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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 43 ] --

'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 32 '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 selfcommittal 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.



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