«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: ...»
but I didn't mean for that. It is because you are so docile and gentle.' 'Those are not quite the correct qualities for a man to be loved for,' said Stephen, in rather a dissatisfied tone of self-criticism. 'Well, never mind. I must ask your father to allow us to be engaged directly we get indoors. It will be for a long time.' 'I like it the better....Stephen, don't mention it till to-morrow.' 'Why?' 'Because, if he should object—I don't think he will; but if he should—we shall have a day longer of happiness from our ignorance....Well, what are you thinking of so deeply?' 'I was thinking how my dear friend Knight would enjoy this scene. I wish he could come here.' 'You seem very much engrossed with him,' she answered, with a jealous little toss. 'He must be an interesting man to take up so much of your attention.' 'Interesting!' said Stephen, his face glowing with his fervour; 'noble, you ought to say.' 'Oh yes, yes; I forgot,' she said half satirically. 'The noblest man in England, as you told us last night.' 'He is a fine fellow, laugh as you will, Miss Elfie.' 'I know he is your hero. But what does he do? anything?' 'He writes.' 'What does he write? I have never heard of his name.' 'Because his personality, and that of several others like him, is absorbed into a huge WE, namely, the impalpable entity called the PRESENT—a social and literary Review.' 'Is he only a reviewer?' 'ONLY, Elfie! Why, I can tell you it is a fine thing to be on the staff of the PRESENT.
Knight—I suppose he is a very good man.' 'An excellent man. I shall try to be his intimate friend some day.' 'But aren't you now?' 'No; not so much as that,' replied Stephen, as if such a supposition were extravagant. 'You see, it was in this way—he came originally from the same place as I, and taught me things;
but I am not intimate with him. Shan't I be glad when I get richer and better known, and hob and nob with him!' Stephen's eyes sparkled.
A pout began to shape itself upon Elfride's soft lips. 'You think always of him, and like him better than you do me!' 'No, indeed, Elfride. The feeling is different quite. But I do like him, and he deserves even more affection from me than I give.' 'You are not nice now, and you make me as jealous as possible!' she exclaimed perversely. 'I know you will never speak to any third person of me so warmly as you do to me of him.' 'But you don't understand, Elfride,' he said with an anxious movement. 'You shall know him some day. He is so brilliant—no, it isn't exactly brilliant; so thoughtful—nor does thoughtful express him—that it would charm you to talk to him. He's a most desirable friend, and that isn't half I could say.' 'I don't care how good he is; I don't want to know him, because he comes between me and you. You think of him night and day, ever so much more than of anybody else; and when you are thinking of him, I am shut out of your mind.' 'No, dear Elfride; I love you dearly.' 'And I don't like you to tell me so warmly about him when you are in the middle of loving me. Stephen, suppose that I and this man Knight of yours were both drowning, and you could only save one of us——' 'Yes—the stupid old proposition—which would I save?
'Well, which? Not me.' 'Both of you,' he said, pressing her pendent hand.
'No, that won't do; only one of us.' 'I cannot say; I don't know. It is disagreeable—quite a horrid idea to have to handle.' 'A-ha, I know. You would save him, and let me drown, drown, drown; and I don't care about your love!' She had endeavoured to give a playful tone to her words, but the latter speech was rather forced in its gaiety.
At this point in the discussion she trotted off to turn a corner which was avoided by the footpath, the road and the path reuniting at a point a little further on. On again making her appearance she continually managed to look in a direction away from him, and left him in the cool shade of her displeasure. Stephen was soon beaten at this game of indifference. He went round and entered the range of her vision.
'Are you offended, Elfie? Why don't you talk?' 'Save me, then, and let that Mr. Clever of yours drown. I hate him. Now, which would you?' 'Really, Elfride, you should not press such a hard question. It is ridiculous.' 'Then I won't be alone with you any more. Unkind, to wound me so!' She laughed at her own absurdity but persisted.
'Come, Elfie, let's make it up and be friends.' 'Say you would save me, then, and let him drown.' 'I would save you—and him too.' 'And let him drown. Come, or you don't love me!' she teasingly went on.
'And let him drown,' he ejaculated despairingly.
'There; now I am yours!' she said, and a woman's flush of triumph lit her eyes.
'Only one earring, miss, as I'm alive,' said Unity on their entering the hall.
With a face expressive of wretched misgiving, Elfride's hand flew like an arrow to her ear.
'There!' she exclaimed to Stephen, looking at him with eyes full of reproach.
'I quite forgot, indeed. If I had only remembered!' he answered, with a conscience-stricken face.
She wheeled herself round, and turned into the shrubbery. Stephen followed.
'If you had told me to watch anything, Stephen, I should have religiously done it,' she capriciously went on, as soon as she heard him behind her.
'Forgetting is forgivable.' 'Well, you will find it, if you want me to respect you and be engaged to you when we have asked papa.' She considered a moment, and added more seriously, 'I know now where I dropped it, Stephen. It was on the cliff. I remember a faint sensation of some change about me, but I was too absent to think of it then. And that's where it is now, and you must go and look there.' 'I'll go at once.' And he strode away up the valley, under a broiling sun and amid the deathlike silence of early afternoon. He ascended, with giddy-paced haste, the windy range of rocks to where they had sat, felt and peered about the stones and crannies, but Elfride's stray jewel was nowhere to be seen. Next Stephen slowly retraced his steps, and, pausing at a cross-road to reflect a while, he left the plateau and struck downwards across some fields, in the direction of Endelstow House.
He walked along the path by the river without the slightest hesitation as to its bearing, apparently quite familiar with every inch of the ground. As the shadows began to lengthen and the sunlight to mellow, he passed through two wicket-gates, and drew near the outskirts of Endelstow Park. The river now ran along under the park fence, previous to entering the grove itself, a little further on.
Here stood a cottage, between the fence and the stream, on a slightly elevated spot of ground, round which the river took a turn. The characteristic feature of this snug habitation was its one chimney in the gable end, its squareness of form disguised by a huge cloak of ivy, which had grown so luxuriantly and extended so far from its base, as to increase the apparent bulk of the chimney to the dimensions of a tower. Some little distance from the back of the house rose the park boundary, and over this were to be seen the sycamores of the grove, making slow inclinations to the just-awakening air.
Stephen crossed the little wood bridge in front, went up to the cottage door, and opened it without knock or signal of any kind.
Exclamations of welcome burst from some person or persons when the door was thrust ajar, followed by the scrape of chairs on a stone floor, as if pushed back by their occupiers in rising from a table. The door was closed again, and nothing could now be heard from within, save a lively chatter and the rattle of plates.
CHAPTER 8 'Allen-a-Dale is no baron or lord.' The mists were creeping out of pools and swamps for their pilgrimages of the night when Stephen came up to the front door of the vicarage. Elfride was standing on the step illuminated by a lemon-hued expanse of western sky.
'You never have been all this time looking for that earring?' she said anxiously.
'Oh no; and I have not found it.' 'Never mind. Though I am much vexed; they are my prettiest. But, Stephen, what ever have you been doing—where have you been? I have been so uneasy. I feared for you, knowing not an inch of the country. I thought, suppose he has fallen over the cliff! But now I am inclined to scold you for frightening me so.' 'I must speak to your father now,' he said rather abruptly; 'I have so much to say to him— and to you, Elfride.' 'Will what you have to say endanger this nice time of ours, and is it that same shadowy secret you allude to so frequently, and will it make me unhappy?' 'Possibly.' She breathed heavily, and looked around as if for a prompter.
'Put it off till to-morrow,' she said.
He involuntarily sighed too.
'No; it must come to-night. Where is your father, Elfride?' 'Somewhere in the kitchen garden, I think,' she replied. 'That is his favourite evening retreat.
I will leave you now. Say all that's to be said—do all there is to be done. Think of me waiting anxiously for the end.' And she re-entered the house.
She waited in the drawing-room, watching the lights sink to shadows, the shadows sink to darkness, until her impatience to know what had occurred in the garden could no longer be controlled. She passed round the shrubbery, unlatched the garden door, and skimmed with her keen eyes the whole twilighted space that the four walls enclosed and sheltered: they were not there. She mounted a little ladder, which had been used for gathering fruit, and looked over the wall into the field. This field extended to the limits of the glebe, which was enclosed on that side by a privet-hedge. Under the hedge was Mr. Swancourt, walking up and down, and talking aloud—to himself, as it sounded at first. No: another voice shouted occasional replies; and this interlocutor seemed to be on the other side of the hedge. The voice, though soft in quality, was not Stephen's.
The second speaker must have been in the long-neglected garden of an old manor-house hard by, which, together with a small estate attached, had lately been purchased by a person named Troyton, whom Elfride had never seen. Her father might have struck up an acquaintanceship with some member of that family through the privet-hedge, or a stranger to the neighbourhood might have wandered thither.
Well, there was no necessity for disturbing him.
And it seemed that, after all, Stephen had not yet made his desired communication to her father. Again she went indoors, wondering where Stephen could be. For want of something better to do, she went upstairs to her own little room. Here she sat down at the open window, and, leaning with her elbow on the table and her cheek upon her hand, she fell into meditation.
It was a hot and still August night. Every disturbance of the silence which rose to the dignity of a noise could be heard for miles, and the merest sound for a long distance. So she remained, thinking of Stephen, and wishing he had not deprived her of his company to no purpose, as it appeared. How delicate and sensitive he was, she reflected; and yet he was man enough to have a private mystery, which considerably elevated him in her eyes. Thus, looking at things with an inward vision, she lost consciousness of the flight of time.
Strange conjunctions of circumstances, particularly those of a trivial everyday kind, are so frequent in an ordinary life, that we grow used to their unaccountableness, and forget the question whether the very long odds against such juxtaposition is not almost a disproof of it being a matter of chance at all. What occurred to Elfride at this moment was a case in point.
She was vividly imagining, for the twentieth time, the kiss of the morning, and putting her lips together in the position another such a one would demand, when she heard the identical operation performed on the lawn, immediately beneath her window.
A kiss—not of the quiet and stealthy kind, but decisive, loud, and smart.
Her face flushed and she looked out, but to no purpose. The dark rim of the upland drew a keen sad line against the pale glow of the sky, unbroken except where a young cedar on the lawn, that had outgrown its fellow trees, shot its pointed head across the horizon, piercing the firmamental lustre like a sting.
It was just possible that, had any persons been standing on the grassy portions of the lawn, Elfride might have seen their dusky forms. But the shrubs, which once had merely dotted the glade, had now grown bushy and large, till they hid at least half the enclosure containing them. The kissing pair might have been behind some of these; at any rate, nobody was in sight.
Had no enigma ever been connected with her lover by his hints and absences, Elfride would never have thought of admitting into her mind a suspicion that he might be concerned in the foregoing enactment. But the reservations he at present insisted on, while they added to the mystery without which perhaps she would never have seriously loved him at all, were calculated to nourish doubts of all kinds, and with a slow flush of jealousy she asked herself, might he not be the culprit?
Elfride glided downstairs on tiptoe, and out to the precise spot on which she had parted from Stephen to enable him to speak privately to her father. Thence she wandered into all the nooks around the place from which the sound seemed to proceed—among the huge laurestines, about the tufts of pampas grasses, amid the variegated hollies, under the weeping wych-elm—nobody was there. Returning indoors she called 'Unity!' 'She is gone to her aunt's, to spend the evening,' said Mr. Swancourt, thrusting his head out of his study door, and letting the light of his candles stream upon Elfride's face—less revealing than, as it seemed to herself, creating the blush of uneasy perplexity that was burning upon her cheek.