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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: ...»

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'I suppose,' said Stephen, 'that a man who can neither sit in a saddle himself nor help another person into one seems a useless incumbrance; but, Miss Swancourt, I'll learn to do it all for your sake; I will, indeed.' 'What is so unusual in you,' she said, in a didactic tone justifiable in a horsewoman's address to a benighted walker, 'is that your knowledge of certain things should be combined with your ignorance of certain other things.' Stephen lifted his eyes earnestly to hers.

'You know,' he said, 'it is simply because there are so many other things to be learnt in this wide world that I didn't trouble about that particular bit of knowledge. I thought it would be useless to me; but I don't think so now. I will learn riding, and all connected with it, because then you would like me better. Do you like me much less for this?' She looked sideways at him with critical meditation tenderly rendered.

'Do I seem like LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI?' she began suddenly, without replying to his

question. 'Fancy yourself saying, Mr. Smith:

"I sat her on my pacing steed, And nothing else saw all day long, For sidelong would she bend, and sing

–  –  –

She found me roots of relish sweet, And honey wild, and manna dew;" and that's all she did.' 'No, no,' said the young man stilly, and with a rising colour.

'"And sure in language strange she said,

–  –  –

'Not at all,' she rejoined quickly. 'See how I can gallop. Now, Pansy, off!' And Elfride started;

and Stephen beheld her light figure contracting to the dimensions of a bird as she sank into the distance—her hair flowing.

He walked on in the same direction, and for a considerable time could see no signs of her returning. Dull as a flower without the sun he sat down upon a stone, and not for fifteen minutes was any sound of horse or rider to be heard. Then Elfride and Pansy appeared on the hill in a round trot.

'Such a delightful scamper as we have had!' she said, her face flushed and her eyes sparkling. She turned the horse's head, Stephen arose, and they went on again.

'Well, what have you to say to me, Mr. Smith, after my long absence?' 'Do you remember a question you could not exactly answer last night—whether I was more to you than anybody else?' said he.

'I cannot exactly answer now, either.' 'Why can't you?' 'Because I don't know if I am more to you than any one else.' 'Yes, indeed, you are!' he exclaimed in a voice of intensest appreciation, at the same time gliding round and looking into her face.

'Eyes in eyes,' he murmured playfully; and she blushingly obeyed, looking back into his.

'And why not lips on lips?' continued Stephen daringly.

'No, certainly not. Anybody might look; and it would be the death of me. You may kiss my hand if you like.' He expressed by a look that to kiss a hand through a glove, and that a riding-glove, was not a great treat under the circumstances.

'There, then; I'll take my glove off. Isn't it a pretty white hand? Ah, you don't want to kiss it, and you shall not now!' 'If I do not, may I never kiss again, you severe Elfride! You know I think more of you than I can tell; that you are my queen. I would die for you, Elfride!' A rapid red again filled her cheeks, and she looked at him meditatively. What a proud moment it was for Elfride then! She was ruling a heart with absolute despotism for the first time in her life.

Stephen stealthily pounced upon her hand.

'No; I won't, I won't!' she said intractably; 'and you shouldn't take me by surprise.' There ensued a mild form of tussle for absolute possession of the much-coveted hand, in which the boisterousness of boy and girl was far more prominent than the dignity of man and woman. Then Pansy became restless. Elfride recovered her position and remembered herself.

'You make me behave in not a nice way at all!' she exclaimed, in a tone neither of pleasure nor anger, but partaking of both. 'I ought not to have allowed such a romp! We are too old now for that sort of thing.' 'I hope you don't think me too—too much of a creeping-round sort of man,' said he in a penitent tone, conscious that he too had lost a little dignity by the proceeding.

'You are too familiar; and I can't have it! Considering the shortness of the time we have known each other, Mr. Smith, you take too much upon you. You think I am a country girl, and it doesn't matter how you behave to me!' 'I assure you, Miss Swancourt, that I had no idea of freak in my mind. I wanted to imprint a sweet—serious kiss upon your hand; and that's all.' 'Now, that's creeping round again! And you mustn't look into my eyes so,' she said, shaking her head at him, and trotting on a few paces in advance. Thus she led the way out of the lane and across some fields in the direction of the cliffs. At the boundary of the fields nearest the sea she expressed a wish to dismount. The horse was tied to a post, and they both followed an irregular path, which ultimately terminated upon a flat ledge passing round the face of the huge blue-black rock at a height about midway between the sea and the topmost verge. There, far beneath and before them, lay the everlasting stretch of ocean; there, upon detached rocks, were the white screaming gulls, seeming ever intending to settle, and yet always passing on. Right and left ranked the toothed and zigzag line of storm-torn heights, forming the series which culminated in the one beneath their feet.

Behind the youth and maiden was a tempting alcove and seat, formed naturally in the beetling mass, and wide enough to admit two or three persons. Elfride sat down, and Stephen sat beside her.

'I am afraid it is hardly proper of us to be here, either,' she said half inquiringly. 'We have not known each other long enough for this kind of thing, have we!' 'Oh yes,' he replied judicially; 'quite long enough.' 'How do you know?' 'It is not length of time, but the manner in which our minutes beat, that makes enough or not enough in our acquaintanceship.' 'Yes, I see that. But I wish papa suspected or knew what a VERY NEW THING I am doing. He does not think of it at all.' 'Darling Elfie, I wish we could be married! It is wrong for me to say it—I know it is—before you know more; but I wish we might be, all the same. Do you love me deeply, deeply?' 'No!' she said in a fluster.

At this point-blank denial, Stephen turned his face away decisively, and preserved an ominous silence; the only objects of interest on earth for him being apparently the three or four-score sea-birds circling in the air afar off.

'I didn't mean to stop you quite,' she faltered with some alarm; and seeing that he still remained silent, she added more anxiously, 'If you say that again, perhaps, I will not be quite—quite so obstinate—if—if you don't like me to be.' 'Oh, my Elfride!' he exclaimed, and kissed her.

It was Elfride's first kiss. And so awkward and unused was she; full of striving—no relenting.

There was none of those apparent struggles to get out of the trap which only results in getting further in: no final attitude of receptivity: no easy close of shoulder to shoulder, hand upon hand, face upon face, and, in spite of coyness, the lips in the right place at the supreme moment. That graceful though apparently accidental falling into position, which many have noticed as precipitating the end and making sweethearts the sweeter, was not here. Why? Because experience was absent. A woman must have had many kisses before she kisses well.

In fact, the art of tendering the lips for these amatory salutes follows the principles laid down in treatises on legerdemain for performing the trick called Forcing a Card. The card is to be shifted nimbly, withdrawn, edged under, and withal not to be offered till the moment the unsuspecting person's hand reaches the pack; this forcing to be done so modestly and yet so coaxingly, that the person trifled with imagines he is really choosing what is in fact thrust into his hand.

Well, there were no such facilities now; and Stephen was conscious of it—first with a momentary regret that his kiss should be spoilt by her confused receipt of it, and then with the pleasant perception that her awkwardness was her charm.

'And you do care for me and love me?' said he.

'Yes.' 'Very much?' 'Yes.' 'And I mustn't ask you if you'll wait for me, and be my wife some day?' 'Why not?' she said naively.

'There is a reason why, my Elfride.' 'Not any one that I know of.' 'Suppose there is something connected with me which makes it almost impossible for you to agree to be my wife, or for your father to countenance such an idea?' 'Nothing shall make me cease to love you: no blemish can be found upon your personal nature. That is pure and generous, I know; and having that, how can I be cold to you?' 'And shall nothing else affect us—shall nothing beyond my nature be a part of my quality in your eyes, Elfie?' 'Nothing whatever,' she said with a breath of relief. 'Is that all? Some outside circumstance?

What do I care?' 'You can hardly judge, dear, till you know what has to be judged. For that, we will stop till we get home. I believe in you, but I cannot feel bright.' 'Love is new, and fresh to us as the dew; and we are together. As the lover's world goes, this is a great deal. Stephen, I fancy I see the difference between me and you—between men and women generally, perhaps. I am content to build happiness on any accidental basis that may lie near at hand; you are for making a world to suit your happiness.' 'Elfride, you sometimes say things which make you seem suddenly to become five years older than you are, or than I am; and that remark is one. I couldn't think so OLD as that, try how I might....And no lover has ever kissed you before?' 'Never.' 'I knew that; you were so unused. You ride well, but you don't kiss nicely at all; and I was told once, by my friend Knight, that that is an excellent fault in woman.' 'Now, come; I must mount again, or we shall not be home by dinner-time.' And they returned to where Pansy stood tethered. 'Instead of entrusting my weight to a young man's unstable palm,' she continued gaily, 'I prefer a surer "upping-stock" (as the villagers call it), in the form of a gate. There—now I am myself again.' They proceeded homeward at the same walking pace.

Her blitheness won Stephen out of his thoughtfulness, and each forgot everything but the tone of the moment.

'What did you love me for?' she said, after a long musing look at a flying bird.

'I don't know,' he replied idly.

'Oh yes, you do,' insisted Elfride.

'Perhaps, for your eyes.' 'What of them?—now, don't vex me by a light answer. What of my eyes?' 'Oh, nothing to be mentioned. They are indifferently good.' 'Come, Stephen, I won't have that. What did you love me for?' 'It might have been for your mouth?' 'Well, what about my mouth?' 'I thought it was a passable mouth enough——' 'That's not very comforting.' 'With a pretty pout and sweet lips; but actually, nothing more than what everybody has.' 'Don't make up things out of your head as you go on, there's a dear Stephen. Now—what— did—you—love—me—for?' 'Perhaps, 'twas for your neck and hair; though I am not sure: or for your idle blood, that did nothing but wander away from your cheeks and back again; but I am not sure. Or your hands and arms, that they eclipsed all other hands and arms; or your feet, that they played about under your dress like little mice; or your tongue, that it was of a dear delicate tone.

But I am not altogether sure.' 'Ah, that's pretty to say; but I don't care for your love, if it made a mere flat picture of me in that way, and not being sure, and such cold reasoning; but what you FELT I was, you know, Stephen' (at this a stealthy laugh and frisky look into his face), 'when you said to yourself, "I'll certainly love that young lady."' 'I never said it.' 'When you said to yourself, then, "I never will love that young lady."' 'I didn't say that, either.' 'Then was it, "I suppose I must love that young lady?"' 'No.' 'What, then?' ''Twas much more fluctuating—not so definite.' 'Tell me; do, do.' 'It was that I ought not to think about you if I loved you truly.' 'Ah, that I don't understand. There's no getting it out of you. And I'll not ask you ever any more—never more—to say out of the deep reality of your heart what you loved me for.' 'Sweet tantalizer, what's the use? It comes to this sole simple thing: That at one time I had never seen you, and I didn't love you; that then I saw you, and I did love you. Is that enough?' 'Yes; I will make it do....I know, I think, what I love you for. You are nice-looking, of course;

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