Part 4 out of 9
'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.'
'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.'
'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!'
'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
'But praise them a little, they do deserve it!' said generous
'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
'How the men stare at you, Elfride!' said the elder lady. 'You
will kill me quite, I am afraid.'
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'We'll drive to the PRESENT office, and get one directly; shall
'If you are so anxious, dear, we will, or send. But to-morrow
'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
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
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
'The young lady who changed into the other carriage is, then, your
'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
'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.'
'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
'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.
'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
'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
'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
'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.
'0h,' 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
'Well, here I go,' said Elfride, desperately tearing open the
'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
She read om '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
'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
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!'
'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
'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
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
'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
'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
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
'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
'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
'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.'
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
'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
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.
'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
'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
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
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?'
'You had better, or I shall foreclose.'
'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.'
'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
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
'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
'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.
--'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
'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
'Chess is a bad thing just before bedtime; especially for
excitable people like yourself, dear. Don't ever play late
'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.'
'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
'Certainly: nothing more natural. Though I am afraid it is not
the plan adopted by women of the world after a defeat.'
'Because they know that as good as overcoming is skill in effacing
recollection of being overcome, and turn their attention to that
'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
'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
"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.'
'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
'That is to be proved!' she returned proudly; and the play went
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
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
'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
'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?'
'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
'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?'
She hesitated a moment, looked at his hand containing the book,
then laughed, and saying, 'I must see it,' withdrew it from his
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
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
'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 hook, 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
'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
'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?'
'I must not.'
'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?'
'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
'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
'I prefer hazel,' he said serenely.
She had played and lost again.
'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.'