Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Love's cross-currents; a year's letters, by Algernon Charles Swinburne online

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of her children, gave way between whiles to
some unprofitable memory of him, small sorrows
that had not heart enough in them to last long.
At one time, perhaps, she had wept away all the
tears she had in her ; one may doubt if there ever
had been a great store of them for grief to draw
upon. She was of a delicate impressible nature,
but not fashioned so as to suffer sharply for long
together. If there came any sorrow in her way
she dropped down (so to speak) at the feet of it,
and bathed them in tears till it took pity on her
tender beauty and passed by on the other side
without doing her much harm. She was quite
unheroic and rather unmaternal, but pleasantly
and happily put together, kind, amiable, and
very beautiful; and as fond as she could ever



be, not only of herself, but also of her husband,
her mother, and her daughter. The husband
was a good sort of man, always deep in love of
his wife and admiration of her mother; never
conspicuous for any event in his life but that
elopement; and how matters even then had
come to a crisis between two such lovers as they
were, probably only one person on earth could
have told; and this third person certainly was
not the bereaved captain. The daughter was
from her birth of that rare and singular beauty
which never changes for the worse in growing
older. She was one of the few girls who have
no ugly time. In this spring of 1849 she was
the most perfect child of eight that can be
imagined. There was a strange grave beauty
and faultless grace about her, more noticeable
than the more usual points of childish pretti-
ness: pureness of feature, ample brilliant hair,
perfect little lips, serious and rounded in shape,
and wonderful unripe beauty of chin and throat.
Her grandmother, who was fond of French
phrases when excited or especially affectionate
(a trick derived from recollections of her own
French mother and early friends among French
relatives she had a way of saying, "Hein?"
and glancing up or sideways with an eye at once
birdlike and feline), asserted that "Amy was
faite a peindre faite a croquer faite a manger


Love's Cross-currents

de baisers." The old life- worn philosophic lady
seemed absolutely to riot and revel in her fond-
ness for the child. There was always a certain
amiably cynical side to her affections, which
showed itself by and by in the girl's training ; but
the delight and love aroused in her at the sight
of her pupil were as true and tender as such
emotions could be in such a woman. Lady
Midhurst was really very much fonder of her
two grandchildren than of any one else alive.
Redgie was just her sort of boy, she said, and
Amy just her sort of girl. It would have been
delicious to bring them up together (education,
superintendence, training of character, guidance
of habit, in young people, were passions with
the excellent lady); and if the boy's father
would just be good enough to come to some
timely end . She had been godmother to both
children, and both were as fond of her as
possible. "Enfin!" she said, hopelessly.


THEY were to have enough to do with each
other in later life, these three scattered house-
holds of kinsfolk; but the mixing process only
began on a late spring day of 1849, at the coun-
try house which Mr. John Cheyne had inherit-
ed from his wife. This was a little old house,
beautifully set in among orchards and meadows,
with abundance of roses now all round it, under
the heavy leaves of a spring that June was fast
gaining upon. A wide soft river divided the
marsh meadows in front of it, full of yellow flag-
flowers and moist fen -blossom. Behind, there
slanted upwards a small broken range of hills,
the bare green windy lawns of them dry and
fresh under foot, thick all the way with cowslips
at the right time. It was a splendid place for
children; better perhaps than Ashton Hildred
with its huge old brick- walled gardens and won-
derful fruit-trees blackened and dotted with
lumps or patches of fabulous overgrown moss,
and wild pleasure-grounds stifled with beautiful
rank grass ; better decidedly than Lord Cheyne's


Love's Cross-currents

big brilliant Lidcombe, in spite of royal shoot-
ing-grounds and the admirable slopes of high
bright hill-country behind it, green sweet miles
of park and embayed lake, beyond praise for
riding and boating; better incomparably than
Captain Harewood's place, muffled in woods,
with a grim sad beauty of its own, but seemingly
knee-deep in sere leaves all the year round, wet
and weedy and dark and deep down, kept hold
of somehow by autumn in the midst of spring;
only the upper half of it clear out of the clutch
of winter even in the hottest height of August
weather, with a bitter flavour of frost and rain in
it all through summer. It was wonderful, Lady
Midhurst said, how any child could live there
without going mad or moping. She was thank-
ful the boy went to school so young, though no
doubt his father had picked out the very hard-
est sort of school that he decently could select.
Anything was better than that horrid wet hole
of a place, up to the nose and eyes in black damp
woods, and with thick moist copses of alder and
birch-trees growing against the very windows;
and such a set of people inside of it ! She used
to call there about three times a year, during
the boy's holidays ; get him apart from his father
and tutor, and give him presents and advice and
pity and encouragement of all sorts, mixed with
histories of his mother and half-sister, the whole



spiced not sparingly with bitter allusions to his
father, to which one may fear there was some
response now and then on the boy's part.

It was after one of these visits that Captain
Harewood first brought his son over to his old
friend's. Perhaps he thought at length that the
boy might as well see some one about his own
age in holiday-time. Reginald was growing
visibly mutinous and hard to keep down by
preachings and punishments; had begun evi-
dently to wince and kick under the domestic
rod. His father and the clerical tutor who came
over daily to look after the boy's holiday task
could hardly keep him under by frequent
flogging and much serious sorrowful lecturing.
He was not a specially fast boy, only about as
restless and insubordinate as most fellows at
his age; but this was far more than his father
was prepared to stand. Let him see some one
else outside home than Lady Midhurst ; it would
do him no harm, and the boy was always
vicious, and jibbed frightfully, for some days
after his grandmother's visits. So before the
holidays were out the Captain trotted him over
to make friends with Mr. Cheyne's son. The
visit was a matter of keen and rather frightened
interest to Frank. Clara, on hearing the boy
was her junior, made light of it, and was out of
the way when Captain Harewood came in with


Love's Cross-currents

his son. The two boys eyed each other curious-
ly under close brows and with lips expressive of
a grave doubt on either side. The visitor was
a splendid-looking fellow, lithe and lightly built,
but of a good compact make, with a sunburnt
oval face, and hair like unspun yellow silk in
colour, but one mass of short rough curls ; eye-
brows, eyes, and eyelashes all dark, showing
quaintly enough against his golden hair and
bright pale skin. His mouth, with a rather full
red under lip for a child, had a look of such im-
pudent and wilful beauty as to suggest at once
the frequent call for birch in such a boy's
education. His eyes too had a defiant laugh
latent under the lazy light in them. Rather
well got-up for the rest and delicately costumed,
though with a distinct school stamp on him, but
by no means after the muscle-manful type.

This boy had a short whip in one hand, which
was of great and visible comfort to him. To
switch his leg in a reflective measured way was
an action at once impressive' in itself and likely
to meet and obviate any conversational neces-
sity that might turn up. No smaller boy could
accost him lightly while in that attitude.

At last, with a gracious gravity, seeing both
elders in low-voiced talk, he vouchsafed five
valuable words: "I say, what's your name?"
Frank gave his name in with meekness, having



a just sense of his relative insignificance. He
was very honest and easy to dazzle.

"Mine's Reginald Reginald Edward Hare-
wood. It doesn't sound at all well" (this with
a sententious suppressed flourish in his voice as
of one who blandly deprecates a provoked con-
tradiction) "no, not at all; because there's
such a lot of ' D's ' in it. Yours is a much better
name. How old are you?"

The abject Frank apologetically suggested

"You just look it," said Reginald Harewood,
with an awful calm, indicative of a well-ground-
ed contempt for that time of life, restrained for
the present by an exquisite sense of social cour-
tesy. "I'm eleven rising twelve eleven last
month. Suppose we go out?"


ONCE out in the garden, Reginald became
more wonderful than ever. Any one not two
years younger, and half a head shorter, must
have doubled up with laughter before he had
gone three steps. Our friend's patronage of
the sunlight, his tolerance of the roses, his gen-
tle thoughtful condescension towards the face
of things in general, were too sublime for

When they came to the parapet of an old
broad terrace, Reginald, still in a dignified way,
got astride it, not without a curious grimace and
some seeming difficulty in adjusting his small
person ; tapped his teeth with his whip-handle,
and gave Frank for a whole minute the full
benefit of his eyes. Frank stood twisting a
rose-branch, and looked meek.

The result of Reginald's scrutiny was this
question, delivered with much solemn effect.

" I say. Were you ever swished?"

"Swished?" said Frank, with a rapid heat in
his cheeks.



"Swished," said Reginald, in his decided
voice. "Birched."

" Do you mean flogged ?"

Frank asked this very diffidently, and as if
the query singed his lips.

"Well, flogged, if you like that better," said
Reginald, conscious of a neat point. " Flogged.
But I mean a real, right-down swishing, you
know. If a fellow says flogged, it may be a
whip, don't you see, or a strap. That's caddish.
But you can call it flogging, if you like; only
not at school, mind. It's all very well before

Reverting from these verbal subtleties to the
main point, Reginald put the grand query again
in a modified shape, but in a tone of courteous
resolution, not to be evaded by any boy.

" Does your father often flog you?"

" I never was flogged in my life," said Frank,
sensible of his deep degradation.

Reginald, as a boy of the world, could stand a
good deal without surprise; experience of men
and things had inured him to much that was
.curious and out of the usual way. But at the
shock of this monstrous and incredible assertion
he was thrown right off his balance. He got off
the parapet, leaned his shoulders against it, and
gazed upon the boy, to whom birch was a dim
dubious myth, a jocose threat after dinner, with


Love's Cross-currents

eyebrows wonderfully high up, and distended
eyelids. Then he said,

"Good God!" softly, and dividing the syl-
lables with hushed breath.

Goaded to insanity by the big boy's astonish-
ment, agonized by his silence, Frank tenderly
put a timid foot in it.

"Were you?" he asked, with much awe.

Then, with straightened shoulders and raised
chin, Reginald Harewood took up his parable.
Some of his filial expressions must be forgiven
to youthful excitement, and for the sake of
accuracy ; boys, when voluble on a tender point,
are awfully accurate in their choice of words.
Reginald was very voluble by nature, and easy
to excite on this painfully personal matter.

" Ah, yes, I should think so. My good fellow,
you ought to have seen me yesterday. I was
swished twice in the morning. Gan't you see in
a man's eyes? My father is the most
awful Turk. He likes to swish me he does
really. What you'll do when you get to school"
(here a pause), "God knows." (This in a
pensive and devout manner, touched with pity.)
"You'll sing out by Jove! won't you sing
out the first time you catch it ! I used to I do
sometimes now. For it hurts most awfully.
But I can stand a good lot of it. My father can
always draw blood at the third or fourth cut.



It's just like a swarm of mad bees stinging you
at once. At school, if you kick, or if you wince
even, or if you make the least bit of row, you get
three cuts over. I always did when I was your
age. The fellows used to call me all manner of
chaffy names. Not the young ones, of course ;
I should lick them. I say, I wish you were go-
ing to school. You'd be letting fellows get you
into the most awful rows ah! wouldn't you?
When I was your age I used to get swished twice
a week regular. The masters spite me. I know
one of them does, because he told one of the big
fellows he did. At least he said I was a curse to
my division, and I was ruining all the young
ones. He did really, on my word. I was the
fellow's fag that he said it to, and he called me
up that night and licked me with a whip ; with a
whip like this. He was a most awful bully. I
don't think I'll tell you what he did once to a
boy. You wouldn't sleep well to-night."

" Oh, do !" said Frank, quivering. The terrific
interest of Reginald's confidences suspended his
heart at his lips ; he beheld the Complete School-
boy with a breathless reverence. As for pity, he
would as soon have ventured to pity a crowned

" No," said the boy of the world, shaking con-
siderate curls; "I won't tell a little fellow, I
think; it's a shame to go and put them in a


Love's Cross-currents

funk. Some fellows are always trying it on,
for a spree. I never do. No, my good fellow,
you'd better not ask me. You had really."

Reginald sucked his whip-handle with a relish,
and eyed the universe in a conscious way.

" Do, please," pleaded the younger. " I don't
mind; I've heard of that is, I've read of all
kinds of awful things. I don't care about them
the least bit."

"Well, young one," said Reginald, "don't
blame me then, that's all, if you have bad
dreams. There was one fellow ran away from
school when he heard of it on my word." And
Reginald proceeded to recite certain episodes
apocryphal or canonical from the life of a lower
boy, giving the details with a dreadful unction.
No description can express the full fleshy sound
of certain words in his mouth. He talked of
" cuts " with quite a liquorish accent, and gave
the technical word "swish" with a twang in
which the hissing sound of a falling birch be-
came sharply audible. The boy was immeas-
urably proud of his floggings, and relished the
subject of flagellation as few men relish rare
wine. As for shame, he had never for a second
thought of it. A flogging was an affair of
honour to him ; if he came off without tears,
although with loss of blood, he regarded the
master with chivalrous pity, as a brave enemy



worsted. A real tormentor always revelled in
the punishment of Reginald. Those who plied
the birch with true loving delight in the use
of it enjoyed whipping such a boy intensely.
Orbilius would have feasted on his flesh dined
off him.

He looked Frank between the eyes as he
finished and gave a great shrug.

" I said you'd better not. You look blue and
green, upon my honour you do. It's your fault,
my good fellow. I'm very sorry. I know some
fellows can't stand things. I knew you couldn't
by the look of your eyes. I could have taken
my oath of it. It isn't in you. It's not your
fault; I dare say you've no end of pluck, but
you're nervous, don't you see? I don't mean
you funk exactly; things disagree with you
that's it."

Here Reginald strangled a discourteous and
compromising chuckle, and gave himself a cut
with his whip that made his junior wink.

"Ah, now, you see, that makes you wince.
Now, look here, you just take hold of that whip
and give me a cut as hard as you possibly can.
You just do that. I should like it. Do, there's
a good fellow. I want to see if you could hurt
me. Hit hard, mind. Now then," and he pre-
sented a bending broadside to the shot.

The trodden worm turned and stung. Driven

Love's Cross-currents

mad by patronage, and all the more savage be-
cause of his deep admiration, Frank could not
let the chance slip. He took sharp aim, set his
teeth, and, swinging all his body round with the
force of the blow as he dealt it, brought down
the whip on the tightest part he could pick out,
with a vicious vigour and stinging skill.

He had a moment's sip of pure honey ; Regi-
nald jumped a foot high, and yelled.

But in another minute, before Frank had got
his breath again, the boy turned round, rubbing
hard with one hand, patted him, and delivered
a "Well done!" more stinging than a dozen
cuts. Frank succumbed.

"I say, just let me feel your muscle," said
Reginald, passing scientific finger-tips up the
arm of his companion. "Ah, very good muscle
you've got; you ought just to keep it up, you
see, and you'll do splendidly. Bend your arm
up; so. I'll tell you what now; you ought to
make no end of a good hitter in time. But you
wouldn't have hurt me a bit if I hadn't come to
such grief yesterday. It was a jolly good rod,
and quite fresh, with no end of buds on ; but you
see you can't understand. Of course you can't.
Then, you see, there was the ride over here.
Riding doesn't usually make me lose leather;
but to-day, you know that is, you don't know,
But you will."



Reginald gave a pathetic nod, indicative of
untold horrors.

Frank had begun a meek excuse, which was
cut short with imperious grace.

"My dear fellow, don't bother yourself. I
don't mind. You'll have to learn how to stand
a cut before you leave home; or the first time
you're sent up, -by Jove ! how you will squeak !
There was a fellow like you last half (Audley his
name was), who had never been flogged till he
came to school; he was a nice sort of fellow
enough, but when they told him to go down
look here, he went in this way." And Reginald
proceeded to enact the whole scene, making an
inoffensive laurel-bush represent the flagellated
novice, whose yells and contortions he rendered
with fearful effect, plying his whip vigorously
between whiles, till a rain of gashed leaves in-
undated the gravel, and giving at the same time
vocal imitations of the swish of the absent birch-
twigs and the voice of the officiating master,
as it fulminated words of objurgation and jocose
contumely at every other cut. The vivid por-
traiture of the awful thing and Redgie's sub-
sequent description (too graphic and terrible in
its naked realism to be reproduced) of the cul-
prit's subsequent appearance and demeanour,
and of his usage at the hands of indignant
school-boys, whose sense of propriety his base

Love's Cross-currents

behaviour under punishment had outraged in its
tenderest part, all this made the youthful hear-
er's blood shiver deliciously, and his nerves
tingle with a tremulous sympathy. He was
grateful for this experience, and felt older than
five minutes since. Reginald, too, remarking
and relishing the impression made, felt kindly
towards his junior, and promised, by implication,
a continuance of his patronage.

When they went in to luncheon, Redgie
examined his friend's sister with the acute eyes
of a boy of the world, and evidently approved
of her; became, indeed, quite subdued, "lowly
and serviceable," on finding that thirteen took
a high tone with eleven, and was not prepared
to permit advances on an equal footing. Frank,
meantime, was scrutinizing under timid eyelids
the awful Captain Hare wood, in whose hand the
eye of his fancy saw, instead of knife and fork,
a lifted birch, the twigs worn and frayed, and
spotted with filial blood.

Redgie 's father was thirty-eight that year,
nine years older than his ex-wife, but looking
much more. Mrs. Stanford had a fresh equable
beauty which might have suited a woman ten
years younger. The Captain was a handsome
tall man, square in build, with a hard forehead ;
the black eyes and eyebrows he had bequeathed
to his son, but softened; his own eyes were



metallic, and the brows heavy, shaggy even. He
had a hard mouth, with large locked lips; a
tight chin, a full smooth moustache, and a wide
cheek, already furrowed and sad-looking. Some-
thing of a despot's justice in the look of him, and
something of bitter doubt and regret. His host,
a man twelve years older, had worn much better
than he had.

When the boys were again by themselves,
Redgie was pleased to express his sense of the
merits of Frank's sister; a tribute gratefully
accepted. Clara was stunning for a girl, her
brother added but was cautious of over-prais-
ing her.

"I've got a sister," Reginald stated; "I be-
lieve she's a clipper, but I don't know. Oh, I
say, isn't my grandmother an aunt of yours or

"Aunt Helena?" said her nephew, who held
her in a certain not unfriendly awe.

"That's her," said Redgie, using a grammati-
cal construction which, occurring in a Latin
theme, would have brought down birch on his
bare skin to a certainty. "Isn't she a brick?
I think she's the greatest I know that's about
what she is."

Frank admitted she was kind.

" Kind ? I should think she was, too. She's
a trump. But do you know she hates my gov-

Love's Cross-currents

ernor like mad. They hardly speak when she
comes to our crib. Last time she came she gave
me a fiver ; she did really. ' ' (Redgie at that age
wanted usually some time to get up his slang in,
but when it once began, he was great at it, con-
sidering he had never got into a very slang set.)
" Well, she says my sister is no end of a good one
to look at by this time ; but I think yours must
be the jolliest. I've known lots of girls" (the
implied reticence of accent was, as Lady Mid-
hurst would have said, impayable), " but I never
saw such a stunner as she is. She makes a
fellow feel quite shut up and spooney."

This amorous confidence was brought up short
by the sudden advent of the two fathers. Meet-
ing the eye of his, Redgie felt. his fate, and tin-
gled with the anticipated smart of it. All his
last speech had too clearly dropped word by
word into the paternal ear; the wretched boy's
face reddened with biting blushes to the very
chin and eyelids and hair. When some twenty
minutes later they parted at the hall-door,
Redgie gave his friend a pitiful private wink and
sadly comic shrug, so suggestive of his impend-
ing doom and the inevitable ceremony to be gone
through when he reached home again that
Frank, having seen him ride off quite silently a
little behind his father, turned back into the
house with his own flesh quivering, and a fearful



vague vision before his eyes of Reginald some
hours later twisting his bared limbs under the

He was eager to gather the household verdict
on his friend; but Reginald had scarcely made
much of a success in other quarters. Clara
thought him silly and young of his age (a verdict
which would have finished him at once if he had
known of it), but admitted he was a handsome
boy, much prettier and pleasanter to have near
one than Ernest Radworth. Mr. Cheyne was
sorry for the boy, but could hardly put up with
such a sample of the new race. Redgie's conceit
and gracious impudence (though it was not
really a case of bad tone, he allowed) had evi-
dently been too much for him. The Captain,
too, had expressed uneasiness about his boy,
and a sense of vexatious outlooks ahead.

After all there grew up no great intimacy
out of this first visit ; a mere childish interlude,
which seemingly had but just result enough to
establish a certain tie at school afterwards be-
tween young Cheyne and his second cousin
a tie considerably broken in upon by various
squabbles, and strained often almost to snap-
ping; but, for all that, the visit had left its mark
on both sides, and had its consequences.

WE have taken a flying view of these domestic
affairs and the people involved in them, as they
stood twelve years or so before the date of the
ensuing correspondence. Something may now
be understood of the characters and positions of
the writers; enough, no doubt, to make the let-
ters comprehensible without interloping notes
or commentaries. Much incident is not here to
be looked for ; what story there is to tell ought at
least to be given with clearness and coherence.

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Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneLove's cross-currents; a year's letters, by Algernon Charles Swinburne → online text (page 2 of 13)