings, as ‘twere.’

‘Well, now we’ll weigh,’ said John.

‘If so be he were not so fine, we’d weigh en whole: but as he is, we’ll
take a side at a time. John, you can mind my old joke, ey?’

‘I do so; though ‘twas a good few years ago I first heard en.’

‘Yes,’ said Lickpan, ‘that there old familiar joke have been in our
family for generations, I may say. My father used that joke regular at
pig-killings for more than five and forty years--the time he followed
the calling. And ‘a told me that ‘a had it from his father when he was
quite a chiel, who made use o’ en just the same at every killing more or
less; and pig-killings were pig-killings in those days.’

‘Trewly they were.’

‘I’ve never heard the joke,’ said Mrs. Smith tentatively.

‘Nor I,’ chimed in Mrs. Worm, who, being the only other lady in the
room, felt bound by the laws of courtesy to feel like Mrs. Smith in
everything.

‘Surely, surely you have,’ said the killer, looking sceptically at the
benighted females. ‘However, ‘tisn’t much--I don’t wish to say it is. It
commences like this: “Bob will tell the weight of your pig, ‘a b’lieve,”
 says I. The congregation of neighbours think I mane my son Bob,
naturally; but the secret is that I mane the bob o’ the steelyard. Ha,
ha, ha!’

‘Haw, haw, haw!’ laughed Martin Cannister, who had heard the explanation
of this striking story for the hundredth time.

‘Huh, huh, huh!’ laughed John Smith, who had heard it for the
thousandth.

‘Hee, hee, hee!’ laughed William Worm, who had never heard it at all,
but was afraid to say so.

‘Thy grandfather, Robert, must have been a wide-awake chap to make that
story,’ said Martin Cannister, subsiding to a placid aspect of delighted
criticism.

‘He had a head, by all account. And, you see, as the first-born of the
Lickpans have all been Roberts, they’ve all been Bobs, so the story was
handed down to the present day.’

‘Poor Joseph, your second boy, will never be able to bring it out in
company, which is rather unfortunate,’ said Mrs. Worm thoughtfully.

‘’A won’t. Yes, grandfer was a clever chap, as ye say; but I knowed a
cleverer. ‘Twas my uncle Levi. Uncle Levi made a snuff-box that should
be a puzzle to his friends to open. He used to hand en round at wedding
parties, christenings, funerals, and in other jolly company, and let ‘em
try their skill. This extraordinary snuff-box had a spring behind that
would push in and out--a hinge where seemed to be the cover; a slide at
the end, a screw in front, and knobs and queer notches everywhere. One
man would try the spring, another would try the screw, another would
try the slide; but try as they would, the box wouldn’t open. And they
couldn’t open en, and they didn’t open en. Now what might you think was
the secret of that box?’

All put on an expression that their united thoughts were inadequate to
the occasion.

‘Why the box wouldn’t open at all. ‘A were made not to open, and ye
might have tried till the end of Revelations, ‘twould have been as
naught, for the box were glued all round.’

‘A very deep man to have made such a box.’

‘Yes. ‘Twas like uncle Levi all over.’

‘’Twas. I can mind the man very well. Tallest man ever I seed.’

‘’A was so. He never slept upon a bedstead after he growed up a hard
boy-chap--never could get one long enough. When ‘a lived in that little
small house by the pond, he used to have to leave open his chamber door
every night at going to his bed, and let his feet poke out upon the
landing.’

‘He’s dead and gone now, nevertheless, poor man, as we all shall,’
observed Worm, to fill the pause which followed the conclusion of Robert
Lickpan’s speech.

The weighing and cutting up was pursued amid an animated discourse on
Stephen’s travels; and at the finish, the first-fruits of the day’s
slaughter, fried in onions, were then turned from the pan into a dish
on the table, each piece steaming and hissing till it reached their very
mouths.

It must be owned that the gentlemanly son of the house looked rather
out of place in the course of this operation. Nor was his mind
quite philosophic enough to allow him to be comfortable with these
old-established persons, his father’s friends. He had never lived long
at home--scarcely at all since his childhood. The presence of William
Worm was the most awkward feature of the case, for, though Worm had left
the house of Mr. Swancourt, the being hand-in-glove with a ci-devant
servitor reminded Stephen too forcibly of the vicar’s classification
of himself before he went from England. Mrs. Smith was conscious of
the defect in her arrangements which had brought about the undesired
conjunction. She spoke to Stephen privately.

‘I am above having such people here, Stephen; but what could I do? And
your father is so rough in his nature that he’s more mixed up with them
than need be.’

‘Never mind, mother,’ said Stephen; ‘I’ll put up with it now.’

‘When we leave my lord’s service, and get further up the country--as
I hope we shall soon--it will be different. We shall be among fresh
people, and in a larger house, and shall keep ourselves up a bit, I
hope.’

‘Is Miss Swancourt at home, do you know?’ Stephen inquired

‘Yes, your father saw her this morning.’

‘Do you often see her?’

‘Scarcely ever. Mr. Glim, the curate, calls occasionally, but the
Swancourts don’t come into the village now any more than to drive
through it. They dine at my lord’s oftener than they used. Ah, here’s a
note was brought this morning for you by a boy.’

Stephen eagerly took the note and opened it, his mother watching him. He
read what Elfride had written and sent before she started for the cliff
that afternoon:


‘Yes; I will meet you in the church at nine to-night.--E. S.’


‘I don’t know, Stephen,’ his mother said meaningly, ‘whe’r you still
think about Miss Elfride, but if I were you I wouldn’t concern about
her. They say that none of old Mrs. Swancourt’s money will come to her
step-daughter.’

‘I see the evening has turned out fine; I am going out for a little
while to look round the place,’ he said, evading the direct query.
‘Probably by the time I return our visitors will be gone, and we’ll have
a more confidential talk.’



Chapter XXIV

     ‘Breeze, bird, and flower confess the hour.’


The rain had ceased since the sunset, but it was a cloudy night; and
the light of the moon, softened and dispersed by its misty veil, was
distributed over the land in pale gray.

A dark figure stepped from the doorway of John Smith’s river-side
cottage, and strode rapidly towards West Endelstow with a light
footstep. Soon ascending from the lower levels he turned a corner,
followed a cart-track, and saw the tower of the church he was in quest
of distinctly shaped forth against the sky. In less than half an hour
from the time of starting he swung himself over the churchyard stile.

The wild irregular enclosure was as much as ever an integral part of the
old hill. The grass was still long, the graves were shaped precisely as
passing years chose to alter them from their orthodox form as laid down
by Martin Cannister, and by Stephen’s own grandfather before him.

A sound sped into the air from the direction in which Castle Boterel
lay. It was the striking of the church clock, distinct in the still
atmosphere as if it had come from the tower hard by, which, wrapt in its
solitary silentness, gave out no such sounds of life.

‘One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.’ Stephen
carefully counted the strokes, though he well knew their number
beforehand. Nine o’clock. It was the hour Elfride had herself named as
the most convenient for meeting him.

Stephen stood at the door of the porch and listened. He could have heard
the softest breathing of any person within the porch; nobody was there.
He went inside the doorway, sat down upon the stone bench, and waited
with a beating heart.

The faint sounds heard only accentuated the silence. The rising and
falling of the sea, far away along the coast, was the most important.
A minor sound was the scurr of a distant night-hawk. Among the minutest
where all were minute were the light settlement of gossamer fragments
floating in the air, a toad humbly labouring along through the
grass near the entrance, the crackle of a dead leaf which a worm was
endeavouring to pull into the earth, a waft of air, getting nearer and
nearer, and expiring at his feet under the burden of a winged seed.

Among all these soft sounds came not the only soft sound he cared to
hear--the footfall of Elfride.

For a whole quarter of an hour Stephen sat thus intent, without moving
a muscle. At the end of that time he walked to the west front of the
church. Turning the corner of the tower, a white form stared him in the
face. He started back, and recovered himself. It was the tomb of young
farmer Jethway, looking still as fresh and as new as when it was
first erected, the white stone in which it was hewn having a singular
weirdness amid the dark blue slabs from local quarries, of which the
whole remaining gravestones were formed.

He thought of the night when he had sat thereon with Elfride as his
companion, and well remembered his regret that she had received, even
unwillingly, earlier homage than his own. But his present tangible
anxiety reduced such a feeling to sentimental nonsense in comparison;
and he strolled on over the graves to the border of the churchyard,
whence in the daytime could be clearly seen the vicarage and the present
residence of the Swancourts. No footstep was discernible upon the path
up the hill, but a light was shining from a window in the last-named
house.

Stephen knew there could be no mistake about the time or place, and no
difficulty about keeping the engagement. He waited yet longer, passing
from impatience into a mood which failed to take any account of the
lapse of time. He was awakened from his reverie by Castle Boterel clock.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, TEN.

One little fall of the hammer in addition to the number it had been
sharp pleasure to hear, and what a difference to him!

He left the churchyard on the side opposite to his point of entrance,
and went down the hill. Slowly he drew near the gate of her house. This
he softly opened, and walked up the gravel drive to the door. Here he
paused for several minutes.

At the expiration of that time the murmured speech of a manly voice came
out to his ears through an open window behind the corner of the house.
This was responded to by a clear soft laugh. It was the laugh of
Elfride.

Stephen was conscious of a gnawing pain at his heart. He retreated as he
had come. There are disappointments which wring us, and there are those
which inflict a wound whose mark we bear to our graves. Such are so
keen that no future gratification of the same desire can ever obliterate
them: they become registered as a permanent loss of happiness. Such a
one was Stephen’s now: the crowning aureola of the dream had been the
meeting here by stealth; and if Elfride had come to him only ten
minutes after he had turned away, the disappointment would have been
recognizable still.

When the young man reached home he found there a letter which had
arrived in his absence. Believing it to contain some reason for her
non-appearance, yet unable to imagine one that could justify her, he
hastily tore open the envelope.

The paper contained not a word from Elfride. It was the deposit-note for
his two hundred pounds. On the back was the form of a cheque, and this
she had filled up with the same sum, payable to the bearer.

Stephen was confounded. He attempted to divine her motive. Considering
how limited was his knowledge of her later actions, he guessed rather
shrewdly that, between the time of her sending the note in the morning
and the evening’s silent refusal of his gift, something had occurred
which had caused a total change in her attitude towards him.

He knew not what to do. It seemed absurd now to go to her father next
morning, as he had purposed, and ask for an engagement with her, a
possibility impending all the while that Elfride herself would not be
on his side. Only one course recommended itself as wise. To wait and see
what the days would bring forth; to go and execute his commissions in
Birmingham; then to return, learn if anything had happened, and try what
a meeting might do; perhaps her surprise at his backwardness would bring
her forward to show latent warmth as decidedly as in old times.

This act of patience was in keeping only with the nature of a man
precisely of Stephen’s constitution. Nine men out of ten would perhaps
have rushed off, got into her presence, by fair means or foul, and
provoked a catastrophe of some sort. Possibly for the better, probably
for the worse.

He started for Birmingham the next morning. A day’s delay would have
made no difference; but he could not rest until he had begun and ended
the programme proposed to himself. Bodily activity will sometimes take
the sting out of anxiety as completely as assurance itself.



Chapter XXV

     ‘Mine own familiar friend.’


During these days of absence Stephen lived under alternate conditions.
Whenever his emotions were active, he was in agony. Whenever he was not
in agony, the business in hand had driven out of his mind by sheer force
all deep reflection on the subject of Elfride and love.

By the time he took his return journey at the week’s end, Stephen had
very nearly worked himself up to an intention to call and see her face
to face. On this occasion also he adopted his favourite route--by the
little summer steamer from Bristol to Castle Boterel; the time saved
by speed on the railway being wasted at junctions, and in following a
devious course.

It was a bright silent evening at the beginning of September when Smith
again set foot in the little town. He felt inclined to linger awhile
upon the quay before ascending the hills, having formed a romantic
intention to go home by way of her house, yet not wishing to wander in
its neighbourhood till the evening shades should sufficiently screen him
from observation.

And thus waiting for night’s nearer approach, he watched the placid
scene, over which the pale luminosity of the west cast a sorrowful
monochrome, that became slowly embrowned by the dusk. A star appeared,
and another, and another. They sparkled amid the yards and rigging
of the two coal brigs lying alangside, as if they had been tiny lamps
suspended in the ropes. The masts rocked sleepily to the infinitesimal
flux of the tide, which clucked and gurgled with idle regularity in
nooks and holes of the harbour wall.

The twilight was now quite pronounced enough for his purpose; and as,
rather sad at heart, he was about to move on, a little boat containing
two persons glided up the middle of the harbour with the lightness of
a shadow. The boat came opposite him, passed on, and touched the
landing-steps at the further end. One of its occupants was a man, as
Stephen had known by the easy stroke of the oars. When the pair ascended
the steps, and came into greater prominence, he was enabled to discern
that the second personage was a woman; also that she wore a white
decoration--apparently a feather--in her hat or bonnet, which spot of
white was the only distinctly visible portion of her clothing.

Stephen remained a moment in their rear, and they passed on, when he
pursued his way also, and soon forgot the circumstance. Having crossed
a bridge, forsaken the high road, and entered the footpath which led
up the vale to West Endelstow, he heard a little wicket click softly
together some yards ahead. By the time that Stephen had reached the
wicket and passed it, he heard another click of precisely the same
nature from another gate yet further on. Clearly some person or persons
were preceding him along the path, their footsteps being rendered
noiseless by the soft carpet of turf. Stephen now walked a little
quicker, and perceived two forms. One of them bore aloft the white
feather he had noticed in the woman’s hat on the quay: they were the
couple he had seen in the boat. Stephen dropped a little further to the
rear.

From the bottom of the valley, along which the path had hitherto lain,
beside the margin of the trickling streamlet, another path now diverged,
and ascended the slope of the left-hand hill. This footway led only to
the residence of Mrs. Swancourt and a cottage or two in its vicinity. No
grass covered this diverging path in portions of its length, and Stephen
was reminded that the pair in front of him had taken this route by the
occasional rattle of loose stones under their feet. Stephen climbed in
the same direction, but for some undefined reason he trod more softly
than did those preceding him. His mind was unconsciously in exercise
upon whom the woman might be--whether a visitor to The Crags, a servant,
or Elfride. He put it to himself yet more forcibly; could the lady be
Elfride? A possible reason for her unaccountable failure to keep the
appointment with him returned with painful force.

They entered the grounds of the house by the side wicket, whence
the path, now wide and well trimmed, wound fantastically through the
shrubbery to an octagonal pavilion called the Belvedere, by reason of
the comprehensive view over the adjacent district that its green seats
afforded. The path passed this erection and went on to the house as well
as to the gardener’s cottage on the other side, straggling thence
to East Endelstow; so that Stephen felt no hesitation in entering a
promenade which could scarcely be called private.

He fancied that he heard the gate open and swing together again behind
him. Turning, he saw nobody.

The people of the boat came to the summer-house. One of them spoke.

‘I am afraid we shall get a scolding for being so late.’

Stephen instantly recognised the familiar voice, richer and fuller now
than it used to be. ‘Elfride!’ he whispered to himself, and held fast
by a sapling, to steady himself under the agitation her presence caused
him. His heart swerved from its beat; he shunned receiving the meaning
he sought.

‘A breeze is rising again; how the ash tree rustles!’ said Elfride.
‘Don’t you hear it? I wonder what the time is.’

Stephen relinquished the sapling.

‘I will get a light and tell you. Step into the summer-house; the air is
quiet there.’

The cadence of that voice--its peculiarity seemed to come home to him
like that of some notes of the northern birds on his return to his
native clime, as an old natural thing renewed, yet not particularly
noticed as natural before that renewal.

They entered the Belvedere. In the lower part it was formed of close
wood-work nailed crosswise, and had openings in the upper by way of
windows.

The scratch of a striking light was heard, and a bright glow radiated
from the interior of the building. The light gave birth to dancing
leaf-shadows, stem-shadows, lustrous streaks, dots, sparkles, and
threads of silver sheen of all imaginable variety and transience. It
awakened gnats, which flew towards it, revealed shiny gossamer threads,
disturbed earthworms. Stephen gave but little attention to these
phenomena, and less time. He saw in the summer-house a strongly
illuminated picture.

First, the face of his friend and preceptor Henry Knight, between whom
and himself an estrangement had arisen, not from any definite causes
beyond those of absence, increasing age, and diverging sympathies.

Next, his bright particular star, Elfride. The face of Elfride was more
womanly than when she had called herself his, but as clear and healthy
as ever. Her plenteous twines of beautiful hair were looking much as
usual, with the exception of a slight modification in their arrangement
in deference to the changes of fashion.

Their two foreheads were close together, almost touching, and both were
looking down. Elfride was holding her watch, Knight was holding the
light with one hand, his left arm being round her waist. Part of the
scene reached Stephen’s eyes through the horizontal bars of woodwork,
which crossed their forms like the ribs of a skeleton.

Knight’s arm stole still further round the waist of Elfride.

‘It is half-past eight,’ she said in a low voice, which had a peculiar
music in it, seemingly born of a thrill of pleasure at the new proof
that she was beloved.

The flame dwindled down, died away, and all was wrapped in a darkness to
which the gloom before the illumination bore no comparison in apparent
density. Stephen, shattered in spirit and sick to his heart’s
centre, turned away. In turning, he saw a shadowy outline behind
the summer-house on the other side. His eyes grew accustomed to the
darkness. Was the form a human form, or was it an opaque bush of
juniper?

The lovers arose, brushed against the laurestines, and pursued their
way to the house. The indistinct figure had moved, and now passed across
Smith’s front. So completely enveloped was the person, that it was
impossible to discern him or her any more than as a shape. The shape
glided noiselessly on.

Stephen stepped forward, fearing any mischief was intended to the other
two. ‘Who are you?’ he said.

‘Never mind who I am,’ answered a weak whisper from the enveloping
folds. ‘WHAT I am, may she be! Perhaps I knew well--ah, so well!--a
youth whose place you took, as he there now takes yours. Will you let
her break your heart, and bring you to an untimely grave, as she did the
one before you?’

‘You are Mrs. Jethway, I think. What do you do here? And why do you talk
so wildly?’

‘Because my heart is desolate, and nobody cares about it. May hers be so
that brought trouble upon me!’

‘Silence!’ said Stephen, staunch to Elfride in spite of himself. ‘She
would harm nobody wilfully, never would she! How do you come here?’

‘I saw the two coming up the path, and wanted to learn if she were not
one of them. Can I help disliking her if I think of the past? Can I
help watching her if I remember my boy? Can I help ill-wishing her if I
well-wish him?’

The bowed form went on, passed through the wicket, and was enveloped by
the shadows of the field.

Stephen had heard that Mrs. Jethway, since the death of her son, had
become a crazed, forlorn woman; and bestowing a pitying thought
upon her, he dismissed her fancied wrongs from his mind, but not her
condemnation of Elfride’s faithlessness. That entered into and mingled
with the sensations his new experience had begotten. The tale told by
the little scene he had witnessed ran parallel with the unhappy woman’s
opinion, which, however baseless it might have been antecedently, had
become true enough as regarded himself.

A slow weight of despair, as distinct from a violent paroxysm as
starvation from a mortal shot, filled him and wrung him body and soul.
The discovery had not been altogether unexpected, for throughout his
anxiety of the last few days since the night in the churchyard, he had
been inclined to construe the uncertainty unfavourably for himself. His
hopes for the best had been but periodic interruptions to a chronic fear
of the worst.

A strange concomitant of his misery was the singularity of its form.
That his rival should be Knight, whom once upon a time he had adored
as a man is very rarely adored by another in modern times, and whom
he loved now, added deprecation to sorrow, and cynicism to both. Henry
Knight, whose praises he had so frequently trumpeted in her ears, of
whom she had actually been jealous, lest she herself should be lessened
in Stephen’s love on account of him, had probably won her the more
easily by reason of those very praises which he had only ceased to utter
by her command. She had ruled him like a queen in that matter, as in
all others. Stephen could tell by her manner, brief as had been his
observation of it, and by her words, few as they were, that her position
was far different with Knight. That she looked up at and adored her new
lover from below his pedestal, was even more perceptible than that she
had smiled down upon Stephen from a height above him.

The suddenness of Elfride’s renunciation of himself was food for more
torture. To an unimpassioned outsider, it admitted of at least two
interpretations--it might either have proceeded from an endeavour to be
faithful to her first choice, till the lover seen absolutely overpowered
the lover remembered, or from a wish not to lose his love till sure of
the love of another. But to Stephen Smith the motive involved in the
latter alternative made it untenable where Elfride was the actor.

He mused on her letters to him, in which she had never mentioned a
syllable concerning Knight. It is desirable, however, to observe that
only in two letters could she possibly have done so. One was written
about a week before Knight’s arrival, when, though she did not mention
his promised coming to Stephen, she had hardly a definite reason in her
mind for neglecting to do it. In the next she did casually allude to
Knight. But Stephen had left Bombay long before that letter arrived.

Stephen looked at the black form of the adjacent house, where it cut a
dark polygonal notch out of the sky, and felt that he hated the spot.
He did not know many facts of the case, but could not help instinctively
associating Elfride’s fickleness with the marriage of her father, and
their introduction to London society. He closed the iron gate bounding
the shrubbery as noiselessly as he had opened it, and went into the
grassy field. Here he could see the old vicarage, the house alone that
was associated with the sweet pleasant time of his incipient love for
Elfride. Turning sadly from the place that was no longer a nook in
which his thoughts might nestle when he was far away, he wandered in the
direction of the east village, to reach his father’s house before they
retired to rest.

The nearest way to the cottage was by crossing the park. He did not
hurry. Happiness frequently has reason for haste, but it is seldom
that desolation need scramble or strain. Sometimes he paused under the
low-hanging arms of the trees, looking vacantly on the ground.

Stephen was standing thus, scarcely less crippled in thought than he was
blank in vision, when a clear sound permeated the quiet air about him,
and spread on far beyond. The sound was the stroke of a bell from the
tower of East Endelstow Church, which stood in a dell not forty yards
from Lord Luxellian’s mansion, and within the park enclosure. Another
stroke greeted his ear, and gave character to both: then came a slow
succession of them.

‘Somebody is dead,’ he said aloud.

The death-knell of an inhabitant of the eastern parish was being tolled.

An unusual feature in the tolling was that it had not been begun
according to the custom in Endelstow and other parishes in the
neighbourhood. At every death the sex and age of the deceased were
announced by a system of changes. Three times three strokes signified
that the departed one was a man; three times two, a woman; twice
three, a boy; twice two, a girl. The regular continuity of the tolling
suggested that it was the resumption rather than the beginning of a
knell--the opening portion of which Stephen had not been near enough to
hear.

The momentary anxiety he had felt with regard to his parents passed
away. He had left them in perfect health, and had any serious illness
seized either, a communication would have reached him ere this. At the
same time, since his way homeward lay under the churchyard yews, he
resolved to look into the belfry in passing by, and speak a word to
Martin Cannister, who would be there.

Stephen reached the brow of the hill, and felt inclined to renounce his
idea. His mood was such that talking to any person to whom he could not
unburden himself would be wearisome. However, before he could put any
inclination into effect, the young man saw from amid the trees a bright
light shining, the rays from which radiated like needles through the
sad plumy foliage of the yews. Its direction was from the centre of the
churchyard.

Stephen mechanically went forward. Never could there be a greater
contrast between two places of like purpose than between this graveyard
and that of the further village. Here the grass was carefully tended,
and formed virtually a part of the manor-house lawn; flowers and shrubs
being planted indiscriminately over both, whilst the few graves visible
were mathematically exact in shape and smoothness, appearing in the
daytime like chins newly shaven. There was no wall, the division between
God’s Acre and Lord Luxellian’s being marked only by a few square
stones set at equidistant points. Among those persons who have romantic
sentiments on the subject of their last dwelling-place, probably the
greater number would have chosen such a spot as this in preference to
any other: a few would have fancied a constraint in its trim neatness,
and would have preferred the wild hill-top of the neighbouring site,
with Nature in her most negligent attire.

The light in the churchyard he next discovered to have its source in a
point very near the ground, and Stephen imagined it might come from a
lantern in the interior of a partly-dug grave. But a nearer approach
showed him that its position was immediately under the wall of the
aisle, and within the mouth of an archway. He could now hear voices, and
the truth of the whole matter began to dawn upon him. Walking on towards
the opening, Smith discerned on his left hand a heap of earth,
and before him a flight of stone steps which the removed earth had
uncovered, leading down under the edifice. It was the entrance to a
large family vault, extending under the north aisle.

Stephen had never before seen it open, and descending one or two steps
stooped to look under the arch. The vault appeared to be crowded with
coffins, with the exception of an open central space, which had been
necessarily kept free for ingress and access to the sides, round three
of which the coffins were stacked in stone bins or niches.

The place was well lighted with candles stuck in slips of wood that were
fastened to the wall. On making the descent of another step the living
inhabitants of the vault were recognizable. They were his father the
master-mason, an under-mason, Martin Cannister, and two or three young
and old labouring-men. Crowbars and workmen’s hammers were scattered
about. The whole company, sitting round on coffins which had been
removed from their places, apparently for some alteration or enlargement
of the vault, were eating bread and cheese, and drinking ale from a cup
with two handles, passed round from each to each.

‘Who is dead?’ Stephen inquired, stepping down.



Chapter XXVI

     ‘To that last nothing under earth.’


All eyes were turned to the entrance as Stephen spoke, and the
ancient-mannered conclave scrutinized him inquiringly.

‘Why, ‘tis our Stephen!’ said his father, rising from his seat; and,
still retaining the frothy mug in his left hand, he swung forward his
right for a grasp. ‘Your mother is expecting ye--thought you would have
come afore dark. But you’ll wait and go home with me? I have all but
done for the day, and was going directly.’

‘Yes, ‘tis Master Stephy, sure enough. Glad to see you so soon again,
Master Smith,’ said Martin Cannister, chastening the gladness expressed
in his words by a strict neutrality of countenance, in order to
harmonize the feeling as much as possible with the solemnity of a family
vault.

‘The same to you, Martin; and you, William,’ said Stephen, nodding
around to the rest, who, having their mouths full of bread and cheese,
were of necessity compelled to reply merely by compressing their eyes to
friendly lines and wrinkles.

‘And who is dead?’ Stephen repeated.

‘Lady Luxellian, poor gentlewoman, as we all shall, said the
under-mason. ‘Ay, and we be going to enlarge the vault to make room for
her.’

‘When did she die?’

‘Early this morning,’ his father replied, with an appearance of
recurring to a chronic thought. ‘Yes, this morning. Martin hev been
tolling ever since, almost. There, ‘twas expected. She was very limber.’

‘Ay, poor soul, this morning,’ resumed the under-mason, a marvellously
old man, whose skin seemed so much too large for his body that it would
not stay in position. ‘She must know by this time whether she’s to go up
or down, poor woman.’

‘What was her age?’

‘Not more than seven or eight and twenty by candlelight. But, Lord! by
day ‘a was forty if ‘a were an hour.’

‘Ay, night-time or day-time makes a difference of twenty years to rich
feymels,’ observed Martin.

‘She was one and thirty really,’ said John Smith. ‘I had it from them
that know.’

‘Not more than that!’

‘’A looked very bad, poor lady. In faith, ye might say she was dead for
years afore ‘a would own it.’

‘As my old father used to say, “dead, but wouldn’t drop down.”’

‘I seed her, poor soul,’ said a labourer from behind some removed
coffins, ‘only but last Valentine’s-day of all the world. ‘A was arm
in crook wi’ my lord. I says to myself, “You be ticketed Churchyard, my
noble lady, although you don’t dream on’t.”’

‘I suppose my lord will write to all the other lords anointed in the
nation, to let ‘em know that she that was is now no more?’

‘’Tis done and past. I see a bundle of letters go off an hour after the
death. Sich wonderful black rims as they letters had--half-an-inch wide,
at the very least.’

‘Too much,’ observed Martin. ‘In short, ‘tis out of the question that
a human being can be so mournful as black edges half-an-inch wide. I’m
sure people don’t feel more than a very narrow border when they feels
most of all.’

‘And there are two little girls, are there not?’ said Stephen.

‘Nice clane little faces!--left motherless now.’

‘They used to come to Parson Swancourt’s to play with Miss Elfride
when I were there,’ said William Worm. ‘Ah, they did so’s!’ The latter
sentence was introduced to add the necessary melancholy to a remark
which, intrinsically, could hardly be made to possess enough for the
occasion. ‘Yes,’ continued Worm, ‘they’d run upstairs, they’d run down;
flitting about with her everywhere. Very fond of her, they were. Ah,
well!’

‘Fonder than ever they were of their mother, so ‘tis said here and
there,’ added a labourer.

‘Well, you see, ‘tis natural. Lady Luxellian stood aloof from
‘em so--was so drowsy-like, that they couldn’t love her in the
jolly-companion way children want to like folks. Only last winter I seed
Miss Elfride talking to my lady and the two children, and Miss Elfride
wiped their noses for em’ SO careful--my lady never once seeing that it
wanted doing; and, naturally, children take to people that’s their best
friend.’

‘Be as ‘twill, the woman is dead and gone, and we must make a place for
her,’ said John. ‘Come, lads, drink up your ale, and we’ll just rid this
corner, so as to have all clear for beginning at the wall, as soon as
‘tis light to-morrow.’

Stephen then asked where Lady Luxellian was to lie.

‘Here,’ said his father. ‘We are going to set back this wall and make a
recess; and ‘tis enough for us to do before the funeral. When my lord’s
mother died, she said, “John, the place must be enlarged before another
can be put in.” But ‘a never expected ‘twould be wanted so soon. Better
move Lord George first, I suppose, Simeon?’

He pointed with his foot to a heavy coffin, covered with what had
originally been red velvet, the colour of which could only just be
distinguished now.

‘Just as ye think best, Master John,’ replied the shrivelled mason. ‘Ah,
poor Lord George!’ he continued, looking contemplatively at the huge
coffin; ‘he and I were as bitter enemies once as any could be when one
is a lord and t’other only a mortal man. Poor fellow! He’d clap his hand
upon my shoulder and cuss me as familial and neighbourly as if he’d been
a common chap. Ay, ‘a cussed me up hill and ‘a cussed me down; and then
‘a would rave out again, and the goold clamps of his fine new teeth
would glisten in the sun like fetters of brass, while I, being a small
man and poor, was fain to say nothing at all. Such a strappen fine
gentleman as he was too! Yes, I rather liked en sometimes. But once now
and then, when I looked at his towering height, I’d think in my inside,
“What a weight you’ll be, my lord, for our arms to lower under the aisle
of Endelstow Church some day!”’

‘And was he?’ inquired a young labourer.

‘He was. He was five hundredweight if ‘a were a pound. What with his
lead, and his oak, and his handles, and his one thing and t’other’--here
the ancient man slapped his hand upon the cover with a force that caused
a rattle among the bones inside--‘he half broke my back when I took
his feet to lower en down the steps there. “Ah,” saith I to John
there--didn’t I, John?--“that ever one man’s glory should be such a
weight upon another man!” But there, I liked my lord George sometimes.’

‘’Tis a strange thought,’ said another, ‘that while they be all here
under one roof, a snug united family o’ Luxellians, they be really
scattered miles away from one another in the form of good sheep and
wicked goats, isn’t it?’

‘True; ‘tis a thought to look at.’

‘And that one, if he’s gone upward, don’t know what his wife is doing
no more than the man in the moon if she’s gone downward. And that some
unfortunate one in the hot place is a-hollering across to a lucky one up
in the clouds, and quite forgetting their bodies be boxed close together
all the time.’

‘Ay, ‘tis a thought to look at, too, that I can say “Hullo!” close to
fiery Lord George, and ‘a can’t hear me.’

‘And that I be eating my onion close to dainty Lady Jane’s nose, and she
can’t smell me.’

‘What do ‘em put all their heads one way for?’ inquired a young man.

‘Because ‘tis churchyard law, you simple. The law of the living is, that
a man shall be upright and down-right, and the law of the dead is, that
a man shall be east and west. Every state of society have its laws.’

‘We must break the law wi’ a few of the poor souls, however. Come,
buckle to,’ said the master-mason.

And they set to work anew.

The order of interment could be distinctly traced by observing the
appearance of the coffins as they lay piled around. On those which
had been standing there but a generation or two the trappings still
remained. Those of an earlier period showed bare wood, with a few
tattered rags dangling therefrom. Earlier still, the wood lay in
fragments on the floor of the niche, and the coffin consisted of naked
lead alone; whilst in the case of the very oldest, even the lead was
bulging and cracking in pieces, revealing to the curious eye a heap of
dust within. The shields upon many were quite loose, and removable by
the hand, their lustreless surfaces still indistinctly exhibiting the
name and title of the deceased.

Overhead the groins and concavities of the arches curved in all
directions, dropping low towards the walls, where the height was no more
than sufficient to enable a person to stand upright.

The body of George the fourteenth baron, together with two or three
others, all of more recent date than the great bulk of coffins piled
there, had, for want of room, been placed at the end of the vault on
tressels, and not in niches like the others. These it was necessary to
remove, to form behind them the chamber in which they were ultimately to
be deposited. Stephen, finding the place and proceedings in keeping with
the sombre colours of his mind, waited there still.

‘Simeon, I suppose you can mind poor Lady Elfride, and how she ran away
with the actor?’ said John Smith, after awhile. ‘I think it fell upon
the time my father was sexton here. Let us see--where is she?’

‘Here somewhere,’ returned Simeon, looking round him.

‘Why, I’ve got my arms round the very gentlewoman at this moment.’
He lowered the end of the coffin he was holding, wiped his face,
and throwing a morsel of rotten wood upon another as an indicator,
continued: ‘That’s her husband there. They was as fair a couple as you
should see anywhere round about; and a good-hearted pair likewise. Ay, I
can mind it, though I was but a chiel at the time. She fell in love with
this young man of hers, and their banns were asked in some church in
London; and the old lord her father actually heard ‘em asked the three
times, and didn’t notice her name, being gabbled on wi’ a host of
others. When she had married she told her father, and ‘a fleed into a
monstrous rage, and said she shouldn’ hae a farthing. Lady Elfride said
she didn’t think of wishing it; if he’d forgie her ‘twas all she asked,
and as for a living, she was content to play plays with her husband.
This frightened the old lord, and ‘a gie’d ‘em a house to live in, and a
great garden, and a little field or two, and a carriage, and a good
few guineas. Well, the poor thing died at her first gossiping, and her
husband--who was as tender-hearted a man as ever eat meat, and would
have died for her--went wild in his mind, and broke his heart (so ‘twas
said). Anyhow, they were buried the same day--father and mother--but the
baby lived. Ay, my lord’s family made much of that man then, and put him
here with his wife, and there in the corner the man is now. The Sunday
after there was a funeral sermon: the text was, “Or ever the silver cord
be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken;” and when ‘twas preaching the
men drew their hands across their eyes several times, and every woman
cried out loud.’

‘And what became of the baby?’ said Stephen, who had frequently heard
portions of the story.

‘She was brought up by her grandmother, and a pretty maid she were. And
she must needs run away with the curate--Parson Swancourt that is now.
Then her grandmother died, and the title and everything went away to
another branch of the family altogether. Parson Swancourt wasted a good
deal of his wife’s money, and she left him Miss Elfride. That trick
of running away seems to be handed down in families, like craziness or
gout. And they two women be alike as peas.’

‘Which two?’

‘Lady Elfride and young Miss that’s alive now. The same hair and eyes:
but Miss Elfride’s mother was darker a good deal.’

‘Life’s a strangle bubble, ye see,’ said William Worm musingly. ‘For
if the Lord’s anointment had descended upon women instead of men, Miss
Elfride would be Lord Luxellian--Lady, I mane. But as it is, the blood
is run out, and she’s nothing to the Luxellian family by law, whatever
she may be by gospel.’

‘I used to fancy,’ said Simeon, ‘when I seed Miss Elfride hugging the
little ladyships, that there was a likeness; but I suppose ‘twas only my
dream, for years must have altered the old family shape.’

‘And now we’ll move these two, and home-along,’ interposed John Smith,
reviving, as became a master, the spirit of labour, which had showed
unmistakable signs of being nearly vanquished by the spirit of chat,
‘The flagon of ale we don’t want we’ll let bide here till to-morrow;
none of the poor souls will touch it ‘a b’lieve.’

So the evening’s work was concluded, and the party drew from the abode
of the quiet dead, closing the old iron door, and shooting the lock
loudly into the huge copper staple--an incongruous act of imprisonment
towards those who had no dreams of escape.



Chapter XXVII

     ‘How should I greet thee?’


Love frequently dies of time alone--much more frequently of
displacement. With Elfride Swancourt, a powerful reason why the
displacement should be successful was that the new-comer was a greater
man than the first. By the side of the instructive and piquant snubbings
she received from Knight, Stephen’s general agreeableness seemed watery;
by the side of Knight’s spare love-making, Stephen’s continual outflow
seemed lackadaisical. She had begun to sigh for somebody further on in
manhood. Stephen was hardly enough of a man.

Perhaps there was a proneness to inconstancy in her nature--a nature, to
those who contemplate it from a standpoint beyond the influence of
that inconstancy, the most exquisite of all in its plasticity and ready
sympathies. Partly, too, Stephen’s failure to make his hold on her heart
a permanent one was his too timid habit of dispraising himself beside
her--a peculiarity which, exercised towards sensible men, stirs a kindly
chord of attachment that a marked assertiveness would leave untouched,
but inevitably leads the most sensible woman in the world to undervalue
him who practises it. Directly domineering ceases in the man, snubbing
begins in the woman; the trite but no less unfortunate fact being
that the gentler creature rarely has the capacity to appreciate fair
treatment from her natural complement. The abiding perception of the
position of Stephen’s parents had, of course, a little to do with
Elfride’s renunciation. To such girls poverty may not be, as to the more
worldly masses of humanity, a sin in itself; but it is a sin, because
graceful and dainty manners seldom exist in such an atmosphere. Few
women of old family can be thoroughly taught that a fine soul may wear a
smock-frock, and an admittedly common man in one is but a worm in their
eyes. John Smith’s rough hands and clothes, his wife’s dialect, the
necessary narrowness of their ways, being constantly under Elfride’s
notice, were not without their deflecting influence.

On reaching home after the perilous adventure by the sea-shore, Knight
had felt unwell, and retired almost immediately. The young lady who
had so materially assisted him had done the same, but she reappeared,
properly clothed, about five o’clock. She wandered restlessly about the
house, but not on account of their joint narrow escape from death. The
storm which had torn the tree had merely bowed the reed, and with the
deliverance of Knight all deep thought of the accident had left her. The
mutual avowal which it had been the means of precipitating occupied a
far longer length of her meditations.

Elfride’s disquiet now was on account of that miserable promise to meet
Stephen, which returned like a spectre again and again. The perception
of his littleness beside Knight grew upon her alarmingly. She now
thought how sound had been her father’s advice to her to give him up,
and was as passionately desirous of following it as she had hitherto
been averse. Perhaps there is nothing more hardening to the tone of
young minds than thus to discover how their dearest and strongest wishes
become gradually attuned by Time the Cynic to the very note of some
selfish policy which in earlier days they despised.

The hour of appointment came, and with it a crisis; and with the crisis
a collapse.

‘God forgive me--I can’t meet Stephen!’ she exclaimed to herself. ‘I
don’t love him less, but I love Mr. Knight more!’

Yes: she would save herself from a man not fit for her--in spite of
vows. She would obey her father, and have no more to do with Stephen
Smith. Thus the fickle resolve showed signs of assuming the complexion
of a virtue.

The following days were passed without any definite avowal from Knight’s
lips. Such solitary walks and scenes as that witnessed by Smith in the
summer-house were frequent, but he courted her so intangibly that to any
but such a delicate perception as Elfride’s it would have appeared no
courtship at all. The time now really began to be sweet with her. She
dismissed the sense of sin in her past actions, and was automatic in
the intoxication of the moment. The fact that Knight made no actual
declaration was no drawback. Knowing since the betrayal of his
sentiments that love for her really existed, she preferred it for the
present in its form of essence, and was willing to avoid for awhile the
grosser medium of words. Their feelings having been forced to a rather
premature demonstration, a reaction was indulged in by both.

But no sooner had she got rid of her troubled conscience on the matter
of faithlessness than a new anxiety confronted her. It was lest Knight
should accidentally meet Stephen in the parish, and that herself should
be the subject of discourse.

Elfride, learning Knight more thoroughly, perceived that, far from
having a notion of Stephen’s precedence, he had no idea that she had
ever been wooed before by anybody. On ordinary occasions she had a
tongue so frank as to show her whole mind, and a mind so straightforward
as to reveal her heart to its innermost shrine. But the time for a
change had come. She never alluded to even a knowledge of Knight’s
friend. When women are secret they are secret indeed; and more often
than not they only begin to be secret with the advent of a second lover.

The elopement was now a spectre worse than the first, and, like the
Spirit in Glenfinlas, it waxed taller with every attempt to lay it.
Her natural honesty invited her to confide in Knight, and trust to his
generosity for forgiveness: she knew also that as mere policy it would
be better to tell him early if he was to be told at all. The longer her
concealment the more difficult would be the revelation. But she put it
off. The intense fear which accompanies intense love in young women
was too strong to allow the exercise of a moral quality antagonistic to
itself:


   ‘Where love is great, the littlest doubts are fear;
    Where little fears grow great, great love grows there.’


The match was looked upon as made by her father and mother. The vicar
remembered her promise to reveal the meaning of the telegram she had
received, and two days after the scene in the summer-house, asked her
pointedly. She was frank with him now.

‘I had been corresponding with Stephen Smith ever since he left England,
till lately,’ she calmly said.

‘What!’ cried the vicar aghast; ‘under the eyes of Mr. Knight, too?’

‘No; when I found I cared most for Mr. Knight, I obeyed you.’

‘You were very kind, I’m sure. When did you begin to like Mr. Knight?’

‘I don’t see that that is a pertinent question, papa; the telegram was
from the shipping agent, and was not sent at my request. It announced
the arrival of the vessel bringing him home.’

‘Home! What, is he here?’

‘Yes; in the village, I believe.’

‘Has he tried to see you?’

‘Only by fair means. But don’t, papa, question me so! It is torture.’

‘I will only say one word more,’ he replied. ‘Have you met him?’

‘I have not. I can assure you that at the present moment there is
no more of an understanding between me and the young man you so much
disliked than between him and you. You told me to forget him; and I have
forgotten him.’

‘Oh, well; though you did not obey me in the beginning, you are a good
girl, Elfride, in obeying me at last.’

‘Don’t call me “good,” papa,’ she said bitterly; ‘you don’t know--and
the less said about some things the better. Remember, Mr. Knight knows
nothing about the other. Oh, how wrong it all is! I don’t know what I am
coming to.’

‘As matters stand, I should be inclined to tell him; or, at any rate,
I should not alarm myself about his knowing. He found out the other day
that this was the parish young Smith’s father lives in--what puts you in
such a flurry?’

‘I can’t say; but promise--pray don’t let him know! It would be my
ruin!’

‘Pooh, child. Knight is a good fellow and a clever man; but at the same
time it does not escape my perceptions that he is no great catch for
you. Men of his turn of mind are nothing so wonderful in the way of
husbands. If you had chosen to wait, you might have mated with a much
wealthier man. But remember, I have not a word to say against your
having him, if you like him. Charlotte is delighted, as you know.’

‘Well, papa,’ she said, smiling hopefully through a sigh, ‘it is nice to
feel that in giving way to--to caring for him, I have pleased my family.
But I am not good; oh no, I am very far from that!’

‘None of us are good, I am sorry to say,’ said her father blandly; ‘but
girls have a chartered right to change their minds, you know. It has
been recognized by poets from time immemorial. Catullus says, “Mulier
cupido quod dicit amanti, in vento--” What a memory mine is! However,
the passage is, that a woman’s words to a lover are as a matter of
course written only on wind and water. Now don’t be troubled about that,
Elfride.’

‘Ah, you don’t know!’

They had been standing on the lawn, and Knight was now seen lingering
some way down a winding walk. When Elfride met him, it was with a much
greater lightness of heart; things were more straightforward now. The
responsibility of her fickleness seemed partly shifted from her own
shoulders to her father’s. Still, there were shadows.

‘Ah, could he have known how far I went with Stephen, and yet have
said the same, how much happier I should be!’ That was her prevailing
thought.

In the afternoon the lovers went out together on horseback for an hour
or two; and though not wishing to be observed, by reason of the late
death of Lady Luxellian, whose funeral had taken place very privately
on the previous day, they yet found it necessary to pass East Endelstow
Church.

The steps to the vault, as has been stated, were on the outside of the
building, immediately under the aisle wall. Being on horseback,
both Knight and Elfride could overlook the shrubs which screened the
church-yard.

‘Look, the vault seems still to be open,’ said Knight.

‘Yes, it is open,’ she answered

‘Who is that man close by it? The mason, I suppose?’

‘Yes.’

‘I wonder if it is John Smith, Stephen’s father?’

‘I believe it is,’ said Elfride, with apprehension.

‘Ah, and can it be? I should like to inquire how his son, my truant
protege’, is going on. And from your father’s description of the vault,
the interior must be interesting. Suppose we go in.’

‘Had we better, do you think? May not Lord Luxellian be there?’

‘It is not at all likely.’

Elfride then assented, since she could do nothing else. Her heart,
which at first had quailed in consternation, recovered itself when she
considered the character of John Smith. A quiet unassuming man, he would
be sure to act towards her as before those love passages with his son,
which might have given a more pretentious mechanic airs. So without much
alarm she took Knight’s arm after dismounting, and went with him between
and over the graves. The master-mason recognized her as she approached,
and, as usual, lifted his hat respectfully.

‘I know you to be Mr. Smith, my former friend Stephen’s father,’ said
Knight, directly he had scanned the embrowned and ruddy features of
John.

‘Yes, sir, I b’lieve I be.’

‘How is your son now? I have only once heard from him since he went to
India. I daresay you have heard him speak of me--Mr. Knight, who became
acquainted with him some years ago in Exonbury.’

‘Ay, that I have. Stephen is very well, thank you, sir, and he’s in
England; in fact, he’s at home. In short, sir, he’s down in the vault
there, a-looking at the departed coffins.’

Elfride’s heart fluttered like a butterfly.

Knight looked amazed. ‘Well, that is extraordinary.’ he murmured. ‘Did
he know I was in the parish?’

‘I really can’t say, sir,’ said John, wishing himself out of the
entanglement he rather suspected than thoroughly understood.

‘Would it be considered an intrusion by the family if we went into the
vault?’

‘Oh, bless ye, no, sir; scores of folk have been stepping down. ‘Tis
left open a-purpose.’

‘We will go down, Elfride.’

‘I am afraid the air is close,’ she said appealingly.

‘Oh no, ma’am,’ said John. ‘We white-limed the walls and arches the day
‘twas opened, as we always do, and again on the morning of the funeral;
the place is as sweet as a granary.

‘Then I should like you to accompany me, Elfie; having originally sprung
from the family too.’

‘I don’t like going where death is so emphatically present. I’ll stay by
the horses whilst you go in; they may get loose.’

‘What nonsense! I had no idea your sentiments were so flimsily formed as
to be perturbed by a few remnants of mortality; but stay out, if you are
so afraid, by all means.’

‘Oh no, I am not afraid; don’t say that.’

She held miserably to his arm, thinking that, perhaps, the revelation
might as well come at once as ten minutes later, for Stephen would be
sure to accompany his friend to his horse.

At first, the gloom of the vault, which was lighted only by a couple of
candles, was too great to admit of their seeing anything distinctly; but
with a further advance Knight discerned, in front of the black masses
lining the walls, a young man standing, and writing in a pocket-book.

Knight said one word: ‘Stephen!’

Stephen Smith, not being in such absolute ignorance of Knight’s
whereabouts as Knight had been of Smith’s instantly recognized his
friend, and knew by rote the outlines of the fair woman standing behind
him.

Stephen came forward and shook him by the hand, without speaking.

‘Why have you not written, my boy?’ said Knight, without in any way
signifying Elfride’s presence to Stephen. To the essayist, Smith was
still the country lad whom he had patronized and tended; one to whom
the formal presentation of a lady betrothed to himself would have seemed
incongruous and absurd.

‘Why haven’t you written to me?’ said Stephen.

‘Ah, yes. Why haven’t I? why haven’t we? That’s always the query
which we cannot clearly answer without an unsatisfactory sense of our
inadequacies. However, I have not forgotten you, Smith. And now we
have met; and we must meet again, and have a longer chat than this can
conveniently be. I must know all you have been doing. That you have
thriven, I know, and you must teach me the way.’

Elfride stood in the background. Stephen had read the position at a
glance, and immediately guessed that she had never mentioned his name
to Knight. His tact in avoiding catastrophes was the chief quality which
made him intellectually respectable, in which quality he far transcended
Knight; and he decided that a tranquil issue out of the encounter,
without any harrowing of the feelings of either Knight or Elfride, was
to be attempted if possible. His old sense of indebtedness to Knight had
never wholly forsaken him; his love for Elfride was generous now.

As far as he dared look at her movements he saw that her bearing towards
him would be dictated by his own towards her; and if he acted as a
stranger she would do likewise as a means of deliverance. Circumstances
favouring this course, it was desirable also to be rather reserved
towards Knight, to shorten the meeting as much as possible.

‘I am afraid that my time is almost too short to allow even of such a
pleasure,’ he said. ‘I leave here to-morrow. And until I start for the
Continent and India, which will be in a fortnight, I shall have hardly a
moment to spare.’

Knight’s disappointment and dissatisfied looks at this reply sent a pang
through Stephen as great as any he had felt at the sight of Elfride. The
words about shortness of time were literally true, but their tone was
far from being so. He would have been gratified to talk with Knight as
in past times, and saw as a dead loss to himself that, to save the woman
who cared nothing for him, he was deliberately throwing away his friend.

‘Oh, I am sorry to hear that,’ said Knight, in a changed tone. ‘But
of course, if you have weighty concerns to attend to, they must not be
neglected. And if this is to be our first and last meeting, let me say
that I wish you success with all my heart!’ Knight’s warmth revived
towards the end; the solemn impressions he was beginning to receive
from the scene around them abstracting from his heart as a puerility any
momentary vexation at words. ‘It is a strange place for us to meet in,’
he continued, looking round the vault.

Stephen briefly assented, and there was a silence. The blackened coffins
were now revealed more clearly than at first, the whitened walls and
arches throwing them forward in strong relief. It was a scene which was
remembered by all three as an indelible mark in their history. Knight,
with an abstracted face, was standing between his companions, though a
little in advance of them, Elfride being on his right hand, and Stephen
Smith on his left. The white daylight on his right side gleamed faintly
in, and was toned to a blueness by contrast with the yellow rays from
the candle against the wall. Elfride, timidly shrinking back, and
nearest the entrance, received most of the light therefrom, whilst
Stephen was entirely in candlelight, and to him the spot of outer sky
visible above the steps was as a steely blue patch, and nothing more.

‘I have been here two or three times since it was opened,’ said Stephen.
‘My father was engaged in the work, you know.’

‘Yes. What are you doing?’ Knight inquired, looking at the note-book and
pencil Stephen held in his hand.

‘I have been sketching a few details in the church, and since then I
have been copying the names from some of the coffins here. Before I left
England I used to do a good deal of this sort of thing.’

‘Yes; of course. Ah, that’s poor Lady Luxellian, I suppose.’ Knight
pointed to a coffin of light satin-wood, which stood on the stone
sleepers in the new niche. ‘And the remainder of the family are on this
side. Who are those two, so snug and close together?’

Stephen’s voice altered slightly as he replied ‘That’s Lady Elfride
Kingsmore--born Luxellian, and that is Arthur, her husband. I have heard
my father say that they--he--ran away with her, and married her against
the wish of her parents.’

‘Then I imagine this to be where you got your Christian name, Miss
Swancourt?’ said Knight, turning to her. ‘I think you told me it was
three or four generations ago that your family branched off from the
Luxellians?’

‘She was my grandmother,’ said Elfride, vainly endeavouring to moisten
her dry lips before she spoke. Elfride had then the conscience-stricken
look of Guido’s Magdalen, rendered upon a more childlike form. She kept
her face partially away from Knight and Stephen, and set her eyes upon
the sky visible outside, as if her salvation depended upon quickly
reaching it. Her left hand rested lightly within Knight’s arm, half
withdrawn, from a sense of shame at claiming him before her old lover,
yet unwilling to renounce him; so that her glove merely touched
his sleeve. ‘“Can one be pardoned, and retain the offence?”’ quoted
Elfride’s heart then.

Conversation seemed to have no self-sustaining power, and went on in
the shape of disjointed remarks. ‘One’s mind gets thronged with thoughts
while standing so solemnly here,’ Knight said, in a measured quiet
voice. ‘How much has been said on death from time to time! how much we
ourselves can think upon it! We may fancy each of these who lie here
saying:


    ‘For Thou, to make my fall more great,
        Didst lift me up on high.’


What comes next, Elfride? It is the Hundred-and-second Psalm I am
thinking of.’

‘Yes, I know it,’ she murmured, and went on in a still lower voice,
seemingly afraid for any words from the emotional side of her nature to
reach Stephen:


   ‘“My days, just hastening to their end,
        Are like an evening shade;
     My beauty doth, like wither’d grass,
        With waning lustre fade.”’


‘Well,’ said Knight musingly, ‘let us leave them. Such occasions as
these seem to compel us to roam outside ourselves, far away from the
fragile frame we live in, and to expand till our perception grows so
vast that our physical reality bears no sort of proportion to it. We
look back upon the weak and minute stem on which this luxuriant
growth depends, and ask, Can it be possible that such a capacity has a
foundation so small? Must I again return to my daily walk in that narrow
cell, a human body, where worldly thoughts can torture me? Do we not?’

‘Yes,’ said Stephen and Elfride.

‘One has a sense of wrong, too, that such an appreciative breadth as a
sentient being possesses should be committed to the frail casket of
a body. What weakens one’s intentions regarding the future like the
thought of this?...However, let us tune ourselves to a more cheerful
chord, for there’s a great deal to be done yet by us all.’

As Knight meditatively addressed his juniors thus, unconscious of the
deception practised, for different reasons, by the severed hearts at his
side, and of the scenes that had in earlier days united them, each one
felt that he and she did not gain by contrast with their musing mentor.
Physically not so handsome as either the youthful architect or the
vicar’s daughter, the thoroughness and integrity of Knight illuminated
his features with a dignity not even incipient in the other two. It is
difficult to frame rules which shall apply to both sexes, and Elfride,
an undeveloped girl, must, perhaps, hardly be laden with the moral
responsibilities which attach to a man in like circumstances. The charm
of woman, too, lies partly in her subtleness in matters of love. But if
honesty is a virtue in itself, Elfride, having none of it now, seemed,
being for being, scarcely good enough for Knight. Stephen, though
deceptive for no unworthy purpose, was deceptive after all; and
whatever good results grace such strategy if it succeed, it seldom draws
admiration, especially when it fails.

On an ordinary occasion, had Knight been even quite alone with Stephen,
he would hardly have alluded to his possible relationship to Elfride.
But moved by attendant circumstances Knight was impelled to be
confiding.

‘Stephen,’ he said, ‘this lady is Miss Swancourt. I am staying at her
father’s house, as you probably know.’ He stepped a few paces nearer
to Smith, and said in a lower tone: ‘I may as well tell you that we are
engaged to be married.’

Low as the words had been spoken, Elfride had heard them, and awaited
Stephen’s reply in breathless silence, if that could be called silence
where Elfride’s dress, at each throb of her heart, shook and indicated
it like a pulse-glass, rustling also against the wall in reply to the
same throbbing. The ray of daylight which reached her face lent it a
blue pallor in comparison with those of the other two.

‘I congratulate you,’ Stephen whispered; and said aloud, ‘I know Miss
Swancourt--a little. You must remember that my father is a parishioner
of Mr. Swancourt’s.’

‘I thought you might possibly not have lived at home since they have
been here.’

‘I have never lived at home, certainly, since that time.’

‘I have seen Mr. Smith,’ faltered Elfride.

‘Well, there is no excuse for me. As strangers to each other I ought,
I suppose, to have introduced you: as acquaintances, I should not have
stood so persistently between you. But the fact is, Smith, you seem a
boy to me, even now.’

Stephen appeared to have a more than previous consciousness of the
intense cruelty of his fate at the present moment. He could not repress
the words, uttered with a dim bitterness:

‘You should have said that I seemed still the rural mechanic’s son I am,
and hence an unfit subject for the ceremony of introductions.’

‘Oh, no, no! I won’t have that.’ Knight endeavoured to give his reply
a laughing tone in Elfride’s ears, and an earnestness in Stephen’s:
in both which efforts he signally failed, and produced a forced speech
pleasant to neither. ‘Well, let us go into the open air again; Miss
Swancourt, you are particularly silent. You mustn’t mind Smith. I have
known him for years, as I have told you.’

‘Yes, you have,’ she said.

‘To think she has never mentioned her knowledge of me!’ Smith murmured,
and thought with some remorse how much her conduct resembled his own on
his first arrival at her house as a stranger to the place.

They ascended to the daylight, Knight taking no further notice of
Elfride’s manner, which, as usual, he attributed to the natural shyness
of a young woman at being discovered walking with him on terms which
left not much doubt of their meaning. Elfride stepped a little in
advance, and passed through the churchyard.

‘You are changed very considerably, Smith,’ said Knight, ‘and I suppose
it is no more than was to be expected. However, don’t imagine that I
shall feel any the less interest in you and your fortunes whenever you
care to confide them to me. I have not forgotten the attachment you
spoke of as your reason for going away to India. A London young lady,
was it not? I hope all is prosperous?’

‘No: the match is broken off.’

It being always difficult to know whether to express sorrow or gladness
under such circumstances--all depending upon the character of the
match--Knight took shelter in the safe words: ‘I trust it was for the
best.’

‘I hope it was. But I beg that you will not press me further: no, you
have not pressed me--I don’t mean that--but I would rather not speak
upon the subject.’

Stephen’s words were hurried.

Knight said no more, and they followed in the footsteps of Elfride, who
still kept some paces in advance, and had not heard Knight’s unconscious
allusion to her. Stephen bade him adieu at the churchyard-gate without
going outside, and watched whilst he and his sweetheart mounted their
horses.

‘Good heavens, Elfride,’ Knight exclaimed, ‘how pale you are! I suppose
I ought not to have taken you into that vault. What is the matter?’

‘Nothing,’ said Elfride faintly. ‘I shall be myself in a moment. All was
so strange and unexpected down there, that it made me unwell.’

‘I thought you said very little. Shall I get some water?’

‘No, no.’

‘Do you think it is safe for you to mount?’

‘Quite--indeed it is,’ she said, with a look of appeal.

‘Now then--up she goes!’ whispered Knight, and lifted her tenderly into
the saddle.

Her old lover still looked on at the performance as he leant over the
gate a dozen yards off. Once in the saddle, and having a firm grip of
the reins, she turned her head as if by a resistless fascination, and
for the first time since that memorable parting on the moor outside
St. Launce’s after the passionate attempt at marriage with him, Elfride
looked in the face of the young man she first had loved. He was the
youth who had called her his inseparable wife many a time, and whom she
had even addressed as her husband. Their eyes met. Measurement of life
should be proportioned rather to the intensity of the experience than
to its actual length. Their glance, but a moment chronologically, was
a season in their history. To Elfride the intense agony of reproach in
Stephen’s eye was a nail piercing her heart with a deadliness no words
can describe. With a spasmodic effort she withdrew her eyes, urged on
the horse, and in the chaos of perturbed memories was oblivious of any
presence beside her. The deed of deception was complete.

Gaining a knoll on which the park transformed itself into wood and
copse, Knight came still closer to her side, and said, ‘Are you better
now, dearest?’

‘Oh yes.’ She pressed a hand to her eyes, as if to blot out the image of
Stephen. A vivid scarlet spot now shone with preternatural brightness in
the centre of each cheek, leaving the remainder of her face lily-white
as before.

‘Elfride,’ said Knight, rather in his old tone of mentor, ‘you know I
don’t for a moment chide you, but is there not a great deal of unwomanly
weakness in your allowing yourself to be so overwhelmed by the sight of
what, after all, is no novelty? Every woman worthy of the name should, I
think, be able to look upon death with something like composure. Surely
you think so too?’

‘Yes; I own it.’

His obtuseness to the cause of her indisposition, by evidencing his
entire freedom from the suspicion of anything behind the scenes, showed
how incapable Knight was of deception himself, rather than any inherent
dulness in him regarding human nature. This, clearly perceived by
Elfride, added poignancy to her self-reproach, and she idolized him the
more because of their difference. Even the recent sight of Stephen’s
face and the sound of his voice, which for a moment had stirred a chord
or two of ancient kindness, were unable to keep down the adoration
re-existent now that he was again out of view.

She had replied to Knight’s question hastily, and immediately went on to
speak of indifferent subjects. After they had reached home she was apart
from him till dinner-time. When dinner was over, and they were watching
the dusk in the drawing-room, Knight stepped out upon the terrace.
Elfride went after him very decisively, on the spur of a virtuous
intention.

‘Mr. Knight, I want to tell you something,’ she said, with quiet
firmness.

‘And what is it about?’ gaily returned her lover. ‘Happiness, I hope. Do
not let anything keep you so sad as you seem to have been to-day.’

‘I cannot mention the matter until I tell you the whole substance of
it,’ she said. ‘And that I will do to-morrow. I have been reminded of
it to-day. It is about something I once did, and don’t think I ought to
have done.’

This, it must be said, was rather a mild way of referring to a frantic
passion and flight, which, much or little in itself, only accident had
saved from being a scandal in the public eye.

Knight thought the matter some trifle, and said pleasantly:

‘Then I am not to hear the dreadful confession now?’

‘No, not now. I did not mean to-night,’ Elfride responded, with a slight
decline in the firmness of her voice. ‘It is not light as you think
it--it troubles me a great deal.’ Fearing now the effect of her own
earnestness, she added forcedly, ‘Though, perhaps, you may think it
light after all.’

‘But you have not said when it is to be?’

‘To-morrow morning. Name a time, will you, and bind me to it? I want you
to fix an hour, because I am weak, and may otherwise try to get out of
it.’ She added a little artificial laugh, which showed how timorous her
resolution was still.

‘Well, say after breakfast--at eleven o’clock.’

‘Yes, eleven o’clock. I promise you. Bind me strictly to my word.’



Chapter XXVIII

‘I lull a fancy, trouble-tost.’


Miss Swancourt, it is eleven o’clock.’

She was looking out of her dressing-room window on the first floor, and
Knight was regarding her from the terrace balustrade, upon which he had
been idly sitting for some time--dividing the glances of his eye between
the pages of a book in his hand, the brilliant hues of the geraniums and
calceolarias, and the open window above-mentioned.

‘Yes, it is, I know. I am coming.’

He drew closer, and under the window.

‘How are you this morning, Elfride? You look no better for your long
night’s rest.’

She appeared at the door shortly after, took his offered arm, and
together they walked slowly down the gravel path leading to the river
and away under the trees.

Her resolution, sustained during the last fifteen hours, had been to
tell the whole truth, and now the moment had come.

Step by step they advanced, and still she did not speak. They were
nearly at the end of the walk, when Knight broke the silence.

‘Well, what is the confession, Elfride?’

She paused a moment, drew a long breath; and this is what she said:

‘I told you one day--or rather I gave you to understand--what was not
true. I fancy you thought me to mean I was nineteen my next birthday,
but it was my last I was nineteen.’

The moment had been too much for her. Now that the crisis had come,
no qualms of conscience, no love of honesty, no yearning to make a
confidence and obtain forgiveness with a kiss, could string Elfride up
to the venture. Her dread lest he should be unforgiving was heightened
by the thought of yesterday’s artifice, which might possibly add disgust
to his disappointment. The certainty of one more day’s affection, which
she gained by silence, outvalued the hope of a perpetuity combined with
the risk of all.

The trepidation caused by these thoughts on what she had intended to say
shook so naturally the words she did say, that Knight never for a moment
suspected them to be a last moment’s substitution. He smiled and pressed
her hand warmly.

‘My dear Elfie--yes, you are now--no protestation--what a winning little
woman you are, to be so absurdly scrupulous about a mere iota! Really, I
never once have thought whether your nineteenth year was the last or
the present. And, by George, well I may not; for it would never do for a
staid fogey a dozen years older to stand upon such a trifle as that.’

‘Don’t praise me--don’t praise me! Though I prize it from your lips, I
don’t deserve it now.’

But Knight, being in an exceptionally genial mood, merely saw this
distressful exclamation as modesty. ‘Well,’ he added, after a minute, ‘I
like you all the better, you know, for such moral precision, although
I called it absurd.’ He went on with tender earnestness: ‘For, Elfride,
there is one thing I do love to see in a woman--that is, a soul truthful
and clear as heaven’s light. I could put up with anything if I had
that--forgive nothing if I had it not. Elfride, you have such a soul, if
ever woman had; and having it, retain it, and don’t ever listen to the
fashionable theories of the day about a woman’s privileges and natural
right to practise wiles. Depend upon it, my dear girl, that a noble
woman must be as honest as a noble man. I specially mean by honesty,
fairness not only in matters of business and social detail, but in all
the delicate dealings of love, to which the licence given to your sex
particularly refers.’

Elfride looked troublously at the trees.

‘Now let us go on to the river, Elfie.’

‘I would if I had a hat on,’ she said with a sort of suppressed woe.

‘I will get it for you,’ said Knight, very willing to purchase her
companionship at so cheap a price. ‘You sit down there a minute.’ And he
turned and walked rapidly back to the house for the article in question.

Elfride sat down upon one of the rustic benches which adorned this
portion of the grounds, and remained with her eyes upon the grass. She
was induced to lift them by hearing the brush of light and irregular
footsteps hard by. Passing along the path which intersected the one she
was in and traversed the outer shrubberies, Elfride beheld the farmer’s
widow, Mrs. Jethway. Before she noticed Elfride, she paused to look at
the house, portions of which were visible through the bushes. Elfride,
shrinking back, hoped the unpleasant woman might go on without seeing
her. But Mrs. Jethway, silently apostrophizing the house, with actions
which seemed dictated by a half-overturned reason, had discerned the
girl, and immediately came up and stood in front of her.

‘Ah, Miss Swancourt! Why did you disturb me? Mustn’t I trespass here?’

‘You may walk here if you like, Mrs. Jethway. I do not disturb you.’

‘You disturb my mind, and my mind is my whole life; for my boy is there
still, and he is gone from my body.’

‘Yes, poor young man. I was sorry when he died.’

‘Do you know what he died of?’

‘Consumption.’

‘Oh no, no!’ said the widow. ‘That word “consumption” covers a good
deal. He died because you were his own well-agreed sweetheart, and then
proved false--and it killed him. Yes, Miss Swancourt,’ she said in an
excited whisper, ‘you killed my son!’

‘How can you be so wicked and foolish!’ replied Elfride, rising
indignantly. But indignation was not natural to her, and having been so
worn and harrowed by late events, she lost any powers of defence
that mood might have lent her. ‘I could not help his loving me, Mrs.
Jethway!’

‘That’s just what you could have helped. You know how it began, Miss
Elfride. Yes: you said you liked the name of Felix better than any other
name in the parish, and you knew it was his name, and that those you
said it to would report it to him.’

‘I knew it was his name--of course I did; but I am sure, Mrs. Jethway, I
did not intend anybody to tell him.’

‘But you knew they would.’

‘No, I didn’t.’

‘And then, after that, when you were riding on Revels-day by our house,
and the lads were gathered there, and you wanted to dismount, when Jim
Drake and George Upway and three or four more ran forward to hold your
pony, and Felix stood back timid, why did you beckon to him, and say you
would rather he held it?’

‘O Mrs. Jethway, you do think so mistakenly! I liked him best--that’s
why I wanted him to do it. He was gentle and nice--I always thought him
so--and I liked him.’

‘Then why did you let him kiss you?’

‘It is a falsehood; oh, it is, it is!’ said Elfride, weeping with
desperation. ‘He came behind me, and attempted to kiss me; and that was
why I told him never to let me see him again.’

‘But you did not tell your father or anybody, as you would have if you
had looked upon it then as the insult you now pretend it was.’

‘He begged me not to tell, and foolishly enough I did not. And I wish
I had now. I little expected to be scourged with my own kindness. Pray
leave me, Mrs. Jethway.’ The girl only expostulated now.

‘Well, you harshly dismissed him, and he died. And before his body was
cold, you took another to your heart. Then as carelessly sent him about
his business, and took a third. And if you consider that nothing, Miss
Swancourt,’ she continued, drawing closer; ‘it led on to what was very
serious indeed. Have you forgotten the would-be runaway marriage? The
journey to London, and the return the next day without being married,
and that there’s enough disgrace in that to ruin a woman’s good name far
less light than yours? You may have: I have not. Fickleness towards a
lover is bad, but fickleness after playing the wife is wantonness.’

‘Oh, it’s a wicked cruel lie! Do not say it; oh, do not!’

‘Does your new man know of it? I think not, or he would be no man
of yours! As much of the story as was known is creeping about the
neighbourhood even now; but I know more than any of them, and why should
I respect your love?’

‘I defy you!’ cried Elfride tempestuously. ‘Do and say all you can to
ruin me; try; put your tongue at work; I invite it! I defy you as a
slanderous woman! Look, there he comes.’ And her voice trembled greatly
as she saw through the leaves the beloved form of Knight coming from the
door with her hat in his hand. ‘Tell him at once; I can bear it.’

‘Not now,’ said the woman, and disappeared down the path.

The excitement of her latter words had restored colour to Elfride’s
cheeks; and hastily wiping her eyes, she walked farther on, so that by
the time her lover had overtaken her the traces of emotion had nearly
disappeared from her face. Knight put the hat upon her head, took her
hand, and drew it within his arm.

It was the last day but one previous to their departure for St.
Leonards; and Knight seemed to have a purpose in being much in her
company that day. They rambled along the valley. The season was that
period in the autumn when the foliage alone of an ordinary plantation is
rich enough in hues to exhaust the chromatic combinations of an artist’s
palette. Most lustrous of all are the beeches, graduating from bright
rusty red at the extremity of the boughs to a bright yellow at their
inner parts; young oaks are still of a neutral green; Scotch firs and
hollies are nearly blue; whilst occasional dottings of other varieties
give maroons and purples of every tinge.

The river--such as it was--here pursued its course amid flagstones as
level as a pavement, but divided by crevices of irregular width. With
the summer drought the torrent had narrowed till it was now but a thread
of crystal clearness, meandering along a central channel in the rocky
bed of the winter current. Knight scrambled through the bushes which at
this point nearly covered the brook from sight, and leapt down upon the
dry portion of the river bottom.

‘Elfride, I never saw such a sight!’ he exclaimed. ‘The hazels overhang
the river’s course in a perfect arch, and the floor is beautifully
paved. The place reminds one of the passages of a cloister. Let me help
you down.’

He assisted her through the marginal underwood and down to the stones.
They walked on together to a tiny cascade about a foot wide and high,
and sat down beside it on the flags that for nine months in the year
were submerged beneath a gushing bourne. From their feet trickled the
attenuated thread of water which alone remained to tell the intent and
reason of this leaf-covered aisle, and journeyed on in a zigzag line
till lost in the shade.

Knight, leaning on his elbow, after contemplating all this, looked
critically at Elfride.

‘Does not such a luxuriant head of hair exhaust itself and get thin as
the years go on from eighteen to eight-and-twenty?’ he asked at length.

‘Oh no!’ she said quickly, with a visible disinclination to harbour such
a thought, which came upon her with an unpleasantness whose force it
would be difficult for men to understand. She added afterwards, with
smouldering uneasiness, ‘Do you really think that a great abundance of
hair is more likely to get thin than a moderate quantity?’

‘Yes, I really do. I believe--am almost sure, in fact--that if
statistics could be obtained on the subject, you would find the persons
with thin hair were those who had a superabundance originally, and that
those who start with a moderate quantity retain it without much loss.’

Elfride’s troubles sat upon her face as well as in her heart. Perhaps
to a woman it is almost as dreadful to think of losing her beauty as of
losing her reputation. At any rate, she looked quite as gloomy as she
had looked at any minute that day.

‘You shouldn’t be so troubled about a mere personal adornment,’ said
Knight, with some of the severity of tone that had been customary before
she had beguiled him into softness.

‘I think it is a woman’s duty to be as beautiful as she can. If I were a
scholar, I would give you chapter and verse for it from one of your own
Latin authors. I know there is such a passage, for papa has alluded to
it.’

“‘Munditiae, et ornatus, et cultus,” &c.--is that it? A passage in Livy
which is no defence at all.’

‘No, it is not that.’

‘Never mind, then; for I have a reason for not taking up my old cudgels
against you, Elfie. Can you guess what the reason is?’

‘No; but I am glad to hear it,’ she said thankfully. ‘For it is dreadful
when you talk so. For whatever dreadful name the weakness may deserve,
I must candidly own that I am terrified to think my hair may ever get
thin.’

‘Of course; a sensible woman would rather lose her wits than her
beauty.’

‘I don’t care if you do say satire and judge me cruelly. I know my hair
is beautiful; everybody says so.’

‘Why, my dear Miss Swancourt,’ he tenderly replied, ‘I have not said
anything against it. But you know what is said about handsome being and
handsome doing.’

‘Poor Miss Handsome-does cuts but a sorry figure beside Miss Handsome-is
in every man’s eyes, your own not excepted, Mr. Knight, though it
pleases you to throw off so,’ said Elfride saucily. And lowering her
voice: ‘You ought not to have taken so much trouble to save me from
falling over the cliff, for you don’t think mine a life worth much
trouble evidently.’

‘Perhaps you think mine was not worth yours.’

‘It was worth anybody’s!’

Her hand was plashing in the little waterfall, and her eyes were bent
the same way.

‘You talk about my severity with you, Elfride. You are unkind to me, you
know.’

‘How?’ she asked, looking up from her idle occupation.

‘After my taking trouble to get jewellery to please you, you wouldn’t
accept it.’

‘Perhaps I would now; perhaps I want to.’

‘Do!’ said Knight.

And the packet was withdrawn from his pocket and presented the third
time. Elfride took it with delight. The obstacle was rent in twain, and
the significant gift was hers.

‘I’ll take out these ugly ones at once,’ she exclaimed, ‘and I’ll wear
yours--shall I?’

‘I should be gratified.’

Now, though it may seem unlikely, considering how far the two had gone
in converse, Knight had never yet ventured to kiss Elfride. Far slower
was he than Stephen Smith in matters like that. The utmost advance he
had made in such demonstrations had been to the degree witnessed by
Stephen in the summer-house. So Elfride’s cheek being still forbidden
fruit to him, he said impulsively.

‘Elfie, I should like to touch that seductive ear of yours. Those are my
gifts; so let me dress you in them.’

She hesitated with a stimulating hesitation.

‘Let me put just one in its place, then?’

Her face grew much warmer.

‘I don’t think it would be quite the usual or proper course,’ she said,
suddenly turning and resuming her operation of plashing in the miniature
cataract.

The stillness of things was disturbed by a bird coming to the streamlet
to drink. After watching him dip his bill, sprinkle himself, and fly
into a tree, Knight replied, with the courteous brusqueness she so much
liked to hear--

‘Elfride, now you may as well be fair. You would mind my doing it but
little, I think; so give me leave, do.’

‘I will be fair, then,’ she said confidingly, and looking him full in
the face. It was a particular pleasure to her to be able to do a little
honesty without fear. ‘I should not mind your doing so--I should like
such an attention. My thought was, would it be right to let you?’

‘Then I will!’ he rejoined, with that singular earnestness about a small
matter--in the eyes of a ladies’ man but a momentary peg for flirtation
or jest--which is only found in deep natures who have been wholly unused
to toying with womankind, and which, from its unwontedness, is in itself
a tribute the most precious that can be rendered, and homage the most
exquisite to be received.

‘And you shall,’ she whispered, without reserve, and no longer mistress
of the ceremonies. And then Elfride inclined herself towards him, thrust
back her hair, and poised her head sideways. In doing this her arm and
shoulder necessarily rested against his breast.

At the touch, the sensation of both seemed to be concentrated at the
point of contact. All the time he was performing the delicate manoeuvre
Knight trembled like a young surgeon in his first operation.

‘Now the other,’ said Knight in a whisper.

‘No, no.’

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t know exactly.’

‘You must know.’

‘Your touch agitates me so. Let us go home.’

‘Don’t say that, Elfride. What is it, after all? A mere nothing. Now
turn round, dearest.’

She was powerless to disobey, and turned forthwith; and then, without
any defined intention in either’s mind, his face and hers drew closer
together; and he supported her there, and kissed her.

Knight was at once the most ardent and the coolest man alive. When his
emotions slumbered he appeared almost phlegmatic; when they were moved
he was no less than passionate. And now, without having quite intended
an early marriage, he put the question plainly. It came with all
the ardour which was the accumulation of long years behind a natural
reserve.

‘Elfride, when shall we be married?’

The words were sweet to her; but there was a bitter in the sweet. These
newly-overt acts of his, which had culminated in this plain question,
coming on the very day of Mrs. Jethway’s blasting reproaches, painted
distinctly her fickleness as an enormity. Loving him in secret had not
seemed such thorough-going inconstancy as the same love recognized and
acted upon in the face of threats. Her distraction was interpreted by
him at her side as the outward signs of an unwonted experience.

‘I don’t press you for an answer now, darling,’ he said, seeing she was
not likely to give a lucid reply. ‘Take your time.’

Knight was as honourable a man as was ever loved and deluded by
woman. It may be said that his blindness in love proved the point,
for shrewdness in love usually goes with meanness in general. Once the
passion had mastered him, the intellect had gone for naught. Knight, as
a lover, was more single-minded and far simpler than his friend Stephen,
who in other capacities was shallow beside him.

Without saying more on the subject of their marriage, Knight held her at
arm’s length, as if she had been a large bouquet, and looked at her with
critical affection.

‘Does your pretty gift become me?’ she inquired, with tears of
excitement on the fringes of her eyes.

‘Undoubtedly, perfectly!’ said her lover, adopting a lighter tone to put
her at her ease. ‘Ah, you should see them; you look shinier than ever.
Fancy that I have been able to improve you!’

‘Am I really so nice? I am glad for your sake. I wish I could see
myself.’

‘You can’t. You must wait till we get home.’

‘I shall never be able,’ she said, laughing. ‘Look: here’s a way.’

‘So there is. Well done, woman’s wit!’

‘Hold me steady!’

‘Oh yes.’

‘And don’t let me fall, will you?’

‘By no means.’

Below their seat the thread of water paused to spread out into a smooth
small pool. Knight supported her whilst she knelt down and leant over
it.

‘I can see myself. Really, try as religiously as I will, I cannot help
admiring my appearance in them.’

‘Doubtless. How can you be so fond of finery? I believe you are
corrupting me into a taste for it. I used to hate every such thing
before I knew you.’

‘I like ornaments, because I want people to admire what you possess, and
envy you, and say, “I wish I was he.”’

‘I suppose I ought not to object after that. And how much longer are you
going to look in there at yourself?’

‘Until you are tired of holding me? Oh, I want to ask you something.’
And she turned round. ‘Now tell truly, won’t you? What colour of hair do
you like best now?’

Knight did not answer at the moment.

‘Say light, do!’ she whispered coaxingly. ‘Don’t say dark, as you did
that time.’

‘Light-brown, then. Exactly the colour of my sweetheart’s.’

‘Really?’ said Elfride, enjoying as truth what she knew to be flattery.

‘Yes.’

‘And blue eyes, too, not hazel? Say yes, say yes!’

‘One recantation is enough for to-day.’

‘No, no.’

‘Very well, blue eyes.’ And Knight laughed, and drew her close and
kissed her the second time, which operations he performed with the
carefulness of a fruiterer touching a bunch of grapes so as not to
disturb their bloom.

Elfride objected to a second, and flung away her face, the movement
causing a slight disarrangement of hat and hair. Hardly thinking what
she said in the trepidation of the moment, she exclaimed, clapping her
hand to her ear--

‘Ah, we must be careful! I lost the other earring doing like this.’

No sooner did she realise the significant words than a troubled look
passed across her face, and she shut her lips as if to keep them back.

‘Doing like what?’ said Knight, perplexed.

‘Oh, sitting down out of doors,’ she replied hastily.



Chapter XXIX

     ‘Care, thou canker.’


It is an evening at the beginning of October, and the mellowest of
autumn sunsets irradiates London, even to its uttermost eastern end.
Between the eye and the flaming West, columns of smoke stand up in the
still air like tall trees. Everything in the shade is rich and misty
blue.

Mr. and Mrs. Swancourt and Elfride are looking at these lustrous and
lurid contrasts from the window of a large hotel near London Bridge. The
visit to their friends at St. Leonards is over, and they are staying a
day or two in the metropolis on their way home.

Knight spent the same interval of time in crossing over to Brittany
by way of Jersey and St. Malo. He then passed through Normandy, and
returned to London also, his arrival there having been two days later
than that of Elfride and her parents.

So the evening of this October day saw them all meeting at the
above-mentioned hotel, where they had previously engaged apartments.
During the afternoon Knight had been to his lodgings at Richmond to make
a little change in the nature of his baggage; and on coming up again
there was never ushered by a bland waiter into a comfortable room a
happier man than Knight when shown to where Elfride and her step-mother
were sitting after a fatiguing day of shopping.

Elfride looked none the better for her change: Knight was as brown as a
nut. They were soon engaged by themselves in a corner of the room. Now
that the precious words of promise had been spoken, the young girl had
no idea of keeping up her price by the system of reserve which other
more accomplished maidens use. Her lover was with her again, and it was
enough: she made her heart over to him entirely.

Dinner was soon despatched. And when a preliminary round of conversation
concerning their doings since the last parting had been concluded, they
reverted to the subject of to-morrow’s journey home.

‘That enervating ride through the myrtle climate of South Devon--how I
dread it to-morrow!’ Mrs. Swancourt was saying. ‘I had hoped the weather
would have been cooler by this time.’

‘Did you ever go by water?’ said Knight.

‘Never--by never, I mean not since the time of railways.’

‘Then if you can afford an additional day, I propose that we do it,’
said Knight. ‘The Channel is like a lake just now. We should reach
Plymouth in about forty hours, I think, and the boats start from just
below the bridge here’ (pointing over his shoulder eastward).

‘Hear, hear!’ said the vicar.

‘It’s an idea, certainly,’ said his wife.

‘Of course these coasters are rather tubby,’ said Knight. ‘But you
wouldn’t mind that?’

‘No: we wouldn’t mind.’

‘And the saloon is a place like the fishmarket of a ninth-rate country
town, but that wouldn’t matter?’

‘Oh dear, no. If we had only thought of it soon enough, we might have
had the use of Lord Luxellian’s yacht. But never mind, we’ll go. We
shall escape the worrying rattle through the whole length of London
to-morrow morning--not to mention the risk of being killed by excursion
trains, which is not a little one at this time of the year, if the
papers are true.’

Elfride, too, thought the arrangement delightful; and accordingly, ten
o’clock the following morning saw two cabs crawling round by the Mint,
and between the preternaturally high walls of Nightingale Lane towards
the river side.

The first vehicle was occupied by the travellers in person, and the
second brought up the luggage, under the supervision of Mrs. Snewson,
Mrs. Swancourt’s maid--and for the last fortnight Elfride’s also;
for although the younger lady had never been accustomed to any such
attendant at robing times, her stepmother forced her into a semblance of
familiarity with one when they were away from home.

Presently waggons, bales, and smells of all descriptions increased to
such an extent that the advance of the cabs was at the slowest possible
rate. At intervals it was necessary to halt entirely, that the heavy
vehicles unloading in front might be moved aside, a feat which was not
accomplished without a deal of swearing and noise. The vicar put his
head out of the window.

‘Surely there must be some mistake in the way,’ he said with great
concern, drawing in his head again. ‘There’s not a respectable
conveyance to be seen here except ours. I’ve heard that there are
strange dens in this part of London, into which people have been
entrapped and murdered--surely there is no conspiracy on the part of the
cabman?’

‘Oh no, no. It is all right,’ said Mr. Knight, who was as placid as dewy
eve by the side of Elfride.

‘But what I argue from,’ said the vicar, with a greater emphasis of
uneasiness, ‘are plain appearances. This can’t be the highway from
London to Plymouth by water, because it is no way at all to any place.
We shall miss our steamer and our train too--that’s what I think.’

‘Depend upon it we are right. In fact, here we are.’

‘Trimmer’s Wharf,’ said the cabman, opening the door.

No sooner had they alighted than they perceived a tussle going on
between the hindmost cabman and a crowd of light porters who had
charged him in column, to obtain possession of the bags and boxes, Mrs.
Snewson’s hands being seen stretched towards heaven in the midst of the
melee. Knight advanced gallantly, and after a hard struggle reduced the
crowd to two, upon whose shoulders and trucks the goods vanished away in
the direction of the water’s edge with startling rapidity.

Then more of the same tribe, who had run on ahead, were heard shouting
to boatmen, three of whom pulled alongside, and two being vanquished,
the luggage went tumbling into the remaining one.

‘Never saw such a dreadful scene in my life--never!’ said Mr. Swancourt,
floundering into the boat. ‘Worse than Famine and Sword upon one. I
thought such customs were confined to continental ports. Aren’t you
astonished, Elfride?’

‘Oh no,’ said Elfride, appearing amid the dingy scene like a rainbow in
a murky sky. ‘It is a pleasant novelty, I think.’

‘Where in the wide ocean is our steamer?’ the vicar inquired. ‘I can see
nothing but old hulks, for the life of me.’

‘Just behind that one,’ said Knight; ‘we shall soon be round under her.’

The object of their search was soon after disclosed to view--a great
lumbering form of inky blackness, which looked as if it had never known
the touch of a paint-brush for fifty years. It was lying beside just
such another, and the way on board was down a narrow lane of water
between the two, about a yard and a half wide at one end, and gradually
converging to a point. At the moment of their entry into this narrow
passage, a brilliantly painted rival paddled down the river like a
trotting steed, creating such a series of waves and splashes that
their frail wherry was tossed like a teacup, and the vicar and his wife
slanted this way and that, inclining their heads into contact with a
Punch-and-Judy air and countenance, the wavelets striking the sides of
the two hulls, and flapping back into their laps.

‘Dreadful! horrible!’ Mr. Swancourt murmured privately; and said aloud,
I thought we walked on board. I don’t think really I should have come,
if I had known this trouble was attached to it.’

‘If they must splash, I wish they would splash us with clean water,’
said the old lady, wiping her dress with her handkerchief.

‘I hope it is perfectly safe,’ continued the vicar.

‘O papa! you are not very brave,’ cried Elfride merrily.

‘Bravery is only obtuseness to the perception of contingencies,’ Mr.
Swancourt severely answered.

Mrs. Swancourt laughed, and Elfride laughed, and Knight laughed, in the
midst of which pleasantness a man shouted to them from some position
between their heads and the sky, and they found they were close to the
Juliet, into which they quiveringly ascended.

It having been found that the lowness of the tide would prevent their
getting off for an hour, the Swancourts, having nothing else to
do, allowed their eyes to idle upon men in blue jerseys performing
mysterious mending operations with tar-twine; they turned to look at
the dashes of lurid sunlight, like burnished copper stars afloat on the
ripples, which danced into and tantalized their vision; or listened to
the loud music of a steam-crane at work close by; or to sighing sounds
from the funnels of passing steamers, getting dead as they grew more
distant; or to shouts from the decks of different craft in their
vicinity, all of them assuming the form of ‘Ah-he-hay!’

Half-past ten: not yet off. Mr. Swancourt breathed a breath of
weariness, and looked at his fellow-travellers in general. Their faces
were certainly not worth looking at. The expression ‘Waiting’ was
written upon them so absolutely that nothing more could be discerned
there. All animation was suspended till Providence should raise the
water and let them go.

‘I have been thinking,’ said Knight, ‘that we have come amongst the
rarest class of people in the kingdom. Of all human characteristics, a
low opinion of the value of his own time by an individual must be among
the strangest to find. Here we see numbers of that patient and happy
species. Rovers, as distinct from travellers.’

‘But they are pleasure-seekers, to whom time is of no importance.’

‘Oh no. The pleasure-seekers we meet on the grand routes are more
anxious than commercial travellers to rush on. And added to the loss of
time in getting to their journey’s end, these exceptional people take
their chance of sea-sickness by coming this way.’

‘Can it be?’ inquired the vicar with apprehension. ‘Surely not, Mr.
Knight, just here in our English Channel--close at our doors, as I may
say.’

‘Entrance passages are very draughty places, and the Channel is like
the rest. It ruins the temper of sailors. It has been calculated by
philosophers that more damns go up to heaven from the Channel, in the
course of a year, than from all the five oceans put together.’

They really start now, and the dead looks of all the throng come to life
immediately. The man who has been frantically hauling in a rope that
bade fair to have no end ceases his labours, and they glide down the
serpentine bends of the Thames.

Anything anywhere was a mine of interest to Elfride, and so was this.

‘It is well enough now,’ said Mrs. Swancourt, after they had passed the
Nore, ‘but I can’t say I have cared for my voyage hitherto.’ For being
now in the open sea a slight breeze had sprung up, which cheered her as
well as her two younger companions. But unfortunately it had a reverse
effect upon the vicar, who, after turning a sort of apricot jam colour,
interspersed with dashes of raspberry, pleaded indisposition, and
vanished from their sight.

The afternoon wore on. Mrs. Swancourt kindly sat apart by herself
reading, and the betrothed pair were left to themselves. Elfride clung
trustingly to Knight’s arm, and proud was she to walk with him up
and down the deck, or to go forward, and leaning with him against the
forecastle rails, watch the setting sun gradually withdrawing itself
over their stern into a huge bank of livid cloud with golden edges that
rose to meet it.

She was childishly full of life and spirits, though in walking up and
down with him before the other passengers, and getting noticed by them,
she was at starting rather confused, it being the first time she had
shown herself so openly under that kind of protection. ‘I expect they
are envious and saying things about us, don’t you?’ she would whisper to
Knight with a stealthy smile.

‘Oh no,’ he would answer unconcernedly. ‘Why should they envy us, and
what can they say?’

‘Not any harm, of course,’ Elfride replied, ‘except such as this: “How
happy those two are! she is proud enough now.” What makes it worse,’ she
continued in the extremity of confidence, ‘I heard those two cricketing
men say just now, “She’s the nobbiest girl on the boat.” But I don’t
mind it, you know, Harry.’

‘I should hardly have supposed you did, even if you had not told me,’
said Knight with great blandness.

She was never tired of asking her lover questions and admiring his
answers, good, bad, or indifferent as they might be. The evening grew
dark and night came on, and lights shone upon them from the horizon and
from the sky.

‘Now look there ahead of us, at that halo in the air, of silvery
brightness. Watch it, and you will see what it comes to.’

She watched for a few minutes, when two white lights emerged from the
side of a hill, and showed themselves to be the origin of the halo.

‘What a dazzling brilliance! What do they mark?’

‘The South Foreland: they were previously covered by the cliff.’

‘What is that level line of little sparkles--a town, I suppose?’

‘That’s Dover.’

All this time, and later, soft sheet lightning expanded from a cloud in
their path, enkindling their faces as they paced up and down, shining
over the water, and, for a moment, showing the horizon as a keen line.

Elfride slept soundly that night. Her first thought the next morning was
the thrilling one that Knight was as close at hand as when they were
at home at Endelstow, and her first sight, on looking out of the cabin
window, was the perpendicular face of Beachy Head, gleaming white in a
brilliant six-o’clock-in-the-morning sun. This fair daybreak, however,
soon changed its aspect. A cold wind and a pale mist descended upon the
sea, and seemed to threaten a dreary day.

When they were nearing Southampton, Mrs. Swancourt came to say that her
husband was so ill that he wished to be put on shore here, and left
to do the remainder of the journey by land. ‘He will be perfectly well
directly he treads firm ground again. Which shall we do--go with him, or
finish our voyage as we intended?’

Elfride was comfortably housed under an umbrella which Knight was
holding over her to keep off the wind. ‘Oh, don’t let us go on shore!’
she said with dismay. ‘It would be such a pity!’

‘That’s very fine,’ said Mrs. Swancourt archly, as to a child. ‘See,
the wind has increased her colour, the sea her appetite and spirits, and
somebody her happiness. Yes, it would be a pity, certainly.’

‘’Tis my misfortune to be always spoken to from a pedestal,’ sighed
Elfride.

‘Well, we will do as you like, Mrs. Swancourt,’ said Knight, ‘but----’

‘I myself would rather remain on board,’ interrupted the elder lady.
‘And Mr. Swancourt particularly wishes to go by himself. So that shall
settle the matter.’

The vicar, now a drab colour, was put ashore, and became as well as ever
forthwith.

Elfride, sitting alone in a retired part of the vessel, saw a veiled
woman walk aboard among the very latest arrivals at this port. She was
clothed in black silk, and carried a dark shawl upon her arm. The
woman, without looking around her, turned to the quarter allotted to
the second-cabin passengers. All the carnation Mrs. Swancourt had
complimented her step-daughter upon possessing left Elfride’s cheeks,
and she trembled visibly.

She ran to the other side of the boat, where Mrs. Swancourt was
standing.

‘Let us go home by railway with papa, after all,’ she pleaded earnestly.
‘I would rather go with him--shall we?’

Mrs. Swancourt looked around for a moment, as if unable to decide. ‘Ah,’
she exclaimed, ‘it is too late now. Why did not you say so before, when
we had plenty of time?’

The Juliet had at that minute let go, the engines had started, and they
were gliding slowly away from the quay. There was no help for it but
to remain, unless the Juliet could be made to put back, and that would
create a great disturbance. Elfride gave up the idea and submitted
quietly. Her happiness was sadly mutilated now.

The woman whose presence had so disturbed her was exactly like Mrs.
Jethway. She seemed to haunt Elfride like a shadow. After several
minutes’ vain endeavour to account for any design Mrs. Jethway could
have in watching her, Elfride decided to think that, if it were the
widow, the encounter was accidental. She remembered that the widow in
her restlessness was often visiting the village near Southampton, which
was her original home, and it was possible that she chose water-transit
with the idea of saving expense.

‘What is the matter, Elfride?’ Knight inquired, standing before her.

‘Nothing more than that I am rather depressed.’

‘I don’t much wonder at it; that wharf was depressing. We seemed
underneath and inferior to everything around us. But we shall be in the
sea breeze again soon, and that will freshen you, dear.’

The evening closed in and dusk increased as they made way down
Southampton Water and through the Solent. Elfride’s disturbance of mind
was such that her light spirits of the foregoing four and twenty hours
had entirely deserted her. The weather too had grown more gloomy, for
though the showers of the morning had ceased, the sky was covered more
closely than ever with dense leaden clouds. How beautiful was the sunset
when they rounded the North Foreland the previous evening! now it was
impossible to tell within half an hour the time of the luminary’s going
down. Knight led her about, and being by this time accustomed to her
sudden changes of mood, overlooked the necessity of a cause in regarding
the conditions--impressionableness and elasticity.

Elfride looked stealthily to the other end of the vessel. Mrs. Jethway,
or her double, was sitting at the stern--her eye steadily regarding
Elfride.

‘Let us go to the forepart,’ she said quickly to Knight. ‘See there--the
man is fixing the lights for the night.’

Knight assented, and after watching the operation of fixing the red and
the green lights on the port and starboard bows, and the hoisting of
the white light to the masthead, he walked up and down with her till
the increase of wind rendered promenading difficult. Elfride’s eyes were
occasionally to be found furtively gazing abaft, to learn if her enemy
were really there. Nobody was visible now.

‘Shall we go below?’ said Knight, seeing that the deck was nearly
deserted.

‘No,’ she said. ‘If you will kindly get me a rug from Mrs. Swancourt, I
should like, if you don’t mind, to stay here.’ She had recently fancied
the assumed Mrs. Jethway might be a first-class passenger, and dreaded
meeting her by accident.

Knight appeared with the rug, and they sat down behind a weather-cloth
on the windward side, just as the two red eyes of the Needles glared
upon them from the gloom, their pointed summits rising like shadowy
phantom figures against the sky. It became necessary to go below to
an eight-o’clock meal of nondescript kind, and Elfride was immensely
relieved at finding no sign of Mrs. Jethway there. They again ascended,
and remained above till Mrs. Snewson staggered up to them with the
message that Mrs. Swancourt thought it was time for Elfride to come
below. Knight accompanied her down, and returned again to pass a little
more time on deck.

Elfride partly undressed herself and lay down, and soon became
unconscious, though her sleep was light. How long she had lain, she knew
not, when by slow degrees she became cognizant of a whispering in her
ear.

‘You are well on with him, I can see. Well, provoke me now, but my day
will come, you will find.’ That seemed to be the utterance, or words to
that effect.

Elfride became broad awake and terrified. She knew the words, if real,
could be only those of one person, and that person the widow Jethway.

The lamp had gone out and the place was in darkness. In the next berth
she could hear her stepmother breathing heavily, further on Snewson
breathing more heavily still. These were the only other legitimate
occupants of the cabin, and Mrs. Jethway must have stealthily come in by
some means and retreated again, or else she had entered an empty berth
next Snewson’s. The fear that this was the case increased Elfride’s
perturbation, till it assumed the dimensions of a certainty, for how
could a stranger from the other end of the ship possibly contrive to get
in? Could it have been a dream?

Elfride raised herself higher and looked out of the window. There was
the sea, floundering and rushing against the ship’s side just by her
head, and thence stretching away, dim and moaning, into an expanse of
indistinctness; and far beyond all this two placid lights like rayless
stars. Now almost fearing to turn her face inwards again, lest Mrs.
Jethway should appear at her elbow, Elfride meditated upon whether to
call Snewson to keep her company. ‘Four bells’ sounded, and she heard
voices, which gave her a little courage. It was not worth while to call
Snewson.

At any rate Elfride could not stay there panting longer, at the risk of
being again disturbed by that dreadful whispering. So wrapping herself
up hurriedly she emerged into the passage, and by the aid of a faint
light burning at the entrance to the saloon found the foot of the
stairs, and ascended to the deck. Dreary the place was in the extreme.
It seemed a new spot altogether in contrast with its daytime self. She
could see the glowworm light from the binnacle, and the dim outline
of the man at the wheel; also a form at the bows. Not another soul was
apparent from stem to stern.

Yes, there were two more--by the bulwarks. One proved to be her Harry,
the other the mate. She was glad indeed, and on drawing closer found
they were holding a low slow chat about nautical affairs. She ran up
and slipped her hand through Knight’s arm, partly for love, partly for
stability.

‘Elfie! not asleep?’ said Knight, after moving a few steps aside with
her.

‘No: I cannot sleep. May I stay here? It is so dismal down there,
and--and I was afraid. Where are we now?’

‘Due south of Portland Bill. Those are the lights abeam of us: look.
A terrible spot, that, on a stormy night. And do you see a very small
light that dips and rises to the right? That’s a light-ship on the
dangerous shoal called the Shambles, where many a good vessel has
gone to pieces. Between it and ourselves is the Race--a place where
antagonistic currents meet and form whirlpools--a spot which is rough in
the smoothest weather, and terrific in a wind. That dark, dreary horizon
we just discern to the left is the West Bay, terminated landwards by the
Chesil Beach.’

‘What time is it, Harry?’

‘Just past two.’

‘Are you going below?’

‘Oh no; not to-night. I prefer pure air.’

She fancied he might be displeased with her for coming to him at this
unearthly hour. ‘I should like to stay here too, if you will allow me,’
she said timidly.

‘I want to ask you things.’

‘Allow you, Elfie!’ said Knight, putting his arm round her and drawing
her closer. ‘I am twice as happy with you by my side. Yes: we will stay,
and watch the approach of day.’

So they again sought out the sheltered nook, and sitting down wrapped
themselves in the rug as before.

‘What were you going to ask me?’ he inquired, as they undulated up and
down.

‘Oh, it was not much--perhaps a thing I ought not to ask,’ she said
hesitatingly. Her sudden wish had really been to discover at once
whether he had ever before been engaged to be married. If he had, she
would make that a ground for telling him a little of her conduct with
Stephen. Mrs. Jethway’s seeming words had so depressed the girl that
she herself now painted her flight in the darkest colours, and longed to
ease her burdened mind by an instant confession. If Knight had ever been
imprudent himself, he might, she hoped, forgive all.

‘I wanted to ask you,’ she went on, ‘if--you had ever been engaged
before.’ She added tremulously, ‘I hope you have--I mean, I don’t mind
at all if you have.’

‘No, I never was,’ Knight instantly and heartily replied. ‘Elfride’--and
there was a certain happy pride in his tone--‘I am twelve years older
than you, and I have been about the world, and, in a way, into society,
and you have not. And yet I am not so unfit for you as strict-thinking
people might imagine, who would assume the difference in age to signify
most surely an equal addition to my practice in love-making.’

Elfride shivered.

‘You are cold--is the wind too much for you?’

‘No,’ she said gloomily. The belief which had been her sheet-anchor in
hoping for forgiveness had proved false. This account of the exceptional
nature of his experience, a matter which would have set her rejoicing
two years ago, chilled her now like a frost.

‘You don’t mind my asking you?’ she continued.

‘Oh no--not at all.’

‘And have you never kissed many ladies?’ she whispered, hoping he would
say a hundred at the least.

The time, the circumstances, and the scene were such as to draw
confidences from the most reserved. ‘Elfride,’ whispered Knight in
reply, ‘it is strange you should have asked that question. But I’ll
answer it, though I have never told such a thing before. I have been
rather absurd in my avoidance of women. I have never given a woman a
kiss in my life, except yourself and my mother.’ The man of two and
thirty with the experienced mind warmed all over with a boy’s ingenuous
shame as he made the confession.

‘What, not one?’ she faltered.

‘No; not one.’

‘How very strange!’

‘Yes, the reverse experience may be commoner. And yet, to those who have
observed their own sex, as I have, my case is not remarkable. Men about
town are women’s favourites--that’s the postulate--and superficial
people don’t think far enough to see that there may be reserved, lonely
exceptions.’

‘Are you proud of it, Harry?’

‘No, indeed. Of late years I have wished I had gone my ways and trod out
my measure like lighter-hearted men. I have thought of how many happy
experiences I may have lost through never going to woo.’

‘Then why did you hold aloof?’

‘I cannot say. I don’t think it was my nature to: circumstance hindered
me, perhaps. I have regretted it for another reason. This great
remissness of mine has had its effect upon me. The older I have grown,
the more distinctly have I perceived that it was absolutely preventing
me from liking any woman who was not as unpractised as I; and I gave up
the expectation of finding a nineteenth-century young lady in my own raw
state. Then I found you, Elfride, and I felt for the first time that my
fastidiousness was a blessing. And it helped to make me worthy of you.
I felt at once that, differing as we did in other experiences, in this
matter I resembled you. Well, aren’t you glad to hear it, Elfride?’

‘Yes, I am,’ she answered in a forced voice. ‘But I always had thought
that men made lots of engagements before they married--especially if
they don’t marry very young.’

‘So all women think, I suppose--and rightly, indeed, of the majority of
bachelors, as I said before. But an appreciable minority of slow-coach
men do not--and it makes them very awkward when they do come to the
point. However, it didn’t matter in my case.’

‘Why?’ she asked uneasily.

‘Because you know even less of love-making and matrimonial
prearrangement than I, and so you can’t draw invidious comparisons if I
do my engaging improperly.’

‘I think you do it beautifully!’

‘Thank you, dear. But,’ continued Knight laughingly, ‘your opinion is
not that of an expert, which alone is of value.’

Had she answered, ‘Yes, it is,’ half as strongly as she felt it, Knight
might have been a little astonished.

‘If you had ever been engaged to be married before,’ he went on, ‘I
expect your opinion of my addresses would be different. But then, I
should not----’

‘Should not what, Harry?’

‘Oh, I was merely going to say that in that case I should never have
given myself the pleasure of proposing to you, since your freedom from
that experience was your attraction, darling.’

‘You are severe on women, are you not?’

‘No, I think not. I had a right to please my taste, and that was for
untried lips. Other men than those of my sort acquire the taste as they
get older--but don’t find an Elfride----’

‘What horrid sound is that we hear when we pitch forward?’

‘Only the screw--don’t find an Elfride as I did. To think that I should
have discovered such an unseen flower down there in the West--to whom a
man is as much as a multitude to some women, and a trip down the English
Channel like a voyage round the world!’

‘And would you,’ she said, and her voice was tremulous, ‘have given up
a lady--if you had become engaged to her--and then found she had had ONE
kiss before yours--and would you have--gone away and left her?’

‘One kiss,--no, hardly for that.’

‘Two?’

‘Well--I could hardly say inventorially like that. Too much of that sort
of thing certainly would make me dislike a woman. But let us confine our
attention to ourselves, not go thinking of might have beens.’

So Elfride had allowed her thoughts to ‘dally with false surmise,’ and
every one of Knight’s words fell upon her like a weight. After this they
were silent for a long time, gazing upon the black mysterious sea, and
hearing the strange voice of the restless wind. A rocking to and fro
on the waves, when the breeze is not too violent and cold, produces a
soothing effect even upon the most highly-wrought mind. Elfride slowly
sank against Knight, and looking down, he found by her soft regular
breathing that she had fallen asleep. Not wishing to disturb her, he
continued still, and took an intense pleasure in supporting her warm
young form as it rose and fell with her every breath.

Knight fell to dreaming too, though he continued wide awake. It was
pleasant to realize the implicit trust she placed in him, and to think
of the charming innocence of one who could sink to sleep in so simple
and unceremonious a manner. More than all, the musing unpractical
student felt the immense responsibility he was taking upon himself by
becoming the protector and guide of such a trusting creature. The quiet
slumber of her soul lent a quietness to his own. Then she moaned, and
turned herself restlessly. Presently her mutterings became distinct:

‘Don’t tell him--he will not love me....I did not mean any
disgrace--indeed I did not, so don’t tell Harry. We were going to be
married--that was why I ran away....And he says he will not have a
kissed woman....And if you tell him he will go away, and I shall die. I
pray have mercy--Oh!’

Elfride started up wildly.

The previous moment a musical ding-dong had spread into the air from
their right hand, and awakened her.

‘What is it?’ she exclaimed in terror.

‘Only “eight bells,”’ said Knight soothingly. ‘Don’t be frightened,
little bird, you are safe. What have you been dreaming about?’

‘I can’t tell, I can’t tell!’ she said with a shudder. ‘Oh, I don’t know
what to do!’

‘Stay quietly with me. We shall soon see the dawn now. Look, the morning
star is lovely over there. The clouds have completely cleared off whilst
you have been sleeping. What have you been dreaming of?’

‘A woman in our parish.’

‘Don’t you like her?’

‘I don’t. She doesn’t like me. Where are we?’

‘About south of the Exe.’

Knight said no more on the words of her dream. They watched the sky
till Elfride grew calm, and the dawn appeared. It was mere wan lightness
first. Then the wind blew in a changed spirit, and died away to a
zephyr. The star dissolved into the day.

‘That’s how I should like to die,’ said Elfride, rising from her seat
and leaning over the bulwark to watch the star’s last expiring gleam.

‘As the lines say,’ Knight replied----


    ‘“To set as sets the morning star, which goes
      Not down behind the darken’d west, nor hides
      Obscured among the tempests of the sky,
      But melts away into the light of heaven.”’


‘Oh, other people have thought the same thing, have they? That’s always
the case with my originalities--they are original to nobody but myself.’

‘Not only the case with yours. When I was a young hand at reviewing
I used to find that a frightful pitfall--dilating upon subjects I met
with, which were novelties to me, and finding afterwards they had been
exhausted by the thinking world when I was in pinafores.’

‘That is delightful. Whenever I find you have done a foolish thing I am
glad, because it seems to bring you a little nearer to me, who have done
many.’ And Elfride thought again of her enemy asleep under the deck they
trod.

All up the coast, prominences singled themselves out from recesses. Then
a rosy sky spread over the eastern sea and behind the low line of
land, flinging its livery in dashes upon the thin airy clouds in that
direction. Every projection on the land seemed now so many fingers
anxious to catch a little of the liquid light thrown so prodigally over
the sky, and after a fantastic time of lustrous yellows in the east, the
higher elevations along the shore were flooded with the same hues. The
bluff and bare contours of Start Point caught the brightest, earliest
glow of all, and so also did the sides of its white lighthouse, perched
upon a shelf in its precipitous front like a mediaeval saint in a niche.
Their lofty neighbour Bolt Head on the left remained as yet ungilded,
and retained its gray.

Then up came the sun, as it were in jerks, just to seaward of the
easternmost point of land, flinging out a Jacob’s-ladder path of light
from itself to Elfride and Knight, and coating them with rays in a few
minutes. The inferior dignitaries of the shore--Froward Point, Berry
Head, and Prawle--all had acquired their share of the illumination ere
this, and at length the very smallest protuberance of wave, cliff, or
inlet, even to the innermost recesses of the lovely valley of the Dart,
had its portion; and sunlight, now the common possession of all, ceased
to be the wonderful and coveted thing it had been a short half hour
before.

After breakfast, Plymouth arose into view, and grew distincter to their
nearing vision, the Breakwater appearing like a streak of phosphoric
light upon the surface of the sea. Elfride looked furtively around for
Mrs. Jethway, but could discern no shape like hers. Afterwards, in the
bustle of landing, she looked again with the same result, by which time
the woman had probably glided upon the quay unobserved. Expanding with
a sense of relief, Elfride waited whilst Knight looked to their luggage,
and then saw her father approaching through the crowd, twirling his
walking-stick to catch their attention. Elbowing their way to him they
all entered the town, which smiled as sunny a smile upon Elfride as it
had done between one and two years earlier, when she had entered it at
precisely the same hour as the bride-elect of Stephen Smith.



Chapter XXX

    ‘Vassal unto Love.’


Elfride clung closer to Knight as day succeeded day. Whatever else might
admit of question, there could be no dispute that the allegiance she
bore him absorbed her whole soul and existence. A greater than Stephen
had arisen, and she had left all to follow him.

The unreserved girl was never chary of letting her lover discover how
much she admired him. She never once held an idea in opposition to
any one of his, or insisted on any point with him, or showed any
independence, or held her own on any subject. His lightest whim she
respected and obeyed as law, and if, expressing her opinion on a matter,
he took up the subject and differed from her, she instantly threw
down her own opinion as wrong and untenable. Even her ambiguities and
espieglerie were but media of the same manifestation; acted charades,
embodying the words of her prototype, the tender and susceptible
daughter-in-law of Naomi: ‘Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for
that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto
thine handmaid.’

She was syringing the plants one wet day in the greenhouse. Knight was
sitting under a great passion-flower observing the scene. Sometimes he
looked out at the rain from the sky, and then at Elfride’s inner rain of
larger drops, which fell from trees and shrubs, after having previously
hung from the twigs like small silver fruit.

‘I must give you something to make you think of me during this autumn
at your chambers,’ she was saying. ‘What shall it be? Portraits do more
harm than good, by selecting the worst expression of which your face is
capable. Hair is unlucky. And you don’t like jewellery.’

‘Something which shall bring back to my mind the many scenes we have
enacted in this conservatory. I see what I should prize very much. That
dwarf myrtle tree in the pot, which you have been so carefully tending.’

Elfride looked thoughtfully at the myrtle.

‘I can carry it comfortably in my hat box,’ said Knight. ‘And I will put
it in my window, and so, it being always before my eyes, I shall think
of you continually.’

It so happened that the myrtle which Knight had singled out had a
peculiar beginning and history. It had originally been a twig worn in
Stephen Smith’s button-hole, and he had taken it thence, stuck it into
the pot, and told her that if it grew, she was to take care of it, and
keep it in remembrance of him when he was far away.

She looked wistfully at the plant, and a sense of fairness to Smith’s
memory caused her a pang of regret that Knight should have asked for
that very one. It seemed exceeding a common heartlessness to let it go.

‘Is there not anything you like better?’ she said sadly. ‘That is only
an ordinary myrtle.’

‘No: I am fond of myrtle.’ Seeing that she did not take kindly to the
idea, he said again, ‘Why do you object to my having that?’

‘Oh no--I don’t object precisely--it was a feeling.--Ah, here’s another
cutting lately struck, and just as small--of a better kind, and with
prettier leaves--myrtus microphylla.’

‘That will do nicely. Let it be put in my room, that I may not forget
it. What romance attaches to the other?’

‘It was a gift to me.’

The subject then dropped. Knight thought no more of the matter till, on
entering his bedroom in the evening, he found the second myrtle placed
upon his dressing-table as he had directed. He stood for a moment
admiring the fresh appearance of the leaves by candlelight, and then he
thought of the transaction of the day.

Male lovers as well as female can be spoilt by too much kindness, and
Elfride’s uniform submissiveness had given Knight a rather exacting
manner at crises, attached to her as he was. ‘Why should she have
refused the one I first chose?’ he now asked himself. Even such slight
opposition as she had shown then was exceptional enough to make itself
noticeable. He was not vexed with her in the least: the mere variation
of her way to-day from her usual ways kept him musing on the subject,
because it perplexed him. ‘It was a gift’--those were her words.
Admitting it to be a gift, he thought she could hardly value a mere
friend more than she valued him as a lover, and giving the plant into
his charge would have made no difference. ‘Except, indeed, it was the
gift of a lover,’ he murmured.

‘I wonder if Elfride has ever had a lover before?’ he said aloud, as a
new idea, quite. This and companion thoughts were enough to occupy him
completely till he fell asleep--rather later than usual.

The next day, when they were again alone, he said to her rather
suddenly--

‘Do you love me more or less, Elfie, for what I told you on board the
steamer?’

‘You told me so many things,’ she returned, lifting her eyes to his and
smiling.

‘I mean the confession you coaxed out of me--that I had never been in
the position of lover before.’

‘It is a satisfaction, I suppose, to be the first in your heart,’ she
said to him, with an attempt to continue her smiling.

‘I am going to ask you a question now,’ said Knight, somewhat awkwardly.
‘I only ask it in a whimsical way, you know: not with great seriousness,
Elfride. You may think it odd, perhaps.’

Elfride tried desperately to keep the colour in her face. She could not,
though distressed to think that getting pale showed consciousness of
deeper guilt than merely getting red.

‘Oh no--I shall not think that,’ she said, because obliged to say
something to fill the pause which followed her questioner’s remark.

‘It is this: have you ever had a lover? I am almost sure you have not;
but, have you?’

‘Not, as it were, a lover; I mean, not worth mentioning, Harry,’ she
faltered.

Knight, overstrained in sentiment as he knew the feeling to be, felt
some sickness of heart.

‘Still, he was a lover?’

‘Well, a sort of lover, I suppose,’ she responded tardily.

‘A man, I mean, you know.’

‘Yes; but only a mere person, and----’

‘But truly your lover?’

‘Yes; a lover certainly--he was that. Yes, he might have been called my
lover.’

Knight said nothing to this for a minute or more, and kept silent time
with his finger to the tick of the old library clock, in which room the
colloquy was going on.

‘You don’t mind, Harry, do you?’ she said anxiously, nestling close to
him, and watching his face.

‘Of course, I don’t seriously mind. In reason, a man cannot object to
such a trifle. I only thought you hadn’t--that was all.’

However, one ray was abstracted from the glory about her head. But
afterwards, when Knight was wandering by himself over the bare and
breezy hills, and meditating on the subject, that ray suddenly returned.
For she might have had a lover, and never have cared in the least for
him. She might have used the word improperly, and meant ‘admirer’ all
the time. Of course she had been admired; and one man might have made
his admiration more prominent than that of the rest--a very natural
case.

They were sitting on one of the garden seats when he found occasion to
put the supposition to the test. ‘Did you love that lover or admirer of
yours ever so little, Elfie?’

She murmured reluctantly, ‘Yes, I think I did.’

Knight felt the same faint touch of misery. ‘Only a very little?’ he
said.

‘I am not sure how much.’

‘But you are sure, darling, you loved him a little?’

‘I think I am sure I loved him a little.’

‘And not a great deal, Elfie?’

‘My love was not supported by reverence for his powers.’

‘But, Elfride, did you love him deeply?’ said Knight restlessly.

‘I don’t exactly know how deep you mean by deeply.’

‘That’s nonsense.’

‘You misapprehend; and you have let go my hand!’ she cried, her eyes
filling with tears. ‘Harry, don’t be severe with me, and don’t question
me. I did not love him as I do you. And could it be deeply if I did
not think him cleverer than myself? For I did not. You grieve me so
much--you can’t think.’

‘I will not say another word about it.’

‘And you will not think about it, either, will you? I know you think of
weaknesses in me after I am out of your sight; and not knowing what they
are, I cannot combat them. I almost wish you were of a grosser nature,
Harry; in truth I do! Or rather, I wish I could have the advantages such
a nature in you would afford me, and yet have you as you are.’

‘What advantages would they be?’

‘Less anxiety, and more security. Ordinary men are not so delicate in
their tastes as you; and where the lover or husband is not fastidious,
and refined, and of a deep nature, things seem to go on better, I
fancy--as far as I have been able to observe the world.’

‘Yes; I suppose it is right. Shallowness has this advantage, that you
can’t be drowned there.’

‘But I think I’ll have you as you are; yes, I will!’ she said winsomely.
‘The practical husbands and wives who take things philosophically are
very humdrum, are they not? Yes, it would kill me quite. You please me
best as you are.’

‘Even though I wish you had never cared for one before me?’

‘Yes. And you must not wish it. Don’t!’

‘I’ll try not to, Elfride.’

So she hoped, but her heart was troubled. If he felt so deeply on this
point, what would he say did he know all, and see it as Mrs. Jethway saw
it? He would never make her the happiest girl in the world by taking her
to be his own for aye. The thought enclosed her as a tomb whenever it
presented itself to her perturbed brain. She tried to believe that Mrs.
Jethway would never do her such a cruel wrong as to increase the bad
appearance of her folly by innuendoes; and concluded that concealment,
having been begun, must be persisted in, if possible. For what he might
consider as bad as the fact, was her previous concealment of it by
strategy.

But Elfride knew Mrs. Jethway to be her enemy, and to hate her. It was
possible she would do her worst. And should she do it, all might be
over.

Would the woman listen to reason, and be persuaded not to ruin one who
had never intentionally harmed her?



It was night in the valley between Endelstow Crags and the shore. The
brook which trickled that way to the sea was distinct in its murmurs
now, and over the line of its course there began to hang a white riband
of fog. Against the sky, on the left hand of the vale, the black form of
the church could be seen. On the other rose hazel-bushes, a few trees,
and where these were absent, furze tufts--as tall as men--on stems
nearly as stout as timber. The shriek of some bird was occasionally
heard, as it flew terror-stricken from its first roost, to seek a new
sleeping-place, where it might pass the night unmolested.

In the evening shade, some way down the valley, and under a row of
scrubby oaks, a cottage could still be discerned. It stood absolutely
alone. The house was rather large, and the windows of some of the rooms
were nailed up with boards on the outside, which gave a particularly
deserted appearance to the whole erection. From the front door an
irregular series of rough and misshapen steps, cut in the solid rock,
led down to the edge of the streamlet, which, at their extremity,
was hollowed into a basin through which the water trickled. This was
evidently the means of water supply to the dweller or dwellers in the
cottage.

A light footstep was heard descending from the higher slopes of the
hillside. Indistinct in the pathway appeared a moving female shape, who
advanced and knocked timidly at the door. No answer being returned the
knock was repeated, with the same result, and it was then repeated a
third time. This also was unsuccessful.

From one of the only two windows on the ground floor which were not
boarded up came rays of light, no shutter or curtain obscuring the room
from the eyes of a passer on the outside. So few walked that way after
nightfall that any such means to secure secrecy were probably deemed
unnecessary.

The inequality of the rays falling upon the trees outside told that the
light had its origin in a flickering fire only. The visitor, after the
third knocking, stepped a little to the left in order to gain a view of
the interior, and threw back the hood from her face. The dancing yellow
sheen revealed the fair and anxious countenance of Elfride.

Inside the house this firelight was enough to illumine the room
distinctly, and to show that the furniture of the cottage was superior
to what might have been expected from so unpromising an exterior. It
also showed to Elfride that the room was empty. Beyond the light quiver
and flap of the flames nothing moved or was audible therein.

She turned the handle and entered, throwing off the cloak which
enveloped her, under which she appeared without hat or bonnet, and
in the sort of half-toilette country people ordinarily dine in. Then
advancing to the foot of the staircase she called distinctly, but
somewhat fearfully, ‘Mrs. Jethway!’

No answer.

With a look of relief and regret combined, denoting that ease came to
the heart and disappointment to the brain, Elfride paused for several
minutes, as if undecided how to act. Determining to wait, she sat down
on a chair. The minutes drew on, and after sitting on the thorns of
impatience for half an hour, she searched her pocket, took therefrom a
letter, and tore off the blank leaf. Then taking out a pencil she wrote
upon the paper:


‘DEAR MRS. JETHWAY,--I have been to visit you. I wanted much to see
you, but I cannot wait any longer. I came to beg you not to execute the
threats you have repeated to me. Do not, I beseech you, Mrs. Jethway,
let any one know I ran away from home! It would ruin me with him, and
break my heart. I will do anything for you, if you will be kind to
me. In the name of our common womanhood, do not, I implore you, make a
scandal of me.--Yours, E. SWANCOURT.’


She folded the note cornerwise, directed it, and placed it on the table.
Then again drawing the hood over her curly head she emerged silently as
she had come.

Whilst this episode had been in action at Mrs. Jethway’s cottage, Knight
had gone from the dining-room into the drawing-room, and found Mrs.
Swancourt there alone.

‘Elfride has vanished upstairs or somewhere,’ she said.

‘And I have been reading an article in an old number of the PRESENT that
I lighted on by chance a short time ago; it is an article you once told
us was yours. Well, Harry, with due deference to your literary powers,
allow me to say that this effusion is all nonsense, in my opinion.’

‘What is it about?’ said Knight, taking up the paper and reading.

‘There: don’t get red about it. Own that experience has taught you to
be more charitable. I have never read such unchivalrous sentiments in my
life--from a man, I mean. There, I forgive you; it was before you knew
Elfride.’

‘Oh yes,’ said Knight, looking up. ‘I remember now. The text of that
sermon was not my own at all, but was suggested to me by a young man
named Smith--the same whom I have mentioned to you as coming from this
parish. I thought the idea rather ingenious at the time, and enlarged it
to the weight of a few guineas, because I had nothing else in my head.’

‘Which idea do you call the text? I am curious to know that.’

‘Well, this,’ said Knight, somewhat unwillingly. ‘That experience
teaches, and your sweetheart, no less than your tailor, is necessarily
very imperfect in her duties, if you are her first patron: and
conversely, the sweetheart who is graceful under the initial kiss must
be supposed to have had some practice in the trade.’

‘And do you mean to say that you wrote that upon the strength of another
man’s remark, without having tested it by practice?’

‘Yes--indeed I do.’

‘Then I think it was uncalled for and unfair. And how do you know it is
true? I expect you regret it now.’

‘Since you bring me into a serious mood, I will speak candidly. I do
believe that remark to be perfectly true, and, having written it, I
would defend it anywhere. But I do often regret having ever written it,
as well as others of the sort. I have grown older since, and I find such
a tone of writing is calculated to do harm in the world. Every literary
Jack becomes a gentleman if he can only pen a few indifferent satires
upon womankind: women themselves, too, have taken to the trick; and so,
upon the whole, I begin to be rather ashamed of my companions.’

‘Ah, Henry, you have fallen in love since and it makes a difference,’
said Mrs. Swancourt with a faint tone of banter.

‘That’s true; but that is not my reason.’

‘Having found that, in a case of your own experience, a so-called goose
was a swan, it seems absurd to deny such a possibility in other men’s
experiences.’

‘You can hit palpably, cousin Charlotte,’ said Knight. ‘You are like the
boy who puts a stone inside his snowball, and I shall play with you no
longer. Excuse me--I am going for my evening stroll.’

Though Knight had spoken jestingly, this incident and conversation had
caused him a sudden depression. Coming, rather singularly, just after
his discovery that Elfride had known what it was to love warmly before
she had known him, his mind dwelt upon the subject, and the familiar
pipe he smoked, whilst pacing up and down the shrubbery-path, failed
to be a solace. He thought again of those idle words--hitherto quite
forgotten--about the first kiss of a girl, and the theory seemed more
than reasonable. Of course their sting now lay in their bearing on
Elfride.

Elfride, under Knight’s kiss, had certainly been a very different woman
from herself under Stephen’s. Whether for good or for ill, she had
marvellously well learnt a betrothed lady’s part; and the fascinating
finish of her deportment in this second campaign did probably arise from
her unreserved encouragement of Stephen. Knight, with all the rapidity
of jealous sensitiveness, pounced upon some words she had inadvertently
let fall about an earring, which he had only partially understood at the
time. It was during that ‘initial kiss’ by the little waterfall:

‘We must be careful. I lost the other by doing this!’

A flush which had in it as much of wounded pride as of sorrow, passed
over Knight as he thought of what he had so frequently said to her
in his simplicity. ‘I always meant to be the first comer in a woman’s
heart, fresh lips or none for me.’ How childishly blind he must have
seemed to this mere girl! How she must have laughed at him inwardly! He
absolutely writhed as he thought of the confession she had wrung from
him on the boat in the darkness of night. The one conception which had
sustained his dignity when drawn out of his shell on that occasion--that
of her charming ignorance of all such matters--how absurd it was!

This man, whose imagination had been fed up to preternatural size by
lonely study and silent observations of his kind--whose emotions had
been drawn out long and delicate by his seclusion, like plants in a
cellar--was now absolutely in pain. Moreover, several years of poetic
study, and, if the truth must be told, poetic efforts, had tended
to develop the affective side of his constitution still further, in
proportion to his active faculties. It was his belief in the absolute
newness of blandishment to Elfride which had constituted her primary
charm. He began to think it was as hard to be earliest in a woman’s
heart as it was to be first in the Pool of Bethesda.

That Knight should have been thus constituted: that Elfride’s second
lover should not have been one of the great mass of bustling mankind,
little given to introspection, whose good-nature might have compensated
for any lack of appreciativeness, was the chance of things. That her
throbbing, self-confounding, indiscreet heart should have to defend
itself unaided against the keen scrutiny and logical power which Knight,
now that his suspicions were awakened, would sooner or later be sure to
exercise against her, was her misfortune. A miserable incongruity was
apparent in the circumstance of a strong mind practising its unerring
archery upon a heart which the owner of that mind loved better than his
own.

Elfride’s docile devotion to Knight was now its own enemy. Clinging
to him so dependently, she taught him in time to presume upon that
devotion--a lesson men are not slow to learn. A slight rebelliousness
occasionally would have done him no harm, and would have been a world
of advantage to her. But she idolized him, and was proud to be his
bond-servant.



Chapter XXXI

     ‘A worm i’ the bud.’


One day the reviewer said, ‘Let us go to the cliffs again, Elfride;’
and, without consulting her wishes, he moved as if to start at once.

‘The cliff of our dreadful adventure?’ she inquired, with a shudder.
‘Death stares me in the face in the person of that cliff.’

Nevertheless, so entirely had she sunk her individuality in his that the
remark was not uttered as an expostulation, and she immediately prepared
to accompany him.

‘No, not that place,’ said Knight. ‘It is ghastly to me, too. That
other, I mean; what is its name?--Windy Beak.’

Windy Beak was the second cliff in height along that coast, and, as is
frequently the case with the natural features of the globe no less than
with the intellectual features of men, it enjoyed the reputation of
being the first. Moreover, it was the cliff to which Elfride had ridden
with Stephen Smith, on a well-remembered morning of his summer visit.

So, though thought of the former cliff had caused her to shudder at the
perils to which her lover and herself had there been exposed, by being
associated with Knight only it was not so objectionable as Windy Beak.
That place was worse than gloomy, it was a perpetual reproach to her.

But not liking to refuse, she said, ‘It is further than the other
cliff.’

‘Yes; but you can ride.’

‘And will you too?’

‘No, I’ll walk.’

A duplicate of her original arrangement with Stephen. Some fatality must
be hanging over her head. But she ceased objecting.

‘Very well, Harry, I’ll ride,’ she said meekly.

A quarter of an hour later she was in the saddle. But how different
the mood from that of the former time. She had, indeed, given up her
position as queen of the less to be vassal of the greater. Here was no
showing off now; no scampering out of sight with Pansy, to perplex
and tire her companion; no saucy remarks on LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI.
Elfride was burdened with the very intensity of her love.

Knight did most of the talking along the journey. Elfride silently
listened, and entirely resigned herself to the motions of the ambling
horse upon which she sat, alternately rising and sinking gently, like a
sea bird upon a sea wave.

When they had reached the limit of a quadruped’s possibilities in
walking, Knight tenderly lifted her from the saddle, tied the horse, and
rambled on with her to the seat in the rock. Knight sat down, and drew
Elfride deftly beside him, and they looked over the sea.

Two or three degrees above that melancholy and eternally level line, the
ocean horizon, hung a sun of brass, with no visible rays, in a sky of
ashen hue. It was a sky the sun did not illuminate or enkindle, as is
usual at sunsets. This sheet of sky was met by the salt mass of
gray water, flecked here and there with white. A waft of dampness
occasionally rose to their faces, which was probably rarefied spray from
the blows of the sea upon the foot of the cliff.

Elfride wished it could be a longer time ago that she had sat there
with Stephen as her lover, and agreed to be his wife. The significant
closeness of that time to the present was another item to add to the
list of passionate fears which were chronic with her now.

Yet Knight was very tender this evening, and sustained her close to him
as they sat.

Not a word had been uttered by either since sitting down, when Knight
said musingly, looking still afar--

‘I wonder if any lovers in past years ever sat here with arms locked, as
we do now. Probably they have, for the place seems formed for a seat.’

Her recollection of a well-known pair who had, and the much-talked-of
loss which had ensued therefrom, and how the young man had been sent
back to look for the missing article, led Elfride to glance down to her
side, and behind her back. Many people who lose a trinket involuntarily
give a momentary look for it in passing the spot ever so long
afterwards. They do not often find it. Elfride, in turning her head, saw
something shine weakly from a crevice in the rocky sedile. Only for a
few minutes during the day did the sun light the alcove to its innermost
rifts and slits, but these were the minutes now, and its level rays did
Elfride the good or evil turn of revealing the lost ornament.

Elfride’s thoughts instantly reverted to the words she had
unintentionally uttered upon what had been going on when the earring was
lost. And she was immediately seized with a misgiving that Knight, on
seeing the object, would be reminded of her words. Her instinctive act
therefore was to secure it privately.

It was so deep in the crack that Elfride could not pull it out with her
hand, though she made several surreptitious trials.

‘What are you doing, Elfie?’ said Knight, noticing her attempts, and
looking behind him likewise.

She had relinquished the endeavour, but too late.

Knight peered into the joint from which her hand had been withdrawn, and
saw what she had seen. He instantly took a penknife from his pocket,
and by dint of probing and scraping brought the earring out upon open
ground.

‘It is not yours, surely?’ he inquired.

‘Yes, it is,’ she said quietly.

‘Well, that is a most extraordinary thing, that we should find it like
this!’ Knight then remembered more circumstances; ‘What, is it the one
you have told me of?’

‘Yes.’

The unfortunate remark of hers at the kiss came into his mind, if eyes
were ever an index to be trusted. Trying to repress the words he yet
spoke on the subject, more to obtain assurance that what it had seemed
to imply was not true than from a wish to pry into bygones.

‘Were you really engaged to be married to that lover?’ he said, looking
straight forward at the sea again.

‘Yes--but not exactly. Yet I think I was.’

‘O Elfride, engaged to be married!’ he murmured.

‘It would have been called a--secret engagement, I suppose. But don’t
look so disappointed; don’t blame me.’

‘No, no.’

‘Why do you say “No, no,” in such a way? Sweetly enough, but so barely?’

Knight made no direct reply to this. ‘Elfride, I told you once,’ he
said, following out his thoughts, ‘that I never kissed a woman as a
sweetheart until I kissed you. A kiss is not much, I suppose, and it
happens to few young people to be able to avoid all blandishments
and attentions except from the one they afterwards marry. But I have
peculiar weaknesses, Elfride; and because I have led a peculiar life, I
must suffer for it, I suppose. I had hoped--well, what I had no right to
hope in connection with you. You naturally granted your former lover the
privileges you grant me.’

A ‘yes’ came from her like the last sad whisper of a breeze.

‘And he used to kiss you--of course he did.’

‘Yes.’

‘And perhaps you allowed him a more free manner in his love-making than
I have shown in mine.’

‘No, I did not.’ This was rather more alertly spoken.

‘But he adopted it without being allowed?’

‘Yes.’

‘How much I have made of you, Elfride, and how I have kept aloof!’ said
Knight in deep and shaken tones. ‘So many days and hours as I have hoped
in you--I have feared to kiss you more than those two times. And he made
no scruples to...’

She crept closer to him and trembled as if with cold. Her dread that the
whole story, with random additions, would become known to him, caused
her manner to be so agitated that Knight was alarmed and perplexed into
stillness. The actual innocence which made her think so fearfully of
what, as the world goes, was not a great matter, magnified her apparent
guilt. It may have said to Knight that a woman who was so flurried in
the preliminaries must have a dreadful sequel to her tale.

‘I know,’ continued Knight, with an indescribable drag of manner and
intonation,--‘I know I am absurdly scrupulous about you--that I want you
too exclusively mine. In your past before you knew me--from your very
cradle--I wanted to think you had been mine. I would make you mine by
main force. Elfride,’ he went on vehemently, ‘I can’t help this jealousy
over you! It is my nature, and must be so, and I HATE the fact that you
have been caressed before: yes hate it!’

She drew a long deep breath, which was half a sob. Knight’s face was
hard, and he never looked at her at all, still fixing his gaze far out
to sea, which the sun had now resigned to the shade. In high places it
is not long from sunset to night, dusk being in a measure banished, and
though only evening where they sat, it had been twilight in the
valleys for half an hour. Upon the dull expanse of sea there gradually
intensified itself into existence the gleam of a distant light-ship.

‘When that lover first kissed you, Elfride was it in such a place as
this?’

‘Yes, it was.’

‘You don’t tell me anything but what I wring out of you. Why is that?
Why have you suppressed all mention of this when casual confidences of
mine should have suggested confidence in return? On board the Juliet,
why were you so secret? It seems like being made a fool of, Elfride, to
think that, when I was teaching you how desirable it was that we should
have no secrets from each other, you were assenting in words, but in act
contradicting me. Confidence would have been so much more promising for
our happiness. If you had had confidence in me, and told me willingly, I
should--be different. But you suppress everything, and I shall question
you. Did you live at Endelstow at that time?’

‘Yes,’ she said faintly.

‘Where were you when he first kissed you?’

‘Sitting in this seat.’

‘Ah, I thought so!’ said Knight, rising and facing her.

‘And that accounts for everything--the exclamation which you explained
deceitfully, and all! Forgive the harsh word, Elfride--forgive it.’ He
smiled a surface smile as he continued: ‘What a poor mortal I am to play
second fiddle in everything and to be deluded by fibs!’

‘Oh, don’t say it; don’t, Harry!’

‘Where did he kiss you besides here?’

‘Sitting on--a tomb in the--churchyard--and other places,’ she answered
with slow recklessness.

‘Never mind, never mind,’ he exclaimed, on seeing her tears and
perturbation. ‘I don’t want to grieve you. I don’t care.’

But Knight did care.

‘It makes no difference, you know,’ he continued, seeing she did not
reply.

‘I feel cold,’ said Elfride. ‘Shall we go home?’

‘Yes; it is late in the year to sit long out of doors: we ought to be
off this ledge before it gets too dark to let us see our footing. I
daresay the horse is impatient.’

Knight spoke the merest commonplace to her now. He had hoped to the
last moment that she would have volunteered the whole story of her first
attachment. It grew more and more distasteful to him that she should
have a secret of this nature. Such entire confidence as he had pictured
as about to exist between himself and the innocent young wife who had
known no lover’s tones save his--was this its beginning? He lifted
her upon the horse, and they went along constrainedly. The poison of
suspicion was doing its work well.

An incident occurred on this homeward journey which was long remembered
by both, as adding shade to shadow. Knight could not keep from his
mind the words of Adam’s reproach to Eve in PARADISE LOST, and at last
whispered them to himself--


    ‘Fool’d and beguiled: by him thou, I by thee!’


‘What did you say?’ Elfride inquired timorously.

‘It was only a quotation.’

They had now dropped into a hollow, and the church tower made its
appearance against the pale evening sky, its lower part being hidden by
some intervening trees. Elfride, being denied an answer, was looking at
the tower and trying to think of some contrasting quotation she might
use to regain his tenderness. After a little thought she said in winning
tones--

“Thou hast been my hope, and a strong tower for me against the enemy.”’

They passed on. A few minutes later three or four birds were seen to fly
out of the tower.

‘The strong tower moves,’ said Knight, with surprise.

A corner of the square mass swayed forward, sank, and vanished. A loud
rumble followed, and a cloud of dust arose where all had previously been
so clear.

‘The church restorers have done it!’ said Elfride.

At this minute Mr. Swancourt was seen approaching them. He came up with
a bustling demeanour, apparently much engrossed by some business in
hand.

‘We have got the tower down!’ he exclaimed. ‘It came rather quicker
than we intended it should. The first idea was to take it down stone by
stone, you know. In doing this the crack widened considerably, and it
was not believed safe for the men to stand upon the walls any longer.
Then we decided to undermine it, and three men set to work at the
weakest corner this afternoon. They had left off for the evening,
intending to give the final blow to-morrow morning, and had been home
about half an hour, when down it came. A very successful job--a very
fine job indeed. But he was a tough old fellow in spite of the crack.’
Here Mr. Swancourt wiped from his face the perspiration his excitement
had caused him.

‘Poor old tower!’ said Elfride.

‘Yes, I am sorry for it,’ said Knight. ‘It was an interesting piece of
antiquity--a local record of local art.’

‘Ah, but my dear sir, we shall have a new one, expostulated Mr.
Swancourt; ‘a splendid tower--designed by a first-rate London man--in
the newest style of Gothic art, and full of Christian feeling.’

‘Indeed!’ said Knight.

‘Oh yes. Not in the barbarous clumsy architecture of this neighbourhood;
you see nothing so rough and pagan anywhere else in England. When
the men are gone, I would advise you to go and see the church before
anything further is done to it. You can now sit in the chancel, and look
down the nave through the west arch, and through that far out to sea. In
fact,’ said Mr. Swancourt significantly, ‘if a wedding were performed
at the altar to-morrow morning, it might be witnessed from the deck of
a ship on a voyage to the South Seas, with a good glass. However, after
dinner, when the moon has risen, go up and see for yourselves.’

Knight assented with feverish readiness. He had decided within the last
few minutes that he could not rest another night without further talk
with Elfride upon the subject which now divided them: he was determined
to know all, and relieve his disquiet in some way. Elfride would gladly
have escaped further converse alone with him that night, but it seemed
inevitable.

Just after moonrise they left the house. How little any expectation
of the moonlight prospect--which was the ostensible reason of their
pilgrimage--had to do with Knight’s real motive in getting the gentle
girl again upon his arm, Elfride no less than himself well knew.



Chapter XXXII

    ‘Had I wist before I kist’


It was now October, and the night air was chill. After looking to see
that she was well wrapped up, Knight took her along the hillside path
they had ascended so many times in each other’s company, when doubt was
a thing unknown. On reaching the church they found that one side of the
tower was, as the vicar had stated, entirely removed, and lying in the
shape of rubbish at their feet. The tower on its eastern side still
was firm, and might have withstood the shock of storms and the siege
of battering years for many a generation even now. They entered by the
side-door, went eastward, and sat down by the altar-steps.

The heavy arch spanning the junction of tower and nave formed to-night
a black frame to a distant misty view, stretching far westward. Just
outside the arch came the heap of fallen stones, then a portion of
moonlit churchyard, then the wide and convex sea behind. It was a
coup-d’oeil which had never been possible since the mediaeval masons
first attached the old tower to the older church it dignified, and
hence must be supposed to have had an interest apart from that of simple
moonlight on ancient wall and sea and shore--any mention of which has by
this time, it is to be feared, become one of the cuckoo-cries which are
heard but not regarded. Rays of crimson, blue, and purple shone upon the
twain from the east window behind them, wherein saints and angels vied
with each other in primitive surroundings of landscape and sky, and
threw upon the pavement at the sitters’ feet a softer reproduction of
the same translucent hues, amid which the shadows of the two living
heads of Knight and Elfride were opaque and prominent blots. Presently
the moon became covered by a cloud, and the iridescence died away.

‘There, it is gone!’ said Knight. ‘I’ve been thinking, Elfride, that
this place we sit on is where we may hope to kneel together soon. But I
am restless and uneasy, and you know why.’

Before she replied the moonlight returned again, irradiating that
portion of churchyard within their view. It brightened the near part
first, and against the background which the cloud-shadow had not yet
uncovered stood, brightest of all, a white tomb--the tomb of young
Jethway.

Knight, still alive on the subject of Elfride’s secret, thought of her
words concerning the kiss that it once had occurred on a tomb in this
churchyard.

‘Elfride,’ he said, with a superficial archness which did not half cover
an undercurrent of reproach, ‘do you know, I think you might have told
me voluntarily about that past--of kisses and betrothing--without giving
me so much uneasiness and trouble. Was that the tomb you alluded to as
having sat on with him?’

She waited an instant. ‘Yes,’ she said.

The correctness of his random shot startled Knight; though, considering
that almost all the other memorials in the churchyard were upright
headstones upon which nobody could possibly sit, it was not so
wonderful.

Elfride did not even now go on with the explanation her exacting lover
wished to have, and her reticence began to irritate him as before. He
was inclined to read her a lecture.

‘Why don’t you tell me all?’ he said somewhat indignantly. ‘Elfride,
there is not a single subject upon which I feel more strongly than upon
this--that everything ought to be cleared up between two persons before
they become husband and wife. See how desirable and wise such a
course is, in order to avoid disagreeable contingencies in the form of
discoveries afterwards. For, Elfride, a secret of no importance at all
may be made the basis of some fatal misunderstanding only because it is
discovered, and not confessed. They say there never was a couple of whom
one had not some secret the other never knew or was intended to know.
This may or may not be true; but if it be true, some have been happy in
spite rather than in consequence of it. If a man were to see another
man looking significantly at his wife, and she were blushing crimson and
appearing startled, do you think he would be so well satisfied with, for
instance, her truthful explanation that once, to her great annoyance,
she accidentally fainted into his arms, as if she had said it
voluntarily long ago, before the circumstance occurred which forced it
from her? Suppose that admirer you spoke of in connection with the tomb
yonder should turn up, and bother me. It would embitter our lives, if I
were then half in the dark, as I am now!’

Knight spoke the latter sentences with growing force.

‘It cannot be,’ she said.

‘Why not?’ he asked sharply.

Elfride was distressed to find him in so stern a mood, and she trembled.
In a confusion of ideas, probably not intending a wilful prevarication,
she answered hurriedly--

‘If he’s dead, how can you meet him?’

‘Is he dead? Oh, that’s different altogether!’ said Knight, immensely
relieved. ‘But, let me see--what did you say about that tomb and him?’

‘That’s his tomb,’ she continued faintly.

‘What! was he who lies buried there the man who was your lover?’ Knight
asked in a distinct voice.

‘Yes; and I didn’t love him or encourage him.’

‘But you let him kiss you--you said so, you know, Elfride.’

She made no reply.

‘Why,’ said Knight, recollecting circumstances by degrees, ‘you surely
said you were in some degree engaged to him--and of course you were if
he kissed you. And now you say you never encouraged him. And I have been
fancying you said--I am almost sure you did--that you were sitting with
him ON that tomb. Good God!’ he cried, suddenly starting up in anger,
‘are you telling me untruths? Why should you play with me like this?
I’ll have the right of it. Elfride, we shall never be happy! There’s
a blight upon us, or me, or you, and it must be cleared off before we
marry.’ Knight moved away impetuously as if to leave her.

She jumped up and clutched his arm

‘Don’t go, Harry--don’t!

‘Tell me, then,’ said Knight sternly. ‘And remember this, no more fibs,
or, upon my soul, I shall hate you. Heavens! that I should come to this,
to be made a fool of by a girl’s untruths----’

‘Don’t, don’t treat me so cruelly! O Harry, Harry, have pity, and
withdraw those dreadful words! I am truthful by nature--I am--and I
don’t know how I came to make you misunderstand! But I was frightened!’
She quivered so in her perturbation that she shook him with her {Note:
sentence incomplete in text.}

‘Did you say you were sitting on that tomb?’ he asked moodily.

‘Yes; and it was true.’

‘Then how, in the name of Heaven, can a man sit upon his own tomb?’

‘That was another man. Forgive me, Harry, won’t you?’

‘What, a lover in the tomb and a lover on it?’

‘Oh--Oh--yes!’

‘Then there were two before me?

‘I--suppose so.’

‘Now, don’t be a silly woman with your supposing--I hate all that,’ said
Knight contemptuously almost. ‘Well, we learn strange things. I
don’t know what I might have done--no man can say into what shape
circumstances may warp him--but I hardly think I should have had the
conscience to accept the favours of a new lover whilst sitting over the
poor remains of the old one; upon my soul, I don’t.’ Knight, in moody
meditation, continued looking towards the tomb, which stood staring them
in the face like an avenging ghost.

‘But you wrong me--Oh, so grievously!’ she cried. ‘I did not meditate
any such thing: believe me, Harry, I did not. It only happened so--quite
of itself.’

‘Well, I suppose you didn’t INTEND such a thing,’ he said. ‘Nobody ever
does,’ he sadly continued.

‘And him in the grave I never once loved.’

‘I suppose the second lover and you, as you sat there, vowed to be
faithful to each other for ever?’

Elfride only replied by quick heavy breaths, showing she was on the
brink of a sob.

‘You don’t choose to be anything but reserved, then?’ he said
imperatively.

‘Of course we did,’ she responded.

‘“Of course!” You seem to treat the subject very lightly?’

‘It is past, and is nothing to us now.’

‘Elfride, it is a nothing which, though it may make a careless man
laugh, cannot but make a genuine one grieve. It is a very gnawing pain.
Tell me straight through--all of it.’

‘Never. O Harry! how can you expect it when so little of it makes you so
harsh with me?’

‘Now, Elfride, listen to this. You know that what you have told only
jars the subtler fancies in one, after all. The feeling I have about it
would be called, and is, mere sentimentality; and I don’t want you to
suppose that an ordinary previous engagement of a straightforward kind
would make any practical difference in my love, or my wish to make you
my wife. But you seem to have more to tell, and that’s where the wrong
is. Is there more?’

‘Not much more,’ she wearily answered.

Knight preserved a grave silence for a minute. ‘“Not much more,”’ he
said at last. ‘I should think not, indeed!’ His voice assumed a low and
steady pitch. ‘Elfride, you must not mind my saying a strange-sounding
thing, for say it I shall. It is this: that if there WERE much more
to add to an account which already includes all the particulars that
a broken marriage engagement could possibly include with propriety, it
must be some exceptional thing which might make it impossible for me or
any one else to love you and marry you.’

Knight’s disturbed mood led him much further than he would have gone
in a quieter moment. And, even as it was, had she been assertive to any
degree he would not have been so peremptory; and had she been a stronger
character--more practical and less imaginative--she would have made more
use of her position in his heart to influence him. But the confiding
tenderness which had won him is ever accompanied by a sort of
self-committal to the stream of events, leading every such woman to
trust more to the kindness of fate for good results than to any argument
of her own.

‘Well, well,’ he murmured cynically; ‘I won’t say it is your fault:
it is my ill-luck, I suppose. I had no real right to question
you--everybody would say it was presuming. But when we have
misunderstood, we feel injured by the subject of our misunderstanding.
You never said you had had nobody else here making love to you, so why
should I blame you? Elfride, I beg your pardon.’

‘No, no! I would rather have your anger than that cool aggrieved
politeness. Do drop that, Harry! Why should you inflict that upon me? It
reduces me to the level of a mere acquaintance.’

‘You do that with me. Why not confidence for confidence?’

‘Yes; but I didn’t ask you a single question with regard to your past:
I didn’t wish to know about it. All I cared for was that, wherever you
came from, whatever you had done, whoever you had loved, you were mine
at last. Harry, if originally you had known I had loved, would you never
have cared for me?’

‘I won’t quite say that. Though I own that the idea of your
inexperienced state had a great charm for me. But I think this: that if
I had known there was any phase of your past love you would refuse to
reveal if I asked to know it, I should never have loved you.’

Elfride sobbed bitterly. ‘Am I such a--mere characterless toy--as to
have no attrac--tion in me, apart from--freshness? Haven’t I brains?
You said--I was clever and ingenious in my thoughts, and--isn’t that
anything? Have I not some beauty? I think I have a little--and I know
I have--yes, I do! You have praised my voice, and my manner, and my
accomplishments. Yet all these together are so much rubbish because
I--accidentally saw a man before you!’

‘Oh, come, Elfride. “Accidentally saw a man” is very cool. You loved
him, remember.’

--‘And loved him a little!’

‘And refuse now to answer the simple question how it ended. Do you
refuse still, Elfride?’

‘You have no right to question me so--you said so. It is unfair. Trust
me as I trust you.’

‘That’s not at all.’

‘I shall not love you if you are so cruel. It is cruel to me to argue
like this.’

‘Perhaps it is. Yes, it is. I was carried away by my feeling for you.
Heaven knows that I didn’t mean to; but I have loved you so that I have
used you badly.’

‘I don’t mind it, Harry!’ she instantly answered, creeping up and
nestling against him; ‘and I will not think at all that you used me
harshly if you will forgive me, and not be vexed with me any more? I do
wish I had been exactly as you thought I was, but I could not help it,
you know. If I had only known you had been coming, what a nunnery I
would have lived in to have been good enough for you!’

‘Well, never mind,’ said Knight; and he turned to go. He endeavoured
to speak sportively as they went on. ‘Diogenes Laertius says that
philosophers used voluntarily to deprive themselves of sight to be
uninterrupted in their meditations. Men, becoming lovers, ought to do
the same thing.’

‘Why?--but never mind--I don’t want to know. Don’t speak laconically to
me,’ she said with deprecation.

‘Why? Because they would never then be distracted by discovering their
idol was second-hand.’

She looked down and sighed; and they passed out of the crumbling old
place, and slowly crossed to the churchyard entrance. Knight was not
himself, and he could not pretend to be. She had not told all.

He supported her lightly over the stile, and was practically as
attentive as a lover could be. But there had passed away a glory, and
the dream was not as it had been of yore. Perhaps Knight was not shaped
by Nature for a marrying man. Perhaps his lifelong constraint towards
women, which he had attributed to accident, was not chance after
all, but the natural result of instinctive acts so minute as to be
undiscernible even by himself. Or whether the rough dispelling of
any bright illusion, however imaginative, depreciates the real and
unexaggerated brightness which appertains to its basis, one cannot say.
Certain it was that Knight’s disappointment at finding himself second
or third in the field, at Elfride’s momentary equivoque, and at her
reluctance to be candid, brought him to the verge of cynicism.



Chapter XXXIII

     ‘O daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery.’


A habit of Knight’s, when not immediately occupied with Elfride--to walk
by himself for half an hour or so between dinner and bedtime--had become
familiar to his friends at Endelstow, Elfride herself among them. When
he had helped her over the stile, she said gently, ‘If you wish to take
your usual turn on the hill, Harry, I can run down to the house alone.’

‘Thank you, Elfie; then I think I will.’

Her form diminished to blackness in the moonlight, and Knight, after
remaining upon the churchyard stile a few minutes longer, turned back
again towards the building. His usual course was now to light a cigar or
pipe, and indulge in a quiet meditation. But to-night his mind was too
tense to bethink itself of such a solace. He merely walked round to the
site of the fallen tower, and sat himself down upon some of the
large stones which had composed it until this day, when the chain of
circumstance originated by Stephen Smith, while in the employ of Mr.
Hewby, the London man of art, had brought about its overthrow.

Pondering on the possible episodes of Elfride’s past life, and on how
he had supposed her to have had no past justifying the name, he sat and
regarded the white tomb of young Jethway, now close in front of him.
The sea, though comparatively placid, could as usual be heard from this
point along the whole distance between promontories to the right and
left, floundering and entangling itself among the insulated stacks of
rock which dotted the water’s edge--the miserable skeletons of tortured
old cliffs that would not even yet succumb to the wear and tear of the
tides.

As a change from thoughts not of a very cheerful kind, Knight attempted
exertion. He stood up, and prepared to ascend to the summit of
the ruinous heap of stones, from which a more extended outlook was
obtainable than from the ground. He stretched out his arm to seize the
projecting arris of a larger block than ordinary, and so help himself
up, when his hand lighted plump upon a substance differing in the
greatest possible degree from what he had expected to seize--hard stone.
It was stringy and entangled, and trailed upon the stone. The
deep shadow from the aisle wall prevented his seeing anything here
distinctly, and he began guessing as a necessity. ‘It is a tressy
species of moss or lichen,’ he said to himself.

But it lay loosely over the stone.

‘It is a tuft of grass,’ he said.

But it lacked the roughness and humidity of the finest grass.

‘It is a mason’s whitewash-brush.’

Such brushes, he remembered, were more bristly; and however much used in
repairing a structure, would not be required in pulling one down.

He said, ‘It must be a thready silk fringe.’

He felt further in. It was somewhat warm. Knight instantly felt somewhat
cold.

To find the coldness of inanimate matter where you expect warmth is
startling enough; but a colder temperature than that of the body being
rather the rule than the exception in common substances, it hardly
conveys such a shock to the system as finding warmth where utter
frigidity is anticipated.

‘God only knows what it is,’ he said.

He felt further, and in the course of a minute put his hand upon a human
head. The head was warm, but motionless. The thready mass was the hair
of the head--long and straggling, showing that the head was a woman’s.

Knight in his perplexity stood still for a moment, and collected his
thoughts. The vicar’s account of the fall of the tower was that the
workmen had been undermining it all the day, and had left in the evening
intending to give the finishing stroke the next morning. Half an hour
after they had gone the undermined angle came down. The woman who was
half buried, as it seemed, must have been beneath it at the moment of
the fall.

Knight leapt up and began endeavouring to remove the rubbish with his
hands. The heap overlying the body was for the most part fine and
dusty, but in immense quantity. It would be a saving of time to run for
assistance. He crossed to the churchyard wall, and hastened down the
hill.

A little way down an intersecting road passed over a small ridge, which
now showed up darkly against the moon, and this road here formed a
kind of notch in the sky-line. At the moment that Knight arrived at the
crossing he beheld a man on this eminence, coming towards him. Knight
turned aside and met the stranger.

‘There has been an accident at the church,’ said Knight, without
preface. ‘The tower has fallen on somebody, who has been lying there
ever since. Will you come and help?’

‘That I will,’ said the man.

‘It is a woman,’ said Knight, as they hurried back, ‘and I think we two
are enough to extricate her. Do you know of a shovel?’

‘The grave-digging shovels are about somewhere. They used to stay in the
tower.’

‘And there must be some belonging to the workmen.’

They searched about, and in an angle of the porch found three carefully
stowed away. Going round to the west end Knight signified the spot of
the tragedy.

‘We ought to have brought a lantern,’ he exclaimed. ‘But we may be able
to do without.’ He set to work removing the superincumbent mass.

The other man, who looked on somewhat helplessly at first, now followed
the example of Knight’s activity, and removed the larger stones which
were mingled with the rubbish. But with all their efforts it was
quite ten minutes before the body of the unfortunate creature could be
extricated. They lifted her as carefully as they could, breathlessly
carried her to Felix Jethway’s tomb, which was only a few steps
westward, and laid her thereon.

‘Is she dead indeed?’ said the stranger.

‘She appears to be,’ said Knight. ‘Which is the nearest house? The
vicarage, I suppose.’

‘Yes; but since we shall have to call a surgeon from Castle Boterel, I
think it would be better to carry her in that direction, instead of away
from the town.’

‘And is it not much further to the first house we come to going that
way, than to the vicarage or to The Crags?’

‘Not much,’ the stranger replied.

‘Suppose we take her there, then. And I think the best way to do it
would be thus, if you don’t mind joining hands with me.’

‘Not in the least; I am glad to assist.’

Making a kind of cradle, by clasping their hands crosswise under the
inanimate woman, they lifted her, and walked on side by side down a path
indicated by the stranger, who appeared to know the locality well.

‘I had been sitting in the church for nearly an hour,’ Knight resumed,
when they were out of the churchyard. ‘Afterwards I walked round to the
site of the fallen tower, and so found her. It is painful to think I
unconsciously wasted so much time in the very presence of a perishing,
flying soul.’

‘The tower fell at dusk, did it not? quite two hours ago, I think?’

‘Yes. She must have been there alone. What could have been her object in
visiting the churchyard then?

‘It is difficult to say.’ The stranger looked inquiringly into the
reclining face of the motionless form they bore. ‘Would you turn her
round for a moment, so that the light shines on her face?’ he said.

They turned her face to the moon, and the man looked closer into her
features. ‘Why, I know her!’ he exclaimed.

‘Who is she?’

‘Mrs. Jethway. And the cottage we are taking her to is her own. She is
a widow; and I was speaking to her only this afternoon. I was at Castle
Boterel post-office, and she came there to post a letter. Poor soul! Let
us hurry on.’

‘Hold my wrist a little tighter. Was not that tomb we laid her on the
tomb of her only son?’

‘Yes, it was. Yes, I see it now. She was there to visit the tomb. Since
the death of that son she has been a desolate, desponding woman, always
bewailing him. She was a farmer’s wife, very well educated--a governess
originally, I believe.’

Knight’s heart was moved to sympathy. His own fortunes seemed in some
strange way to be interwoven with those of this Jethway family, through
the influence of Elfride over himself and the unfortunate son of that
house. He made no reply, and they still walked on.

‘She begins to feel heavy,’ said the stranger, breaking the silence.

‘Yes, she does,’ said Knight; and after another pause added, ‘I think I
have met you before, though where I cannot recollect. May I ask who you
are?’

‘Oh yes. I am Lord Luxellian. Who are you?’

‘I am a visitor at The Crags--Mr. Knight.’

‘I have heard of you, Mr. Knight.’

‘And I of you, Lord Luxellian. I am glad to meet you.’

‘I may say the same. I am familiar with your name in print.’

‘And I with yours. Is this the house?’

‘Yes.’

The door was locked. Knight, reflecting a moment, searched the pocket
of the lifeless woman, and found therein a large key which, on being
applied to the door, opened it easily. The fire was out, but the
moonlight entered the quarried window, and made patterns upon the floor.
The rays enabled them to see that the room into which they had entered
was pretty well furnished, it being the same room that Elfride had
visited alone two or three evenings earlier. They deposited their still
burden on an old-fashioned couch which stood against the wall, and
Knight searched about for a lamp or candle. He found a candle on a
shelf, lighted it, and placed it on the table.

Both Knight and Lord Luxellian examined the pale countenance
attentively, and both were nearly convinced that there was no hope. No
marks of violence were visible in the casual examination they made.

‘I think that as I know where Doctor Granson lives,’ said Lord
Luxellian, ‘I had better run for him whilst you stay here.’

Knight agreed to this. Lord Luxellian then went off, and his hurrying
footsteps died away. Knight continued bending over the body, and a few
minutes longer of careful scrutiny perfectly satisfied him that
the woman was far beyond the reach of the lancet and the drug. Her
extremities were already beginning to get stiff and cold. Knight covered
her face, and sat down.

The minutes went by. The essayist remained musing on all the occurrences
of the night. His eyes were directed upon the table, and he had seen
for some time that writing-materials were spread upon it. He now noticed
these more particularly: there were an inkstand, pen, blotting-book,
and note-paper. Several sheets of paper were thrust aside from the rest,
upon which letters had been begun and relinquished, as if their form had
not been satisfactory to the writer. A stick of black sealing-wax
and seal were there too, as if the ordinary fastening had not been
considered sufficiently secure. The abandoned sheets of paper lying as
they did open upon the table, made it possible, as he sat, to read the
few words written on each. One ran thus:


‘SIR,--As a woman who was once blest with a dear son of her own, I
implore you to accept a warning----’


Another:


‘SIR,--If you will deign to receive warning from a stranger before it is
too late to alter your course, listen to----’


The third:


‘SIR,--With this letter I enclose to you another which, unaided by any
explanation from me, tells a startling tale. I wish, however, to add a
few words to make your delusion yet more clear to you----’



It was plain that, after these renounced beginnings, a fourth letter had
been written and despatched, which had been deemed a proper one. Upon
the table were two drops of sealing-wax, the stick from which they were
taken having been laid down overhanging the edge of the table; the end
of it drooped, showing that the wax was placed there whilst warm.
There was the chair in which the writer had sat, the impression of the
letter’s address upon the blotting-paper, and the poor widow who had
caused these results lying dead hard by. Knight had seen enough to
lead him to the conclusion that Mrs. Jethway, having matter of great
importance to communicate to some friend or acquaintance, had written
him a very careful letter, and gone herself to post it; that she had not
returned to the house from that time of leaving it till Lord Luxellian
and himself had brought her back dead.

The unutterable melancholy of the whole scene, as he waited on, silent
and alone, did not altogether clash with the mood of Knight, even though
he was the affianced of a fair and winning girl, and though so lately he
had been in her company. Whilst sitting on the remains of the demolished
tower he had defined a new sensation; that the lengthened course of
inaction he had lately been indulging in on Elfride’s account might
probably not be good for him as a man who had work to do. It could
quickly be put an end to by hastening on his marriage with her.

Knight, in his own opinion, was one who had missed his mark by excessive
aiming. Having now, to a great extent, given up ideal ambitions, he
wished earnestly to direct his powers into a more practical channel,
and thus correct the introspective tendencies which had never brought
himself much happiness, or done his fellow-creatures any great good.
To make a start in this new direction by marriage, which, since knowing
Elfride, had been so entrancing an idea, was less exquisite to-night.
That the curtailment of his illusion regarding her had something to do
with the reaction, and with the return of his old sentiments on wasting
time, is more than probable. Though Knight’s heart had so greatly
mastered him, the mastery was not so complete as to be easily maintained
in the face of a moderate intellectual revival.

His reverie was broken by the sound of wheels, and a horse’s tramp.
The door opened to admit the surgeon, Lord Luxellian, and a Mr. Coole,
coroner for the division (who had been attending at Castle Boterel that
very day, and was having an after-dinner chat with the doctor when Lord
Luxellian arrived); next came two female nurses and some idlers.

Mr. Granson, after a cursory examination, pronounced the woman dead from
suffocation, induced by intense pressure on the respiratory organs;
and arrangements were made that the inquiry should take place on the
following morning, before the return of the coroner to St. Launce’s.

Shortly afterwards the house of the widow was deserted by all its living
occupants, and she abode in death, as she had in her life during the
past two years, entirely alone.



Chapter XXXIV

   ‘Yea, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.’


Sixteen hours had passed. Knight was entering the ladies’ boudoir at The
Crags, upon his return from attending the inquest touching the death of
Mrs. Jethway. Elfride was not in the apartment.

Mrs. Swancourt made a few inquiries concerning the verdict and
collateral circumstances. Then she said--

‘The postman came this morning the minute after you left the house.
There was only one letter for you, and I have it here.’

She took a letter from the lid of her workbox, and handed it to him.
Knight took the missive abstractedly, but struck by its appearance
murmured a few words and left the room.

The letter was fastened with a black seal, and the handwriting in which
it was addressed had lain under his eyes, long and prominently, only the
evening before.

Knight was greatly agitated, and looked about for a spot where he might
be secure from interruption. It was the season of heavy dews, which
lay on the herbage in shady places all the day long; nevertheless, he
entered a small patch of neglected grass-plat enclosed by the shrubbery,
and there perused the letter, which he had opened on his way thither.

The handwriting, the seal, the paper, the introductory words, all had
told on the instant that the letter had come to him from the hands of
the widow Jethway, now dead and cold. He had instantly understood that
the unfinished notes which caught his eye yesternight were intended for
nobody but himself. He had remembered some of the words of Elfride
in her sleep on the steamer, that somebody was not to tell him of
something, or it would be her ruin--a circumstance hitherto deemed so
trivial and meaningless that he had well-nigh forgotten it. All these
things infused into him an emotion intense in power and supremely
distressing in quality. The paper in his hand quivered as he read:


‘THE VALLEY, ENDELSTOW.

‘SIR,--A woman who has not much in the world to lose by any censure this
act may bring upon her, wishes to give you some hints concerning a lady
you love. If you will deign to accept a warning before it is too late,
you will notice what your correspondent has to say.

‘You are deceived. Can such a woman as this be worthy?

‘One who encouraged an honest youth to love her, then slighted him, so
that he died.

‘One who next took a man of no birth as a lover, who was forbidden the
house by her father.

‘One who secretly left her home to be married to that man, met him, and
went with him to London.

‘One who, for some reason or other, returned again unmarried.

‘One who, in her after-correspondence with him, went so far as to
address him as her husband.

‘One who wrote the enclosed letter to ask me, who better than anybody
else knows the story, to keep the scandal a secret.

‘I hope soon to be beyond the reach of either blame or praise. But
before removing me God has put it in my power to avenge the death of my
son.

‘GERTRUDE JETHWAY.’


The letter enclosed was the note in pencil that Elfride had written in
Mrs. Jethway’s cottage:


‘DEAR MRS. JETHWAY,--I have been to visit you. I wanted much to see
you, but I cannot wait any longer. I came to beg you not to execute the
threats you have repeated to me. Do not, I beseech you, Mrs. Jethway,
let any one know I ran away from home! It would ruin me with him, and
break my heart. I will do anything for you, if you will be kind to
me. In the name of our common womanhood, do not, I implore you, make a
scandal of me.--Yours,

‘E. SWANCOURT.


Knight turned his head wearily towards the house. The ground rose
rapidly on nearing the shrubbery in which he stood, raising it almost to
a level with the first floor of The Crags. Elfride’s dressing-room
lay in the salient angle in this direction, and it was lighted by two
windows in such a position that, from Knight’s standing-place, his sight
passed through both windows, and raked the room. Elfride was there;
she was pausing between the two windows, looking at her figure in
the cheval-glass. She regarded herself long and attentively in front;
turned, flung back her head, and observed the reflection over her
shoulder.

Nobody can predicate as to her object or fancy; she may have done the
deed in the very abstraction of deep sadness. She may have been moaning
from the bottom of her heart, ‘How unhappy am I!’ But the impression
produced on Knight was not a good one. He dropped his eyes moodily. The
dead woman’s letter had a virtue in the accident of its juncture far
beyond any it intrinsically exhibited. Circumstance lent to evil words a
ring of pitiless justice echoing from the grave. Knight could not endure
their possession. He tore the letter into fragments.

He heard a brushing among the bushes behind, and turning his head he saw
Elfride following him. The fair girl looked in his face with a wistful
smile of hope, too forcedly hopeful to displace the firmly established
dread beneath it. His severe words of the previous night still sat heavy
upon her.

‘I saw you from my window, Harry,’ she said timidly.

‘The dew will make your feet wet,’ he observed, as one deaf.

‘I don’t mind it.’

‘There is danger in getting wet feet.’

‘Yes...Harry, what is the matter?’

‘Oh, nothing. Shall I resume the serious conversation I had with you
last night? No, perhaps not; perhaps I had better not.’

‘Oh, I cannot tell! How wretched it all is! Ah, I wish you were your own
dear self again, and had kissed me when I came up! Why didn’t you ask me
for one? why don’t you now?’

‘Too free in manner by half,’ he heard murmur the voice within him.

‘It was that hateful conversation last night,’ she went on. ‘Oh, those
words! Last night was a black night for me.’

‘Kiss!--I hate that word! Don’t talk of kissing, for God’s sake! I
should think you might with advantage have shown tact enough to keep
back that word “kiss,” considering those you have accepted.’

She became very pale, and a rigid and desolate charactery took
possession of her face. That face was so delicate and tender in
appearance now, that one could fancy the pressure of a finger upon it
would cause a livid spot.

Knight walked on, and Elfride with him, silent and unopposing. He opened
a gate, and they entered a path across a stubble-field.

‘Perhaps I intrude upon you?’ she said as he closed the gate. ‘Shall I
go away?’

‘No. Listen to me, Elfride.’ Knight’s voice was low and unequal.
‘I have been honest with you: will you be so with me? If
any--strange--connection has existed between yourself and a predecessor
of mine, tell it now. It is better that I know it now, even though the
knowledge should part us, than that I should discover it in time to
come. And suspicions have been awakened in me. I think I will not say
how, because I despise the means. A discovery of any mystery of your
past would embitter our lives.’

Knight waited with a slow manner of calmness. His eyes were sad and
imperative. They went farther along the path.

‘Will you forgive me if I tell you all?’ she exclaimed entreatingly.

‘I can’t promise; so much depends upon what you have to tell.’

Elfride could not endure the silence which followed.

‘Are you not going to love me?’ she burst out. ‘Harry, Harry, love me,
and speak as usual! Do; I beseech you, Harry!’

‘Are you going to act fairly by me?’ said Knight, with rising anger; ‘or
are you not? What have I done to you that I should be put off like this?
Be caught like a bird in a springe; everything intended to be hidden
from me! Why is it, Elfride? That’s what I ask you.’

In their agitation they had left the path, and were wandering among the
wet and obstructive stubble, without knowing or heeding it.

‘What have I done?’ she faltered.

‘What? How can you ask what, when you know so well? You KNOW that I have
designedly been kept in ignorance of something attaching to you, which,
had I known of it, might have altered all my conduct; and yet you say,
what?’

She drooped visibly, and made no answer.

‘Not that I believe in malicious letter-writers and whisperers; not I.
I don’t know whether I do or don’t: upon my soul, I can’t tell. I know
this: a religion was building itself upon you in my heart. I looked
into your eyes, and thought I saw there truth and innocence as pure and
perfect as ever embodied by God in the flesh of woman. Perfect truth is
too much to expect, but ordinary truth I WILL HAVE or nothing at all.
Just say, then; is the matter you keep back of the gravest importance,
or is it not?’

‘I don’t understand all your meaning. If I have hidden anything from
you, it has been because I loved you so, and I feared--feared--to lose
you.’

‘Since you are not given to confidence, I want to ask you some plain
questions. Have I your permission?’

‘Yes,’ she said, and there came over her face a weary resignation. ‘Say
the harshest words you can; I will bear them!’

‘There is a scandal in the air concerning you, Elfride; and I cannot
even combat it without knowing definitely what it is. It may not refer
to you entirely, or even at all.’ Knight trifled in the very bitterness
of his feeling. ‘In the time of the French Revolution, Pariseau, a
ballet-master, was beheaded by mistake for Parisot, a captain of
the King’s Guard. I wish there was another “E. Swancourt” in the
neighbourhood. Look at this.’

He handed her the letter she had written and left on the table at Mrs.
Jethway’s. She looked over it vacantly.

‘It is not so much as it seems!’ she pleaded. ‘It seems wickedly
deceptive to look at now, but it had a much more natural origin than you
think. My sole wish was not to endanger our love. O Harry! that was all
my idea. It was not much harm.’

‘Yes, yes; but independently of the poor miserable creature’s remarks,
it seems to imply--something wrong.’

‘What remarks?’

‘Those she wrote me--now torn to pieces. Elfride, DID you run away
with a man you loved?--that was the damnable statement. Has such an
accusation life in it--really, truly, Elfride?’

‘Yes,’ she whispered.

Knight’s countenance sank. ‘To be married to him?’ came huskily from his
lips.

‘Yes. Oh, forgive me! I had never seen you, Harry.’

‘To London?’

‘Yes; but I----’

‘Answer my questions; say nothing else, Elfride Did you ever
deliberately try to marry him in secret?’

‘No; not deliberately.’

‘But did you do it?’

A feeble red passed over her face.

‘Yes,’ she said.

‘And after that--did you--write to him as your husband; and did he
address you as his wife?’

‘Listen, listen! It was----’

‘Do answer me; only answer me!’

‘Then, yes, we did.’ Her lips shook; but it was with some little dignity
that she continued: ‘I would gladly have told you; for I knew and know I
had done wrong. But I dared not; I loved you too well. Oh, so well! You
have been everything in the world to me--and you are now. Will you not
forgive me?’

It is a melancholy thought, that men who at first will not allow the
verdict of perfection they pronounce upon their sweethearts or wives
to be disturbed by God’s own testimony to the contrary, will, once
suspecting their purity, morally hang them upon evidence they would be
ashamed to admit in judging a dog.

The reluctance to tell, which arose from Elfride’s simplicity in
thinking herself so much more culpable than she really was, had been
doing fatal work in Knight’s mind. The man of many ideas, now that
his first dream of impossible things was over, vibrated too far in
the contrary direction; and her every movement of feature--every
tremor--every confused word--was taken as so much proof of her
unworthiness.

‘Elfride, we must bid good-bye to compliment,’ said Knight: ‘we must
do without politeness now. Look in my face, and as you believe in God
above, tell me truly one thing more. Were you away alone with him?’

‘Yes.’

‘Did you return home the same day on which you left it?’

‘No.’

The word fell like a bolt, and the very land and sky seemed to suffer.
Knight turned aside. Meantime Elfride’s countenance wore a look
indicating utter despair of being able to explain matters so that they
would seem no more than they really were,--a despair which not only
relinquishes the hope of direct explanation, but wearily gives up all
collateral chances of extenuation.

The scene was engraved for years on the retina of Knight’s eye: the
dead and brown stubble, the weeds among it, the distant belt of beeches
shutting out the view of the house, the leaves of which were now red and
sick to death.

‘You must forget me,’ he said. ‘We shall not marry, Elfride.’

How much anguish passed into her soul at those words from him was told
by the look of supreme torture she wore.

‘What meaning have you, Harry? You only say so, do you?’

She looked doubtingly up at him, and tried to laugh, as if the unreality
of his words must be unquestionable.

‘You are not in earnest, I know--I hope you are not? Surely I belong to
you, and you are going to keep me for yours?’

‘Elfride, I have been speaking too roughly to you; I have said what I
ought only to have thought. I like you; and let me give you a word of
advice. Marry your man as soon as you can. However weary of each other
you may feel, you belong to each other, and I am not going to step
between you. Do you think I would--do you think I could for a moment? If
you cannot marry him now, and another makes you his wife, do not reveal
this secret to him after marriage, if you do not before. Honesty would
be damnation then.’

Bewildered by his expressions, she exclaimed--

‘No, no; I will not be a wife unless I am yours; and I must be yours!’

‘If we had married----’

‘But you don’t MEAN--that--that--you will go away and leave me, and not
be anything more to me--oh, you don’t!’

Convulsive sobs took all nerve out of her utterance. She checked them,
and continued to look in his face for the ray of hope that was not to be
found there.

‘I am going indoors,’ said Knight. ‘You will not follow me, Elfride; I
wish you not to.’

‘Oh no; indeed, I will not.’

‘And then I am going to Castle Boterel. Good-bye.’

He spoke the farewell as if it were but for the day--lightly, as he had
spoken such temporary farewells many times before--and she seemed to
understand it as such. Knight had not the power to tell her plainly that
he was going for ever; he hardly knew for certain that he was: whether
he should rush back again upon the current of an irresistible emotion,
or whether he could sufficiently conquer himself, and her in him, to
establish that parting as a supreme farewell, and present himself to the
world again as no woman’s.

Ten minutes later he had left the house, leaving directions that if he
did not return in the evening his luggage was to be sent to his chambers
in London, whence he intended to write to Mr. Swancourt as to the
reasons of his sudden departure. He descended the valley, and could not
forbear turning his head. He saw the stubble-field, and a slight girlish
figure in the midst of it--up against the sky. Elfride, docile as ever,
had hardly moved a step, for he had said, Remain. He looked and saw her
again--he saw her for weeks and months. He withdrew his eyes from
the scene, swept his hand across them, as if to brush away the sight,
breathed a low groan, and went on.



Chapter XXXV

     ‘And wilt thou leave me thus?--say nay--say nay!’


The scene shifts to Knight’s chambers in Bede’s Inn. It was late in the
evening of the day following his departure from Endelstow. A drizzling
rain descended upon London, forming a humid and dreary halo over every
well-lighted street. The rain had not yet been prevalent long enough to
give to rapid vehicles that clear and distinct rattle which follows
the thorough washing of the stones by a drenching rain, but was just
sufficient to make footway and roadway slippery, adhesive, and clogging
to both feet and wheels.

Knight was standing by the fire, looking into its expiring embers,
previously to emerging from his door for a dreary journey home to
Richmond. His hat was on, and the gas turned off. The blind of the
window overlooking the alley was not drawn down; and with the light from
beneath, which shone over the ceiling of the room, came, in place of the
usual babble, only the reduced clatter and quick speech which were the
result of necessity rather than choice.

Whilst he thus stood, waiting for the expiration of the few minutes that
were wanting to the time for his catching the train, a light tapping
upon the door mingled with the other sounds that reached his ears. It
was so faint at first that the outer noises were almost sufficient to
drown it. Finding it repeated Knight crossed the lobby, crowded with
books and rubbish, and opened the door.

A woman, closely muffled up, but visibly of fragile build, was standing
on the landing under the gaslight. She sprang forward, flung her arms
round Knight’s neck, and uttered a low cry--

‘O Harry, Harry, you are killing me! I could not help coming. Don’t send
me away--don’t! Forgive your Elfride for coming--I love you so!’

Knight’s agitation and astonishment mastered him for a few moments.

‘Elfride!’ he cried, ‘what does this mean? What have you done?’

‘Do not hurt me and punish me--Oh, do not! I couldn’t help coming; it
was killing me. Last night, when you did not come back, I could not bear
it--I could not! Only let me be with you, and see your face, Harry; I
don’t ask for more.’

Her eyelids were hot, heavy, and thick with excessive weeping, and
the delicate rose-red of her cheeks was disfigured and inflamed by the
constant chafing of the handkerchief in wiping her many tears.

‘Who is with you? Have you come alone?’ he hurriedly inquired.

‘Yes. When you did not come last night, I sat up hoping you would
come--and the night was all agony--and I waited on and on, and you did
not come! Then when it was morning, and your letter said you were gone,
I could not endure it; and I ran away from them to St. Launce’s, and
came by the train. And I have been all day travelling to you, and you
won’t make me go away again, will you, Harry, because I shall always
love you till I die?’

‘Yet it is wrong for you to stay. O Elfride! what have you committed
yourself to? It is ruin to your good name to run to me like this!
Has not your first experience been sufficient to keep you from these
things?’

‘My name! Harry, I shall soon die, and what good will my name be to me
then? Oh, could I but be the man and you the woman, I would not leave
you for such a little fault as mine! Do not think it was so vile a thing
in me to run away with him. Ah, how I wish you could have run away with
twenty women before you knew me, that I might show you I would think it
no fault, but be glad to get you after them all, so that I had you! If
you only knew me through and through, how true I am, Harry. Cannot I be
yours? Say you love me just the same, and don’t let me be separated from
you again, will you? I cannot bear it--all the long hours and days and
nights going on, and you not there, but away because you hate me!’

‘Not hate you, Elfride,’ he said gently, and supported her with his arm.
‘But you cannot stay here now--just at present, I mean.’

‘I suppose I must not--I wish I might. I am afraid that if--you lose
sight of me--something dark will happen, and we shall not meet again.
Harry, if I am not good enough to be your wife, I wish I could be your
servant and live with you, and not be sent away never to see you again.
I don’t mind what it is except that!’

‘No, I cannot send you away: I cannot. God knows what dark future may
arise out of this evening’s work; but I cannot send you away! You must
sit down, and I will endeavour to collect my thoughts and see what had
better be done.

At that moment a loud knocking at the house door was heard by both,
accompanied by a hurried ringing of the bell that echoed from attic to
basement. The door was quickly opened, and after a few hasty words of
converse in the hall, heavy footsteps ascended the stairs.

The face of Mr. Swancourt, flushed, grieved, and stern, appeared round
the landing of the staircase. He came higher up, and stood beside them.
Glancing over and past Knight with silent indignation, he turned to the
trembling girl.

‘O Elfride! and have I found you at last? Are these your tricks, madam?
When will you get rid of your idiocies, and conduct yourself like a
decent woman? Is my family name and house to be disgraced by acts that
would be a scandal to a washerwoman’s daughter? Come along, madam;
come!’

‘She is so weary!’ said Knight, in a voice of intensest anguish. ‘Mr.
Swancourt, don’t be harsh with her--let me beg of you to be tender with
her, and love her!’

‘To you, sir,’ said Mr. Swancourt, turning to him as if by the sheer
pressure of circumstances, ‘I have little to say. I can only remark,
that the sooner I can retire from your presence the better I shall be
pleased. Why you could not conduct your courtship of my daughter like an
honest man, I do not know. Why she--a foolish inexperienced girl--should
have been tempted to this piece of folly, I do not know. Even if she
had not known better than to leave her home, you might have, I should
think.’

‘It is not his fault: he did not tempt me, papa! I came.’

‘If you wished the marriage broken off, why didn’t you say so plainly?
If you never intended to marry, why could you not leave her alone? Upon
my soul, it grates me to the heart to be obliged to think so ill of a
man I thought my friend!’

Knight, soul-sick and weary of his life, did not arouse himself to utter
a word in reply. How should he defend himself when his defence was the
accusation of Elfride? On that account he felt a miserable satisfaction
in letting her father go on thinking and speaking wrongfully. It was a
faint ray of pleasure straying into the great gloominess of his brain to
think that the vicar might never know but that he, as her lover, tempted
her away, which seemed to be the form Mr. Swancourt’s misapprehension
had taken.

‘Now, are you coming?’ said Mr. Swancourt to her again. He took her
unresisting hand, drew it within his arm, and led her down the stairs.
Knight’s eyes followed her, the last moment begetting in him a frantic
hope that she would turn her head. She passed on, and never looked back.

He heard the door open--close again. The wheels of a cab grazed the
kerbstone, a murmured direction followed. The door was slammed together,
the wheels moved, and they rolled away.


From that hour of her reappearance a dreadful conflict raged within
the breast of Henry Knight. His instinct, emotion, affectiveness--or
whatever it may be called--urged him to stand forward, seize upon
Elfride, and be her cherisher and protector through life. Then came
the devastating thought that Elfride’s childlike, unreasoning, and
indiscreet act in flying to him only proved that the proprieties must be
a dead letter with her; that the unreserve, which was really artlessness
without ballast, meant indifference to decorum; and what so likely as
that such a woman had been deceived in the past? He said to himself,
in a mood of the bitterest cynicism: ‘The suspicious discreet woman who
imagines dark and evil things of all her fellow-creatures is far too
shrewd to be deluded by man: trusting beings like Elfride are the women
who fall.’

Hours and days went by, and Knight remained inactive. Lengthening
time, which made fainter the heart-awakening power of her presence,
strengthened the mental ability to reason her down. Elfride loved him,
he knew, and he could not leave off loving her but marry her he would
not. If she could but be again his own Elfride--the woman she had seemed
to be--but that woman was dead and buried, and he knew her no more! And
how could he marry this Elfride, one who, if he had originally seen her
as she was, would have been barely an interesting pitiable acquaintance
in his eyes--no more?

It cankered his heart to think he was confronted by the closest instance
of a worse state of things than any he had assumed in the pleasant
social philosophy and satire of his essays.

The moral rightness of this man’s life was worthy of all praise; but in
spite of some intellectual acumen, Knight had in him a modicum of that
wrongheadedness which is mostly found in scrupulously honest people.
With him, truth seemed too clean and pure an abstraction to be so
hopelessly churned in with error as practical persons find it. Having
now seen himself mistaken in supposing Elfride to be peerless, nothing
on earth could make him believe she was not so very bad after all.

He lingered in town a fortnight, doing little else than vibrate between
passion and opinions. One idea remained intact--that it was better
Elfride and himself should not meet.

When he surveyed the volumes on his shelves--few of which had been
opened since Elfride first took possession of his heart--their untouched
and orderly arrangement reproached him as an apostate from the old faith
of his youth and early manhood. He had deserted those never-failing
friends, so they seemed to say, for an unstable delight in a ductile
woman, which had ended all in bitterness. The spirit of self-denial,
verging on asceticism, which had ever animated Knight in old times,
announced itself as having departed with the birth of love, with it
having gone the self-respect which had compensated for the lack
of self-gratification. Poor little Elfride, instead of holding,
as formerly, a place in his religion, began to assume the hue of a
temptation. Perhaps it was human and correctly natural that Knight
never once thought whether he did not owe her a little sacrifice for her
unchary devotion in saving his life.

With a consciousness of having thus, like Antony, kissed away kingdoms
and provinces, he next considered how he had revealed his higher secrets
and intentions to her, an unreserve he would never have allowed himself
with any man living. How was it that he had not been able to refrain
from telling her of adumbrations heretofore locked in the closest
strongholds of his mind?

Knight’s was a robust intellect, which could escape outside the
atmosphere of heart, and perceive that his own love, as well as other
people’s, could be reduced by change of scene and circumstances. At the
same time the perception was a superimposed sorrow:


      ‘O last regret, regret can die!’


But being convinced that the death of this regret was the best thing for
him, he did not long shrink from attempting it. He closed his chambers,
suspended his connection with editors, and left London for the
Continent. Here we will leave him to wander without purpose, beyond the
nominal one of encouraging obliviousness of Elfride.



Chapter XXXVI

     ‘The pennie’s the jewel that beautifies a’.’


‘I can’t think what’s coming to these St. Launce’s people at all at
all.’

‘With their “How-d’ye-do’s,” do you mean?’

‘Ay, with their “How-d’ye-do’s,” and shaking of hands, asking me in, and
tender inquiries for you, John.’

These words formed part of a conversation between John Smith and
his wife on a Saturday evening in the spring which followed Knight’s
departure from England. Stephen had long since returned to India; and
the persevering couple themselves had migrated from Lord Luxellian’s
park at Endelstow to a comfortable roadside dwelling about a mile out of
St. Launce’s, where John had opened a small stone and slate yard in his
own name.

‘When we came here six months ago,’ continued Mrs. Smith, ‘though I
had paid ready money so many years in the town, my friskier shopkeepers
would only speak over the counter. Meet ‘em in the street half-an-hour
after, and they’d treat me with staring ignorance of my face.’

‘Look through ye as through a glass winder?’

‘Yes, the brazen ones would. The quiet and cool ones would glance over
the top of my head, past my side, over my shoulder, but never meet my
eye. The gentle-modest would turn their faces south if I were coming
east, flit down a passage if I were about to halve the pavement with
them. There was the spruce young bookseller would play the same tricks;
the butcher’s daughters; the upholsterer’s young men. Hand in glove
when doing business out of sight with you; but caring nothing for a’ old
woman when playing the genteel away from all signs of their trade.’

‘True enough, Maria.’

‘Well, to-day ‘tis all different. I’d no sooner got to market than Mrs.
Joakes rushed up to me in the eyes of the town and said, “My dear Mrs.
Smith, now you must be tired with your walk! Come in and have some
lunch! I insist upon it; knowing you so many years as I have! Don’t you
remember when we used to go looking for owls’ feathers together in the
Castle ruins?” There’s no knowing what you may need, so I answered the
woman civilly. I hadn’t got to the corner before that thriving young
lawyer, Sweet, who’s quite the dandy, ran after me out of breath. “Mrs.
Smith,” he says, “excuse my rudeness, but there’s a bramble on the tail
of your dress, which you’ve dragged in from the country; allow me to
pull it off for you.” If you’ll believe me, this was in the very front
of the Town Hall. What’s the meaning of such sudden love for a’ old
woman?’

‘Can’t say; unless ‘tis repentance.’

‘Repentance! was there ever such a fool as you. John? Did anybody ever
repent with money in’s pocket and fifty years to live?’

‘Now, I’ve been thinking too,’ said John, passing over the query as
hardly pertinent, ‘that I’ve had more loving-kindness from folks to-day
than I ever have before since we moved here. Why, old Alderman Tope
walked out to the middle of the street where I was, to shake hands with
me--so ‘a did. Having on my working clothes, I thought ‘twas odd. Ay,
and there was young Werrington.’

‘Who’s he?’

‘Why, the man in Hill Street, who plays and sells flutes, trumpets, and
fiddles, and grand pehanners. He was talking to Egloskerry, that very
small bachelor-man with money in the funds. I was going by, I’m sure,
without thinking or expecting a nod from men of that glib kidney when in
my working clothes----’

‘You always will go poking into town in your working clothes. Beg you to
change how I will, ‘tis no use.’

‘Well, however, I was in my working clothes. Werrington saw me. “Ah, Mr.
Smith! a fine morning; excellent weather for building,” says he, out as
loud and friendly as if I’d met him in some deep hollow, where he could
get nobody else to speak to at all. ‘Twas odd: for Werrington is one of
the very ringleaders of the fast class.’

At that moment a tap came to the door. The door was immediately opened
by Mrs. Smith in person.

‘You’ll excuse us, I’m sure, Mrs. Smith, but this beautiful spring
weather was too much for us. Yes, and we could stay in no longer; and I
took Mrs. Trewen upon my arm directly we’d had a cup of tea, and out we
came. And seeing your beautiful crocuses in such a bloom, we’ve taken
the liberty to enter. We’ll step round the garden, if you don’t mind.’

‘Not at all,’ said Mrs. Smith; and they walked round the garden.
She lifted her hands in amazement directly their backs were turned.
‘Goodness send us grace!’

‘Who be they?’ said her husband.

‘Actually Mr. Trewen, the bank-manager, and his wife.’

John Smith, staggered in mind, went out of doors and looked over the
garden gate, to collect his ideas. He had not been there two minutes
when wheels were heard, and a carriage and pair rolled along the road.
A distinguished-looking lady, with the demeanour of a duchess, reclined
within. When opposite Smith’s gate she turned her head, and instantly
commanded the coachman to stop.

‘Ah, Mr. Smith, I am glad to see you looking so well. I could not help
stopping a moment to congratulate you and Mrs. Smith upon the happiness
you must enjoy. Joseph, you may drive on.’

And the carriage rolled away towards St. Launce’s.

Out rushed Mrs. Smith from behind a laurel-bush, where she had stood
pondering.

‘Just going to touch my hat to her,’ said John; ‘just for all the world
as I would have to poor Lady Luxellian years ago.’

‘Lord! who is she?’

‘The public-house woman--what’s her name? Mrs.--Mrs.--at the Falcon.’

‘Public-house woman. The clumsiness of the Smith family! You MIGHT say
the landlady of the Falcon Hotel, since we are in for politeness. The
people are ridiculous enough, but give them their due.’

The possibility is that Mrs. Smith was getting mollified, in spite of
herself, by these remarkably friendly phenomena among the people of St.
Launce’s. And in justice to them it was quite desirable that she should
do so. The interest which the unpractised ones of this town expressed so
grotesquely was genuine of its kind, and equal in intrinsic worth to the
more polished smiles of larger communities.

By this time Mr. and Mrs. Trewen were returning from the garden.

‘I’ll ask ‘em flat,’ whispered John to his wife. ‘I’ll say, “We be in a
fog--you’ll excuse my asking a question, Mr. and Mrs. Trewen. How is it
you all be so friendly to-day?” Hey? ‘Twould sound right and sensible,
wouldn’t it?’

‘Not a word! Good mercy, when will the man have manners!’

‘It must be a proud moment for you, I am sure, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, to
have a son so celebrated,’ said the bank-manager advancing.

‘Ah, ‘tis Stephen--I knew it!’ said Mrs. Smith triumphantly to herself.

‘We don’t know particulars,’ said John.

‘Not know!’

‘No.’

‘Why, ‘tis all over town. Our worthy Mayor alluded to it in a speech at
the dinner last night of the Every-Man-his-own-Maker Club.’

‘And what about Stephen?’ urged Mrs. Smith.

‘Why, your son has been feted by deputy-governors and Parsee princes
and nobody-knows-who in India; is hand in glove with nabobs, and is to
design a large palace, and cathedral, and hospitals, colleges, halls,
and fortifications, by the general consent of the ruling powers,
Christian and Pagan alike.’

‘’Twas sure to come to the boy,’ said Mr. Smith unassumingly.

‘’Tis in yesterday’s St. Launce’s Chronicle; and our worthy Mayor in the
chair introduced the subject into his speech last night in a masterly
manner.’

‘’Twas very good of the worthy Mayor in the chair I’m sure,’ said
Stephen’s mother. ‘I hope the boy will have the sense to keep what he’s
got; but as for men, they are a simple sex. Some woman will hook him.’

‘Well, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the evening closes in, and we must be going;
and remember this, that every Saturday when you come in to market, you
are to make our house as your own. There will be always a tea-cup and
saucer for you, as you know there has been for months, though you may
have forgotten it. I’m a plain-speaking woman, and what I say I mean.’

When the visitors were gone, and the sun had set, and the moon’s rays
were just beginning to assert themselves upon the walls of the dwelling,
John Smith and his wife sat dawn to the newspaper they had hastily
procured from the town. And when the reading was done, they considered
how best to meet the new social requirements settling upon them,
which Mrs. Smith considered could be done by new furniture and house
enlargement alone.

‘And, John, mind one thing,’ she said in conclusion. ‘In writing to
Stephen, never by any means mention the name of Elfride Swancourt again.
We’ve left the place, and know no more about her except by hearsay. He
seems to be getting free of her, and glad am I for it. It was a cloudy
hour for him when he first set eyes upon the girl. That family’s been no
good to him, first or last; so let them keep their blood to themselves
if they want to. He thinks of her, I know, but not so hopelessly. So
don’t try to know anything about her, and we can’t answer his questions.
She may die out of his mind then.’

‘That shall be it,’ said John.



Chapter XXXVII

     ‘After many days.’


Knight roamed south, under colour of studying Continental antiquities.

He paced the lofty aisles of Amiens, loitered by Ardennes Abbey, climbed
into the strange towers of Laon, analyzed Noyon and Rheims. Then he went
to Chartres, and examined its scaly spires and quaint carving then he
idled about Coutances. He rowed beneath the base of Mont St. Michel, and
caught the varied skyline of the crumbling edifices encrusting it.
St. Ouen’s, Rouen, knew him for days; so did Vezelay, Sens, and many a
hallowed monument besides. Abandoning the inspection of early French art
with the same purposeless haste as he had shown in undertaking it, he
went further, and lingered about Ferrara, Padua, and Pisa. Satiated with
mediaevalism, he tried the Roman Forum. Next he observed moonlight and
starlight effects by the bay of Naples. He turned to Austria, became
enervated and depressed on Hungarian and Bohemian plains, and was
refreshed again by breezes on the declivities of the Carpathians.

Then he found himself in Greece. He visited the plain of Marathon, and
strove to imagine the Persian defeat; to Mars Hill, to picture St. Paul
addressing the ancient Athenians; to Thermopylae and Salamis, to run
through the facts and traditions of the Second Invasion--the result of
his endeavours being more or less chaotic. Knight grew as weary of these
places as of all others. Then he felt the shock of an earthquake in the
Ionian Islands, and went to Venice. Here he shot in gondolas up and down
the winding thoroughfare of the Grand Canal, and loitered on calle and
piazza at night, when the lagunes were undisturbed by a ripple, and no
sound was to be heard but the stroke of the midnight clock. Afterwards
he remained for weeks in the museums, galleries, and libraries of
Vienna, Berlin, and Paris; and thence came home.

Time thus rolls us on to a February afternoon, divided by fifteen months
from the parting of Elfride and her lover in the brown stubble field
towards the sea.

Two men obviously not Londoners, and with a touch of foreignness in
their look, met by accident on one of the gravel walks leading across
Hyde Park. The younger, more given to looking about him than his fellow,
saw and noticed the approach of his senior some time before the latter
had raised his eyes from the ground, upon which they were bent in an
abstracted gaze that seemed habitual with him.

‘Mr. Knight--indeed it is!’ exclaimed the younger man.

‘Ah, Stephen Smith!’ said Knight.

Simultaneous operations might now have been observed progressing in
both, the result being that an expression less frank and impulsive than
the first took possession of their features. It was manifest that the
next words uttered were a superficial covering to constraint on both
sides.

‘Have you been in England long?’ said Knight.

‘Only two days,’ said Smith.

‘India ever since?’

‘Nearly ever since.’

‘They were making a fuss about you at St. Launce’s last year. I fancy I
saw something of the sort in the papers.’

‘Yes; I believe something was said about me.’

‘I must congratulate you on your achievements.’

‘Thanks, but they are nothing very extraordinary. A natural professional
progress where there was no opposition.’

There followed that want of words which will always assert itself
between nominal friends who find they have ceased to be real ones, and
have not yet sunk to the level of mere acquaintance. Each looked up
and down the Park. Knight may possibly have borne in mind during the
intervening months Stephen’s manner towards him the last time they had
met, and may have encouraged his former interest in Stephen’s welfare to
die out of him as misplaced. Stephen certainly was full of the feelings
begotten by the belief that Knight had taken away the woman he loved so
well.

Stephen Smith then asked a question, adopting a certain recklessness of
manner and tone to hide, if possible, the fact that the subject was a
much greater one to him than his friend had ever supposed.

‘Are you married?’

‘I am not.’

Knight spoke in an indescribable tone of bitterness that was almost
moroseness.

‘And I never shall be,’ he added decisively. ‘Are you?’

‘No,’ said Stephen, sadly and quietly, like a man in a sick-room.
Totally ignorant whether or not Knight knew of his own previous claims
upon Elfride, he yet resolved to hazard a few more words upon the topic
which had an aching fascination for him even now.

‘Then your engagement to Miss Swancourt came to nothing,’ he said. ‘You
remember I met you with her once?’

Stephen’s voice gave way a little here, in defiance of his firmest will
to the contrary. Indian affairs had not yet lowered those emotions down
to the point of control.

‘It was broken off,’ came quickly from Knight. ‘Engagements to marry
often end like that--for better or for worse.’

‘Yes; so they do. And what have you been doing lately?’

‘Doing? Nothing.’

‘Where have you been?’

‘I can hardly tell you. In the main, going about Europe; and it may
perhaps interest you to know that I have been attempting the serious
study of Continental art of the Middle Ages. My notes on each example I
visited are at your service. They are of no use to me.’

‘I shall be glad with them....Oh, travelling far and near!’

‘Not far,’ said Knight, with moody carelessness. ‘You know, I daresay,
that sheep occasionally become giddy--hydatids in the head, ‘tis called,
in which their brains become eaten up, and the animal exhibits the
strange peculiarity of walking round and round in a circle continually.
I have travelled just in the same way--round and round like a giddy
ram.’

The reckless, bitter, and rambling style in which Knight talked, as if
rather to vent his images than to convey any ideas to Stephen, struck
the young man painfully. His former friend’s days had become cankered in
some way: Knight was a changed man. He himself had changed much, but not
as Knight had changed.

‘Yesterday I came home,’ continued Knight, ‘without having, to the best
of my belief, imbibed half-a-dozen ideas worth retaining.’

‘You out-Hamlet Hamlet in morbidness of mood,’ said Stephen, with
regretful frankness.

Knight made no reply.

‘Do you know,’ Stephen continued, ‘I could almost have sworn that you
would be married before this time, from what I saw?’

Knight’s face grew harder. ‘Could you?’ he said.

Stephen was powerless to forsake the depressing, luring subject.

‘Yes; and I simply wonder at it.’

‘Whom did you expect me to marry?’

‘Her I saw you with.’

‘Thank you for that wonder.’

‘Did she jilt you?’

‘Smith, now one word to you,’ Knight returned steadily. ‘Don’t you ever
question me on that subject. I have a reason for making this request,
mind. And if you do question me, you will not get an answer.’

‘Oh, I don’t for a moment wish to ask what is unpleasant to you--not I.
I had a momentary feeling that I should like to explain something on my
side, and hear a similar explanation on yours. But let it go, let it go,
by all means.’

‘What would you explain?’

‘I lost the woman I was going to marry: you have not married as you
intended. We might have compared notes.’

‘I have never asked you a word about your case.’

‘I know that.’

‘And the inference is obvious.’

‘Quite so.’

‘The truth is, Stephen, I have doggedly resolved never to allude to the
matter--for which I have a very good reason.’

‘Doubtless. As good a reason as you had for not marrying her.’

‘You talk insidiously. I had a good one--a miserably good one!’

Smith’s anxiety urged him to venture one more question.

‘Did she not love you enough?’ He drew his breath in a slow and
attenuated stream, as he waited in timorous hope for the answer.

‘Stephen, you rather strain ordinary courtesy in pressing questions of
that kind after what I have said. I cannot understand you at all. I must
go on now.’

‘Why, good God!’ exclaimed Stephen passionately, ‘you talk as if you
hadn’t at all taken her away from anybody who had better claims to her
than you!’

‘What do you mean by that?’ said Knight, with a puzzled air. ‘What have
you heard?’

‘Nothing. I too must go on. Good-day.’

‘If you will go,’ said Knight, reluctantly now, ‘you must, I suppose. I
am sure I cannot understand why you behave so.’

‘Nor I why you do. I have always been grateful to you, and as far as I
am concerned we need never have become so estranged as we have.’

‘And have I ever been anything but well-disposed towards you, Stephen?
Surely you know that I have not! The system of reserve began with you:
you know that.’

‘No, no! You altogether mistake our position. You were always from the
first reserved to me, though I was confidential to you. That was, I
suppose, the natural issue of our differing positions in life. And when
I, the pupil, became reserved like you, the master, you did not like it.
However, I was going to ask you to come round and see me.’

‘Where are you staying?’

‘At the Grosvenor Hotel, Pimlico.’

‘So am I.’

‘That’s convenient, not to say odd. Well, I am detained in London for a
day or two; then I am going down to see my father and mother, who live
at St. Launce’s now. Will you see me this evening?’

‘I may; but I will not promise. I was wishing to be alone for an hour or
two; but I shall know where to find you, at any rate. Good-bye.’



Chapter XXXVIII

     ‘Jealousy is cruel as the grave.’


Stephen pondered not a little on this meeting with his old friend and
once-beloved exemplar. He was grieved, for amid all the distractions of
his latter years a still small voice of fidelity to Knight had lingered
on in him. Perhaps this staunchness was because Knight ever treated him
as a mere disciple--even to snubbing him sometimes; and had at last,
though unwittingly, inflicted upon him the greatest snub of all, that of
taking away his sweetheart. The emotional side of his constitution was
built rather after a feminine than a male model; and that tremendous
wound from Knight’s hand may have tended to keep alive a warmth which
solicitousness would have extinguished altogether.

Knight, on his part, was vexed, after they had parted, that he had not
taken Stephen in hand a little after the old manner. Those words which
Smith had let fall concerning somebody having a prior claim to Elfride,
would, if uttered when the man was younger, have provoked such a query
as, ‘Come, tell me all about it, my lad,’ from Knight, and Stephen would
straightway have delivered himself of all he knew on the subject.

Stephen the ingenuous boy, though now obliterated externally by Stephen
the contriving man, returned to Knight’s memory vividly that afternoon.
He was at present but a sojourner in London; and after attending to the
two or three matters of business which remained to be done that day, he
walked abstractedly into the gloomy corridors of the British Museum for
the half-hour previous to their closing. That meeting with Smith had
reunited the present with the past, closing up the chasm of his absence
from England as if it had never existed, until the final circumstances
of his previous time of residence in London formed but a yesterday
to the circumstances now. The conflict that then had raged in him
concerning Elfride Swancourt revived, strengthened by its sleep. Indeed,
in those many months of absence, though quelling the intention to make
her his wife, he had never forgotten that she was the type of woman
adapted to his nature; and instead of trying to obliterate thoughts
of her altogether, he had grown to regard them as an infirmity it was
necessary to tolerate.

Knight returned to his hotel much earlier in the evening than he would
have done in the ordinary course of things. He did not care to think
whether this arose from a friendly wish to close the gap that had slowly
been widening between himself and his earliest acquaintance, or from
a hankering desire to hear the meaning of the dark oracles Stephen had
hastily pronounced, betokening that he knew something more of Elfride
than Knight had supposed.

He made a hasty dinner, inquired for Smith, and soon was ushered
into the young man’s presence, whom he found sitting in front of
a comfortable fire, beside a table spread with a few scientific
periodicals and art reviews.

‘I have come to you, after all,’ said Knight. ‘My manner was odd this
morning, and it seemed desirable to call; but that you had too much
sense to notice, Stephen, I know. Put it down to my wanderings in France
and Italy.’

‘Don’t say another word, but sit down. I am only too glad to see you
again.’

Stephen would hardly have cared to tell Knight just then that the minute
before Knight was announced he had been reading over some old letters
of Elfride’s. They were not many; and until to-night had been sealed
up, and stowed away in a corner of his leather trunk, with a few other
mementoes and relics which had accompanied him in his travels. The
familiar sights and sounds of London, the meeting with his friend, had
with him also revived that sense of abiding continuity with regard to
Elfride and love which his absence at the other side of the world had to
some extent suspended, though never ruptured. He at first intended
only to look over these letters on the outside; then he read one; then
another; until the whole was thus re-used as a stimulus to sad memories.
He folded them away again, placed them in his pocket, and instead of
going on with an examination into the state of the artistic world, had
remained musing on the strange circumstance that he had returned to find
Knight not the husband of Elfride after all.

The possibility of any given gratification begets a cumulative sense of
its necessity. Stephen gave the rein to his imagination, and felt more
intensely than he had felt for many months that, without Elfride, his
life would never be any great pleasure to himself, or honour to his
Maker.

They sat by the fire, chatting on external and random subjects, neither
caring to be the first to approach the matter each most longed
to discuss. On the table with the periodicals lay two or three
pocket-books, one of them being open. Knight seeing from the exposed
page that the contents were sketches only, began turning the leaves over
carelessly with his finger. When, some time later, Stephen was out
of the room, Knight proceeded to pass the interval by looking at the
sketches more carefully.

The first crude ideas, pertaining to dwellings of all kinds, were
roughly outlined on the different pages. Antiquities had been copied;
fragments of Indian columns, colossal statues, and outlandish ornament
from the temples of Elephanta and Kenneri, were carelessly intruded
upon by outlines of modern doors, windows, roofs, cooking-stoves, and
household furniture; everything, in short, which comes within the range
of a practising architect’s experience, who travels with his eyes
open. Among these occasionally appeared rough delineations of mediaeval
subjects for carving or illumination--heads of Virgins, Saints, and
Prophets.

Stephen was not professedly a free-hand draughtsman, but he drew the
human figure with correctness and skill. In its numerous repetitions on
the sides and edges of the leaves, Knight began to notice a peculiarity.
All the feminine saints had one type of feature. There were large nimbi
and small nimbi about their drooping heads, but the face was always the
same. That profile--how well Knight knew that profile!

Had there been but one specimen of the familiar countenance, he might
have passed over the resemblance as accidental; but a repetition meant
more. Knight thought anew of Smith’s hasty words earlier in the day, and
looked at the sketches again and again.

On the young man’s entry, Knight said with palpable agitation--

‘Stephen, who are those intended for?’

Stephen looked over the book with utter unconcern, ‘Saints and angels,
done in my leisure moments. They were intended as designs for the
stained glass of an English church.’

‘But whom do you idealize by that type of woman you always adopt for the
Virgin?’

‘Nobody.’

And then a thought raced along Stephen’s mind and he looked up at his
friend.

The truth is, Stephen’s introduction of Elfride’s lineaments had been so
unconscious that he had not at first understood his companion’s drift.
The hand, like the tongue, easily acquires the trick of repetition by
rote, without calling in the mind to assist at all; and this had been
the case here. Young men who cannot write verses about their Loves
generally take to portraying them, and in the early days of his
attachment Smith had never been weary of outlining Elfride. The
lay-figure of Stephen’s sketches now initiated an adjustment of many
things. Knight had recognized her. The opportunity of comparing notes
had come unsought.

‘Elfride Swancourt, to whom I was engaged,’ he said quietly.

‘Stephen!’

‘I know what you mean by speaking like that.’

‘Was it Elfride? YOU the man, Stephen?’

‘Yes; and you are thinking why did I conceal the fact from you that time
at Endelstow, are you not?’

‘Yes, and more--more.’

‘I did it for the best; blame me if you will; I did it for the best. And
now say how could I be with you afterwards as I had been before?’

‘I don’t know at all; I can’t say.’

Knight remained fixed in thought, and once he murmured--

‘I had a suspicion this afternoon that there might be some such meaning
in your words about my taking her away. But I dismissed it. How came you
to know her?’ he presently asked, in almost a peremptory tone.

‘I went down about the church; years ago now.’

‘When you were with Hewby, of course, of course. Well, I can’t
understand it.’ His tones rose. ‘I don’t know what to say, your
hoodwinking me like this for so long!’

‘I don’t see that I have hoodwinked you at all.’

‘Yes, yes, but’----

Knight arose from his seat, and began pacing up and down the room. His
face was markedly pale, and his voice perturbed, as he said--

‘You did not act as I should have acted towards you under those
circumstances. I feel it deeply; and I tell you plainly, I shall never
forget it!’

‘What?’

‘Your behaviour at that meeting in the family vault, when I told you
we were going to be married. Deception, dishonesty, everywhere; all the
world’s of a piece!’

Stephen did not much like this misconstruction of his motives, even
though it was but the hasty conclusion of a friend disturbed by emotion.

‘I could do no otherwise than I did, with due regard to her,’ he said
stiffly.

‘Indeed!’ said Knight, in the bitterest tone of reproach. ‘Nor could
you with due regard to her have married her, I suppose! I have
hoped--longed--that HE, who turns out to be YOU, would ultimately have
done that.’

‘I am much obliged to you for that hope. But you talk very mysteriously.
I think I had about the best reason anybody could have had for not doing
that.’

‘Oh, what reason was it?’

‘That I could not.’

‘You ought to have made an opportunity; you ought to do so now, in bare
justice to her, Stephen!’ cried Knight, carried beyond himself. ‘That
you know very well, and it hurts and wounds me more than you dream to
find you never have tried to make any reparation to a woman of that
kind--so trusting, so apt to be run away with by her feelings--poor
little fool, so much the worse for her!’

‘Why, you talk like a madman! You took her away from me, did you not?’

‘Picking up what another throws down can scarcely be called “taking
away.” However, we shall not agree too well upon that subject, so we had
better part.’

‘But I am quite certain you misapprehend something most grievously,’
said Stephen, shaken to the bottom of his heart. ‘What have I done; tell
me? I have lost Elfride, but is that such a sin?’

‘Was it her doing, or yours?’

‘Was what?’

‘That you parted.’

‘I will tell you honestly. It was hers entirely, entirely.’

‘What was her reason?’

‘I can hardly say. But I’ll tell the story without reserve.’

Stephen until to-day had unhesitatingly held that she grew tired of him
and turned to Knight; but he did not like to advance the statement now,
or even to think the thought. To fancy otherwise accorded better with
the hope to which Knight’s estrangement had given birth: that love for
his friend was not the direct cause, but a result of her suspension of
love for himself.

‘Such a matter must not be allowed to breed discord between us,’ Knight
returned, relapsing into a manner which concealed all his true feeling,
as if confidence now was intolerable. ‘I do see that your reticence
towards me in the vault may have been dictated by prudential
considerations.’ He concluded artificially, ‘It was a strange thing
altogether; but not of much importance, I suppose, at this distance of
time; and it does not concern me now, though I don’t mind hearing your
story.’

These words from Knight, uttered with such an air of renunciation and
apparent indifference, prompted Smith to speak on--perhaps with a
little complacency--of his old secret engagement to Elfride. He told
the details of its origin, and the peremptory words and actions of her
father to extinguish their love.

Knight persevered in the tone and manner of a disinterested outsider.
It had become more than ever imperative to screen his emotions from
Stephen’s eye; the young man would otherwise be less frank, and their
meeting would be again embittered. What was the use of untoward candour?

Stephen had now arrived at the point in his ingenuous narrative where
he left the vicarage because of her father’s manner. Knight’s interest
increased. Their love seemed so innocent and childlike thus far.

‘It is a nice point in casuistry,’ he observed, ‘to decide whether you
were culpable or not in not telling Swancourt that your friends were
parishioners of his. It was only human nature to hold your tongue under
the circumstances. Well, what was the result of your dismissal by him?’

‘That we agreed to be secretly faithful. And to insure this we thought
we would marry.’

Knight’s suspense and agitation rose higher when Stephen entered upon
this phase of the subject.

‘Do you mind telling on?’ he said, steadying his manner of speech.

‘Oh, not at all.’

Then Stephen gave in full the particulars of the meeting with Elfride at
the railway station; the necessity they were under of going to London,
unless the ceremony were to be postponed. The long journey of the
afternoon and evening; her timidity and revulsion of feeling; its
culmination on reaching London; the crossing over to the down-platform
and their immediate departure again, solely in obedience to her wish;
the journey all night; their anxious watching for the dawn; their
arrival at St. Launce’s at last--were detailed. And he told how a
village woman named Jethway was the only person who recognized them,
either going or coming; and how dreadfully this terrified Elfride. He
told how he waited in the fields whilst this then reproachful sweetheart
went for her pony, and how the last kiss he ever gave her was given a
mile out of the town, on the way to Endelstow.

These things Stephen related with a will. He believed that in doing so
he established word by word the reasonableness of his claim to Elfride.

‘Curse her! curse that woman!--that miserable letter that parted us! O
God!’

Knight began pacing the room again, and uttered this at further end.

‘What did you say?’ said Stephen, turning round.

‘Say? Did I say anything? Oh, I was merely thinking about your story,
and the oddness of my having a fancy for the same woman afterwards. And
that now I--I have forgotten her almost; and neither of us care about
her, except just as a friend, you know, eh?’

Knight still continued at the further end of the room, somewhat in
shadow.

‘Exactly,’ said Stephen, inwardly exultant, for he was really deceived
by Knight’s off-hand manner.

Yet he was deceived less by the completeness of Knight’s disguise than
by the persuasive power which lay in the fact that Knight had never
before deceived him in anything. So this supposition that his companion
had ceased to love Elfride was an enormous lightening of the weight
which had turned the scale against him.

‘Admitting that Elfride COULD love another man after you,’ said the
elder, under the same varnish of careless criticism, ‘she was none the
worse for that experience.’

‘The worse? Of course she was none the worse.’

‘Did you ever think it a wild and thoughtless thing for her to do?’

‘Indeed, I never did,’ said Stephen. ‘I persuaded her. She saw no harm
in it until she decided to return, nor did I; nor was there, except to
the extent of indiscretion.’

‘Directly she thought it was wrong she would go no further?’

‘That was it. I had just begun to think it wrong too.’

‘Such a childish escapade might have been misrepresented by any
evil-disposed person, might it not?’

‘It might; but I never heard that it was. Nobody who really knew all the
circumstances would have done otherwise than smile. If all the world had
known it, Elfride would still have remained the only one who thought her
action a sin. Poor child, she always persisted in thinking so, and was
frightened more than enough.’

‘Stephen, do you love her now?’

‘Well, I like her; I always shall, you know,’ he said evasively, and
with all the strategy love suggested. ‘But I have not seen her for so
long that I can hardly be expected to love her. Do you love her still?’

‘How shall I answer without being ashamed? What fickle beings we
men are, Stephen! Men may love strongest for a while, but women love
longest. I used to love her--in my way, you know.’

‘Yes, I understand. Ah, and I used to love her in my way. In fact,
I loved her a good deal at one time; but travel has a tendency to
obliterate early fancies.’

‘It has--it has, truly.’

Perhaps the most extraordinary feature in this conversation was the
circumstance that, though each interlocutor had at first his suspicions
of the other’s abiding passion awakened by several little acts, neither
would allow himself to see that his friend might now be speaking
deceitfully as well as he.

‘Stephen.’ resumed Knight, ‘now that matters are smooth between us, I
think I must leave you. You won’t mind my hurrying off to my quarters?’

‘You’ll stay to some sort of supper surely? didn’t you come to dinner!’

‘You must really excuse me this once.’

‘Then you’ll drop in to breakfast to-morrow.’

‘I shall be rather pressed for time.’

‘An early breakfast, which shall interfere with nothing?’

‘I’ll come,’ said Knight, with as much readiness as it was possible to
graft upon a huge stock of reluctance. ‘Yes, early; eight o’clock say,
as we are under the same roof.’

‘Any time you like. Eight it shall be.’

And Knight left him. To wear a mask, to dissemble his feelings as he
had in their late miserable conversation, was such torture that he could
support it no longer. It was the first time in Knight’s life that he
had ever been so entirely the player of a part. And the man he had thus
deceived was Stephen, who had docilely looked up to him from youth as a
superior of unblemished integrity.

He went to bed, and allowed the fever of his excitement to rage
uncontrolled. Stephen--it was only he who was the rival--only Stephen!
There was an anti-climax of absurdity which Knight, wretched and
conscience-stricken as he was, could not help recognizing. Stephen was
but a boy to him. Where the great grief lay was in perceiving that the
very innocence of Elfride in reading her little fault as one so grave
was what had fatally misled him. Had Elfride, with any degree of
coolness, asserted that she had done no harm, the poisonous breath of
the dead Mrs. Jethway would have been inoperative. Why did he not
make his little docile girl tell more? If on that subject he had only
exercised the imperativeness customary with him on others, all might
have been revealed. It smote his heart like a switch when he remembered
how gently she had borne his scourging speeches, never answering him
with a single reproach, only assuring him of her unbounded love.

Knight blessed Elfride for her sweetness, and forgot her fault. He
pictured with a vivid fancy those fair summer scenes with her. He
again saw her as at their first meeting, timid at speaking, yet in her
eagerness to be explanatory borne forward almost against her will.
How she would wait for him in green places, without showing any of the
ordinary womanly affectations of indifference! How proud she was to be
seen walking with him, bearing legibly in her eyes the thought that he
was the greatest genius in the world!

He formed a resolution; and after that could make pretence of slumber no
longer. Rising and dressing himself, he sat down and waited for day.

That night Stephen was restless too. Not because of the unwontedness
of a return to English scenery; not because he was about to meet his
parents, and settle down for awhile to English cottage life. He was
indulging in dreams, and for the nonce the warehouses of Bombay and the
plains and forts of Poonah were but a shadow’s shadow. His dream was
based on this one atom of fact: Elfride and Knight had become separated,
and their engagement was as if it had never been. Their rupture must
have occurred soon after Stephen’s discovery of the fact of their union;
and, Stephen went on to think, what so probable as that a return of her
errant affection to himself was the cause?

Stephen’s opinions in this matter were those of a lover, and not the
balanced judgment of an unbiassed spectator. His naturally sanguine
spirit built hope upon hope, till scarcely a doubt remained in his mind
that her lingering tenderness for him had in some way been perceived by
Knight, and had provoked their parting.

To go and see Elfride was the suggestion of impulses it was impossible
to withstand. At any rate, to run down from St. Launce’s to Castle
Poterel, a distance of less than twenty miles, and glide like a ghost
about their old haunts, making stealthy inquiries about her, would be a
fascinating way of passing the first spare hours after reaching home on
the day after the morrow.

He was now a richer man than heretofore, standing on his own bottom; and
the definite position in which he had rooted himself nullified old local
distinctions. He had become illustrious, even sanguine clarus, judging
from the tone of the worthy Mayor of St. Launce’s.



Chapter XXXIX

     ‘Each to the loved one’s side.’


The friends and rivals breakfasted together the next morning. Not a word
was said on either side upon the matter discussed the previous evening
so glibly and so hollowly. Stephen was absorbed the greater part of the
time in wishing he were not forced to stay in town yet another day.

‘I don’t intend to leave for St. Launce’s till to-morrow, as you know,’
he said to Knight at the end of the meal. ‘What are you going to do with
yourself to-day?’

‘I have an engagement just before ten,’ said Knight deliberately; ‘and
after that time I must call upon two or three people.’

‘I’ll look for you this evening,’ said Stephen.

‘Yes, do. You may as well come and dine with me; that is, if we can
meet. I may not sleep in London to-night; in fact, I am absolutely
unsettled as to my movements yet. However, the first thing I am going to
do is to get my baggage shifted from this place to Bede’s Inn. Good-bye
for the present. I’ll write, you know, if I can’t meet you.’

It now wanted a quarter to nine o’clock. When Knight was gone, Stephen
felt yet more impatient of the circumstance that another day would have
to drag itself away wearily before he could set out for that spot of
earth whereon a soft thought of him might perhaps be nourished still. On
a sudden he admitted to his mind the possibility that the engagement he
was waiting in town to keep might be postponed without much harm.

It was no sooner perceived than attempted. Looking at his watch, he
found it wanted forty minutes to the departure of the ten o’clock train
from Paddington, which left him a surplus quarter of an hour before it
would be necessary to start for the station.

Scribbling a hasty note or two--one putting off the business meeting,
another to Knight apologizing for not being able to see him in the
evening--paying his bill, and leaving his heavier luggage to follow
him by goods-train, he jumped into a cab and rattled off to the Great
Western Station.

Shortly afterwards he took his seat in the railway carriage.

The guard paused on his whistle, to let into the next compartment to
Smith’s a man of whom Stephen had caught but a hasty glimpse as he ran
across the platform at the last moment.

Smith sank back into the carriage, stilled by perplexity. The man was
like Knight--astonishingly like him. Was it possible it could be he?
To have got there he must have driven like the wind to Bede’s Inn, and
hardly have alighted before starting again. No, it could not be he; that
was not his way of doing things.

During the early part of the journey Stephen Smith’s thoughts busied
themselves till his brain seemed swollen. One subject was concerning
his own approaching actions. He was a day earlier than his letter to
his parents had stated, and his arrangement with them had been that
they should meet him at Plymouth; a plan which pleased the worthy couple
beyond expression. Once before the same engagement had been made, which
he had then quashed by ante-dating his arrival. This time he would go
right on to Castle Boterel; ramble in that well-known neighbourhood
during the evening and next morning, making inquiries; and return to
Plymouth to meet them as arranged--a contrivance which would leave their
cherished project undisturbed, relieving his own impatience also.

At Chippenham there was a little waiting, and some loosening and
attaching of carriages.

Stephen looked out. At the same moment another man’s head emerged from
the adjoining window. Each looked in the other’s face.

Knight and Stephen confronted one another.

‘You here!’ said the younger man.

‘Yes. It seems that you are too,’ said Knight, strangely.

‘Yes.’

The selfishness of love and the cruelty of jealousy were fairly
exemplified at this moment. Each of the two men looked at his friend
as he had never looked at him before. Each was TROUBLED at the other’s
presence.

‘I thought you said you were not coming till to-morrow,’ remarked
Knight.

‘I did. It was an afterthought to come to-day. This journey was your
engagement, then?’

‘No, it was not. This is an afterthought of mine too. I left a note to
explain it, and account for my not being able to meet you this evening
as we arranged.’

‘So did I for you.’

‘You don’t look well: you did not this morning.’

‘I have a headache. You are paler to-day than you were.’

‘I, too, have been suffering from headache. We have to wait here a few
minutes, I think.’

They walked up and down the platform, each one more and more
embarrassingly concerned with the awkwardness of his friend’s
presence. They reached the end of the footway, and paused in sheer
absent-mindedness. Stephen’s vacant eyes rested upon the operations of
some porters, who were shifting a dark and curious-looking van from the
rear of the train, to shunt another which was between it and the fore
part of the train. This operation having been concluded, the two friends
returned to the side of their carriage.

‘Will you come in here?’ said Knight, not very warmly.

‘I have my rug and portmanteau and umbrella with me: it is rather
bothering to move now,’ said Stephen reluctantly. ‘Why not you come
here?’

‘I have my traps too. It is hardly worth while to shift them, for I
shall see you again, you know.’

‘Oh, yes.’

And each got into his own place. Just at starting, a man on the platform
held up his hands and stopped the train.

Stephen looked out to see what was the matter.

One of the officials was exclaiming to another, ‘That carriage should
have been attached again. Can’t you see it is for the main line? Quick!
What fools there are in the world!’

‘What a confounded nuisance these stoppages are!’ exclaimed Knight
impatiently, looking out from his compartment. ‘What is it?’

‘That singular carriage we saw has been unfastened from our train by
mistake, it seems,’ said Stephen.

He was watching the process of attaching it. The van or carriage, which
he now recognized as having seen at Paddington before they started, was
rich and solemn rather than gloomy in aspect. It seemed to be quite
new, and of modern design, and its impressive personality attracted the
notice of others beside himself. He beheld it gradually wheeled forward
by two men on each side: slower and more sadly it seemed to approach:
then a slight concussion, and they were connected with it, and off
again.

Stephen sat all the afternoon pondering upon the reason of Knight’s
unexpected reappearance. Was he going as far as Castle Boterel? If so,
he could only have one object in view--a visit to Elfride. And what an
idea it seemed!

At Plymouth Smith partook of a little refreshment, and then went round
to the side from which the train started for Camelton, the new station
near Castle Boterel and Endelstow.

Knight was already there.

Stephen walked up and stood beside him without speaking. Two men at this
moment crept out from among the wheels of the waiting train.

‘The carriage is light enough,’ said one in a grim tone. ‘Light as
vanity; full of nothing.’

‘Nothing in size, but a good deal in signification,’ said the other, a
man of brighter mind and manners.

Smith then perceived that to their train was attached that same carriage
of grand and dark aspect which had haunted them all the way from London.

‘You are going on, I suppose?’ said Knight, turning to Stephen, after
idly looking at the same object.

‘Yes.’

‘We may as well travel together for the remaining distance, may we not?’

‘Certainly we will;’ and they both entered the same door.

Evening drew on apace. It chanced to be the eve of St. Valentine’s--that
bishop of blessed memory to youthful lovers--and the sun shone low under
the rim of a thick hard cloud, decorating the eminences of the landscape
with crowns of orange fire. As the train changed its direction on a
curve, the same rays stretched in through the window, and coaxed open
Knight’s half-closed eyes.

‘You will get out at St. Launce’s, I suppose?’ he murmured.

‘No,’ said Stephen, ‘I am not expected till to-morrow.’ Knight was
silent.

‘And you--are you going to Endelstow?’ said the younger man pointedly.

‘Since you ask, I can do no less than say I am, Stephen,’ continued
Knight slowly, and with more resolution of manner than he had shown all
the day. ‘I am going to Endelstow to see if Elfride Swancourt is still
free; and if so, to ask her to be my wife.’

‘So am I,’ said Stephen Smith.

‘I think you’ll lose your labour,’ Knight returned with decision.

‘Naturally you do.’ There was a strong accent of bitterness in Stephen’s
voice. ‘You might have said HOPE instead of THINK,’ he added.

‘I might have done no such thing. I gave you my opinion. Elfride
Swancourt may have loved you once, no doubt, but it was when she was so
young that she hardly knew her own mind.’

‘Thank you,’ said Stephen laconically. ‘She knew her mind as well as I
did. We are the same age. If you hadn’t interfered----’

‘Don’t say that--don’t say it, Stephen! How can you make out that I
interfered? Be just, please!’

‘Well,’ said his friend, ‘she was mine before she was yours--you know
that! And it seemed a hard thing to find you had got her, and that if
it had not been for you, all might have turned out well for me.’ Stephen
spoke with a swelling heart, and looked out of the window to hide the
emotion that would make itself visible upon his face.

‘It is absurd,’ said Knight in a kinder tone, ‘for you to look at the
matter in that light. What I tell you is for your good. You naturally do
not like to realize the truth--that her liking for you was only a girl’s
first fancy, which has no root ever.’

‘It is not true!’ said Stephen passionately. ‘It was you put me out. And
now you’ll be pushing in again between us, and depriving me of my chance
again! My right, that’s what it is! How ungenerous of you to come
anew and try to take her away from me! When you had won her, I did not
interfere; and you might, I think, Mr. Knight, do by me as I did by
you!’

‘Don’t “Mr.” me; you are as well in the world as I am now.’

‘First love is deepest; and that was mine.’

‘Who told you that?’ said Knight superciliously.

‘I had her first love. And it was through me that you and she parted. I
can guess that well enough.’

‘It was. And if I were to explain to you in what way that operated in
parting us, I should convince you that you do quite wrong in intruding
upon her--that, as I said at first, your labour will be lost. I don’t
choose to explain, because the particulars are painful. But if you won’t
listen to me, go on, for Heaven’s sake. I don’t care what you do, my
boy.’

‘You have no right to domineer over me as you do. Just because, when
I was a lad, I was accustomed to look up to you as a master, and you
helped me a little, for which I was grateful to you and have loved
you, you assume too much now, and step in before me. It is cruel--it is
unjust--of you to injure me so!’

Knight showed himself keenly hurt at this. ‘Stephen, those words are
untrue and unworthy of any man, and they are unworthy of you. You know
you wrong me. If you have ever profited by any instruction of mine, I am
only too glad to know it. You know it was given ungrudgingly, and that I
have never once looked upon it as making you in any way a debtor to me.’

Stephen’s naturally gentle nature was touched, and it was in a troubled
voice that he said, ‘Yes, yes. I am unjust in that--I own it.’

‘This is St. Launce’s Station, I think. Are you going to get out?’

Knight’s manner of returning to the matter in hand drew Stephen again
into himself. ‘No; I told you I was going to Endelstow,’ he resolutely
replied.

Knight’s features became impassive, and he said no more. The train
continued rattling on, and Stephen leant back in his corner and closed
his eyes. The yellows of evening had turned to browns, the dusky
shades thickened, and a flying cloud of dust occasionally stroked the
window--borne upon a chilling breeze which blew from the north-east.
The previously gilded but now dreary hills began to lose their daylight
aspects of rotundity, and to become black discs vandyked against the
sky, all nature wearing the cloak that six o’clock casts over the
landscape at this time of the year.

Stephen started up in bewilderment after a long stillness, and it was
some time before he recollected himself.

‘Well, how real, how real!’ he exclaimed, brushing his hand across his
eyes.

‘What is?’ said Knight.

‘That dream. I fell asleep for a few minutes, and have had a dream--the
most vivid I ever remember.’

He wearily looked out into the gloom. They were now drawing near to
Camelton. The lighting of the lamps was perceptible through the veil of
evening--each flame starting into existence at intervals, and blinking
weakly against the gusts of wind.

‘What did you dream?’ said Knight moodily.

‘Oh, nothing to be told. ‘Twas a sort of incubus. There is never
anything in dreams.’

‘I hardly supposed there was.’

‘I know that. However, what I so vividly dreamt was this, since you
would like to hear. It was the brightest of bright mornings at East
Endelstow Church, and you and I stood by the font. Far away in the
chancel Lord Luxellian was standing alone, cold and impassive, and
utterly unlike his usual self: but I knew it was he. Inside the altar
rail stood a strange clergyman with his book open. He looked up and said
to Lord Luxellian, “Where’s the bride?” Lord Luxellian said, “There’s no
bride.” At that moment somebody came in at the door, and I knew her to
be Lady Luxellian who died. He turned and said to her, “I thought you
were in the vault below us; but that could have only been a dream of
mine. Come on.” Then she came on. And in brushing between us she chilled
me so with cold that I exclaimed, “The life is gone out of me!” and, in
the way of dreams, I awoke. But here we are at Camelton.’

They were slowly entering the station.

‘What are you going to do?’ said Knight. ‘Do you really intend to call
on the Swancourts?’

‘By no means. I am going to make inquiries first. I shall stay at the
Luxellian Arms to-night. You will go right on to Endelstow, I suppose,
at once?’

‘I can hardly do that at this time of the day. Perhaps you are not aware
that the family--her father, at any rate--is at variance with me as much
as with you.

‘I didn’t know it.’

‘And that I cannot rush into the house as an old friend any more than
you can. Certainly I have the privileges of a distant relationship,
whatever they may be.’

Knight let down the window, and looked ahead. ‘There are a great many
people at the station,’ he said. ‘They seem all to be on the look-out
for us.’

When the train stopped, the half-estranged friends could perceive by the
lamplight that the assemblage of idlers enclosed as a kernel a group of
men in black cloaks. A side gate in the platform railing was open,
and outside this stood a dark vehicle, which they could not at first
characterize. Then Knight saw on its upper part forms against the sky
like cedars by night, and knew the vehicle to be a hearse. Few people
were at the carriage doors to meet the passengers--the majority had
congregated at this upper end. Knight and Stephen alighted, and turned
for a moment in the same direction.

The sombre van, which had accompanied them all day from London, now
began to reveal that their destination was also its own. It had been
drawn up exactly opposite the open gate. The bystanders all fell back,
forming a clear lane from the gateway to the van, and the men in cloaks
entered the latter conveyance.

‘They are labourers, I fancy,’ said Stephen. ‘Ah, it is strange; but I
recognize three of them as Endelstow men. Rather remarkable this.’

Presently they began to come out, two and two; and under the rays of
the lamp they were seen to bear between them a light-coloured coffin of
satin-wood, brightly polished, and without a nail. The eight men took
the burden upon their shoulders, and slowly crossed with it over to the
gate.

Knight and Stephen went outside, and came close to the procession as it
moved off. A carriage belonging to the cortege turned round close to
a lamp. The rays shone in upon the face of the vicar of Endelstow, Mr.
Swancourt--looking many years older than when they had last seen him.
Knight and Stephen involuntarily drew back.

Knight spoke to a bystander. ‘What has Mr. Swancourt to do with that
funeral?’

‘He is the lady’s father,’ said the bystander.

‘What lady’s father?’ said Knight, in a voice so hollow that the man
stared at him.

‘The father of the lady in the coffin. She died in London, you know, and
has been brought here by this train. She is to be taken home to-night,
and buried to-morrow.’

Knight stood staring blindly at where the hearse had been; as if he saw
it, or some one, there. Then he turned, and beheld the lithe form of
Stephen bowed down like that of an old man. He took his young friend’s
arm, and led him away from the light.



Chapter XL

     ‘Welcome, proud lady.’


Half an hour has passed. Two miserable men are wandering in the darkness
up the miles of road from Camelton to Endelstow.

‘Has she broken her heart?’ said Henry Knight. ‘Can it be that I have
killed her? I was bitter with her, Stephen, and she has died! And may
God have NO mercy upon me!’

‘How can you have killed her more than I?’

‘Why, I went away from her--stole away almost--and didn’t tell her I
should not come again; and at that last meeting I did not kiss her once,
but let her miserably go. I have been a fool--a fool! I wish the most
abject confession of it before crowds of my countrymen could in any way
make amends to my darling for the intense cruelty I have shown her!’

‘YOUR darling!’ said Stephen, with a sort of laugh. ‘Any man can say
that, I suppose; any man can. I know this, she was MY darling before she
was yours; and after too. If anybody has a right to call her his own, it
is I.’

‘You talk like a man in the dark; which is what you are. Did she ever do
anything for you? Risk her name, for instance, for you?’

Yes, she did,’ said Stephen emphatically.

‘Not entirely. Did she ever live for you--prove she could not live
without you--laugh and weep for you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Never! Did she ever risk her life for you--no! My darling did for me.’

‘Then it was in kindness only. When did she risk her life for you?’

‘To save mine on the cliff yonder. The poor child was with me looking at
the approach of the Puffin steamboat, and I slipped down. We both had a
narrow escape. I wish we had died there!’

‘Ah, but wait,’ Stephen pleaded with wet eyes. ‘She went on that cliff
to see me arrive home: she had promised it. She told me she would months
before. And would she have gone there if she had not cared for me at
all?’

‘You have an idea that Elfride died for you, no doubt,’ said Knight,
with a mournful sarcasm too nerveless to support itself.

‘Never mind. If we find that--that she died yours, I’ll say no more
ever.’

‘And if we find she died yours, I’ll say no more.’

‘Very well--so it shall be.’

The dark clouds into which the sun had sunk had begun to drop rain in an
increasing volume.

‘Can we wait somewhere here till this shower is over?’ said Stephen
desultorily.

‘As you will. But it is not worth while. We’ll hear the particulars, and
return. Don’t let people know who we are. I am not much now.’

They had reached a point at which the road branched into two--just
outside the west village, one fork of the diverging routes passing into
the latter place, the other stretching on to East Endelstow. Having come
some of the distance by the footpath, they now found that the hearse was
only a little in advance of them.

‘I fancy it has turned off to East Endelstow. Can you see?’

‘I cannot. You must be mistaken.’

Knight and Stephen entered the village. A bar of fiery light lay across
the road, proceeding from the half-open door of a smithy, in which
bellows were heard blowing and a hammer ringing. The rain had increased,
and they mechanically turned for shelter towards the warm and cosy
scene.

Close at their heels came another man, without over-coat or umbrella,
and with a parcel under his arm.

‘A wet evening,’ he said to the two friends, and passed by them. They
stood in the outer penthouse, but the man went in to the fire.

The smith ceased his blowing, and began talking to the man who had
entered.

‘I have walked all the way from Camelton,’ said the latter. ‘Was obliged
to come to-night, you know.’

He held the parcel, which was a flat one, towards the firelight, to
learn if the rain had penetrated it. Resting it edgewise on the forge,
he supported it perpendicularly with one hand, wiping his face with the
handkerchief he held in the other.

‘I suppose you know what I’ve got here?’ he observed to the smith.

‘No, I don’t,’ said the smith, pausing again on his bellows.

‘As the rain’s not over, I’ll show you,’ said the bearer.

He laid the thin and broad package, which had acute angles in different
directions, flat upon the anvil, and the smith blew up the fire to give
him more light. First, after untying the package, a sheet of brown paper
was removed: this was laid flat. Then he unfolded a piece of baize: this
also he spread flat on the paper. The third covering was a wrapper
of tissue paper, which was spread out in its turn. The enclosure was
revealed, and he held it up for the smith’s inspection.

‘Oh--I see!’ said the smith, kindling with a chastened interest, and
drawing close. ‘Poor young lady--ah, terrible melancholy thing--so soon
too!’

Knight and Stephen turned their heads and looked.

‘And what’s that?’ continued the smith.

‘That’s the coronet--beautifully finished, isn’t it? Ah, that cost some
money!’

‘’Tis as fine a bit of metal work as ever I see--that ‘tis.’

‘It came from the same people as the coffin, you know, but was not ready
soon enough to be sent round to the house in London yesterday. I’ve got
to fix it on this very night.’

The carefully-packed articles were a coffin-plate and coronet.

Knight and Stephen came forward. The undertaker’s man, on seeing them
look for the inscription, civilly turned it round towards them, and each
read, almost at one moment, by the ruddy light of the coals:


           E L F R I D E,
           Wife of Spenser Hugo Luxellian,
           Fifteenth Baron Luxellian:
           Died February 10, 18--.


They read it, and read it, and read it again--Stephen and Knight--as if
animated by one soul. Then Stephen put his hand upon Knight’s arm, and
they retired from the yellow glow, further, further, till the chill
darkness enclosed them round, and the quiet sky asserted its presence
overhead as a dim grey sheet of blank monotony.

‘Where shall we go?’ said Stephen.

‘I don’t know.’

A long silence ensued....’Elfride married!’ said Stephen then in a thin
whisper, as if he feared to let the assertion loose on the world.

‘False,’ whispered Knight.

‘And dead. Denied us both. I hate “false”--I hate it!’

Knight made no answer.

Nothing was heard by them now save the slow measurement of time by their
beating pulses, the soft touch of the dribbling rain upon their clothes,
and the low purr of the blacksmith’s bellows hard by.

‘Shall we follow Elfie any further?’ Stephen said.

‘No: let us leave her alone. She is beyond our love, and let her be
beyond our reproach. Since we don’t know half the reasons that made her
do as she did, Stephen, how can we say, even now, that she was not pure
and true in heart?’ Knight’s voice had now become mild and gentle as a
child’s. He went on: ‘Can we call her ambitious? No. Circumstance has,
as usual, overpowered her purposes--fragile and delicate as she--liable
to be overthrown in a moment by the coarse elements of accident. I know
that’s it,--don’t you?’

‘It may be--it must be. Let us go on.’

They began to bend their steps towards Castle Boterel, whither they
had sent their bags from Camelton. They wandered on in silence for many
minutes. Stephen then paused, and lightly put his hand within Knight’s
arm.

‘I wonder how she came to die,’ he said in a broken whisper. ‘Shall we
return and learn a little more?’

They turned back again, and entering Endelstow a second time, came to a
door which was standing open. It was that of an inn called the Welcome
Home, and the house appeared to have been recently repaired and entirely
modernized. The name too was not that of the same landlord as formerly,
but Martin Cannister’s.

Knight and Smith entered. The inn was quite silent, and they followed
the passage till they reached the kitchen, where a huge fire was
burning, which roared up the chimney, and sent over the floor, ceiling,
and newly-whitened walls a glare so intense as to make the candle quite
a secondary light. A woman in a white apron and black gown was standing
there alone behind a cleanly-scrubbed deal table. Stephen first, and
Knight afterwards, recognized her as Unity, who had been parlour-maid at
the vicarage and young lady’s-maid at the Crags.

‘Unity,’ said Stephen softly, ‘don’t you know me?’

She looked inquiringly a moment, and her face cleared up.

‘Mr. Smith--ay, that it is!’ she said. ‘And that’s Mr. Knight. I beg you
to sit down. Perhaps you know that since I saw you last I have married
Martin Cannister.’

‘How long have you been married?’

‘About five months. We were married the same day that my dear Miss Elfie
became Lady Luxellian.’ Tears appeared in Unity’s eyes, and filled them,
and fell down her cheek, in spite of efforts to the contrary.

The pain of the two men in resolutely controlling themselves when thus
exampled to admit relief of the same kind was distressing. They both
turned their backs and walked a few steps away.

Then Unity said, ‘Will you go into the parlour, gentlemen?’

‘Let us stay here with her,’ Knight whispered, and turning said, ‘No; we
will sit here. We want to rest and dry ourselves here for a time, if you
please.’

That evening the sorrowing friends sat with their hostess beside the
large fire, Knight in the recess formed by the chimney breast, where he
was in shade. And by showing a little confidence they won hers, and
she told them what they had stayed to hear--the latter history of poor
Elfride.

‘One day--after you, Mr. Knight, left us for the last time--she was
missed from the Crags, and her father went after her, and brought her
home ill. Where she went to, I never knew--but she was very unwell for
weeks afterwards. And she said to me that she didn’t care what became of
her, and she wished she could die. When she was better, I said she would
live to be married yet, and she said then, “Yes; I’ll do anything
for the benefit of my family, so as to turn my useless life to some
practical account.” Well, it began like this about Lord Luxellian
courting her. The first Lady Luxellian had died, and he was in great
trouble because the little girls were left motherless. After a while
they used to come and see her in their little black frocks, for they
liked her as well or better than their own mother---that’s true.
They used to call her “little mamma.” These children made her a shade
livelier, but she was not the girl she had been--I could see that--and
she grew thinner a good deal. Well, my lord got to ask the Swancourts
oftener and oftener to dinner--nobody else of his acquaintance--and at
last the vicar’s family were backwards and forwards at all hours of the
day. Well, people say that the little girls asked their father to let
Miss Elfride come and live with them, and that he said perhaps he would
if they were good children. However, the time went on, and one day I
said, “Miss Elfride, you don’t look so well as you used to; and though
nobody else seems to notice it I do.” She laughed a little, and said, “I
shall live to be married yet, as you told me.”

‘“Shall you, miss? I am glad to hear that,” I said.

‘“Whom do you think I am going to be married to?” she said again.

‘“Mr. Knight, I suppose,” said I.

‘“Oh!” she cried, and turned off so white, and afore I could get to her
she had sunk down like a heap of clothes, and fainted away. Well, then,
she came to herself after a time, and said, “Unity, now we’ll go on with
our conversation.”

‘“Better not to-day, miss,” I said.

‘“Yes, we will,” she said. “Whom do you think I am going to be married
to?”

‘“I don’t know,” I said this time.

‘“Guess,” she said.

‘“‘Tisn’t my lord, is it?” says I.

‘“Yes, ‘tis,” says she, in a sick wild way.

‘“But he don’t come courting much,” I said.

“‘Ah! you don’t know,” she said, and told me ‘twas going to be in
October. After that she freshened up a bit--whether ‘twas with the
thought of getting away from home or not, I don’t know. For, perhaps, I
may as well speak plainly, and tell you that her home was no home to her
now. Her father was bitter to her and harsh upon her; and though Mrs.
Swancourt was well enough in her way, ‘twas a sort of cold politeness
that was not worth much, and the little thing had a worrying time of it
altogether. About a month before the wedding, she and my lord and the
two children used to ride about together upon horseback, and a very
pretty sight they were; and if you’ll believe me, I never saw him once
with her unless the children were with her too--which made the courting
so strange-looking. Ay, and my lord is so handsome, you know, so that at
last I think she rather liked him; and I have seen her smile and blush a
bit at things he said. He wanted her the more because the children did,
for everybody could see that she would be a most tender mother to them,
and friend and playmate too. And my lord is not only handsome, but
a splendid courter, and up to all the ways o’t. So he made her the
beautifullest presents; ah, one I can mind--a lovely bracelet, with
diamonds and emeralds. Oh, how red her face came when she saw it! The
old roses came back to her cheeks for a minute or two then. I helped
dress her the day we both were married--it was the last service I did
her, poor child! When she was ready, I ran upstairs and slipped on my
own wedding gown, and away they went, and away went Martin and I; and no
sooner had my lord and my lady been married than the parson married us.
It was a very quiet pair of weddings--hardly anybody knew it. Well,
hope will hold its own in a young heart, if so be it can; and my lady
freshened up a bit, for my lord was SO handsome and kind.’

‘How came she to die--and away from home?’ murmured Knight.

‘Don’t you see, sir, she fell off again afore they’d been married long,
and my lord took her abroad for change of scene. They were coming home,
and had got as far as London, when she was taken very ill and couldn’t
be moved, and there she died.’

‘Was he very fond of her?’

‘What, my lord? Oh, he was!’

‘VERY fond of her?’

‘VERY, beyond everything. Not suddenly, but by slow degrees. ‘Twas her
nature to win people more when they knew her well. He’d have died for
her, I believe. Poor my lord, he’s heart-broken now!’

‘The funeral is to-morrow?’

‘Yes; my husband is now at the vault with the masons, opening the steps
and cleaning down the walls.’


The next day two men walked up the familiar valley from Castle Boterel
to East Endelstow Church. And when the funeral was over, and every one
had left the lawn-like churchyard, the pair went softly down the steps
of the Luxellian vault, and under the low-groined arches they had beheld
once before, lit up then as now. In the new niche of the crypt lay a
rather new coffin, which had lost some of its lustre, and a newer coffin
still, bright and untarnished in the slightest degree.

Beside the latter was the dark form of a man, kneeling on the damp
floor, his body flung across the coffin, his hands clasped, and his
whole frame seemingly given up in utter abandonment to grief. He was
still young--younger, perhaps, than Knight--and even now showed how
graceful was his figure and symmetrical his build. He murmured a prayer
half aloud, and was quite unconscious that two others were standing
within a few yards of him.

Knight and Stephen had advanced to where they once stood beside Elfride
on the day all three had met there, before she had herself gone down
into silence like her ancestors, and shut her bright blue eyes for ever.
Not until then did they see the kneeling figure in the dim light. Knight
instantly recognized the mourner as Lord Luxellian, the bereaved husband
of Elfride.

They felt themselves to be intruders. Knight pressed Stephen back, and
they silently withdrew as they had entered.

‘Come away,’ he said, in a broken voice. ‘We have no right to be there.
Another stands before us--nearer to her than we!’

And side by side they both retraced their steps down the grey still
valley to Castle Boterel.





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