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A Witch of the Hills, v. 2-2 by Florence Warden








Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen




That visit of Mr. Ellmer's,--hard as I tried, and, as I believe, Babiole tried, to cheat myself into believing the contrary,--spoiled the old frank intercourse between us for ever. It was my fault, I know. Dreams that stirred my soul and shook my body had sprung up suddenly on that faint basis of a spurious tie between me and the girl I had before half-unconsciously loved. Now my long-torpid passions stirred with life again and held Walpurgis Night revels within me. Our lessons had to be laid by for a time, while I went salmon-fishing, and tried to persuade myself that it had been long neglect of my rod that had caused forgotten passions and yearnings to run riot in my blood in this undisciplined manner. But it would not do. Tired out I would drag my way home, eat a huge dinner, and sink half-asleep into my old chair. Instead of my falling into stupid, happy, dreamless slumber, the leaden numbness of fatigue would settle upon my limbs, while the one figure whose growing ascendancy over my whole nature I made these energetic efforts to throw off, would pass and repass through my mind's dull vision, the one thing distinct, the one thing ever-recurring, enticing me to follow it, eluding me, coming within my grasp, escaping me, and so on for ever.

Then I tried a new tack: the lessons were resumed. But we were both more reserved than in the old days, and I, at least, was constrained also. It was not the old child-pupil sitting by my side; it was the woman I wanted to cherish in my bosom. The old free correction, discussion, were exchanged for poor endeavours by little implied compliments, by mild attempts at eloquence, by appeals to her sentiment when the subject in hand allowed it, to gain her goodwill, to prepare her for the time, which must come, when I should have to entreat her to forget my hideous face and try to love me as a husband.

I knew I was making hopeless, ridiculous mistakes in my conduct towards her; that the change in my manner she took merely as an acknowledgment that she was now in some sort 'grown-up,' and answered by a little added primness to show that she was equal to the requirements of the new dignity. I felt that eight years' neglect of the sex threw a man a century behind the times with regard to his knowledge of women, and I was growing desperate when a ray of light came to me in the darkness of my clumsy courtship. I would consult Normanton, who was in the swim of the times, and who might be able to advise me as to the prudence of certain bold measures which, in my desperation, from time to time occurred to me. Neither Babiole nor I ever spoke about her father's visit, but the attempt to go on as if nothing had happened never grew any easier, and I welcomed the visit of my four friends, which took place rather earlier in the year than usual.

It was in the beginning of July that they all dropped in upon me in their usual casual fashion, and we had our first dinner together in a great tempest, excited by Edgar's announcement that this was his last bachelor holiday, as he was going to be married. I listened to the torrents of comment that, by long-standing agreement among us, were bound to be free, with new and painful interest; at any rate, I reflected that the private advice I was going to ask of Edgar later would now have the added weight of experience, and would, therefore, be more valuable than it could have been in the old days of his unregenerate contempt for women. To hear my Mentor browbeaten on this subject was not altogether disagreeable to me, for I had a keen memory of his somewhat lofty tone of indulgence to me in the old times.

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