Victorian Short Stories: Stories of Courtship

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Stories of Courtship


ANGELA, An Inverted Love Story, by William Schwenk Gilbert


ANTHONY GARSTIN’S COURTSHIP, by Hubert Crackanthorpe

A LITTLE GREY GLOVE, by George Egerton (Mary Chavelita [Dunne] Bright)

THE WOMAN BEATER, by Israel Zangwill


An Inverted Love Story

By William Schwenk Gilbert

(The Century Magazine, September 1890)

I am a poor paralysed fellow who, for many years past, has been confined
to a bed or a sofa. For the last six years I have occupied a small room,
giving on to one of the side canals of Venice, and having no one about
me but a deaf old woman, who makes my bed and attends to my food; and
there I eke out a poor income of about thirty pounds a year by making
water-colour drawings of flowers and fruit (they are the cheapest models
in Venice), and these I send to a friend in London, who sells them to a
dealer for small sums. But, on the whole, I am happy and content.

It is necessary that I should describe the position of my room rather
minutely. Its only window is about five feet above the water of the
canal, and above it the house projects some six feet, and overhangs the
water, the projecting portion being supported by stout piles driven into
the bed of the canal. This arrangement has the disadvantage (among
others) of so limiting my upward view that I am unable to see more than
about ten feet of the height of the house immediately opposite to me,
although, by reaching as far out of the window as my infirmity will
permit, I can see for a considerable distance up and down the canal,
which does not exceed fifteen feet in width. But, although I can see but
little of the material house opposite, I can see its reflection upside
down in the canal, and I take a good deal of inverted interest in such
of its inhabitants as show themselves from time to time (always upside
down) on its balconies and at its windows.

When I first occupied my room, about six years ago, my attention was
directed to the reflection of a little girl of thirteen or so (as nearly
as I could judge), who passed every day on a balcony just above the
upward range of my limited field of view. She had a glass of flowers and
a crucifix on a little table by her side; and as she sat there, in fine
weather, from early morning until dark, working assiduously all the
time, I concluded that she earned her living by needle-work. She was
certainly an industrious little girl, and, as far as I could judge by
her upside-down reflection, neat in her dress and pretty. She had an old
mother, an invalid, who, on warm days, would sit on the balcony with
her, and it interested me to see the little maid wrap the old lady in
shawls, and bring pillows for her chair, and a stool for her feet, and
every now and again lay down her work and kiss and fondle the old lady
for half a minute, and then take up her work again.

Time went by, and as the little maid grew up, her reflection grew down,
and at last she was quite a little woman of, I suppose, sixteen or
seventeen. I can only work for a couple of hours or so in the brightest
part of the day, so I had plenty of time on my hands in which to watch
her movements, and sufficient imagination to weave a little romance
about her, and to endow her with a beauty which, to a great extent, I
had to take for granted. I saw—or fancied that I could see—that she
began to take an interest in my reflection (which, of course, she
could see as I could see hers); and one day, when it appeared to me that
she was looking right at it—that is to say when her reflection appeared
to be looking right at me—I tried the desperate experiment of nodding
to her, and to my intense delight her reflection nodded in reply. And so
our two reflections became known to one another.

It did not take me very long to fall in love with her, but a long time
passed before I could make up my mind to do more than nod to her every
morning, when the old woman moved me from my bed to the sofa at the
window, and again in the evening, when the little maid left the balcony
for that day. One day, however, when I saw her reflection looking at
mine, I nodded to her, and threw a flower into the canal. She nodded
several times in return, and I saw her direct her mother’s attention to
the incident. Then every morning I threw a flower into the water for
‘good morning’, and another in the evening for ‘goodnight’, and I soon
discovered that I had not altogether thrown them in vain, for one day
she threw a flower to join mine, and she laughed and clapped her hands
when she saw the two flowers join forces and float away together. And
then every morning and every evening she threw her flower when I threw
mine, and when the two flowers met she clapped her hands, and so did I;
but when they were separated, as they sometimes were, owing to one of
them having met an obstruction which did not catch the other, she threw
up her hands in a pretty affectation of despair, which I tried to
imitate but in an English and unsuccessful fashion. And when they were
rudely run down by a passing gondola (which happened not unfrequently)
she pretended to cry, and I did the same. Then, in pretty pantomime, she
would point downwards to the sky to tell me that it was Destiny that had
caused the shipwreck of our flowers, and I, in pantomime, not nearly so
pretty, would try to convey to her that Destiny would be kinder next
time, and that perhaps tomorrow our flowers would be more fortunate—and
so the innocent courtship went on. One day she showed me her crucifix
and kissed it, and thereupon I took a little silver crucifix that always
stood by me, and kissed that, and so she knew that we were one in

One day the little maid did not appear on her balcony, and for several
days I saw nothing of her; and although I threw my flowers as usual, no
flower came to keep it company. However, after a time, she reappeared,
dressed in black, and crying often, and then I knew that the poor
child’s mother was dead, and, as far as I knew, she was alone in the
world. The flowers came no more for many days, nor did she show any sign
of recognition, but kept her eyes on her work, except when she placed
her handkerchief to them. And opposite to her was the old lady’s chair,
and I could see that, from time to time, she would lay down her work and
gaze at it, and then a flood of tears would come to her relief. But at
last one day she roused herself to nod to me, and then her flower came,
day by day, and my flower went forth to join it, and with varying
fortunes the two flowers sailed away as of yore.

But the darkest day of all to me was when a good-looking young
gondolier, standing right end uppermost in his gondola (for I could see
him in the flesh), worked his craft alongside the house, and stood
talking to her as she sat on the balcony. They seemed to speak as old
friends—indeed, as well as I could make out, he held her by the hand
during the whole of their interview which lasted quite half an hour.
Eventually he pushed off, and left my heart heavy within me. But I soon
took heart of grace, for as soon as he was out of sight, the little maid
threw two flowers growing on the same stem—an allegory of which I could
make nothing, until it broke upon me that she meant to convey to me
that he and she were brother and sister, and that I had no cause to be
sad. And thereupon I nodded to her cheerily, and she nodded to me, and
laughed aloud, and I laughed in return, and all went on again as before.

Then came a dark and dreary time, for it became necessary that I should
undergo treatment that confined me absolutely to my bed for many days,
and I worried and fretted to think that the little maid and I should see
each other no longer, and worse still, that she would think that I had
gone away without even hinting to her that I was going. And I lay awake
at night wondering how I could let her know the truth, and fifty plans
flitted through my brain, all appearing to be feasible enough at night,
but absolutely wild and impracticable in the morning. One day—and it
was a bright day indeed for me—the old woman who tended me told me that
a gondolier had inquired whether the English signor had gone away or had
died; and so I learnt that the little maid had been anxious about me,
and that she had sent her brother to inquire, and the brother had no
doubt taken to her the reason of my protracted absence from the window.

From that day, and ever after during my three weeks of bed-keeping, a
flower was found every morning on the ledge of my window, which was
within easy reach of anyone in a boat; and when at last a day came when
I could be moved, I took my accustomed place on my sofa at the window,
and the little maid saw me, and stood on her head (so to speak) and
clapped her hands upside down with a delight that was as eloquent as my
right-end-up delight could be. And so the first time the gondolier
passed my window I beckoned to him, and he pushed alongside, and told
me, with many bright smiles, that he was glad indeed to see me well
again. Then I thanked him and his sister for their many kind thoughts
about me during my retreat, and I then learnt from him that her name was
Angela, and that she was the best and purest maiden in all Venice, and
that anyone might think himself happy indeed who could call her sister,
but that he was happier even than her brother, for he was to be married
to her, and indeed they were to be married the next day.

Thereupon my heart seemed to swell to bursting, and the blood rushed
through my veins so that I could hear it and nothing else for a while.
I managed at last to stammer forth some words of awkward congratulation,
and he left me, singing merrily, after asking permission to bring his
bride to see me on the morrow as they returned from church.

‘For’, said he, ‘my Angela has known you very long—ever since she was a
child, and she has often spoken to me of the poor Englishman who was a
good Catholic, and who lay all day long for years and years on a sofa at
a window, and she had said over and over again how dearly she wished she
could speak to him and comfort him; and one day, when you threw a flower
into the canal, she asked me whether she might throw another, and I told
her yes, for he would understand that it meant sympathy for one sorely

And so I learned that it was pity, and not love, except indeed such love
as is akin to pity, that prompted her to interest herself in my welfare,
and there was an end of it all.

For the two flowers that I thought were on one stem were two flowers
tied together (but I could not tell that), and they were meant to
indicate that she and the gondolier were affianced lovers, and my
expressed pleasure at this symbol delighted her, for she took it to
mean that I rejoiced in her happiness.

And the next day the gondolier came with a train of other gondoliers,
all decked in their holiday garb, and on his gondola sat Angela, happy,
and blushing at her happiness. Then he and she entered the house in
which I dwelt, and came into my room (and it was strange indeed, after
so many years of inversion, to see her with her head above her feet!),
and then she wished me happiness and a speedy restoration to good health
(which could never be); and I in broken words and with tears in my eyes,
gave her the little silver crucifix that had stood by my bed or my table
for so many years. And Angela took it reverently, and crossed herself,
and kissed it, and so departed with her delighted husband.

And as I heard the song of the gondoliers as they went their way—the
song dying away in the distance as the shadows of the sundown closed
around me—I felt that they were singing the requiem of the only love
that had ever entered my heart.


By Anthony Trollope

(London Review, 2 March 1861)

The prettiest scenery in all England—and if I am contradicted in that
assertion, I will say in all Europe—is in Devonshire, on the southern
and southeastern skirts of Dartmoor, where the rivers Dart and Avon and
Teign form themselves, and where the broken moor is half cultivated, and
the wild-looking uplands fields are half moor. In making this assertion
I am often met with much doubt, but it is by persons who do not really
know the locality. Men and women talk to me on the matter who have
travelled down the line of railway from Exeter to Plymouth, who have
spent a fortnight at Torquay, and perhaps made an excursion from
Tavistock to the convict prison on Dartmoor. But who knows the glories
of Chagford? Who has walked through the parish of Manaton? Who is
conversant with Lustleigh Cleeves and Withycombe in the moor? Who has
explored Holne Chase? Gentle reader, believe me that you will be rash in
contradicting me unless you have done these things.

There or thereabouts—I will not say by the waters of which little river
it is washed—is the parish of Oxney Colne. And for those who would wish
to see all the beauties of this lovely country a sojourn in Oxney Colne
would be most desirable, seeing that the sojourner would then be brought
nearer to all that he would delight to visit, than at any other spot in
the country. But there is an objection to any such arrangement. There
are only two decent houses in the whole parish, and these are—or were
when I knew the locality—small and fully occupied by their possessors.
The larger and better is the parsonage in which lived the parson and his
daughter; and the smaller is the freehold residence of a certain Miss Le
Smyrger, who owned a farm of a hundred acres which was rented by one
Farmer Cloysey, and who also possessed some thirty acres round her own
house which she managed herself, regarding herself to be quite as great
in cream as Mr. Cloysey, and altogether superior to him in the article of
cider. ‘But yeu has to pay no rent, Miss,’ Farmer Cloysey would say, when
Miss Le Smyrger expressed this opinion of her art in a manner too
defiant. ‘Yeu pays no rent, or yeu couldn’t do it.’ Miss Le Smyrger was
an old maid, with a pedigree and blood of her own, a hundred and thirty
acres of fee-simple land on the borders of Dartmoor, fifty years of age,
a constitution of iron, and an opinion of her own on every subject under
the sun.

And now for the parson and his daughter. The parson’s name was

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