The Old Wives' Tale HTML version

III.1. The Elopement
Her soberly rich dress had a countrified air, as she waited, ready for the streets,
in the bedroom of the London hotel on the afternoon of the first of July, 1866; but
there was nothing of the provincial in that beautiful face, nor in that bearing at
once shy and haughty; and her eager heart soared beyond geographical
It was the Hatfield Hotel, in Salisbury Street, between the Strand and the river.
Both street and hotel are now gone, lost in the vast foundations of the Savoy and
the Cecil; but the type of the Hatfield lingers with ever-increasing shabbiness in
Jermyn Street. In 1866, with its dark passages and crooked stairs, its candles, its
carpets and stuffs which had outlived their patterns, its narrow dining-room where
a thousand busy flies ate together at one long table, its acrid stagnant
atmosphere, and its disturbing sensation of dirt everywhere concealing itself, it
stood forth in rectitude as a good average modern hotel. The patched and senile
drabness of the bedroom made an environment that emphasized Sophia's
flashing youth. She alone in it was unsullied.
There was a knock at the door, apparently gay and jaunty. But she thought, truly:
"He's nearly as nervous as I am!" And in her sick nervousness she coughed, and
then tried to take full possession of herself. The moment had at last come which
would divide her life as a battle divides the history of a nation. Her mind in an
instant swept backwards through an incredible three months.
The schemings to obtain and to hide Gerald's letters at the shop, and to reply to
them! The far more complex and dangerous duplicity practised upon her majestic
aunt at Axe! The visits to the Axe post-office! The three divine meetings with
Gerald at early morning by the canal-feeder, when he had told her of his
inheritance and of the harshness of his uncle Boldero, and with a rush of words
had spread before her the prospect of eternal bliss! The nights of fear! The
sudden, dizzy acquiescence in his plan, and the feeling of universal unreality
which obsessed her! The audacious departure from her aunt's, showering a
cascade of appalling lies! Her dismay at Knype Station! Her blush as she asked
for a ticket to London! The ironic, sympathetic glance of the porter, who took
charge of her trunk! And then the thunder of the incoming train! Her renewed
dismay when she found that it was very full, and her distracted plunge into a
compartment with six people already in it! And the abrupt reopening of the
carriage- door and that curt inquisition from an inspector: "Where for, please?
Where for? Where for?" Until her turn was reached: "Where for, miss?" and her
weak little reply: "Euston"! And more violent blushes! And then the long, steady
beating of the train over the rails, keeping time to the rhythm of the unanswerable
voice within her breast: "Why are you here? Why are you here?" And then
Rugby; and the awful ordeal of meeting Gerald, his entry into the compartment,