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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 16 ] --

'Yes, miss; the 8.10—leaves in ten minutes. You have come to the wrong platform; it is the other side. Change at Bristol into the night mail. Down that staircase, and under the line.' They ran down the staircase—Elfride first—to the booking-office, and into a carriage with an official standing beside the door. 'Show your tickets, please.' They are locked in—men about the platform accelerate their velocities till they fly up and down like shuttles in a loom—a whistle—the waving of a flag—a human cry—a steam groan—and away they go to

Plymouth again, just catching these words as they glide off:

'Those two youngsters had a near run for it, and no mistake!' Elfride found her breath.

'And have you come too, Stephen? Why did you?' 'I shall not leave you till I see you safe at St. Launce's. Do not think worse of me than I am, Elfride.' And then they rattled along through the night, back again by the way they had come. The weather cleared, and the stars shone in upon them. Their two or three fellow-passengers sat for most of the time with closed eyes. Stephen sometimes slept; Elfride alone was wakeful and palpitating hour after hour.

The day began to break, and revealed that they were by the sea. Red rocks overhung them, and, receding into distance, grew livid in the blue grey atmosphere. The sun rose, and sent penetrating shafts of light in upon their weary faces. Another hour, and the world began to be busy. They waited yet a little, and the train slackened its speed in view of the platform at St. Launce's.

She shivered, and mused sadly.

'I did not see all the consequences,' she said. 'Appearances are wofully against me. If anybody finds me out, I am, I suppose, disgraced.' 'Then appearances will speak falsely; and how can that matter, even if they do? I shall be your husband sooner or later, for certain, and so prove your purity.' 'Stephen, once in London I ought to have married you,' she said firmly. 'It was my only safe defence. I see more things now than I did yesterday. My only remaining chance is not to be discovered; and that we must fight for most desperately.' They stepped out. Elfride pulled a thick veil over her face.

A woman with red and scaly eyelids and glistening eyes was sitting on a bench just inside the office-door. She fixed her eyes upon Elfride with an expression whose force it was impossible to doubt, but the meaning of which was not clear; then upon the carriage they had left. She seemed to read a sinister story in the scene.

Elfride shrank back, and turned the other way.

'Who is that woman?' said Stephen. 'She looked hard at you.' 'Mrs. Jethway—a widow, and mother of that young man whose tomb we sat on the other night. Stephen, she is my enemy. Would that God had had mercy enough upon me to have hidden this from HER!' 'Do not talk so hopelessly,' he remonstrated. 'I don't think she recognized us.' 'I pray that she did not.' He put on a more vigorous mood.

'Now, we will go and get some breakfast.' 'No, no!' she begged. 'I cannot eat. I MUST get back to Endelstow.' Elfride was as if she had grown years older than Stephen now.

'But you have had nothing since last night but that cup of tea at Bristol.' 'I can't eat, Stephen.' 'Wine and biscuit?' 'No.' 'Nor tea, nor coffee?' 'No.' 'A glass of water?' 'No. I want something that makes people strong and energetic for the present, that borrows the strength of to-morrow for use to-day—leaving to-morrow without any at all for that matter; or even that would take all life away to-morrow, so long as it enabled me to get home again now. Brandy, that's what I want. That woman's eyes have eaten my heart away!' 'You are wild; and you grieve me, darling. Must it be brandy?' 'Yes, if you please.' 'How much?' 'I don't know. I have never drunk more than a teaspoonful at once. All I know is that I want it. Don't get it at the Falcon.' He left her in the fields, and went to the nearest inn in that direction. Presently he returned with a small flask nearly full, and some slices of bread-and-butter, thin as wafers, in a paperbag. Elfride took a sip or two.

'It goes into my eyes,' she said wearily. 'I can't take any more. Yes, I will; I will close my eyes.

Ah, it goes to them by an inside route. I don't want it; throw it away.' However, she could eat, and did eat. Her chief attention was concentrated upon how to get the horse from the Falcon stables without suspicion. Stephen was not allowed to accompany her into the town. She acted now upon conclusions reached without any aid from him: his power over her seemed to have departed.

'You had better not be seen with me, even here where I am so little known. We have begun stealthily as thieves, and we must end stealthily as thieves, at all hazards. Until papa has been told by me myself, a discovery would be terrible.' Walking and gloomily talking thus they waited till nearly nine o'clock, at which time Elfride thought she might call at the Falcon without creating much surprise. Behind the railwaystation was the river, spanned by an old Tudor bridge, whence the road diverged in two directions, one skirting the suburbs of the town, and winding round again into the high-road to Endelstow. Beside this road Stephen sat, and awaited her return from the Falcon.

He sat as one sitting for a portrait, motionless, watching the chequered lights and shades on the tree-trunks, the children playing opposite the school previous to entering for the morning lesson, the reapers in a field afar off. The certainty of possession had not come, and there was nothing to mitigate the youth's gloom, that increased with the thought of the parting now so near.





At length she came trotting round to him, in appearance much as on the romantic morning of their visit to the cliff, but shorn of the radiance which glistened about her then. However, her comparative immunity from further risk and trouble had considerably composed her.

Elfride's capacity for being wounded was only surpassed by her capacity for healing, which rightly or wrongly is by some considered an index of transientness of feeling in general.

'Elfride, what did they say at the Falcon?' 'Nothing. Nobody seemed curious about me. They knew I went to Plymouth, and I have stayed there a night now and then with Miss Bicknell. I rather calculated upon that.' And now parting arose like a death to these children, for it was imperative that she should

start at once. Stephen walked beside her for nearly a mile. During the walk he said sadly:

'Elfride, four-and-twenty hours have passed, and the thing is not done.' 'But you have insured that it shall be done.' 'How have I?' 'O Stephen, you ask how! Do you think I could marry another man on earth after having gone thus far with you? Have I not shown beyond possibility of doubt that I can be nobody else's? Have I not irretrievably committed myself?—pride has stood for nothing in the face of my great love. You misunderstood my turning back, and I cannot explain it. It was wrong to go with you at all; and though it would have been worse to go further, it would have been better policy, perhaps. Be assured of this, that whenever you have a home for me— however poor and humble—and come and claim me, I am ready.' She added bitterly, 'When my father knows of this day's work, he may be only too glad to let me go.' 'Perhaps he may, then, insist upon our marriage at once!' Stephen answered, seeing a ray of hope in the very focus of her remorse. 'I hope he may, even if we had still to part till I am ready for you, as we intended.' Elfride did not reply.

'You don't seem the same woman, Elfie, that you were yesterday.' 'Nor am I. But good-bye. Go back now.' And she reined the horse for parting. 'O Stephen,' she cried, 'I feel so weak! I don't know how to meet him. Cannot you, after all, come back with me?' 'Shall I come?' Elfride paused to think.

'No; it will not do. It is my utter foolishness that makes me say such words. But he will send for you.' 'Say to him,' continued Stephen, 'that we did this in the absolute despair of our minds. Tell him we don't wish him to favour us—only to deal justly with us. If he says, marry now, so much the better. If not, say that all may be put right by his promise to allow me to have you when I am good enough for you—which may be soon. Say I have nothing to offer him in exchange for his treasure—the more sorry I; but all the love, and all the life, and all the labour of an honest man shall be yours. As to when this had better be told, I leave you to judge.' His words made her cheerful enough to toy with her position.

'And if ill report should come, Stephen,' she said smiling, 'why, the orange-tree must save me, as it saved virgins in St. George's time from the poisonous breath of the dragon. There, forgive me for forwardness: I am going.' Then the boy and girl beguiled themselves with words of half-parting only.

'Own wifie, God bless you till we meet again!' 'Till we meet again, good-bye!' And the pony went on, and she spoke to him no more. He saw her figure diminish and her blue veil grow gray—saw it with the agonizing sensations of a slow death.

After thus parting from a man than whom she had known none greater as yet, Elfride rode rapidly onwards, a tear being occasionally shaken from her eyes into the road. What yesterday had seemed so desirable, so promising, even trifling, had now acquired the complexion of a tragedy.

She saw the rocks and sea in the neighbourhood of Endelstow, and heaved a sigh of relief.

When she passed a field behind the vicarage she heard the voices of Unity and William Worm. They were hanging a carpet upon a line. Unity was uttering a sentence that concluded with 'when Miss Elfride comes.' 'When d'ye expect her?' 'Not till evening now. She's safe enough at Miss Bicknell's, bless ye.' Elfride went round to the door. She did not knock or ring; and seeing nobody to take the horse, Elfride led her round to the yard, slipped off the bridle and saddle, drove her towards the paddock, and turned her in. Then Elfride crept indoors, and looked into all the groundfloor rooms. Her father was not there.

On the mantelpiece of the drawing-room stood a letter addressed to her in his handwriting.

She took it and read it as she went upstairs to change her habit.

STRATLEIGH, Thursday.

'DEAR ELFRIDE,—On second thoughts I will not return to-day, but only come as far as Wadcombe. I shall be at home by to-morrow afternoon, and bring a friend with me.—Yours, in haste, C. S.' After making a quick toilet she felt more revived, though still suffering from a headache. On going out of the door she met Unity at the top of the stair.

'O Miss Elfride! I said to myself 'tis her sperrit! We didn't dream o' you not coming home last night. You didn't say anything about staying.' 'I intended to come home the same evening, but altered my plan. I wished I hadn't afterwards. Papa will be angry, I suppose?' 'Better not tell him, miss,' said Unity.

'I do fear to,' she murmured. 'Unity, would you just begin telling him when he comes home?' 'What! and get you into trouble?' 'I deserve it.' 'No, indeed, I won't,' said Unity. 'It is not such a mighty matter, Miss Elfride. I says to myself, master's taking a hollerday, and because he's not been kind lately to Miss Elfride, she——' 'Is imitating him. Well, do as you like. And will you now bring me some luncheon?' After satisfying an appetite which the fresh marine air had given her in its victory over an agitated mind, she put on her hat and went to the garden and summer-house. She sat down, and leant with her head in a corner. Here she fell asleep.

Half-awake, she hurriedly looked at the time. She had been there three hours. At the same moment she heard the outer gate swing together, and wheels sweep round the entrance;

some prior noise from the same source having probably been the cause of her awaking.

Next her father's voice was heard calling to Worm.

Elfride passed along a walk towards the house behind a belt of shrubs. She heard a tongue holding converse with her father, which was not that of either of the servants. Her father and the stranger were laughing together. Then there was a rustling of silk, and Mr.

Swancourt and his companion, or companions, to all seeming entered the door of the house, for nothing more of them was audible. Elfride had turned back to meditate on what

friends these could be, when she heard footsteps, and her father exclaiming behind her:

'O Elfride, here you are! I hope you got on well?' Elfride's heart smote her, and she did not speak.

'Come back to the summer-house a minute,' continued Mr. Swancourt; 'I have to tell you of that I promised to.' They entered the summer-house, and stood leaning over the knotty woodwork of the balustrade.

'Now,' said her father radiantly, 'guess what I have to say.' He seemed to be regarding his own existence so intently, that he took no interest in nor even saw the complexion of hers.

'I cannot, papa,' she said sadly.

'Try, dear.' 'I would rather not, indeed.' 'You are tired. You look worn. The ride was too much for you. Well, this is what I went away for. I went to be married!' 'Married!' she faltered, and could hardly check an involuntary 'So did I.' A moment after and her resolve to confess perished like a bubble.

'Yes; to whom do you think? Mrs. Troyton, the new owner of the estate over the hedge, and of the old manor-house. It was only finally settled between us when I went to Stratleigh a few days ago.' He lowered his voice to a sly tone of merriment. 'Now, as to your stepmother, you'll find she is not much to look at, though a good deal to listen to. She is twenty years older than myself, for one thing.' 'You forget that I know her. She called here once, after we had been, and found her away from home.' 'Of course, of course. Well, whatever her looks are, she's as excellent a woman as ever breathed. She has had lately left her as absolute property three thousand five hundred a year, besides the devise of this estate—and, by the way, a large legacy came to her in satisfaction of dower, as it is called.' 'Three thousand five hundred a year!' 'And a large—well, a fair-sized—mansion in town, and a pedigree as long as my walkingstick; though that bears evidence of being rather a raked-up affair—done since the family got rich—people do those things now as they build ruins on maiden estates and cast antiques at Birmingham.'

Elfride merely listened and said nothing.



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