A YOUNG man strolled along a country road one August
after a long delicious day—a day of that blessed idleness
the man of leisure never knows : one must be a bank clerk forty-
nine weeks out of the fifty-two before one can really appreciate
the exquisite enjoyment of doing nothing for twelve hours at a
stretch. Willoughby had spent the morning lounging about a
sunny rickyard ; then, when the heat grew unbearable, he had
retreated to an orchard, where, lying on his back in the long cool
grass, he had traced the pattern of the apple-leaves diapered above
him upon the summer sky ; now that the heat of the day was over
he had come to roam whither sweet fancy led him, to lean over
gates, view the prospect and meditate upon the pleasures of a well-
spent day. Five such days had already passed over his head,
fifteen more remained to him. Then farewell to freedom and
clean country air ! Back again to London and another year’s
He came to a gate on the right of the road. Behind it a foot
path meandered up over a glassy slope. The sheep nibbling on
its summit cast long shadows down the hill almost to his feet.
Road and field-path were equally new to him, but the latter offered
greener attractions ; he vaulted lightly over the gate and had so
The Yellow Book—Vol. I. F
began to whistle ” White Wings ” from pure joy of life.
The sheep stopped feeding and raised their heads to stare at him
from pale-lashed eyes ; first one and then another broke into a
startled run, until there was a sudden woolly stampede of the entire
flock. When Willoughby gained the ridge from which they had
just scattered he came in sight of a woman sitting on a stile at
the further end of the field. As he advanced towards her he saw
that she was young and that she was not what is called “a lady”—
of which he was glad : an e arlier episode in his career having
indissolubly associated in his mind ideas of feminine refinement
with those of feminine treachery.
He thought it probable this girl would be willing to dispense
with the formalities of an introduction and that he might venture
with her on some pleasant foolish chat.
As she made no movement to let him pass he stood still, and,
looking at her, began to smile.
She returned his gaze from unabashed dark eyes and then
laughed, showing teeth white, sound, and smooth as split hazel-nuts.
” Do you wanter get over ?” she remarked familiarly.
” I’m afraid I can’t without disturbing you.”
“Dontcher think you’re much better where you are ? ” said the
girl, on which Willoughby hazarded :
“You mean to say looking at you ? Well, perhaps I am ! “
The girl at this laughed again, but nevertheless dropped herself
down into the further field ; then, leaning her arms upon the cross
bar, she informed the young man : “No, I don’t wanter spoil your
walk. You were goin’ p’raps ter Beacon Point ? It’s very pretty
“I was going nowhere in particular,” he replied : “just exploring,
so to speak. I m a stranger in these parts.”
” How funny ! Imer stranger here too. I only come down
larse Friday to stye with a Naunter mine in Horton. Are you
stying in Horton ? ”
Willoughby told her he was not in Orton, but at Povey
Farm out in the other direction.
” Oh, Mrs. Payne’s, ain’t it ? I’ve heard
aunt speak ovver. She
takes summer boarders, don’t chee ? I egspec you come from
London, heh ?”
“And I expect you come from London too ? ”
recognising the familiar accent.
” You’re as sharp as a needle,” cried the girl with her un-
restrained laugh ; ” so I do. I’m here for a hollerday ‘cos I was
so done up with the work and the hot weather. I don’t look as
though I’d bin ill, do I ? But I was, though : for it was just
stifflin’ hot up in our workrooms all larse month, an’ tailorin’s
awful hard work at the bester times.”
Willoughby felt a sudden accession of interest
in her. Like
many intelligent young men, he had dabbled a little in Socialism
and at one time had wandered among the dispossessed ; but since
then, had caught up and held loosely the new doctrine—It is a good
and fitting thing that woman also should earn her bread by the
sweat of her brow. Always in reference to the woman who,
fifteen months before, had treated him ill, he had said to himself
that even the breaking of stones in the road should be considered
a more feminine employment than the breaking of hearts.
He gave way therefore to a movement of friendliness for this
working daughter of the people, and joined her on the other side
of the stile in token of his approval. She, twisting round to face
him, leaned now with her back against the bar, and the sunset fires
lent a fleeting glory to her face. Perhaps she guessed how
becoming the light was, for she took off her hat and let it touch to
at this moment she made an agreeable picture, to which stood as
background all the beautiful wooded Southshire view.
” You don’t really mean to say you are a tailoress ? ” said
Willoughby with a sort of eager compassion.
” I do, though ! An I’ve bin one ever since I was fourteen.
Look at my fingers if you don’t b’lieve me.”
She put out her right hand, and he took hold of it, as he was
expected to do. The finger-ends were frayed and blackened by
needle-pricks, but the hand itself was plump, moist, and not un-
shapely. She meanwhile examined Willoughby’s fingers enclosing
“It’s easy ter see you’ve never done no work ! ” she said, half
admiring, half envious. “I s’pose you re a tip-top swell, ain’t
“Oh, yes ! I’m a tremendous swell indeed ! ” said Willoughby
ironically. He thought of his hundred and thirty pounds salary;
and he mentioned his position in the British and Colonial Banking
house, without shedding much illumination on her mind ; for she
” Well, anyhow, you’re a gentleman. I’ve often wished I was
a lady. It must be so nice ter wear fine clo’es an never have ter
do any work all day long.”
Willoughby thought it innocent of the girl to
say this; it re-
minded him of his own notion as a child—that kings and queens
put on their crowns the first thing on rising in the morning. His
cordiality rose another degree.
” If being a gentleman means having nothing to do,”said he,
smiling, “I can certainly lay no claim to the title. Life isn’t all
beer and skittles with me, any more than it is with you. Which
is the better reason for enjoying the present moment, don’t you
show me the way to Beacon Point, which you say is so
pretty ? ”
She required no further persuasion. As he walked beside her
through the upland fields where the dusk was beginning to fall,
and the white evening moths to emerge from their daytime
hiding-places, she asked him many personal questions, most of
which he thought fit to parry. Taking no offence thereat, she
told him, instead, much concerning herself and her family. Thus
he learned her name was Esther Stables, that she and her people
lived Whitechapel way ; that her father was seldom sober, and
her mother always ill ; and that the aunt with whom she was
staying kept the post-office and general shop in Orton village.
He learned, too, that Estherwas discontented with life in general ;
that, though she hated being at home, she found the country
dreadfully dull ; and that, consequently, she was extremely glad to
have made his acquaintance. But what he chiefly realised when
they parted was that he had spent a couple of pleasant hours
talking nonsense with a girl who was natural, simple-minded, and
entirely free from that repellently protective atmosphere with
which a woman of the ” classes” so carefully surrounds herself.
He and Esther had ” made friends ” with the ease and rapidity
of children before they have learned the dread meaning of
” etiquette,” and they said good-night, not without some talk
of meeting each other again.
Obliged to breakfast at a quarter to eight in town, Willoughby
was always luxuriously late when in the country, where he took
his meals also in leisurely fashion, often reading from a book
propped up on the table before him. But the morning after his
meeting with Esther Stables found him less disposed to read than
usual. Her image obtruded itself upon the printed page, and at
way to lay it was to confront it with the girl herself.
Wanting some tobacco, he saw a good reason for going into
Orton. Esther had told him he could get tobacco and everything
else at her aunt’s. He found the post-office to be one of the first
houses in the widely spaced village-street. In front of the cottage
was a small garden ablaze with old-fashioned flowers ; and in a
larger garden at one side were apple-trees, raspberry and currant
bushes, and six thatched beehives on a bench. The bowed
windows of the little shop were partly screened by sunblinds ;
nevertheless the lower panes still displayed a heterogeneous collec-
tion of goods—lemons, hanks of yarn, white linen buttons upon
blue cards, sugar cones, warden pipes, and tobacco jars. A
letter-box opened its narrow mouth low down in one wall, and
over the door swung the sign, “Stamps and money-order office,”
in black letters on white enamelled iron.
The interior of the shop was cool and dark. A second glass-
door at the back permitted Willoughby to see into a small
sitting-room, and out again through a low and square-paned
window to the sunny landscape beyond. Silhouetted against
the light were the heads of two women : the rough young head
of yesterday’s Esther, the lean outline and bugled cap of Esther’s
It was the latter who at the jingling of the door-bell rose from
her work and came forward to serve the customer ; but the girl,
with much mute meaning in her eyes and a finger laid upon her
smiling mouth, followed behind. Her aunt heard her footfall.
” What do you want here, Esther? ” she said with thin disapproval ;
“get back to your sewing.”
Esther gave the young man a signal seen only by
slipped out into the side-garden, where he found her when his
cept him as he passed.
“Aunt’s an awful ole maid,” she remarked apologetically ; “I
b’lieve she’d never let me say a word to enny one if she could
” So you got home all right last night ? “Willoughby inquired ;
” what did your aunt say to you ? ”
” Oh, she arst me where I’d been, and I tolder a lotter lies ! “
Then, with woman’s intuition, perceiving that this speech
jarred, Esther made haste to add, “She’s so dreadful hard on me !
I dursn’t tell her I’d been with a gentleman or she’d never have let
me out alone again.”
” And at present I suppose you’ll be found somewhere about
that same stile every evening ? ” said Willoughby foolishly, for he
really did not much care whether he met her again or not. Now
he was actually in her company he was surprised at himself for
having given her a whole morning’s thought ; yet the eagerness of
her answer flattered him, too.
” To-night I can’t come, worse luck ! It’s Thursday, and the
shops here close of a Thursday at five. I’ll havter keep aunt
company. But to-morrer ?—I can be there to-morrer. You’ll
come, say ?”
” Esther! ” cried a vexed voice, and the
aunt emerged through the row of raspberry-bushes ; ” whatever are
you thinking about, delayin the gentleman in this fashion ?” She
was full of rustic and official civility for ” the gentleman,” but in
dignant with her niece. “I don’t want none of your London manners
down here,”Willoughby heard her say as she marched the girl off.
He himself was not sorry to be released from Esther’s too
friendly eyes, and he spent an agreeable evening over a book, and
this time managed to forget her completely.
Though he remembered her first thing next morning, it was to
smile wisely and determine he would not meet her again. Yet by
dinner-time the day seemed long ; why, after all, should he not
meet her ? By tea-time prudence triumphed anew—no, he would
not go. Then he drank his tea hastily and set off for the
Esther was waiting for him. Expectation had
additional colour to her cheeks, and her red-brown hair showed
here and there a beautiful glint of gold. He could not help
admiring the vigorous way in which it waved and twisted, or the
little curls which grew at the nape of her neck, tight and close as
those of a young lamb’s fleece. Her neck here was admirable, too,
in its smooth creaminess ; and when her eyes lighted up with such
evident pleasure at his coming, how avoid the conviction she was a
good and nice girl after all ?
He proposed they should go down into the little copse on the
right, where they would be less disturbed by the occasional passer
by. Here, seated on a felled tree-trunk, Willoughby began that
bantering silly meaningless form of conversation known among
the “classes” as flirting. He had but the wish to make himself
agreeable, and to while away the time. Esther, however, mis-
Willoughby’s hand lay palm downwards on his
knee, and she
noticing a ring which he wore on his little finger, took hold of it.
” What a funny ring ! ” she said ; ” let’s look ? “
To disembarrass himself of her touch he pulled the ring off and
gave it her to examine.
” What s that ugly dark green stone ?” she asked.
” It s called a sardonyx.”
” What’s it for ? ” she said, turning it about.
” It’s a signet ring, to seal letters with.”
” An’ there’s a sorter king’s head scratched on it, an’ some
writin’ too, only I carn’t make it out ?”
“It isn’t the head of a king, although it wears a crown,”
Willoughby explained, “but the head and bust of a Saracen
against whom my ancestor of many hundred years ago went to
fight in the Holy Land. And the words cut round it are the
motto of our house, Vertue vaunceth, which means virtue
Willoughby may have displayed some slight
accession of dignity
in giving this bit of family history, for Esther fell into uncontrolled
laughter, at which he was much displeased. And when the girl
made as though she would put the ring on her own finger, asking,
” Shall I keep it ? ” he coloured up with sudden annoyance.
“It was only my fun ! ” said Esther
hastily, and gave him the
ring back, but his cordiality was gone. He felt no inclination to
renew the idle-word pastime, said it was time to go back, and,
swinging his cane vexedly, struck off the heads of the flowers and
the weeds as he went. Esther walked by his side in complete
silence, a phenomenon of which he presently became conscious.
He felt rather ashamed of having shown temper.
” Well, here s your way home,” said he with an effort at friend-
liness. “Good-bye, we’ve had a nice evening anyhow. It was
pleasant down there in the woods, eh ? ”
He was astonished to see her eyes soften with tears, and to hear
the real emotion in her voice as she answered, ” It was just heaven
down there with you until you turned so funny-like. What had
I done to make you cross ? Say you forgive me, do ! ”
“Silly child ! ” said Willoughby,
completely mollified, “I’m not
the least angry. There ! good-bye !” and like a fool he kissed
He anathematised his folly in the white light of next morning,
sincerely. He had an uncomfortable suspicion she had not
received it in the same spirit in which it had been bestowed, but,
attaching more serious meaning to it, would build expectations
thereon which must be left unfulfilled. It were best indeed not to
meet her again ; for he acknowledged to himself that, though he
only half liked, and even slightly feared, her, there was a certain
attraction about her—was it in her dark unflinching eyes or in
her very red lips ?—which might lead him into greater follies
Thus it came about that for two successive evenings Esther
waited for him in vain, and on the third evening he said to himself
with a grudging relief that by this time she had probably trans-
ferred her affections to some one else.
It was Saturday, the second Saturday since he left town. He
spent the day about the farm, contemplated the pigs, inspected the
feeding of the stock, and assisted at the afternoon milking. Then
at evening, with a refilled pipe, he went for a long lean over the
west gate, while he traced fantastic pictures and wove romances in
the glories of the sunset clouds.
He watched the colours glow from gold to scarlet, change to
crimson, sink at last to sad purple reefs and isles, when the sudden
consciousness of some one being near him made him turn round.
There stood Esther, and her eyes were full of eagerness and anger.
” Why have you never been to the stile again ? ” she asked him.
“You promised to come faithful, and you never came. Why
have you not kep your promise ? Why ?—why ? ” she persisted,
stamping her foot because Willoughby remained silent.
What could he say ! Tell her she had no business to follow
him like this ; or own, what was, unfortunately, the truth, he was
just a little glad to see her ?
” P’raps you don’t care to see me ?” she said. ” Well, why did
you kiss me, then ? ”
Why, indeed ! thought Willoughby, marvelling at
idiotcy, and yet—such is the inconsistency of man—not wholly
without the desire to kiss her again. And while he looked at her
she suddenly flung herself down on the hedge-bank at his feet and
burst into tears. She did not cover up her face, but simply pressed
one cheek down upon the grass while the water poured from her
eyes with astonishing abundance. Willoughby saw the dry earth
turn dark and moist as it drank the tears in. This, his first
experience of Esther’s powers of weeping, distressed him horribly ;
never in his life before had he seen any one weep like that; he
should not have believed such a thing possible, and he was alarmed,
too, lest she should be noticed from the house. He opened the
gate ; “Esther! ” he begged, “don’t cry. Come out here, like
a dear girl, and let us talk sensibly.”
Because she stumbled, unable to see her way through wet eyes,
he gave her his hand, and they found themselves in a field of corn,
walking along the narrow grass-path that skirted it, in the shadow
of the hedgerow.
” What is there to cry about because you have not seen me for
two days ? ” he began ; ” why, Esther, we are only strangers, after
all. When we have been at home a week or two we shall scarcely
remember each other’s names.”
Esther sobbed at intervals, but her tears had
ceased. “It’s fine
for you to talk of home,” she said to this. ” You’ve got some
thing that is a home, I s’pose ? But me! my home’s like hell,
with nothing but quarrellin’ and cursin’, and father who beats us
whether sober or drunk. Yes ! ” she repeated shrewdly, seeing
the lively disgust on Willoughby’s face, ” he beat me, all ill as I
was, jus’ before I come away. I could show you the bruises on
It ll be worse than ever. I can’t endure it and I won’t ! I’ll
put an end to it or myself somehow, I swear ! ”
” But, my poor Esther, how can I help it,
what can I do ? ” said
Willoughby. He was greatly moved, full of wrath with her
father, with all the world which makes women suffer. He had
suffered himself at the hands of a woman, and severely, but this,
instead of hardening his heart, had only rendered it the more
supple. And yet he had a vivid perception of the peril in which
he stood. An interior voice urged him to break away, to seek
safety in flight even at the cost of appearing cruel or ridiculous ;
so, coming to a point in the field where an elm-bole jutted out
across the path, he saw with relief he could now withdraw his
hand from the girl’s, since they must walk singly to skirt round it.
Esther took a step in advance, stopped and
suddenly turned to
face him ; she held out her two hands and her face was very near
“Don’t you care for me one little bit ? ” she said wistfully, and
surely sudden madness fell upon him. For he kissed her again, he
kissed her many times, and pushed all thoughts of the consequences
far from him.
But some of these consequences already called loudly to him as
he and Esther reached the last gate on the road to Orton.
“You know I have only £130 a year ? ” he told her : “it s no
very brilliant prospect for you to marry me on that.”
For he had actually offered her marriage, although such
conduct to the mediocre man must appear incredible or at least
uncalled for. But to Willoughby it seemed the only course
possible. How else justify his kisses, rescue her from her father’s
brutality, or bring back the smiles to her face ?
As for Esther, sudden exultation had leaped in
her heart ;
never have consented to anything less.
“O ! I’me used to managin’,” she told him confidently, and
mentally resolved to buy herself, so soon as she was married, a
black feather boa, such as she had coveted last winter.
Willoughby spent the remaining days of his
holiday in thinking
out and planning with Esther the details of his return to London
and her own, the secrecy to be observed, the necessary legal steps
to be taken, and the quiet suburb in which they would set up
housekeeping. And, so successfully did he carry out his arrange
ments, that within five weeks from the day on which he had
first met Esther Stables he and she came out one morning from a
Lucy Rimmerton in Highbury husband and wife. It was a mellow Septem-
ber day, the streets were filled with sunshine, and Willoughby,
in reckless high spirits, imagined he saw a reflection of his own
gaiety on the indifferent faces of the passers-by. There being no
one else to perform the office he congratulated himself very warmly,
and Esther’s frequent laughter filled in the pauses of the day.
Three months later Willoughby was dining with a
the hour-hand of the clock nearing ten the host no longer resisted
the guest s growing anxiety to be gone. He arose and exchanged
with him good wishes and good-byes.
” Marriage is evidently a most successful institution,” said he,
half jesting, half sincere ; “you almost make me inclined to go
and get married myself. Confess now your thoughts have been
at home the whole evening ? ”
Willoughby thus addressed turned red to the
roots of his hair,
but did not deny the soft impeachment.
The other laughed. ” And very commendable they should be,”
he continued, ” since you are scarcely, so to speak, out of your
With a social smile on his lips Willoughby calculated a moment
before replying, ” I have been married exactly three months and
three days ; ” then, after a few words respecting their next meeting,
the two shook hands and parted, the young host to finish the
evening with books and pipe, the young husband to set out on a
twenty minutes walk to his home.
It was a cold clear December night following a day of rain. A
touch of frost in the air had dried the pavements, and Willoughby’s
footfall ringing upon the stones re-echoed down the empty
suburban street. Above his head was a dark remote sky thickly
powdered with stars, and as he turned westward Alpherat hung
for a moment “comme le point sur un i,”over the slender spire of
St. John’s. But he was insensible to the worlds about him ; he
was absorbed in his own thoughts, and these, as his friend had
surmised, were entirely with his wife. For Esther’s face was
always before his eyes, her voice was always in his ears, she filled
the universe for him ; yet only four months ago he had never
seen her, had never heard her name. This was the curious part
of it—here in December he found himself the husband of a girl
who was completely dependent upon him not only for food,
clothes, and lodging, but for her present happiness, her whole
future life ; and last July he had been scarcely more than a boy
himself, with no greater care on his mind than the pleasant difficulty
of deciding where he should spend his annual three weeks holiday.
But it is events, not months or years, which age. Willoughby,
who was only twenty-six, remembered his youth as a sometime
companion irrevocably lost to him ; its vague, delightful hopes
were now crystallised into definite ties, and its happy irresponsi-
bility displaced by a sense of care inseparable perhaps from the
most fortunate of marriages.
As he reached the street in which he lodged his pace involun-
and distinguished the windows of the room in which Esther
awaited him. Through the broken slats of the Venetian blinds
he could see the yellow gaslight within. The parlour beneath
was in darkness ; his landlady had evidently gone to bed, there
being no light over the hall door either. In some apprehension
he consulted his watch under the last street-lamp he passed, to
find comfort in assuring himself it was only ten minutes after
ten. He let himself in with his latch-key, hung up his hat and
overcoat by the sense of touch, and, groping his way upstairs,
opened the door of the first floor sitting-room.
At the table in the centre of the room sat his wife, leaning upon
her elbows, her two hands thrust up into her ruffled hair ; spread
out before her was a crumpled yesterday’s newspaper, and so
interested was she to all appearance in its contents that she neither
spoke nor looked up as Willoughby entered. Around her were
the still uncleared tokens of her last meal : tea-slops, bread-crumbs,
and an eggshell crushed to fragments upon a plate, which was one
of those trifles that set Willoughby’s teeth on edge—whenever
his wife ate an egg she persisted in turning the egg-cup upside
down upon the tablecloth, and pounding the shell to pieces in her
plate with her spoon.
The room was repulsive in its disorder. The one lighted
burner of the gaselier, turned too high, hissed up into a long
tongue of flame. The fire smoked feebly under a newly adminis-
tered shovelful of ” slack,” and a heap of ashes and cinders
littered the grate. A pair of walking boots, caked in dry mud, lay
on the hearthrug just where they had been thrown off. On the
mantelpiece, amidst a dozen other articles which had no business
there, was a bedroom-candlestick ; and every single article of
furniture stood crookedly out of its place.
Willoughby took in the whole intolerable
picture, and yet spoke
with kindliness. “Well, Esther! I’m not so late, after all. I hope
you did not feel the time dull by yourself ? ” Then he explained
the reason of his absence. He had met a friend he had not seen for
a couple of years, who had insisted on taking him home to dine.
His wife gave no sign of having heard him ; she kept he eyes
rivetted on the paper before her.
“You received my wire, of course,”Willoughby went on,
“and did not wait ? ”
Now she crushed the newspaper up with a passionate move-
ment, and threw it from her. She raised her head, showing cheeks
blazing with anger, and dark, sullen, unflinching eyes.
” I did wyte then ! ” she cried. “I wyted till near eight before
I got your old telegraph ! I s’pose that’s what you call the
manners of a gentleman, to keep your wife mewed up here,
while you go gallivantin’ off with your fine friends ?”
Whenever Esther was angry, which was often, she taunted
Willoughby with being “a gentleman,” although this was the
precise point about him which at other times found most favour
in her eyes. But to-night she was envenomed by the idea he had
been enjoying himself without her, stung by fear lest he should
have been in company with some other woman.
Willoughby, hearing the taunt, resigned himself
to the inevit-
able. Nothing that he could do might now avert the breaking
storm, all his words would only be twisted into fresh griefs. But
sad experience had taught him that to take refuge in silence was
more fatal still. When Esther was in such a mood as this it was
best to supply the fire with fuel, that, through the very violence of
the conflagration, it might the sooner burn itself out.
So he said what soothing things he could, and Esther caught
them up, disfigured them, and flung them back at him with
she vituperated the conduct of his family in never taking the
smallest notice of her marriage ; and she detailed the insolence of
the landlady, who had told her that morning she pitied ” poor Mr.
Willoughby,” and had refused to go out and buy herrings for
Esther’s early dinner.
Every affront or grievance, real or imaginary, since the dayshe
and Willoughby had first met, she poured forth with a fluency due
to frequent repetition, for, with the exception of to-day’s added
injuries, Willoughby had heard the whole litany many times
While she raged and he looked at her, he remembered he had
once thought her pretty. He had seen beauty in her rough brown
hair, her strong colouring, her full red mouth. He fell into
musing …. a woman may lack beauty, he told himself, and yet
Meantime Esther reached white heats of passion,
and the strain
could no longer be sustained. She broke into sobs and began to
shed tears with the facility peculiar to her. In a moment her face
was all wet with the big drops which rolled down her cheeks
faster and faster and fell with audible splashes on to the table, on
to her lap, on to the floor. To this tearful abundance, formerly a
surprising spectacle, Willoughby was now acclimatised ; but the
remnant of chivalrous feeling not yet extinguished in his bosom
forbade him to sit stolidly by while a woman wept, without
seeking to console her. As on previous occasions, his peace-
overtures were eventually accepted. Esther’s tears gradually
ceased to flow, she began to exhibit a sort of compunction, she
wished to be forgiven, and, with the kiss of reconciliation, passed
into a phase of demonstrative affection perhaps more trying to
Willoughby’s patience than all that had preceded it. ” You don’t
The Yellow Book—Vol. I. G
reiterated ; and he asseverated that he loved her until he loathed
himself. Then at last, only half satisfied, but wearied out with
vexation—possibly, too, with a movement of pity at the sight of
his haggard face—she consented to leave him ; only what was he
going to do ? she asked suspiciously : write those rubbishing
stories of his ? Well, he must promise not to stay up more than
half an hour at the latest only until he had smoked one pipe !
Willoughby promised, as he would have promised
earth to secure to himself a half-hour s peace and solitude. Esther
groped for her slippers, which were kicked off under the table ;
scratched four or five matches along the box and threw them away
before she succeeded in lighting her candle ; set it down again to
contemplate her tear-swollen reflection in the chimney-glass, and
burst out laughing.
” What a fright I do look, to be sure ! ” she remarked com-
placently, and again thrust her two hands up through her dis-
ordered curls. Then, holding the candle at such an angle that the
grease ran over on to the carpet, she gave Willoughby another
vehement kiss and trailed out of the room with an ineffectual
attempt to close the door behind her.
Willoughby got up to shut it himself, and
wondered why it was
that Esther never did any one mortal thing efficiently or well.
Good God ! how irritable he felt ! It was impossible to write.
He must find an outlet for his impatience, rend or mend
something. He began to straighten the room, but a wave or
disgust came over him before the task was fairly commenced.
What was the use ? To-morrow all would be bad as ever.
What was the use of doing anything ? He sat down by the table
and leaned his head upon his hands.
The past came back to him in pictures : his boyhood’s past first
of all. He saw again the old home, every inch of which was
familiar to him as his own name ; he reconstructed in his thought
all the old well-known furniture, and replaced it precisely as it had
stood long ago. He passed again a childish finger over the rough
surface of the faded Utrecht velvet chairs, and smelled again the
strong fragrance of the white lilac-tree, blowing in through the
open parlour-window. He savoured anew the pleasant mental
atmosphere produced by the dainty neatness of cultured women,
the companionship of a few good pictures, of a few good books.
Yet this home had been broken up years ago, the dear familiar
things had been scattered far and wide, never to find themselves
under the same roof again ; and from those near relatives who still
remained to him he lived now hopelessly estranged.
Then came the past of his first love-dream, when he worshipped
at the feet of Nora Beresford, and, with the wholeheartedness of
the true fanatic, clothed his idol with every imaginable attribute of
virtue and tenderness. To this day there remained a secret shrine
in his heart wherein the Lady of his young ideal was still
enthroned, although it was long since he had come to perceive she
had nothing whatever in common with the Nora of reality. For
the real Nora he had no longer any sentiment : she had passed
altogether out of his life and thoughts ; and yet, so permanent is
all influence, whether good or evil, that the effect she wrought
upon his character remained. He recognised to-night that her
treatment of him in the past did not count for nothing among the
various factors which had determined his fate.
Now the past of only last year returned, and, strangely enough,
this seemed farther removed from him than all the rest. He had
been particularly strong, well and happy this time last year. Nora
was dismissed from his mind, and he had thrown all his energies
furnished rooms had become through habit very pleasant to him.
In being his own they were invested with a greater charm than
another man’s castle. Here he had smoked and studied, here he
had made many a glorious voyage into the land of books. Many
a home-coming, too, rose up before him out of the dark un-
genial streets to a clean blazing fire, a neatly laid cloth, an evening
of ideal enjoyment ; many a summer twilight when he mused at
the open window, plunging his gaze deep into the recesses of his
neighbour’s lime-tree, where the unseen sparrows chattered with
such unflagging gaiety.
He had always been given to much day-dreaming, and it was in
the silence of his rooms of an evening that he turned his phantas-
mal adventures into stories for the magazines ; here had come to
him many an editorial refusal, but, here, too, he had received the
news of his first unexpected success. All his happiest memories
were embalmed in those shabby, badly furnished rooms.
Now all was changed. Now might there be no longer any
soft indulgence of the hour’s mood. His rooms and everything he
owned belonged now to Esther, too. She had objected to most of
his photographs, and had removed them. She hated books, and were
he ever so ill-advised as to open one in her presence, she im-
mediately began to talk, no matter how silent or how sullen her
previous mood had been. If he read aloud to her she either
yawned despairingly, or was tickled into laughter where there was
no reasonable cause. At first, Willoughby had tried to educate
her and had gone hopefully to the task. It is so natural to think
you may make what you will of the woman who loves you. But
Esther had no wish to improve. She evinced all the self-
satisfaction of an illiterate mind. To her husband’s gentle
admonitions she replied with brevity that she thought her way
he might do the other thing, she was too old to go to school again.
He gave up the attempt, and, with humiliation at his prerious
fatuity, perceived that it was folly to expect a few weeks of his
companionship could alter or pull up the impressions of years,
or rather of generations.
Yet here he paused to admit a curious thing : it was not only
Esther’s bad habits which vexed him, but habits quite unblame-
worthy in themselves, and which he never would have noticed in
another, irritated him in her. He disliked her manner of standing,
of walking, of sitting in a chair, of folding her hands. Like a
lover he was conscious of her proximity without seeing her. Like
a lover, too, his eyes followed her every movement, his ear noted
every change in her voice. But, then, instead of being charmed
by everything as the lover is, everything jarred upon him.
What was the meaning of this ? To-night the anomaly pressed
upon him : he reviewed his position. Here was he quite a young
man, just twenty-six years of age, married to Esther, and bound to
live with her so long as life should last twenty, forty, perhaps
fifty years more. Every day of those years to be spent in her
society ; he and she face to face, soul to soul ; they two alone
amid all the whirling, busy, indifferent world. So near together in
semblance, in truth so far apart as regards all that makes life dear.
Willoughby groaned. From the woman he did not
he had never loved, he might not again go free ; so much he
recognised. The feeling he had once entertained for Esther, strange
compound of mistaken chivalry and flattered vanity, was long since
extinct ; but what, then, was the sentiment with which she inspired
him ? For he was not indifferent to her—no, never for one instant
could he persuade himself he was indifferent, never for one instant
could he banish her from his thoughts. His mind’s eye followed
dwelt upon her actual presence. She was the principal object of
the universe to him, the centre around which his wheel of life
revolved with an appalling fidelity.
What did it mean ? What could it mean ? he asked himself
And the sweat broke out upon his forehead and his hands grew
cold, for on a sudden the truth lay there like a written word upon
the tablecloth before him. This woman, whom he had taken to
himself for better for worse, inspired him with a passion intense
indeed, all-masterful, soul-subduing as Love itself — . . . But when
he understood the terror of his Hatred, he laid his head upon his
arms and wept, not facile tears like Esther’s, but tears wrung out
from his agonising, unavailing regret.
D’Arcy, Ella. “Irremediable.” The Yellow Book, vol. 1, April 1894, pp. 87-108. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/YBV1_darcy_irremediable