Eline Vere

Louis Couperus

Have you heard what happened to Eline? Everyone is talking about her! You too can find out what this is all about.

Sample Passages

  • A difficult decision

    No, Eline did not know how to decide. She shuddered at taking a step that could make her happy or unhappy for life. It seemed to her as though her future depended only on one single word, which she hesitated to utter. She shuddered at the very idea of a mariage de raison, because in her heart she felt a longing for love, much love, although it was a feeling which she had done her best to repress after her recent disappointment. And Otto… she had danced with him, she had laughed and joked with him, but his image had never held her thoughts even for a moment, and she had always forgotten him as soon as she heard or saw him no longer. However, when she saw his earnest simplicity of character, when she guessed that he loved her, the idea was sweet to her, and she told herself that it would pain her to cause him grief, or to refuse him anything, even her hand. And whilst she thus wilfully blinded herself, the rapture of his quiet passion for her seemed to pour balm into her wounded heart.
    The thought of becoming his wife, under the influence of her self-deception, filled her with a serene joy; something like a sweet vision arose in her mind, and… she began to look at the matter from a financial point of view.
    Yes; the idea was a cheering one: to be quite independent, to leave her sister’s house, where, notwithstanding her own little private fortune, she felt as though she were in fetters, something like a troublesome guest, whose presence was tolerated for the sake of the world’s opinion. But beneath all the various reasons which enticed her to welcome Otto with calm pleasure, there lurked, like an adder as it were, invisible to her own eye, a bitter regret at the ruin of her shattered fantasies, and if ever she gave herself to Otto, it would be in order to be avenged on Fabrice, and on herself.
    In the meantime, as soon as he had proposed, as soon as it became necessary for her to reflect, and there was no overwhelming wealth of passion to which she could succumb, she had stepped back, full of terror at the ordeal of giving her decision.
    Otto waited; he at least was discreet. For some days past he had avoided the house of the van Raats, and she wanted to reward him for his discretion; blushingly she had asked Betsy to send him a personal, intimate invitation, as she did to Freddie and Etienne.
    He would come, she would speak to him; and it seemed to her as if some unseen power pushed her forward down a steep path. It was as if she wanted to act otherwise than she did, but she was powerless to escape her fate. It seemed to her as though she groped about blindfolded after her happiness, stretching forth her hands in anxious, breathless suspense, and listening to something that seemed like the echo of a happiness that she was never, ever to find.

    Betsy poured out the tea. Mrs van Raat and Mrs Eekhof sat beside her on a sofa, and conversed with Emilie de Woude. Henk, with his hands in his pockets, was listening attentively to Vincent, and Eline, Ange, Léonie and Paul were turning over some music at the piano, when Otto and Etienne entered.
    ‘And Frédérique?’ asked Betsy with surprise, as she held out her hand to Otto.
    ‘Frédérique felt a little tired; she is very sorry,’ he answered simply.
    ‘She is often out of sorts lately,’ said Etienne, as though to add some weight to his brother’s words.
    Eline felt her heart beat. She was very nervous, although she effectually concealed her nervousness under her happy cheerfulness. It suddenly seemed to her as if everyone were looking at her, guessing at her thoughts, and she nearly trembled to raise her eyes, out of fear at seeing the glance of all directed upon her. But still, when she looked up, the aspect of the room was quite unchanged; the old ladies were still chatting with Betsy and Emilie, Vincent was speaking almost in whispers to Henk, and the girls and Paul were shaking hands with Etienne.
    But Otto approached her. She scarcely knew how to hold herself, and fancied she looked very awkward; but it was that very hesitancy that lent something coy to her slender little figure, and gave her a new charm. She heard how he simply bade her good evening, but in his voice there sounded something full and rich, like the promise of a great affection. She suddenly felt conscious of a fresh emotion, a melting tenderness in her heart which she could not understand.
    He remained standing there, by the piano, at her side; but entered into conversation with Ange, while Léonie was engaged in boisterous fun with Etienne. Once or twice Otto glanced at Eline to include her in their chatter, and she smiled, without hearing what was said. She could no longer follow her thoughts; they fluttered about in her mind like a swarm of butterflies, and it seemed to her as though a chorus of voices was singing in her ears. She understood that she should not allow herself to be drawn into the luxurious softness which seemed to encircle her as with velvet arms, that she dared not give herself up to dreams in the midst of a room full of people. And after a few laughing words she turned away, wondering at the subdued tone of her voice, which sounded as though she was speaking through a veil.
    ‘Vincent, you will play too, won’t you?’ she heard Betsy ask, and she saw the old ladies and Emilie rise, and caught sight of Henk seated at the card table in the opposite room, busily picking out the pearl card counters from a Japanese box. She seemed to be moving in a dream; she saw the cards spread out on the red cloth-covered table in the form of a big S; she saw the wax candles burning at the corners of the table, and sparkling rings as Mrs Eekhof drew a card.
    It seemed to her as though she herself was far away from it all. Vincent sat down opposite Mrs van Raat, and Henk was to have Mrs Eekhof for a partner. Betsy returned with Emilie; they would join in later on.
    ‘Mrs van Raat, shall we be disturbing them if we have a little music, or is it a terribly serious card party?’ Léonie asked of Betsy, pointing to the card table.
    ‘Oh no, not at all, amusez-vous toujours,’ answered Betsy, and she led Otto and Emilie with her to the sofa. She was always most amiable with strangers.
    ‘Come, Eline, do let us hear you; darling, we are dying for your ravishing melodies!’ Léonie continued, with irrepressible vivacity. ‘I will accompany you with my fairy fingers.’
    ‘No, Léo; not this evening, please. I am not in good voice.’
    ‘Not in good voice? I don’t believe a word of it! Come, allons, chante, ma belle! What shall it be?’
    ‘Yes, Eline, do sing!’ cried Mrs van Raat from the opposite room, and then in an embarrassed voice asked her partner what were trumps.
    ‘Really, darling Madame, really, Léo, I can’t. I can always tell when I can’t sing. I don’t refuse as a rule, do I? But you have brought some music with you, have you not?’
    ‘Yes; but they are not the sort of songs to start with, they are for later in the evening. Something serious first; come, Eline, allons!’
    ‘No, no; positively not,’ said Eline, shaking her head; it was really impossible. She felt as though she had a fever, which brought a faint blush to her cheeks, caused her eyelids to droop languidly, made her pulse beat faster, her fingers tremble.
    ‘Positively not?’ she heard softly repeated, and she glanced round. It was Otto, who, seated beside Betsy and Emilie, had asked her, and looked at her with his honest, expressive eyes. Once more she shook her head, still awkwardly, or so she thought, but really with unconscious grace.
    ‘Really, I could not.’
    And she turned away directly, fearing that he would suspect why. Besides, she felt very embarrassed when her glance met his, although there was not the slightest reproach in it. And it seemed to her as though there was something awkward in the manner of the people who filled the rooms with their chat and laughter, something that was unusual and strange; but still, she thought, only Betsy and Mrs van Raat knew that Otto had proposed to her, and that she would give him her answer that evening. Whatever the others might suspect, they would not let a word escape them that could compel her to lift the veil from her secret before she chose. And this confidence in their well-bred discreetness reassured her.
    Léonie pouted, however, and thought Eline a tiresome girl. Paul and Etienne cried that Léo must sing, and set off to fetch her music, which the girl, with an affectation of shyness, had left in the hall. All three rushed laughing to the door, but Léonie would not permit them to look for the music, and they caused a sudden, cheerful stir that made the whist-players in the next room look up smiling from their cards. Etienne triumphed, however, and soon returned, carrying in his uplifted arms the score of The Mascotte. The young Eekhofs were persuaded, and laughing and haltingly they sang, with their thin, shrill little voices, the duet of Pipo and Betinna, ‘O, mon Pipo, mon Dieu, qu’t’es bien!’ whilst Etienne accompanied them, with frequently doubtful chords.
    Still, the duet was a success, and with rising gaiety they soon sang, all four of them – Ange, Léonie, Etienne, and Paul – with a delightful disregard both of time and tune, first the languishing ‘Un baiser est un douce chose’, then the comic ‘Le grand singe d’Amérique’, and their music wafted gaily through the rooms, in a fluttering of airy melody.
    Eline had seated herself on a stool next to the piano, and she leaned her feverish little head against it, almost deafened by Etienne’s loud voice. Her hand kept time on her knee, thus still showing some little interest in what was going on. She heard the chords of the piano drumming in her ears, and the sounds prevented her from thinking and coming to a decision.
    Constantly she swayed from one resolution to another. Yes, she would accept; his love, though not requited, would still be her happiness; it was her destiny. No; she could not force herself, she could not allow herself to be bound in this way, without a shadow of love. And it seemed to her as though her thoughts were continually swaying to and fro, as if a clock were constantly ticking in her ears: yes… no… yes… no. It would be a relief to grasp at anything, however blindly. No; she must only decide after calm deliberation. Oh, if only that clock would stop! She could not struggle thus with herself; she had not the strength. She would reflect no longer; she would let herself be carried away by the invisible powers that drove her down this steep path; she would yield herself up entirely to the stress of circumstances; they must decide for her. And she felt a cold shiver overtake her when their glances met, and she rose.
    Vincent spoke to her. ‘Well, Elly, have you committed any folly yet; anything outrageously mad?’ he asked, mocking her voice.
    Round the piano it was quieter. Léonie was seated beside Emilie, and was giving her a vivid description of a little dance at the van Larens’. Etienne had turned himself round on the piano stool and was joking with Ange, who had tumbled onto the ottoman in a burst of laughter, and covered her face with both her little hands. Paul joined in the laughter and turned over the pages of music.
    ‘How? What? What do you mean?’ stammered Eline, who did not understand.
    ‘Did you not tell me, a little while ago, that you were about to do something desperately absurd? Now I ask you whether you have hit upon anything yet? I should like to join you.’
    His banter grated on her ears. In her present unusually serious mood, the remembrance of that period of frivolity seemed to her like an echo of vanished wishes. No; she no longer had any desire to give herself over to vague absurdities; she would be sensible and practical, as Otto was. Equivocally absurd, her disappointed passion – if she might give that name to her folly – had been more than enough; in future she would not let herself be carried away. And she crushed the feeling of bitter remorse that rose in her heart with the sharp sting of an adder.
    While she was searching for some light response to Vincent’s question, a sudden alarm seized her. A new thought had just struck her. No, it was no longer possible; she could not retreat. Otto, Betsy, they all expected her to accept; they could not help doing so. If she did not intend to accept him, then why did she have an express invitation sent to him? It was settled. It could not be otherwise, and after her sudden alarm a great calm came over her whole being.
    ‘But, my dear girl, I believe you suffer from absent-mindedness,’ cried Vincent, laughing. He had asked her why Georges de Woude was not there, and she had languidly replied, ‘Oh, yes; that is true.’
    Now she laughed in her turn; she was coming round, in the blissfulness of that calm.
    ‘I beg your pardon, I have a little…’ and she placed her hand on her forehead.
    ‘Oh! headache, I suppose? Yes; I know the disease,’ he interrupted ironically, and gave her a searching glance. ‘That headache is a family complaint with us; we suffer a great deal from headache.’
    In some alarm she looked at him; surely he could not suspect anything.
    ‘I got a headache too, whilst playing cards, with the hammering of the piano. It was as though I saw all kinds of colours – green, yellow, orange. When that little lively girl there… Léonie… sings, I always see orange colours.’
    ‘And when I sing?’ she asked coquettishly.
    ‘Oh, then it is quite different,’ he resumed, more seriously. ‘Then I always see before me a harmonious mixture, from faintest pink to purple, until it is all fused together in a delightful coalescence. Your low notes are pink, your high ones purple and brilliant. When Paul sings it is all grey, with a tinge of violet sometimes.’
    She laughed gaily, and Paul – who had heard him – laughed too.
    ‘But, Vincent, these are visions of an over-excited imagination.’
    ‘Perhaps so; but sometimes it is very pretty. Have you never experienced it?’
    She reflected for a moment, while Ange and Etienne, who had heard the latter part of their conversation, came nearer and listened, as did Paul.
    ‘No; I don’t think I have.’
    ‘And have you never felt that some notes remind you of some particular odour – for instance, sweet myrrh or mignonette? The tones of an organ are like incense. When you sing that scene by Beethoven, “Ah, Perfido!”, I always smell the odour of verbena, especially in one of the concluding high passages. When you sing it again, I shall show you.’
    Ange roared with laughter.
    ‘But, Mr Vere, how lovely to be perfumed like that!’
    Everyone joined in the laughter, and Vincent too seemed in a good humour.
    ‘It’s true, parole d’honneur.’
    ‘No; but I tell you what, some people remind me of different animals,’ whispered Etienne. ‘Henk, for instance, reminds me of a big dog, Betsy of a hen, Mrs van der Stoor of a crab.’
    They screamed with laughter. Otto, Emilie and Léonie rose from their seats and came nearer.
    ‘What is all this about?’ asked Emilie inquisitively.
    ‘Mrs van der Stoor is a crab!’ yelled Ange, with tears in her eyes from laughing.
    ‘And tell me, Eetje, what do I remind you of?’ asked Léonie with glistening eyes.
    ‘Oh, you and Ange are just like two little puppies,’ cried Etienne.
    ‘Freule de Woude, with her double chin, is a turkey!’ he whispered, delighted with his success, in Ange’s ear. She nearly choked with laughter. ‘Miss Frantzen is also a turkey, of another kind. Willem the servant is a stately stork, and Dien, the cook at the Verstraetens’, is a cockatoo.’
    ‘It is a menagerie, a Noah’s ark!’ screamed Léonie.
    ‘And Eline?’ Paul asked at last.
    ‘Oh, Eline,’ repeated Etienne, and reflected. ‘Sometimes a peacock – sometimes a serpent – right now a little dove.’ They shook their head at his extravagant fancies, but still they laughed gaily.

    ‘Etienne is always jolly,’ said Eline to Otto, when the little groups were broken up, and she nodded smilingly at Mrs van Raat, who had given her seat at the card table to Emilie. In the meantime Vincent became the butt of the little Eekhofs, who asked him if he were going to open a perfumery store.
    ‘Yes,’ answered Otto. ‘He has no reason to be otherwise, has he? He has all that he desires.’ There was something sad in his words, as if that was not the case with him, and Eline could find nothing to say in reply. For a while they stood close together, in silence, whilst her trembling hand clasped the fan at her side, and again her thoughts began to stray.
    ‘Have you nothing to say to me?’ he whispered softly, but without a tinge of reproach.
    She took a deep breath. ‘Really, oh… I… I cannot yet; forgive me, but really… later, later.’
    ‘All right, later; I will be patient… as long as I can,’ he said, and his calm tone brought a little peace to her whirling brain. No; she could refuse no longer – but still, she could not yet decide. And she could not help admiring his quiet tact, as he conversed with her on subjects in which neither of them took the slightest interest. That simple, quiet tact constituted his greatest charm; he was so entirely himself that it seemed as if his manly frankness concealed nothing that the eyes of the world might not see. Whilst he spoke, he did not attempt to pretend to himself or to her that there was anything interesting in the conversation; he seemed only to continue it because he liked to be near her and speak with her. It was so evident in the full tones of his voice. His thoughts were not on his conversation, and he made no attempt to conceal the fact. And for the first time she felt something like pity for him; she felt that she was cruel, and that he was suffering, and this feeling again aroused within her that melting tenderness which she could not understand.
    Refreshments were handed round.
    ‘Will you have some lemonade, Madame, and a cake?’ Eline asked Mrs van Raat, who was sitting rather abandoned on the sofa, now and again smiling at the jolly group of young people, who were now engaged telling each other’s fortunes.
    ‘Wait a moment,’ she continued to Otto. ‘The old lady is all alone; I shall go and keep her company.’
    He gave her a friendly nod and went to listen to Paul’s horoscope, which Ange was drawing for him.
    Eline took the lemonade, laid a cake on a plate, and offered it to Mrs van Raat. Then she sat down next to the old lady, and took her hand.
    Mrs van Raat, however, did not touch the refreshments, but looked Eline straight in the eye.
    ‘Well, how is it?’ she asked.
    In her present mood of melting tenderness, Eline could not feel annoyed at the indiscreet question. And she answered, very softly, almost inaudibly… ‘I… I shall accept.’
    She sighed, and the tears rose in her eyes, as, for the first time, she made that resolution. She would accept. And she could find nothing more to say to the old lady; that one word filled her mind so completely, that it absorbed every other thought. For a moment, therefore, they sat next to each other in silence, a little turned away from the happy group around the cards. And Eline could hear Ange’s shrill, laughing voice, as she laid down the cards, one by one, on the table.
    ‘Now just listen, Mr Erlevoort. I am much cleverer than Mrs Lenormand. Here is yours, king of diamonds. You are surrounded by many tears, but they are turned into smiles; you will have much money, and will go and live in a chateau in the Pyrenees. Or would you rather buy a villa near Nice? Ah, there she is! Queen of hearts, you see. You are rather wide apart, but all the intermediate cards are favourable. You will have to struggle against many obstacles before you can reach her, for she is rather sought after, you see; but… the king of clubs, king of diamonds, a plebeian even, a social democrat; knave of spades!’
    ‘Black jack!’ cried Léonie. ‘Ah, fi donc!’
    Eline smiled, a little frightened, and wiped away a tear from her lashes; and Mrs van Raat, who had also been listening, smiled too.
    ‘There, just see how beautifully those aces lie,’ Ange went on. ‘Never fear, Mr Erlevoort, never fear; it is all clearing up nicely.’
    ‘The cards seem favourable,’ whispered Mrs van Raat.
    Eline gave a little smile of contempt, but she felt a little upset; ‘black jack’ had reminded her of Fabrice.

    The company had risen from the whist table, and the conversation became lively and general. The fortune telling had given an impetus to everyone’s gaiety, and Etienne was loud in his protestations to Ange, who prophesied that he would be an old bachelor. Not he; he declined with thanks.
    Ange and Léonie persuaded Paul to sing something else, and Leonie accompanied him in one of Massenet’s songs. In the meantime Betsy looked attentively at her sister and Otto, and thought she could see that nothing had yet transpired between them. How Eline did dilly-dally, to be sure! She had managed it better herself. She had quietly accepted van Raat when he had clumsily proposed to her. What was Eline thinking about? Why in heaven’s name shouldn’t she accept Erlevoort? They were quite cut out for one another. And she worried about her sister’s sentimental hesitation, when she had the chance of marrying into a good family, and a man in a fair position. Her eye rested coldly on Eline’s slender form, to which that hesitating coyness lent an additional charm, and she noted it, as she also noted the unwonted earnestness that seemed to be diffused over her beauty. What a lot of fuss about such a simple matter! But when she caught sight of her husband, who was talking to Otto, she felt even more annoyed; how stupid he was, to be sure! Had he really still no notion why Otto was here that evening?
    Mrs van Raat left later than she usually did, still feeling uncertain in her mind about Eline’s decision. She had rather anticipated a sort of family evening, and she felt decidedly disappointed.
    It was now long past twelve, and Mrs Eekhof and her daughters prepared to go, together with Emilie, Vincent and Paul. The girls, amid much laughing banter, were conducted through the hall to their carriage by Henk and Etienne. Betsy, Eline and Otto stayed behind in the little boudoir, and the silence became somewhat embarrassing. But Betsy purposefully rose and walked into the drawing room towards the card table, as though to gather up the scattered counters. To Eline it seemed as if the ground was giving way beneath her. She could not hide her confusion from Otto’s eyes, and although he had had no intention that evening of referring to his proposal, he did not find himself strong enough to resist the temptation of the moment, now that they were alone together.
    ‘Eline,’ he whispered, in a broken voice. ‘Oh, must I leave you like this?’
    Almost in terror she let out her pent-up breath in a trembling sigh.
    ‘Otto… really, truly… I… I cannot, not yet.’
    ‘Adieu then; forgive me, pray, for having worried you a second time,’ he said, and with that he lightly pressed her fingers and went.

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  • It's too late!

    A day before the ball the two young men came back. Eline thought she could see a frown pass over St Clare’s features when he heard that they were going to the ball. He said nothing, however; but the following evening, about half past eight, he came in with Vincent. They had also been invited. Vincent had accepted the invitation. St Clare had not. He asked to see Eline for a moment, but she had just commenced her toilette; however, St Clare was importunate, and Eline sent her maid down to ask him to wait.
    There was no one in the big salon. Vincent, in evening dress, was lying on the couch, and had picked up L’Indépendance. St Clare stood on the balcony thinking, and staring at the snow, which glistened in the evening light. A servant came and asked whether they would have tea.
    ‘I must say I admire your pluck, Lawrence,’ said Vincent in English, as he slowly stirred his cup of tea. ‘But are you certain that she will understand and take your advice?’
    ‘Well, I can’t help myself. I will have to try,’ answered St Clare determinedly.
    The servant left and both were silent, until Eline entered. A pink glow of veloutine hid the sallow tint of her complexion. Her hair was already arranged, and rows and rows of glittering sequins hung over her brow. But she had not yet proceeded further than that with her costume, and was simply wrapped in a white flannel dressing gown. Vincent rose, and she apologized for her toilette. But she looked very charming none the less.
    ‘You wanted so urgently to speak to me,’ she said softly to St Clare, as she held out her hand to him. ‘I hope you won’t mind that I’ve come to you like this; and please don’t get up.’
    They sat down, while Vincent withdrew with his newspaper into the conservatory. St Clare looked at Eline searchingly.
    ‘What is it you want to ask me?’ she said.
    ‘In the first place, I must ask your pardon for my boldness in having called you away from your toilette.’
    ‘Oh, that is nothing. I have plenty of time.’
    ‘I feel very much flattered that you have come at once. You can well imagine that I should not have intruded if it had not been for a very good reason. I had a request to make of you.’
    ‘Which is so important that it could not wait?’
    ‘Yes, I have to ask you now and I run the risk that you will be very angry when I make that request, that you will feel hurt, and that you will tell me that I am interfering in matters that do not concern me.’
    She had a vague suspicion of the question that he was about to ask.
    ‘Never mind. Speak up frankly,’ she answered simply.
    ‘You’ve asked me to show as much interest in you as a brother would show for a sister. Is that right, or am I mistaken?’
    ‘No, that is quite right.’
    ‘Well, if you were my sister, I would ask you to do me a great favour, and beg of you not to go to that ball this evening.’ She did not answer, but looked him straight in the face. ‘If you were my sister I should tell you that Vincent and I have made enquiries about the people who are going to the ball this evening; I should tell you that I know for certain that a great number of the invited guests are even less suited to your circle than some of your uncle and aunt’s acquaintances. If you were my sister, I could scarcely express myself in plainer terms than I have done, and I have not a word to add to what I have said; but I hope that you will not misunderstand me, and that you will now have some idea what kind of guests you would see there this evening.’
    She cast down her eyes and remained silent.
    ‘Therefore, at the risk of interfering in a matter that does not concern me, at the risk that your uncle and aunt will take offence at my interference in your affairs, at the risk that you yourself, after having forgiven me one indiscretion already, will be very angry with me, I ask you once more, do not go to this ball. You will be out of place there.’
    Still she remained silent, and her fingers clutched nervously at the girdle of her dressing gown.
    ‘Are you very angry?’ he asked.
    ‘No,’ she answered after a pause, very softly. ‘No, I am not angry, and I shall do as you ask me. I shall not go.’
    ‘Do you really mean it?’ he cried, delighted.
    ‘I really mean it. I shall not go. I am very thankful to you for enquiring about the people who are going. I was already afraid that you would not approve of my going, but I could not bear the thought of staying alone at home a whole evening; that always makes me so melancholy.’
    ‘You feared my disapproval?’ he asked smilingly.
    ‘Yes,’ she answered. ‘You are such a good friend to me that I should not like to do anything of which you disapprove. And for this evening… I shall do exactly as you ask.’
    ‘Thank you,’ he said with emotion, and pressed her hand.
    ‘Yes, you may well appreciate it,’ she cried with forced airiness, feeling somewhat depressed by her humility. ‘Do you know that, for the last three-quarters of an hour, I have been busy arranging the sequins in my hair, and all for nothing?’
    ‘Certainly, I appreciate what you have done. I assure you I do appreciate it,’ he declared with much earnestness.
    Uncle Daniël entered the room.
    ‘Bonsoir, St Clare. You are not coming, are you? But, Eline! Are you not going to dress?’
    Eline stammered something and could not find the right words, when she heard the voice of Elize, who was grumbling to the maid. Elize entered, glittering with sequins and Moorish draperies, her feet encased in little slippers.
    ‘Bonsoir, St Clare. What a pity you are not going. It will be very nice… Ciel! Eline!’
    Vincent came in from the conservatory.
    ‘It is nearly half past nine, and you have only done your hair,’ continued Elize in blank astonishment. ‘What have you been thinking about?’
    ‘I don’t think that your niece is going, Madame,’ said St Clare, as Eline was too confused to speak. ‘We heard, Vincent and I, that the company would be rather mixed at the ball… and I advised Miss Vere not to go rather than risk unpleasant encounters. I hope you will pardon me for giving that advice. Of course, I know she would have been under your protection and that of her uncle, but I thought that such circles were even more to be avoided by a young girl than by a married lady, even if she is as charming as yourself. Was I very wrong?’
    Elize was unsure whether she should be angry or not, but in his voice there was so much determination and at the same time so much that was winning, that she felt herself completely disarmed. Daniël Vere just shrugged his shoulders.
    ‘Were you wrong?’ Elize repeated, still hesitating. ‘Well, perhaps not. Of course Eline can do as she likes. If she would rather not go, eh bien, soit! Then we shall pretend that she has a headache. That is easy enough. But you will have a terrible ennui, Eline.’
    ‘No, really, I would much rather stay at home,’ said Eline; ‘at least, that is if you are not offended.’
    ‘Not at all. Liberté chérie, my child.’
    The servant came in to say that the carriage was at the door, and brought Uncle’s and Vincent’s furs. The maid assisted Elize with her fur cape.
    ‘If your uncle and aunt have no objection, I should like to keep you company for a little while?’ asked St Clare.
    Uncle and Aunt thought it an excellent idea. Eline was still rather confused.
    ‘Adieu! Enjoy yourselves,’ she said with a little furtive smile to Elize, her uncle, and Vincent.

    ‘Ridiculous,’ muttered Uncle Daniël, when they were in the carriage. ‘Ridiculous! He won’t allow her to go to the ball, but he does not mind keeping her company. That is the American fashion, I suppose. I, at least, would like to know which is more improper – to go with us to the ball, or to spend an evening alone with a young man? Ridiculous!’
    Vincent said nothing. He thought it beneath him to defend his friend, but Elize quickly urged her husband to be silent. She would not permit him to speak ill of a niece who was under his roof, and of a friend whom they saw so frequently.
    ‘Speak ill of him… oh dear, no!’ resumed Uncle Daniël, still feeling hurt. ‘It’s only the American way, I suppose.’

    Eline still felt confused.
    ‘I don’t think Uncle thought it right that I followed your advice,’ she said, when they were alone. ‘Perhaps, too, he thought that… you should have gone with them.’
    St Clare looked at her in quiet surprise.
    ‘Then why did he not say so? I asked him, didn’t I? But would you sooner have me go?’
    ‘No, I should think it very kind of you if you stayed a little longer.’
    ‘With pleasure, for there is something else that I would like to ask you, but it is not so important this time.’
    ‘What is it, then?’
    ‘I should like one of those sequins which you have arranged in your hair.’
    Eline smiled, and carefully she took the row of sequins from her hair and removed one of the coins, which she offered to him.
    ‘Thank you,’ he said, and attached the coin to his watch chain.
    A strange feeling came over Eline. She felt very contented, very happy, and yet somewhat abashed, and she asked herself which Betsy would have considered less proper: to go with her uncle and aunt to the ball, or to spend the evening alone, en négligé, even with St Clare? The latter certainly, she thought. But he seemed to think it so simple and natural that she did not even venture to ask him whether she might go and change her dress.
    ‘And now let us have a quiet little chat,’ he said, as he sat down in an armchair. She remained sitting on the sofa, still a little shy, playing with her row of sequins. ‘Tell me something, do… of your childhood, or of your travels.’

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  • St. Nicholas

    It was the fifth of December, and from early morning a mysterious stir and excitement, a joyous whispering and an anxious hiding from peering eyes had prevailed all day at the van Erlevoorts.
    A little after seven in the evening the Verstraetens arrived; the two cousins, Jan and Karel, who had taken part in the tableaux, accompanied them; then came the van Raats and Eline, followed by old Mrs van Raat and Paul; however, Henk and Jan Verstraeten did not enter the drawing room, but mysteriously disappeared into the walk-in cupboard where Marie and Lili had already laid a collection of costumes.
    In the large drawing room Mrs van Erlevoort received her guests, who were met with a jubilant welcome from the little van Rijssels and from Hector. Neither Mathilde nor stout Miss Frantzen succeeded in their efforts to stop the ear-splitting noise.
    ‘Now, why did you not bring Ben with you?’ Mrs van Erlevoort asked Betsy, indignantly.
    ‘Really, Madame, Ben is too young, he is only three, remember, and we will be so late tonight.’
    ‘He could have ridden home with our Martha. It’s a pity, I have something for him that would just suit him,’ said Mrs van Erlevoort, in a disappointed tone.
    In the opposite drawing room, where the girls were talking and laughing with Otto, Paul and Etienne,  there was a stir, and the young van Rijssels looked up with nervous curiosity. Martha had just come in, and she had smilingly said something to Frédérique.
    ‘Now, children and good people,’ cried Frédérique, with a dignified face, ‘silence! St Nicholas has arrived and wants to know if he may come in. Do you agree, Mama?’
    They all stayed as serious as possible, with many a furtive glance at the little van Rijssels.
    Meanwhile, St Nicholas made his appearance in his white robe, his long red cloak set off with gold lace. His hair and beard were long and white, and on his head he wore a golden mitre. With much dignity he made his entry into the room, leaning on his staff, with his page Black Peter behind him, dressed in a costume which those who had witnessed the recent tableaux at the Verstraetens’ would probably have recognised. The three maids and Willem followed them by way of rear guard, and remained in the room to watch.
    The grown-up people all bowed, with a self-conscious smile, before My Lord Bishop.
    St Nicholas muttered a greeting, and, nearly stumbling over his immensely long robe, he walked up to the sofa, where old Mrs van Raat and Mrs Verstraeten were seated, surrounded by Mrs van Erlevoort, Mr Verstraeten, Mathilde, Betsy and Otto. None of them troubled themselves to rise from their seat, and Mrs van Erlevoort welcomed the illustrious guest with a most familiar smile.
    ‘Why doesn’t Grandma get up?’ whispered Ernestine wonderingly, as she raised her delicate, intelligent little face to Marie’s. ‘I thought she would have got up when such an important visitor came in.’
    ‘Mais, écoute donc, comme elle est fine!’ Marie whispered to Eline, who stood next to her.
    But Eline did not hear; she stood laughing with Paul and Etienne at St Nicholas, whose robe was definitely coming down, and already quite covered his feet, whilst a streak of fair hair became visible between his grey locks and his mitre.
    Now St Nicholas raised his deep, full voice, and as, with an energetic wrench, he pulled up his robe into his girdle, he motioned the little van Rijssels to come to him. They did not feel quite sure about this, but when St Nicholas took one of the bags from Black Peter’s hands, and opening it, began to scatter its contents about, the youngsters’ faces grew radiant with joy, they forgot their fear, and one and all they threw themselves on the floor, tumbling over Hector, to scramble for what they could find: gingernuts, figs, nuts, oranges, chocolate.
    ‘Pick it up, pick it all up quickly,’ St Nicholas cried encouragingly, ‘we’ve got a lot more, look here! Come on, you big boys, don’t you want something too?’
    The Verstraeten cousins did not wait for a second invitation, and joined in the scramble.
    ‘Will you save them for me, Grandma?’ screamed Nico, and poured a torrent of sweet stuff into his grandma’s lap, ‘then I’ll go and fetch some more!’
    ‘Nico, Nico!’ remonstrated Mathilde.
    ‘Never mind,’ said Mrs van Erlevoort kindly.
    St Nicholas and Black Peter shook the last things out of their big sacks, which were no longer heavy, and finally turned them inside out, as a proof that they were quite empty.
    ‘Oh, now we are going to the dining room!’ cried Ernestine, and she jumped up and clapped her little hands with pleasure.
    ‘Oh yes, to our little tables!’ Johan chimed in.
    Everyone rose, and they followed the Saint and the children to the small drawing room. The girls giggled at St Nicholas’s slipping wig, but the Saint called out to the maids and Willem, ‘Quick, open the doors, hurry!’
    The folding doors were opened, and the children stormed into the well-lit room, where, instead of the dining table, there now stood four small tables; on each of them lay a name in letters of chocolate, and on each of them rose a tower of toys.
    The Verstraetens and the van Raats whispered to the servants, and their gifts to the youngsters were brought in too, one by one: hoops, whips, balls, tin soldiers, and a cow that gave milk.
    Meanwhile St Nicholas and Black Peter took their departure, and as it was close upon half past eight, Mathilde considered it time to stop the fun. But even with Miss Frantzen’s assistance she couldn’t achieve her object very quickly. The children got muddled in their attempts to collect their toys and dainties; from Ernestine’s pocket a shower of nuts fell on the floor; Johan’s tin soldiers could not be got into their box again, and Lientje with her hoop and Nico with a trumpet rushed around the room followed by Hector, without troubling themselves much more about the rest of their property, which was scattered all around.
    ‘Come, children,’ cried Mathilde, ‘hurry up now, it is nearly bedtime.’
    But they heard nothing; the little van Rijssels, mad with joy, ran up and down, scattering the toys which the others had gathered together in wildest disorder. Frédérique joined in the fun, and took Nico on her back, pretending to be a horse, and he struck her on the back with his whip.
    The little Verstraetens, too, ran after Tine and Johan along the marble hall, making a furious stampede with their boots.
    Mathilde clasped her hands in despair. No one took any notice of her; Miss Frantzen was helping the maid with the toys, and the young girls were laughing with Paul and Etienne. Fortunately she caught sight of Otto, who was speaking to Betsy and Mrs Verstraeten, and she walked towards him and took his hand.
    ‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, Otto, do help me; the children really must go to bed, and they won’t even listen to me. Mama is not a bit of help either.’
    Mrs van Erlevoort was, in fact, at that moment in the other room, very busy filling Lientje’s toy tea service with milk, water and sugar, and old Mrs van Raat and Mr Verstraeten stood looking on with much amusement.
    ‘Oh, I see! Otto is to act the bogey man again,’ he said good-humouredly.
    ‘No, of course you’re not the bogey man but really, I shall go crazy if you don’t come to my assistance. Did you ever see such uncontrollable creatures as those children of mine, Betsy? Are you coming, Otto?’
    Betsy laughed.
    ‘You had better go and assert your authority as uncle, Mr van Erlevoort,’ said Mrs Verstraeten.
    Otto accompanied Mathilde, and went first to Freddie.
    ‘Come, Freddie, Nico must go to bed. Come on, Nico, quick, tomorrow you may ride on Auntie’s back again. Down Hector, sit still!’
    ‘You have nothing to do with my back, do you hear?’ said Freddie. ‘Do you hear, mock Grandpapa? Come on, Niek, mock Grandpapa says we must leave off.’
    Nico obeyed, pouting, and asked for his trumpet. Otto went into the hall, where he stopped the two eldest in their mad race.
    ‘Come, Tine and Jo, Mama wants you to go to bed now. Don’t be disobedient, or you will make Mama cross.’
    ‘What a lot we’ve got this year, Uncle!’ cried Ernestine, out of breath.
    Mathilde came into the hall, leading Nico and Lientje by the hand.
    ‘Just fancy, there was Mama, quietly playing tea parties with Tine,’ she said, and her despairing face made Otto smile. ‘Really, if it were midnight, Mama would…’
    ‘Mama, shouldn’t we say goodnight to everybody?’ yelled Johan.
    ‘No, no!’ cried Mathilde, quite alarmed, and grasped the little hands tightly, ‘I shall wish all the people goodnight for you. Thank you, Otto.’
    She gave him a friendly nod, and he nodded back with his genial smile and his frank eyes.
    And Mathilde took the children upstairs.

    ‘How can you bear all that noise and turmoil?’ asked old Mrs van Raat of Mrs van Erlevoort, and she looked at her smilingly, but wonderingly, with her sad, lacklustre eyes.
    There was a sudden calm after the exodus of the children. They left the dining room, where the toys were still scattered about; they closed the door, and the guests went into the double drawing room, where Mrs van Erlevoort poured out tea.
    ‘How can I bear it, Madame? I feel alive again, it rejuvenates me. I need the liveliness of youth about me. I never spent a drearier time than when my daughters and my son Théodore were married, and yet I still had three children left to me. But I love having the little ones around me; there is nothing like their wild gaiety to keep me refreshed. May I pour you out another cup?’
    Mrs van Raat passed over her cup, and envied Mrs van Erlevoort her youthful vivacity with her grey hairs. She compared her with herself, and her own melancholy solitude, which she felt doubly keenly after her former life of cloudless happiness, and her present existence stood out in cruel contrast to the old age of that happy grandmama, surrounded by joy.
    ‘And you don’t know how sorry I am that I see so little of Théodore’s six children. The boy is in love with country life, and won’t hear of it when I attempt to persuade him to come and live in The Hague.’
    ‘Your daughter in England has only one child, has she not?’ asked Mrs Verstraeten and Mrs van Stralenburg.
    Mrs van Erlevoort bent down to Mrs Verstraeten and whispered something mysterious in her ear, whilst in reply to Mr Verstraeten, who nodded to her smilingly, she archly winked an eye.
    Mrs van Erlevoort was just telling how the little van Rijssels had put their shoes near the fire in expectation of receiving St Nicholas’ sweets  the previous evening, when Henk and Jan Verstraeten came in, both smiling, Henk with a very red face. Mathilde too came back, and many nice things were said about the children. Suddenly there was a furious ringing of the doorbell.
    All eyes turned to the door as it opened. Willem, Truitje and Rika between them dragged a big box into the room, towards Mrs van Erlevoort.
    ‘Oh!’ exclaimed Frédérique, ‘that is the box from London!’
    Mrs van Erlevoort informed Mrs van Raat that every year at St Nicholas, her son-in-law Percy Howard sent her a big box containing something for everybody. Willem, armed with chisel and pincers, and assisted by Etienne, removed the screws and nails. Everyone watched expectantly, and the shower of presents commenced.
    Eline made a nice display of her presents. Oh, how she was being spoilt, she declared, radiant with smiles. From Martha’s hand she took another packet; slowly she broke the string, cautiously looking for a seal, or some label or cipher, to give her a clue to the sender. But she found nothing of the kind. The address ran simply ‘Mdlle. E. Vere’. It was a grey leather case; she opened it, wondering who could have sent it. Inside the case, resting on the grey velvet, lay a fan of beautifully carved mother-of-pearl. She picked it up, and slowly opened it; she looked at it in admiration.
    ‘Bucchi!’ she said quietly, as she read the name of the painter at the bottom, ‘Bucchi!’
    The fan was indeed painted by the Italian artist, a fantasy of roses and fairies on a background of ivory satin.
    ‘Who could this come from?’ she said. ‘How splendid!’
    Everyone rose and crowded round Eline, who carefully held the fan open, and the costly gift attracted general admiration. Eline was astonished. From Mrs van Raat she had had a perfume set, that she knew; from Henk and Betsy…
    ‘Betsy dear, should I thank you for this?’ she asked, rising.
    Betsy shook her head.
    ‘Parole d’honneur… not me, Eline.’
    Of course, she had had a bracelet from Betsy and Henk, but then who sent this fan?
    ‘Would it be from… Vincent perhaps?’ she asked.
    ‘From Vincent? No, no, what put that into your head? What young man would give such a present? Let me look at it.’
    Eline handed her the fan.
    ‘It is really magnificent,’ said Betsy.
    Eline shook her head, quite at a loss for a clue. Meanwhile the fan was passed from hand to hand, and Eline carefully scanned everyone’s face, but she could not pick up the least sign from any of them. But suddenly Frédérique raised her head, with a look of surprise on her face. She quickly recovered herself, and with apparent indifference approached Eline.
    ‘May I see the case one moment?’ she asked.
    Eline handed her the case, and Frédérique eagerly scrutinized and felt the grey leather and the grey velvet.
    ‘Have you got the slightest idea who could have sent me that?’ asked Eline, and she raised her arms in mock despair.
    Frédérique shrugged her shoulders, and laid the case down.
    ‘No… I really don’t know,’ she said, somewhat coolly, and she looked with some curiosity into Eline’s hazel eyes.
    An indefinable antipathy seemed to her to radiate from those gazelle-like eyes, and to lie hidden in Eline’s mock despair at the unknown giver. She did not cast another glance at the universally admired fan, and during the remainder of the evening she was quieter than she had ever been before.

    The torrent of presents had ceased. Mrs van Erlevoort asked her guests to abandon her two terribly disarranged drawing rooms, full of paper, straw, bran and rubbish, when Willem once more opened the doors of the dining room; the table, laid ready for supper, looked bright and inviting enough.
    It was a gay and lively supper party. Mr Verstraeten kept Mrs van Erlevoort and Betsy, between whom he was seated, amused with his jokes, and Mathilde, next to Betsy, often joined in the laughter. Henk, seated between his mother and his aunt, wanted for nothing; whilst Otto and Eline were busily engaged in conversation, and Etienne chattered noisily with Lili and Marie.
    ‘Freddie, how quiet you are, chère amie,’ said Paul, as he took some lobster salad, seeking in vain to get his neighbour talking – she was generally animated enough. ‘Didn’t receive as many presents as you would have liked, perhaps?’
    ‘Quiet, am I quiet? How can you say such a thing?’ answered Freddie, and she began to chatter with great animation, which sounded like an echo of Etienne’s. But still there was something artificial about it; her laugh was not always hearty; and every now and then she stole a furtive glance at Eline, as she sat there, brilliant in her beauty, chatting vivaciously with Otto. Yes, there was something very fascinating about her, something of a siren’s charm; her beautiful dreamy eyes were half closed as she laughed, while the soft line of her delicate lips faded away in two small dimples. And those beautiful hands, peeping out so white from amid the black lace and dark red bows of her bodice, and that coquettish-looking diamond, one single brilliant stone, trembling like a drop of crystal in the black tulle round her throat. Yes, Frédérique thought her bewitching; but still, she could not help it, she thought her antipathetic; and almost with anxiety her eyes followed Otto, whose glance seemed riveted to the siren.
    Meanwhile, however, she continued laughing and talking with Paul, Etienne, Lili and Marie, and old Mrs van Raat declared across the table that Frédérique, the family’s fountain of fun, was thoroughly living up to her reputation.
    The champagne streamed into the glasses, and Mr Verstraeten drank a toast to the ever-youthful hostess, with her beautiful white hair, and thanked her with a kiss for such a jolly evening. Eline and Otto drank together to some toast of which Frédérique could not catch the words, and which she would gladly have given her best present to understand; but still she did not ask.
    ‘Etienne, what a noise you’re making!’ she cried to her brother with some impatience,  as he, with all the strength of his lungs, sang something about: ‘Buvons jusqu’à la lie!’, while his glass nearly spilt its whole contents over Lili’s plate. But when she had said it, she was sorry; why should others not enjoy themselves, even if she could not?
    The supper was finished, the carriages were waiting for the guests, who left one by one, laden with the presents they had received. Mathilde felt tired, and soon went upstairs, whilst Mrs van Erlevoort and Otto packed up the presents together.
    ‘What a state the rooms are in!’ said Frédérique, as she kicked a cardboard box aside. Then she approached the table; ah, where was the fan? Eline had taken it away with her. Then she kissed her mother and Otto, playfully rumpled Etienne’s hair, and took her presents upstairs.
    Slowly she undressed, so slowly that the chill air made her shiver. And as she, trembling with cold, crept under her blankets, she once more saw Eline before her in all her bewitching grace, in her black lace, smiling at Otto. It all began to whirl before her eyes, like a confused kaleidoscope… Henk dressed up as St Nicholas, with his slipping robe, Jan Verstraeten as Black Peter, the box from London, the fan by Bucchi.

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  • What's happening?

    She laid herself down on the floor, close to the open French window. She broke out in a cold perspiration and she felt a veil of despair stealing over her, but such a strange misery it was, quite different from what she usually felt.
    ‘Oh, great God!’ she thought. ‘Have… have I… could I have taken too many?’
    No, no, that would be too terrible. Death was so black, so empty, so mysterious, so final – but still, if it were so? And suddenly her fears melted away into an immeasurable restfulness. Well, if it were so, it was good, very good….
    And she began to laugh with inaudible, nervous little laughs, while despair descended upon her with the crushing weight of a giant fist. She tried to defend herself from that giant fist with her hand, and her fingers became entangled in a cord about her neck. Oh, that was… that was his portrait, Otto’s portrait.
    Could she indeed have taken too much? When tomorrow came should she…? She shuddered… Tomorrow morning, would they knock at her door in vain, and in the end would they find her lying there? A terrible thought indeed. She was wet through with perspiration, and her fingers again wandered to the locket. No, they should not find that portrait on her bosom. She raised herself up, and wrenched the portrait out of the locket. She could no longer see it properly, for it had grown dark in her room, and in her eyes the light was already failing; only the yellow glare of the street lamp fell with a dull reflection into the room. But she saw the likeness with her mind’s eye, with her fingers she touched the little piece of pasteboard, and she kissed it, kissed it repeatedly.
    ‘Oh, Otto,’ she faltered, in a heavy labouring voice, ‘it was you, you alone, my Otto, not Vincent, not St Clare, no one but you. You… oh, my Otto… oh, Otto… oh, great God!’
    And she struggled despairingly between the agony of death and a calm resignation. Then, after covering the portrait with passionate kisses, she placed it in her mouth despairingly, having no strength left to tear it up, or to destroy it in any other way than by swallowing it. Thus, whilst a trembling sigh shook through her whole frame, she chewed, chewed the discarded proof of the portrait… of the portrait of Otto.

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Sample Information


More background information and details about this translation are also available.

Our heroine, Eline Vere, is beautiful, lively, flirtatious and accomplished. She finds it easy to attract men but is mostly envied by women. In spite of lacking formal education Eline is far from an empty head and as a matter of fact she probably over analyses everything that happens to her.

When we meet her she is acutely aware of the pressure to conform to the strict rules and customs of what she views as the stifling society in The Hague. This is exacerbated by the fact that she, being an orphan, is living with her married sister Betsy.

Betsy and Eline could not be more different. Betsy is plain looking, down to earth, materialistic and knows exactly what she wants. Eline, a waif-like, elegant creature is over-sensitive, prone to depression and easily gives in to her latest fancy. She loves her music and forever doubtful of making the right decision.

But taking a decision is what she has to. Everyone expects a girl her age to marry or rather be married already. So when Otto, a handsome though poor baron and a ‘perfect match’, falls in love with her, it is impossible to refuse him.

To her surprise she grows to love him and through him gets her first experience of happy family life- something she has never experienced herself.

However, a new obsession comes along in the form of her beloved but sickly cousin Vincent. He is someone who has broken free from traditional society which is something Eline would love to do too.

Is Vincent in love with her? Soon Eline is her worrying, doubting self again and knows she has to make a new decision.

She tries to walk away from it all by travelling through Europe but she discovers that you can never travel away from yourself.

Finally, when she thinks it is too late, another suitor arrives in the form of Lawrence St Clare, the dependable and sensible American and Vincent’s best friend.

Will she make the right decision, find happiness and go her own way?

Read Eline Vere to find the answers.

This is the first novel that Louis Couperus wrote and the one that made him famous.

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Background information

Information from the Dutch Department at University College London.

Article Top Hats and Ink, by Caroline de Westenholz, originally appeared in The Times.

Louis Couperus Museum

About the completely revised translation

Jack Grein, no doubt inspired by his knowledge of plot and flow of action, decided to cut two major sub plots from Eline: elaborate details about the wedding of Lili and Georges and the romance between Frederique and Paul.

We agree that these highly romantic episodes do fit in with the literary tradition of the late 1800s and help raise the suspense for a serialised novel. For a contemporary audience that is used to a much faster pace of life they are less relevant and detract for the development of the main character Eline. So they are not included in this publication.

However, other key episodes, notably the scenes at the Horze where is becomes clear that the van Erlevoorts are truly facing a financial crisis, and the amazing episode in which Eline unexpectedly gets involved with looking after the children, are reinstated.

Similarly Vincent’s sickbed is quite essential to the novel and has been put back as are some of Eline’s conversations with him which are essential to understand her character.

This brings me neatly to one of Holland Park Press’s key themes: the importance and intricacies of a good translation.  Join me on the forum to discuss this in more detail.

ISBN: 978-1-907320-02-6
Number of pages: 375
Price: £0


‘A strength of the book is its sure touch of reality.  There are no cardboard-cut-out people: even the least-described characters are alive, and touchable.

It’s a delightful and – thanks to the clarity of its language- easy read.  What a wonderful book.’ – Words Across Time

‘A vivacious and skilful performance, giving an evidently faithful picture of society, and evincing the art of a true story-teller.’ – Philadelphia Telegraph

‘Most careful in its details of description, most picturesque in its colouring.’ – Boston Post

‘I have very much enjoyed it – what a vivid writer he is!’ – Catherine Best, editor