Victorian Short Stories: Troubled Marriages
By Ella D'Arcy
(Monochromes, London: John Lane, 1893)
A young man strolled along a country road one August evening 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 toil.
He came to a gate on the right of the road. Behind it a footpath meandered up over a
grassy slope. The sheep nibbling on its summit cast long shadows down the hill almost to
his feet. Road and fieldpath were equally new to him, but the latter offered greener
attractions; he vaulted lightly over the gate and had so little idea he was taking thus the
first step towards ruin that he 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 earlier 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
She returned his gaze from unabashed dark eyes, and then laughed, showing teeth white,
sound, and smooth as split hazelnuts.
'Do you wanter get over?' she remarked familiarly.
'I'm afraid I can't without disturbing you.'