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A Pair of Blue Eyes, by Thomas Hardy

Part 8 out of 9

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'Fool'd and beguiled: by him thou, I by thee!'

'What did you say?' Elfride inquired timorously.

'It was only a quotation.'

They had now dropped into a hollow, and the church tower made its
appearance against the pale evening sky, its lower part being
hidden by some intervening trees. Elfride, being denied an
answer, was looking at the tower and trying to think of some
contrasting quotation she might use to regain his tenderness.
After a little thought she said in winning tones--

"Thou hast been my hope, and a strong tower for me against the
enemy."'

They passed on. A few minutes later three or four birds were seen
to fly out of the tower.

'The strong tower moves,' said Knight, with surprise.

A corner of the square mass swayed forward, sank, and vanished. A
loud rumble followed, and a cloud of dust arose where all had
previously been so clear.

'The church restorers have done it!' said Elfride.

At this minute Mr. Swancourt was seen approaching them. He came
up with a bustling demeanour, apparently much engrossed by some
business in hand.

'We have got the tower down!' he exclaimed. 'It came rather
quicker than we intended it should. The first idea was to take it
down stone by stone, you know. In doing this the crack widened
considerably, and it was not believed safe for the men to stand
upon the walls any longer. Then we decided to undermine it, and
three men set to work at the weakest corner this afternoon. They
had left off for the evening, intending to give the final blow to-
morrow morning, and had been home about half an hour, when down it
came. A very successful job--a very fine job indeed. But he was
a tough old fellow in spite of the crack.' Here Mr. Swancourt
wiped from his face the perspiration his excitement had caused
him.

'Poor old tower!' said Elfride.

'Yes, I am sorry for it,' said Knight. 'It was an interesting
piece of antiquity--a local record of local art.'

'Ah, but my dear sir, we shall have a new one, expostulated Mr.
Swancourt; 'a splendid tower--designed by a first-rate London man--
in the newest style of Gothic art, and full of Christian
feeling.'

'Indeed!' said Knight.

'Oh yes. Not in the barbarous clumsy architecture of this
neighbourhood; you see nothing so rough and pagan anywhere else in
England. When the men are gone, I would advise you to go and see
the church before anything further is done to it. You can now sit
in the chancel, and look down the nave through the west arch, and
through that far out to sea. In fact,' said Mr. Swancourt
significantly, 'if a wedding were performed at the altar to-morrow
morning, it might be witnessed from the deck of a ship on a voyage
to the South Seas, with a good glass. However, after dinner, when
the moon has risen, go up and see for yourselves.'

Knight assented with feverish readiness. He had decided within
the last few minutes that he could not rest another night without
further talk with Elfride upon the subject which now divided them:
he was determined to know all, and relieve his disquiet in some
way. Elfride would gladly have escaped further converse alone
with him that night, but it seemed inevitable.

Just after moonrise they left the house. How little any
expectation of the moonlight prospect--which was the ostensible
reason of their pilgrimage--had to do with Knight's real motive in
getting the gentle girl again upon his arm, Elfride no less than
himself well knew.

Chapter XXXII

'Had I wist before I kist'

It was now October, and the night air was chill. After looking to
see that she was well wrapped up, Knight took her along the
hillside path they had ascended so many times in each other's
company, when doubt was a thing unknown. On reaching the church
they found that one side of the tower was, as the vicar had
stated, entirely removed, and lying in the shape of rubbish at
their feet. The tower on its eastern side still was firm, and
might have withstood the shock of storms and the siege of
battering years for many a generation even now. They entered by
the side-door, went eastward, and sat down by the altar-steps.

The heavy arch spanning the junction of tower and nave formed to-
night a black frame to a distant misty view, stretching far
westward. Just outside the arch came the heap of fallen stones,
then a portion of moonlit churchyard, then the wide and convex sea
behind. It was a coup-d'oeil which had never been possible since
the mediaeval masons first attached the old tower to the older
church it dignified, and hence must be supposed to have had an
interest apart from that of simple moonlight on ancient wall and
sea and shore--any mention of which has by this time, it is to be
feared, become one of the cuckoo-cries which are heard but not
regarded. Rays of crimson, blue, and purple shone upon the twain
from the east window behind them, wherein saints and angels vied
with each other in primitive surroundings of landscape and sky,
and threw upon the pavement at the sitters' feet a softer
reproduction of the same translucent hues, amid which the shadows
of the two living heads of Knight and Elfride were opaque and
prominent blots. Presently the moon became covered by a cloud,
and the iridescence died away.

'There, it is gone!' said Knight. 'I've been thinking, Elfride,
that this place we sit on is where we may hope to kneel together
soon. But I am restless and uneasy, and you know why.'

Before she replied the moonlight returned again, irradiating that
portion of churchyard within their view. It brightened the near
part first, and against the background which the cloud-shadow had
not yet uncovered stood, brightest of all, a white tomb--the tomb
of young Jethway.

Knight, still alive on the subject of Elfride's secret, thought of
her words concerning the kiss that it once had occurred on a tomb
in this churchyard.

'Elfride,' he said, with a superficial archness which did not half
cover an undercurrent of reproach, 'do you know, I think you might
have told me voluntarily about that past--of kisses and
betrothing--without giving me so much uneasiness and trouble. Was
that the tomb you alluded to as having sat on with him?'

She waited an instant. 'Yes,' she said.

The correctness of his random shot startled Knight; though,
considering that almost all the other memorials in the churchyard
were upright headstones upon which nobody could possibly sit, it
was not so wonderful.

Elfride did not even now go on with the explanation her exacting
lover wished to have, and her reticence began to irritate him as
before. He was inclined to read her a lecture.

'Why don't you tell me all?' he said somewhat indignantly.
'Elfride, there is not a single subject upon which I feel more
strongly than upon this--that everything ought to be cleared up
between two persons before they become husband and wife. See how
desirable and wise such a course is, in order to avoid
disagreeable contingencies in the form of discoveries afterwards.
For, Elfride, a secret of no importance at all may be made the
basis of some fatal misunderstanding only because it is
discovered, and not confessed. They say there never was a couple
of whom one had not some secret the other never knew or was
intended to know. This may or may not be true; but if it be true,
some have been happy in spite rather than in consequence of it.
If a man were to see another man looking significantly at his
wife, and she were blushing crimson and appearing startled, do you
think he would be so well satisfied with, for instance, her
truthful explanation that once, to her great annoyance, she
accidentally fainted into his arms, as if she had said it
voluntarily long ago, before the circumstance occurred which
forced it from her? Suppose that admirer you spoke of in
connection with the tomb yonder should turn up, and bother me. It
would embitter our lives, if I were then half in the dark, as I am
now!'

Knight spoke the latter sentences with growing force.

'It cannot be,' she said.

'Why not?' he asked sharply.

Elfride was distressed to find him in so stern a mood, and she
trembled. In a confusion of ideas, probably not intending a
wilful prevarication, she answered hurriedly--

'If he's dead, how can you meet him?'

'Is he dead? Oh, that's different altogether!' said Knight,
immensely relieved. 'But, let me see--what did you say about that
tomb and him?'

'That's his tomb,' she continued faintly.

'What! was he who lies buried there the man who was your lover?'
Knight asked in a distinct voice.

'Yes; and I didn't love him or encourage him.'

'But you let him kiss you--you said so, you know, Elfride.'

She made no reply.

'Why,' said Knight, recollecting circumstances by degrees, 'you
surely said you were in some degree engaged to him--and of course
you were if he kissed you. And now you say you never encouraged
him. And I have been fancying you said--I am almost sure you did--
that you were sitting with him ON that tomb. Good God!' he
cried, suddenly starting up in anger, 'are you telling me
untruths? Why should you play with me like this? I'll have the
right of it. Elfride, we shall never be happy! There's a blight
upon us, or me, or you, and it must be cleared off before we
marry.' Knight moved away impetuously as if to leave her.

She jumped up and clutched his arm

'Don't go, Harry--don't!

'Tell me, then,' said Knight sternly. 'And remember this, no more
fibs, or, upon my soul, I shall hate you. Heavens! that I should
come to this, to be made a fool of by a girl's untruths----'

'Don't, don't treat me so cruelly! O Harry, Harry, have pity, and
withdraw those dreadful words! I am truthful by nature--I am--and
I don't know how I came to make you misunderstand! But I was
frightened!' She quivered so in her perturbation that she shook
him with her {Note: sentence incomplete in text.}

'Did you say you were sitting on that tomb?' he asked moodily.

'Yes; and it was true.'

'Then how, in the name of Heaven, can a man sit upon his own
tomb?'

'That was another man. Forgive me, Harry, won't you?'

'What, a lover in the tomb and a lover on it?'

'Oh--Oh--yes!'

'Then there were two before me?

'I--suppose so.'

'Now, don't be a silly woman with your supposing--I hate all
that,' said Knight contemptuously almost. 'Well, we learn strange
things. I don't know what I might have done--no man can say into
what shape circumstances may warp him--but I hardly think I should
have had the conscience to accept the favours of a new lover
whilst sitting over the poor remains of the old one; upon my soul,
I don't.' Knight, in moody meditation, continued looking towards
the tomb, which stood staring them in the face like an avenging
ghost.

'But you wrong me--Oh, so grievously!" she cried. 'I did not
meditate any such thing: believe me, Harry, I did not. It only
happened so--quite of itself.'

'Well, I suppose you didn't INTEND such a thing,' he said.
'Nobody ever does,' he sadly continued.

'And him in the grave I never once loved.'

'I suppose the second lover and you, as you sat there, vowed to be
faithful to each other for ever?'

Elfride only replied by quick heavy breaths, showing she was on
the brink of a sob.

'You don't choose to be anything but reserved, then?' he said
imperatively.

'Of course we did,' she responded.

'"Of course!" You seem to treat the subject very lightly?'

'It is past, and is nothing to us now.'

'Elfride, it is a nothing which, though it may make a careless man
laugh, cannot but make a genuine one grieve. It is a very gnawing
pain. Tell me straight through--all of it.'

'Never. O Harry! how can you expect it when so little of it makes
you so harsh with me?'

'Now, Elfride, listen to this. You know that what you have told
only jars the subtler fancies in one, after all. The feeling I
have about it would be called, and is, mere sentimentality; and I
don't want you to suppose that an ordinary previous engagement of
a straightforward kind would make any practical difference in my
love, or my wish to make you my wife. But you seem to have more
to tell, and that's where the wrong is. Is there more?'

'Not much more,' she wearily answered.

Knight preserved a grave silence for a minute. '"Not much more,"'
he said at last. 'I should think not, indeed!' His voice assumed
a low and steady pitch. 'Elfride, you must not mind my saying a
strange-sounding thing, for say it I shall. It is this: that if
there WERE much more to add to an account which already includes
all the particulars that a broken marriage engagement could
possibly include with propriety, it must be some exceptional thing
which might make it impossible for me or any one else to love you
and marry you.'

Knight's disturbed mood led him much further than he would have
gone in a quieter moment. And, even as it was, had she been
assertive to any degree he would not have been so peremptory; and
had she been a stronger character--more practical and less
imaginative--she would have made more use of her position in his
heart to influence him. But the confiding tenderness which had
won him is ever accompanied by a sort of self-committal to the
stream of events, leading every such woman to trust more to the
kindness of fate for good results than to any argument of her own.

'Well, well,' he murmured cynically; 'I won't say it is your
fault: it is my ill-luck, I suppose. I had no real right to
question you--everybody would say it was presuming. But when we
have misunderstood, we feel injured by the subject of our
misunderstanding. You never said you had had nobody else here
making love to you, so why should I blame you? Elfride, I beg your
pardon.'

'No, no! I would rather have your anger than that cool aggrieved
politeness. Do drop that, Harry! Why should you inflict that upon
me? It reduces me to the level of a mere acquaintance.'

'You do that with me. Why not confidence for confidence?'

'Yes; but I didn't ask you a single question with regard to your
past: I didn't wish to know about it. All I cared for was that,
wherever you came from, whatever you had done, whoever you had
loved, you were mine at last. Harry, if originally you had known
I had loved, would you never have cared for me?'

'I won't quite say that. Though I own that the idea of your
inexperienced state had a great charm for me. But I think this:
that if I had known there was any phase of your past love you
would refuse to reveal if I asked to know it, I should never have
loved you.'

Elfride sobbed bitterly. 'Am I such a--mere characterless toy--as
to have no attrac--tion in me, apart from--freshness? Haven't I
brains? You said--I was clever and ingenious in my thoughts, and--
isn't that anything? Have I not some beauty? I think I have a
little--and I know I have--yes, I do! You have praised my voice,
and my manner, and my accomplishments. Yet all these together are
so much rubbish because I--accidentally saw a man before you!'

'Oh, come, Elfride. "Accidentally saw a man" is very cool. You
loved him, remember.'

--'And loved him a little!'

'And refuse now to answer the simple question how it ended. Do
you refuse still, Elfride?'

'You have no right to question me so--you said so. It is unfair.
Trust me as I trust you.'

'That's not at all.'

'I shall not love you if you are so cruel. It is cruel to me to
argue like this.'

'Perhaps it is. Yes, it is. I was carried away by my feeling for
you. Heaven knows that I didn't mean to; but I have loved you so
that I have used you badly.'

'I don't mind it, Harry!' she instantly answered, creeping up and
nestling against him; 'and I will not think at all that you used
me harshly if you will forgive me, and not be vexed with me any
more? I do wish I had been exactly as you thought I was, but I
could not help it, you know. If I had only known you had been
coming, what a nunnery I would have lived in to have been good
enough for you!'

'Well, never mind,' said Knight; and he turned to go. He
endeavoured to speak sportively as they went on. 'Diogenes
Laertius says that philosophers used voluntarily to deprive
themselves of sight to be uninterrupted in their meditations.
Men, becoming lovers, ought to do the same thing.'

'Why?--but never mind--I don't want to know. Don't speak
laconically to me,' she said with deprecation.

'Why? Because they would never then be distracted by discovering
their idol was second-hand.'

She looked down and sighed; and they passed out of the crumbling
old place, and slowly crossed to the churchyard entrance. Knight
was not himself, and he could not pretend to be. She had not told
all.

He supported her lightly over the stile, and was practically as
attentive as a lover could be. But there had passed away a glory,
and the dream was not as it had been of yore. Perhaps Knight was
not shaped by Nature for a marrying man. Perhaps his lifelong
constraint towards women, which he had attributed to accident, was
not chance after all, but the natural result of instinctive acts
so minute as to be undiscernible even by himself. Or whether the
rough dispelling of any bright illusion, however imaginative,
depreciates the real and unexaggerated brightness which appertains
to its basis, one cannot say. Certain it was that Knight's
disappointment at finding himself second or third in the field, at
Elfride's momentary equivoque, and at her reluctance to be candid,
brought him to the verge of cynicism.

Chapter XXXIII

'O daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery.'

A habit of Knight's, when not immediately occupied with Elfride--
to walk by himself for half an hour or so between dinner and
bedtime--had become familiar to his friends at Endelstow, Elfride
herself among them. When he had helped her over the stile, she
said gently, 'If you wish to take your usual turn on the hill,
Harry, I can run down to the house alone.'

'Thank you, Elfie; then I think I will.'

Her form diminished to blackness in the moonlight, and Knight,
after remaining upon the churchyard stile a few minutes longer,
turned back again towards the building. His usual course was now
to light a cigar or pipe, and indulge in a quiet meditation. But
to-night his mind was too tense to bethink itself of such a
solace. He merely walked round to the site of the fallen tower,
and sat himself down upon some of the large stones which had
composed it until this day, when the chain of circumstance
originated by Stephen Smith, while in the employ of Mr. Hewby, the
London man of art, had brought about its overthrow.

Pondering on the possible episodes of Elfride's past life, and on
how he had supposed her to have had no past justifying the name,
he sat and regarded the white tomb of young Jethway, now close in
front of him. The sea, though comparatively placid, could as
usual be heard from this point along the whole distance between
promontories to the right and left, floundering and entangling
itself among the insulated stacks of rock which dotted the water's
edge--the miserable skeletons of tortured old cliffs that would
not even yet succumb to the wear and tear of the tides.

As a change from thoughts not of a very cheerful kind, Knight
attempted exertion. He stood up, and prepared to ascend to the
summit of the ruinous heap of stones, from which a more extended
outlook was obtainable than from the ground. He stretched out his
arm to seize the projecting arris of a larger block than ordinary,
and so help himself up, when his hand lighted plump upon a
substance differing in the greatest possible degree from what he
had expected to seize--hard stone. It was stringy and entangled,
and trailed upon the stone. The deep shadow from the aisle wall
prevented his seeing anything here distinctly, and he began
guessing as a necessity. 'It is a tressy species of moss or
lichen,' he said to himself.

But it lay loosely over the stone.

'It is a tuft of grass,' he said.

But it lacked the roughness and humidity of the finest grass.

'It is a mason's whitewash-brush.'

Such brushes, he remembered, were more bristly; and however much
used in repairing a structure, would not be required in pulling
one down.

He said, 'It must be a thready silk fringe.'

He felt further in. It was somewhat warm. Knight instantly felt
somewhat cold.

To find the coldness of inanimate matter where you expect warmth
is startling enough; but a colder temperature than that of the
body being rather the rule than the exception in common
substances, it hardly conveys such a shock to the system as
finding warmth where utter frigidity is anticipated.

'God only knows what it is,' he said.

He felt further, and in the course of a minute put his hand upon a
human head. The head was warm, but motionless. The thready mass
was the hair of the head--long and straggling, showing that the
head was a woman's.

Knight in his perplexity stood still for a moment, and collected
his thoughts. The vicar's account of the fall of the tower was
that the workmen had been undermining it all the day, and had left
in the evening intending to give the finishing stroke the next
morning. Half an hour after they had gone the undermined angle
came down. The woman who was half buried, as it seemed, must have
been beneath it at the moment of the fall.

Knight leapt up and began endeavouring to remove the rubbish with
his hands. The heap overlying the body was for the most part fine
and dusty, but in immense quantity. It would be a saving of time
to run for assistance. He crossed to the churchyard wall, and
hastened down the hill.

A little way down an intersecting road passed over a small ridge,
which now showed up darkly against the moon, and this road here
formed a kind of notch in the sky-line. At the moment that Knight
arrived at the crossing he beheld a man on this eminence, coming
towards him. Knight turned aside and met the stranger.

'There has been an accident at the church,' said Knight, without
preface. 'The tower has fallen on somebody, who has been lying
there ever since. Will you come and help?'

'That I will,' said the man.

'It is a woman,' said Knight, as they hurried back, 'and I think
we two are enough to extricate her. Do you know of a shovel?'

'The grave-digging shovels are about somewhere. They used to stay
in the tower.'

'And there must be some belonging to the workmen.'

They searched about, and in an angle of the porch found three
carefully stowed away. Going round to the west end Knight
signified the spot of the tragedy.

'We ought to have brought a lantern,' he exclaimed. 'But we may
be able to do without.' He set to work removing the superincumbent
mass.

The other man, who looked on somewhat helplessly at first, now
followed the example of Knight's activity, and removed the larger
stones which were mingled with the rubbish. But with all their
efforts it was quite ten minutes before the body of the
unfortunate creature could be extricated. They lifted her as
carefully as they could, breathlessly carried her to Felix
Jethway's tomb, which was only a few steps westward, and laid her
thereon.

'Is she dead indeed?' said the stranger.

'She appears to be,' said Knight. 'Which is the nearest house?
The vicarage, I suppose.'

'Yes; but since we shall have to call a surgeon from Castle
Boterel, I think it would be better to carry her in that
direction, instead of away from the town.'

'And is it not much further to the first house we come to going
that way, than to the vicarage or to The Crags?'

'Not much,' the stranger replied.

'Suppose we take her there, then. And I think the best way to do
it would be thus, if you don't mind joining hands with me.'

'Not in the least; I am glad to assist.'

Making a kind of cradle, by clasping their hands crosswise under
the inanimate woman, they lifted her, and walked on side by side
down a path indicated by the stranger, who appeared to know the
locality well.

'I had been sitting in the church for nearly an hour,' Knight
resumed, when they were out of the churchyard. 'Afterwards I
walked round to the site of the fallen tower, and so found her.
It is painful to think I unconsciously wasted so much time in the
very presence of a perishing, flying soul.'

'The tower fell at dusk, did it not? quite two hours ago, I
think?'

'Yes. She must have been there alone. What could have been her
object in visiting the churchyard then?

'It is difficult to say.' The stranger looked inquiringly into the
reclining face of the motionless form they bore. 'Would you turn
her round for a moment, so that the light shines on her face?' he
said.

They turned her face to the moon, and the man looked closer into
her features. 'Why, I know her!' he exclaimed.

'Who is she?'

'Mrs. Jethway. And the cottage we are taking her to is her own.
She is a widow; and I was speaking to her only this afternoon. I
was at Castle Boterel post-office, and she came there to post a
letter. Poor soul! Let us hurry on.'

'Hold my wrist a little tighter. Was not that tomb we laid her on
the tomb of her only son?'

'Yes, it was. Yes, I see it now. She was there to visit the
tomb. Since the death of that son she has been a desolate,
desponding woman, always bewailing him. She was a farmer's wife,
very well educated--a governess originally, I believe.'

Knight's heart was moved to sympathy. His own fortunes seemed in
some strange way to be interwoven with those of this Jethway
family, through the influence of Elfride over himself and the
unfortunate son of that house. He made no reply, and they still
walked on.

'She begins to feel heavy,' said the stranger, breaking the
silence.

'Yes, she does,' said Knight; and after another pause added, 'I
think I have met you before, though where I cannot recollect. May
I ask who you are?'

'Oh yes. I am Lord Luxellian. Who are you?'

'I am a visitor at The Crags--Mr. Knight.'

'I have heard of you, Mr. Knight.'

'And I of you, Lord Luxellian. I am glad to meet you.'

'I may say the same. I am familiar with your name in print.'

'And I with yours. Is this the house?'

'Yes.'

The door was locked. Knight, reflecting a moment, searched the
pocket of the lifeless woman, and found therein a large key which,
on being applied to the door, opened it easily. The fire was out,
but the moonlight entered the quarried window, and made patterns
upon the floor. The rays enabled them to see that the room into
which they had entered was pretty well furnished, it being the
same room that Elfride had visited alone two or three evenings
earlier. They deposited their still burden on an old-fashioned
couch which stood against the wall, and Knight searched about for
a lamp or candle. He found a candle on a shelf, lighted it, and
placed it on the table.

Both Knight and Lord Luxellian examined the pale countenance
attentively, and both were nearly convinced that there was no
hope. No marks of violence were visible in the casual examination
they made.

'I think that as I know where Doctor Granson lives,' said Lord
Luxellian, 'I had better run for him whilst you stay here.'

Knight agreed to this. Lord Luxellian then went off, and his
hurrying footsteps died away. Knight continued bending over the
body, and a few minutes longer of careful scrutiny perfectly
satisfied him that the woman was far beyond the reach of the
lancet and the drug. Her extremities were already beginning to
get stiff and cold. Knight covered her face, and sat down.

The minutes went by. The essayist remained musing on all the
occurrences of the night. His eyes were directed upon the table,
and he had seen for some time that writing-materials were spread
upon it. He now noticed these more particularly: there were an
inkstand, pen, blotting-book, and note-paper. Several sheets of
paper were thrust aside from the rest, upon which letters had been
begun and relinquished, as if their form had not been satisfactory
to the writer. A stick of black sealing-wax and seal were there
too, as if the ordinary fastening had not been considered
sufficiently secure. The abandoned sheets of paper lying as they
did open upon the table, made it possible, as he sat, to read the
few words written on each. One ran thus:

'SIR,--As a woman who was once blest with a dear son of her own, I
implore you to accept a warning----'

Another:

'SIR,--If you will deign to receive warning from a stranger before
it is too late to alter your course, listen to----'

The third:

'SIR,--With this letter I enclose to you another which, unaided by
any explanation from me, tells a startling tale. I wish, however,
to add a few words to make your delusion yet more clear to you----
'

It was plain that, after these renounced beginnings, a fourth
letter had been written and despatched, which had been deemed a
proper one. Upon the table were two drops of sealing-wax, the
stick from which they were taken having been laid down overhanging
the edge of the table; the end of it drooped, showing that the wax
was placed there whilst warm. There was the chair in which the
writer had sat, the impression of the letter's address upon the
blotting-paper, and the poor widow who had caused these results
lying dead hard by. Knight had seen enough to lead him to the
conclusion that Mrs. Jethway, having matter of great importance to
communicate to some friend or acquaintance, had written him a very
careful letter, and gone herself to post it; that she had not
returned to the house from that time of leaving it till Lord
Luxellian and himself had brought her back dead.

The unutterable melancholy of the whole scene, as he waited on,
silent and alone, did not altogether clash with the mood of
Knight, even though he was the affianced of a fair and winning
girl, and though so lately he had been in her company. Whilst
sitting on the remains of the demolished tower he had defined a
new sensation; that the lengthened course of inaction he had
lately been indulging in on Elfride's account might probably not
be good for him as a man who had work to do. It could quickly be
put an end to by hastening on his marriage with her.

Knight, in his own opinion, was one who had missed his mark by
excessive aiming. Having now, to a great extent, given up ideal
ambitions, he wished earnestly to direct his powers into a more
practical channel, and thus correct the introspective tendencies
which had never brought himself much happiness, or done his
fellow-creatures any great good. To make a start in this new
direction by marriage, which, since knowing Elfride, had been so
entrancing an idea, was less exquisite to-night. That the
curtailment of his illusion regarding her had something to do with
the reaction, and with the return of his old sentiments on wasting
time, is more than probable. Though Knight's heart had so greatly
mastered him, the mastery was not so complete as to be easily
maintained in the face of a moderate intellectual revival.

His reverie was broken by the sound of wheels, and a horse's
tramp. The door opened to admit the surgeon, Lord Luxellian, and
a Mr. Coole, coroner for the division (who had been attending at
Castle Boterel that very day, and was having an after-dinner chat
with the doctor when Lord Luxellian arrived); next came two female
nurses and some idlers.

Mr. Granson, after a cursory examination, pronounced the woman
dead from suffocation, induced by intense pressure on the
respiratory organs; and arrangements were made that the inquiry
should take place on the following morning, before the return of
the coroner to St. Launce's.

Shortly afterwards the house of the widow was deserted by all its
living occupants, and she abode in death, as she had in her life
during the past two years, entirely alone.

Chapter XXXIV

'Yea, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.'

Sixteen hours had passed. Knight was entering the ladies' boudoir
at The Crags, upon his return from attending the inquest touching
the death of Mrs. Jethway. Elfride was not in the apartment.

Mrs. Swancourt made a few inquiries concerning the verdict and
collateral circumstances. Then she said--

'The postman came this morning the minute after you left the
house. There was only one letter for you, and I have it here.'

She took a letter from the lid of her workbox, and handed it to
him. Knight took the missive abstractedly, but struck by its
appearance murmured a few words and left the room.

The letter was fastened with a black seal, and the handwriting in
which it was addressed had lain under his eyes, long and
prominently, only the evening before.

Knight was greatly agitated, and looked about for a spot where he
might be secure from interruption. It was the season of heavy
dews, which lay on the herbage in shady places all the day long;
nevertheless, he entered a small patch of neglected grass-plat
enclosed by the shrubbery, and there perused the letter, which he
had opened on his way thither.

The handwriting, the seal, the paper, the introductory words, all
had told on the instant that the letter had come to him from the
hands of the widow Jethway, now dead and cold. He had instantly
understood that the unfinished notes which caught his eye
yesternight were intended for nobody but himself. He had
remembered some of the words of Elfride in her sleep on the
steamer, that somebody was not to tell him of something, or it
would be her ruin--a circumstance hitherto deemed so trivial and
meaningless that he had well-nigh forgotten it. All these things
infused into him an emotion intense in power and supremely
distressing in quality. The paper in his hand quivered as he
read:

'THE VALLEY, ENDELSTOW.

'SIR,--A woman who has not much in the world to lose by any
censure this act may bring upon her, wishes to give you some hints
concerning a lady you love. If you will deign to accept a warning
before it is too late, you will notice what your correspondent has
to say.

'You are deceived. Can such a woman as this be worthy?

'One who encouraged an honest youth to love her, then slighted
him, so that he died.

'One who next took a man of no birth as a lover, who was forbidden
the house by her father.

'One who secretly left her home to be married to that man, met
him, and went with him to London.

'One who, for some reason or other, returned again unmarried.

'One who, in her after-correspondence with him, went so far as to
address him as her husband.

'One who wrote the enclosed letter to ask me, who better than
anybody else knows the story, to keep the scandal a secret.

'I hope soon to be beyond the reach of either blame or praise.
But before removing me God has put it in my power to avenge the
death of my son.

'GERTRUDE JETHWAY.'

The letter enclosed was the note in pencil that Elfride had
written in Mrs. Jethway's cottage:

'DEAR MRS. JETHWAY,--I have been to visit you. I wanted much to
see you, but I cannot wait any longer. I came to beg you not to
execute the threats you have repeated to me. Do not, I beseech
you, Mrs. Jethway, let any one know I ran away from home! It would
ruin me with him, and break my heart. I will do anything for you,
if you will be kind to me. In the name of our common womanhood,
do not, I implore you, make a scandal of me.--Yours,
'E. SWANCOURT.

Knight turned his head wearily towards the house. The ground rose
rapidly on nearing the shrubbery in which he stood, raising it
almost to a level with the first floor of The Crags. Elfride's
dressing-room lay in the salient angle in this direction, and it
was lighted by two windows in such a position that, from Knight's
standing-place, his sight passed through both windows, and raked
the room. Elfride was there; she was pausing between the two
windows, looking at her figure in the cheval-glass. She regarded
herself long and attentively in front; turned, flung back her
head, and observed the reflection over her shoulder.

Nobody can predicate as to her object or fancy; she may have done
the deed in the very abstraction of deep sadness. She may have
been moaning from the bottom of her heart, 'How unhappy am I!' But
the impression produced on Knight was not a good one. He dropped
his eyes moodily. The dead woman's letter had a virtue in the
accident of its juncture far beyond any it intrinsically
exhibited. Circumstance lent to evil words a ring of pitiless
justice echoing from the grave. Knight could not endure their
possession. He tore the letter into fragments.

He heard a brushing among the bushes behind, and turning his head
he saw Elfride following him. The fair girl looked in his face
with a wistful smile of hope, too forcedly hopeful to displace the
firmly established dread beneath it. His severe words of the
previous night still sat heavy upon her.

'I saw you from my window, Harry,' she said timidly.

'The dew will make your feet wet,' he observed, as one deaf.

'I don't mind it.'

'There is danger in getting wet feet.'

'Yes...Harry, what is the matter?'

'Oh, nothing. Shall I resume the serious conversation I had with
you last night? No, perhaps not; perhaps I had better not.'

'Oh, I cannot tell! How wretched it all is! Ah, I wish you were
your own dear self again, and had kissed me when I came up! Why
didn't you ask me for one? why don't you now?'

'Too free in manner by half,' he heard murmur the voice within
him.

'It was that hateful conversation last night,' she went on. 'Oh,
those words! Last night was a black night for me.'

'Kiss!--I hate that word! Don't talk of kissing, for God's sake! I
should think you might with advantage have shown tact enough to
keep back that word "kiss," considering those you have accepted.'

She became very pale, and a rigid and desolate charactery took
possession of her face. That face was so delicate and tender in
appearance now, that one could fancy the pressure of a finger upon
it would cause a livid spot.

Knight walked on, and Elfride with him, silent and unopposing. He
opened a gate, and they entered a path across a stubble-field.

'Perhaps I intrude upon you?' she said as he closed the gate.
'Shall I go away?'

'No. Listen to me, Elfride.' Knight's voice was low and unequal.
'I have been honest with you: will you be so with me? If any--
strange--connection has existed between yourself and a predecessor
of mine, tell it now. It is better that I know it now, even
though the knowledge should part us, than that I should discover
it in time to come. And suspicions have been awakened in me. I
think I will not say how, because I despise the means. A
discovery of any mystery of your past would embitter our lives.'

Knight waited with a slow manner of calmness. His eyes were sad
and imperative. They went farther along the path.

'Will you forgive me if I tell you all?' she exclaimed
entreatingly.

'I can't promise; so much depends upon what you have to tell.'

Elfride could not endure the silence which followed.

'Are you not going to love me?' she burst out. 'Harry, Harry,
love me, and speak as usual! Do; I beseech you, Harry!'

'Are you going to act fairly by me?' said Knight, with rising
anger; 'or are you not? What have I done to you that I should be
put off like this? Be caught like a bird in a springe; everything
intended to be hidden from me! Why is it, Elfride? That's what I
ask you.'

In their agitation they had left the path, and were wandering
among the wet and obstructive stubble, without knowing or heeding
it.

'What have I done?' she faltered.

'What? How can you ask what, when you know so well? You KNOW that
I have designedly been kept in ignorance of something attaching to
you, which, had I known of it, might have altered all my conduct;
and yet you say, what?'

She drooped visibly, and made no answer.

'Not that I believe in malicious letter-writers and whisperers;
not I. I don't know whether I do or don't: upon my soul, I can't
tell. I know this: a religion was building itself upon you in my
heart. I looked into your eyes, and thought I saw there truth and
innocence as pure and perfect as ever embodied by God in the flesh
of woman. Perfect truth is too much to expect, but ordinary truth
I WILL HAVE or nothing at all. Just say, then; is the matter you
keep back of the gravest importance, or is it not?'

'I don't understand all your meaning. If I have hidden anything
from you, it has been because I loved you so, and I feared--
feared--to lose you.'

'Since you are not given to confidence, I want to ask you some
plain questions. Have I your permission?'

'Yes,' she said, and there came over her face a weary resignation.
'Say the harshest words you can; I will bear them!'

'There is a scandal in the air concerning you, Elfride; and I
cannot even combat it without knowing definitely what it is. It
may not refer to you entirely, or even at all.' Knight trifled in
the very bitterness of his feeling. 'In the time of the French
Revolution, Pariseau, a ballet-master, was beheaded by mistake for
Parisot, a captain of the King's Guard. I wish there was another
"E. Swancourt" in the neighbourhood. Look at this.'

He handed her the letter she had written and left on the table at
Mrs. Jethway's. She looked over it vacantly.

'It is not so much as it seems!' she pleaded. 'It seems wickedly
deceptive to look at now, but it had a much more natural origin
than you think. My sole wish was not to endanger our love. O
Harry! that was all my idea. It was not much harm.'

'Yes, yes; but independently of the poor miserable creature's
remarks, it seems to imply--something wrong.'

'What remarks?'

'Those she wrote me--now torn to pieces. Elfride, DID you run
away with a man you loved?--that was the damnable statement. Has
such an accusation life in it--really, truly, Elfride?'

'Yes,' she whispered.

Knight's countenance sank. 'To be married to him?' came huskily
from his lips.

'Yes. Oh, forgive me! I had never seen you, Harry.'

'To London?'

'Yes; but I----'

'Answer my questions; say nothing else, Elfride Did you ever
deliberately try to marry him in secret?'

'No; not deliberately.'

'But did you do it?'

A feeble red passed over her face.

'Yes,' she said.

'And after that--did you--write to him as your husband; and did he
address you as his wife?'

'Listen, listen! It was----'

'Do answer me; only answer me!'

'Then, yes, we did.' Her lips shook; but it was with some little
dignity that she continued: 'I would gladly have told you; for I
knew and know I had done wrong. But I dared not; I loved you too
well. Oh, so well! You have been everything in the world to me--
and you are now. Will you not forgive me?'

It is a melancholy thought, that men who at first will not allow
the verdict of perfection they pronounce upon their sweethearts or
wives to be disturbed by God's own testimony to the contrary,
will, once suspecting their purity, morally hang them upon
evidence they would be ashamed to admit in judging a dog.

The reluctance to tell, which arose from Elfride's simplicity in
thinking herself so much more culpable than she really was, had
been doing fatal work in Knight's mind. The man of many ideas,
now that his first dream of impossible things was over, vibrated
too far in the contrary direction; and her every movement of
feature--every tremor--every confused word--was taken as so much
proof of her unworthiness.

'Elfride, we must bid good-bye to compliment,' said Knight: 'we
must do without politeness now. Look in my face, and as you
believe in God above, tell me truly one thing more. Were you away
alone with him?'

'Yes.'

'Did you return home the same day on which you left it?'

'No.'

The word fell like a bolt, and the very land and sky seemed to
suffer. Knight turned aside. Meantime Elfride's countenance wore
a look indicating utter despair of being able to explain matters
so that they would seem no more than they really were,--a despair
which not only relinquishes the hope of direct explanation, but
wearily gives up all collateral chances of extenuation.

The scene was engraved for years on the retina of Knight's eye:
the dead and brown stubble, the weeds among it, the distant belt
of beeches shutting out the view of the house, the leaves of which
were now red and sick to death.

'You must forget me,' he said. 'We shall not marry, Elfride.'

How much anguish passed into her soul at those words from him was
told by the look of supreme torture she wore.

'What meaning have you, Harry? You only say so, do you?'

She looked doubtingly up at him, and tried to laugh, as if the
unreality of his words must be unquestionable.

'You are not in earnest, I know--I hope you are not? Surely I
belong to you, and you are going to keep me for yours?'

'Elfride, I have been speaking too roughly to you; I have said
what I ought only to have thought. I like you; and let me give
you a word of advice. Marry your man as soon as you can. However
weary of each other you may feel, you belong to each other, and I
am not going to step between you. Do you think I would--do you
think I could for a moment? If you cannot marry him now, and
another makes you his wife, do not reveal this secret to him after
marriage, if you do not before. Honesty would be damnation then.'

Bewildered by his expressions, she exclaimed--

'No, no; I will not be a wife unless I am yours; and I must be
yours!'

'If we had married----'

'But you don't MEAN--that--that--you will go away and leave me,
and not be anything more to me--oh, you don't!'

Convulsive sobs took all nerve out of her utterance. She checked
them, and continued to look in his face for the ray of hope that
was not to be found there.

'I am going indoors,' said Knight. 'You will not follow me,
Elfride; I wish you not to.'

'Oh no; indeed, I will not.'

'And then I am going to Castle Boterel. Good-bye.'

He spoke the farewell as if it were but for the day--lightly, as
he had spoken such temporary farewells many times before--and she
seemed to understand it as such. Knight had not the power to tell
her plainly that he was going for ever; he hardly knew for certain
that he was: whether he should rush back again upon the current of
an irresistible emotion, or whether he could sufficiently conquer
himself, and her in him, to establish that parting as a supreme
farewell, and present himself to the world again as no woman's.

Ten minutes later he had left the house, leaving directions that
if he did not return in the evening his luggage was to be sent to
his chambers in London, whence he intended to write to Mr.
Swancourt as to the reasons of his sudden departure. He descended
the valley, and could not forbear turning his head. He saw the
stubble-field, and a slight girlish figure in the midst of it--up
against the sky. Elfride, docile as ever, had hardly moved a
step, for he had said, Remain. He looked and saw her again--he
saw her for weeks and months. He withdrew his eyes from the
scene, swept his hand across them, as if to brush away the sight,
breathed a low groan, and went on.

Chapter XXXV

'And wilt thou leave me thus?--say nay--say nay!'

The scene shifts to Knight's chambers in Bede's Inn. It was late
in the evening of the day following his departure from Endelstow.
A drizzling rain descended upon London, forming a humid and dreary
halo over every well-lighted street. The rain had not yet been
prevalent long enough to give to rapid vehicles that clear and
distinct rattle which follows the thorough washing of the stones
by a drenching rain, but was just sufficient to make footway and
roadway slippery, adhesive, and clogging to both feet and wheels.

Knight was standing by the fire, looking into its expiring embers,
previously to emerging from his door for a dreary journey home to
Richmond. His hat was on, and the gas turned off. The blind of
the window overlooking the alley was not drawn down; and with the
light from beneath, which shone over the ceiling of the room,
came, in place of the usual babble, only the reduced clatter and
quick speech which were the result of necessity rather than
choice.

Whilst he thus stood, waiting for the expiration of the few
minutes that were wanting to the time for his catching the train,
a light tapping upon the door mingled with the other sounds that
reached his ears. It was so faint at first that the outer noises
were almost sufficient to drown it. Finding it repeated Knight
crossed the lobby, crowded with books and rubbish, and opened the
door.

A woman, closely muffled up, but visibly of fragile build, was
standing on the landing under the gaslight. She sprang forward,
flung her arms round Knight's neck, and uttered a low cry--

'O Harry, Harry, you are killing me! I could not help coming.
Don't send me away--don't! Forgive your Elfride for coming--I love
you so!'

Knight's agitation and astonishment mastered him for a few
moments.

'Elfride!' he cried, 'what does this mean? What have you done?'

'Do not hurt me and punish me--Oh, do not! I couldn't help coming;
it was killing me. Last night, when you did not come back, I
could not bear it--I could not! Only let me be with you, and see
your face, Harry; I don't ask for more.'

Her eyelids were hot, heavy, and thick with excessive weeping, and
the delicate rose-red of her cheeks was disfigured and inflamed by
the constant chafing of the handkerchief in wiping her many tears.

'Who is with you? Have you come alone?' he hurriedly inquired.

'Yes. When you did not come last night, I sat up hoping you would
come--and the night was all agony--and I waited on and on, and you
did not come! Then when it was morning, and your letter said you
were gone, I could not endure it; and I ran away from them to St.
Launce's, and came by the train. And I have been all day
travelling to you, and you won't make me go away again, will you,
Harry, because I shall always love you till I die?'

'Yet it is wrong for you to stay. O Elfride! what have you
committed yourself to? It is ruin to your good name to run to me
like this! Has not your first experience been sufficient to keep
you from these things?'

'My name! Harry, I shall soon die, and what good will my name be
to me then? Oh, could I but be the man and you the woman, I would
not leave you for such a little fault as mine! Do not think it was
so vile a thing in me to run away with him. Ah, how I wish you
could have run away with twenty women before you knew me, that I
might show you I would think it no fault, but be glad to get you
after them all, so that I had you! If you only knew me through and
through, how true I am, Harry. Cannot I be yours? Say you love me
just the same, and don't let me be separated from you again, will
you? I cannot bear it--all the long hours and days and nights
going on, and you not there, but away because you hate me!'

'Not hate you, Elfride,' he said gently, and supported her with
his arm. 'But you cannot stay here now--just at present, I mean.'

'I suppose I must not--I wish I might. I am afraid that if--you
lose sight of me--something dark will happen, and we shall not
meet again. Harry, if I am not good enough to be your wife, I
wish I could be your servant and live with you, and not be sent
away never to see you again. I don't mind what it is except
that!'

'No, I cannot send you away: I cannot. God knows what dark future
may arise out of this evening's work; but I cannot send you away!
You must sit down, and I will endeavour to collect my thoughts and
see what had better be done.

At that moment a loud knocking at the house door was heard by
both, accompanied by a hurried ringing of the bell that echoed
from attic to basement. The door was quickly opened, and after a
few hasty words of converse in the hall, heavy footsteps ascended
the stairs.

The face of Mr. Swancourt, flushed, grieved, and stern, appeared
round the landing of the staircase. He came higher up, and stood
beside them. Glancing over and past Knight with silent
indignation, he turned to the trembling girl.

'O Elfride! and have I found you at last? Are these your tricks,
madam? When will you get rid of your idiocies, and conduct
yourself like a decent woman? Is my family name and house to be
disgraced by acts that would be a scandal to a washerwoman's
daughter? Come along, madam; come!'

'She is so weary!' said Knight, in a voice of intensest anguish.
'Mr. Swancourt, don't be harsh with her--let me beg of you to be
tender with her, and love her!'

'To you, sir,' said Mr. Swancourt, turning to him as if by the
sheer pressure of circumstances, 'I have little to say. I can
only remark, that the sooner I can retire from your presence the
better I shall be pleased. Why you could not conduct your
courtship of my daughter like an honest man, I do not know. Why
she--a foolish inexperienced girl--should have been tempted to
this piece of folly, I do not know. Even if she had not known
better than to leave her home, you might have, I should think.'

'It is not his fault: he did not tempt me, papa! I came.'

'If you wished the marriage broken off, why didn't you say so
plainly? If you never intended to marry, why could you not leave
her alone? Upon my soul, it grates me to the heart to be obliged
to think so ill of a man I thought my friend!'

Knight, soul-sick and weary of his life, did not arouse himself to
utter a word in reply. How should he defend himself when his
defence was the accusation of Elfride? On that account he felt a
miserable satisfaction in letting her father go on thinking and
speaking wrongfully. It was a faint ray of pleasure straying into
the great gloominess of his brain to think that the vicar might
never know but that he, as her lover, tempted her away, which
seemed to be the form Mr. Swancourt's misapprehension had taken.

'Now, are you coming?' said Mr. Swancourt to her again. He took
her unresisting hand, drew it within his arm, and led her down the
stairs. Knight's eyes followed her, the last moment begetting in
him a frantic hope that she would turn her head. She passed on,
and never looked back.

He heard the door open--close again. The wheels of a cab grazed
the kerbstone, a murmured direction followed. The door was
slammed together, the wheels moved, and they rolled away.

From that hour of her reappearance a dreadful conflict raged
within the breast of Henry Knight. His instinct, emotion,
affectiveness--or whatever it may be called--urged him to stand
forward, seize upon Elfride, and be her cherisher and protector
through life. Then came the devastating thought that Elfride's
childlike, unreasoning, and indiscreet act in flying to him only
proved that the proprieties must be a dead letter with her; that
the unreserve, which was really artlessness without ballast, meant
indifference to decorum; and what so likely as that such a woman
had been deceived in the past? He said to himself, in a mood of
the bitterest cynicism: 'The suspicious discreet woman who
imagines dark and evil things of all her fellow-creatures is far
too shrewd to be deluded by man: trusting beings like Elfride are
the women who fall.'

Hours and days went by, and Knight remained inactive. Lengthening
time, which made fainter the heart-awakening power of her
presence, strengthened the mental ability to reason her down.
Elfride loved him, he knew, and he could not leave off loving her
but marry her he would not. If she could but be again his own
Elfride--the woman she had seemed to be--but that woman was dead
and buried, and he knew her no more! And how could he marry this
Elfride, one who, if he had originally seen her as she was, would
have been barely an interesting pitiable acquaintance in his eyes--
no more?

It cankered his heart to think he was confronted by the closest
instance of a worse state of things than any he had assumed in the
pleasant social philosophy and satire of his essays.

The moral rightness of this man's life was worthy of all praise;
but in spite of some intellectual acumen, Knight had in him a
modicum of that wrongheadedness which is mostly found in
scrupulously honest people. With him, truth seemed too clean and
pure an abstraction to be so hopelessly churned in with error as
practical persons find it. Having now seen himself mistaken in
supposing Elfride to be peerless, nothing on earth could make him
believe she was not so very bad after all.

He lingered in town a fortnight, doing little else than vibrate
between passion and opinions. One idea remained intact--that it
was better Elfride and himself should not meet.

When he surveyed the volumes on his shelves--few of which had been
opened since Elfride first took possession of his heart--their
untouched and orderly arrangement reproached him as an apostate
from the old faith of his youth and early manhood. He had
deserted those never-failing friends, so they seemed to say, for
an unstable delight in a ductile woman, which had ended all in
bitterness. The spirit of self-denial, verging on asceticism,
which had ever animated Knight in old times, announced itself as
having departed with the birth of love, with it having gone the
self-respect which had compensated for the lack of self-
gratification. Poor little Elfride, instead of holding, as
formerly, a place in his religion, began to assume the hue of a
temptation. Perhaps it was human and correctly natural that
Knight never once thought whether he did not owe her a little
sacrifice for her unchary devotion in saving his life.

With a consciousness of having thus, like Antony, kissed away
kingdoms and provinces, he next considered how he had revealed his
higher secrets and intentions to her, an unreserve he would never
have allowed himself with any man living. How was it that he had
not been able to refrain from telling her of adumbrations
heretofore locked in the closest strongholds of his mind?

Knight's was a robust intellect, which could escape outside the
atmosphere of heart, and perceive that his own love, as well as
other people's, could be reduced by change of scene and
circumstances. At the same time the perception was a superimposed
sorrow:

'O last regret, regret can die!'

But being convinced that the death of this regret was the best
thing for him, he did not long shrink from attempting it. He
closed his chambers, suspended his connection with editors, and
left London for the Continent. Here we will leave him to wander
without purpose, beyond the nominal one of encouraging
obliviousness of Elfride.

Chapter XXXVI

'The pennie's the jewel that beautifies a'.'

'I can't think what's coming to these St. Launce's people at all
at all.'

'With their "How-d'ye-do's," do you mean?'

'Ay, with their "How-d'ye-do's," and shaking of hands, asking me
in, and tender inquiries for you, John.'

These words formed part of a conversation between John Smith and
his wife on a Saturday evening in the spring which followed
Knight's departure from England. Stephen had long since returned
to India; and the persevering couple themselves had migrated from
Lord Luxellian's park at Endelstow to a comfortable roadside
dwelling about a mile out of St. Launce's, where John had opened a
small stone and slate yard in his own name.

'When we came here six months ago,' continued Mrs. Smith, 'though
I had paid ready money so many years in the town, my friskier
shopkeepers would only speak over the counter. Meet 'em in the
street half-an-hour after, and they'd treat me with staring
ignorance of my face.'

'Look through ye as through a glass winder?'

'Yes, the brazen ones would. The quiet and cool ones would glance
over the top of my head, past my side, over my shoulder, but never
meet my eye. The gentle-modest would turn their faces south if I
were coming east, flit down a passage if I were about to halve the
pavement with them. There was the spruce young bookseller would
play the same tricks; the butcher's daughters; the upholsterer's
young men. Hand in glove when doing business out of sight with
you; but caring nothing for a' old woman when playing the genteel
away from all signs of their trade.'

'True enough, Maria.'

'Well, to-day 'tis all different. I'd no sooner got to market
than Mrs. Joakes rushed up to me in the eyes of the town and said,
"My dear Mrs. Smith, now you must be tired with your walk! Come in
and have some lunch! I insist upon it; knowing you so many years
as I have! Don't you remember when we used to go looking for owls'
feathers together in the Castle ruins?" There's no knowing what
you may need, so I answered the woman civilly. I hadn't got to
the corner before that thriving young lawyer, Sweet, who's quite
the dandy, ran after me out of breath. "Mrs. Smith," he says,
"excuse my rudeness, but there's a bramble on the tail of your
dress, which you've dragged in from the country; allow me to pull
it off for you." If you'll believe me, this was in the very front
of the Town Hall. What's the meaning of such sudden love for a'
old woman?'

'Can't say; unless 'tis repentance.'

'Repentance! was there ever such a fool as you. John? Did anybody
ever repent with money in's pocket and fifty years to live?'

'Now, I've been thinking too,' said John, passing over the query
as hardly pertinent, 'that I've had more loving-kindness from
folks to-day than I ever have before since we moved here. Why,
old Alderman Tope walked out to the middle of the street where I
was, to shake hands with me--so 'a did. Having on my working
clothes, I thought 'twas odd. Ay, and there was young
Werrington.'

'Who's he?'

'Why, the man in Hill Street, who plays and sells flutes,
trumpets, and fiddles, and grand pehanners. He was talking to
Egloskerry, that very small bachelor-man with money in the funds.
I was going by, I'm sure, without thinking or expecting a nod from
men of that glib kidney when in my working clothes----'

'You always will go poking into town in your working clothes. Beg
you to change how I will, 'tis no use.'

'Well, however, I was in my working clothes. Werrington saw me.
"Ah, Mr. Smith! a fine morning; excellent weather for building,"
says he, out as loud and friendly as if I'd met him in some deep
hollow, where he could get nobody else to speak to at all. 'Twas
odd: for Werrington is one of the very ringleaders of the fast
class.'

At that moment a tap came to the door. The door was immediately
opened by Mrs. Smith in person.

'You'll excuse us, I'm sure, Mrs. Smith, but this beautiful spring
weather was too much for us. Yes, and we could stay in no longer;
and I took Mrs. Trewen upon my arm directly we'd had a cup of tea,
and out we came. And seeing your beautiful crocuses in such a
bloom, we've taken the liberty to enter. We'll step round the
garden, if you don't mind.'

'Not at all,' said Mrs. Smith; and they walked round the garden.
She lifted her hands in amazement directly their backs were
turned. 'Goodness send us grace!'

Who be they?' said her husband.

'Actually Mr. Trewen, the bank-manager, and his wife.'

John Smith, staggered in mind, went out of doors and looked over
the garden gate, to collect his ideas. He had not been there two
minutes when wheels were heard, and a carriage and pair rolled
along the road. A distinguished-looking lady, with the demeanour
of a duchess, reclined within. When opposite Smith's gate she
turned her head, and instantly commanded the coachman to stop.

'Ah, Mr. Smith, I am glad to see you looking so well. I could not
help stopping a moment to congratulate you and Mrs. Smith upon the
happiness you must enjoy. Joseph, you may drive on.'

And the carriage rolled away towards St. Launce's.

Out rushed Mrs. Smith from behind a laurel-bush, where she had
stood pondering.

'Just going to touch my hat to her,' said John; 'just for all the
world as I would have to poor Lady Luxellian years ago.'

'Lord! who is she?'

'The public-house woman--what's her name? Mrs.--Mrs.--at the
Falcon.'

'Public-house woman. The clumsiness of the Smith family! You
MIGHT say the landlady of the Falcon Hotel, since we are in for
politeness. The people are ridiculous enough, but give them their
due.'

The possibility is that Mrs. Smith was getting mollified, in spite
of herself, by these remarkably friendly phenomena among the
people of St. Launce's. And in justice to them it was quite
desirable that she should do so. The interest which the
unpractised ones of this town expressed so grotesquely was genuine
of its kind, and equal in intrinsic worth to the more polished
smiles of larger communities.

By this time Mr. and Mrs. Trewen were returning from the garden.

'I'll ask 'em flat,' whispered John to his wife. 'I'll say, "We
be in a fog--you'll excuse my asking a question, Mr. and Mrs.
Trewen. How is it you all be so friendly to-day?" Hey? 'Twould
sound right and sensible, wouldn't it?'

'Not a word! Good mercy, when will the man have manners!'

'It must be a proud moment for you, I am sure, Mr. and Mrs. Smith,
to have a son so celebrated,' said the bank-manager advancing.

'Ah, 'tis Stephen--I knew it!' said Mrs. Smith triumphantly to
herself.

'We don't know particulars,' said John.

'Not know!'

'No.'

'Why, 'tis all over town. Our worthy Mayor alluded to it in a
speech at the dinner last night of the Every-Man-his-own-Maker
Club.'

'And what about Stephen?' urged Mrs. Smith.

'Why, your son has been feted by deputy-governors and Parsee
princes and nobody-knows-who in India; is hand in glove with
nabobs, and is to design a large palace, and cathedral, and
hospitals, colleges, halls, and fortifications, by the general
consent of the ruling powers, Christian and Pagan alike.'

''Twas sure to come to the boy,' said Mr. Smith unassumingly.

''Tis in yesterday's St. Launce's Chronicle; and our worthy Mayor
in the chair introduced the subject into his speech last night in
a masterly manner.'

''Twas very good of the worthy Mayor in the chair I'm sure,' said
Stephen's mother. 'I hope the boy will have the sense to keep
what he's got; but as for men, they are a simple sex. Some woman
will hook him.'

'Well, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the evening closes in, and we must be
going; and remember this, that every Saturday when you come in to
market, you are to make our house as your own. There will be
always a tea-cup and saucer for you, as you know there has been
for months, though you may have forgotten it. I'm a plain-
speaking woman, and what I say I mean.'

When the visitors were gone, and the sun had set, and the moon's
rays were just beginning to assert themselves upon the walls of
the dwelling, John Smith and his wife sat dawn to the newspaper
they had hastily procured from the town. And when the reading was
done, they considered how best to meet the new social requirements
settling upon them, which Mrs. Smith considered could be done by
new furniture and house enlargement alone.

'And, John, mind one thing,' she said in conclusion. 'In writing
to Stephen, never by any means mention the name of Elfride
Swancourt again. We've left the place, and know no more about her
except by hearsay. He seems to be getting free of her, and glad
am I for it. It was a cloudy hour for him when he first set eyes
upon the girl. That family's been no good to him, first or last;
so let them keep their blood to themselves if they want to. He
thinks of her, I know, but not so hopelessly. So don't try to
know anything about her, and we can't answer his questions. She
may die out of his mind then.'

'That shall be it,' said John.

Chapter XXXVII

'After many days.'

Knight roamed south, under colour of studying Continental
antiquities.

He paced the lofty aisles of Amiens, loitered by Ardennes Abbey,
climbed into the strange towers of Laon, analyzed Noyon and
Rheims. Then he went to Chartres, and examined its scaly spires
and quaint carving then he idled about Coutances. He rowed
beneath the base of Mont St. Michel, and caught the varied skyline
of the crumbling edifices encrusting it. St. Ouen's, Rouen, knew
him for days; so did Vezelay, Sens, and many a hallowed monument
besides. Abandoning the inspection of early French art with the
same purposeless haste as he had shown in undertaking it, he went
further, and lingered about Ferrara, Padua, and Pisa. Satiated
with mediaevalism, he tried the Roman Forum. Next he observed
moonlight and starlight effects by the bay of Naples. He turned
to Austria, became enervated and depressed on Hungarian and
Bohemian plains, and was refreshed again by breezes on the
declivities of the Carpathians.

Then he found himself in Greece. He visited the plain of
Marathon, and strove to imagine the Persian defeat; to Mars Hill,
to picture St. Paul addressing the ancient Athenians; to
Thermopylae and Salamis, to run through the facts and traditions
of the Second Invasion--the result of his endeavours being more or
less chaotic. Knight grew as weary of these places as of all
others. Then he felt the shock of an earthquake in the Ionian
Islands, and went to Venice. Here he shot in gondolas up and down
the winding thoroughfare of the Grand Canal, and loitered on calle
and piazza at night, when the lagunes were undisturbed by a
ripple, and no sound was to be heard but the stroke of the
midnight clock. Afterwards he remained for weeks in the museums,
galleries, and libraries of Vienna, Berlin, and Paris; and thence
came home.

Time thus rolls us on to a February afternoon, divided by fifteen
months from the parting of Elfride and her lover in the brown
stubble field towards the sea.

Two men obviously not Londoners, and with a touch of foreignness
in their look, met by accident on one of the gravel walks leading
across Hyde Park. The younger, more given to looking about him
than his fellow, saw and noticed the approach of his senior some
time before the latter had raised his eyes from the ground, upon
which they were bent in an abstracted gaze that seemed habitual
with him.

'Mr. Knight--indeed it is!' exclaimed the younger man.

'Ah, Stephen Smith!' said Knight.

Simultaneous operations might now have been observed progressing
in both, the result being that an expression less frank and
impulsive than the first took possession of their features. It
was manifest that the next words uttered were a superficial
covering to constraint on both sides.

'Have you been in England long?' said Knight.

'Only two days,' said Smith. India ever since?'

'Nearly ever since.'

'They were making a fuss about you at St. Launce's last year. I
fancy I saw something of the sort in the papers.'

'Yes; I believe something was said about me.'

'I must congratulate you on your achievements.'

'Thanks, but they are nothing very extraordinary. A natural
professional progress where there was no opposition.'

There followed that want of words which will always assert itself
between nominal friends who find they have ceased to be real ones,
and have not yet sunk to the level of mere acquaintance. Each
looked up and down the Park. Knight may possibly have borne in
mind during the intervening months Stephen's manner towards him
the last time they had met, and may have encouraged his former
interest in Stephen's welfare to die out of him as misplaced.
Stephen certainly was full of the feelings begotten by the belief
that Knight had taken away the woman he loved so well.

Stephen Smith then asked a question, adopting a certain
recklessness of manner and tone to hide, if possible, the fact
that the subject was a much greater one to him than his friend had
ever supposed.

'Are you married?'

'I am not.'

Knight spoke in an indescribable tone of bitterness that was
almost moroseness.

'And I never shall be,' he added decisively. 'Are you?'

'No,' said Stephen, sadly and quietly, like a man in a sick-room.
Totally ignorant whether or not Knight knew of his own previous
claims upon Elfride, he yet resolved to hazard a few more words
upon the topic which had an aching fascination for him even now.

'Then your engagement to Miss Swancourt came to nothing,' he said.
'You remember I met you with her once?'

Stephen's voice gave way a little here, in defiance of his firmest
will to the contrary. Indian affairs had not yet lowered those
emotions down to the point of control.

'It was broken off,' came quickly from Knight. 'Engagements to
marry often end like that--for better or for worse.'

'Yes; so they do. And what have you been doing lately?'

'Doing? Nothing.'

'Where have you been?'

'I can hardly tell you. In the main, going about Europe; and it
may perhaps interest you to know that I have been attempting the
serious study of Continental art of the Middle Ages. My notes on
each example I visited are at your service. They are of no use to
me.'

'I shall be glad with them....Oh, travelling far and near!'

'Not far,' said Knight, with moody carelessness. 'You know, I
daresay, that sheep occasionally become giddy--hydatids in the
head, 'tis called, in which their brains become eaten up, and the
animal exhibits the strange peculiarity of walking round and round
in a circle continually. I have travelled just in the same way--
round and round like a giddy ram.'

The reckless, bitter, and rambling style in which Knight talked,
as if rather to vent his images than to convey any ideas to
Stephen, struck the young man painfully. His former friend's days
had become cankered in some way: Knight was a changed man. He
himself had changed much, but not as Knight had changed.

'Yesterday I came home,' continued Knight, 'without having, to the
best of my belief, imbibed half-a-dozen ideas worth retaining.'

'You out-Hamlet Hamlet in morbidness of mood,' said Stephen, with
regretful frankness.

Knight made no reply.

'Do you know,' Stephen continued, 'I could almost have sworn that
you would be married before this time, from what I saw?'

Knight's face grew harder. 'Could you?' he said.

Stephen was powerless to forsake the depressing, luring subject.

'Yes; and I simply wonder at it.'

'Whom did you expect me to marry?'

'Her I saw you with.'

'Thank you for that wonder.'

'Did she jilt you?'

'Smith, now one word to you,' Knight returned steadily. 'Don't
you ever question me on that subject. I have a reason for making
this request, mind. And if you do question me, you will not get
an answer.'

'Oh, I don't for a moment wish to ask what is unpleasant to you--
not I. I had a momentary feeling that I should like to explain
something on my side, and hear a similar explanation on yours.
But let it go, let it go, by all means.'

'What would you explain?'

'I lost the woman I was going to marry: you have not married as
you intended. We might have compared notes.'

'I have never asked you a word about your case.'

'I know that.'

'And the inference is obvious.'

'Quite so.'

'The truth is, Stephen, I have doggedly resolved never to allude
to the matter--for which I have a very good reason.'

'Doubtless. As good a reason as you had for not marrying her.'

'You talk insidiously. I had a good one--a miserably good one!'

Smith's anxiety urged him to venture one more question.

'Did she not love you enough?' He drew his breath in a slow and
attenuated stream, as he waited in timorous hope for the answer.

'Stephen, you rather strain ordinary courtesy in pressing
questions of that kind after what I have said. I cannot
understand you at all. I must go on now.'

'Why, good God!' exclaimed Stephen passionately, 'you talk as if
you hadn't at all taken her away from anybody who had better
claims to her than you!'

'What do you mean by that?' said Knight, with a puzzled air.
'What have you heard?'

'Nothing. I too must go on. Good-day.'

'If you will go,' said Knight, reluctantly now, 'you must, I
suppose. I am sure I cannot understand why you behave so.'

'Nor I why you do. I have always been grateful to you, and as far
as I am concerned we need never have become so estranged as we
have.'

'And have I ever been anything but well-disposed towards you,
Stephen? Surely you know that I have not! The system of reserve
began with you: you know that.'

'No, no! You altogether mistake our position. You were always
from the first reserved to me, though I was confidential to you.
That was, I suppose, the natural issue of our differing positions
in life. And when I, the pupil, became reserved like you, the
master, you did not like it. However, I was going to ask you to
come round and see me.'

'Where are you staying?'

'At the Grosvenor Hotel, Pimlico.'

'So am I.'

'That's convenient, not to say odd. Well, I am detained in London
for a day or two; then I am going down to see my father and
mother, who live at St. Launce's now. Will you see me this
evening?'

'I may; but I will not promise. I was wishing to be alone for an
hour or two; but I shall know where to find you, at any rate.
Good-bye.'

Chapter XXXVIII

'Jealousy is cruel as the grave.'

Stephen pondered not a little on this meeting with his old friend
and once-beloved exemplar. He was grieved, for amid all the
distractions of his latter years a still small voice of fidelity
to Knight had lingered on in him. Perhaps this staunchness was
because Knight ever treated him as a mere disciple--even to
snubbing him sometimes; and had at last, though unwittingly,
inflicted upon him the greatest snub of all, that of taking away
his sweetheart. The emotional side of his constitution was built
rather after a feminine than a male model; and that tremendous
wound from Knight's hand may have tended to keep alive a warmth
which solicitousness would have extinguished altogether.

Knight, on his part, was vexed, after they had parted, that he had
not taken Stephen in hand a little after the old manner. Those
words which Smith had let fall concerning somebody having a prior
claim to Elfride, would, if uttered when the man was younger, have
provoked such a query as, 'Come, tell me all about it, my lad,'
from Knight, and Stephen would straightway have delivered himself
of all he knew on the subject.

Stephen the ingenuous boy, though now obliterated externally by
Stephen the contriving man, returned to Knight's memory vividly
that afternoon. He was at present but a sojourner in London; and
after attending to the two or three matters of business which
remained to be done that day, he walked abstractedly into the
gloomy corridors of the British Museum for the half-hour previous
to their closing. That meeting with Smith had reunited the
present with the past, closing up the chasm of his absence from
England as if it had never existed, until the final circumstances
of his previous time of residence in London formed but a yesterday
to the circumstances now. The conflict that then had raged in him
concerning Elfride Swancourt revived, strengthened by its sleep.
Indeed, in those many months of absence, though quelling the
intention to make her his wife, he had never forgotten that she
was the type of woman adapted to his nature; and instead of trying
to obliterate thoughts of her altogether, he had grown to regard
them as an infirmity it was necessary to tolerate.

Knight returned to his hotel much earlier in the evening than he
would have done in the ordinary course of things. He did not care
to think whether this arose from a friendly wish to close the gap
that had slowly been widening between himself and his earliest
acquaintance, or from a hankering desire to hear the meaning of
the dark oracles Stephen had hastily pronounced, betokening that
he knew something more of Elfride than Knight had supposed.

He made a hasty dinner, inquired for Smith, and soon was ushered
into the young man's presence, whom he found sitting in front of a
comfortable fire, beside a table spread with a few scientific
periodicals and art reviews.

'I have come to you, after all,' said Knight. 'My manner was odd
this morning, and it seemed desirable to call; but that you had
too much sense to notice, Stephen, I know. Put it down to my
wanderings in France and Italy.'

'Don't say another word, but sit down. I am only too glad to see
you again.'

Stephen would hardly have cared to tell Knight just then that the
minute before Knight was announced he had been reading over some
old letters of Elfride's. They were not many; and until to-night
had been sealed up, and stowed away in a corner of his leather
trunk, with a few other mementoes and relics which had accompanied
him in his travels. The familiar sights and sounds of London, the
meeting with his friend, had with him also revived that sense of
abiding continuity with regard to Elfride and love which his
absence at the other side of the world had to some extent
suspended, though never ruptured. He at first intended only to
look over these letters on the outside; then he read one; then
another; until the whole was thus re-used as a stimulus to sad
memories. He folded them away again, placed them in his pocket,
and instead of going on with an examination into the state of the
artistic world, had remained musing on the strange circumstance
that he had returned to find Knight not the husband of Elfride
after all.

The possibility of any given gratification begets a cumulative
sense of its necessity. Stephen gave the rein to his imagination,
and felt more intensely than he had felt for many months that,
without Elfride, his life would never be any great pleasure to
himself, or honour to his Maker.

They sat by the fire, chatting on external and random subjects,
neither caring to be the first to approach the matter each most
longed to discuss. On the table with the periodicals lay two or
three pocket-books, one of them being open. Knight seeing from
the exposed page that the contents were sketches only, began
turning the leaves over carelessly with his finger. When, some
time later, Stephen was out of the room, Knight proceeded to pass
the interval by looking at the sketches more carefully.

The first crude ideas, pertaining to dwellings of all kinds, were
roughly outlined on the different pages. Antiquities had been
copied; fragments of Indian columns, colossal statues, and
outlandish ornament from the temples of Elephanta and Kenneri,
were carelessly intruded upon by outlines of modern doors,
windows, roofs, cooking-stoves, and household furniture;
everything, in short, which comes within the range of a practising
architect's experience, who travels with his eyes open. Among
these occasionally appeared rough delineations of mediaeval
subjects for carving or illumination--heads of Virgins, Saints,
and Prophets.

Stephen was not professedly a free-hand draughtsman, but he drew
the human figure with correctness and skill. In its numerous
repetitions on the sides and edges of the leaves, Knight began to
notice a peculiarity. All the feminine saints had one type of
feature. There were large nimbi and small nimbi about their
drooping heads, but the face was always the same. That profile--
how well Knight knew that profile!

Had there been but one specimen of the familiar countenance, he
might have passed over the resemblance as accidental; but a
repetition meant more. Knight thought anew of Smith's hasty words
earlier in the day, and looked at the sketches again and again.

On the young man's entry, Knight said with palpable agitation--

'Stephen, who are those intended for?'

Stephen looked over the book with utter unconcern, 'Saints and
angels, done in my leisure moments. They were intended as designs
for the stained glass of an English church.'

'But whom do you idealize by that type of woman you always adopt
for the Virgin?'

'Nobody.'

And then a thought raced along Stephen's mind and he looked up at
his friend.

The truth is, Stephen's introduction of Elfride's lineaments had
been so unconscious that he had not at first understood his
companion's drift. The hand, like the tongue, easily acquires the
trick of repetition by rote, without calling in the mind to assist
at all; and this had been the case here. Young men who cannot
write verses about their Loves generally take to portraying them,
and in the early days of his attachment Smith had never been weary
of outlining Elfride. The lay-figure of Stephen's sketches now
initiated an adjustment of many things. Knight had recognized
her. The opportunity of comparing notes had come unsought.

'Elfride Swancourt, to whom I was engaged,' he said quietly.

'Stephen!'

'I know what you mean by speaking like that.'

'Was it Elfride? YOU the man, Stephen?'

'Yes; and you are thinking why did I conceal the fact from you
that time at Endelstow, are you not?'

'Yes, and more--more.'

'I did it for the best; blame me if you will; I did it for the
best. And now say how could I be with you afterwards as I had
been before?'

'I don't know at all; I can't say.'

Knight remained fixed in thought, and once he murmured--

'I had a suspicion this afternoon that there might be some such
meaning in your words about my taking her away. But I dismissed
it. How came you to know her?' he presently asked, in almost a

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