«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: ...»
Knight continued, putting away the case: 'I felt as anybody naturally would have, you know, that my words on your choice the other day were invidious and unfair, and thought an apology should take a practical shape.' 'Oh yes.' Elfride was sorry—she could not tell why—that he gave such a legitimate reason. It was a disappointment that he had all the time a cool motive, which might be stated to anybody without raising a smile. Had she known they were offered in that spirit, she would certainly have accepted the seductive gift. And the tantalizing feature was that perhaps he suspected her to imagine them offered as a lover's token, which was mortifying enough if they were not.
Mrs. Swancourt came now to where they were sitting, to select a flat boulder for spreading their table-cloth upon, and, amid the discussion on that subject, the matter pending between Knight and Elfride was shelved for a while. He read her refusal so certainly as the bashfulness of a girl in a novel position, that, upon the whole, he could tolerate such a beginning. Could Knight have been told that it was a sense of fidelity struggling against new love, whilst no less assuring as to his ultimate victory, it might have entirely abstracted the wish to secure it.
At the same time a slight constraint of manner was visible between them for the remainder of the afternoon. The tide turned, and they were obliged to ascend to higher ground. The day glided on to its end with the usual quiet dreamy passivity of such occasions—when every deed done and thing thought is in endeavouring to avoid doing and thinking more.
Looking idly over the verge of a crag, they beheld their stone dining-table gradually being splashed upon and their crumbs and fragments all washed away by the incoming sea. The vicar drew a moral lesson from the scene; Knight replied in the same satisfied strain. And then the waves rolled in furiously—the neutral green-and-blue tongues of water slid up the slopes, and were metamorphosed into foam by a careless blow, falling back white and faint, and leaving trailing followers behind.
The passing of a heavy shower was the next scene—driving them to shelter in a shallow cave—after which the horses were put in, and they started to return homeward. By the time they reached the higher levels the sky had again cleared, and the sunset rays glanced directly upon the wet uphill road they had climbed. The ruts formed by their carriagewheels on the ascent—a pair of Liliputian canals—were as shining bars of gold, tapering to nothing in the distance. Upon this also they turned their backs, and night spread over the sea.
The evening was chilly, and there was no moon. Knight sat close to Elfride, and, when the darkness rendered the position of a person a matter of uncertainty, particularly close.
Elfride edged away.
'I hope you allow me my place ungrudgingly?' he whispered.
'Oh yes; 'tis the least I can do in common civility,' she said, accenting the words so that he might recognize them as his own returned.
Both of them felt delicately balanced between two possibilities. Thus they reached home.
To Knight this mild experience was delightful. It was to him a gentle innocent time—a time which, though there may not be much in it, seldom repeats itself in a man's life, and has a peculiar dearness when glanced at retrospectively. He is not inconveniently deep in love, and is lulled by a peaceful sense of being able to enjoy the most trivial thing with a childlike enjoyment. The movement of a wave, the colour of a stone, anything, was enough for Knight's drowsy thoughts of that day to precipitate themselves upon. Even the sermonizing platitudes the vicar had delivered himself of—chiefly because something seemed to be professionally required of him in the presence of a man of Knight's proclivities—were swallowed whole. The presence of Elfride led him not merely to tolerate that kind of talk from the necessities of ordinary courtesy; but he listened to it—took in the ideas with an enjoyable make-believe that they were proper and necessary, and indulged in a conservative feeling that the face of things was complete.
Entering her room that evening Elfride found a packet for herself on the dressing-table. How it came there she did not know. She tremblingly undid the folds of white paper that covered it. Yes; it was the treasure of a morocco case, containing those treasures of ornament she had refused in the daytime.
Elfride dressed herself in them for a moment, looked at herself in the glass, blushed red, and put them away. They filled her dreams all that night. Never had she seen anything so lovely, and never was it more clear that as an honest woman she was in duty bound to refuse them. Why it was not equally clear to her that duty required more vigorous co-ordinate conduct as well, let those who dissect her say.
The next morning glared in like a spectre upon her. It was Stephen's letter-day, and she was bound to meet the postman—to stealthily do a deed she had never liked, to secure an end she now had ceased to desire.
But she went.
There were two letters.
One was from the bank at St. Launce's, in which she had a small private deposit—probably something about interest. She put that in her pocket for a moment, and going indoors and upstairs to be safer from observation, tremblingly opened Stephen's.
What was this he said to her?
She was to go to the St. Launce's Bank and take a sum of money which they had received private advices to pay her.
The sum was two hundred pounds.
There was no check, order, or anything of the nature of guarantee. In fact the information amounted to this: the money was now in the St. Launce's Bank, standing in her name.
She instantly opened the other letter. It contained a deposit-note from the bank for the sum of two hundred pounds which had that day been added to her account. Stephen's information, then, was correct, and the transfer made.
'I have saved this in one year,' Stephen's letter went on to say, 'and what so proper as well as pleasant for me to do as to hand it over to you to keep for your use? I have plenty for myself, independently of this. Should you not be disposed to let it lie idle in the bank, get your father to invest it in your name on good security. It is a little present to you from your more than betrothed. He will, I think, Elfride, feel now that my pretensions to your hand are anything but the dream of a silly boy not worth rational consideration.' With a natural delicacy, Elfride, in mentioning her father's marriage, had refrained from all allusion to the pecuniary resources of the lady.
Leaving this matter-of-fact subject, he went on, somewhat after his boyish manner:
'Do you remember, darling, that first morning of my arrival at your house, when your father read at prayers the miracle of healing the sick of the palsy—where he is told to take up his bed and walk? I do, and I can now so well realize the force of that passage. The smallest piece of mat is the bed of the Oriental, and yesterday I saw a native perform the very action, which reminded me to mention it. But you are better read than I, and perhaps you knew all this long ago....One day I bought some small native idols to send home to you as curiosities, but afterwards finding they had been cast in England, made to look old, and shipped over, I threw them away in disgust.
'Speaking of this reminds me that we are obliged to import all our house-building ironwork from England. Never was such foresight required to be exercised in building houses as here.
Before we begin, we have to order every column, lock, hinge, and screw that will be required. We cannot go into the next street, as in London, and get them cast at a minute's notice. Mr. L. says somebody will have to go to England very soon and superintend the selection of a large order of this kind. I only wish I may be the man.' There before her lay the deposit-receipt for the two hundred pounds, and beside it the elegant present of Knight. Elfride grew cold—then her cheeks felt heated by beating blood.
If by destroying the piece of paper the whole transaction could have been withdrawn from her experience, she would willingly have sacrificed the money it represented. She did not
know what to do in either case. She almost feared to let the two articles lie in juxtaposition:
so antagonistic were the interests they represented that a miraculous repulsion of one by the other was almost to be expected.
That day she was seen little of. By the evening she had come to a resolution, and acted upon it. The packet was sealed up—with a tear of regret as she closed the case upon the pretty forms it contained—directed, and placed upon the writing-table in Knight's room. And a letter was written to Stephen, stating that as yet she hardly understood her position with regard to the money sent; but declaring that she was ready to fulfil her promise to marry him. After this letter had been written she delayed posting it—although never ceasing to feel strenuously that the deed must be done.
Several days passed. There was another Indian letter for Elfride. Coming unexpectedly, her father saw it, but made no remark—why, she could not tell. The news this time was absolutely overwhelming. Stephen, as he had wished, had been actually chosen as the most fitting to execute the iron-work commission he had alluded to as impending. This duty completed he would have three months' leave. His letter continued that he should follow it in a week, and should take the opportunity to plainly ask her father to permit the engagement. Then came a page expressive of his delight and hers at the reunion; and finally, the information that he would write to the shipping agents, asking them to telegraph and tell her when the ship bringing him home should be in sight—knowing how acceptable such information would be.
Elfride lived and moved now as in a dream. Knight had at first become almost angry at her persistent refusal of his offering—and no less with the manner than the fact of it. But he saw that she began to look worn and ill—and his vexation lessened to simple perplexity.
He ceased now to remain in the house for long hours together as before, but made it a mere centre for antiquarian and geological excursions in the neighbourhood. Throw up his cards and go away he fain would have done, but could not. And, thus, availing himself of the privileges of a relative, he went in and out the premises as fancy led him—but still lingered on.
'I don't wish to stay here another day if my presence is distasteful,' he said one afternoon.
'At first you used to imply that I was severe with you; and when I am kind you treat me unfairly.' 'No, no. Don't say so.' The origin of their acquaintanceship had been such as to render their manner towards each other peculiar and uncommon. It was of a kind to cause them to speak out their minds on any feelings of objection and difference: to be reticent on gentler matters.
'I have a good mind to go away and never trouble you again,' continued Knight.
She said nothing, but the eloquent expression of her eyes and wan face was enough to reproach him for harshness.
'Do you like me to be here, then?' inquired Knight gently.
'Yes,' she said. Fidelity to the old love and truth to the new were ranged on opposite sides, and truth virtuelessly prevailed.
'Then I'll stay a little longer,' said Knight.
'Don't be vexed if I keep by myself a good deal, will you? Perhaps something may happen, and I may tell you something.' 'Mere coyness,' said Knight to himself; and went away with a lighter heart. The trick of reading truly the enigmatical forces at work in women at given times, which with some men is an unerring instinct, is peculiar to minds less direct and honest than Knight's.
The next evening, about five o'clock, before Knight had returned from a pilgrimage along the shore, a man walked up to the house. He was a messenger from Camelton, a town a few miles off, to which place the railway had been advanced during the summer.
'A telegram for Miss Swancourt, and three and sixpence to pay for the special messenger.' Miss Swancourt sent out the money, signed the paper, and opened her letter with a
trembling hand. She read:
'Johnson, Liverpool, to Miss Swancourt, Endelstow, near Castle Boterel.
'Amaryllis telegraphed off Holyhead, four o'clock. Expect will dock and land passengers at Canning's Basin ten o'clock to-morrow morning.' Her father called her into the study.
'Elfride, who sent you that message?' he asked suspiciously.
'Johnson.' 'Who is Johnson, for Heaven's sake?' 'I don't know.' 'The deuce you don't! Who is to know, then?' 'I have never heard of him till now.' 'That's a singular story, isn't it.' 'I don't know.' 'Come, come, miss! What was the telegram?' 'Do you really wish to know, papa?' 'Well, I do.' 'Remember, I am a full-grown woman now.' 'Well, what then?' 'Being a woman, and not a child, I may, I think, have a secret or two.' 'You will, it seems.' 'Women have, as a rule.' 'But don't keep them. So speak out.' 'If you will not press me now, I give my word to tell you the meaning of all this before the week is past.' 'On your honour?' 'On my honour.' 'Very well. I have had a certain suspicion, you know; and I shall be glad to find it false. I don't like your manner lately.' 'At the end of the week, I said, papa.' Her father did not reply, and Elfride left the room.
She began to look out for the postman again. Three mornings later he brought an inland letter from Stephen. It contained very little matter, having been written in haste; but the meaning was bulky enough. Stephen said that, having executed a commission in Liverpool, he should arrive at his father's house, East Endelstow, at five or six o'clock that same evening; that he would after dusk walk on to the next village, and meet her, if she would, in the church porch, as in the old time. He proposed this plan because he thought it unadvisable to call formally at her house so late in the evening; yet he could not sleep without having seen her. The minutes would seem hours till he clasped her in his arms.
Elfride was still steadfast in her opinion that honour compelled her to meet him. Probably the very longing to avoid him lent additional weight to the conviction; for she was markedly one of those who sigh for the unattainable—to whom, superlatively, a hope is pleasing because not a possession. And she knew it so well that her intellect was inclined to exaggerate this defect in herself.