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«A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy. This edition was created and published by Global Grey 2015. ©GlobalGrey 2015 Get more free eBooks at: ...»

-- [ Page 14 ] --

He expected to find the downstairs rooms wearing the gray and cheerless aspect that early morning gives to everything out of the sun. He found in the dining room a breakfast laid, of which somebody had just partaken.

Stephen gave the maid-servant his note of adieu. She stated that Mr. Swancourt had risen early that morning, and made an early breakfast. He was not going away that she knew of.

Stephen took a cup of coffee, left the house of his love, and turned into the lane. It was so early that the shaded places still smelt like night time, and the sunny spots had hardly felt the sun. The horizontal rays made every shallow dip in the ground to show as a well-marked hollow. Even the channel of the path was enough to throw shade, and the very stones of the road cast tapering dashes of darkness westward, as long as Jael's tent-nail.

At a spot not more than a hundred yards from the vicar's residence the lane leading thence crossed the high road. Stephen reached the point of intersection, stood still and listened.

Nothing could be heard save the lengthy, murmuring line of the sea upon the adjacent shore. He looked at his watch, and then mounted a gate upon which he seated himself, to await the arrival of the carrier. Whilst he sat he heard wheels coming in two directions.

The vehicle approaching on his right he soon recognized as the carrier's. There were the accompanying sounds of the owner's voice and the smack of his whip, distinct in the still morning air, by which he encouraged his horses up the hill.

The other set of wheels sounded from the lane Stephen had just traversed. On closer observation, he perceived that they were moving from the precincts of the ancient manorhouse adjoining the vicarage grounds. A carriage then left the entrance gates of the house, and wheeling round came fully in sight. It was a plain travelling carriage, with a small quantity of luggage, apparently a lady's. The vehicle came to the junction of the four ways half-a-minute before the carrier reached the same spot, and crossed directly in his front, proceeding by the lane on the other side.

Inside the carriage Stephen could just discern an elderly lady with a younger woman, who seemed to be her maid. The road they had taken led to Stratleigh, a small watering-place sixteen miles north.

He heard the manor-house gates swing again, and looking up saw another person leaving them, and walking off in the direction of the parsonage. 'Ah, how much I wish I were moving that way!' felt he parenthetically. The gentleman was tall, and resembled Mr. Swancourt in outline and attire. He opened the vicarage gate and went in. Mr. Swancourt, then, it certainly was. Instead of remaining in bed that morning Mr. Swancourt must have taken it into his head to see his new neighbour off on a journey. He must have been greatly interested in that neighbour to do such an unusual thing.

The carrier's conveyance had pulled up, and Stephen now handed in his portmanteau and mounted the shafts. 'Who is that lady in the carriage?' he inquired indifferently of Lickpan the carrier.

'That, sir, is Mrs. Troyton, a widder wi' a mint o' money. She's the owner of all that part of Endelstow that is not Lord Luxellian's. Only been here a short time; she came into it by law.

The owner formerly was a terrible mysterious party—never lived here—hardly ever was seen here except in the month of September, as I might say.' The horses were started again, and noise rendered further discourse a matter of too great exertion. Stephen crept inside under the tilt, and was soon lost in reverie.

Three hours and a half of straining up hills and jogging down brought them to St. Launce's, the market town and railway station nearest to Endelstow, and the place from which Stephen Smith had journeyed over the downs on the, to him, memorable winter evening at the beginning of the same year. The carrier's van was so timed as to meet a starting uptrain, which Stephen entered. Two or three hours' railway travel through vertical cuttings in metamorphic rock, through oak copses rich and green, stretching over slopes and down delightful valleys, glens, and ravines, sparkling with water like many-rilled Ida, and he plunged amid the hundred and fifty thousand people composing the town of Plymouth.

There being some time upon his hands he left his luggage at the cloak-room, and went on foot along Bedford Street to the nearest church. Here Stephen wandered among the multifarious tombstones and looked in at the chancel window, dreaming of something that was likely to happen by the altar there in the course of the coming month. He turned away and ascended the Hoe, viewed the magnificent stretch of sea and massive promontories of land, but without particularly discerning one feature of the varied perspective. He still saw that inner prospect—the event he hoped for in yonder church. The wide Sound, the Breakwater, the light-house on far-off Eddystone, the dark steam vessels, brigs, barques, and schooners, either floating stilly, or gliding with tiniest motion, were as the dream, then;

the dreamed-of event was as the reality.

Soon Stephen went down from the Hoe, and returned to the railway station. He took his ticket, and entered the London train.

That day was an irksome time at Endelstow vicarage. Neither father nor daughter alluded to the departure of Stephen. Mr. Swancourt's manner towards her partook of the compunctious kindness that arises from a misgiving as to the justice of some previous act.





Either from lack of the capacity to grasp the whole coup d'oeil, or from a natural endowment for certain kinds of stoicism, women are cooler than men in critical situations of the passive form. Probably, in Elfride's case at least, it was blindness to the greater contingencies of the future she was preparing for herself, which enabled her to ask her father in a quiet voice if he could give her a holiday soon, to ride to St. Launce's and go on to Plymouth.

Now, she had only once before gone alone to Plymouth, and that was in consequence of some unavoidable difficulty. Being a country girl, and a good, not to say a wild, horsewoman, it had been her delight to canter, without the ghost of an attendant, over the fourteen or sixteen miles of hard road intervening between their home and the station at St.

Launce's, put up the horse, and go on the remainder of the distance by train, returning in the same manner in the evening. It was then resolved that, though she had successfully accomplished this journey once, it was not to be repeated without some attendance.

But Elfride must not be confounded with ordinary young feminine equestrians. The circumstances of her lonely and narrow life made it imperative that in trotting about the neighbourhood she must trot alone or else not at all. Usage soon rendered this perfectly natural to herself. Her father, who had had other experiences, did not much like the idea of a Swancourt, whose pedigree could be as distinctly traced as a thread in a skein of silk, scampering over the hills like a farmer's daughter, even though he could habitually neglect her. But what with his not being able to afford her a regular attendant, and his inveterate habit of letting anything be to save himself trouble, the circumstance grew customary. And so there arose a chronic notion in the villagers' minds that all ladies rode without an attendant, like Miss Swancourt, except a few who were sometimes visiting at Lord Luxellian's.

'I don't like your going to Plymouth alone, particularly going to St. Launce's on horseback.

Why not drive, and take the man?' 'It is not nice to be so overlooked.' Worm's company would not seriously have interfered with her plans, but it was her humour to go without him.

'When do you want to go?' said her father.

She only answered, 'Soon.' 'I will consider,' he said.

Only a few days elapsed before she asked again. A letter had reached her from Stephen. It had been timed to come on that day by special arrangement between them. In it he named the earliest morning on which he could meet her at Plymouth. Her father had been on a journey to Stratleigh, and returned in unusual buoyancy of spirit. It was a good opportunity;

and since the dismissal of Stephen her father had been generally in a mood to make small concessions, that he might steer clear of large ones connected with that outcast lover of hers.

'Next Thursday week I am going from home in a different direction,' said her father. 'In fact, I shall leave home the night before. You might choose the same day, for they wish to take up the carpets, or some such thing, I think. As I said, I don't like you to be seen in a town on horseback alone; but go if you will.' Thursday week. Her father had named the very day that Stephen also had named that morning as the earliest on which it would be of any use to meet her; that was, about fifteen days from the day on which he had left Endelstow. Fifteen days—that fragment of duration which has acquired such an interesting individuality from its connection with the English marriage law.

She involuntarily looked at her father so strangely, that on becoming conscious of the look she paled with embarrassment. Her father, too, looked confused. What was he thinking of?

There seemed to be a special facility offered her by a power external to herself in the circumstance that Mr. Swancourt had proposed to leave home the night previous to her wished-for day. Her father seldom took long journeys; seldom slept from home except perhaps on the night following a remote Visitation. Well, she would not inquire too curiously into the reason of the opportunity, nor did he, as would have been natural, proceed to explain it of his own accord. In matters of fact there had hitherto been no reserve between them, though they were not usually confidential in its full sense. But the divergence of their emotions on Stephen's account had produced an estrangement which just at present went even to the extent of reticence on the most ordinary household topics.

Elfride was almost unconsciously relieved, persuading herself that her father's reserve on his business justified her in secrecy as regarded her own—a secrecy which was necessarily a foregone decision with her. So anxious is a young conscience to discover a palliative, that the ex post facto nature of a reason is of no account in excluding it.

The intervening fortnight was spent by her mostly in walking by herself among the shrubs and trees, indulging sometimes in sanguine anticipations; more, far more frequently, in misgivings. All her flowers seemed dull of hue; her pets seemed to look wistfully into her eyes, as if they no longer stood in the same friendly relation to her as formerly. She wore melancholy jewellery, gazed at sunsets, and talked to old men and women. It was the first time that she had had an inner and private world apart from the visible one about her. She wished that her father, instead of neglecting her even more than usual, would make some advance—just one word; she would then tell all, and risk Stephen's displeasure. Thus brought round to the youth again, she saw him in her fancy, standing, touching her, his eyes full of sad affection, hopelessly renouncing his attempt because she had renounced hers;

and she could not recede.

On the Wednesday she was to receive another letter. She had resolved to let her father see the arrival of this one, be the consequences what they might: the dread of losing her lover by this deed of honesty prevented her acting upon the resolve. Five minutes before the postman's expected arrival she slipped out, and down the lane to meet him. She met him immediately upon turning a sharp angle, which hid her from view in the direction of the vicarage. The man smilingly handed one missive, and was going on to hand another, a circular from some tradesman.

'No,' she said; 'take that on to the house.' 'Why, miss, you are doing what your father has done for the last fortnight.' She did not comprehend.

'Why, come to this corner, and take a letter of me every morning, all writ in the same handwriting, and letting any others for him go on to the house.' And on the postman went.

No sooner had he turned the corner behind her back than she heard her father meet and address the man. She had saved her letter by two minutes. Her father audibly went through precisely the same performance as she had just been guilty of herself.

This stealthy conduct of his was, to say the least, peculiar.

Given an impulsive inconsequent girl, neglected as to her inner life by her only parent, and

the following forces alive within her; to determine a resultant:

First love acted upon by a deadly fear of separation from its object: inexperience, guiding onward a frantic wish to prevent the above-named issue: misgivings as to propriety, met by hope of ultimate exoneration: indignation at parental inconsistency in first encouraging, then forbidding: a chilling sense of disobedience, overpowered by a conscientious inability to brook a breaking of plighted faith with a man who, in essentials, had remained unaltered from the beginning: a blessed hope that opposition would turn an erroneous judgement: a bright faith that things would mend thereby, and wind up well.

Probably the result would, after all, have been nil, had not the following few remarks been made one day at breakfast.

Her father was in his old hearty spirits. He smiled to himself at stories too bad to tell, and called Elfride a little scamp for surreptitiously preserving some blind kittens that ought to

have been drowned. After this expression, she said to him suddenly:

'If Mr. Smith had been already in the family, you would not have been made wretched by discovering he had poor relations?' 'Do you mean in the family by marriage?' he replied inattentively, and continuing to peel his egg.

The accumulating scarlet told that was her meaning, as much as the affirmative reply.

'I should have put up with it, no doubt,' Mr. Swancourt observed.

'So that you would not have been driven into hopeless melancholy, but have made the best of him?' Elfride's erratic mind had from her youth upwards been constantly in the habit of perplexing her father by hypothetical questions, based on absurd conditions. The present seemed to be cast so precisely in the mould of previous ones that, not being given to syntheses of circumstances, he answered it with customary complacency.



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