In "In the Midst of Alarms" (1894) by Robert Barr, Yates is flirting with a rural Canadian girl in her kitchen.

“No such motive drew me into the kitchen. But I will tell you. You shall have it from my own lips. That was the reason!”

He suited the action to the word, and kissed her before she knew what was about to happen. At least, Yates, with all his experience, thought he had taken her unawares. Men often make mistakes in little matters of this kind. Kitty pushed him with apparent indignation from her, but she did not strike him across the face, as she had done before, when he merely attempted what he had now accomplished. Perhaps this was because she had been taken so completely by surprise.

I can't get what's the significance of "at least" here. And was his mistake that he didn't expect her anger?


2 Answers 2


"At least" here qualifies a statement from the preceding sentence, namely "kissed her before she knew what was about to happen". That statement at first looks like a statement from the author's point of view, but it turns out that it is Yates who thinks he kissed Kitty "before she knew what was happening".

Yates appears to be mistaken, since the authors then clarifies that "Men often make mistakes in little matters of this kind." This mistake is stressed further by Kitty's "apparent indignation". A bit further down, after Yates's "flippant refrain", Kitty's reaction does not suggest that she is actually offended by what Yates had done: "Kitty should not have smiled, but she did; she should have rebuked his levity, but she didn't."

Later on, Margaret Howard bursts into the kitchen, tells Kitty about the stolen horses and then:

Margaret reddened as she realized, from Kitty's evident embarrassment, that she had impulsively broken in upon a conference of two.

Presumably, Yates had not taken Kitty completely by surprise by what he had done but just with his timing. This would explain the comment "Perhaps this was because she had been taken so completely by surprise."

  • 1
    The narration is third-person limited, that is, we are getting the events largely from Yates' point of view, so I interpret "Perhaps this was because she had been taken so completely by surprise" as representing Yates' own interpretation of what happened. An omniscient narrator would not need to use the word "perhaps". Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 10:48
  • @GarethRees If you regard the narration as third-person limited, do you mean a narrator who follows Yates's perspective? If yes, how does that explain that this narrator knows what Professor Renmark feels in the book's first chapter?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 13:39

"At least" qualifies the subsequent clause: "with all his experience". The author is implying that Yates was trying to take Kitty "unawares", that is surprise her - but he didn't. But it seems that the author, Robert Barr, is all at sea here, because the extract ends with him stating, "perhaps, this was because she had been taken so completely by surprise."

I wouldn't dwell on this mistake, authors can make mistakes; after all, they're not omniscient.

  • 1
    This is incorrect; "at least" qualifies the adverbial "before she knew ..." in the previous sentence, as @Tsundoku's answer says. There's nothing wrong with the ending of the paragraph when "at least" is understood as Tsundoku explains it, and there's no warrant for the explanation you provide.
    – verbose
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 0:07

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