«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: ...»
How absurd, to be sure! I had no idea he reviewed novels or had anything to do with the PRESENT. He is a barrister—and I thought he only wrote in the Quarterlies. Why, Elfride, you have brought about an odd entanglement! What does he say to you?' Elfride had put down her letter with a dissatisfied flush on her face. 'I don't know. The idea of his knowing my name and all about me!...Why, he says nothing particular, only this— '"MY DEAR MADAM,—Though I am sorry that my remarks should have seemed harsh to you, it is a pleasure to find that they have been the means of bringing forth such an ingeniously argued reply. Unfortunately, it is so long since I wrote my review, that my memory does not serve me sufficiently to say a single word in my defence, even supposing there remains one to be said, which is doubtful. You will find from a letter I have written to Mrs. Swancourt, that we are not such strangers to each other as we have been imagining.
Possibly, I may have the pleasure of seeing you soon, when any argument you choose to advance shall receive all the attention it deserves."
'That is dim sarcasm—I know it is.' 'Oh no, Elfride.' 'And then, his remarks didn't seem harsh—I mean I did not say so.' 'He thinks you are in a frightful temper,' said Mr. Swancourt, chuckling in undertones.
'And he will come and see me, and find the authoress as contemptible in speech as she has been impertinent in manner. I do heartily wish I had never written a word to him!' 'Never mind,' said Mrs. Swancourt, also laughing in low quiet jerks; 'it will make the meeting such a comical affair, and afford splendid by-play for your father and myself. The idea of our running our heads against Harry Knight all the time! I cannot get over that.' The vicar had immediately remembered the name to be that of Stephen Smith's preceptor and friend; but having ceased to concern himself in the matter he made no remark to that effect, consistently forbearing to allude to anything which could restore recollection of the (to him) disagreeable mistake with regard to poor Stephen's lineage and position. Elfride had of course perceived the same thing, which added to the complication of relationship a mesh that her stepmother knew nothing of.
The identification scarcely heightened Knight's attractions now, though a twelvemonth ago she would only have cared to see him for the interest he possessed as Stephen's friend.
Fortunately for Knight's advent, such a reason for welcome had only begun to be awkward to her at a time when the interest he had acquired on his own account made it no longer necessary. These coincidences, in common with all relating to him, tended to keep Elfride's mind upon the stretch concerning Knight. As was her custom when upon the horns of a dilemma, she walked off by herself among the laurel bushes, and there, standing still and splitting up a leaf without removing it from its stalk, fetched back recollections of Stephen's frequent words in praise of his friend, and wished she had listened more attentively. Then, still pulling the leaf, she would blush at some fancied mortification that would accrue to her from his words when they met, in consequence of her intrusiveness, as she now considered it, in writing to him.
The next development of her meditations was the subject of what this man's personal appearance might be—was he tall or short, dark or fair, gay or grim? She would have asked Mrs. Swancourt but for the risk she might thereby incur of some teasing remark being returned. Ultimately Elfride would say, 'Oh, what a plague that reviewer is to me!' and turn her face to where she imagined India lay, and murmur to herself, 'Ah, my little husband, what are you doing now? Let me see, where are you—south, east, where? Behind that hill, ever so far behind!' CHAPTER 17 'Her welcome, spoke in faltering phrase.' 'There is Henry Knight, I declare!' said Mrs. Swancourt one day.
They were gazing from the jutting angle of a wild enclosure not far from The Crags, which almost overhung the valley already described as leading up from the sea and little port of Castle Boterel. The stony escarpment upon which they stood had the contour of a man's face, and it was covered with furze as with a beard. People in the field above were preserved from an accidental roll down these prominences and hollows by a hedge on the very crest, which was doing that kindly service for Elfride and her mother now.
Scrambling higher into the hedge and stretching her neck further over the furze, Elfride beheld the individual signified. He was walking leisurely along the little green path at the bottom, beside the stream, a satchel slung upon his left hip, a stout walking-stick in his hand, and a brown-holland sun-hat upon his head. The satchel was worn and old, and the outer polished surface of the leather was cracked and peeling off.
Knight having arrived over the hills to Castle Boterel upon the top of a crazy omnibus, preferred to walk the remaining two miles up the valley, leaving his luggage to be brought on.
Behind him wandered, helter-skelter, a boy of whom Knight had briefly inquired the way to Endelstow; and by that natural law of physics which causes lesser bodies to gravitate towards the greater, this boy had kept near to Knight, and trotted like a little dog close at his heels, whistling as he went, with his eyes fixed upon Knight's boots as they rose and fell.
When they had reached a point precisely opposite that in which Mrs. and Miss Swancourt lay in ambush, Knight stopped and turned round.
'Look here, my boy,' he said.
The boy parted his lips, opened his eyes, and answered nothing.
'Here's sixpence for you, on condition that you don't again come within twenty yards of my heels, all the way up the valley.' The boy, who apparently had not known he had been looking at Knight's heels at all, took the sixpence mechanically, and Knight went on again, wrapt in meditation.
'A nice voice,' Elfride thought; 'but what a singular temper!' 'Now we must get indoors before he ascends the slope,' said Mrs. Swancourt softly. And they went across by a short cut over a stile, entering the lawn by a side door, and so on to the house.
Mr. Swancourt had gone into the village with the curate, and Elfride felt too nervous to await their visitor's arrival in the drawing-room with Mrs. Swancourt. So that when the elder lady entered, Elfride made some pretence of perceiving a new variety of crimson geranium, and lingered behind among the flower beds.
There was nothing gained by this, after all, she thought; and a few minutes after boldly came into the house by the glass side-door. She walked along the corridor, and entered the drawing-room. Nobody was there.
A window at the angle of the room opened directly into an octagonal conservatory, enclosing the corner of the building. From the conservatory came voices in conversation— Mrs. Swancourt's and the stranger's.
She had expected him to talk brilliantly. To her surprise he was asking questions in quite a learner's manner, on subjects connected with the flowers and shrubs that she had known for years. When after the lapse of a few minutes he spoke at some length, she considered there was a hard square decisiveness in the shape of his sentences, as if, unlike her own and Stephen's, they were not there and then newly constructed, but were drawn forth from a large store ready-made. They were now approaching the window to come in again.
'That is a flesh-coloured variety,' said Mrs. Swancourt. 'But oleanders, though they are such bulky shrubs, are so very easily wounded as to be unprunable—giants with the sensitiveness of young ladies. Oh, here is Elfride!' Elfride looked as guilty and crestfallen as Lady Teazle at the dropping of the screen. Mrs.
Swancourt presented him half comically, and Knight in a minute or two placed himself beside the young lady.
A complexity of instincts checked Elfride's conventional smiles of complaisance and hospitality; and, to make her still less comfortable, Mrs. Swancourt immediately afterwards left them together to seek her husband. Mr. Knight, however, did not seem at all
incommoded by his feelings, and he said with light easefulness:
'So, Miss Swancourt, I have met you at last. You escaped me by a few minutes only when we were in London.' 'Yes. I found that you had seen Mrs. Swancourt.' 'And now reviewer and reviewed are face to face,' he added unconcernedly.
'Yes: though the fact of your being a relation of Mrs. Swancourt's takes off the edge of it. It was strange that you should be one of her family all the time.' Elfride began to recover herself now, and to look into Knight's face. 'I was merely anxious to let you know my REAL meaning in writing the book—extremely anxious.' 'I can quite understand the wish; and I was gratified that my remarks should have reached home. They very seldom do, I am afraid.' Elfride drew herself in. Here he was, sticking to his opinions as firmly as if friendship and politeness did not in the least require an immediate renunciation of them.
'You made me very uneasy and sorry by writing such things!' she murmured, suddenly dropping the mere cacueterie of a fashionable first introduction, and speaking with some of the dudgeon of a child towards a severe schoolmaster.
'That is rather the object of honest critics in such a case. Not to cause unnecessary sorrow, but: "To make you sorry after a proper manner, that ye may receive damage by us in nothing," as a powerful pen once wrote to the Gentiles. Are you going to write another romance?' 'Write another?' she said. 'That somebody may pen a condemnation and "nail't wi' Scripture" again, as you do now, Mr. Knight?' 'You may do better next time,' he said placidly: 'I think you will. But I would advise you to confine yourself to domestic scenes.' 'Thank you. But never again!' 'Well, you may be right. That a young woman has taken to writing is not by any means the best thing to hear about her.' 'What is the best?' 'I prefer not to say.' 'Do you know? Then, do tell me, please.' 'Well'—(Knight was evidently changing his meaning)—'I suppose to hear that she has married.' Elfride hesitated. 'And what when she has been married?' she said at last, partly in order to withdraw her own person from the argument.
'Then to hear no more about her. It is as Smeaton said of his lighthouse: her greatest real praise, when the novelty of her inauguration has worn off, is that nothing happens to keep the talk of her alive.' 'Yes, I see,' said Elfride softly and thoughtfully. 'But of course it is different quite with men.
Why don't you write novels, Mr. Knight?' 'Because I couldn't write one that would interest anybody.' 'Why?' 'For several reasons. It requires a judicious omission of your real thoughts to make a novel popular, for one thing.' 'Is that really necessary? Well, I am sure you could learn to do that with practice,' said Elfride with an ex-cathedra air, as became a person who spoke from experience in the art.
'You would make a great name for certain,' she continued.
'So many people make a name nowadays, that it is more distinguished to remain in obscurity.' 'Tell me seriously—apart from the subject—why don't you write a volume instead of loose articles?' she insisted.
'Since you are pleased to make me talk of myself, I will tell you seriously,' said Knight, not less amused at this catechism by his young friend than he was interested in her appearance.
'As I have implied, I have not the wish. And if I had the wish, I could not now concentrate sufficiently. We all have only our one cruse of energy given us to make the best of. And where that energy has been leaked away week by week, quarter by quarter, as mine has for the last nine or ten years, there is not enough dammed back behind the mill at any given period to supply the force a complete book on any subject requires. Then there is the selfconfidence and waiting power. Where quick results have grown customary, they are fatal to a lively faith in the future.' 'Yes, I comprehend; and so you choose to write in fragments?' 'No, I don't choose to do it in the sense you mean; choosing from a whole world of professions, all possible. It was by the constraint of accident merely. Not that I object to the accident.' 'Why don't you object—I mean, why do you feel so quiet about things?' Elfride was half afraid to question him so, but her intense curiosity to see what the inside of literary Mr.
Knight was like, kept her going on.
Knight certainly did not mind being frank with her. Instances of this trait in men who are not without feeling, but are reticent from habit, may be recalled by all of us. When they find a listener who can by no possibility make use of them, rival them, or condemn them, reserved and even suspicious men of the world become frank, keenly enjoying the inner side of their frankness.