Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

A Pair of Blue Eyes, by Thomas Hardy

Part 6 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

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 yon 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

Book of the day: