A LITTLE GREY GLOVE
By George Egerton (Mary Chavelita [Dunne] Bright)
(Keynotes, London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane, Vigo Street, 1893)
The book of life begins with a man and woman in a garden and ends—with
Yes, most fellows' book of life may be said to begin at the chapter
where woman comes in; mine did. She came in years ago, when I was a raw
undergraduate. With the sober thought of retrospective analysis, I may
say she was not all my fancy painted her; indeed now that I come to
think of it there was no fancy about the vermeil of her cheeks, rather
an artificial reality; she had her bower in the bar of the Golden Boar,
and I was madly in love with her, seriously intent on lawful wedlock.
Luckily for me she threw me over for a neighbouring pork butcher, but at
the time I took it hardly, and it made me sex-shy. I was a very poor man
in those days. One feels one's griefs more keenly then, one hasn't the
wherewithal to buy distraction. Besides, ladies snubbed me rather, on
the rare occasions I met them. Later I fell in for a legacy, the
forerunner of several; indeed, I may say I am beastly rich. My tastes
are simple too, and I haven't any poor relations. I believe they are of
great assistance in getting rid of superfluous capital, wish I had some!
It was after the legacy that women discovered my attractions. They found
that there was something superb in my plainness (before, they said
ugliness), something after the style of the late Victor Emanuel,
something infinitely more striking than mere ordinary beauty. At least
so Harding told me his sister said, and she had the reputation of being
a clever girl. Being an only child, I never had the opportunity other
fellows had of studying the undress side of women through familiar
intercourse, say with sisters. Their most ordinary belongings were
sacred to me. I had, I used to be told, ridiculous high-flown notions
about them (by the way I modified those considerably on closer
acquaintance). I ought to study them, nothing like a woman for
developing a fellow. So I laid in a stock of books in different
languages, mostly novels, in which women played title roles, in order to
get up some definite data before venturing amongst them. I can't say I
derived much benefit from this course. There seemed to be as great a
diversity of opinion about the female species as, let us say, about the
My friend Ponsonby Smith, who is one of the oldest fly-fishers in the
three kingdoms, said to me once: Take my word for it, there are only
four true salmo; the salar, the trutta, the fario, the ferox; all the
rest are just varieties, subgenuses of the above; stick to that. Some
writing fellow divided all the women into good-uns and bad-uns. But as a
conscientious stickler for truth, I must say that both in trout as in
women, I have found myself faced with most puzzling varieties, that were
a tantalizing blending of several qualities. I then resolved to study
them on my own account. I pursued the Eternal Feminine in a spirit of
purely scientific investigation. I knew you'd laugh sceptically at that,
but it's a fact. I was impartial in my selection of subjects for
observation—French, German, Spanish, as well as the home product.
Nothing in petticoats escaped me. I devoted myself to the freshest
ingenue as well as the experienced widow of three departed; and I may
as well confess that the more I saw of her, the less I understood her.
But I think they understood me. They refused to take me au sérieux.
When they weren't fleecing me, they were interested in the state of my
soul (I preferred the former), but all humbugged me equally, so I gave
them up. I took to rod and gun instead, pro salute animae; it's
decidedly safer. I have scoured every country in the globe; indeed I can
say that I have shot and fished in woods and waters where no other white
man, perhaps ever dropped a beast or played a fish before. There is no
life like the life of a free wanderer, and no lore like the lore one
gleans in the great book of nature. But one must have freed one's spirit
from the taint of the town before one can even read the alphabet of its
What has this to do with the glove? True, not much, and yet it has a
connection—it accounts for me.
Well, for twelve years I have followed the impulses of the wandering
spirit that dwells in me. I have seen the sun rise in Finland and gild
the Devil's Knuckles as he sank behind the Drachensberg. I have caught
the barba and the gamer yellow fish in the Vaal river, taken muskelunge
and black-bass in Canada, thrown a fly over guapote and cavallo in
Central American lakes, and choked the monster eels of the Mauritius
with a cunningly faked-up duckling. But I have been shy as a chub at the
shadow of a woman.
Well, it happened last year I came back on business—another confounded
legacy; end of June too, just as I was off to Finland. But Messrs.
Thimble and Rigg, the highly respectable firm who look after my affairs,
represented that I owed it to others, whom I kept out of their share of
the legacy, to stay near town till affairs were wound up. They told me,
with a view to reconcile me perhaps, of a trout stream with a decent inn
near it; an unknown stream in Kent. It seems a junior member of the firm
is an angler, at least he sometimes catches pike or perch in the Medway
some way from the stream where the trout rise in audacious security from
artificial lures. I stipulated for a clerk to come down with any papers
to be signed, and started at once for Victoria. I decline to tell the
name of my find, firstly because the trout are the gamest little fish
that ever rose to fly and run to a good two pounds. Secondly, I have
paid for all the rooms in the inn for the next year, and I want it to
myself. The glove is lying on the table next me as I write. If it isn't
in my breast-pocket or under my pillow, it is in some place where I can
see it. It has a delicate grey body (suède, I think they call it) with a
whipping of silver round the top, and a darker grey silk tag to fasten
it. It is marked 5-3/4 inside, and has a delicious scent about it, to
keep off moths, I suppose; naphthaline is better. It reminds me of a
'silver-sedge' tied on a ten hook. I startled the good landlady of the
little inn (there is no village fortunately) when I arrived with the
only porter of the tiny station laden with traps. She hesitated about a
private sitting-room, but eventually we compromised matters, as I was
willing to share it with the other visitor. I got into knickerbockers at
once, collared a boy to get me worms and minnow for the morrow, and as I
felt too lazy to unpack tackle, just sat in the shiny armchair (made
comfortable by the successive sitting of former occupants) at the open
window and looked out. The river, not the trout stream, winds to the
right, and the trees cast trembling shadows into its clear depths. The
red tiles of a farm roof show between the beeches, and break the
monotony of blue sky background. A dusty waggoner is slaking his thirst
with a tankard of ale. I am conscious of the strange lonely feeling that
a visit to England always gives me. Away in strange lands, even in
solitary places, one doesn't feel it somehow. One is filled with the
hunter's lust, bent on a 'kill', but at home in the quiet country, with
the smoke curling up from some fireside, the mowers busy laying the hay
in swaths, the children tumbling under the trees in the orchards, and a
girl singing as she spreads the clothes on the sweetbriar hedge, amidst
a scene quick with home sights and sounds, a strange lack creeps in and
makes itself felt in a dull, aching way. Oddly enough, too, I had a
sense of uneasiness, a 'something going to happen'. I had often
experienced it when out alone in a great forest, or on an unknown lake,
and it always meant 'ware danger' of some kind. But why should I feel it
here? Yet I did, and I couldn't shake it off. I took to examining the
room. It was a commonplace one of the usual type. But there was a
work-basket on the table, a dainty thing, lined with blue satin. There
was a bit of lace stretched over shiny blue linen, with the needle
sticking in it; such fairy work, like cobwebs seen from below, spun from
a branch against a background of sky. A gold thimble, too, with
initials, not the landlady's, I know. What pretty things, too, in the
basket! A scissors, a capital shape for fly-making; a little file, and
some floss silk and tinsel, the identical colour I want for a new fly I
have in my head, one that will be a demon to kill. The northern devil I
mean to call him. Some one looks in behind me, and a light step passes
upstairs. I drop the basket, I don't know why. There are some reviews
near it. I take up one, and am soon buried in an article on Tasmanian
fauna. It is strange, but whenever I do know anything about a subject,
I always find these writing fellows either entirely ignorant or damned
After supper, I took a stroll to see the river. It was a silver grey
evening, with just the last lemon and pink streaks of the sunset
staining the sky. There had been a shower, and somehow the smell of the
dust after rain mingled with the mignonette in the garden brought back
vanished scenes of small-boyhood, when I caught minnows in a bottle, and
dreamt of a shilling rod as happiness unattainable. I turned aside from
the road in accordance with directions, and walked towards the stream.
Holloa! someone before me, what a bore! The angler is hidden by an
elder-bush, but I can see the fly drop delicately, artistically on the
water. Fishing upstream, too! There is a bit of broken water there, and
the midges dance in myriads; a silver gleam, and the line spins out, and
the fly falls just in the right place. It is growing dusk, but the
fellow is an adept at quick, fine casting—I wonder what fly he has
on—why, he's going to try downstream now? I hurry forward, and as I
near him, I swerve to the left out of the way. S-s-s-s! a sudden sting
in the lobe of my ear. Hey! I cry as I find I am caught; the tail fly is
fast in it. A slight, grey-clad woman holding the rod lays it carefully
down and comes towards me through the gathering dusk. My first impulse
is to snap the gut and take to my heels, but I am held by something less
tangible but far more powerful than the grip of the Limerick hook in my
'I am very sorry!' she says in a voice that matched the evening, it was
so quiet and soft; 'but it was exceedingly stupid of you to come behind
'I didn't think you threw such a long line; I thought I was safe,' I
'Hold this!' she says, giving me a diminutive fly-book, out of which she
has taken a scissors. I obey meekly. She snips the gut.
'Have you a sharp knife? If I strip the hook you can push it through; it
is lucky it isn't in the cartilage.'
I suppose I am an awful idiot, but I only handed her the knife, and she
proceeded as calmly as if stripping a hook in a man's ear were an
everyday occurrence. Her gown is of some soft grey stuff, and her grey
leather belt is silver clasped. Her hands are soft and cool and steady,
but there is a rarely disturbing thrill in their gentle touch. The
thought flashed through my mind that I had just missed that, a woman's
voluntary tender touch, not a paid caress, all my life.
'Now you can push it through yourself. I hope it won't hurt much.'
Taking the hook, I push it through, and a drop of blood follows it.
'Oh!' she cries, but I assure her it is nothing, and stick the hook
surreptitiously in my coat sleeve. Then we both laugh, and I look at her
for the first time. She has a very white forehead, with little tendrils
of hair blowing round it under her grey cap, her eyes are grey. I didn't
see that then, I only saw they were steady, smiling eyes that matched
her mouth. Such a mouth, the most maddening mouth a man ever longed to
kiss, above a too-pointed chin, soft as a child's; indeed, the whole
face looks soft in the misty light.
'I am sorry I spoilt your sport!' I say.
'Oh, that don't matter, it's time to stop. I got two brace, one a
She is winding in her line, and I look in her basket; they are
beauties, one two-pounder, the rest running from a half to a pound.
'Yellow dun took that one, but your assailant was a partridge spider.' I
sling her basket over my shoulder; she takes it as a matter of course,
and we retrace our steps. I feel curiously happy as we walk towards the
road; there is a novel delight in her nearness; the feel of woman works
subtly and strangely in me; the rustle of her skirt as it brushes the
black-heads in the meadow-grass, and the delicate perfume, partly
violets, partly herself, that comes to me with each of her movements is
a rare pleasure. I am hardly surprised when she turns into the garden of
the inn, I think I knew from the first that she would.
'Better bathe that ear of yours, and put a few drops of carbolic in the
water.' She takes the basket as she says it, and goes into the kitchen.
I hurry over this, and go into the little sitting-room. There is a tray
with a glass of milk and some oaten cakes upon the table. I am too
disturbed to sit down; I stand at the window and watch the bats flitter
in the gathering moonlight, and listen with quivering nerves for her
step—perhaps she will send for the tray, and not come after all. What a
fool I am to be disturbed by a grey-clad witch with a tantalizing mouth!
That comes of loafing about doing nothing. I mentally darn the old fool
who saved her money instead of spending it. Why the devil should I be
bothered? I don't want it anyhow. She comes in as I fume, and I forget
everything at her entrance. I push the armchair towards the table, and
she sinks quietly into it, pulling the tray nearer. She has a wedding
ring on, but somehow it never strikes me to wonder if she is married or
a widow or who she may be. I am content to watch her break her biscuits.
She has the prettiest hands, and a trick of separating her last fingers
when she takes hold of anything. They remind me of white orchids I saw
somewhere. She led me to talk; about Africa, I think. I liked to watch
her eyes glow deeply in the shadow and then catch light as she bent
forward to say something in her quick responsive way.
'Long ago when I was a girl,' she said once.
'Long ago?' I echo incredulously, 'surely not?'
'Ah, but yes, you haven't seen me in the daylight,' with a soft little
laugh. 'Do you know what the gipsies say? "Never judge a woman or a
ribbon by candle-light." They might have said moonlight equally well.'
She rises as she speaks, and I feel an overpowering wish to have her put
out her hand. But she does not, she only takes the work-basket and a
book, and says good night with an inclination of her little head.
I go over and stand next to her chair; I don't like to sit in it, but I
like to put my hand where her head leant, and fancy, if she were there,
how she would look up.
I woke next morning with a curious sense of pleasurable excitement. I
whistled from very lightness of heart as I dressed. When I got down I
found the landlady clearing away her breakfast things. I felt
disappointed and resolved to be down earlier in future. I didn't feel
inclined to try the minnow. I put them in a tub in the yard and tried to
read and listen for her step. I dined alone. The day dragged terribly. I
did not like to ask about her, I had a notion she might not like it. I
spent the evening on the river. I might have filled a good basket, but I
let the beggars rest. After all, I had caught fish enough to stock all
the rivers in Great Britain. There are other things than trout in the
world. I sit and smoke a pipe where she caught me last night. If I half
close my eyes I can see hers, and her mouth, in the smoke. That is one
of the curious charms of baccy, it helps to reproduce brain pictures.
After a bit, I think 'perhaps she has left'. I get quite feverish at the
thought and hasten back. I must ask. I look up at the window as I pass;
there is surely a gleam of white. I throw down my traps and hasten up.
She is leaning with her arms on the window-ledge staring out into the
gloom. I could swear I caught a suppressed sob as I entered. I cough,
and she turns quickly and bows slightly. A bonnet and gloves and lace
affair and a lot of papers are lying on the table. I am awfully afraid
she is going. I say—
'Please don't let me drive you away, it is so early yet. I half expected
to see you on the river.'
'Nothing so pleasant; I have been up in town (the tears have certainly
got into her voice) all day; it was so hot and dusty, I am tired out.'
The little servant brings in the lamp and a tray with a bottle of
'Mistress hasn't any lemons, 'm, will this do?'
'Yes,' she says wearily, she is shading her eyes with her hand;
'anything; I am fearfully thirsty.'
'Let me concoct you a drink instead. I have lemons and ice and things.
My man sent me down supplies today; I leave him in town. I am rather a
dab at drinks; I learnt it from the Yankees; about the only thing I did
learn from them I care to remember. Susan!' The little maid helps me to
get the materials, and she watches me quietly. When I give it to her
she takes it with a smile (she has been crying). That is an ample
thank you. She looks quite old. Something more than tiredness called up
those lines in her face.
* * * * *
Well, ten days passed, sometimes we met at breakfast, sometimes at
supper, sometimes we fished together or sat in the straggling orchard
and talked; she neither avoided me nor sought me. She is the most
charming mixture of child and woman I ever met. She is a dual creature.
Now I never met that in a man. When she is here without getting a letter
in the morning or going to town, she seems like a girl. She runs about
in her grey gown and little cap and laughs, and seems to throw off all
thought like an irresponsible child. She is eager to fish, or pick
gooseberries and eat them daintily, or sit under the trees and talk. But
when she goes to town—I notice she always goes when she gets a lawyer's
letter, there is no mistaking the envelope—she comes home tired and
haggard-looking, an old woman of thirty-five. I wonder why. It takes
her, even with her elasticity of temperament, nearly a day to get young
again. I hate her to go to town; it is extraordinary how I miss her; I
can't recall, when she is absent, her saying anything very wonderful,
but she converses all the time. She has a gracious way of filling the
place with herself, there is an entertaining quality in her very
presence. We had one rainy afternoon; she tied me some flies (I shan't
use any of them); I watched the lights in her hair as she moved, it is
quite golden in some places, and she has a tiny mole near her left ear
and another on her left wrist. On the eleventh day she got a letter but
she didn't go to town, she stayed up in her room all day; twenty times I
felt inclined to send her a line, but I had no excuse. I heard the
landlady say as I passed the kitchen window: 'Poor dear! I'm sorry to
lose her!' Lose her? I should think not. It has come to this with me
that I don't care to face any future without her; and yet I know nothing
about her, not even if she is a free woman. I shall find that out the
next time I see her. In the evening I catch a glimpse of her gown in the
orchard, and I follow her. We sit down near the river. Her left hand is
lying gloveless next to me in the grass.
'Do you think from what you have seen of me, that I would ask a question
out of any mere impertinent curiosity?'
She starts. 'No, I do not!'
I take up her hand and touch the ring. 'Tell me, does this bind you to
I am conscious of a buzzing in my ears and a dancing blurr of water and
sky and trees, as I wait (it seems to me an hour) for her reply. I felt
the same sensation once before, when I got drawn into some rapids and
had an awfully narrow shave, but of that another time.
The voice is shaking.
'I am not legally bound to anyone, at least; but why do you ask?' she
looks me square in the face as she speaks, with a touch of haughtiness
I never saw in her before.
Perhaps the great relief I feel, the sense of joy at knowing she is
free, speaks out of my face, for hers flushes and she drops her eyes,
her lips tremble. I don't look at her again, but I can see her all the
same. After a while she says—
'I half intended to tell you something about myself this evening, now I
must. Let us go in. I shall come down to the sitting-room after your
supper.' She takes a long look at the river and the inn, as if fixing
the place in her memory; it strikes me with a chill that there is a
goodbye in her gaze. Her eyes rest on me a moment as they come back,
there is a sad look in their grey clearness. She swings her little grey
gloves in her hand as we walk back. I can hear her walking up and down
overhead; how tired she will be, and how slowly the time goes. I am
standing at one side of the window when she enters; she stands at the
other, leaning her head against the shutter with her hands clasped
before her. I can hear my own heart beating, and, I fancy, hers through
the stillness. The suspense is fearful. At length she says—
'You have been a long time out of England; you don't read the papers?'
'No.' A pause. I believe my heart is beating inside my head.
'You asked me if I was a free woman. I don't pretend to misunderstand
why you asked me. I am not a beautiful woman, I never was. But there
must be something about me, there is in some women, "essential
femininity" perhaps, that appeals to all men. What I read in your eyes
I have seen in many men's before, but before God I never tried to rouse
it. Today (with a sob), I can say I am free, yesterday morning I could
not. Yesterday my husband gained his case and divorced me!' she closes
her eyes and draws in her under-lip to stop its quivering. I want to
take her in my arms, but I am afraid to.
'I did not ask you any more than if you were free!'
'No, but I am afraid you don't quite take in the meaning. I did not
divorce my husband, he divorced me, he got a decree nisi; do you
understand now? (she is speaking with difficulty), do you know what that
I can't stand her face any longer. I take her hands, they are icy cold,
and hold them tightly.
'Yes, I know what it implies, that is, I know the legal and social
conclusion to be drawn from it—if that is what you mean. But I never
asked you for that information. I have nothing to do with your past. You
did not exist for me before the day we met on the river. I take you from
that day and I ask you to marry me.'
I feel her tremble and her hands get suddenly warm. She turns her head
and looks at me long and searchingly, then she says—
'Sit down, I want to say something!'
I obey, and she comes and stands next the chair. I can't help it, I
reach up my arm, but she puts it gently down.
'No, you must listen without touching me, I shall go back to the
window. I don't want to influence you a bit by any personal magnetism
I possess. I want you to listen—I have told you he divorced me, the
co-respondent was an old friend, a friend of my childhood, of my
girlhood. He died just after the first application was made, luckily for
me. He would have considered my honour before my happiness. I did not
defend the case, it wasn't likely—ah, if you knew all? He proved his
case; given clever counsel, willing witnesses to whom you make it worth
while, and no defence, divorce is always attainable even in England. But
remember: I figure as an adulteress in every English-speaking paper. If
you buy last week's evening papers—do you remember the day I was in
town?'—I nod—'you will see a sketch of me in that day's; someone,
perhaps he, must have given it; it was from an old photograph. I bought
one at Victoria as I came out; it is funny (with an hysterical laugh) to
buy a caricature of one's own poor face at a news-stall. Yet in spite of
that I have felt glad. The point for you is that I made no defence to
the world, and (with a lifting of her head) I will make no apology, no
explanation, no denial to you, now nor ever. I am very desolate and your
attention came very warm to me, but I don't love you. Perhaps I could
learn to (with a rush of colour), for what you have said tonight, and it
is because of that I tell you to weigh what this means. Later, when your
care for me will grow into habit, you may chafe at my past. It is from
that I would save you.'
I hold out my hands and she comes and puts them aside and takes me by
the beard and turns up my face and scans it earnestly. She must have
been deceived a good deal. I let her do as she pleases, it is the wisest
way with women, and it is good to have her touch me in that way. She
seems satisfied. She stands leaning against the arm of the chair and
'I must learn first to think of myself as a free woman again, it almost
seems wrong today to talk like this; can you understand that feeling?'
I nod assent.
'Next time I must be sure, and you must be sure,' she lays her fingers
on my mouth as I am about to protest, 'S-sh! You shall have a year to
think. If you repeat then what you have said today, I shall give you
your answer. You must not try to find me. I have money. If I am living,
I will come here to you. If I am dead, you will be told of it. In the
year between I shall look upon myself as belonging to you, and render an
account if you wish of every hour. You will not be influenced by me in
any way, and you will be able to reason it out calmly. If you think
better of it, don't come.'
I feel there would be no use trying to move her, I simply kiss her hands
'As you will, dear woman, I shall be here.'
We don't say any more; she sits down on a footstool with her head
against my knee, and I just smooth it. When the clocks strike ten
through the house, she rises and I stand up. I see that she has been
crying quietly, poor lonely little soul. I lift her off her feet and
kiss her, and stammer out my sorrow at losing her, and she is gone. Next
morning the little maid brought me an envelope from the lady, who left
by the first train. It held a little grey glove; that is why I carry it
always, and why I haunt the inn and never leave it for longer than a
week; why I sit and dream in the old chair that has a ghost of her
presence always; dream of the spring to come with the May-fly on the
wing, and the young summer when midges dance, and the trout are growing
fastidious; when she will come to me across the meadow grass, through
the silver haze, as she did before; come with her grey eyes shining to
exchange herself for her little grey glove.