Two on a Tower
This slightly-built romance was the outcome of a wish to set the
emotional history of two infinitesimal lives against the stupendous
background of the stellar universe, and to impart to readers the
sentiment that of these contrasting magnitudes the smaller might be the
greater to them as men.
But, on the publication of the book people seemed to be less struck with
these high aims of the author than with their own opinion, first, that
the novel was an 'improper' one in its morals, and, secondly, that it was
intended to be a satire on the Established Church of this country. I was
made to suffer in consequence from several eminent pens.
That, however, was thirteen years ago, and, in respect of the first
opinion, I venture to think that those who care to read the story now
will be quite astonished at the scrupulous propriety observed therein on
the relations of the sexes; for though there may be frivolous, and even
grotesque touches on occasion, there is hardly a single caress in the
book outside legal matrimony, or what was intended so to be.
As for the second opinion, it is sufficient to draw attention, as I did
at the time, to the fact that the Bishop is every inch a gentleman, and
that the parish priest who figures in the narrative is one of its most
However, the pages must speak for themselves. Some few readers, I
trust--to take a serious view--will be reminded by this imperfect story,
in a manner not unprofitable to the growth of the social sympathies, of
the pathos, misery, long-suffering, and divine tenderness which in real
life frequently accompany the passion of such a woman as Viviette for a
lover several years her junior.
The scene of the action was suggested by two real spots in the part of
the country specified, each of which has a column standing upon it.
Certain surrounding peculiarities have been imported into the narrative
from both sites.
On an early winter afternoon, clear but not cold, when the vegetable
world was a weird multitude of skeletons through whose ribs the sun shone
freely, a gleaming landau came to a pause on the crest of a hill in
Wessex. The spot was where the old Melchester Road, which the carriage
had hitherto followed, was joined by a drive that led round into a park
at no great distance off.
The footman alighted, and went to the occupant of the carriage, a lady
about eight- or nine-and-twenty. She was looking through the opening
afforded by a field-gate at the undulating stretch of country beyond. In
pursuance of some remark from her the servant looked in the same
The central feature of the middle distance, as they beheld it, was a
circular isolated hill, of no great elevation, which placed itself in
strong chromatic contrast with a wide acreage of surrounding arable by
being covered with fir-trees. The trees were all of one size and age, so
that their tips assumed the precise curve of the hill they grew upon.
This pine-clad protuberance was yet further marked out from the general
landscape by having on its summit a tower in the form of a classical
column, which, though partly immersed in the plantation, rose above the
tree-tops to a considerable height. Upon this object the eyes of lady
and servant were bent.
'Then there is no road leading near it?' she asked.
'Nothing nearer than where we are now, my lady.'
'Then drive home,' she said after a moment. And the carriage rolled on
A few days later, the same lady, in the same carriage, passed that spot
again. Her eyes, as before, turned to the distant tower.
'Nobbs,' she said to the coachman, 'could you find your way home through
that field, so as to get near the outskirts of the plantation where the
The coachman regarded the field. 'Well, my lady,' he observed, 'in dry
weather we might drive in there by inching and pinching, and so get
across by Five-and-Twenty Acres, all being well. But the ground is so
heavy after these rains that perhaps it would hardly be safe to try it
'Perhaps not,' she assented indifferently. 'Remember it, will you, at a
And again the carriage sped along the road, the lady's eyes resting on
the segmental hill, the blue trees that muffled it, and the column that
formed its apex, till they were out of sight.
A long time elapsed before that lady drove over the hill again. It was
February; the soil was now unquestionably dry, the weather and scene
being in other respects much as they had been before. The familiar shape
of the column seemed to remind her that at last an opportunity for a
close inspection had arrived. Giving her directions she saw the gate
opened, and after a little manoeuvring the carriage swayed slowly into
the uneven field.
Although the pillar stood upon the hereditary estate of her husband the
lady had never visited it, owing to its insulation by this well-nigh
impracticable ground. The drive to the base of the hill was tedious and
jerky, and on reaching it she alighted, directing that the carriage
should be driven back empty over the clods, to wait for her on the
nearest edge of the field. She then ascended beneath the trees on foot.
The column now showed itself as a much more important erection than it
had appeared from the road, or the park, or the windows of Welland House,
her residence hard by, whence she had surveyed it hundreds of times
without ever feeling a sufficient interest in its details to investigate
them. The column had been erected in the last century, as a substantial
memorial of her husband's great-grandfather, a respectable officer who
had fallen in the American war, and the reason of her lack of interest
was partly owing to her relations with this husband, of which more anon.
It was little beyond the sheer desire for something to do--the chronic
desire of her curiously lonely life--that had brought her here now. She
was in a mood to welcome anything that would in some measure disperse an
almost killing ennui. She would have welcomed even a misfortune. She
had heard that from the summit of the pillar four counties could be seen.
Whatever pleasurable effect was to be derived from looking into four
counties she resolved to enjoy to-day.
The fir-shrouded hill-top was (according to some antiquaries) an old
Roman camp,--if it were not (as others insisted) an old British castle,
or (as the rest swore) an old Saxon field of Witenagemote,--with remains
of an outer and an inner vallum, a winding path leading up between their
overlapping ends by an easy ascent. The spikelets from the trees formed
a soft carpet over the route, and occasionally a brake of brambles barred
the interspaces of the trunks. Soon she stood immediately at the foot of
It had been built in the Tuscan order of classic architecture, and was
really a tower, being hollow with steps inside. The gloom and solitude
which prevailed round the base were remarkable. The sob of the
environing trees was here expressively manifest; and moved by the light
breeze their thin straight stems rocked in seconds, like inverted
pendulums; while some boughs and twigs rubbed the pillar's sides, or
occasionally clicked in catching each other. Below the level of their
summits the masonry was lichen-stained and mildewed, for the sun never
pierced that moaning cloud of blue-black vegetation. Pads of moss grew
in the joints of the stone-work, and here and there shade-loving insects
had engraved on the mortar patterns of no human style or meaning; but
curious and suggestive. Above the trees the case was different: the
pillar rose into the sky a bright and cheerful thing, unimpeded, clean,
and flushed with the sunlight.
The spot was seldom visited by a pedestrian, except perhaps in the
shooting season. The rarity of human intrusion was evidenced by the
mazes of rabbit-runs, the feathers of shy birds, the exuviae of reptiles;
as also by the well-worn paths of squirrels down the sides of trunks, and
thence horizontally away. The fact of the plantation being an island in
the midst of an arable plain sufficiently accounted for this lack of
visitors. Few unaccustomed to such places can be aware of the insulating
effect of ploughed ground, when no necessity compels people to traverse
it. This rotund hill of trees and brambles, standing in the centre of a
ploughed field of some ninety or a hundred acres, was probably visited
less frequently than a rock would have been visited in a lake of equal
She walked round the column to the other side, where she found the door
through which the interior was reached. The paint, if it had ever had
any, was all washed from the wood, and down the decaying surface of the
boards liquid rust from the nails and hinges had run in red stains. Over
the door was a stone tablet, bearing, apparently, letters or words; but
the inscription, whatever it was, had been smoothed over with a plaster
Here stood this aspiring piece of masonry, erected as the most
conspicuous and ineffaceable reminder of a man that could be thought of;
and yet the whole aspect of the memorial betokened forgetfulness.
Probably not a dozen people within the district knew the name of the
person commemorated, while perhaps not a soul remembered whether the
column were hollow or solid, whether with or without a tablet explaining
its date and purpose. She herself had lived within a mile of it for the
last five years, and had never come near it till now.
She hesitated to ascend alone, but finding that the door was not fastened
she pushed it open with her foot, and entered. A scrap of writing-paper
lay within, and arrested her attention by its freshness. Some human
being, then, knew the spot, despite her surmises. But as the paper had
nothing on it no clue was afforded; yet feeling herself the proprietor of
the column and of all around it her self-assertiveness was sufficient to
lead her on. The staircase was lighted by slits in the wall, and there
was no difficulty in reaching the top, the steps being quite unworn. The
trap-door leading on to the roof was open, and on looking through it an
interesting spectacle met her eye.
A youth was sitting on a stool in the centre of the lead flat which
formed the summit of the column, his eye being applied to the end of a
large telescope that stood before him on a tripod. This sort of presence
was unexpected, and the lady started back into the shade of the opening.
The only effect produced upon him by her footfall was an impatient wave
of the hand, which he did without removing his eye from the instrument,
as if to forbid her to interrupt him.
Pausing where she stood the lady examined the aspect of the individual
who thus made himself so completely at home on a building which she
deemed her unquestioned property. He was a youth who might properly
been characterized by a word the judicious chronicler would not readily
use in such a connexion, preferring to reserve it for raising images of
the opposite sex. Whether because no deep felicity is likely to arise
from the condition, or from any other reason, to say in these days that a
youth is beautiful is not to award him that amount of credit which the
expression would have carried with it if he had lived in the times of the
Classical Dictionary. So much, indeed, is the reverse the case that the
assertion creates an awkwardness in saying anything more about him. The
beautiful youth usually verges so perilously on the incipient coxcomb,
who is about to become the Lothario or Juan among the neighbouring
maidens, that, for the due understanding of our present young man, his
sublime innocence of any thought concerning his own material aspect, or
that of others, is most fervently asserted, and must be as fervently
Such as he was, there the lad sat. The sun shone full in his face, and
on his head he wore a black velvet skull-cap, leaving to view below it a
curly margin of very light shining hair, which accorded well with the
flush upon his cheek.
He had such a complexion as that with which Raffaelle enriches the
countenance of the youthful son of Zacharias,--a complexion which, though
clear, is far enough removed from virgin delicacy, and suggests plenty of
sun and wind as its accompaniment. His features were sufficiently
straight in the contours to correct the beholder's first impression that
the head was the head of a girl. Beside him stood a little oak table,
and in front was the telescope.
His visitor had ample time to make these observations; and she may have
done so all the more keenly through being herself of a totally opposite
type. Her hair was black as midnight, her eyes had no less deep a shade,
and her complexion showed the richness demanded as a support to these
decided features. As she continued to look at the pretty fellow before
her, apparently so far abstracted into some speculative world as scarcely
to know a real one, a warmer wave of her warm temperament glowed visibly
through her, and a qualified observer might from this have hazarded a
guess that there was Romance blood in her veins.
But even the interest attaching to the youth could not arrest her
attention for ever, and as he made no further signs of moving his eye
from the instrument she broke the silence with--
'What do you see?--something happening somewhere?'
'Yes, quite a catastrophe!' he automatically murmured, without moving
'A cyclone in the sun.'
The lady paused, as if to consider the weight of that event in the scale
of terrene life.
'Will it make any difference to us here?' she asked.
The young man by this time seemed to be awakened to the consciousness
that somebody unusual was talking to him; he turned, and started.
'I beg your pardon,' he said. 'I thought it was my relative come to look
after me! She often comes about this time.'
He continued to look at her and forget the sun, just such a reciprocity
of influence as might have been expected between a dark lady and a flaxen-
haired youth making itself apparent in the faces of each.
'Don't let me interrupt your observations,' said she.
'Ah, no,' said he, again applying his eye; whereupon his face lost the
animation which her presence had lent it, and became immutable as that of
a bust, though superadding to the serenity of repose the sensitiveness of
life. The expression that settled on him was one of awe. Not unaptly
might it have been said that he was worshipping the sun. Among the
various intensities of that worship which have prevailed since the first
intelligent being saw the luminary decline westward, as the young man now
beheld it doing, his was not the weakest. He was engaged in what may be
called a very chastened or schooled form of that first and most natural
'But would you like to see it?' he recommenced. 'It is an event that is
witnessed only about once in two or three years, though it may occur
She assented, and looked through the shaded eyepiece, and saw a whirling
mass, in the centre of which the blazing globe seemed to be laid bare to
its core. It was a peep into a maelstrom of fire, taking place where
nobody had ever been or ever would be.
'It is the strangest thing I ever beheld,' she said. Then he looked
again; till wondering who her companion could be she asked, 'Are you
'Every night when it is not cloudy, and often in the day.'
'Ah, night, of course. The heavens must be beautiful from this point.'
'They are rather more than that.'
'Indeed! Have you entirely taken possession of this column?'
'But it is my column,' she said, with smiling asperity.
'Then are you Lady Constantine, wife of the absent Sir Blount
'I am Lady Constantine.'
'Ah, then I agree that it is your ladyship's. But will you allow me to
rent it of you for a time, Lady Constantine?'
'You have taken it, whether I allow it or not. However, in the interests
of science it is advisable that you continue your tenancy. Nobody knows
you are here, I suppose?'
He then took her down a few steps into the interior, and showed her some
ingenious contrivances for stowing articles away.
'Nobody ever comes near the column,--or, as it's called here, Rings-Hill
Speer,' he continued; 'and when I first came up it nobody had been here
for thirty or forty years. The staircase was choked with daws' nests and
feathers, but I cleared them out.'
'I understood the column was always kept locked?'
'Yes, it has been so. When it was built, in 1782, the key was given to
my great-grandfather, to keep by him in case visitors should happen to
want it. He lived just down there where I live now.'
He denoted by a nod a little dell lying immediately beyond the ploughed
land which environed them.
'He kept it in his bureau, and as the bureau descended to my grandfather,
my mother, and myself, the key descended with it. After the first thirty
or forty years, nobody ever asked for it. One day I saw it, lying rusty
in its niche, and, finding that it belonged to this column, I took it and
came up. I stayed here till it was dark, and the stars came out, and
that night I resolved to be an astronomer. I came back here from school
several months ago, and I mean to be an astronomer still.'
He lowered his voice, and added:
'I aim at nothing less than the dignity and office of Astronomer Royal,
if I live. Perhaps I shall not live.'
'I don't see why you should suppose that,' said she. 'How long are you
going to make this your observatory?'
'About a year longer--till I have obtained a practical familiarity with
the heavens. Ah, if I only had a good equatorial!'
'What is that?'
'A proper instrument for my pursuit. But time is short, and science is
infinite,--how infinite only those who study astronomy fully realize,--and
perhaps I shall be worn out before I make my mark.'
She seemed to be greatly struck by the odd mixture in him of scientific
earnestness and melancholy mistrust of all things human. Perhaps it was
owing to the nature of his studies.
'You are often on this tower alone at night?' she said.
'Yes; at this time of the year particularly, and while there is no moon.
I observe from seven or eight till about two in the morning, with a view
to my great work on variable stars. But with such a telescope as
this--well, I must put up with it!'
'Can you see Saturn's ring and Jupiter's moons?'
He said drily that he could manage to do that, not without some contempt
for the state of her knowledge.
'I have never seen any planet or star through a telescope.'
'If you will come the first clear night, Lady Constantine, I will show
you any number. I mean, at your express wish; not otherwise.'
'I should like to come, and possibly may at some time. These stars that
vary so much--sometimes evening stars, sometimes morning stars,
in the east, and sometimes in the west--have always interested me.'
'Ah--now there is a reason for your not coming. Your ignorance of the
realities of astronomy is so satisfactory that I will not disturb it
except at your serious request.'
'But I wish to be enlightened.'
'Let me caution you against it.'
'Is enlightenment on the subject, then, so terrible?'
She laughingly declared that nothing could have so piqued her curiosity
as his statement, and turned to descend. He helped her down the stairs
and through the briers. He would have gone further and crossed the open
corn-land with her, but she preferred to go alone. He then retraced his
way to the top of the column, but, instead of looking longer at the sun,
watched her diminishing towards the distant fence, behind which waited
the carriage. When in the midst of the field, a dark spot on an area of
brown, there crossed her path a moving figure, whom it was as difficult
to distinguish from the earth he trod as the caterpillar from its leaf,
by reason of the excellent match between his clothes and the clods. He
was one of a dying-out generation who retained the principle, nearly
unlearnt now, that a man's habiliments should be in harmony with his
environment. Lady Constantine and this figure halted beside each other
for some minutes; then they went on their several ways.
The brown person was a labouring man known to the world of Welland as
Haymoss (the encrusted form of the word Amos, to adopt the phrase of
philologists). The reason of the halt had been some inquiries addressed
to him by Lady Constantine.
'Who is that--Amos Fry, I think?' she had asked.
'Yes my lady,' said Haymoss; 'a homely barley driller, born under the
eaves of your ladyship's outbuildings, in a manner of speaking,--though
your ladyship was neither born nor 'tempted at that time.'
'Who lives in the old house behind the plantation?'
'Old Gammer Martin, my lady, and her grandson.'
'He has neither father nor mother, then?'
'Not a single one, my lady.'
'Where was he educated?'
'At Warborne,--a place where they draw up young gam'sters' brains like
rhubarb under a ninepenny pan, my lady, excusing my common way. They
so much larning into en that 'a could talk like the day of Pentecost;
which is a wonderful thing for a simple boy, and his mother only the
plainest ciphering woman in the world. Warborne Grammar School--that's
where 'twas 'a went to. His father, the reverent Pa'son St. Cleeve, made
a terrible bruckle hit in 's marrying, in the sight of the high. He were
the curate here, my lady, for a length o' time.'
'Oh, curate,' said Lady Constantine. 'It was before I knew the village.'
'Ay, long and merry ago! And he married Farmer Martin's daughter--Giles
Martin, a limberish man, who used to go rather bad upon his lags, if you
can mind. I knowed the man well enough; who should know en better! The
maid was a poor windling thing, and, though a playward piece o' flesh
when he married her, 'a socked and sighed, and went out like a snoff!
Yes, my lady. Well, when Pa'son St. Cleeve married this homespun woman
the toppermost folk wouldn't speak to his wife. Then he dropped a cuss
or two, and said he'd no longer get his living by curing their twopenny
souls o' such d--- nonsense as that (excusing my common way), and he took
to farming straightway, and then 'a dropped down dead in a nor'-west
thunderstorm; it being said--hee-hee!--that Master God was in tantrums
wi'en for leaving his service,--hee-hee! I give the story as I heard it,
my lady, but be dazed if I believe in such trumpery about folks in the
sky, nor anything else that's said on 'em, good or bad. Well, Swithin,
the boy, was sent to the grammar school, as I say for; but what with
having two stations of life in his blood he's good for nothing, my lady.
He mopes about--sometimes here, and sometimes there; nobody troubles
Lady Constantine thanked her informant, and proceeded onward. To her,
a woman, the most curious feature in the afternoon's incident was that
this lad, of striking beauty, scientific attainments, and cultivated
bearing, should be linked, on the maternal side, with a local
agricultural family through his father's matrimonial eccentricity. A
more attractive feature in the case was that the same youth, so capable
of being ruined by flattery, blandishment, pleasure, even gross
prosperity, should be at present living on in a primitive Eden of
unconsciousness, with aims towards whose accomplishment a Caliban
would have been as effective as his own.
Swithin St. Cleeve lingered on at his post, until the more sanguine birds
of the plantation, already recovering from their midwinter anxieties,
piped a short evening hymn to the vanishing sun.
The landscape was gently concave; with the exception of tower and hill
there were no points on which late rays might linger; and hence the dish-
shaped ninety acres of tilled land assumed a uniform hue of shade quite
suddenly. The one or two stars that appeared were quickly clouded over,
and it was soon obvious that there would be no sweeping the heavens that
night. After tying a piece of tarpaulin, which had once seen service on
his maternal grandfather's farm, over all the apparatus around him, he
went down the stairs in the dark, and locked the door.
With the key in his pocket he descended through the underwood on the side
of the slope opposite to that trodden by Lady Constantine, and crossed
the field in a line mathematically straight, and in a manner that left no
traces, by keeping in the same furrow all the way on tiptoe. In a few
minutes he reached a little dell, which occurred quite unexpectedly on
the other side of the field-fence, and descended to a venerable thatched
house, whose enormous roof, broken up by dormers as big as haycocks,
could be seen even in the twilight. Over the white walls, built of chalk
in the lump, outlines of creepers formed dark patterns, as if drawn in
Inside the house his maternal grandmother was sitting by a wood fire.
Before it stood a pipkin, in which something was evidently kept warm. An
eight-legged oak table in the middle of the room was laid for a meal.
This woman of eighty, in a large mob cap, under which she wore a little
cap to keep the other clean, retained faculties but little blunted. She
was gazing into the flames, with her hands upon her knees, quietly re-
enacting in her brain certain of the long chain of episodes, pathetic,
tragical, and humorous, which had constituted the parish history for the
last sixty years. On Swithin's entry she looked up at him in a sideway
'You should not have waited for me, granny,' he said.
''Tis of no account, my child. I've had a nap while sitting here. Yes,
I've had a nap, and went straight up into my old country again, as usual.
The place was as natural as when I left it,--e'en just threescore years
ago! All the folks and my old aunt were there, as when I was a
child,--yet I suppose if I were really to set out and go there, hardly a
soul would be left alive to say to me, dog how art! But tell Hannah to
stir her stumps and serve supper--though I'd fain do it myself, the poor
old soul is getting so unhandy!'
Hannah revealed herself to be much nimbler and several years younger than
granny, though of this the latter seemed to be oblivious. When the meal
was nearly over Mrs. Martin produced the contents of the mysterious
vessel by the fire, saying that she had caused it to be brought in from
the back kitchen, because Hannah was hardly to be trusted with such
things, she was becoming so childish.
'What is it, then?' said Swithin. 'Oh, one of your special puddings.' At
sight of it, however, he added reproachfully, 'Now, granny!'
Instead of being round, it was in shape an irregular boulder that had
been exposed to the weather for centuries--a little scrap pared off here,
and a little piece broken away there; the general aim being,
nevertheless, to avoid destroying the symmetry of the pudding while
taking as much as possible of its substance.
'The fact is,' added Swithin, 'the pudding is half gone!'
'I've only sliced off the merest paring once or twice, to taste if it was
well done!' pleaded granny Martin, with wounded feelings. 'I said to
Hannah when she took it up, "Put it here to keep it warm, as there's a
better fire than in the back kitchen."'
'Well, I am not going to eat any of it!' said Swithin decisively, as he
rose from the table, pushed away his chair, and went up-stairs; the
'other station of life that was in his blood,' and which had been brought
out by the grammar school, probably stimulating him.
'Ah, the world is an ungrateful place! 'Twas a pity I didn't take my
poor name off this earthly calendar and creep under ground sixty long
years ago, instead of leaving my own county to come here!' mourned old
Mrs. Martin. 'But I told his mother how 'twould be--marrying so many
notches above her. The child was sure to chaw high, like his father!'
When Swithin had been up-stairs a minute or two however, he altered his
mind, and coming down again ate all the pudding, with the aspect of a
person undertaking a deed of great magnanimity. The relish with which he
did so restored the unison that knew no more serious interruptions than
such as this.
'Mr. Torkingham has been here this afternoon,' said his grandmother; 'and
he wants me to let him meet some of the choir here to-night for practice.
They who live at this end of the parish won't go to his house to try over
the tunes, because 'tis so far, they say, and so 'tis, poor men. So he's
going to see what coming to them will do. He asks if you would like to
'I would if I had not so much to do.'
'But it is cloudy to-night.'
'Yes; but I have calculations without end, granny. Now, don't you tell
him I'm in the house, will you? and then he'll not ask for me.'
'But if he should, must I then tell a lie, Lord forgive me?'
'No, you can say I'm up-stairs; he must think what he likes. Not a word
about the astronomy to any of them, whatever you do. I should be called
a visionary, and all sorts.'
'So thou beest, child. Why can't ye do something that's of use?'
At the sound of footsteps Swithin beat a hasty retreat up-stairs, where
he struck a light, and revealed a table covered with books and papers,
while round the walls hung star-maps, and other diagrams illustrative of
celestial phenomena. In a corner stood a huge pasteboard tube, which a
close inspection would have shown to be intended for a telescope. Swithin
hung a thick cloth over the window, in addition to the curtains, and sat
down to his papers. On the ceiling was a black stain of smoke, and under
this he placed his lamp, evidencing that the midnight oil was consumed on
that precise spot very often.
Meanwhile there had entered to the room below a personage who, to judge
from her voice and the quick pit-pat of her feet, was a maiden young and
blithe. Mrs. Martin welcomed her by the title of Miss Tabitha Lark, and
inquired what wind had brought her that way; to which the visitor replied
that she had come for the singing.
'Sit ye down, then,' said granny. 'And do you still go to the House to
read to my lady?'
'Yes, I go and read, Mrs. Martin; but as to getting my lady to hearken,
that's more than a team of six horses could force her to do.'
The girl had a remarkably smart and fluent utterance, which was probably
a cause, or a consequence, of her vocation.
''Tis the same story, then?' said grandmother Martin.
'Yes. Eaten out with listlessness. She's neither sick nor sorry, but
how dull and dreary she is, only herself can tell. When I get there in
the morning, there she is sitting up in bed, for my lady don't care to
get up; and then she makes me bring this book and that book, till the bed
is heaped up with immense volumes that half bury her, making her look, as
she leans upon her elbow, like the stoning of Stephen. She yawns; then
she looks towards the tall glass; then she looks out at the weather,
mooning her great black eyes, and fixing them on the sky as if they stuck
there, while my tongue goes flick-flack along, a hundred and fifty words
a minute; then she looks at the clock; then she asks me what I've been
'Ah, poor soul!' said granny. 'No doubt she says in the morning, "Would
God it were evening," and in the evening, "Would God it were morning,"
like the disobedient woman in Deuteronomy.'
Swithin, in the room overhead, had suspended his calculations, for the
duologue interested him. There now crunched heavier steps outside the
door, and his grandmother could be heard greeting sundry local
representatives of the bass and tenor voice, who lent a cheerful and well-
known personality to the names Sammy Blore, Nat Chapman, Hezekiah
and Haymoss Fry (the latter being one with whom the reader has already a
distant acquaintance); besides these came small producers of treble, who
had not yet developed into such distinctive units of society as to
'Is the good man come?' asked Nat Chapman. 'No,--I see we be here afore
him. And how is it with aged women to-night, Mrs. Martin?'
'Tedious traipsing enough with this one, Nat. Sit ye down. Well, little
Freddy, you don't wish in the morning that 'twere evening, and at evening
that 'twere morning again, do you, Freddy, trust ye for it?'
'Now, who might wish such a thing as that, Mrs Martin?--nobody in this
parish?' asked Sammy Blore curiously.
'My lady is always wishing it,' spoke up Miss Tabitha Lark.
'Oh, she! Nobody can be answerable for the wishes of that onnatural
tribe of mankind. Not but that the woman's heart-strings is tried in
many aggravating ways.'
'Ah, poor woman!' said granny. 'The state she finds herself in--neither
maid, wife, nor widow, as you may say--is not the primest form of life
for keeping in good spirits. How long is it since she has heard from Sir
'Two years and more,' said the young woman. 'He went into one side of
Africa, as it might be, three St. Martin's days back. I can mind it,
because 'twas my birthday. And he meant to come out the other side. But
he didn't. He has never come out at all.'
'For all the world like losing a rat in a barley-mow,' said Hezekiah.
'He's lost, though you know where he is.'
His comrades nodded.
'Ay, my lady is a walking weariness. I seed her yawn just at the very
moment when the fox was halloaed away by Lornton Copse, and the hounds
runned en all but past her carriage wheels. If I were she I'd see a
little life; though there's no fair, club-walking, nor feast to speak of,
till Easter week,--that's true.'
'She dares not. She's under solemn oath to do no such thing.'
'Be cust if I would keep any such oath! But here's the pa'son, if my
ears don't deceive me.'
There was a noise of horse's hoofs without, a stumbling against the door-
scraper, a tethering to the window-shutter, a creaking of the door on its
hinges, and a voice which Swithin recognized as Mr. Torkingham's. He
greeted each of the previous arrivals by name, and stated that he was
glad to see them all so punctually assembled.
'Ay, sir,' said Haymoss Fry. ''Tis only my jints that have kept me from
assembling myself long ago. I'd assemble upon the top of Welland
Steeple, if 'tweren't for my jints. I assure ye, Pa'son Tarkenham, that
in the clitch o' my knees, where the rain used to come through when I was
cutting clots for the new lawn, in old my lady's time, 'tis as if rats
wez gnawing, every now and then. When a feller's young he's too small in
the brain to see how soon a constitution can be squandered, worse luck!'
'True,' said Biles, to fill the time while the parson was engaged in
finding the Psalms. 'A man's a fool till he's forty. Often have I
thought, when hay-pitching, and the small of my back seeming no stouter
than a harnet's, "The devil send that I had but the making of labouring
men for a twelvemonth!" I'd gie every man jack two good backbones, even
if the alteration was as wrong as forgery.'
'Four,--four backbones,' said Haymoss, decisively.
'Yes, four,' threw in Sammy Blore, with additional weight of experience.
'For you want one in front for breast-ploughing and such like, one at the
right side for ground-dressing, and one at the left side for turning
'Well; then next I'd move every man's wyndpipe a good span away from his
glutchpipe, so that at harvest time he could fetch breath in 's drinking,
without being choked and strangled as he is now. Thinks I, when I feel
the victuals going--'
'Now, we'll begin,' interrupted Mr. Torkingham, his mind returning to
this world again on concluding his search for a hymn.
Thereupon the racket of chair-legs on the floor signified that they were
settling into their seats,--a disturbance which Swithin took advantage of
by going on tiptoe across the floor above, and putting sheets of paper
over knot-holes in the boarding at points where carpet was lacking, that
his lamp-light might not shine down. The absence of a ceiling beneath
rendered his position virtually that of one suspended in the same
The parson announced the tune, and his voice burst forth with 'Onward,
Christian soldiers!' in notes of rigid cheerfulness.
In this start, however, he was joined only by the girls and boys, the men
furnishing but an accompaniment of ahas and hems. Mr. Torkingham
stopped, and Sammy Blore spoke,--
'Beg your pardon, sir,--if you'll deal mild with us a moment. What with
the wind and walking, my throat's as rough as a grater; and not knowing
you were going to hit up that minute, I hadn't hawked, and I don't think
Hezzy and Nat had, either,--had ye, souls?'
'I hadn't got thorough ready, that's true,' said Hezekiah.
'Quite right of you, then, to speak,' said Mr. Torkingham. 'Don't mind
explaining; we are here for practice. Now clear your throats, then, and
at it again.'
There was a noise as of atmospheric hoes and scrapers, and the bass
contingent at last got under way with a time of its own:
'Honwerd, Christen sojers!'
'Ah, that's where we are so defective--the pronunciation,' interrupted
the parson. 'Now repeat after me: "On-ward, Christ-ian, sol-diers."'
The choir repeated like an exaggerative echo: 'On-wed, Chris-ting, sol-
'Better!' said the parson, in the strenuously sanguine tones of a man who
got his living by discovering a bright side in things where it was not
very perceptible to other people. 'But it should not be given with quite
so extreme an accent; or we may be called affected by other parishes.
And, Nathaniel Chapman, there's a jauntiness in your manner of singing
which is not quite becoming. Why don't you sing more earnestly?'
'My conscience won't let me, sir. They say every man for himself: but,
thank God, I'm not so mean as to lessen old fokes' chances by being
earnest at my time o' life, and they so much nearer the need o't.'
'It's bad reasoning, Nat, I fear. Now, perhaps we had better sol-fa the
tune. Eyes on your books, please. Sol-sol! fa-fa! mi--'
'I can't sing like that, not I!' said Sammy Blore, with condemnatory
astonishment. 'I can sing genuine music, like F and G; but not anything
so much out of the order of nater as that.'
'Perhaps you've brought the wrong book, sir?' chimed in Haymoss, kindly.
'I've knowed music early in life and late,--in short, ever since Luke
Sneap broke his new fiddle-bow in the wedding psalm, when Pa'son Wilton
brought home his bride (you can mind the time, Sammy?--when we sung
wife, like a fair fertile vine, her lovely fruit shall bring," when the
young woman turned as red as a rose, not knowing 'twas coming). I've
knowed music ever since then, I say, sir, and never heard the like o'
that. Every martel note had his name of A, B, C, at that time.'
'Yes, yes, men; but this is a more recent system!'
'Still, you can't alter a old-established note that's A or B by nater,'
rejoined Haymoss, with yet deeper conviction that Mr. Torkingham was
getting off his head. 'Now sound A, neighbour Sammy, and let's have a
slap at Christen sojers again, and show the Pa'son the true way!'
Sammy produced a private tuning-fork, black and grimy, which, being about
seventy years of age, and wrought before pianoforte builders had sent up
the pitch to make their instruments brilliant, was nearly a note flatter
than the parson's. While an argument as to the true pitch was in
progress, there came a knocking without.
'Somebody's at the door!' said a little treble girl.
'Thought I heard a knock before!' said the relieved choir.
The latch was lifted, and a man asked from the darkness, 'Is Mr.
'Yes, Mills. What do you want?'
It was the parson's man.
'Oh, if you please,' said Mills, showing an advanced margin of himself
round the door, 'Lady Constantine wants to see you very particular, sir,
and could you call on her after dinner, if you ben't engaged with poor
fokes? She's just had a letter,--so they say,--and it's about that, I
Finding, on looking at his watch, that it was necessary to start at once
if he meant to see her that night, the parson cut short the practising,
and, naming another night for meeting, he withdrew. All the singers
assisted him on to his cob, and watched him till he disappeared over the
edge of the Bottom.
Mr. Torkingham trotted briskly onward to his house, a distance of about a
mile, each cottage, as it revealed its half-buried position by its single
light, appearing like a one-eyed night creature watching him from an
ambush. Leaving his horse at the parsonage he performed the remainder of
the journey on foot, crossing the park towards Welland House by a stile
and path, till he struck into the drive near the north door of the
This drive, it may be remarked, was also the common highway to the lower
village, and hence Lady Constantine's residence and park, as is
occasionally the case with old-fashioned manors, possessed none of the
exclusiveness found in some aristocratic settlements. The parishioners
looked upon the park avenue as their natural thoroughfare, particularly
for christenings, weddings, and funerals, which passed the squire's
mansion with due considerations as to the scenic effect of the same from
the manor windows. Hence the house of Constantine, when going out from
its breakfast, had been continually crossed on the doorstep for the last
two hundred years by the houses of Hodge and Giles in full cry to dinner.
At present these collisions were but too infrequent, for though the
villagers passed the north front door as regularly as ever, they seldom
met a Constantine. Only one was there to be met, and she had no zest for
outings before noon.
The long, low front of the Great House, as it was called by the parish,
stretching from end to end of the terrace, was in darkness as the vicar
slackened his pace before it, and only the distant fall of water
disturbed the stillness of the manorial precincts.
On gaining admittance he found Lady Constantine waiting to receive him.
She wore a heavy dress of velvet and lace, and being the only person in
the spacious apartment she looked small and isolated. In her left hand
she held a letter and a couple of at-home cards. The soft dark eyes
which she raised to him as he entered--large, and melancholy by
circumstance far more than by quality--were the natural indices of a warm
and affectionate, perhaps slightly voluptuous temperament, languishing
for want of something to do, cherish, or suffer for.
Mr. Torkingham seated himself. His boots, which had seemed elegant in
the farm-house, appeared rather clumsy here, and his coat, that was a
model of tailoring when he stood amid the choir, now exhibited decidedly
strained relations with his limbs. Three years had passed since his
induction to the living of Welland, but he had never as yet found means
to establish that reciprocity with Lady Constantine which usually grows
up, in the course of time, between parsonage and manor-house,--unless,
indeed, either side should surprise the other by showing respectively a
weakness for awkward modern ideas on landownership, or on church
formulas, which had not been the case here. The present meeting,
however, seemed likely to initiate such a reciprocity.
There was an appearance of confidence on Lady Constantine's face; she
said she was so very glad that he had come, and looking down at the
letter in her hand was on the point of pulling it from its envelope; but
she did not. After a moment she went on more quickly: 'I wanted your
advice, or rather your opinion, on a serious matter,--on a point of
conscience.' Saying which she laid down the letter and looked at the
It might have been apparent to a more penetrating eye than the vicar's
that Lady Constantine, either from timidity, misgiving, or reconviction,
had swerved from her intended communication, or perhaps decided to begin
at the other end.
The parson, who had been expecting a question on some local business or
intelligence, at the tenor of her words altered his face to the higher
branch of his profession.
'I hope I may find myself of service, on that or any other question,' he
'I hope so. You may possibly be aware, Mr. Torkingham, that my husband,
Sir Blount Constantine, was, not to mince matters, a mistaken--somewhat
jealous man. Yet you may hardly have discerned it in the short time you
'I had some little knowledge of Sir Blount's character in that respect.'
'Well, on this account my married life with him was not of the most
comfortable kind.' (Lady Constantine's voice dropped to a more pathetic
note.) 'I am sure I gave him no cause for suspicion; though had I known
his disposition sooner I should hardly have dared to marry him. But his
jealousy and doubt of me were not so strong as to divert him from a
purpose of his,--a mania for African lion-hunting, which he dignified by
calling it a scheme of geographical discovery; for he was inordinately
anxious to make a name for himself in that field. It was the one passion
that was stronger than his mistrust of me. Before going away he sat down
with me in this room, and read me a lecture, which resulted in a very
rash offer on my part. When I tell it to you, you will find that it
provides a key to all that is unusual in my life here. He bade me
consider what my position would be when he was gone; hoped that I should
remember what was due to him,--that I would not so behave towards other
men as to bring the name of Constantine into suspicion; and charged me to
avoid levity of conduct in attending any ball, rout, or dinner to which I
might be invited. I, in some contempt for his low opinion of me,
volunteered, there and then, to live like a cloistered nun during his
absence; to go into no society whatever,--scarce even to a neighbour's
dinner-party; and demanded bitterly if that would satisfy him. He said
yes, held me to my word, and gave me no loophole for retracting it. The
inevitable fruits of precipitancy have resulted to me: my life has become
a burden. I get such invitations as these' (holding up the cards), 'but
I so invariably refuse them that they are getting very rare. . . . I ask
you, can I honestly break that promise to my husband?'
Mr. Torkingham seemed embarrassed. 'If you promised Sir Blount
Constantine to live in solitude till he comes back, you are, it seems to
me, bound by that promise. I fear that the wish to be released from your
engagement is to some extent a reason why it should be kept. But your
own conscience would surely be the best guide, Lady Constantine?'
'My conscience is quite bewildered with its responsibilities,' she
continued, with a sigh. 'Yet it certainly does sometimes say to me
that--that I ought to keep my word. Very well; I must go on as I am
going, I suppose.'
'If you respect a vow, I think you must respect your own,' said the
parson, acquiring some further firmness. 'Had it been wrung from you by
compulsion, moral or physical, it would have been open to you to break
it. But as you proposed a vow when your husband only required a good
intention, I think you ought to adhere to it; or what is the pride worth
that led you to offer it?'
'Very well,' she said, with resignation. 'But it was quite a work of
supererogation on my part.'
'That you proposed it in a supererogatory spirit does not lessen your
obligation, having once put yourself under that obligation. St. Paul, in
his Epistle to the Hebrews, says, "An oath for confirmation is an end of
all strife." And you will readily recall the words of Ecclesiastes, "Pay
that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow
than that thou shouldest vow and not pay." Why not write to Sir Blount,
tell him the inconvenience of such a bond, and ask him to release you?'
'No; never will I. The expression of such a desire would, in his mind,
be a sufficient reason for disallowing it. I'll keep my word.'
Mr. Torkingham rose to leave. After she had held out her hand to him,
when he had crossed the room, and was within two steps of the door, she
said, 'Mr. Torkingham.' He stopped. 'What I have told you is only the
least part of what I sent for you to tell you.'
Mr. Torkingham walked back to her side. 'What is the rest of it, then?'
he asked, with grave surprise.
'It is a true revelation, as far as it goes; but there is something more.
I have received this letter, and I wanted to say--something.'
'Then say it now, my dear lady.'
'No,' she answered, with a look of utter inability. 'I cannot speak of
it now! Some other time. Don't stay. Please consider this conversation
as private. Good-night.'
It was a bright starlight night, a week or ten days later. There had
been several such nights since the occasion of Lady Constantine's promise
to Swithin St. Cleeve to come and study astronomical phenomena on the
Rings-Hill column; but she had not gone there. This evening she sat at a
window, the blind of which had not been drawn down. Her elbow rested on
a little table, and her cheek on her hand. Her eyes were attracted by
the brightness of the planet Jupiter, as he rode in the ecliptic
opposite, beaming down upon her as if desirous of notice.
Beneath the planet could be still discerned the dark edges of the park
landscape against the sky. As one of its features, though nearly
screened by the trees which had been planted to shut out the fallow
tracts of the estate, rose the upper part of the column. It was hardly
visible now, even if visible at all; yet Lady Constantine knew from
daytime experience its exact bearing from the window at which she leaned.
The knowledge that there it still was, despite its rapid envelopment by
the shades, led her lonely mind to her late meeting on its summit with
the young astronomer, and to her promise to honour him with a visit for
learning some secrets about the scintillating bodies overhead. The
curious juxtaposition of youthful ardour and old despair that she had
found in the lad would have made him interesting to a woman of
perception, apart from his fair hair and early-Christian face. But such
is the heightening touch of memory that his beauty was probably richer in
her imagination than in the real. It was a moot point to consider
whether the temptations that would be brought to bear upon him in his
course would exceed the staying power of his nature. Had he been a
wealthy youth he would have seemed one to tremble for. In spite of his
attractive ambitions and gentlemanly bearing, she thought it would
possibly be better for him if he never became known outside his lonely
tower,--forgetting that he had received such intellectual enlargement as
would probably make his continuance in Welland seem, in his own eye, a
slight upon his father's branch of his family, whose social standing had
been, only a few years earlier, but little removed from her own.
Suddenly she flung a cloak about her and went out on the terrace. She
passed down the steps to the lower lawn, through the door to the open
park, and there stood still. The tower was now discernible. As the
words in which a thought is expressed develop a further thought, so did
the fact of her having got so far influence her to go further. A person
who had casually observed her gait would have thought it irregular; and
the lessenings and increasings of speed with which she proceeded in the
direction of the pillar could be accounted for only by a motive much more
disturbing than an intention to look through a telescope. Thus she went
on, till, leaving the park, she crossed the turnpike-road, and entered
the large field, in the middle of which the fir-clad hill stood like Mont
St. Michel in its bay.
The stars were so bright as distinctly to show her the place, and now she
could see a faint light at the top of the column, which rose like a
shadowy finger pointing to the upper constellations. There was no wind,
in a human sense; but a steady stertorous breathing from the fir-trees
showed that, now as always, there was movement in apparent stagnation.
Nothing but an absolute vacuum could paralyze their utterance.
The door of the tower was shut. It was something more than the
freakishness which is engendered by a sickening monotony that had led
Lady Constantine thus far, and hence she made no ado about admitting
herself. Three years ago, when her every action was a thing of
propriety, she had known of no possible purpose which could have led her
abroad in a manner such as this.
She ascended the tower noiselessly. On raising her head above the
hatchway she beheld Swithin bending over a scroll of paper which lay on
the little table beside him. The small lantern that illuminated it
showed also that he was warmly wrapped up in a coat and thick cap, behind
him standing the telescope on its frame.
What was he doing? She looked over his shoulder upon the paper, and saw
figures and signs. When he had jotted down something he went to the
'What are you doing to-night?' she said in a low voice.
Swithin started, and turned. The faint lamp-light was sufficient to
reveal her face to him.
'Tedious work, Lady Constantine,' he answered, without betraying much
surprise. 'Doing my best to watch phenomenal stars, as I may call them.'
'You said you would show me the heavens if I could come on a starlight
night. I have come.'
Swithin, as a preliminary, swept round the telescope to Jupiter, and
exhibited to her the glory of that orb. Then he directed the instrument
to the less bright shape of Saturn.
'Here,' he said, warming up to the subject, 'we see a world which is to
my mind by far the most wonderful in the solar system. Think of streams
of satellites or meteors racing round and round the planet like a fly-
wheel, so close together as to seem solid matter!' He entered further
and further into the subject, his ideas gathering momentum as he went on,
like his pet heavenly bodies.
When he paused for breath she said, in tones very different from his own,
'I ought now to tell you that, though I am interested in the stars, they
were not what I came to see you about. . . . I first thought of
disclosing the matter to Mr. Torkingham; but I altered my mind, and
decided on you.'
She spoke in so low a voice that he might not have heard her. At all
events, abstracted by his grand theme, he did not heed her. He
'Well, we will get outside the solar system altogether,--leave the whole
group of sun, primary and secondary planets quite behind us in our
flight, as a bird might leave its bush and sweep into the whole forest.
Now what do you see, Lady Constantine?' He levelled the achromatic at
She said that she saw a bright star, though it only seemed a point of
light now as before.
'That's because it is so distant that no magnifying will bring its size
up to zero. Though called a fixed star, it is, like all fixed stars,
moving with inconceivable velocity; but no magnifying will show that
velocity as anything but rest.'
And thus they talked on about Sirius, and then about other stars
. . . in the scrowl
Of all those beasts, and fish, and fowl,
With which, like Indian plantations,
The learned stock the constellations,
till he asked her how many stars she thought were visible to them at that
She looked around over the magnificent stretch of sky that their high
position unfolded. 'Oh, thousands, hundreds of thousands,' she said
'No. There are only about three thousand. Now, how many do you think
are brought within sight by the help of a powerful telescope?'
'I won't guess.'
'Twenty millions. So that, whatever the stars were made for, they were
not made to please our eyes. It is just the same in everything; nothing
is made for man.'
'Is it that notion which makes you so sad for your age?' she asked, with
almost maternal solicitude. 'I think astronomy is a bad study for you.
It makes you feel human insignificance too plainly.'
'Perhaps it does. However,' he added more cheerfully, 'though I feel the
study to be one almost tragic in its quality, I hope to be the new
Copernicus. What he was to the solar system I aim to be to the systems
Then, by means of the instrument at hand, they travelled together from
the earth to Uranus and the mysterious outskirts of the solar system;
from the solar system to a star in the Swan, the nearest fixed star in
the northern sky; from the star in the Swan to remoter stars; thence to
the remotest visible; till the ghastly chasm which they had bridged by a
fragile line of sight was realized by Lady Constantine.
'We are now traversing distances beside which the immense line stretching
from the earth to the sun is but an invisible point,' said the youth.
'When, just now, we had reached a planet whose remoteness is a hundred
times the remoteness of the sun from the earth, we were only a two
thousandth part of the journey to the spot at which we have optically
'Oh, pray don't; it overpowers me!' she replied, not without seriousness.
'It makes me feel that it is not worth while to live; it quite
'If it annihilates your ladyship to roam over these yawning spaces just
once, think how it must annihilate me to be, as it were, in constant
suspension amid them night after night.'
'Yes. . . . It was not really this subject that I came to see you upon,
Mr. St. Cleeve,' she began a second time. 'It was a personal matter.'
'I am listening, Lady Constantine.'
'I will tell it you. Yet no,--not this moment. Let us finish this grand
subject first; it dwarfs mine.'
It would have been difficult to judge from her accents whether she were
afraid to broach her own matter, or really interested in his. Or a
certain youthful pride that he evidenced at being the elucidator of such
a large theme, and at having drawn her there to hear and observe it, may
have inclined her to indulge him for kindness' sake.
Thereupon he took exception to her use of the word 'grand' as descriptive
of the actual universe:
'The imaginary picture of the sky as the concavity of a dome whose base
extends from horizon to horizon of our earth is grand, simply grand, and
I wish I had never got beyond looking at it in that way. But the actual
sky is a horror.'
'A new view of our old friends, the stars,' she said, smiling up at them.
'But such an obviously true one!' said the young man. 'You would hardly
think, at first, that horrid monsters lie up there waiting to be
discovered by any moderately penetrating mind--monsters to which those of
the oceans bear no sort of comparison.'
'What monsters may they be?'
'Impersonal monsters, namely, Immensities. Until a person has thought
out the stars and their inter-spaces, he has hardly learnt that there are
things much more terrible than monsters of shape, namely, monsters of
magnitude without known shape. Such monsters are the voids and waste
places of the sky. Look, for instance, at those pieces of darkness in
the Milky Way,' he went on, pointing with his finger to where the galaxy
stretched across over their heads with the luminousness of a frosted web.
'You see that dark opening in it near the Swan? There is a still more
remarkable one south of the equator, called the Coal Sack, as a sort of
nickname that has a farcical force from its very inadequacy. In these
our sight plunges quite beyond any twinkler we have yet visited. Those
are deep wells for the human mind to let itself down into, leave alone
the human body! and think of the side caverns and secondary abysses to
right and left as you pass on!'
Lady Constantine was heedful and silent.
He tried to give her yet another idea of the size of the universe; never
was there a more ardent endeavour to bring down the immeasurable to
comprehension! By figures of speech and apt comparisons he took her mind
into leading-strings, compelling her to follow him into wildernesses of
which she had never in her life even realized the existence.
'There is a size at which dignity begins,' he exclaimed; 'further on
there is a size at which grandeur begins; further on there is a size at
which solemnity begins; further on, a size at which awfulness begins;
further on, a size at which ghastliness begins. That size faintly
approaches the size of the stellar universe. So am I not right in saying
that those minds who exert their imaginative powers to bury themselves in
the depths of that universe merely strain their faculties to gain a new
Standing, as she stood, in the presence of the stellar universe, under
the very eyes of the constellations, Lady Constantine apprehended
something of the earnest youth's argument.
'And to add a new weirdness to what the sky possesses in its size and
formlessness, there is involved the quality of decay. For all the wonder
of these everlasting stars, eternal spheres, and what not, they are not
everlasting, they are not eternal; they burn out like candles. You see
that dying one in the body of the Greater Bear? Two centuries ago it was
as bright as the others. The senses may become terrified by plunging
among them as they are, but there is a pitifulness even in their glory.
Imagine them all extinguished, and your mind feeling its way through a
heaven of total darkness, occasionally striking against the black,
invisible cinders of those stars. . . . If you are cheerful, and wish to
remain so, leave the study of astronomy alone. Of all the sciences, it
alone deserves the character of the terrible.'
'I am not altogether cheerful.'
'Then if, on the other hand, you are restless and anxious about the
future, study astronomy at once. Your troubles will be reduced
amazingly. But your study will reduce them in a singular way, by
reducing the importance of everything. So that the science is still
terrible, even as a panacea. It is quite impossible to think at all
adequately of the sky--of what the sky substantially is, without feeling
it as a juxtaposed nightmare. It is better--far better--for men to
forget the universe than to bear it clearly in mind! . . . But you say
the universe was not really what you came to see me about. What was it,
may I ask, Lady Constantine?'
She mused, and sighed, and turned to him with something pathetic in her.
'The immensity of the subject you have engaged me on has completely
crushed my subject out of me! Yours is celestial; mine lamentably human!
And the less must give way to the greater.'
'But is it, in a human sense, and apart from macrocosmic magnitudes,
important?' he inquired, at last attracted by her manner; for he began to
perceive, in spite of his prepossession, that she had really something on
'It is as important as personal troubles usually are.'
Notwithstanding her preconceived notion of coming to Swithin as employer
to dependant, as chatelaine to page, she was falling into confidential
intercourse with him. His vast and romantic endeavours lent him a
personal force and charm which she could not but apprehend. In the
presence of the immensities that his young mind had, as it were, brought
down from above to hers, they became unconsciously equal. There was,
moreover, an inborn liking in Lady Constantine to dwell less on her
permanent position as a county lady than on her passing emotions as a
'I will postpone the matter I came to charge you with,' she resumed,
smiling. 'I must reconsider it. Now I will return.'
'Allow me to show you out through the trees and across the fields?'
She said neither a distinct yes nor no; and, descending the tower, they
threaded the firs and crossed the ploughed field. By an odd coincidence
he remarked, when they drew near the Great House--
'You may possibly be interested in knowing, Lady Constantine, that that
medium-sized star you see over there, low down in the south, is precisely
over Sir Blount Constantine's head in the middle of Africa.'
'How very strange that you should have said so!' she answered. 'You have
broached for me the very subject I had come to speak of.'
'On a domestic matter?' he said, with surprise.
'Yes. What a small matter it seems now, after our astronomical
stupendousness! and yet on my way to you it so far transcended the
ordinary matters of my life as the subject you have led me up to
transcends this. But,' with a little laugh, 'I will endeavour to sink
down to such ephemeral trivialities as human tragedy, and explain, since
I have come. The point is, I want a helper: no woman ever wanted one
more. For days I have wanted a trusty friend who could go on a secret
errand for me. It is necessary that my messenger should be educated,
should be intelligent, should be silent as the grave. Do you give me
your solemn promise as to the last point, if I confide in you?'
'Most emphatically, Lady Constantine.'
'Your right hand upon the compact.'
He gave his hand, and raised hers to his lips. In addition to his
respect for her as the lady of the manor, there was the admiration of
twenty years for twenty-eight or nine in such relations.
'I trust you,' she said. 'Now, beyond the above conditions, it was
specially necessary that my agent should have known Sir Blount
Constantine well by sight when he was at home. For the errand is
concerning my husband; I am much disturbed at what I have heard about
'I am indeed sorry to know it.'
'There are only two people in the parish who fulfil all the
conditions,--Mr. Torkingham, and yourself. I sent for Mr. Torkingham,
and he came. I could not tell him. I felt at the last moment that he
wouldn't do. I have come to you because I think you will do. This is
it: my husband has led me and all the world to believe that he is in
Africa, hunting lions. I have had a mysterious letter informing me that
he has been seen in London, in very peculiar circumstances. The truth of
this I want ascertained. Will you go on the journey?'
'Personally, I would go to the end of the world for you, Lady
'How can I leave?'
'I am preparing a work on variable stars. There is one of these which I
have exceptionally observed for several months, and on this my great
theory is mainly based. It has been hitherto called irregular; but I
have detected a periodicity in its so-called irregularities which, if
proved, would add some very valuable facts to those known on this
subject, one of the most interesting, perplexing, and suggestive in the
whole field of astronomy. Now, to clinch my theory, there should be a
sudden variation this week,--or at latest next week,--and I have to watch
every night not to let it pass. You see my reason for declining, Lady
'Young men are always so selfish!' she said.
'It might ruin the whole of my year's labour if I leave now!' returned
the youth, greatly hurt. 'Could you not wait a fortnight longer?'
'No,--no. Don't think that I have asked you, pray. I have no wish to
'Lady Constantine, don't be angry with me! Will you do this,--watch the
star for me while I am gone? If you are prepared to do it effectually, I
'Will it be much trouble?'
'It will be some trouble. You would have to come here every clear
evening about nine. If the sky were not clear, then you would have to
come at four in the morning, should the clouds have dispersed.'
'Could not the telescope be brought to my house?'
Swithin shook his head.
'Perhaps you did not observe its real size,--that it was fixed to a frame-
work? I could not afford to buy an equatorial, and I have been obliged
to rig up an apparatus of my own devising, so as to make it in some
measure answer the purpose of an equatorial. It could be moved, but I
would rather not touch it.'
'Well, I'll go to the telescope,' she went on, with an emphasis that was
not wholly playful. 'You are the most ungallant youth I ever met with;
but I suppose I must set that down to science. Yes, I'll go to the tower
at nine every night.'
'And alone? I should prefer to keep my pursuits there unknown.'
'And alone,' she answered, quite overborne by his inflexibility.
'You will not miss the morning observation, if it should be necessary?'
'I have given my word.'
'And I give mine. I suppose I ought not to have been so exacting!' He
spoke with that sudden emotional sense of his own insignificance which
made these alternations of mood possible. 'I will go anywhere--do
anything for you--this moment--to-morrow or at any time. But you must
return with me to the tower, and let me show you the observing process.'
They retraced their steps, the tender hoar-frost taking the imprint of
their feet, while two stars in the Twins looked down upon their two
persons through the trees, as if those two persons could bear some sort
of comparison with them. On the tower the instructions were given. When
all was over, and he was again conducting her to the Great House she
'When can you start?'
'Now,' said Swithin.
'So much the better. You shall go up by the night mail.'
On the third morning after the young man's departure Lady Constantine
opened the post-bag anxiously. Though she had risen before four o'clock,
and crossed to the tower through the gray half-light when every blade and
twig were furred with rime, she felt no languor. Expectation could
banish at cock-crow the eye-heaviness which apathy had been unable to
disperse all the day long.
There was, as she had hoped, a letter from Swithin St. Cleeve.
'DEAR LADY CONSTANTINE,--I have quite succeeded in my mission, and
shall return to-morrow at 10 p.m. I hope you have not failed in the
observations. Watching the star through an opera-glass Sunday night,
I fancied some change had taken place, but I could not make myself
sure. Your memoranda for that night I await with impatience. Please
don't neglect to write down at the moment, all remarkable
appearances both as to colour and intensity; and be very exact as to
time, which correct in the way I showed you.--I am, dear Lady
Constantine, yours most faithfully,
SWITHIN ST. CLEEVE.'
Not another word in the letter about his errand; his mind ran on nothing
but this astronomical subject. He had succeeded in his mission, and yet
he did not even say yes or no to the great question,--whether or not her
husband was masquerading in London at the address she had given.
'Was ever anything so provoking!' she cried.
However, the time was not long to wait. His way homeward would lie
within a stone's-throw of the manor-house, and though for certain reasons
she had forbidden him to call at the late hour of his arrival, she could
easily intercept him in the avenue. At twenty minutes past ten she went
out into the drive, and stood in the dark. Seven minutes later she heard
his footstep, and saw his outline in the slit of light between the avenue-
trees. He had a valise in one hand, a great-coat on his arm, and under
his arm a parcel which seemed to be very precious, from the manner in
which he held it.
'Lady Constantine?' he asked softly.
'Yes,' she said, in her excitement holding out both her hands, though he
had plainly not expected her to offer one.
'Did you watch the star?'
'I'll tell you everything in detail; but, pray, your errand first!'
'Yes, it's all right. Did you watch every night, not missing one?'
'I forgot to go--twice,' she murmured contritely.
'Oh, Lady Constantine!' he cried in dismay. 'How could you serve me so!
what shall I do?'
'Please forgive me! Indeed, I could not help it. I had watched and
watched, and nothing happened; and somehow my vigilance relaxed when I
found nothing was likely to take place in the star.'
'But the very circumstance of it not having happened, made it all the
more likely every day.'
'Have you--seen--' she began imploringly.
Swithin sighed, lowered his thoughts to sublunary things, and told
briefly the story of his journey. Sir Blount Constantine was not in
London at the address which had been anonymously sent her. It was a
mistake of identity. The person who had been seen there Swithin had
sought out. He resembled Sir Blount strongly; but he was a stranger.
'How can I reward you!' she exclaimed, when he had done.
'In no way but by giving me your good wishes in what I am going to tell
you on my own account.' He spoke in tones of mysterious exultation.
'This parcel is going to make my fame!'
'What is it?'
'A huge object-glass for the great telescope I am so busy about! Such a
magnificent aid to science has never entered this county before, you may
He produced from under his arm the carefully cuddled-up package, which
was in shape a round flat disk, like a dinner-plate, tied in paper.
Proceeding to explain his plans to her more fully, he walked with her
towards the door by which she had emerged. It was a little side wicket
through a wall dividing the open park from the garden terraces. Here for
a moment he placed his valise and parcel on the coping of the stone
balustrade, till he had bidden her farewell. Then he turned, and in
laying hold of his bag by the dim light pushed the parcel over the
parapet. It fell smash upon the paved walk ten or a dozen feet beneath.
'Oh, good heavens!' he cried in anguish.
'My object-glass broken!'
'Is it of much value?'
'It cost all I possess!'
He ran round by the steps to the lower lawn, Lady Constantine following,
as he continued, 'It is a magnificent eight-inch first quality object
lens! I took advantage of my journey to London to get it! I have been
six weeks making the tube of milled board; and as I had not enough money
by twelve pounds for the lens, I borrowed it of my grandmother out of her
last annuity payment. What can be, can be done!'
'Perhaps it is not broken.'
He felt on the ground, found the parcel, and shook it. A clicking noise
issued from inside. Swithin smote his forehead with his hand, and walked
up and down like a mad fellow.
'My telescope! I have waited nine months for this lens. Now the
possibility of setting up a really powerful instrument is over! It is
too cruel--how could it happen! . . . Lady Constantine, I am ashamed of
myself,--before you. Oh, but, Lady Constantine, if you only knew what it
is to a person engaged in science to have the means of clinching a theory
snatched away at the last moment! It is I against the world; and when
the world has accidents on its side in addition to its natural strength,
what chance for me!'
The young astronomer leant against the wall, and was silent. His misery
was of an intensity and kind with that of Palissy, in these struggles
with an adverse fate.
'Don't mind it,--pray don't!' said Lady Constantine. 'It is dreadfully
unfortunate! You have my whole sympathy. Can it be mended?'
'Cannot you do with your present one a little longer?'
'It is altogether inferior, cheap, and bad!'
'I'll get you another,--yes, indeed, I will! Allow me to get you another
as soon as possible. I'll do anything to assist you out of your trouble;
for I am most anxious to see you famous. I know you will be a great
astronomer, in spite of this mishap! Come, say I may get a new one.'
Swithin took her hand. He could not trust himself to speak.
* * * * *
Some days later a little box of peculiar kind came to the Great House. It
was addressed to Lady Constantine, 'with great care.' She had it partly
opened and taken to her own little writing-room; and after lunch, when
she had dressed for walking, she took from the box a paper parcel like
the one which had met with the accident. This she hid under her mantle,
as if she had stolen it; and, going out slowly across the lawn, passed
through the little door before spoken of, and was soon hastening in the
direction of the Rings-Hill column.
There was a bright sun overhead on that afternoon of early spring, and
its rays shed an unusual warmth on south-west aspects, though shady
places still retained the look and feel of winter. Rooks were already
beginning to build new nests or to mend up old ones, and clamorously
called in neighbours to give opinions on difficulties in their
architecture. Lady Constantine swerved once from her path, as if she had
decided to go to the homestead where Swithin lived; but on second
thoughts she bent her steps to the column.
Drawing near it she looked up; but by reason of the height of the parapet
nobody could be seen thereon who did not stand on tiptoe. She thought,
however, that her young friend might possibly see her, if he were there,
and come down; and that he was there she soon ascertained by finding the
door unlocked, and the key inside. No movement, however, reached her
ears from above, and she began to ascend.
Meanwhile affairs at the top of the column had progressed as follows. The
afternoon being exceptionally fine, Swithin had ascended about two
o'clock, and, seating himself at the little table which he had
constructed on the spot, he began reading over his notes and examining
some astronomical journals that had reached him in the morning. The sun
blazed into the hollow roof-space as into a tub, and the sides kept out
every breeze. Though the month was February below it was May in the
abacus of the column. This state of the atmosphere, and the fact that on
the previous night he had pursued his observations till past two o'clock,
produced in him at the end of half an hour an overpowering inclination to
sleep. Spreading on the lead-work a thick rug which he kept up there, he
flung himself down against the parapet, and was soon in a state of
It was about ten minutes afterwards that a soft rustle of silken clothes
came up the spiral staircase, and, hesitating onwards, reached the
orifice, where appeared the form of Lady Constantine. She did not at
first perceive that he was present, and stood still to reconnoitre. Her
eye glanced over his telescope, now wrapped up, his table and papers, his
observing-chair, and his contrivances for making the best of a deficiency
of instruments. All was warm, sunny, and silent, except that a solitary
bee, which had somehow got within the hollow of the abacus, was singing
round inquiringly, unable to discern that ascent was the only mode of
escape. In another moment she beheld the astronomer, lying in the sun
like a sailor in the main-top.
Lady Constantine coughed slightly; he did not awake. She then entered,
and, drawing the parcel from beneath her cloak, placed it on the table.
After this she waited, looking for a long time at his sleeping face,
which had a very interesting appearance. She seemed reluctant to leave,
yet wanted resolution to wake him; and, pencilling his name on the
parcel, she withdrew to the staircase, where the brushing of her dress
decreased to silence as she receded round and round on her way to the
Swithin still slept on, and presently the rustle began again in the far-
down interior of the column. The door could be heard closing, and the
rustle came nearer, showing that she had shut herself in,--no doubt to
lessen the risk of an accidental surprise by any roaming villager. When
Lady Constantine reappeared at the top, and saw the parcel still
untouched and Swithin asleep as before, she exhibited some
disappointment; but she did not retreat.
Looking again at him, her eyes became so sentimentally fixed on his face
that it seemed as if she could not withdraw them. There lay, in the
shape of an Antinous, no amoroso, no gallant, but a guileless
philosopher. His parted lips were lips which spoke, not of love, but of
millions of miles; those were eyes which habitually gazed, not into the
depths of other eyes, but into other worlds. Within his temples dwelt
thoughts, not of woman's looks, but of stellar aspects and the
configuration of constellations.
Thus, to his physical attractiveness was added the attractiveness of
mental inaccessibility. The ennobling influence of scientific pursuits
was demonstrated by the speculative purity which expressed itself in his
eyes whenever he looked at her in speaking, and in the childlike faults
of manner which arose from his obtuseness to their difference of sex. He
had never, since becoming a man, looked even so low as to the level of a
Lady Constantine. His heaven at present was truly in the skies, and not
in that only other place where they say it can be found, in the eyes of
some daughter of Eve. Would any Circe or Calypso--and if so, what
one?--ever check this pale-haired scientist's nocturnal sailings into the
interminable spaces overhead, and hurl all his mighty calculations on
cosmic force and stellar fire into Limbo? Oh, the pity of it, if such
should be the case!
She became much absorbed in these very womanly reflections; and at last
Lady Constantine sighed, perhaps she herself did not exactly know why.
Then a very soft expression lighted on her lips and eyes, and she looked
at one jump ten years more youthful than before--quite a girl in aspect,
younger than he. On the table lay his implements; among them a pair of
scissors, which, to judge from the shreds around, had been used in
cutting curves in thick paper for some calculating process.
What whim, agitation, or attraction prompted the impulse, nobody knows;
but she took the scissors, and, bending over the sleeping youth, cut off
one of the curls, or rather crooks,--for they hardly reached a curl,--into
which each lock of his hair chose to twist itself in the last inch of its
length. The hair fell upon the rug. She picked it up quickly, returned
the scissors to the table, and, as if her dignity had suddenly become
ashamed of her fantasies, hastened through the door, and descended the
When his nap had naturally exhausted itself Swithin awoke. He awoke
without any surprise, for he not unfrequently gave to sleep in the day-
time what he had stolen from it in the night watches. The first object
that met his eyes was the parcel on the table, and, seeing his name
inscribed thereon, he made no scruple to open it.
The sun flashed upon a lens of surprising magnitude, polished to such a
smoothness that the eye could scarcely meet its reflections. Here was a
crystal in whose depths were to be seen more wonders than had been
revealed by the crystals of all the Cagliostros.
Swithin, hot with joyousness, took this treasure to his telescope
manufactory at the homestead; then he started off for the Great House.
On gaining its precincts he felt shy of calling, never having received
any hint or permission to do so; while Lady Constantine's mysterious
manner of leaving the parcel seemed to demand a like mysteriousness in
his approaches to her. All the afternoon he lingered about uncertainly,
in the hope of intercepting her on her return from a drive, occasionally
walking with an indifferent lounge across glades commanded by the
windows, that if she were in-doors she might know he was near. But she
did not show herself during the daylight. Still impressed by her playful
secrecy he carried on the same idea after dark, by returning to the house
and passing through the garden door on to the lawn front, where he sat on
the parapet that breasted the terrace.
Now she frequently came out here for a melancholy saunter after dinner,
and to-night was such an occasion. Swithin went forward, and met her at
nearly the spot where he had dropped the lens some nights earlier.
'I have come to see you, Lady Constantine. How did the glass get on my
She laughed as lightly as a girl; that he had come to her in this way was
plainly no offence thus far.
'Perhaps it was dropped from the clouds by a bird,' she said.
'Why should you be so good to me?' he cried.
'One good turn deserves another,' answered she.
'Dear Lady Constantine! Whatever discoveries result from this shall be
ascribed to you as much as to me. Where should I have been without your
'You would possibly have accomplished your purpose just the same, and
have been so much the nobler for your struggle against ill-luck. I hope
that now you will be able to proceed with your large telescope as if
nothing had happened.'
'O yes, I will, certainly. I am afraid I showed too much feeling, the
reverse of stoical, when the accident occurred. That was not very noble
'There is nothing unnatural in such feeling at your age. When you are
older you will smile at such moods, and at the mishaps that gave rise to
'Ah, I perceive you think me weak in the extreme,' he said, with just a
shade of pique. 'But you will never realize that an incident which
filled but a degree in the circle of your thoughts covered the whole
circumference of mine. No person can see exactly what and where
another's horizon is.'
They soon parted, and she re-entered the house, where she sat reflecting
for some time, till she seemed to fear that she had wounded his feelings.
She awoke in the night, and thought and thought on the same thing, till
she had worked herself into a feverish fret about it. When it was
morning she looked across at the tower, and sitting down, impulsively
wrote the following note:--
'DEAR MR. ST. CLEEVE,--I cannot allow you to remain under the
impression that I despised your scientific endeavours in speaking as I
did last night. I think you were too sensitive to my remark. But
perhaps you were agitated with the labours of the day, and I fear that
watching so late at night must make you very weary. If I can help you
again, please let me know. I never realized the grandeur of astronomy
till you showed me how to do so. Also let me know about the new
telescope. Come and see me at any time. After your great kindness in
being my messenger I can never do enough for you. I wish you had a
mother or sister, and pity your loneliness! I am lonely too.--Yours
She was so anxious that he should get this letter the same day that she
ran across to the column with it during the morning, preferring to be her
own emissary in so curious a case. The door, as she had expected, was
locked; and, slipping the letter under it, she went home again. During
lunch her ardour in the cause of Swithin's hurt feelings cooled down,
till she exclaimed to herself, as she sat at her lonely table, 'What
could have possessed me to write in that way!'
After lunch she went faster to the tower than she had gone in the early
morning, and peeped eagerly into the chink under the door. She could
discern no letter, and, on trying the latch, found that the door would
open. The letter was gone, Swithin having obviously arrived in the
She blushed a blush which seemed to say, 'I am getting foolishly
interested in this young man.' She had, in short, in her own opinion,
somewhat overstepped the bounds of dignity. Her instincts did not square
well with the formalities of her existence, and she walked home
Had a concert, bazaar, lecture, or Dorcas meeting required the patronage
and support of Lady Constantine at this juncture, the circumstance would
probably have been sufficient to divert her mind from Swithin St. Cleeve
and astronomy for some little time. But as none of these incidents were
within the range of expectation--Welland House and parish lying far from
large towns and watering-places--the void in her outer life continued,
and with it the void in her life within.
The youth had not answered her letter; neither had he called upon her in
response to the invitation she had regretted, with the rest of the
epistle, as being somewhat too warmly informal for black and white. To
speak tenderly to him was one thing, to write another--that was her
feeling immediately after the event; but his counter-move of silence and
avoidance, though probably the result of pure unconsciousness on his
part, completely dispersed such self-considerations now. Her eyes never
fell upon the Rings-Hill column without a solicitous wonder arising as to
what he was doing. A true woman, she would assume the remotest
possibility to be the most likely contingency, if the possibility had the
recommendation of being tragical; and she now feared that something was
wrong with Swithin St. Cleeve. Yet there was not the least doubt that he
had become so immersed in the business of the new telescope as to forget
On Sunday, between the services, she walked to Little Welland, chiefly
for the sake of giving a run to a house-dog, a large St. Bernard, of whom
she was fond. The distance was but short; and she returned along a
narrow lane, divided from the river by a hedge, through whose leafless
twigs the ripples flashed silver lights into her eyes. Here she
discovered Swithin, leaning over a gate, his eyes bent upon the stream.
The dog first attracted his attention; then he heard her, and turned
round. She had never seen him looking so despondent.
'You have never called, though I invited you,' said Lady Constantine.
'My great telescope won't work!' he replied lugubriously.
'I am sorry for that. So it has made you quite forget me?'
'Ah, yes; you wrote me a very kind letter, which I ought to have
answered. Well, I did forget, Lady Constantine. My new telescope
won't work, and I don't know what to do about it at all!'
'Can I assist you any further?'
'No, I fear not. Besides, you have assisted me already.'
'What would really help you out of all your difficulties? Something
He shook his head.
'There must be some solution to them?'
'O yes,' he replied, with a hypothetical gaze into the stream; 'some
solution of course--an equatorial, for instance.'
'Briefly, an impossibility. It is a splendid instrument, with an object
lens of, say, eight or nine inches aperture, mounted with its axis
parallel to the earth's axis, and fitted up with graduated circles for
denoting right ascensions and declinations; besides having special eye-
pieces, a finder, and all sorts of appliances--clock-work to make the
telescope follow the motion in right ascension--I cannot tell you half
the conveniences. Ah, an equatorial is a thing indeed!'
'An equatorial is the one instrument required to make you quite happy?'
'I'll see what I can do.'
'But, Lady Constantine,' cried the amazed astronomer, 'an equatorial such
as I describe costs as much as two grand pianos!'
She was rather staggered at this news; but she rallied gallantly, and
said, 'Never mind. I'll make inquiries.'
'But it could not be put on the tower without people seeing it! It would
have to be fixed to the masonry. And there must be a dome of some kind
to keep off the rain. A tarpaulin might do.'
Lady Constantine reflected. 'It would be a great business, I see,' she
said. 'Though as far as the fixing and roofing go, I would of course
consent to your doing what you liked with the old column. My workmen
could fix it, could they not?'
'O yes. But what would Sir Blount say, if he came home and saw the
Lady Constantine turned aside to hide a sudden displacement of blood from
her cheek. 'Ah--my husband!' she whispered. . . . 'I am just now going
to church,' she added in a repressed and hurried tone. 'I will think of
In church it was with Lady Constantine as with the Lord Angelo of Vienna
in a similar situation--Heaven had her empty words only, and her
invention heard not her tongue. She soon recovered from the momentary
consternation into which she had fallen at Swithin's abrupt query. The
possibility of that young astronomer becoming a renowned scientist by her
aid was a thought which gave her secret pleasure. The course of
rendering him instant material help began to have a great fascination for
her; it was a new and unexpected channel for her cribbed and confined
emotions. With experiences so much wider than his, Lady Constantine saw
that the chances were perhaps a million to one against Swithin St. Cleeve
ever being Astronomer Royal, or Astronomer Extraordinary of any sort; yet
the remaining chance in his favour was one of those possibilities which,
to a woman of bounding intellect and venturesome fancy, are pleasanter to
dwell on than likely issues that have no savour of high speculation in
them. The equatorial question was a great one; and she had caught such a
large spark from his enthusiasm that she could think of nothing so
piquant as how to obtain the important instrument.
When Tabitha Lark arrived at the Great House next day, instead of finding
Lady Constantine in bed, as formerly, she discovered her in the library,
poring over what astronomical works she had been able to unearth from the
worm-eaten shelves. As these publications were, for a science of such
rapid development, somewhat venerable, there was not much help of a
practical kind to be gained from them. Nevertheless, the equatorial
retained a hold upon her fancy, till she became as eager to see one on
the Rings-Hill column as Swithin himself.
The upshot of it was that Lady Constantine sent a messenger that evening
to Welland Bottom, where the homestead of Swithin's grandmother was
situated, requesting the young man's presence at the house at twelve
o'clock next day.
He hurriedly returned an obedient reply, and the promise was enough to
lend great freshness to her manner next morning, instead of the leaden
air which was too frequent with her before the sun reached the meridian,
and sometimes after. Swithin had, in fact, arisen as an attractive
little intervention between herself and despair.
A fog defaced all the trees of the park that morning, the white
atmosphere adhered to the ground like a fungoid growth from it, and made
the turfed undulations look slimy and raw. But Lady Constantine settled
down in her chair to await the coming of the late curate's son with a
serenity which the vast blanks outside could neither baffle nor destroy.
At two minutes to twelve the door-bell rang, and a look overspread the
lady's face that was neither maternal, sisterly, nor amorous; but partook
in an indescribable manner of all three kinds. The door was flung open
and the young man was ushered in, the fog still clinging to his hair, in
which she could discern a little notch where she had nipped off the curl.
A speechlessness that socially was a defect in him was to her view a
piquant attribute just now. He looked somewhat alarmed.
'Lady Constantine, have I done anything, that you have sent--?' he began
breathlessly, as he gazed in her face, with parted lips.
'O no, of course not! I have decided to do something,--nothing more,'
she smilingly said, holding out her hand, which he rather gingerly
touched. 'Don't look so concerned. Who makes equatorials?'
This remark was like the drawing of a weir-hatch and she was speedily
inundated with all she wished to know concerning astronomical opticians.
When he had imparted the particulars he waited, manifestly burning to
know whither these inquiries tended.
'I am not going to buy you one,' she said gently.
He looked as if he would faint.
'Certainly not. I do not wish it. I--could not have accepted it,'
faltered the young man.
'But I am going to buy one for myself. I lack a hobby, and I shall
choose astronomy. I shall fix my equatorial on the column.'
Swithin brightened up.
'And I shall let you have the use of it whenever you choose. In brief,
Swithin St. Cleeve shall be Lady Constantine's Astronomer Royal; and
'Shall be his Queen.' The words came not much the worse for being
uttered only in the tone of one anxious to complete a tardy sentence.
'Well, that's what I have decided to do,' resumed Lady Constantine. 'I
will write to these opticians at once.'
There seemed to be no more for him to do than to thank her for the
privilege, whenever it should be available, which he promptly did, and
then made as if to go. But Lady Constantine detained him with, 'Have you
ever seen my library?'
'You don't say you would like to see it.'
'But I should.'
'It is the third door on the right. You can find your way in, and you
can stay there as long as you like.'
Swithin then left the morning-room for the apartment designated, and
amused himself in that 'soul of the house,' as Cicero defined it, till he
heard the lunch bell sounding from the turret, when he came down from the
library steps, and thought it time to go home. But at that moment a
servant entered to inquire whether he would or would not prefer to have
his lunch brought in to him there; upon his replying in the affirmative a
large tray arrived on the stomach of a footman, and Swithin was greatly
surprised to see a whole pheasant placed at his disposal.
Having breakfasted at eight that morning, and having been much in the
open air afterwards, the Adonis-astronomer's appetite assumed grand
proportions. How much of that pheasant he might consistently eat without
hurting his dear patroness Lady Constantine's feelings, when he could
readily eat it all, was a problem in which the reasonableness of a larger
and larger quantity argued itself inversely as a smaller and smaller
quantity remained. When, at length, he had finally decided on a terminal
point in the body of the bird, the door was gently opened.
'Oh, you have not finished?' came to him over his shoulder, in a
'O yes, thank you, Lady Constantine,' he said, jumping up.
'Why did you prefer to lunch in this awkward, dusty place?'
'I thought--it would be better,' said Swithin simply.
'There is fruit in the other room, if you like to come. But perhaps you
would rather not?'
'O yes, I should much like to,' said Swithin, walking over his napkin,
and following her as she led the way to the adjoining apartment.
Here, while she asked him what he had been reading, he modestly ventured
on an apple, in whose flavour he recognized the familiar taste of old
friends robbed from her husband's orchards in his childhood, long before
Lady Constantine's advent on the scene. She supposed he had confined his
search to his own sublime subject, astronomy?
Swithin suddenly became older to the eye, as his thoughts reverted to the
topic thus reintroduced. 'Yes,' he informed her. 'I seldom read any
other subject. In these days the secret of productive study is to avoid
'Did you find any good treatises?'
'None. The theories in your books are almost as obsolete as the
Ptolemaic System. Only fancy, that magnificent Cyclopaedia,
leather-bound, and stamped, and gilt, and wide margined, and bearing the
blazon of your house in magnificent colours, says that the twinkling of
the stars is probably caused by heavenly bodies passing in front of them
in their revolutions.'
'And is it not so? That was what I learned when I was a girl.'
The modern Eudoxus now rose above the embarrassing horizon of Lady
Constantine's great house, magnificent furniture, and awe-inspiring
footman. He became quite natural, all his self-consciousness fled, and
his eye spoke into hers no less than his lips to her ears, as he said,
'How such a theory can have lingered on to this day beats conjecture!
Francois Arago, as long as forty or fifty years ago, conclusively
established the fact that scintillation is the simplest thing in the
world,--merely a matter of atmosphere. But I won't speak of this to you
now. The comparative absence of scintillation in warm countries was
noticed by Humboldt. Then, again, the scintillations vary. No star
flaps his wings like Sirius when he lies low! He flashes out emeralds
and rubies, amethystine flames and sapphirine colours, in a manner quite
marvellous to behold, and this is only one star! So, too, do Arcturus,
and Capella, and lesser luminaries. . . . But I tire you with this
'On the contrary, you speak so beautifully that I could listen all day.'
The astronomer threw a searching glance upon her for a moment; but there
was no satire in the warm soft eyes which met his own with a luxurious
contemplative interest. 'Say some more of it to me,' she continued, in a
voice not far removed from coaxing.
After some hesitation the subject returned again to his lips, and he said
some more--indeed, much more; Lady Constantine often throwing in an
appreciative remark or question, often meditatively regarding him, in
pursuance of ideas not exactly based on his words, and letting him go on
as he would.
Before he left the house the new astronomical project was set in train.
The top of the column was to be roofed in, to form a proper observatory;
and on the ground that he knew better than any one else how this was to
be carried out, she requested him to give precise directions on the
point, and to superintend the whole. A wooden cabin was to be erected at
the foot of the tower, to provide better accommodation for casual
visitors to the observatory than the spiral staircase and lead-flat
afforded. As this cabin would be completely buried in the dense fir
foliage which enveloped the lower part of the column and its pedestal, it
would be no disfigurement to the general appearance. Finally, a path was
to be made across the surrounding fallow, by which she might easily
approach the scene of her new study.
When he was gone she wrote to the firm of opticians concerning the
equatorial for whose reception all this was designed.
The undertaking was soon in full progress; and by degrees it became the
talk of the hamlets round that Lady Constantine had given up melancholy
for astronomy, to the great advantage of all who came in contact with
her. One morning, when Tabitha Lark had come as usual to read, Lady
Constantine chanced to be in a quarter of the house to which she seldom
wandered; and while here she heard her maid talking confidentially to
Tabitha in the adjoining room on the curious and sudden interest which
Lady Constantine had acquired in the moon and stars.
'They do say all sorts of trumpery,' observed the handmaid. 'They
say--though 'tis little better than mischief, to be sure--that it isn't
the moon, and it isn't the stars, and it isn't the plannards, that my
lady cares for, but for the pretty lad who draws 'em down from the sky to
please her; and being a married example, and what with sin and shame
knocking at every poor maid's door afore you can say, "Hands off, my
dear," to the civilest young man, she ought to set a better pattern.'
Lady Constantine's face flamed up vividly.
'If Sir Blount were to come back all of a sudden--oh, my!'
Lady Constantine grew cold as ice.
'There's nothing in it,' said Tabitha scornfully. 'I could prove it any
'Well, I wish I had half her chance!' sighed the lady's maid. And no
more was said on the subject then.
Tabitha's remark showed that the suspicion was quite in embryo as yet.
Nevertheless, saying nothing to reveal what she had overheard,
immediately after the reading Lady Constantine flew like a bird to where
she knew that Swithin might be found.
He was in the plantation, setting up little sticks to mark where the
wooden cabin was to stand. She called him to a remote place under the
'I have altered my mind,' she said. 'I can have nothing to do with this
'Indeed?' said Swithin, surprised.
'Astronomy is not my hobby any longer. And you are not my Astronomer
'O Lady Constantine!' cried the youth, aghast. 'Why, the work is begun!
I thought the equatorial was ordered.'
She dropped her voice, though a Jericho shout would not have been
overheard: 'Of course astronomy is my hobby privately, and you are to be
my Astronomer Royal, and I still furnish the observatory; but not to the
outer world. There is a reason against my indulgence in such scientific
fancies openly; and the project must be arranged in this wise. The whole
enterprise is yours: you rent the tower of me: you build the cabin: you
get the equatorial. I simply give permission, since you desire it. The
path that was to be made from the hill to the park is not to be thought
of. There is to be no communication between the house and the column.
The equatorial will arrive addressed to you, and its cost I will pay
through you. My name must not appear, and I vanish entirely from the
undertaking. . . . This blind is necessary,' she added, sighing. 'Good-
'But you do take as much interest as before, and it will be yours
just the same?' he said, walking after her. He scarcely comprehended the
subterfuge, and was absolutely blind as to its reason.
'Can you doubt it? But I dare not do it openly.'
With this she went away; and in due time there circulated through the
parish an assertion that it was a mistake to suppose Lady Constantine had
anything to do with Swithin St. Cleeve or his star-gazing schemes. She
had merely allowed him to rent the tower of her for use as his
observatory, and to put some temporary fixtures on it for that purpose.
After this Lady Constantine lapsed into her former life of loneliness;
and by these prompt measures the ghost of a rumour which had barely
started into existence was speedily laid to rest. It had probably
originated in her own dwelling, and had gone but little further. Yet,
despite her self-control, a certain north window of the Great House, that
commanded an uninterrupted view of the upper ten feet of the column,
revealed her to be somewhat frequently gazing from it at a rotundity
which had begun to appear on the summit. To those with whom she came
contact she sometimes addressed such remarks as, 'Is young Mr. St. Cleeve
getting on with his observatory? I hope he will fix his instruments
without damaging the column, which is so interesting to us as being in
memory of my dear husband's great-grandfather--a truly brave man.'
On one occasion her building-steward ventured to suggest to her that, Sir
Blount having deputed to her the power to grant short leases in his
absence, she should have a distinctive agreement with Swithin, as between
landlord and tenant, with a stringent clause against his driving nails
into the stonework of such an historical memorial. She replied that she
did not wish to be severe on the last representative of such old and
respected parishioners as St. Cleeve's mother's family had been, and of
such a well-descended family as his father's; so that it would only be
necessary for the steward to keep an eye on Mr. St. Cleeve's doings.
Further, when a letter arrived at the Great House from Hilton and Pimm's,
the opticians, with information that the equatorial was ready and packed,
and that a man would be sent with it to fix it, she replied to that firm
to the effect that their letter should have been addressed to Mr. St.
Cleeve, the local astronomer, on whose behalf she had made the inquiries;
that she had nothing more to do with the matter; that he would receive
the instrument and pay the bill,--her guarantee being given for the
Lady Constantine then had the pleasure of beholding a waggon, laden with
packing-cases, moving across the field towards the pillar; and not many
days later Swithin, who had never come to the Great House since the
luncheon, met her in a path which he knew to be one of her promenades.
'The equatorial is fixed, and the man gone,' he said, half in doubt as to
his speech, for her commands to him not to recognize her agency or
patronage still puzzled him. 'I respectfully wish--you could come and
see it, Lady Constantine.'
'I would rather not; I cannot.'
'Saturn is lovely; Jupiter is simply sublime; I can see double stars in
the Lion and in the Virgin, where I had seen only a single one before. It
is all I required to set me going!'
'I'll come. But--you need say nothing about my visit. I cannot come to-
night, but I will some time this week. Yet only this once, to try the
instrument. Afterwards you must be content to pursue your studies
Swithin seemed but little affected at this announcement. 'Hilton and
Pimm's man handed me the bill,' he continued.
'How much is it?'
He told her. 'And the man who has built the hut and dome, and done the
other fixing, has sent in his.' He named this amount also.
'Very well. They shall be settled with. My debts must be paid with my
money, which you shall have at once,--in cash, since a cheque would
hardly do. Come to the house for it this evening. But no, no--you must
not come openly; such is the world. Come to the window--the window that
is exactly in a line with the long snowdrop bed, in the south front--at
eight to-night, and I will give you what is necessary.'
'Certainly, Lady Constantine,' said the young man.
At eight that evening accordingly, Swithin entered like a spectre upon
the terrace to seek out the spot she had designated. The equatorial had
so entirely absorbed his thoughts that he did not trouble himself
seriously to conjecture the why and wherefore of her secrecy. If he
casually thought of it, he set it down in a general way to an intensely
generous wish on her part not to lessen his influence among the poorer
inhabitants by making him appear the object of patronage.
While he stood by the long snowdrop bed, which looked up at him like a
nether Milky Way, the French casement of the window opposite softly
opened, and a hand bordered by a glimmer of lace was stretched forth,
from which he received a crisp little parcel,--bank-notes, apparently. He
knew the hand, and held it long enough to press it to his lips, the only
form which had ever occurred to him of expressing his gratitude to her
without the incumbrance of clumsy words, a vehicle at the best of times
but rudely suited to such delicate merchandise. The hand was hastily
withdrawn, as if the treatment had been unexpected. Then seemingly
by second thoughts she bent forward and said, 'Is the night good for
She paused. 'Then I'll come to-night,' she at last said. 'It makes no
difference to me, after all. Wait just one moment.'
He waited, and she presently emerged, muffled up like a nun; whereupon
they left the terrace and struck across the park together.
Very little was said by either till they were crossing the fallow, when
he asked if his arm would help her. She did not take the offered support
just then; but when they were ascending the prehistoric earthwork, under
the heavy gloom of the fir-trees, she seized it, as if rather influenced
by the oppressive solitude than by fatigue.
Thus they reached the foot of the column, ten thousand spirits in prison
seeming to gasp their griefs from the funereal boughs overhead, and a few
twigs scratching the pillar with the drag of impish claws as tenacious as
those figuring in St. Anthony's temptation.
'How intensely dark it is just here!' she whispered. 'I wonder you can
keep in the path. Many ancient Britons lie buried there doubtless.'
He led her round to the other side, where, feeling his way with his
hands, he suddenly left her, appearing a moment after with a light.
'What place is this?' she exclaimed.
'This is the new wood cabin,' said he.
She could just discern the outline of a little house, not unlike a
bathing-machine without wheels.
'I have kept lights ready here,' he went on, 'as I thought you might come
any evening, and possibly bring company.'
'Don't criticize me for coming alone,' she exclaimed with sensitive
promptness. 'There are social reasons for what I do of which you know
'Perhaps it is much to my discredit that I don't know.'
'Not at all. You are all the better for it. Heaven forbid that I should
enlighten you. Well, I see this is the hut. But I am more curious to go
to the top of the tower, and make discoveries.'
He brought a little lantern from the cabin, and lighted her up the
winding staircase to the temple of that sublime mystery on whose
threshold he stood as priest.
The top of the column was quite changed. The tub-shaped space within the
parapet, formerly open to the air and sun, was now arched over by a light
dome of lath-work covered with felt. But this dome was not fixed. At
the line where its base descended to the parapet there were half a dozen
iron balls, precisely like cannon-shot, standing loosely in a groove, and
on these the dome rested its whole weight. In the side of the dome was a
slit, through which the wind blew and the North Star beamed, and towards
it the end of the great telescope was directed. This latter magnificent
object, with its circles, axes, and handles complete, was securely fixed
in the middle of the floor.
'But you can only see one part of the sky through that slit,' said she.
The astronomer stretched out his arm, and the whole dome turned
horizontally round, running on the balls with a rumble like thunder.
Instead of the star Polaris, which had first been peeping in through the
slit, there now appeared the countenances of Castor and Pollux. Swithin
then manipulated the equatorial, and put it through its capabilities in
She was enchanted; being rather excitable she even clapped her hands just
once. She turned to him: 'Now are you happy?'
'But it is all yours, Lady Constantine.'
'At this moment. But that's a defect which can soon be remedied. When
is your birthday?'
'Next month,--the seventh.'
'Then it shall all be yours,--a birthday present.'
The young man protested; it was too much.
'No, you must accept it all,--equatorial, dome stand, hut, and everything
that has been put here for this astronomical purpose. The possession of
these apparatus would only compromise me. Already they are reputed to be
yours, and they must be made yours. There is no help for it. If ever'
(here her voice lost some firmness),--'if ever you go away from me,--from
this place, I mean,--and marry, and settle in a new home elsewhere for
good, and forget me, you must take these things, equatorial and all, and
never tell your wife or anybody how they came to be yours.'
'I wish I could do something more for you!' exclaimed the much-moved
astronomer. 'If you could but share my fame,--supposing I get any, which
I may die before doing,--it would be a little compensation. As to my
going away and marrying, I certainly shall not. I may go away, but I
shall never marry.'
'A beloved science is enough wife for me,--combined, perhaps, with a
little warm friendship with one of kindred pursuits.'
'Who is the friend of kindred pursuits?'
'Yourself I should like it to be.'
'You would have to become a woman before I could be that, publicly; or I
a man,' she replied, with dry melancholy.
'Why I a woman, or you a man, dear Lady Constantine?'
'I cannot explain. No; you must keep your fame and your science all to
yourself, and I must keep my--troubles.'
Swithin, to divert her from melancholy--not knowing that in the
expression of her melancholy thus and now she found much
pleasure,--changed the subject by asking if they should take some
'Yes; the scenery is well hung to-night,' she said looking out upon the
Then they proceeded to scan the sky, roving from planet to star, from
single stars to double stars, from double to coloured stars, in the
cursory manner of the merely curious. They plunged down to that at other
times invisible multitude in the back rows of the celestial theatre:
remote layers of constellations whose shapes were new and singular;
pretty twinklers which for infinite ages had spent their beams without
calling forth from a single earthly poet a single line, or being able to
bestow a ray of comfort on a single benighted traveller.
'And to think,' said Lady Constantine, 'that the whole race of shepherds,
since the beginning of the world,--even those immortal shepherds who
watched near Bethlehem,--should have gone into their graves without
knowing that for one star that lighted them in their labours, there were
a hundred as good behind trying to do so! . . . I have a feeling for
this instrument not unlike the awe I should feel in the presence of a
great magician in whom I really believed. Its powers are so enormous,
and weird, and fantastical, that I should have a personal fear in being
with it alone. Music drew an angel down, said the poet: but what is that
to drawing down worlds!'
'I often experience a kind of fear of the sky after sitting in the
observing-chair a long time,' he answered. 'And when I walk home
afterwards I also fear it, for what I know is there, but cannot see, as
one naturally fears the presence of a vast formless something that only
reveals a very little of itself. That's partly what I meant by saying
that magnitude, which up to a certain point has grandeur, has beyond it
Thus the interest of their sidereal observations led them on, till the
knowledge that scarce any other human vision was travelling within a
hundred million miles of their own gave them such a sense of the
isolation of that faculty as almost to be a sense of isolation in respect
of their whole personality, causing a shudder at its absoluteness. At
night, when human discords and harmonies are hushed, in a general sense,
for the greater part of twelve hours, there is nothing to moderate the
blow with which the infinitely great, the stellar universe, strikes down
upon the infinitely little, the mind of the beholder; and this was the
case now. Having got closer to immensity than their fellow-creatures,
they saw at once its beauty and its frightfulness. They more and more
felt the contrast between their own tiny magnitudes and those among which
they had recklessly plunged, till they were oppressed with the presence
of a vastness they could not cope with even as an idea, and which hung
about them like a nightmare.
He stood by her while she observed; she by him when they changed places.
Once that Swithin's emancipation from a trammelling body had been
effected by the telescope, and he was well away in space, she felt her
influence over him diminishing to nothing. He was quite unconscious of
his terrestrial neighbourings, and of herself as one of them. It still
further reduced her towards unvarnished simplicity in her manner to him.
The silence was broken only by the ticking of the clock-work which gave
diurnal motion to the instrument. The stars moved on, the end of the
telescope followed, but their tongues stood still. To expect that he was
ever voluntarily going to end the pause by speech was apparently futile.
She laid her hand upon his arm.
He started, withdrew his eye from the telescope, and brought himself back
to the earth by a visible--almost painful--effort.
'Do come out of it,' she coaxed, with a softness in her voice which any
man but unpractised Swithin would have felt to be exquisite. 'I feel
that I have been so foolish as to put in your hands an instrument to
effect my own annihilation. Not a word have you spoken for the last ten
'I have been mentally getting on with my great theory. I hope soon to be
able to publish it to the world. What, are you going? I will walk with
you, Lady Constantine. When will you come again?'
'When your great theory is published to the world.'
Lady Constantine, if narrowly observed at this time, would have seemed to
be deeply troubled in conscience, and particularly after the interview
above described. Ash Wednesday occurred in the calendar a few days
later, and she went to morning service with a look of genuine contrition
on her emotional and yearning countenance.
Besides herself the congregation consisted only of the parson, clerk,
school-children, and three old people living on alms, who sat under the
reading-desk; and thus, when Mr. Torkingham blazed forth the
sentences of the Commination, nearly the whole force of them seemed to
descend upon her own shoulders. Looking across the empty pews she saw
through the one or two clear panes of the window opposite a youthful
figure in the churchyard, and the very feeling against which she had
tried to pray returned again irresistibly.
When she came out and had crossed into the private walk, Swithin came
forward to speak to her. This was a most unusual circumstance, and
argued a matter of importance.
'I have made an amazing discovery in connexion with the variable stars,'
he exclaimed. 'It will excite the whole astronomical world, and the
world outside but little less. I had long suspected the true secret of
their variability; but it was by the merest chance on earth that I hit
upon a proof of my guess. Your equatorial has done it, my good, kind
Lady Constantine, and our fame is established for ever!'
He sprang into the air, and waved his hat in his triumph.
'Oh, I am so glad--so rejoiced!' she cried. 'What is it? But don't stop
to tell me. Publish it at once in some paper; nail your name to it, or
somebody will seize the idea and appropriate it,--forestall you in some
way. It will be Adams and Leverrier over again.'
'If I may walk with you I will explain the nature of the discovery. It
accounts for the occasional green tint of Castor, and every difficulty. I
said I would be the Copernicus of the stellar system, and I have begun to
be. Yet who knows?'
'Now don't be so up and down! I shall not understand your explanation,
and I would rather not know it. I shall reveal it if it is very grand.
Women, you know, are not safe depositaries of such valuable secrets. You
may walk with me a little way, with great pleasure. Then go and write
your account, so as to insure your ownership of the discovery. . . . But
how you have watched!' she cried, in a sudden accession of anxiety, as
she turned to look more closely at him. 'The orbits of your eyes are
leaden, and your eyelids are red and heavy. Don't do it--pray don't. You
will be ill, and break down.'
'I have, it is true, been up a little late this last week,' he said
cheerfully. 'In fact, I couldn't tear myself away from the equatorial;
it is such a wonderful possession that it keeps me there till daylight.
But what does that matter, now I have made the discovery?'
'Ah, it does matter! Now, promise me--I insist--that you will not
commit such imprudences again; for what should I do if my Astronomer
Royal were to die?'
She laughed, but far too apprehensively to be effective as a display of
They parted, and he went home to write out his paper. He promised to
call as soon as his discovery was in print. Then they waited for the
It is impossible to describe the tremulous state of Lady Constantine
during the interval. The warm interest she took in Swithin St.
Cleeve--many would have said dangerously warm interest--made his hopes
her hopes; and though she sometimes admitted to herself that great
allowance was requisite for the overweening confidence of youth in the
future, she permitted herself to be blinded to probabilities for the
pleasure of sharing his dreams. It seemed not unreasonable to suppose
the present hour to be the beginning of realization to her darling wish
that this young man should become famous. He had worked hard, and why
should he not be famous early? His very simplicity in mundane affairs
afforded a strong presumption that in things celestial he might be wise.
To obtain support for this hypothesis she had only to think over the
lives of many eminent astronomers.
She waited feverishly for the flourish of trumpets from afar, by which
she expected the announcement of his discovery to be greeted. Knowing
that immediate intelligence of the outburst would be brought to her by
himself, she watched from the windows of the Great House each morning for
a sight of his figure hastening down the glade.
But he did not come.
A long array of wet days passed their dreary shapes before her, and made
the waiting still more tedious. On one of these occasions she ran across
to the tower, at the risk of a severe cold. The door was locked.
Two days after she went again. The door was locked still. But this was
only to be expected in such weather. Yet she would have gone on to his
house, had there not been one reason too many against such precipitancy.
As astronomer and astronomer there was no harm in their meetings; but as
woman and man she feared them.
Ten days passed without a sight of him; ten blurred and dreary days,
during which the whole landscape dripped like a mop; the park trees
swabbed the gravel from the drive, while the sky was a zinc-coloured
archi-vault of immovable cloud. It seemed as if the whole science of
astronomy had never been real, and that the heavenly bodies, with their
motions, were as theoretical as the lines and circles of a bygone
She could content herself no longer with fruitless visits to the column,
and when the rain had a little abated she walked to the nearest hamlet,
and in a conversation with the first old woman she met contrived to lead
up to the subject of Swithin St. Cleeve by talking about his grandmother.
'Ah, poor old heart; 'tis a bad time for her, my lady!' exclaimed the
'Her grandson is dying; and such a gentleman through and through!'
'What! . . . Oh, it has something to do with that dreadful discovery!'
'Discovery, my lady?'
She left the old woman with an evasive answer, and with a breaking heart
crept along the road. Tears brimmed into her eyes as she walked, and by
the time that she was out of sight sobs burst forth tumultuously.
'I am too fond of him!' she moaned; 'but I can't help it; and I don't
care if it's wrong,--I don't care!'
Without further considerations as to who beheld her doings she
instinctively went straight towards Mrs. Martin's. Seeing a man coming
she calmed herself sufficiently to ask him through her dropped veil how
poor Mr. St. Cleeve was that day. But she only got the same reply: 'They
say he is dying, my lady.'
When Swithin had parted from Lady Constantine, on the previous
Ash-Wednesday, he had gone straight to the homestead and prepared his
account of 'A New Astronomical Discovery.' It was written perhaps in too
glowing a rhetoric for the true scientific tone of mind; but there was no
doubt that his assertion met with a most startling aptness all the
difficulties which had accompanied the received theories on the phenomena
attending those changeable suns of marvellous systems so far away. It
accounted for the nebulous mist that surrounds some of them at their
weakest time; in short, took up a position of probability which has never
yet been successfully assailed.
The papers were written in triplicate, and carefully sealed up with blue
wax. One copy was directed to Greenwich, another to the Royal Society,
another to a prominent astronomer. A brief statement of the essence of
the discovery was also prepared for the leading daily paper.
He considered these documents, embodying as they did two years of his
constant thought, reading, and observation, too important to be entrusted
for posting to the hands of a messenger; too important to be sent to the
sub-post-office at hand. Though the day was wet, dripping wet, he went
on foot with them to a chief office, five miles off, and registered them.
Quite exhausted by the walk, after his long night-work, wet through, yet
sustained by the sense of a great achievement, he called at a
bookseller's for the astronomical periodicals to which he subscribed;
then, resting for a short time at an inn, he plodded his way homewards,
reading his papers as he went, and planning how to enjoy a repose on his
laurels of a week or more.
On he strolled through the rain, holding the umbrella vertically over the
exposed page to keep it dry while he read. Suddenly his eye was struck
by an article. It was the review of a pamphlet by an American
astronomer, in which the author announced a conclusive discovery with
regard to variable stars.
The discovery was precisely the discovery of Swithin St. Cleeve. Another
man had forestalled his fame by a period of about six weeks.
Then the youth found that the goddess Philosophy, to whom he had vowed
dedicate his whole life, would not in return support him through a single
hour of despair. In truth, the impishness of circumstance was newer to
him than it would have been to a philosopher of threescore-and-ten. In a
wild wish for annihilation he flung himself down on a patch of heather
that lay a little removed from the road, and in this humid bed remained
motionless, while time passed by unheeded.
At last, from sheer misery and weariness, he fell asleep.
The March rain pelted him mercilessly, the beaded moisture from the
heavily charged locks of heath penetrated him through back and sides, and
clotted his hair to unsightly tags and tufts. When he awoke it was dark.
He thought of his grandmother, and of her possible alarm at missing him.
On attempting to rise, he found that he could hardly bend his joints, and
that his clothes were as heavy as lead from saturation. His teeth
chattering and his knees trembling he pursued his way home, where his
appearance excited great concern. He was obliged at once to retire to
bed, and the next day he was delirious from the chill.
It was about ten days after this unhappy occurrence that Lady Constantine
learnt the news, as above described, and hastened along to the homestead
in that state of anguish in which the heart is no longer under the
control of the judgment, and self-abandonment even to error, verges on
On reaching the house in Welland Bottom the door was opened to her by old
Hannah, who wore an assiduously sorrowful look; and Lady Constantine
shown into the large room,--so wide that the beams bent in the
middle,--where she took her seat in one of a methodic range of chairs,
beneath a portrait of the Reverend Mr. St. Cleeve, her astronomer's
The eight unwatered dying plants, in the row of eight flower-pots,
denoted that there was something wrong in the house. Mrs. Martin came
downstairs fretting, her wonder at beholding Lady Constantine not
altogether displacing the previous mood of grief.
'Here's a pretty kettle of fish, my lady!' she exclaimed.
Lady Constantine said, 'Hush!' and pointed inquiringly upward.
'He is not overhead, my lady,' replied Swithin's grandmother. 'His
bedroom is at the back of the house.'
'How is he now?'
'He is better, just at this moment; and we are more hopeful. But he
'May I go up? I know he would like to see me.'
Her presence having been made known to the sufferer, she was conducted
upstairs to Swithin's room. The way thither was through the large
chamber he had used as a study and for the manufacture of optical
instruments. There lay the large pasteboard telescope, that had been
just such a failure as Crusoe's large boat; there were his diagrams,
maps, globes, and celestial apparatus of various sorts. The absence of
the worker, through illness or death is sufficient to touch the prosiest
workshop and tools with the hues of pathos, and it was with a swelling
bosom that Lady Constantine passed through this arena of his youthful
activities to the little chamber where he lay.
Old Mrs. Martin sat down by the window, and Lady Constantine bent over
'Don't speak to me!' she whispered. 'It will weaken you; it will excite
you. If you do speak, it must be very softly.'
She took his hand, and one irrepressible tear fell upon it.
'Nothing will excite me now, Lady Constantine,' he said; 'not even your
goodness in coming. My last excitement was when I lost the battle. . . .
Do you know that my discovery has been forestalled? It is that that's
'But you are going to recover; you are better, they say. Is it so?'
'I think I am, to-day. But who can be sure?'
'The poor boy was so upset at finding that his labour had been thrown
away,' said his grandmother, 'that he lay down in the rain, and chilled
his life out.'
'How could you do it?' Lady Constantine whispered. 'O, how could you
think so much of renown, and so little of me? Why, for every discovery
made there are ten behind that await making. To commit suicide like
this, as if there were nobody in the world to care for you!'
'It was done in my haste, and I am very, very sorry for it! I beg both
you and all my few friends never, never to forgive me! It would kill me
with self-reproach if you were to pardon my rashness!'
At this moment the doctor was announced, and Mrs. Martin went
to receive him. Lady Constantine thought she would remain to hear his
report, and for this purpose withdrew, and sat down in a nook of the
adjoining work-room of Swithin, the doctor meeting her as he passed
through it into the sick chamber.
He was there a torturingly long time; but at length he came out to the
room she waited in, and crossed it on his way downstairs. She rose and
followed him to the stairhead.
'How is he?' she anxiously asked. 'Will he get over it?'
The doctor, not knowing the depth of her interest in the patient, spoke
with the blunt candour natural towards a comparatively indifferent
'No, Lady Constantine,' he replied; 'there's a change for the worse.'
And he retired down the stairs.
Scarcely knowing what she did Lady Constantine ran back to Swithin's
side, flung herself upon the bed and in a paroxysm of sorrow kissed him.
The placid inhabitants of the parish of Welland, including warbling
waggoners, lone shepherds, ploughmen, the blacksmith, the carpenter, the
gardener at the Great House, the steward and agent, the parson, clerk,
and so on, were hourly expecting the announcement of St. Cleeve's death.
The sexton had been going to see his brother-in-law, nine miles distant,
but promptly postponed the visit for a few days, that there might be the
regular professional hand present to toll the bell in a note of due
fulness and solemnity; an attempt by a deputy, on a previous occasion of
his absence, having degenerated into a miserable stammering clang that
was a disgrace to the parish.
But Swithin St. Cleeve did not decease, a fact of which, indeed, the
habituated reader will have been well aware ever since the rain came down
upon the young man in the ninth chapter, and led to his alarming illness.
Though, for that matter, so many maimed histories are hourly enacting
themselves in this dun-coloured world as to lend almost a priority of
interest to narratives concerning those
'Who lay great bases for eternity
Which prove more short than waste or ruining.'
How it arose that he did not die was in this wise; and his example
affords another instance of that reflex rule of the vassal soul over the
sovereign body, which, operating so wonderfully in elastic natures, and
more or less in all, originally gave rise to the legend that supremacy
lay on the other side.
The evening of the day after the tender, despairing, farewell kiss of
Lady Constantine, when he was a little less weak than during her visit,
he lay with his face to the window. He lay alone, quiet and resigned. He
had been thinking, sometimes of her and other friends, but chiefly of his
lost discovery. Although nearly unconscious at the time, he had yet been
aware of that kiss, as the delicate flush which followed it upon his
cheek would have told; but he had attached little importance to it as
between woman and man. Had he been dying of love instead of wet
perhaps the impulsive act of that handsome lady would have been seized on
as a proof that his love was returned. As it was her kiss seemed but the
evidence of a naturally demonstrative kindliness, felt towards him
chiefly because he was believed to be leaving her for ever.
The reds of sunset passed, and dusk drew on. Old Hannah came upstairs
pull down the blinds and as she advanced to the window he said to her, in
a faint voice, 'Well, Hannah, what news to-day?'
'Oh, nothing, sir,' Hannah replied, looking out of the window with sad
apathy, 'only that there's a comet, they say.'
'A WHAT?' said the dying astronomer, starting up on his elbow.
'A comet--that's all, Master Swithin,' repeated Hannah, in a lower voice,
fearing she had done harm in some way.
'Well, tell me, tell me!' cried Swithin. 'Is it Gambart's? Is it
Charles the Fifth's, or Halley's, or Faye's, or whose?'
'Hush!' said she, thinking St. Cleeve slightly delirious again. ''Tis
God A'mighty's, of course. I haven't seed en myself, but they say he's
getting bigger every night, and that he'll be the biggest one known for
fifty years when he's full growed. There, you must not talk any more
now, or I'll go away.'
Here was an amazing event, little noise as it had made in the happening.
Of all phenomena that he had longed to witness during his short
astronomical career, those appertaining to comets had excited him most.
That the magnificent comet of 1811 would not return again for thirty
centuries had been quite a permanent regret with him. And now, when the
bottomless abyss of death seemed yawning beneath his feet, one of these
much-desired apparitions, as large, apparently, as any of its tribe, had
chosen to show itself.
'O, if I could but live to see that comet through my equatorial!' he
Compared with comets, variable stars, which he had hitherto made his
study, were, from their remoteness, uninteresting. They were to the
former as the celebrities of Ujiji or Unyamwesi to the celebrities of his
own country. Members of the solar system, these dazzling and perplexing
rangers, the fascination of all astronomers, rendered themselves still
more fascinating by the sinister suspicion attaching to them of being
possibly the ultimate destroyers of the human race. In his physical
prostration St. Cleeve wept bitterly at not being hale and strong enough
to welcome with proper honour the present specimen of these desirable
The strenuous wish to live and behold the new phenomenon, supplanting
utter weariness of existence that he had heretofore experienced, gave him
a new vitality. The crisis passed; there was a turn for the better; and
after that he rapidly mended. The comet had in all probability saved his
life. The limitless and complex wonders of the sky resumed their old
power over his imagination; the possibilities of that unfathomable blue
ocean were endless. Finer feats than ever he would perform were to be
achieved in its investigation. What Lady Constantine had said, that for
one discovery made ten awaited making, was strikingly verified by the
sudden appearance of this splendid marvel.
The windows of St. Cleeve's bedroom faced the west, and nothing would
satisfy him but that his bed should be so pulled round as to give him a
view of the low sky, in which the as yet minute tadpole of fire was
recognizable. The mere sight of it seemed to lend him sufficient
resolution to complete his own cure forthwith. His only fear now was
lest, from some unexpected cause or other, the comet would vanish before
he could get to the observatory on Rings-Hill Speer.
In his fervour to begin observing he directed that an old telescope,
which he had used in his first celestial attempts, should be tied at one
end to the bed-post, and at the other fixed near his eye as he reclined.
Equipped only with this rough improvisation he began to take notes. Lady
Constantine was forgotten, till one day, suddenly, wondering if she knew
of the important phenomenon, he revolved in his mind whether as a fellow-
student and sincere friend of his she ought not to be sent for, and
instructed in the use of the equatorial.
But though the image of Lady Constantine, in spite of her kindness and
unmistakably warm heart, had been obscured in his mind by the heavenly
body, she had not so readily forgotten him. Too shy to repeat her visit
after so nearly betraying her secret, she yet, every day, by the most
ingenious and subtle means that could be devised by a woman who feared
for herself, but could not refrain from tampering with danger,
ascertained the state of her young friend's health. On hearing of the
turn in his condition she rejoiced on his account, and became yet more
despondent on her own. If he had died she might have mused on him as
dear departed saint without much sin: but his return to life was a
delight that bewildered and dismayed.
One evening a little later on he was sitting at his bedroom window as
usual, waiting for a sufficient decline of light to reveal the comet's
form, when he beheld, crossing the field contiguous to the house, a
figure which he knew to be hers. He thought she must be coming to see
him on the great comet question, to discuss which with so delightful and
kind a comrade was an expectation full of pleasure. Hence he keenly
observed her approach, till something happened that surprised him.
When, at the descent of the hill, she had reached the stile that admitted
to Mrs. Martin's garden, Lady Constantine stood quite still for a minute
or more, her gaze bent on the ground. Instead of coming on to the house
she went heavily and slowly back, almost as if in pain; and then at
length, quickening her pace, she was soon out of sight. She appeared in
the path no more that day.
Why had Lady Constantine stopped and turned?
A misgiving had taken sudden possession of her. Her true sentiment
towards St. Cleeve was too recognizable by herself to be tolerated.
That she had a legitimate interest in him as a young astronomer was true;
that her sympathy on account of his severe illness had been natural and
commendable was also true. But the superfluous feeling was what filled
her with trepidation.
Superfluities have been defined as things you cannot do without, and this
particular emotion, that came not within her rightful measure, was in
danger of becoming just such a superfluity with her. In short, she felt
there and then that to see St. Cleeve again would be an impropriety; and
by a violent effort she retreated from his precincts, as he had observed.
She resolved to ennoble her conduct from that moment of her life onwards.
She would exercise kind patronage towards Swithin without once indulging
herself with his company. Inexpressibly dear to her deserted heart he
was becoming, but for the future he should at least be hidden from her
eyes. To speak plainly, it was growing a serious question whether, if he
were not hidden from her eyes, she would not soon be plunging across the
ragged boundary which divides the permissible from the forbidden.
By the time that she had drawn near home the sun was going down. The
heavy, many-chevroned church, now subdued by violet shadow except
its upper courses caught the western stroke of flame-colour, stood close
to her grounds, as in many other parishes, though the village of which it
formerly was the nucleus had become quite depopulated: its cottages had
been demolished to enlarge the park, leaving the old building to stand
there alone, like a standard without an army.
It was Friday night, and she heard the organist practising voluntaries
within. The hour, the notes, the even-song of the birds, and her own
previous emotions, combined to influence her devotionally. She entered,
turning to the right and passing under the chancel arch, where she sat
down and viewed the whole empty length, east and west. The semi-Norman
arches of the nave, with their multitudinous notchings, were still
visible by the light from the tower window, but the lower portion of the
building was in obscurity, except where the feeble glimmer from the
candle of the organist spread a glow-worm radiance around. The player,
who was Miss Tabitha Lark, continued without intermission to produce her
wandering sounds, unconscious of any one's presence except that of the
youthful blower at her side.
The rays from the organist's candle illuminated but one small fragment of
the chancel outside the precincts of the instrument, and that was the
portion of the eastern wall whereon the ten commandments were inscribed.
The gilt letters shone sternly into Lady Constantine's eyes; and she,
being as impressionable as a turtle-dove, watched a certain one of those
commandments on the second table, till its thunder broke her spirit with
She knelt down, and did her utmost to eradicate those impulses towards
St. Cleeve which were inconsistent with her position as the wife of an
absent man, though not unnatural in her as his victim.
She knelt till she seemed scarcely to belong to the time she lived in,
which lost the magnitude that the nearness of its perspective lent it on
ordinary occasions, and took its actual rank in the long line of other
centuries. Having once got out of herself, seen herself from afar off,
she was calmer, and went on to register a magnanimous vow. She would
look about for some maiden fit and likely to make St. Cleeve happy; and
this girl she would endow with what money she could afford, that the
natural result of their apposition should do him no worldly harm. The
interest of her, Lady Constantine's, life should be in watching the
development of love between Swithin and the ideal maiden. The very
painfulness of the scheme to her susceptible heart made it pleasing to
her conscience; and she wondered that she had not before this time
thought of a stratagem which united the possibility of benefiting the
astronomer with the advantage of guarding against peril to both Swithin
and herself. By providing for him a suitable helpmate she would preclude
the dangerous awakening in him of sentiments reciprocating her own.
Arrived at a point of exquisite misery through this heroic intention,
Lady Constantine's tears moistened the books upon which her forehead was
bowed. And as she heard her feverish heart throb against the desk, she
firmly believed the wearing impulses of that heart would put an end to
her sad life, and momentarily recalled the banished image of St. Cleeve
to apostrophise him in thoughts that paraphrased the quaint lines of
Heine's Lieb' Liebchen:--
'Dear my love, press thy hand to my breast, and tell
If thou tracest the knocks in that narrow cell;
A carpenter dwells there; cunning is he,
And slyly he's shaping a coffin for me!'
Lady Constantine was disturbed by a break in the organist's meandering
practice, and raising her head she saw a person standing by the player.
It was Mr. Torkingham, and what he said was distinctly audible. He was
inquiring for herself.
'I thought I saw Lady Constantine walk this way,' he rejoined to
Tabitha's negative. 'I am very anxious indeed to meet with her.'
She went forward. 'I am here,' she said. 'Don't stop playing, Miss
Lark. What is it, Mr. Torkingham?'
Tabitha thereupon resumed her playing, and Mr. Torkingham joined Lady
'I have some very serious intelligence to break to your ladyship,' he
said. 'But--I will not interrupt you here.' (He had seen her rise from
her knees to come to him.) 'I will call at the House the first moment
you can receive me after reaching home.'
'No, tell me here,' she said, seating herself.
He came close, and placed his hand on the poppy-head of the seat.
'I have received a communication,' he resumed haltingly, 'in which I am
requested to prepare you for the contents of a letter that you will
receive to-morrow morning.'
'I am quite ready.'
'The subject is briefly this, Lady Constantine: that you have been a
widow for more than eighteen months.'
'Yes. Sir Blount was attacked by dysentery and malarious fever, on the
banks of the Zouga in South Africa, so long ago as last October
twelvemonths, and it carried him off. Of the three men who were with
him, two succumbed to the same illness, a hundred miles further on; while
the third, retracing his steps into a healthier district, remained there
with a native tribe, and took no pains to make the circumstances known.
It seems to be only by the mere accident of his having told some third
party that we know of the matter now. This is all I can tell you at
She was greatly agitated for a few moments; and the Table of the Law
opposite, which now seemed to appertain to another dispensation,
glistened indistinctly upon a vision still obscured by the old tears.
'Shall I conduct you home?' asked the parson.
'No thank you,' said Lady Constantine. 'I would rather go alone.'
On the afternoon of the next day Mr. Torkingham, who occasionally dropped
in to see St. Cleeve, called again as usual; after duly remarking on the
state of the weather, congratulating him on his sure though slow
improvement, and answering his inquiries about the comet, he said, 'You
have heard, I suppose, of what has happened to Lady Constantine?'
'No! Nothing serious?'
'Yes, it is serious.' The parson informed him of the death of Sir
Blount, and of the accidents which had hindered all knowledge of the
same,--accidents favoured by the estrangement of the pair and the
cessation of correspondence between them for some time.
His listener received the news with the concern of a friend, Lady
Constantine's aspect in his eyes depending but little on her condition
'There was no attempt to bring him home when he died?'
'O no. The climate necessitates instant burial. We shall have more
particulars in a day or two, doubtless.'
'Poor Lady Constantine,--so good and so sensitive as she is! I suppose
she is quite prostrated by the bad news.'
'Well, she is rather serious,--not prostrated. The household is going
'Ah, no, she would not be quite prostrated,' murmured Swithin,
recollecting himself. 'He was unkind to her in many ways. Do you think
she will go away from Welland?'
That the vicar could not tell. But he feared that Sir Blount's affairs
had been in a seriously involved condition, which might necessitate many
and unexpected changes.
Time showed that Mr. Torkingham's surmises were correct.
During the long weeks of early summer, through which the young man still
lay imprisoned, if not within his own chamber, within the limits of the
house and garden, news reached him that Sir Blount's mismanagement and
eccentric behaviour were resulting in serious consequences to Lady
Constantine; nothing less, indeed, than her almost complete
impoverishment. His personalty was swallowed up in paying his debts, and
the Welland estate was so heavily charged with annuities to his distant
relatives that only a mere pittance was left for her. She was reducing
the establishment to the narrowest compass compatible with decent
gentility. The horses were sold one by one; the carriages also; the
greater part of the house was shut up, and she resided in the smallest
rooms. All that was allowed to remain of her former contingent of male
servants were an odd man and a boy. Instead of using a carriage she now
drove about in a donkey-chair, the said boy walking in front to clear the
way and keep the animal in motion; while she wore, so his informants
reported, not an ordinary widow's cap or bonnet, but something even
plainer, the black material being drawn tightly round her face, giving
her features a small, demure, devout cast, very pleasing to the eye.
'Now, what's the most curious thing in this, Mr. San Cleeve,' said Sammy
Blore, who, in calling to inquire after Swithin's health, had imparted
some of the above particulars, 'is that my lady seems not to mind being a
pore woman half so much as we do at seeing her so. 'Tis a wonderful
gift, Mr. San Cleeve, wonderful, to be able to guide yerself, and not let
loose yer soul in blasting at such a misfortune. I should go and drink
neat regular, as soon as I had swallered my breakfast, till my innerds
was burnt out like a' old copper, if it had happened to me; but my lady's
plan is best. Though I only guess how one feels in such losses, to be
sure, for I never had nothing to lose.'
Meanwhile the observatory was not forgotten; nor that visitant of
singular shape and habits which had appeared in the sky from no one knew
whence, trailing its luminous streamer, and proceeding on its way in the
face of a wondering world, till it should choose to vanish as suddenly as
it had come.
When, about a month after the above dialogue took place, Swithin was
allowed to go about as usual, his first pilgrimage was to the Rings-Hill
Speer. Here he studied at leisure what he had come to see.
On his return to the homestead, just after sunset, he found his
grandmother and Hannah in a state of great concern. The former was
looking out for him against the evening light, her face showing itself
worn and rutted, like an old highway, by the passing of many days. Her
information was that in his absence Lady Constantine had called in her
driving-chair, to inquire for him. Her ladyship had wished to observe
the comet through the great telescope, but had found the door locked when
she applied at the tower. Would he kindly leave the door unfastened to-
morrow, she had asked, that she might be able to go to the column on the
following evening for the same purpose? She did not require him to
During the next day he sent Hannah with the key to Welland House, not
caring to leave the tower open. As evening advanced and the comet grew
distinct, he doubted if Lady Constantine could handle the telescope alone
with any pleasure or profit to herself. Unable, as a devotee to science,
to rest under this misgiving, he crossed the field in the furrow that he
had used ever since the corn was sown, and entered the plantation. His
unpractised mind never once guessed that her stipulations against his
coming might have existed along with a perverse hope that he would come.
On ascending he found her already there. She sat in the observing-chair:
the warm light from the west, which flowed in through the opening of the
dome, brightened her face, and her face only, her robes of sable lawn
rendering the remainder of her figure almost invisible.
'You have come!' she said with shy pleasure. 'I did not require you. But
never mind.' She extended her hand cordially to him.
Before speaking he looked at her with a great new interest in his eye. It
was the first time that he had seen her thus, and she was altered in more
than dress. A soberly-sweet expression sat on her face. It was of a
rare and peculiar shade--something that he had never seen before in
'Have you nothing to say?' she continued. 'Your footsteps were audible
to me from the very bottom, and I knew they were yours. You look almost
'I am almost restored,' he replied, respectfully pressing her hand. 'A
reason for living arose, and I lived.'
'What reason?' she inquired, with a rapid blush.
He pointed to the rocket-like object in the western sky.
'Oh, you mean the comet. Well, you will never make a courtier! You
know, of course, what has happened to me; that I have no longer a
husband--have had none for a year and a half. Have you also heard that I
am now quite a poor woman? Tell me what you think of it.'
'I have thought very little of it since I heard that you seemed to mind
poverty but little. There is even this good in it, that I may now be
able to show you some little kindness for all those you have done me, my
'Unless for economy's sake, I go and live abroad, at Dinan, Versailles,
Swithin, who had never thought of such a contingency, was earnest in his
regrets; without, however, showing more than a sincere friend's
'I did not say it was absolutely necessary,' she continued. 'I have, in
fact, grown so homely and home-loving, I am so interested in the place
and the people here, that, in spite of advice, I have almost determined
not to let the house; but to continue the less business-like but
pleasanter alternative of living humbly in a part of it, and shutting up
'Your love of astronomy is getting as strong as mine!' he said ardently.
'You could not tear yourself away from the observatory!'
'You might have supposed me capable of a little human feeling as well as
scientific, in connection with the observatory.'
'Dear Lady Constantine, by admitting that your astronomer has also a part
of your interest--'
'Ah, you did not find it out without my telling!' she said, with a
playfulness which was scarcely playful, a new accession of pinkness being
visible in her face. 'I diminish myself in your esteem by reminding
'You might do anything in this world without diminishing yourself in my
esteem, after the goodness you have shown. And more than that, no
misrepresentation, no rumour, no damning appearance whatever would ever
shake my loyalty to you.'
'But you put a very matter-of-fact construction on my motives sometimes.
You see me in such a hard light that I have to drop hints in quite a
manoeuvring manner to let you know I am as sympathetic as other people. I
sometimes think you would rather have me die than have your equatorial
stolen. Confess that your admiration for me was based on my house and
position in the county! Now I am shorn of all that glory, such as it
was, and am a widow, and am poorer than my tenants, and can no longer
telescopes, and am unable, from the narrowness of my circumstances, to
mix in circles that people formerly said I adorned, I fear I have lost
the little hold I once had over you.'
'You are as unjust now as you have been generous hitherto,' said St.
Cleeve, with tears in his eyes at the gentle banter of the lady, which
he, poor innocent, read as her real opinions. Seizing her hand he
continued, in tones between reproach and anger, 'I swear to you that I
have but two devotions, two thoughts, two hopes, and two blessings in
this world, and that one of them is yourself!'
'And the other?'
'The pursuit of astronomy.'
'And astronomy stands first.'
'I have never ordinated two such dissimilar ideas. And why should you
deplore your altered circumstances, my dear lady? Your widowhood, if I
may take the liberty to speak on such a subject, is, though I suppose a
sadness, not perhaps an unmixed evil. For though your pecuniary troubles
have been discovered to the world and yourself by it, your happiness in
marriage was, as you have confided to me, not great; and you are now left
free as a bird to follow your own hobbies.'
'I wonder you recognize that.'
'But perhaps,' he added, with a sigh of regret, 'you will again fall a
prey to some man, some uninteresting country squire or other, and be lost
to the scientific world after all.'
'If I fall a prey to any man, it will not be to a country squire. But
don't go on with this, for heaven's sake! You may think what you like in
'We are forgetting the comet,' said St. Cleeve. He turned, and set the
instrument in order for observation, and wheeled round the dome.
While she was looking at the nucleus of the fiery plume, that now filled
so large a space of the sky as completely to dominate it, Swithin dropped
his gaze upon the field, and beheld in the dying light a number of
labourers crossing directly towards the column.
'What do you see?' Lady Constantine asked, without ceasing to observe the
'Some of the work-folk are coming this way. I know what they are coming
for,--I promised to let them look at the comet through the glass.'
'They must not come up here,' she said decisively.
'They shall await your time.'
'I have a special reason for wishing them not to see me here. If you ask
why, I can tell you. They mistakenly suspect my interest to be less in
astronomy than in the astronomer, and they must have no showing for such
a wild notion. What can you do to keep them out?'
'I'll lock the door,' said Swithin. 'They will then think I am away.' He
ran down the staircase, and she could hear him hastily turning the key.
Lady Constantine sighed.
'What weakness, what weakness!' she said to herself. 'That envied power
of self-control, where is it? That power of concealment which a woman
should have--where? To run such risks, to come here alone,--oh, if it
were known! But I was always so,--always!'
She jumped up, and followed him downstairs.
He was standing immediately inside the door at the bottom, though it was
so dark she could hardly see him. The villagers were audibly talking
'He's sure to come, rathe or late,' resounded up the spiral in the vocal
note of Hezzy Biles. 'He wouldn't let such a fine show as the comet
makes to-night go by without peeping at it,--not Master Cleeve! Did ye
bring along the flagon, Haymoss? Then we'll sit down inside his little
board-house here, and wait. He'll come afore bed-time. Why, his spy-
glass will stretch out that there comet as long as Welland Lane!'
'I'd as soon miss the great peep-show that comes every year to Greenhill
Fair as a sight of such a immortal spectacle as this!' said Amos Fry.
'"Immortal spectacle,"--where did ye get that choice mossel, Haymoss?'
inquired Sammy Blore. 'Well, well, the Lord save good scholars--and take
just a bit o' care of them that bain't! As 'tis so dark in the hut,
suppose we draw out the bench into the front here, souls?'
The bench was accordingly brought forth, and in order to have a back to
lean against, they placed it exactly across the door into the spiral
'Now, have ye got any backy? If ye haven't, I have,' continued Sammy
Blore. A striking of matches followed, and the speaker concluded
comfortably, 'Now we shall do very well.'
'And what do this comet mean?' asked Haymoss. 'That some great tumult is
going to happen, or that we shall die of a famine?'
'Famine--no!' said Nat Chapman. 'That only touches such as we, and the
Lord only consarns himself with born gentlemen. It isn't to be supposed
that a strange fiery lantern like that would be lighted up for folks with
ten or a dozen shillings a week and their gristing, and a load o' thorn
faggots when we can get 'em. If 'tis a token that he's getting hot about
the ways of anybody in this parish, 'tis about my Lady Constantine's,
since she is the only one of a figure worth such a hint.'
'As for her income,--that she's now lost.'
'Ah, well; I don't take in all I hear.'
Lady Constantine drew close to St. Cleeve's side, and whispered,
trembling, 'Do you think they will wait long? Or can we get out?'
Swithin felt the awkwardness of the situation. The men had placed the
bench close to the door, which, owing to the stairs within, opened
outwards; so that at the first push by the pair inside to release
themselves the bench must have gone over, and sent the smokers sprawling
on their faces. He whispered to her to ascend the column and wait till
'And have the dead man left her nothing? Hey? And have he carried his
inheritance into's grave? And will his skeleton lie warm on account o't?
Hee-hee!' said Haymoss.
''Tis all swallered up,' observed Hezzy Biles. 'His goings-on made her
miserable till 'a died, and if I were the woman I'd have my randys now.
He ought to have bequeathed to her our young gent, Mr. St. Cleeve, as
some sort of amends. I'd up and marry en, if I were she; since her
downfall has brought 'em quite near together, and made him as good as she
in rank, as he was afore in bone and breeding.'
'D'ye think she will?' asked Sammy Blore. 'Or is she meaning to enter
upon a virgin life for the rest of her days?'
'I don't want to be unreverent to her ladyship; but I really don't think
she is meaning any such waste of a Christian carcase. I say she's rather
meaning to commit flat matrimony wi' somebody or other, and one young
gentleman in particular.'
'But the young man himself?'
'Planned, cut out, and finished for the delight of 'ooman!'
'Yet he must be willing.'
'That would soon come. If they get up this tower ruling plannards
together much longer, their plannards will soon rule them together, in my
way o' thinking. If she've a disposition towards the knot, she can soon
'True, true, and lawfully. What before mid ha' been a wrong desire is
now a holy wish!'
The scales fell from Swithin St. Cleeve's eyes as he heard the words of
his neighbours. How suddenly the truth dawned upon him; how it
bewildered him, till he scarcely knew where he was; how he recalled the
full force of what he had only half apprehended at earlier times,
particularly of that sweet kiss she had impressed on his lips when she
supposed him dying,--these vivid realizations are difficult to tell in
slow verbiage. He could remain there no longer, and with an electrified
heart he retreated up the spiral.
He found Lady Constantine half way to the top, standing by a loop-hole;
and when she spoke he discovered that she was almost in tears. 'Are they
gone?' she asked.
'I fear they will not go yet,' he replied, with a nervous fluctuation of
manner that had never before appeared in his bearing towards her.
'What shall I do?' she asked. 'I ought not to be here; nobody knows that
I am out of the house. Oh, this is a mistake! I must go home somehow.'
'Did you hear what they were saying?'
'No,' said she. 'What is the matter? Surely you are disturbed? What
did they say?'
'It would be the exaggeration of frankness in me to tell you.'
'Is it what a woman ought not to be made acquainted with?'
'It is, in this case. It is so new and so indescribable an idea to
me--that'--he leant against the concave wall, quite tremulous with
strange incipient sentiments.
'What sort of an idea?' she asked gently.
'It is--an awakening. In thinking of the heaven above, I did not
'The better heaven beneath. Pray, dear Lady Constantine, give me your
hand for a moment.'
She seemed startled, and the hand was not given.
'I am so anxious to get home,' she repeated. 'I did not mean to stay
here more than five minutes!'
'I fear I am much to blame for this accident,' he said. 'I ought not to
have intruded here. But don't grieve! I will arrange for your escape,
somehow. Be good enough to follow me down.'
They redescended, and, whispering to Lady Constantine to remain a few
stairs behind, he began to rattle and unlock the door.
The men precipitately removed their bench, and Swithin stepped out, the
light of the summer night being still enough to enable them to
'Well, Hezekiah, and Samuel, and Nat, how are you?' he said boldly.
'Well, sir, 'tis much as before wi' me,' replied Nat. 'One hour a week
wi' God A'mighty and the rest with the devil, as a chap may say. And
really, now yer poor father's gone, I'd as lief that that Sunday hour
should pass like the rest; for Pa'son Tarkenham do tease a feller's
conscience that much, that church is no hollerday at all to the limbs, as
it was in yer reverent father's time! But we've been waiting here, Mr.
San Cleeve, supposing ye had not come.'
'I have been staying at the top, and fastened the door not to be
disturbed. Now I am sorry to disappoint you, but I have another
engagement this evening, so that it would be inconvenient to admit you.
To-morrow evening, or any evening but this, I will show you the comet and
any stars you like.'
They readily agreed to come the next night, and prepared to depart. But
what with the flagon, and the pipes, and the final observations, getting
away was a matter of time. Meanwhile a cloud, which nobody had noticed,
arose from the north overhead, and large drops of rain began to fall so
rapidly that the conclave entered the hut till it should be over. St.
Cleeve strolled off under the firs.
The next moment there was a rustling through the trees at another point,
and a man and woman appeared. The woman took shelter under a tree,
the man, bearing wraps and umbrellas, came forward.
'My lady's man and maid,' said Sammy.
'Is her ladyship here?' asked the man.
'No. I reckon her ladyship keeps more kissable company,' replied Nat
'Pack o' stuff!' said Blore.
'Not here? Well, to be sure! We can't find her anywhere in the wide
house! I've been sent to look for her with these overclothes and
umbrella. I've suffered horse-flesh traipsing up and down, and can't
find her nowhere. Lord, Lord, where can she be, and two months' wages
owing to me!'
'Why so anxious, Anthony Green, as I think yer name is shaped? You be
not a married man?' said Hezzy.
''Tis what they call me, neighbours, whether or no.'
'But surely you was a bachelor chap by late, afore her ladyship got rid
of the regular servants and took ye?'
'I were; but that's past!'
'And how came ye to bow yer head to 't, Anthony? 'Tis what you never was
inclined to. You was by no means a doting man in my time.'
'Well, had I been left to my own free choice, 'tis as like as not I
should ha' shunned forming such kindred, being at that time a poor day
man, or weekly, at my highest luck in hiring. But 'tis wearing work to
hold out against the custom of the country, and the woman wanting ye to
stand by her and save her from unborn shame; so, since common usage
have it, I let myself be carried away by opinion, and took her. Though
she's never once thanked me for covering her confusion, that's true! But,
'tis the way of the lost when safe, and I don't complain. Here she is,
just behind, under the tree, if you'd like to see her?--a very nice
homespun woman to look at, too, for all her few weather-stains. . . .
Well, well, where can my lady be? And I the trusty jineral man--'tis
more than my place is worth to lose her! Come forward, Christiana, and
talk nicely to the work-folk.'
While the woman was talking the rain increased so much that they all
retreated further into the hut. St. Cleeve, who had impatiently stood a
little way off, now saw his opportunity, and, putting in his head, said,
'The rain beats in; you had better shut the door. I must ascend and
close up the dome.'
Slamming the door upon them without ceremony he quickly went to Lady
Constantine in the column, and telling her they could now pass the
villagers unseen he gave her his arm. Thus he conducted her across the
front of the hut into the shadows of the firs.
'I will run to the house and harness your little carriage myself,' he
said tenderly. 'I will then take you home in it.'
'No; please don't leave me alone under these dismal trees!' Neither
would she hear of his getting her any wraps; and, opening her little
sunshade to keep the rain out of her face, she walked with him across the
insulating field, after which the trees of the park afforded her a
sufficient shelter to reach home without much damage.
Swithin was too greatly affected by what he had overheard to speak much
to her on the way, and protected her as if she had been a shorn lamb.
After a farewell which had more meaning than sound in it, he hastened
back to Rings-Hill Speer. The work-folk were still in the hut, and, by
dint of friendly converse and a sip at the flagon, had so cheered Mr. and
Mrs. Anthony Green that they neither thought nor cared what had become
St. Cleeve's sudden sense of new relations with that sweet patroness had
taken away in one half-hour his natural ingenuousness. Henceforth he
could act a part.
'I have made all secure at the top,' he said, putting his head into the
hut. 'I am now going home. When the rain stops, lock this door and
bring the key to my house.'
The laboured resistance which Lady Constantine's judgment had offered to
her rebellious affection ere she learnt that she was a widow, now passed
into a bashfulness that rendered her almost as unstable of mood as
before. But she was one of that mettle--fervid, cordial, and
spontaneous--who had not the heart to spoil a passion; and her affairs
having gone to rack and ruin by no fault of her own she was left to a
painfully narrowed existence which lent even something of rationality to
her attachment. Thus it was that her tender and unambitious soul found
comfort in her reverses.
As for St. Cleeve, the tardiness of his awakening was the natural result
of inexperience combined with devotion to a hobby. But, like a spring
bud hard in bursting, the delay was compensated by after speed. At once
breathlessly recognizing in this fellow-watcher of the skies a woman who
loved him, in addition to the patroness and friend, he truly translated
the nearly forgotten kiss she had given him in her moment of despair.
Lady Constantine, in being eight or nine years his senior, was an object
even better calculated to nourish a youth's first passion than a girl of
his own age, superiority of experience and ripeness of emotion exercising
the same peculiar fascination over him as over other young men in their
first ventures in this kind.
The alchemy which thus transmuted an abstracted astronomer into an
lover--and, must it be said, spoilt a promising young physicist to
produce a common-place inamorato--may be almost described as working
change in one short night. Next morning he was so fascinated with the
novel sensation that he wanted to rush off at once to Lady Constantine,
and say, 'I love you true!' in the intensest tones of his mental
condition, to register his assertion in her heart before any of those
accidents which 'creep in 'twixt vows, and change decrees of kings,'
should occur to hinder him. But his embarrassment at standing in a new
position towards her would not allow him to present himself at her door
in any such hurry. He waited on, as helplessly as a girl, for a chance
of encountering her.
But though she had tacitly agreed to see him on any reasonable occasion,
Lady Constantine did not put herself in his way. She even kept herself
out of his way. Now that for the first time he had learnt to feel a
strong impatience for their meeting, her shyness for the first time led
her to delay it. But given two people living in one parish, who long
from the depths of their hearts to be in each other's company, what
resolves of modesty, policy, pride, or apprehension will keep them for
any length of time apart?
One afternoon he was watching the sun from his tower, half echoing the
Greek astronomer's wish that he might be set close to that luminary for
the wonder of beholding it in all its glory, under the slight penalty of
being consumed the next instant. He glanced over the high-road between
the field and the park (which sublunary features now too often distracted
his attention from his telescope), and saw her passing along that way.
She was seated in the donkey-carriage that had now taken the place of her
landau, the white animal looking no larger than a cat at that distance.
The buttoned boy, who represented both coachman and footman, walked
alongside the animal's head at a solemn pace; the dog stalked at the
distance of a yard behind the vehicle, without indulging in a single
gambol; and the whole turn-out resembled in dignity a dwarfed state
Here was an opportunity but for two obstructions: the boy, who might be
curious; and the dog, who might bark and attract the attention of any
labourers or servants near. Yet the risk was to be run, and, knowing
that she would soon turn up a certain shady lane at right angles to the
road she had followed, he ran hastily down the staircase, crossed the
barley (which now covered the field) by the path not more than a foot
wide that he had trodden for himself, and got into the lane at the other
end. By slowly walking along in the direction of the turnpike-road he
soon had the satisfaction of seeing her coming. To his surprise he also
had the satisfaction of perceiving that neither boy nor dog was in her
They both blushed as they approached, she from sex, he from inexperience.
One thing she seemed to see in a moment, that in the interval of her
absence St. Cleeve had become a man; and as he greeted her with this new
and maturer light in his eyes she could not hide her embarrassment, or
meet their fire.
'I have just sent my page across to the column with your book on Cometary
Nuclei,' she said softly; 'that you might not have to come to the house
for it. I did not know I should meet you here.'
'Didn't you wish me to come to the house for it?'
'I did not, frankly. You know why, do you not?'
'Yes, I know. Well, my longing is at rest. I have met you again. But
are you unwell, that you drive out in this chair?'
'No; I walked out this morning, and am a little tired.'
'I have been looking for you night and day. Why do you turn your face
aside? You used not to be so.' Her hand rested on the side of the
chair, and he took it. 'Do you know that since we last met, I have been
thinking of you--daring to think of you--as I never thought of you
'Yes, I know it.'
'How did you know?'
'I saw it in your face when you came up.'
'Well, I suppose I ought not to think of you so. And yet, had I not
learned to, I should never fully have felt how gentle and sweet you are.
Only think of my loss if I had lived and died without seeing more in you
than in astronomy! But I shall never leave off doing so now. When you
talk I shall love your understanding; when you are silent I shall love
your face. But how shall I know that you care to be so much to me?'
Her manner was disturbed as she recognized the impending self-surrender,
which she knew not how to resist, and was not altogether at ease in
'O, Lady Constantine,' he continued, bending over her, 'give me some
proof more than mere seeming and inference, which are all I have at
present, that you don't think this I tell you of presumption in me! I
have been unable to do anything since I last saw you for pondering
uncertainly on this. Some proof, or little sign, that we are one in
A blush settled again on her face; and half in effort, half in
spontaneity, she put her finger on her cheek. He almost devotionally
kissed the spot.
'Does that suffice?' she asked, scarcely giving her words voice.
'Yes; I am convinced.'
'Then that must be the end. Let me drive on; the boy will be back again
soon.' She spoke hastily, and looked askance to hide the heat of her
'No; the tower door is open, and he will go to the top, and waste his
time in looking through the telescope.'
'Then you should rush back, for he will do some damage.'
'No; he may do what he likes, tinker and spoil the instrument, destroy my
papers,--anything, so that he will stay there and leave us alone.'
She glanced up with a species of pained pleasure.
'You never used to feel like that!' she said, and there was keen self-
reproach in her voice. 'You were once so devoted to your science that
the thought of an intruder into your temple would have driven you wild.
Now you don't care; and who is to blame? Ah, not you, not you!'
The animal ambled on with her, and he, leaning on the side of the little
vehicle, kept her company.
'Well, don't let us think of that,' he said. 'I offer myself and all my
energies, frankly and entirely, to you, my dear, dear lady, whose I shall
be always! But my words in telling you this will only injure my meaning
instead of emphasize it. In expressing, even to myself, my thoughts of
you, I find that I fall into phrases which, as a critic, I should
hitherto have heartily despised for their commonness. What's the use of
saying, for instance, as I have just said, that I give myself entirely to
you, and shall be yours always,--that you have my devotion, my highest
homage? Those words have been used so frequently in a flippant manner
that honest use of them is not distinguishable from the unreal.' He
turned to her, and added, smiling, 'Your eyes are to be my stars for the
'Yes, I know it,--I know it, and all you would say! I dreaded even while
I hoped for this, my dear young friend,' she replied, her eyes being full
of tears. 'I am injuring you; who knows that I am not ruining your
future,--I who ought to know better? Nothing can come of this, nothing
must,--and I am only wasting your time. Why have I drawn you off from a
grand celestial study to study poor lonely me? Say you will never
despise me, when you get older, for this episode in our lives. But you
will,--I know you will! All men do, when they have been attracted in
their unsuspecting youth, as I have attracted you. I ought to have kept
'What was that?'
'To bear anything rather than draw you from your high purpose; to be like
the noble citizen of old Greece, who, attending a sacrifice, let himself
be burnt to the bone by a coal that jumped into his sleeve rather than
disturb the sacred ceremony.'
'But can I not study and love both?'
'I hope so,--I earnestly hope so. But you'll be the first if you do, and
I am the responsible one if you do not.'
'You speak as if I were quite a child, and you immensely older. Why, how
old do you think I am? I am twenty.'
'You seem younger. Well, that's so much the better. Twenty sounds
strong and firm. How old do you think I am?'
'I have never thought of considering.' He innocently turned to
scrutinize her face. She winced a little. But the instinct was
premature. Time had taken no liberties with her features as yet; nor had
trouble very roughly handled her.
'I will tell you,' she replied, speaking almost with physical pain, yet
as if determination should carry her through. 'I am
eight-and-twenty--nearly--I mean a little more, a few months more. Am I
not a fearful deal older than you?'
'At first it seems a great deal,' he answered, musing. 'But it doesn't
seem much when one gets used to it.'
'Nonsense!' she exclaimed. 'It is a good deal.'
'Very well, then, sweetest Lady Constantine, let it be,' he said gently.
'You should not let it be! A polite man would have flatly contradicted
me. . . . O I am ashamed of this!' she added a moment after, with a
subdued, sad look upon the ground. 'I am speaking by the card of the
outer world, which I have left behind utterly; no such lip service is
known in your sphere. I care nothing for those things, really; but that
which is called the Eve in us will out sometimes. Well, we will forget
that now, as we must, at no very distant date, forget all the rest of
He walked beside her thoughtfully awhile, with his eyes also bent on the
road. 'Why must we forget it all?' he inquired.
'It is only an interlude.'
'An interlude! It is no interlude to me. O how can you talk so lightly
of this, Lady Constantine? And yet, if I were to go away from here, I
might, perhaps, soon reduce it to an interlude! Yes,' he resumed
impulsively, 'I will go away. Love dies, and it is just as well to
strangle it in its birth; it can only die once! I'll go.'
'No, no!' she said, looking up apprehensively. 'I misled you. It is no
interlude to me,--it is tragical. I only meant that from a worldly point
of view it is an interlude, which we should try to forget. But the world
is not all. You will not go away?'
But he continued drearily, 'Yes, yes, I see it all; you have enlightened
me. It will be hurting your prospects even more than mine, if I stay.
Now Sir Blount is dead, you are free again,--may marry where you will,
but for this fancy of ours. I'll leave Welland before harm comes of my
'Don't decide to do a thing so rash!' she begged, seizing his hand, and
looking miserable at the effect of her words. 'I shall have nobody left
in the world to care for! And now I have given you the great telescope,
and lent you the column, it would be ungrateful to go away! I was wrong;
believe me that I did not mean that it was a mere interlude to me. O
if you only knew how very, very far it is from that! It is my doubt of
the result to you that makes me speak so slightingly.'
They were now approaching cross-roads, and casually looking up they
beheld, thirty or forty yards beyond the crossing, Mr. Torkingham, who
was leaning over a gate, his back being towards them. As yet he had not
recognized their approach.
The master-passion had already supplanted St. Cleeve's natural
ingenuousness by subtlety.
'Would it be well for us to meet Mr. Torkingham just now?' he began.
'Certainly not,' she said hastily, and pulling the rein she instantly
drove down the right-hand road. 'I cannot meet anybody!' she murmured.
'Would it not be better that you leave me now?--not for my pleasure, but
that there may arise no distressing tales about us before we know--how to
act in this--this'--(she smiled faintly at him) 'heartaching extremity!'
They were passing under a huge oak-tree, whose limbs, irregular with
shoulders, knuckles, and elbows, stretched horizontally over the lane in
a manner recalling Absalom's death. A slight rustling was perceptible
amid the leafage as they drew out from beneath it, and turning up his
eyes Swithin saw that very buttoned page whose advent they had dreaded,
looking down with interest at them from a perch not much higher than a
yard above their heads. He had a bunch of oak-apples in one hand,
plainly the object of his climb, and was furtively watching Lady
Constantine with the hope that she might not see him. But that she had
already done, though she did not reveal it, and, fearing that the latter
words of their conversation had been overheard, they spoke not till they
had passed the next turning.
She stretched out her hand to his. 'This must not go on,' she said
imploringly. 'My anxiety as to what may be said of such methods of
meeting makes me too unhappy. See what has happened!' She could not
help smiling. 'Out of the frying-pan into the fire! After meanly
turning to avoid the parson we have rushed into a worse publicity. It is
too humiliating to have to avoid people, and lowers both you and me. The
only remedy is not to meet.'
'Very well,' said Swithin, with a sigh. 'So it shall be.'
And with smiles that might more truly have been tears they parted there
The summer passed away, and autumn, with its infinite suite of tints,
came creeping on. Darker grew the evenings, tearfuller the moonlights,
and heavier the dews. Meanwhile the comet had waxed to its largest
dimensions,--so large that not only the nucleus but a portion of the tail
had been visible in broad day. It was now on the wane, though every
night the equatorial still afforded an opportunity of observing the
singular object which would soon disappear altogether from the heavens
for perhaps thousands of years.
But the astronomer of the Rings-Hill Speer was no longer a match for his
celestial materials. Scientifically he had become but a dim vapour of
himself; the lover had come into him like an armed man, and cast out the
student, and his intellectual situation was growing a life-and-death
The resolve of the pair had been so far kept: they had not seen each
other in private for three months. But on one day in October he ventured
to write a note to her:--
'I can do nothing! I have ceased to study, ceased to observe. The
equatorial is useless to me. This affection I have for you absorbs my
life, and outweighs my intentions. The power to labour in this
grandest of fields has left me. I struggle against the weakness till
I think of the cause, and then I bless her. But the very desperation
of my circumstances has suggested a remedy; and this I would inform
you of at once.
'Can you come to me, since I must not come to you? I will wait to-
morrow night at the edge of the plantation by which you would enter to
the column. I will not detain you; my plan can be told in ten words.'
The night after posting this missive to her he waited at the spot
It was a melancholy evening for coming abroad. A blusterous wind had
risen during the day, and still continued to increase. Yet he stood
watchful in the darkness, and was ultimately rewarded by discerning a
shady muffled shape that embodied itself from the field, accompanied by
the scratching of silk over stubble. There was no longer any disguise as
to the nature of their meeting. It was a lover's assignation, pure and
simple; and boldly realizing it as such he clasped her in his arms.
'I cannot bear this any longer!' he exclaimed. 'Three months since I saw
you alone! Only a glimpse of you in church, or a bow from the distance,
in all that time! What a fearful struggle this keeping apart has been!'
'Yet I would have had strength to persist, since it seemed best,' she
murmured when she could speak, 'had not your words on your condition so
alarmed and saddened me. This inability of yours to work, or study, or
observe,--it is terrible! So terrible a sting is it to my conscience
that your hint about a remedy has brought me instantly.'
'Yet I don't altogether mind it, since it is you, my dear, who have
displaced the work; and yet the loss of time nearly distracts me, when I
have neither the power to work nor the delight of your company.'
'But your remedy! O, I cannot help guessing it! Yes; you are going
'Let us ascend the column; we can speak more at ease there. Then I will
explain all. I would not ask you to climb so high but the hut is not yet
He entered the cabin at the foot, and having lighted a small lantern,
conducted her up the hollow staircase to the top, where he closed the
slides of the dome to keep out the wind, and placed the observing-chair
'I can stay only five minutes,' she said, without sitting down. 'You
said it was important that you should see me, and I have come. I assure
you it is at a great risk. If I am seen here at this time I am ruined
for ever. But what would I not do for you? O Swithin, your remedy--is
it to go away? There is no other; and yet I dread that like death!'
'I can tell you in a moment, but I must begin at the beginning. All this
ruinous idleness and distraction is caused by the misery of our not being
able to meet with freedom. The fear that something may snatch you from
me keeps me in a state of perpetual apprehension.'
'It is too true also of me! I dread that some accident may happen, and
waste my days in meeting the trouble half-way.'
'So our lives go on, and our labours stand still. Now for the remedy.
Dear Lady Constantine, allow me to marry you.'
She started, and the wind without shook the building, sending up a yet
intenser moan from the firs.
'I mean, marry you quite privately. Let it make no difference whatever
to our outward lives for years, for I know that in my present position
you could not possibly acknowledge me as husband publicly. But by
marrying at once we secure the certainty that we cannot be divided by
accident, coaxing, or artifice; and, at ease on that point, I shall
embrace my studies with the old vigour, and you yours.'
Lady Constantine was so agitated at the unexpected boldness of such a
proposal from one hitherto so boyish and deferential that she sank into
the observing-chair, her intention to remain for only a few minutes being
She covered her face with her hands. 'No, no, I dare not!' she
'But is there a single thing else left to do?' he pleaded, kneeling down
beside her, less in supplication than in abandonment. 'What else can we
'Wait till you are famous.'
'But I cannot be famous unless I strive, and this distracting condition
prevents all striving!'
'Could you not strive on if I--gave you a promise, a solemn promise, to
be yours when your name is fairly well known?'
St. Cleeve breathed heavily. 'It will be a long, weary time,' he said.
'And even with your promise I shall work but half-heartedly. Every hour
of study will be interrupted with "Suppose this or this happens;"
"Suppose somebody persuades her to break her promise;" worse still,
"Suppose some rival maligns me, and so seduces her away." No, Lady
Constantine, dearest, best as you are, that element of distraction would
still remain, and where that is, no sustained energy is possible. Many
erroneous things have been written and said by the sages, but never did
they float a greater fallacy than that love serves as a stimulus to win
the loved one by patient toil.'
'I cannot argue with you,' she said weakly.
'My only possible other chance would lie in going away,' he resumed after
a moment's reflection, with his eyes on the lantern flame, which waved
and smoked in the currents of air that leaked into the dome from the
fierce wind-stream without. 'If I might take away the equatorial,
supposing it possible that I could find some suitable place for observing
in the southern hemisphere,--say, at the Cape,--I might be able to
apply myself to serious work again, after the lapse of a little time. The
southern constellations offer a less exhausted field for investigation. I
wonder if I might!'
'You mean,' she answered uneasily, 'that you might apply yourself to work
when your recollection of me began to fade, and my life to become a
matter of indifference to you? . . Yes, go! No,--I cannot bear it! The
remedy is worse than the disease. I cannot let you go away!'
'Then how can you refuse the only condition on which I can stay, without
ruin to my purpose and scandal to your name? Dearest, agree to my
proposal, as you love both me and yourself!'
He waited, while the fir-trees rubbed and prodded the base of the tower,
and the wind roared around and shook it; but she could not find words to
'Would to God,' he burst out, 'that I might perish here, like Winstanley
in his lighthouse! Then the difficulty would be solved for you.'
'You are so wrong, so very wrong, in saying so!' she exclaimed
passionately. 'You may doubt my wisdom, pity my short-sightedness; but
there is one thing you do know,--that I love you dearly!'
'You do,--I know it!' he said, softened in a moment. 'But it seems such
a simple remedy for the difficulty that I cannot see how you can mind
adopting it, if you care so much for me as I do for you.'
'Should we live . . . just as we are, exactly, . . . supposing I agreed?'
she faintly inquired.
'Yes, that is my idea.'
'Quite privately, you say. How could--the marriage be quite private?'
'I would go away to London and get a license. Then you could come to me,
and return again immediately after the ceremony. I could return at
leisure and not a soul in the world would know what had taken place.
Think, dearest, with what a free conscience you could then assist me in
my efforts to plumb these deeps above us! Any feeling that you may now
have against clandestine meetings as such would then be removed, and our
hearts would be at rest.'
There was a certain scientific practicability even in his love-making,
and it here came out excellently. But she sat on with suspended breath,
her heart wildly beating, while he waited in open-mouthed expectation.
Each was swayed by the emotion within them, much as the candle-flame
swayed by the tempest without. It was the most critical evening of their
The pale rays of the little lantern fell upon her beautiful face, snugly
and neatly bound in by her black bonnet; but not a beam of the lantern
leaked out into the night to suggest to any watchful eye that human life
at its highest excitement was beating within the dark and isolated tower;
for the dome had no windows, and every shutter that afforded an opening
for the telescope was hermetically closed. Predilections and misgivings
so equally strove within her still youthful breast that she could not
utter a word; her intention wheeled this way and that like the balance of
a watch. His unexpected proposition had brought about the smartest
encounter of inclination with prudence, of impulse with reserve, that she
had ever known.
Of all the reasons that she had expected him to give for his urgent
request to see her this evening, an offer of marriage was probably the
last. Whether or not she had ever amused herself with hypothetical
fancies on such a subject,--and it was only natural that she should
vaguely have done so,--the courage in her protege coolly to advance it,
without a hint from herself that such a proposal would be tolerated,
showed her that there was more in his character than she had reckoned on:
and the discovery almost frightened her. The humour, attitude, and tenor
of her attachment had been of quite an unpremeditated quality,
unsuggestive of any such audacious solution to their distresses as this.
'I repeat my question, dearest,' he said, after her long pause. 'Shall
it be done? Or shall I exile myself, and study as best I can, in some
distant country, out of sight and sound?'
'Are those the only alternatives? Yes, yes; I suppose they are!' She
waited yet another moment, bent over his kneeling figure, and kissed his
forehead. 'Yes; it shall be done,' she whispered. 'I will marry you.'
'My angel, I am content!'
He drew her yielding form to his heart, and her head sank upon his
shoulder, as he pressed his two lips continuously upon hers. To such had
the study of celestial physics brought them in the space of eight months,
one week, and a few odd days.
'I am weaker than you,--far the weaker,' she went on, her tears falling.
'Rather than lose you out of my sight I will marry without stipulation or
condition. But--I put it to your kindness--grant me one little request.'
He instantly assented.
'It is that, in consideration of my peculiar position in this county,--O,
you can't understand it!--you will not put an end to the absolute secrecy
of our relationship without my full assent. Also, that you will never
come to Welland House without first discussing with me the advisability
of the visit, accepting my opinion on the point. There, see how a timid
woman tries to fence herself in!'
'My dear lady-love, neither of those two high-handed courses should I
have taken, even had you not stipulated against them. The very essence
of our marriage plan is that those two conditions are kept. I see as
well as you do, even more than you do, how important it is that for the
present,--ay, for a long time hence--I should still be but the curate's
lonely son, unattached to anybody or anything, with no object of interest
but his science; and you the recluse lady of the manor, to whom he is
only an acquaintance.'
'See what deceits love sows in honest minds!'
'It would be a humiliation to you at present that I could not bear if a
marriage between us were made public; an inconvenience without any
'I am so glad you assume it without my setting it before you! Now I know
you are not only good and true, but politic and trustworthy.'
'Well, then, here is our covenant. My lady swears to marry me; I, in
return for such great courtesy, swear never to compromise her by
intruding at Welland House, and to keep the marriage concealed till I
have won a position worthy of her.'
'Or till I request it to be made known,' she added, possibly foreseeing a
contingency which had not occurred to him.
'Or till you request it,' he repeated.
'It is agreed,' murmured Lady Constantine,
After this there only remained to be settled between them the practical
details of the project.
These were that he should leave home in a couple of days, and take
lodgings either in the distant city of Bath or in a convenient suburb of
London, till a sufficient time should have elapsed to satisfy legal
requirements; that on a fine morning at the end of this time she should
hie away to the same place, and be met at the station by St. Cleeve,
armed with the marriage license; whence they should at once proceed to
the church fixed upon for the ceremony; returning home independently in
the course of the next two or three days.
While these tactics were under discussion the two-and-thirty winds of
heaven continued, as before, to beat about the tower, though their onsets
appeared to be somewhat lessening in force. Himself now calmed and
satisfied, Swithin, as is the wont of humanity, took serener views of
Nature's crushing mechanics without, and said, 'The wind doesn't seem
disposed to put the tragic period to our hopes and fears that I spoke of
in my momentary despair.'
'The disposition of the wind is as vicious as ever,' she answered,
looking into his face with pausing thoughts on, perhaps, other subjects
than that discussed. 'It is your mood of viewing it that has changed.
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."'
And, as if flatly to stultify Swithin's assumption, a circular hurricane,
exceeding in violence any that had preceded it, seized hold upon Rings-
Hill Speer at that moment with the determination of a conscious agent.
The first sensation of a resulting catastrophe was conveyed to their
intelligence by the flapping of the candle-flame against the
lantern-glass; then the wind, which hitherto they had heard rather than
felt, rubbed past them like a fugitive. Swithin beheld around and above
him, in place of the concavity of the dome, the open heaven, with its
racing clouds, remote horizon, and intermittent gleam of stars. The dome
that had covered the tower had been whirled off bodily; and they heard it
descend crashing upon the trees.
Finding himself untouched Swithin stretched out his arms towards Lady
Constantine, whose apparel had been seized by the spinning air, nearly
lifting her off her legs. She, too, was as yet unharmed. Each held the
other for a moment, when, fearing that something further would happen,
they took shelter in the staircase.
'Dearest, what an escape!' he said, still holding her.
'What is the accident?' she asked. 'Has the whole top really gone?'
'The dome has been blown off the roof.'
As soon as it was practicable he relit the extinguished lantern, and they
emerged again upon the leads, where the extent of the disaster became at
once apparent. Saving the absence of the enclosing hemisphere all
remained the same. The dome, being constructed of wood, was light by
comparison with the rest of the structure, and the wheels which allowed
it horizontal, or, as Swithin expressed it, azimuth motion, denied it a
firm hold upon the walls; so that it had been lifted off them like a
cover from a pot. The equatorial stood in the midst as it had stood
Having executed its grotesque purpose the wind sank to comparative
mildness. Swithin took advantage of this lull by covering up the
instruments with cloths, after which the betrothed couple prepared to go
But the events of the night had not yet fully disclosed themselves. At
this moment there was a sound of footsteps and a knocking at the door
'It can't be for me!' said Lady Constantine. 'I retired to my room
before leaving the house, and told them on no account to disturb me.'
She remained at the top while Swithin went down the spiral. In the gloom
he beheld Hannah.
'O Master Swithin, can ye come home! The wind have blowed down the
chimley that don't smoke, and the pinning-end with it; and the old
ancient house, that have been in your family so long as the memory of
man, is naked to the world! It is a mercy that your grammer were not
killed, sitting by the hearth, poor old soul, and soon to walk wi'
God,--for 'a 's getting wambling on her pins, Mr. Swithin, as aged folks
do. As I say, 'a was all but murdered by the elements, and doing no more
harm than the babes in the wood, nor speaking one harmful word. And the
fire and smoke were blowed all across house like a chapter in Revelation;
and your poor reverent father's features scorched to flakes, looking like
the vilest ruffian, and the gilt frame spoiled! Every flitch, every eye-
piece, and every chine is buried under the walling; and I fed them pigs
with my own hands, Master Swithin, little thinking they would come to
this end. Do ye collect yourself, Mr. Swithin, and come at once!'
'I will,--I will. I'll follow you in a moment. Do you hasten back again
When Hannah had departed the young man ran up to Lady Constantine, to
whom he explained the accident. After sympathizing with old Mrs. Martin
Lady Constantine added, 'I thought something would occur to mar our
'I am not quite sure of that yet.'
On a short consideration with him, she agreed to wait at the top of the
tower till he could come back and inform her if the accident were really
so serious as to interfere with his plan for departure. He then left
her, and there she sat in the dark, alone, looking over the parapet, and
straining her eyes in the direction of the homestead.
At first all was obscurity; but when he had been gone about ten minutes
lights began to move to and fro in the hollow where the house stood, and
shouts occasionally mingled with the wind, which retained some violence
yet, playing over the trees beneath her as on the strings of a lyre. But
not a bough of them was visible, a cloak of blackness covering everything
netherward; while overhead the windy sky looked down with a strange and
disguised face, the three or four stars that alone were visible being so
dissociated by clouds that she knew not which they were. Under any other
circumstances Lady Constantine might have felt a nameless fear in thus
sitting aloft on a lonely column, with a forest groaning under her feet,
and palaeolithic dead men feeding its roots; but the recent passionate
decision stirred her pulses to an intensity beside which the ordinary
tremors of feminine existence asserted themselves in vain. The
apocalyptic effect of the scene surrounding her was, indeed, not
inharmonious, and afforded an appropriate background to her intentions.
After what seemed to her an interminable space of time, quick steps in
the staircase became audible above the roar of the firs, and in a few
instants St. Cleeve again stood beside her.
The case of the homestead was serious. Hannah's account had not been
exaggerated in substance: the gable end of the house was open to the
garden; the joists, left without support, had dropped, and with them the
upper floor. By the help of some labourers, who lived near, and Lady
Constantine's man Anthony, who was passing at the time, the homestead
been propped up, and protected for the night by some rickcloths; but
Swithin felt that it would be selfish in the highest degree to leave two
lonely old women to themselves at this juncture. 'In short,' he
concluded despondently, 'I cannot go to stay in Bath or London just now;
perhaps not for another fortnight!'
'Never mind,' she said. 'A fortnight hence will do as well.'
'And I have these for you,' he continued. 'Your man Green was passing my
grandmother's on his way back from Warborne, where he had been, he says,
for any letters that had come for you by the evening post. As he stayed
to assist the other men I told him I would go on to your house with the
letters he had brought. Of course I did not tell him I should see you
'Thank you. Of course not. Now I'll return at once.'
In descending the column her eye fell upon the superscription of one of
the letters, and she opened and glanced over it by the lantern light. She
seemed startled, and, musing, said, 'The postponement of our--intention
must be, I fear, for a long time. I find that after the end of this
month I cannot leave home safely, even for a day.' Perceiving that he
was about to ask why, she added, 'I will not trouble you with the reason
now; it would only harass you. It is only a family business, and cannot
'Then we cannot be married till--God knows when!' said Swithin blankly.
'I cannot leave home till after the next week or two; you cannot leave
home unless within that time. So what are we to do?'
'I do not know.'
'My dear, dear one, don't let us be beaten like this! Don't let a well-
considered plan be overthrown by a mere accident! Here's a remedy. Do
you go and stay the requisite time in the parish we are to be married
in, instead of me. When my grandmother is again well housed I can come
to you, instead of you to me, as we first said. Then it can be done
within the time.'
Reluctantly, shyly, and yet with a certain gladness of heart, she gave
way to his proposal that they should change places in the programme.
There was much that she did not like in it, she said. It seemed to her
as if she were taking the initiative by going and attending to the
preliminaries. It was the man's part to do that, in her opinion, and was
usually undertaken by him.
'But,' argued Swithin, 'there are cases in which the woman does give the
notices, and so on; that is to say, when the man is absolutely hindered
from doing so; and ours is such a case. The seeming is nothing; I know
the truth, and what does it matter? You do not refuse--retract your word
to be my wife, because, to avoid a sickening delay, the formalities
require you to attend to them in place of me?'
She did not refuse, she said. In short she agreed to his entreaty. They
had, in truth, gone so far in their dream of union that there was no
drawing back now. Whichever of them was forced by circumstances to be
the protagonist in the enterprise, the thing must be done. Their
intention to become husband and wife, at first halting and timorous, had
accumulated momentum with the lapse of hours, till it now bore down every
obstacle in its course.
'Since you beg me to,--since there is no alternative between my going and
a long postponement,' she said, as they stood in the dark porch of
Welland House before parting,--'since I am to go first, and seem to be
the pioneer in this adventure, promise me, Swithin, promise your
Viviette, that in years to come, when perhaps you may not love me so
warmly as you do now--'
'That will never be.'
'Well, hoping it will not, but supposing it should, promise me that you
will never reproach me as the one who took the initiative when it should
have been yourself, forgetting that it was at your request; promise that
you will never say I showed immodest readiness to do so, or anything
which may imply your obliviousness of the fact that I act in obedience to
necessity and your earnest prayer.'
Need it be said that he promised never to reproach her with that or any
other thing as long as they should live? The few details of the reversed
arrangement were soon settled, Bath being the place finally decided on.
Then, with a warm audacity which events had encouraged, he pressed her
his breast, and she silently entered the house. He returned to the
homestead, there to attend to the unexpected duties of repairing the
havoc wrought by the gale.
* * * * *
That night, in the solitude of her chamber, Lady Constantine reopened and
read the subjoined letter--one of those handed to her by St. Cleeve:--
"--- STREET, PICCADILLY,
October 15, 18--.
'DEAR VIVIETTE,--You will be surprised to learn that I am in England,
and that I am again out of harness--unless you should have seen the
latter in the papers. Rio Janeiro may do for monkeys, but it won't do
for me. Having resigned the appointment I have returned here, as a
preliminary step to finding another vent for my energies; in other
words, another milch cow for my sustenance. I knew nothing whatever
of your husband's death till two days ago; so that any letter from you
on the subject, at the time it became known, must have miscarried.
Hypocrisy at such a moment is worse than useless, and I therefore do
not condole with you, particularly as the event, though new to a
banished man like me, occurred so long since. You are better without
him, Viviette, and are now just the limb for doing something for
yourself, notwithstanding the threadbare state in which you seem to
have been cast upon the world. You are still young, and, as I imagine
(unless you have vastly altered since I beheld you), good-looking:
therefore make up your mind to retrieve your position by a match with
one of the local celebrities; and you would do well to begin drawing
neighbouring covers at once. A genial squire, with more weight than
wit, more realty than weight, and more personalty than realty
(considering the circumstances), would be best for you. You might
make a position for us both by some such alliance; for, to tell the
truth, I have had but in-and-out luck so far. I shall be with you in
little more than a fortnight, when we will talk over the matter
seriously, if you don't object.--Your affectionate brother,
It was this allusion to her brother's coming visit which had caught her
eye in the tower staircase, and led to a modification in the wedding
Having read the letter through once Lady Constantine flung it aside with
an impatient little stamp that shook the decaying old floor and casement.
Its contents produced perturbation, misgiving, but not retreat. The deep
glow of enchantment shed by the idea of a private union with her
beautiful young lover killed the pale light of cold reasoning from an
indifferently good relative.
'Oh, no,' she murmured, as she sat, covering her face with her hand. 'Not
for wealth untold could I give him up now!'
No argument, short of Apollo in person from the clouds, would have
influenced her. She made her preparations for departure as if nothing
In her days of prosperity Lady Constantine had often gone to the city of
Bath, either frivolously, for shopping purposes, or musico-religiously,
to attend choir festivals in the abbey; so there was nothing surprising
in her reverting to an old practice. That the journey might appear to be
of a somewhat similar nature she took with her the servant who had been
accustomed to accompany her on former occasions, though the woman,
now left her service, and settled in the village as the wife of Anthony
Green, with a young child on her hands, could with some difficulty leave
home. Lady Constantine overcame the anxious mother's scruples by
providing that young Green should be well cared for; and knowing that she
could count upon this woman's fidelity, if upon anybody's, in case of an
accident (for it was chiefly Lady Constantine's exertions that had made
an honest wife of Mrs. Green), she departed for a fortnight's absence.
The next day found mistress and maid settled in lodgings in an old plum-
coloured brick street, which a hundred years ago could boast of rank and
fashion among its residents, though now the broad fan-light over each
broad door admitted the sun to the halls of a lodging-house keeper only.
The lamp-posts were still those that had done duty with oil lights; and
rheumatic old coachmen and postilions, that once had driven and ridden
gloriously from London to Land's End, ornamented with their bent persons
and bow legs the pavement in front of the chief inn, in the sorry hope of
earning sixpence to keep body and soul together.
'We are kept well informed on the time o' day, my lady,' said Mrs. Green,
as she pulled down the blinds in Lady Constantine's room on the evening
of their arrival. 'There's a church exactly at the back of us, and I
hear every hour strike.'
Lady Constantine said she had noticed that there was a church quite near.
'Well, it is better to have that at the back than other folks' winders.
And if your ladyship wants to go there it won't be far to walk.'
'That's what occurred to me,' said Lady Constantine, 'if I should want
During the ensuing days she felt to the utmost the tediousness of waiting
merely that time might pass. Not a soul knew her there, and she knew not
a soul, a circumstance which, while it added to her sense of secrecy,
intensified her solitude. Occasionally she went to a shop, with Green as
her companion. Though there were purchases to be made, they were by no
means of a pressing nature, and but poorly filled up the vacancies of
those strange, speculative days,--days surrounded by a shade of fear, yet
poetized by sweet expectation.
On the thirteenth day she told Green that she was going to take a walk,
and leaving the house she passed by the obscurest streets to the Abbey.
After wandering about beneath the aisles till her courage was screwed to
its highest, she went out at the other side, and, looking timidly round
to see if anybody followed, walked on till she came to a certain door,
which she reached just at the moment when her heart began to sink to its
very lowest, rendering all the screwing up in vain.
Whether it was because the month was October, or from any other reason,
the deserted aspect of the quarter in general sat especially on this
building. Moreover the pavement was up, and heaps of stone and gravel
obstructed the footway. Nobody was coming, nobody was going, in that
thoroughfare; she appeared to be the single one of the human race bent
upon marriage business, which seemed to have been unanimously
by all the rest of the world as proven folly. But she thought of
Swithin, his blonde hair, ardent eyes, and eloquent lips, and was carried
onward by the very reflection.
Entering the surrogate's room Lady Constantine managed, at the last
juncture, to state her errand in tones so collected as to startle even
herself to which her listener replied also as if the whole thing were the
most natural in the world. When it came to the affirmation that she had
lived fifteen days in the parish, she said with dismay--
'O no! I thought the fifteen days meant the interval of residence before
the marriage takes place. I have lived here only thirteen days and a
half. Now I must come again!'
'Ah--well--I think you need not be so particular,' said the surrogate.
'As a matter of fact, though the letter of the law requires fifteen days'
residence, many people make five sufficient. The provision is inserted,
as you doubtless are aware, to hinder runaway marriages as much as
possible, and secret unions, and other such objectionable practices. You
need not come again.'
That evening Lady Constantine wrote to Swithin St. Cleeve the last letter
of the fortnight:--
'MY DEAREST,--Do come to me as soon as you can. By a sort of
favouring blunder I have been able to shorten the time of waiting by a
day. Come at once, for I am almost broken down with apprehension. It
seems rather rash at moments, all this, and I wish you were here to
reassure me. I did not know I should feel so alarmed. I am
frightened at every footstep, and dread lest anybody who knows me
should accost me, and find out why I am here. I sometimes wonder how
I could have agreed to come and enact your part, but I did not realize
how trying it would be. You ought not to have asked me, Swithin; upon
my word, it was too cruel of you, and I will punish you for it when
you come! But I won't upbraid. I hope the homestead is repaired that
has cost me all this sacrifice of modesty. If it were anybody in the
world but you in question I would rush home, without waiting here
for the end of it,--I really think I would! But, dearest, no. I must
show my strength now, or let it be for ever hid. The barriers of
ceremony are broken down between us, and it is for the best that I am
And yet, at no point of this trying prelude need Lady Constantine have
feared for her strength. Deeds in this connexion demand the particular
kind of courage that such perfervid women are endowed with, the courage
of their emotions, in which young men are often lamentably deficient. Her
fear was, in truth, the fear of being discovered in an unwonted position;
not of the act itself. And though her letter was in its way a true
exposition of her feeling, had it been necessary to go through the whole
legal process over again she would have been found equal to the
It had been for some days a point of anxiety with her what to do with
Green during the morning of the wedding. Chance unexpectedly helped her
in this difficulty. The day before the purchase of the license Green
came to Lady Constantine with a letter in her hand from her husband
Anthony, her face as long as a fiddle.
'I hope there's nothing the matter?' said Lady Constantine.
'The child's took bad, my lady!' said Mrs. Green, with suspended floods
of water in her eyes. 'I love the child better than I shall love all
them that's coming put together; for he's been a good boy to his mother
ever since twelve weeks afore he was born! 'Twas he, a tender deary,
that made Anthony marry me, and thereby turned hisself from a little
calamity to a little blessing! For, as you know, the man were a backward
man in the church part o' matrimony, my lady; though he'll do anything
when he's forced a bit by his manly feelings. And now to lose the
child--hoo-hoo-hoo! What shall I doo!'
'Well, you want to go home at once, I suppose?'
Mrs. Green explained, between her sobs, that such was her desire; and
though this was a day or two sooner than her mistress had wished to be
left alone she consented to Green's departure. So during the afternoon
her woman went off, with directions to prepare for Lady Constantine's
return in two or three days. But as the exact day of her return was
uncertain no carriage was to be sent to the station to meet her, her
intention being to hire one from the hotel.
Lady Constantine was now left in utter solitude to await her lover's
A more beautiful October morning than that of the next day never beamed
into the Welland valleys. The yearly dissolution of leafage was setting
in apace. The foliage of the park trees rapidly resolved itself into the
multitude of complexions which mark the subtle grades of decay,
reflecting wet lights of such innumerable hues that it was a wonder to
think their beauties only a repetition of scenes that had been exhibited
there on scores of previous Octobers, and had been allowed to pass away
without a single dirge from the imperturbable beings who walked among
them. Far in the shadows semi-opaque screens of blue haze made mysteries
of the commonest gravel-pit, dingle, or recess.
The wooden cabin at the foot of Rings-Hill Speer had been furnished by
Swithin as a sitting and sleeping apartment, some little while before
this time; for he had found it highly convenient, during night
observations at the top of the column, to remain on the spot all night,
not to disturb his grandmother by passing in and out of the house, and to
save himself the labour of incessantly crossing the field.
He would much have liked to tell her the secret, and, had it been his own
to tell, would probably have done so; but sharing it with an objector who
knew not his grandmother's affection so well as he did himself, there was
no alternative to holding his tongue. The more effectually to guard it
he decided to sleep at the cabin during the two or three nights previous
to his departure, leaving word at the homestead that in a day or two he
was going on an excursion.
It was very necessary to start early. Long before the great eye of the
sun was lifted high enough to glance into the Welland valley, St. Cleeve
arose from his bed in the cabin and prepared to depart, cooking his
breakfast upon a little stove in the corner. The young rabbits, littered
during the foregoing summer, watched his preparations through the open
door from the grey dawn without, as he bustled, half dressed, in and out
under the boughs, and among the blackberries and brambles that grew
It was a strange place for a bridegroom to perform his toilet in, but,
considering the unconventional nature of the marriage, a not
inappropriate one. What events had been enacted in that earthen camp
since it was first thrown up, nobody could say; but the primitive
simplicity of the young man's preparations accorded well with the
prehistoric spot on which they were made. Embedded under his feet were
possibly even now rude trinkets that had been worn at bridal ceremonies
of the early inhabitants. Little signified those ceremonies to-day, or
the happiness or otherwise of the contracting parties. That his own
rite, nevertheless, signified much, was the inconsequent reasoning of
Swithin, as it is of many another bridegroom besides; and he, like the
rest, went on with his preparations in that mood which sees in his stale
repetition the wondrous possibilities of an untried move.
Then through the wet cobwebs, that hung like movable diaphragms on each
blade and bough, he pushed his way down to the furrow which led from the
secluded fir-tree island to the wide world beyond the field.
He was not a stranger to enterprise, and still less to the contemplation
of enterprise; but an enterprise such as this he had never even outlined.
That his dear lady was troubled at the situation he had placed her in by
not going himself on that errand, he could see from her letter; but,
believing an immediate marriage with her to be the true way of restoring
to both that equanimity necessary to serene philosophy, he held it of
little account how the marriage was brought about, and happily began his
journey towards her place of sojourn.
He passed through a little copse before leaving the parish, the smoke
from newly lit fires rising like the stems of blue trees out of the few
cottage chimneys. Here he heard a quick, familiar footstep in the path
ahead of him, and, turning the corner of the bushes, confronted the foot-
post on his way to Welland. In answer to St. Cleeve's inquiry if there
was anything for himself the postman handed out one letter, and proceeded
on his route.
Swithin opened and read the letter as he walked, till it brought him to a
standstill by the importance of its contents.
They were enough to agitate a more phlegmatic youth than he. He leant
over the wicket which came in his path, and endeavoured to comprehend
sense of the whole.
The large long envelope contained, first, a letter from a solicitor in a
northern town, informing him that his paternal great-uncle, who had
recently returned from the Cape (whither he had gone in an attempt to
repair a broken constitution), was now dead and buried. This
great-uncle's name was like a new creation to Swithin. He had held no
communication with the young man's branch of the family for innumerable
years,--never, in fact, since the marriage of Swithin's father with the
simple daughter of Welland Farm. He had been a bachelor to the end of
his life, and had amassed a fairly good professional fortune by a long
and extensive medical practice in the smoky, dreary, manufacturing town
in which he had lived and died. Swithin had always been taught to think
of him as the embodiment of all that was unpleasant in man. He was
narrow, sarcastic, and shrewd to unseemliness. That very shrewdness had
enabled him, without much professional profundity, to establish his large
and lucrative connexion, which lay almost entirely among a class who
neither looked nor cared for drawing-room courtesies.
However, what Dr. St. Cleeve had been as a practitioner matters little.
He was now dead, and the bulk of his property had been left to persons
with whom this story has nothing to do. But Swithin was informed that
out of it there was a bequest of 600 pounds a year to himself,--payment
of which was to begin with his twenty-first year, and continue for his
life, unless he should marry before reaching the age of twenty-five. In
the latter precocious and objectionable event his annuity would be
forfeited. The accompanying letter, said the solicitor, would explain
This, the second letter, was from his uncle to himself, written about a
month before the former's death, and deposited with his will, to be
forwarded to his nephew when that event should have taken place. Swithin
read, with the solemnity that such posthumous epistles inspire, the
following words from one who, during life, had never once addressed him:--
'DEAR NEPHEW,--You will doubtless experience some astonishment at
receiving a communication from one whom you have never personally
known, and who, when this comes into your hands, will be beyond the
reach of your knowledge. Perhaps I am the loser by this life-long
mutual ignorance. Perhaps I am much to blame for it; perhaps not. But
such reflections are profitless at this date: I have written with
quite other views than to work up a sentimental regret on such an
amazingly remote hypothesis as that the fact of a particular pair of
people not meeting, among the millions of other pairs of people who
have never met, is a great calamity either to the world in general or
'The occasion of my addressing you is briefly this: Nine months ago a
report casually reached me that your scientific studies were pursued
by you with great ability, and that you were a young man of some
promise as an astronomer. My own scientific proclivities rendered the
report more interesting than it might otherwise have been to me; and
it came upon me quite as a surprise that any issue of your father's
marriage should have so much in him, or you might have seen more of me
in former years than you are ever likely to do now. My health had
then begun to fail, and I was starting for the Cape, or I should have
come myself to inquire into your condition and prospects. I did not
return till six months later, and as my health had not improved I sent
a trusty friend to examine into your life, pursuits, and
circumstances, without your own knowledge, and to report his
observations to me. This he did. Through him I learnt, of favourable
'(1) That you worked assiduously at the science of astronomy.
'(2) That everything was auspicious in the career you had chosen.
'Of unfavourable news:--
'(1) That the small income at your command, even when eked out by the
sum to which you would be entitled on your grandmother's death and the
freehold of the homestead, would be inadequate to support you
becomingly as a scientific man, whose lines of work were of a nature
not calculated to produce emoluments for many years, if ever.
'(2) That there was something in your path worse than narrow means,
and that that something was a woman.
'To save you, if possible, from ruin on these heads, I take the
preventive measures detailed below.
'The chief step is, as my solicitor will have informed you, that, at
the age of twenty-five, the sum of 600 pounds a year be settled on you
for life, provided you have not married before reaching that age;--a
yearly gift of an equal sum to be also provisionally made to you in
the interim--and, vice versa, that if you do marry before reaching the
age of twenty-five you will receive nothing from the date of the
'One object of my bequest is that you may have resources sufficient to
enable you to travel and study the Southern constellations. When at
the Cape, after hearing of your pursuits, I was much struck with the
importance of those constellations to an astronomer just pushing into
notice. There is more to be made of the Southern hemisphere than ever
has been made of it yet; the mine is not so thoroughly worked as the
Northern, and thither your studies should tend.
'The only other preventive step in my power is that of exhortation, at
which I am not an adept. Nevertheless, I say to you, Swithin St.
Cleeve, don't make a fool of yourself, as your father did. If your
studies are to be worth anything, believe me, they must be carried on
without the help of a woman. Avoid her, and every one of the sex, if
you mean to achieve any worthy thing. Eschew all of that sort for
many a year yet. Moreover, I say, the lady of your acquaintance avoid
in particular. I have heard nothing against her moral character
hitherto; I have no doubt it has been excellent. She may have many
good qualities, both of heart and of mind. But she has, in addition
to her original disqualification as a companion for you (that is, that
of sex), these two serious drawbacks: she is much older than
'Much older!' said Swithin resentfully.
'--and she is so impoverished that the title she derives from her late
husband is a positive objection. Beyond this, frankly, I don't think
well of her. I don't think well of any woman who dotes upon a man
younger than herself. To care to be the first fancy of a young fellow
like you shows no great common sense in her. If she were worth her
salt she would have too much pride to be intimate with a youth in your
unassured position, to say no worse. She is old enough to know that a
liaison with her may, and almost certainly would, be your ruin; and,
on the other hand, that a marriage would be preposterous,--unless she
is a complete goose, and in that case there is even more reason for
avoiding her than if she were in her few senses.
'A woman of honourable feeling, nephew, would be careful to do nothing
to hinder you in your career, as this putting of herself in your way
most certainly will. Yet I hear that she professes a great anxiety on
this same future of yours as a physicist. The best way in which she
can show the reality of her anxiety is by leaving you to yourself.
Perhaps she persuades herself that she is doing you no harm. Well,
let her have the benefit of the possible belief; but depend upon it
that in truth she gives the lie to her conscience by maintaining such
a transparent fallacy. Women's brains are not formed for assisting at
any profound science: they lack the power to see things except in the
concrete. She'll blab your most secret plans and theories to every
one of her acquaintance--'
'She's got none!' said Swithin, beginning to get warm.
'--and make them appear ridiculous by announcing them before they are
matured. If you attempt to study with a woman, you'll be ruled by her
to entertain fancies instead of theories, air-castles instead of
intentions, qualms instead of opinions, sickly prepossessions instead
of reasoned conclusions. Your wide heaven of study, young man, will
soon reduce itself to the miserable narrow expanse of her face, and
your myriad of stars to her two trumpery eyes.
'A woman waking a young man's passions just at a moment when he is
endeavouring to shine intellectually, is doing little less than
committing a crime.
'Like a certain philosopher I would, upon my soul, have all young men
from eighteen to twenty-five kept under barrels; seeing how often, in
the lack of some such sequestering process, the woman sits down before
each as his destiny, and too frequently enervates his purpose, till he
abandons the most promising course ever conceived!
'But no more. I now leave your fate in your own hands. Your well-
'JOCELYN ST. CLEEVE,
Doctor in Medicine.'
As coming from a bachelor and hardened misogynist of seventy-two, the
opinions herein contained were nothing remarkable: but their practical
result in restricting the sudden endowment of Swithin's researches by
conditions which turned the favour into a harassment was, at this unique
moment, discomfiting and distracting in the highest degree.
Sensational, however, as the letter was, the passionate intention of the
day was not hazarded for more than a few minutes thereby. The truth was,
the caution and bribe came too late, too unexpectedly, to be of
influence. They were the sort of thing which required fermentation to
render them effective. Had St. Cleeve received the exhortation a month
earlier; had he been able to run over in his mind, at every wakeful hour
of thirty consecutive nights, a private catechism on the possibilities
opened up by this annuity, there is no telling what might have been the
stress of such a web of perplexity upon him, a young man whose love for
celestial physics was second to none. But to have held before him, at
the last moment, the picture of a future advantage that he had never once
thought of, or discounted for present staying power, it affected him
about as much as the view of horizons shown by sheet-lightning. He saw
an immense prospect; it went, and the world was as before.
He caught the train at Warborne, and moved rapidly towards Bath; not
precisely in the same key as when he had dressed in the hut at dawn, but,
as regarded the mechanical part of the journey, as unhesitatingly as
And with the change of scene even his gloom left him; his bosom's lord
sat lightly in his throne. St. Cleeve was not sufficiently in mind of
poetical literature to remember that wise poets are accustomed to read
that lightness of bosom inversely. Swithin thought it an omen of good
fortune; and as thinking is causing in not a few such cases, he was
perhaps, in spite of poets, right.
At the station Lady Constantine appeared, standing expectant; he saw her
face from the window of the carriage long before she saw him. He no
sooner saw her than he was satisfied to his heart's content with his
prize. If his great-uncle had offered him from the grave a kingdom
instead of her, he would not have accepted it.
Swithin jumped out, and nature never painted in a woman's face more
devotion than appeared in my lady's at that moment. To both the
situation seemed like a beautiful allegory, not to be examined too
closely, lest its defects of correspondence with real life should be
They almost feared to shake hands in public, so much depended upon their
passing that morning without molestation. A fly was called and they
'Take this,' she said, handing him a folded paper. 'It belongs to you
rather than to me.'
At crossings, and other occasional pauses, pedestrians turned their faces
and looked at the pair (for no reason but that, among so many, there were
naturally a few of the sort who have eyes to note what incidents come in
their way as they plod on); but the two in the vehicle could not but fear
that these innocent beholders had special detective designs on them.
'You look so dreadfully young!' she said with humorous fretfulness, as
they drove along (Swithin's cheeks being amazingly fresh from the morning
air). 'Do try to appear a little haggard, that the parson mayn't ask us
Nothing further happened, and they were set down opposite a shop about
fifty yards from the church door, at five minutes to eleven.
'We will dismiss the fly,' she said. 'It will only attract idlers.'
On turning the corner and reaching the church they found the door ajar;
but the building contained only two persons, a man and a woman,--the
clerk and his wife, as they learnt. Swithin asked when the clergyman
The clerk looked at his watch, and said, 'At just on eleven o'clock.'
'He ought to be here,' said Swithin.
'Yes,' replied the clerk, as the hour struck. 'The fact is, sir, he is a
deppity, and apt to be rather wandering in his wits as regards time and
such like, which hev stood in the way of the man's getting a benefit. But
no doubt he'll come.'
'The regular incumbent is away, then?'
'He's gone for his bare pa'son's fortnight,--that's all; and we was
forced to put up with a weak-talented man or none. The best men goes
into the brewing, or into the shipping now-a-days, you see, sir;
doctrines being rather shaddery at present, and your money's worth not
sure in our line. So we church officers be left poorly provided with men
for odd jobs. I'll tell ye what, sir; I think I'd better run round to
the gentleman's lodgings, and try to find him?'
'Pray do,' said Lady Constantine.
The clerk left the church; his wife busied herself with dusting at the
further end, and Swithin and Viviette were left to themselves. The
imagination travels so rapidly, and a woman's forethought is so
assumptive, that the clerk's departure had no sooner doomed them to
inaction than it was borne in upon Lady Constantine's mind that she would
not become the wife of Swithin St. Cleeve, either to-day or on any other
day. Her divinations were continually misleading her, she knew: but a
hitch at the moment of marriage surely had a meaning in it.
'Ah,--the marriage is not to be!' she said to herself. 'This is a
It was twenty minutes past, and no parson had arrived. Swithin took her
'If it cannot be to-day, it can be to-morrow,' he whispered.
'I cannot say,' she answered. 'Something tells me no.'
It was almost impossible that she could know anything of the deterrent
force exercised on Swithin by his dead uncle that morning. Yet her
manner tallied so curiously well with such knowledge that he was struck
by it, and remained silent.
'You have a black tie,' she continued, looking at him.
'Yes,' replied Swithin. 'I bought it on my way here.'
'Why could it not have been less sombre in colour?'
'My great-uncle is dead.'
'You had a great-uncle? You never told me.'
'I never saw him in my life. I have only heard about him since his
He spoke in as quiet and measured a way as he could, but his heart was
sinking. She would go on questioning; he could not tell her an untruth.
She would discover particulars of that great-uncle's provision for him,
which he, Swithin, was throwing away for her sake, and she would refuse
to be his for his own sake. His conclusion at this moment was precisely
what hers had been five minutes sooner: they were never to be husband and
But she did not continue her questions, for the simplest of all reasons:
hasty footsteps were audible in the entrance, and the parson was seen
coming up the aisle, the clerk behind him wiping the beads of
perspiration from his face. The somewhat sorry clerical specimen shook
hands with them, and entered the vestry; and the clerk came up and opened
'The poor gentleman's memory is a bit topsy-turvy,' whispered the latter.
'He had got it in his mind that 'twere a funeral, and I found him
wandering about the cemetery a-looking for us. However, all's well as
ends well.' And the clerk wiped his forehead again.
'How ill-omened!' murmured Viviette.
But the parson came out robed at this moment, and the clerk put on his
ecclesiastical countenance and looked in his book. Lady Constantine's
momentary languor passed; her blood resumed its courses with a new
spring. The grave utterances of the church then rolled out upon the
palpitating pair, and no couple ever joined their whispers thereto with
more fervency than they.
Lady Constantine (as she continued to be called by the outside world,
though she liked to think herself the Mrs. St. Cleeve that she legally
was) had told Green that she might be expected at Welland in a day, or
two, or three, as circumstances should dictate. Though the time of
return was thus left open it was deemed advisable, by both Swithin and
herself, that her journey back should not be deferred after the next day,
in case any suspicions might be aroused. As for St. Cleeve, his comings
and goings were of no consequence. It was seldom known whether he was
home or abroad, by reason of his frequent seclusion at the column.
Late in the afternoon of the next day he accompanied her to the Bath
station, intending himself to remain in that city till the following
morning. But when a man or youth has such a tender article on his hands
as a thirty-hour bride it is hardly in the power of his strongest reason
to set her down at a railway, and send her off like a superfluous
portmanteau. Hence the experiment of parting so soon after their union
proved excruciatingly severe to these. The evening was dull; the breeze
of autumn crept fitfully through every slit and aperture in the town; not
a soul in the world seemed to notice or care about anything they did.
Lady Constantine sighed; and there was no resisting it,--he could not
leave her thus. He decided to get into the train with her, and keep her
company for at least a few stations on her way.
It drew on to be a dark night, and, seeing that there was no serious risk
after all, he prolonged his journey with her so far as to the junction at
which the branch line to Warborne forked off. Here it was necessary to
wait a few minutes, before either he could go back or she could go on.
They wandered outside the station doorway into the gloom of the road, and
there agreed to part.
While she yet stood holding his arm a phaeton sped towards the station-
entrance, where, in ascending the slope to the door, the horse suddenly
jibbed. The gentleman who was driving, being either impatient, or
possessed with a theory that all jibbers may be started by severe
whipping, applied the lash; as a result of it, the horse thrust round the
carriage to where they stood, and the end of the driver's sweeping whip
cut across Lady Constantine's face with such severity as to cause her an
involuntary cry. Swithin turned her round to the lamplight, and
discerned a streak of blood on her cheek.
By this time the gentleman who had done the mischief, with many words of
regret, had given the reins to his man and dismounted.
'I will go to the waiting-room for a moment,' whispered Viviette
hurriedly; and, loosing her hand from his arm, she pulled down her veil
and vanished inside the building.
The stranger came forward and raised his hat. He was a slightly built
and apparently town-bred man of twenty-eight or thirty; his manner of
address was at once careless and conciliatory.
'I am greatly concerned at what I have done,' he said. 'I sincerely
trust that your wife'--but observing the youthfulness of Swithin, he
withdrew the word suggested by the manner of Swithin towards Lady
Constantine--'I trust the young lady was not seriously cut?'
'I trust not,' said Swithin, with some vexation.
'Where did the lash touch her?'
'Straight down her cheek.'
'Do let me go to her, and learn how she is, and humbly apologize.'
He went to the ladies' room, in which Viviette had taken refuge. She met
him at the door, her handkerchief to her cheek, and Swithin explained
that the driver of the phaeton had sent to make inquiries.
'I cannot see him!' she whispered. 'He is my brother Louis! He is, no
doubt, going on by the train to my house. Don't let him recognize me! We
must wait till he is gone.'
Swithin thereupon went out again, and told the young man that the cut on
her face was not serious, but that she could not see him; after which
they parted. St. Cleeve then heard him ask for a ticket for Warborne,
which confirmed Lady Constantine's view that he was going on to her
house. When the branch train had moved off Swithin returned to his
bride, who waited in a trembling state within.
On being informed that he had departed she showed herself much relieved.
'Where does your brother come from?' said Swithin.
'From London, immediately. Rio before that. He has a friend or two in
this neighbourhood, and visits here occasionally. I have seldom or never
spoken to you of him, because of his long absence.'
'Is he going to settle near you?'
'No, nor anywhere, I fear. He is, or rather was, in the diplomatic
service. He was first a clerk in the Foreign Office, and was afterwards
appointed attache at Rio Janeiro. But he has resigned the appointment. I
wish he had not.'
Swithin asked why he resigned.
'He complained of the banishment, and the climate, and everything that
people complain of who are determined to be dissatisfied,--though, poor
fellow, there is some ground for his complaints. Perhaps some people
would say that he is idle. But he is scarcely that; he is rather
restless than idle, so that he never persists in anything. Yet if a
subject takes his fancy he will follow it up with exemplary patience till
something diverts him.'
'He is not kind to you, is he, dearest?'
'Why do you think that?'
'Your manner seems to say so.'
'Well, he may not always be kind. But look at my face; does the mark
A streak, straight as a meridian, was visible down her cheek. The blood
had been brought almost to the surface, but was not quite through, that
which had originally appeared thereon having possibly come from the
horse. It signified that to-morrow the red line would be a black one.
Swithin informed her that her brother had taken a ticket for Warborne,
and she at once perceived that he was going on to visit her at Welland,
though from his letter she had not expected him so soon by a few days.
'Meanwhile,' continued Swithin, 'you can now get home only by the late
train, having missed that one.'
'But, Swithin, don't you see my new trouble? If I go to Welland House to-
night, and find my brother just arrived there, and he sees this cut on my
face, which I suppose you described to him--'
'He will know I was the lady with you!'
'Whom he called my wife. I wonder why we look husband and wife already!'
'Then what am I to do? For the ensuing three or four days I bear in my
face a clue to his discovery of our secret.'
'Then you must not be seen. We must stay at an inn here.'
'O no!' she said timidly. 'It is too near home to be quite safe. We
might not be known; but if we were!'
'We can't go back to Bath now. I'll tell you, dear Viviette, what we
must do. We'll go on to Warborne in separate carriages; we'll meet
outside the station; thence we'll walk to the column in the dark, and
I'll keep you a captive in the cabin till the scar has disappeared.'
As there was nothing which better recommended itself this course was
decided on; and after taking from her trunk the articles that might be
required for an incarceration of two or three days they left the said
trunk at the cloak-room, and went on by the last train, which reached
Warborne about ten o'clock.
It was only necessary for Lady Constantine to cover her face with the
thick veil that she had provided for this escapade, to walk out of the
station without fear of recognition. St. Cleeve came forth from another
compartment, and they did not rejoin each other till they had reached a
shadowy bend in the old turnpike road, beyond the irradiation of the
The walk to Welland was long. It was the walk which Swithin had taken in
the rain when he had learnt the fatal forestalment of his stellar
discovery; but now he was moved by a less desperate mood, and blamed
neither God nor man. They were not pressed for time, and passed along
the silent, lonely way with that sense rather of predestination than of
choice in their proceedings which the presence of night sometimes
imparts. Reaching the park gate, they found it open, and from this they
inferred that her brother Louis had arrived.
Leaving the house and park on their right they traced the highway yet a
little further, and, plunging through the stubble of the opposite field,
drew near the isolated earthwork bearing the plantation and tower, which
together rose like a flattened dome and lantern from the lighter-hued
plain of stubble. It was far too dark to distinguish firs from other
trees by the eye alone, but the peculiar dialect of sylvan language which
the piny multitude used would have been enough to proclaim their class at
any time. In the lovers' stealthy progress up the slopes a dry stick
here and there snapped beneath their feet, seeming like a shot of alarm.
On being unlocked the hut was found precisely as Swithin had left it two
days before. Lady Constantine was thoroughly wearied, and sat down,
while he gathered a handful of twigs and spikelets from the masses strewn
without and lit a small fire, first taking the precaution to blind the
little window and relock the door.
Lady Constantine looked curiously around by the light of the blaze. The
hut was small as the prophet's chamber provided by the Shunammite: in
corner stood the stove, with a little table and chair, a small cupboard
hard by, a pitcher of water, a rack overhead, with various articles,
including a kettle and a gridiron; while the remaining three or four feet
at the other end of the room was fitted out as a dormitory, for Swithin's
use during late observations in the tower overhead.
'It is not much of a palace to offer you,' he remarked, smiling. 'But at
any rate, it is a refuge.'
The cheerful firelight dispersed in some measure Lady Constantine's
anxieties. 'If we only had something to eat!' she said.
'Dear me,' cried St. Cleeve, blankly. 'That's a thing I never thought
'Nor I, till now,' she replied.
He reflected with misgiving.
'Beyond a small loaf of bread in the cupboard I have nothing. However,
just outside the door there are lots of those little rabbits, about the
size of rats, that the keepers call runners. And they are as tame as
possible. But I fear I could not catch one now. Yet, dear Viviette,
wait a minute; I'll try. You must not be starved.'
He softly let himself out, and was gone some time. When he reappeared,
he produced, not a rabbit, but four sparrows and a thrush.
'I could do nothing in the way of a rabbit without setting a wire,' he
said. 'But I have managed to get these by knowing where they roost.'
He showed her how to prepare the birds, and, having set her to roast them
by the fire, departed with the pitcher, to replenish it at the brook
which flowed near the homestead in the neighbouring Bottom.
'They are all asleep at my grandmother's,' he informed her when he re-
entered, panting, with the dripping pitcher. 'They imagine me to be a
hundred miles off.'
The birds were now ready, and the table was spread. With this fare, eked
out by dry toast from the loaf, and moistened with cups of water from the
pitcher, to which Swithin added a little wine from the flask he had
carried on his journey, they were forced to be content for their supper.
When Lady Constantine awoke the next morning Swithin was nowhere to be
seen. Before she was quite ready for breakfast she heard the key turn in
the door, and felt startled, till she remembered that the comer could
hardly be anybody but he. He brought a basket with provisions, an extra
cup-and-saucer, and so on. In a short space of time the kettle began
singing on the stove, and the morning meal was ready.
The sweet resinous air from the firs blew in upon them as they sat at
breakfast; the birds hopped round the door (which, somewhat riskily, they
ventured to keep open); and at their elbow rose the lank column into an
upper realm of sunlight, which only reached the cabin in fitful darts and
flashes through the trees.
'I could be happy here for ever,' said she, clasping his hand. 'I wish I
could never see my great gloomy house again, since I am not rich enough
to throw it open, and live there as I ought to do. Poverty of this sort
is not unpleasant at any rate. What are you thinking of?'
'I am thinking about my outing this morning. On reaching my
grandmother's she was only a little surprised to see me. I was obliged
to breakfast there, or appear to do so, to divert suspicion; and this
food is supposed to be wanted for my dinner and supper. There will of
course be no difficulty in my obtaining an ample supply for any length of
time, as I can take what I like from the buttery without observation. But
as I looked in my grandmother's face this morning, and saw her looking
affectionately in mine, and thought how she had never concealed anything
from me, and had always had my welfare at heart, I felt--that I should
like to tell her what we have done.'
'O no,--please not, Swithin!' she exclaimed piteously.
'Very well,' he answered. 'On no consideration will I do so without your
consent.' And no more was said on the matter.
The morning was passed in applying wet rag and other remedies to the
purple line on Viviette's cheek; and in the afternoon they set up the
equatorial under the replaced dome, to have it in order for night
The evening was clear, dry, and remarkably cold by comparison with the
daytime weather. After a frugal supper they replenished the stove with
charcoal from the homestead, which they also burnt during the day,--an
idea of Viviette's, that the smoke from a wood fire might not be seen
more frequently than was consistent with the occasional occupation of the
cabin by Swithin, as heretofore.
At eight o'clock she insisted upon his ascending the tower for
observations, in strict pursuance of the idea on which their marriage had
been based, namely, that of restoring regularity to his studies.
The sky had a new and startling beauty that night. A broad, fluctuating,
semicircular arch of vivid white light spanned the northern quarter of
the heavens, reaching from the horizon to the star Eta in the Greater
Bear. It was the Aurora Borealis, just risen up for the winter season
out of the freezing seas of the north, where every autumn vapour was now
undergoing rapid congelation.
'O, let us sit and look at it!' she said; and they turned their backs
upon the equatorial and the southern glories of the heavens to this new
beauty in a quarter which they seldom contemplated.
The lustre of the fixed stars was diminished to a sort of blueness.
Little by little the arch grew higher against the dark void, like the
form of the Spirit-maiden in the shades of Glenfinlas, till its crown
drew near the zenith, and threw a tissue over the whole waggon and horses
of the great northern constellation. Brilliant shafts radiated from the
convexity of the arch, coming and going silently. The temperature fell,
and Lady Constantine drew her wrap more closely around her.
'We'll go down,' said Swithin. 'The cabin is beautifully warm. Why
should we try to observe to-night? Indeed, we cannot; the Aurora light
'Very well. To-morrow night there will be no interruption. I shall be
'You leave me to-morrow, Viviette?'
'Yes; to-morrow morning.'
The truth was that, with the progress of the hours and days, the
conviction had been borne in upon Viviette more and more forcibly that
not for kingdoms and principalities could she afford to risk the
discovery of her presence here by any living soul.
'But let me see your face, dearest,' he said. 'I don't think it will be
safe for you to meet your brother yet.'
As it was too dark to see her face on the summit where they sat they
descended the winding staircase, and in the cabin Swithin examined the
damaged cheek. The line, though so far attenuated as not to be
observable by any one but a close observer, had not quite disappeared.
But in consequence of her reiterated and almost tearful anxiety to go,
and as there was a strong probability that her brother had left the
house, Swithin decided to call at Welland next morning, and reconnoitre
with a view to her return.
Locking her in he crossed the dewy stubble into the park. The house was
silent and deserted; and only one tall stalk of smoke ascended from the
chimneys. Notwithstanding that the hour was nearly nine he knocked at
'Is Lady Constantine at home?' asked Swithin, with a disingenuousness now
habitual, yet unknown to him six months before.
'No, Mr. St. Cleeve; my lady has not returned from Bath. We expect her
'Nobody staying in the house?'
'My lady's brother has been here; but he is gone on to Budmouth. He will
come again in two or three weeks, I understand.'
This was enough. Swithin said he would call again, and returned to the
cabin, where, waking Viviette, who was not by nature an early riser, he
waited on the column till she was ready to breakfast. When this had been
shared they prepared to start.
A long walk was before them. Warborne station lay five miles distant,
and the next station above that nine miles. They were bound for the
latter; their plan being that she should there take the train to the
junction where the whip accident had occurred, claim her luggage, and
return with it to Warborne, as if from Bath.
The morning was cool and the walk not wearisome. When once they had left
behind the stubble-field of their environment and the parish of Welland,
they sauntered on comfortably, Lady Constantine's spirits rising as she
withdrew further from danger.
They parted by a little brook, about half a mile from the station;
Swithin to return to Welland by the way he had come.
Lady Constantine telegraphed from the junction to Warborne for a carriage
to be in readiness to meet her on her arrival; and then, waiting for the
down train, she travelled smoothly home, reaching Welland House about
five minutes sooner than Swithin reached the column hard by, after
footing it all the way from where they had parted.
From that day forward their life resumed its old channel in general
Perhaps the most remarkable feature in their exploit was its comparative
effectiveness as an expedient for the end designed,--that of restoring
calm assiduity to the study of astronomy. Swithin took up his old
position as the lonely philosopher at the column, and Lady Constantine
lapsed back to immured existence at the house, with apparently not a
friend in the parish. The enforced narrowness of life which her limited
resources necessitated was now an additional safeguard against the
discovery of her relations with St. Cleeve. Her neighbours seldom
troubled her; as much, it must be owned, from a tacit understanding that
she was not in a position to return invitations as from any selfish
coldness engendered by her want of wealth.
At the first meeting of the secretly united pair after their short
honeymoon they were compelled to behave as strangers to each other. It
occurred in the only part of Welland which deserved the name of a village
street, and all the labourers were returning to their midday meal, with
those of their wives who assisted at outdoor work. Before the eyes of
this innocent though quite untrustworthy group, Swithin and his Viviette
could only shake hands in passing, though she contrived to say to him in
an undertone, 'My brother does not return yet for some time. He has gone
to Paris. I will be on the lawn this evening, if you can come.' It was
a fluttered smile that she bestowed on him, and there was no doubt that
every fibre of her heart vibrated afresh at meeting, with such reserve,
one who stood in his close relation to her.
The shades of night fell early now, and Swithin was at the spot of
appointment about the time that he knew her dinner would be over. It was
just where they had met at the beginning of the year, but many changes
had resulted since then. The flower-beds that had used to be so neatly
edged were now jagged and leafy; black stars appeared on the pale surface
of the gravel walks, denoting tufts of grass that grew unmolested there.
Lady Constantine's external affairs wore just that aspect which suggests
that new blood may be advantageously introduced into the line; and new
blood had been introduced, in good sooth,--with what social result
remained to be seen.
She silently entered on the scene from the same window which had given
her passage in months gone by. They met with a concerted embrace, and
St. Cleeve spoke his greeting in whispers.
'We are quite safe, dearest,' said she.
'But the servants?'
'My meagre staff consists of only two women and the boy; and they are
away in the other wing. I thought you would like to see the inside of my
house, after showing me the inside of yours. So we will walk through it
instead of staying out here.'
She let him in through the casement, and they strolled forward softly,
Swithin with some curiosity, never before having gone beyond the library
and adjoining room. The whole western side of the house was at this time
shut up, her life being confined to two or three small rooms in the south-
east corner. The great apartments through which they now whisperingly
walked wore already that funereal aspect that comes from disuse and
inattention. Triangular cobwebs already formed little hammocks for the
dust in corners of the wainscot, and a close smell of wood and leather,
seasoned with mouse-droppings, pervaded the atmosphere. So seldom was
the solitude of these chambers intruded on by human feet that more than
once a mouse stood and looked the twain in the face from the arm of a
sofa, or the top of a cabinet, without any great fear.
Swithin had no residential ambition whatever, but he was interested in
the place. 'Will the house ever be thrown open to gaiety, as it was in
old times?' said he.
'Not unless you make a fortune,' she replied laughingly. 'It is mine for
my life, as you know; but the estate is so terribly saddled with
annuities to Sir Blount's distant relatives, one of whom will succeed me
here, that I have practically no more than my own little private income
to exist on.'
'And are you bound to occupy the house?'
'Not bound to. But I must not let it on lease.'
'And was there any stipulation in the event of your re-marriage?'
'It was not mentioned.'
'It is satisfactory to find that you lose nothing by marrying me, at all
events, dear Viviette.'
'I hope you lose nothing either--at least, of consequence.'
'What have I to lose?'
'I meant your liberty. Suppose you become a popular physicist
(popularity seems cooling towards art and coquetting with science now-a-
days), and a better chance offers, and one who would make you a newer and
brighter wife than I am comes in your way. Will you never regret this?
Will you never despise me?'
Swithin answered by a kiss, and they again went on; proceeding like a
couple of burglars, lest they should draw the attention of the cook or
In one of the upper rooms his eyes were attracted by an old chamber
organ, which had once been lent for use in the church. He mentioned his
recollection of the same, which led her to say, 'That reminds me of
something. There is to be a confirmation in our parish in the spring,
and you once told me that you had never been confirmed. What shocking
neglect! Why was it?'
'I hardly know. The confusion resulting from my father's death caused it
to be forgotten, I suppose.'
'Now, dear Swithin, you will do this to please me,--be confirmed on the
'Since I have done without the virtue of it so long, might I not do
without it altogether?'
'No, no!' she said earnestly. 'I do wish it, indeed. I am made unhappy
when I think you don't care about such serious matters. Without the
Church to cling to, what have we?'
'Each other. But seriously, I should be inverting the established order
of spiritual things; people ought to be confirmed before they are
'That's really of minor consequence. Now, don't think slightingly of
what so many good men have laid down as necessary to be done. And, dear
Swithin, I somehow feel that a certain levity which has perhaps shown
itself in our treatment of the sacrament of marriage--by making a
clandestine adventure of what is, after all, a solemn rite--would be well
atoned for by a due seriousness in other points of religious observance.
This opportunity should therefore not be passed over. I thought of it
all last night; and you are a parson's son, remember, and he would have
insisted on it if he had been alive. In short, Swithin, do be a good
boy, and observe the Church's ordinances.'
Lady Constantine, by virtue of her temperament, was necessarily either
lover or devote, and she vibrated so gracefully between these two
conditions that nobody who had known the circumstances could have
condemned her inconsistencies. To be led into difficulties by those
mastering emotions of hers, to aim at escape by turning round and seizing
the apparatus of religion--which could only rightly be worked by the very
emotions already bestowed elsewhere--it was, after all, but Nature's well-
meaning attempt to preserve the honour of her daughter's conscience in
the trying quandary to which the conditions of sex had given rise. As
Viviette could not be confirmed herself, and as Communion Sunday was a
long way off, she urged Swithin thus.
'And the new bishop is such a good man,' she continued. 'I used to have
a slight acquaintance with him when he was a parish priest.'
'Very well, dearest. To please you I'll be confirmed. My grandmother,
too, will be delighted, no doubt.'
They continued their ramble: Lady Constantine first advancing into rooms
with the candle, to assure herself that all was empty, and then calling
him forward in a whisper. The stillness was broken only by these
whispers, or by the occasional crack of a floor-board beneath their
tread. At last they sat down, and, shading the candle with a screen, she
showed him the faded contents of this and that drawer or cabinet, or the
wardrobe of some member of the family who had died young early in the
century, when muslin reigned supreme, when waists were close to arm-pits,
and muffs as large as smugglers' tubs. These researches among
habilimental hulls and husks, whose human kernels had long ago perished,
went on for about half an hour; when the companions were startled by a
loud ringing at the front-door bell.
Lady Constantine flung down the old-fashioned lacework, whose beauties
she had been pointing out to Swithin, and exclaimed, 'Who can it be? Not
They listened. An arrival was such a phenomenon at this unfrequented
mansion, and particularly a late arrival, that no servant was on the
alert to respond to the call; and the visitor rang again, more loudly
than before. Sounds of the tardy opening and shutting of a passage-door
from the kitchen quarter then reached their ears, and Viviette went into
the corridor to hearken more attentively. In a few minutes she returned
to the wardrobe-room in which she had left Swithin.
'Yes; it is my brother!' she said with difficult composure. 'I just
caught his voice. He has no doubt come back from Paris to stay. This is
a rather vexatious, indolent way he has, never to write to prepare me!'
'I can easily go away,' said Swithin.
By this time, however, her brother had been shown into the house, and the
footsteps of the page were audible, coming in search of Lady Constantine.
'If you will wait there a moment,' she said, directing St. Cleeve into a
bedchamber which adjoined; 'you will be quite safe from interruption, and
I will quickly come back.' Taking the light she left him.
Swithin waited in darkness. Not more than ten minutes had passed when a
whisper in her voice came through the keyhole. He opened the door.
'Yes; he is come to stay!' she said. 'He is at supper now.'
'Very well; don't be flurried, dearest. Shall I stay too, as we
'O, Swithin, I fear not!' she replied anxiously. 'You see how it is. To-
night we have broken the arrangement that you should never come here;
this is the result. Will it offend you if--I ask you to leave?'
'Not in the least. Upon the whole, I prefer the comfort of my little
cabin and homestead to the gauntness and alarms of this place.'
'There, now, I fear you are offended!' she said, a tear collecting in her
eye. 'I wish I was going back with you to the cabin! How happy we were,
those three days of our stay there! But it is better, perhaps, just now,
that you should leave me. Yes, these rooms are oppressive. They require
a large household to make them cheerful. . . . Yet, Swithin,' she added,
after reflection, 'I will not request you to go. Do as you think best. I
will light a night-light, and leave you here to consider. For myself, I
must go downstairs to my brother at once, or he'll wonder what I am
She kindled the little light, and again retreated, closing the door upon
Swithin stood and waited some time; till he considered that upon the
whole it would be preferable to leave. With this intention he emerged
and went softly along the dark passage towards the extreme end, where
there was a little crooked staircase that would conduct him down to a
disused side door. Descending this stair he duly arrived at the other
side of the house, facing the quarter whence the wind blew, and here he
was surprised to catch the noise of rain beating against the windows. It
was a state of weather which fully accounted for the visitor's impatient
St. Cleeve was in a minor kind of dilemma. The rain reminded him that
his hat and great-coat had been left downstairs, in the front part of the
house; and though he might have gone home without either in ordinary
weather it was not a pleasant feat in the pelting winter rain. Retracing
his steps to Viviette's room he took the light, and opened a closet-door
that he had seen ajar on his way down. Within the closet hung various
articles of apparel, upholstery lumber of all kinds filling the back
part. Swithin thought he might find here a cloak of hers to throw round
him, but finally took down from a peg a more suitable garment, the only
one of the sort that was there. It was an old moth-eaten great-coat,
heavily trimmed with fur; and in removing it a companion cap of sealskin
'Whose can they be?' he thought, and a gloomy answer suggested itself.
'Pooh,' he then said (summoning the scientific side of his nature),
'matter is matter, and mental association only a delusion.' Putting on
the garments he returned the light to Lady Constantine's bedroom, and
again prepared to depart as before.
Scarcely, however, had he regained the corridor a second time, when he
heard a light footstep--seemingly Viviette's--again on the front landing.
Wondering what she wanted with him further he waited, taking the
precaution to step into the closet till sure it was she.
The figure came onward, bent to the keyhole of the bedroom door, and
whispered (supposing him still inside), 'Swithin, on second thoughts I
think you may stay with safety.'
Having no further doubt of her personality he came out with thoughtless
abruptness from the closet behind her, and looking round suddenly she
beheld his shadowy fur-clad outline. At once she raised her hands in
horror, as if to protect herself from him; she uttered a shriek, and
turned shudderingly to the wall, covering her face.
Swithin would have picked her up in a moment, but by this time he could
hear footsteps rushing upstairs, in response to her cry. In
consternation, and with a view of not compromising her, he effected his
retreat as fast as possible, reaching the bend of the corridor just as
her brother Louis appeared with a light at the other extremity.
'What's the matter, for heaven's sake, Viviette?' said Louis.
'My husband!' she involuntarily exclaimed.
'O yes, it is nonsense,' she added, with an effort. 'It was nothing.'
'But what was the cause of your cry?'
She had by this time recovered her reason and judgment. 'O, it was a
trick of the imagination,' she said, with a faint laugh. 'I live so much
alone that I get superstitious--and--I thought for the moment I saw an
'Of your late husband?'
'Yes. But it was nothing; it was the outline of the--tall clock and the
chair behind. Would you mind going down, and leaving me to go into my
room for a moment?'
She entered the bedroom, and her brother went downstairs. Swithin
thought it best to leave well alone, and going noiselessly out of the
house plodded through the rain homeward. It was plain that agitations of
one sort and another had so weakened Viviette's nerves as to lay her open
to every impression. That the clothes he had borrowed were some cast-off
garments of the late Sir Blount had occurred to St. Cleeve in taking
them; but in the moment of returning to her side he had forgotten this,
and the shape they gave to his figure had obviously been a reminder of
too sudden a sort for her. Musing thus he walked along as if he were
still, as before, the lonely student, dissociated from all mankind, and
with no shadow of right or interest in Welland House or its mistress.
The great-coat and cap were unpleasant companions; but Swithin having
been reared, or having reared himself, in the scientific school of
thought, would not give way to his sense of their weirdness. To do so
would have been treason to his own beliefs and aims.
When nearly home, at a point where his track converged on another path,
there approached him from the latter a group of indistinct forms. The
tones of their speech revealed them to be Hezzy Biles, Nat Chapman, Fry,
and other labourers. Swithin was about to say a word to them, till
recollecting his disguise he deemed it advisable to hold his tongue, lest
his attire should tell a too dangerous tale as to where he had come from.
By degrees they drew closer, their walk being in the same direction.
'Good-night, strainger,' said Nat.
The stranger did not reply.
All of them paced on abreast of him, and he could perceive in the gloom
that their faces were turned inquiringly upon his form. Then a whisper
passed from one to another of them; then Chapman, who was the boldest,
dropped immediately behind his heels, and followed there for some
distance, taking close observations of his outline, after which the men
grouped again and whispered. Thinking it best to let them pass on
Swithin slackened his pace, and they went ahead of him, apparently
without much reluctance.
There was no doubt that they had been impressed by the clothes he wore;
and having no wish to provoke similar comments from his grandmother and
Hannah, Swithin took the precaution, on arriving at Welland Bottom, to
enter the homestead by the outhouse. Here he deposited the cap and coat
in secure hiding, afterwards going round to the front and opening the
door in the usual way.
In the entry he met Hannah, who said--
'Only to hear what have been seed to-night, Mr. Swithin! The work-folk
have dropped in to tell us!'
In the kitchen were the men who had outstripped him on the road. Their
countenances, instead of wearing the usual knotty irregularities, had a
smoothed-out expression of blank concern. Swithin's entrance was
unobtrusive and quiet, as if he had merely come down from his study
upstairs, and they only noticed him by enlarging their gaze, so as to
include him in the audience.
'We was in a deep talk at the moment,' continued Blore, 'and Natty had
just brought up that story about old Jeremiah Paddock's crossing the park
one night at one o'clock in the morning, and seeing Sir Blount a-shutting
my lady out-o'-doors; and we was saying that it seemed a true return that
he should perish in a foreign land; when we happened to look up, and
there was Sir Blount a-walking along.'
'Did it overtake you, or did you overtake it?' whispered Hannah
'I don't say 'twas it,' returned Sammy. 'God forbid that I should drag
in a resurrection word about what perhaps was still solid manhood, and
has to die! But he, or it, closed in upon us, as 'twere.'
'Yes, closed in upon us!' said Haymoss.
'And I said "Good-night, strainger,"' added Chapman.
'Yes, "Good-night, strainger,"--that wez yer words, Natty. I support ye
'And then he closed in upon us still more.'
'We closed in upon he, rather,' said Chapman.
'Well, well; 'tis the same thing in such matters! And the form was Sir
Blount's. My nostrils told me, for--there, 'a smelled. Yes, I could
smell'n, being to leeward.'
'Lord, lord, what unwholesome scandal's this about the ghost of a
respectable gentleman?' said Mrs. Martin, who had entered from the
'Now, wait, ma'am. I don't say 'twere a low smell, mind ye. 'Twere a
high smell, a sort of gamey flaviour, calling to mind venison and hare,
just as you'd expect of a great squire,--not like a poor man's 'natomy,
at all; and that was what strengthened my faith that 'twas Sir Blount.'
('The skins that old coat was made of,' ruminated Swithin.)
'Well, well; I've not held out against the figure o' starvation these
five-and-twenty year, on nine shillings a week, to be afeard of a walking
vapour, sweet or savoury,' said Hezzy. 'So here's home-along.'
'Bide a bit longer, and I'm going too,' continued Fry. 'Well, when I
found 'twas Sir Blount my spet dried up within my mouth; for neither
hedge nor bush were there for refuge against any foul spring 'a might
have made at us.'
''Twas very curious; but we had likewise a-mentioned his name just afore,
in talking of the confirmation that's shortly coming on,' said Hezzy.
'Is there soon to be a confirmation?'
'Yes. In this parish--the first time in Welland church for twenty years.
As I say, I had told 'em that he was confirmed the same year that I went
up to have it done, as I have very good cause to mind. When we went to
be examined, the pa'son said to me, "Rehearse the articles of thy
belief." Mr. Blount (as he was then) was nighest me, and he whispered,
"Women and wine." "Women and wine," says I to the pa'son: and for that I
was sent back till next confirmation, Sir Blount never owning that he was
'Confirmation was a sight different at that time,' mused Biles. 'The
Bishops didn't lay it on so strong then as they do now. Now-a-days, yer
Bishop gies both hands to every Jack-rag and Tom-straw that drops the
knee afore him; but 'twas six chaps to one blessing when we was boys. The
Bishop o' that time would stretch out his palms and run his fingers over
our row of crowns as off-hand as a bank gentleman telling money. The
great lords of the Church in them days wasn't particular to a soul or two
more or less; and, for my part, I think living was easier for 't.'
'The new Bishop, I hear, is a bachelor-man; or a widow gentleman is it?'
asked Mrs. Martin.
'Bachelor, I believe, ma'am. Mr. San Cleeve, making so bold, you've
never faced him yet, I think?'
Mrs. Martin shook her head.
'No; it was a piece of neglect. I hardly know how it happened,' she
'I am going to, this time,' said Swithin, and turned the chat to other
Swithin could not sleep that night for thinking of his Viviette. Nothing
told so significantly of the conduct of her first husband towards the
poor lady as the abiding dread of him which was revealed in her by any
sudden revival of his image or memory. But for that consideration her
almost childlike terror at Swithin's inadvertent disguise would have been
He waited anxiously through several following days for an opportunity of
seeing her, but none was afforded. Her brother's presence in the house
sufficiently accounted for this. At length he ventured to write a note,
requesting her to signal to him in a way she had done once or twice
before,--by pulling down a blind in a particular window of the house, one
of the few visible from the top of the Rings-Hill column; this to be done
on any evening when she could see him after dinner on the terrace.
When he had levelled the glass at that window for five successive nights
he beheld the blind in the position suggested. Three hours later, quite
in the dusk, he repaired to the place of appointment.
'My brother is away this evening,' she explained, 'and that's why I can
come out. He is only gone for a few hours, nor is he likely to go for
longer just yet. He keeps himself a good deal in my company, which has
made it unsafe for me to venture near you.'
'Has he any suspicion?'
'None, apparently. But he rather depresses me.'
'How, Viviette?' Swithin feared, from her manner, that this was
'I would rather not tell.'
'But--Well, never mind.'
'Yes, Swithin, I will tell you. There should be no secrets between us.
He urges upon me the necessity of marrying, day after day.'
'For money and position, of course.'
'Yes. But I take no notice. I let him go on.'
'Really, this is sad!' said the young man. 'I must work harder than
ever, or you will never be able to own me.'
'O yes, in good time!' she cheeringly replied.
'I shall be very glad to have you always near me. I felt the gloom of
our position keenly when I was obliged to disappear that night, without
assuring you it was only I who stood there. Why were you so frightened
at those old clothes I borrowed?'
'Don't ask,--don't ask!' she said, burying her face on his shoulder. 'I
don't want to speak of that. There was something so ghastly and so
uncanny in your putting on such garments that I wish you had been more
thoughtful, and had left them alone.'
He assured her that he did not stop to consider whose they were. 'By the
way, they must be sent back,' he said.
'No; I never wish to see them again! I cannot help feeling that your
putting them on was ominous.'
'Nothing is ominous in serene philosophy,' he said, kissing her. 'Things
are either causes, or they are not causes. When can you see me again?'
In such wise the hour passed away. The evening was typical of others
which followed it at irregular intervals through the winter. And during
the intenser months of the season frequent falls of snow lengthened, even
more than other difficulties had done, the periods of isolation between
the pair. Swithin adhered with all the more strictness to the letter of
his promise not to intrude into the house, from his sense of her
powerlessness to compel him to keep out should he choose to rebel. A
student of the greatest forces in nature, he had, like many others of his
sort, no personal force to speak of in a social point of view, mainly
because he took no interest in human ranks and formulas; and hence he
as docile as a child in her hands wherever matters of that kind were
Her brother wintered at Welland; but whether because his experience of
tropic climes had unfitted him for the brumal rigours of Britain, or for
some other reason, he seldom showed himself out of doors, and Swithin
caught but passing glimpses of him. Now and then Viviette's impulsive
affection would overcome her sense of risk, and she would press Swithin
to call on her at all costs. This he would by no means do. It was
obvious to his more logical mind that the secrecy to which they had bound
themselves must be kept in its fulness, or might as well be abandoned
He was now sadly exercised on the subject of his uncle's will. There had
as yet been no pressing reasons for a full and candid reply to the
solicitor who had communicated with him, owing to the fact that the
payments were not to begin till Swithin was one-and-twenty; but time was
going on, and something definite would have to be done soon. To own to
his marriage and consequent disqualification for the bequest was easy in
itself; but it involved telling at least one man what both Viviette and
himself had great reluctance in telling anybody. Moreover he wished
Viviette to know nothing of his loss in making her his wife. All he
could think of doing for the present was to write a postponing letter to
his uncle's lawyer, and wait events.
The one comfort of this dreary winter-time was his perception of a
returning ability to work with the regularity and much of the spirit of
* * * * *
One bright night in April there was an eclipse of the moon, and Mr.
Torkingham, by arrangement, brought to the observatory several labouring
men and boys, to whom he had promised a sight of the phenomenon
the telescope. The coming confirmation, fixed for May, was again talked
of; and St. Cleeve learnt from the parson that the Bishop had arranged to
stay the night at the vicarage, and was to be invited to a grand luncheon
at Welland House immediately after the ordinance.
This seemed like a going back into life again as regarded the mistress of
that house; and St. Cleeve was a little surprised that, in his
communications with Viviette, she had mentioned no such probability. The
next day he walked round the mansion, wondering how in its present state
any entertainment could be given therein.
He found that the shutters had been opened, which had restored an
unexpected liveliness to the aspect of the windows. Two men were putting
a chimney-pot on one of the chimney-stacks, and two more were scraping
green mould from the front wall. He made no inquiries on that occasion.
Three days later he strolled thitherward again. Now a great cleaning of
window-panes was going on, Hezzy Biles and Sammy Blore being the
operators, for which purpose their services must have been borrowed from
the neighbouring farmer. Hezzy dashed water at the glass with a force
that threatened to break it in, the broad face of Sammy being discernible
inside, smiling at the onset. In addition to these, Anthony Green and
another were weeding the gravel walks, and putting fresh plants into the
flower-beds. Neither of these reasonable operations was a great
undertaking, singly looked at; but the life Viviette had latterly led and
the mood in which she had hitherto regarded the premises, rendered it
somewhat significant. Swithin, however, was rather curious than
concerned at the proceedings, and returned to his tower with feelings of
interest not entirely confined to the worlds overhead.
Lady Constantine may or may not have seen him from the house; but the
same evening, which was fine and dry, while he was occupying himself in
the observatory with cleaning the eye-pieces of the equatorial, skull-cap
on head, observing-jacket on, and in other ways primed for sweeping, the
customary stealthy step on the winding staircase brought her form in due
course into the rays of the bull's-eye lantern. The meeting was all the
more pleasant to him from being unexpected, and he at once lit up a
larger lamp in honour of the occasion.
'It is but a hasty visit,' she said when, after putting up her mouth to
be kissed, she had seated herself in the low chair used for observations,
panting a little with the labour of ascent. 'But I hope to be able to
come more freely soon. My brother is still living on with me. Yes, he
is going to stay until the confirmation is over. After the confirmation
he will certainly leave. So good it is of you, dear, to please me by
agreeing to the ceremony. The Bishop, you know, is going to lunch with
us. It is a wonder he has promised to come, for he is a man averse to
society, and mostly keeps entirely with the clergy on these confirmation
tours, or circuits, or whatever they call them. But Mr. Torkingham's
house is so very small, and mine is so close at hand, that this
arrangement to relieve him of the fuss of one meal, at least, naturally
suggested itself; and the Bishop has fallen in with it very readily. How
are you getting on with your observations? Have you not wanted me
dreadfully, to write down notes?'
'Well, I have been obliged to do without you, whether or no. See
here,--how much I have done.' And he showed her a book ruled in columns,
headed 'Object,' 'Right Ascension,' 'Declination,' 'Features,' 'Remarks,'
and so on.
She looked over this and other things, but her mind speedily winged its
way back to the confirmation. 'It is so new to me,' she said, 'to have
persons coming to the house, that I feel rather anxious. I hope the
luncheon will be a success.'
'You know the Bishop?' said Swithin.
'I have not seen him for many years. I knew him when I was quite a girl,
and he held the little living of Puddle-sub-Mixen, near us; but after
that time, and ever since I have lived here, I have seen nothing of him.
There has been no confirmation in this village, they say, for twenty
years. The other bishop used to make the young men and women go to
Warborne; he wouldn't take the trouble to come to such an out-of-the-way
parish as ours.'
'This cleaning and preparation that I observe going on must be rather a
tax upon you?'
'My brother Louis sees to it, and, what is more, bears the expense.'
'Your brother?' said Swithin, with surprise.
'Well, he insisted on doing so,' she replied, in a hesitating, despondent
tone. 'He has been active in the whole matter, and was the first to
suggest the invitation. I should not have thought of it.'
'Well, I will hold aloof till it is all over.'
'Thanks, dearest, for your considerateness. I wish it was not still
advisable! But I shall see you on the day, and watch my own philosopher
all through the service from the corner of my pew! . . . I hope you are
well prepared for the rite, Swithin?' she added, turning tenderly to him.
'It would perhaps be advisable for you to give up this astronomy till the
confirmation is over, in order to devote your attention exclusively to
that more serious matter.'
'More serious! Well, I will do the best I can. I am sorry to see that
you are less interested in astronomy than you used to be, Viviette.'
'No; it is only that these preparations for the Bishop unsettle my mind
from study. Now put on your other coat and hat, and come with me a
The morning of the confirmation was come. It was mid-May time, bringing
with it weather not, perhaps, quite so blooming as that assumed to be
natural to the month by the joyous poets of three hundred years ago; but
a very tolerable, well-wearing May, that the average rustic would
willingly have compounded for in lieu of Mays occasionally fairer, but
usually more foul.
Among the larger shrubs and flowers which composed the outworks of the
Welland gardens, the lilac, the laburnum, and the guelder-rose hung out
their respective colours of purple, yellow, and white; whilst within
these, belted round from every disturbing gale, rose the columbine, the
peony, the larkspur, and the Solomon's seal. The animate things that
moved amid this scene of colour were plodding bees, gadding butterflies,
and numerous sauntering young feminine candidates for the impending
confirmation, who, having gaily bedecked themselves for the ceremony,
were enjoying their own appearance by walking about in twos and threes
till it was time to start.
Swithin St. Cleeve, whose preparations were somewhat simpler than those
of the village belles, waited till his grandmother and Hannah had set
out, and then, locking the door, followed towards the distant church. On
reaching the churchyard gate he met Mr. Torkingham, who shook hands
him in the manner of a man with several irons in the fire, and telling
Swithin where to sit, disappeared to hunt up some candidates who had not
yet made themselves visible.
Casting his eyes round for Viviette, and seeing nothing of her, Swithin
went on to the church porch, and looked in. From the north side of the
nave smiled a host of girls, gaily uniform in dress, age, and a temporary
repression of their natural tendency to 'skip like a hare over the meshes
of good counsel.' Their white muslin dresses, their round white caps,
from beneath whose borders hair-knots and curls of various shades of
brown escaped upon their low shoulders, as if against their will, lighted
up the dark pews and grey stone-work to an unwonted warmth and life. On
the south side were the young men and boys,--heavy, angular, and massive,
as indeed was rather necessary, considering what they would have to bear
at the hands of wind and weather before they returned to that mouldy nave
for the last time.
Over the heads of all these he could see into the chancel to the square
pew on the north side, which was attached to Welland House. There he
discerned Lady Constantine already arrived, her brother Louis sitting by
Swithin entered and seated himself at the end of a bench, and she, who
had been on the watch, at once showed by subtle signs her consciousness
of the presence of the young man who had reversed the ordained sequence
of the Church services on her account. She appeared in black attire,
though not strictly in mourning, a touch of red in her bonnet setting off
the richness of her complexion without making her gay. Handsomest
in the church she decidedly was; and yet a disinterested spectator who
had known all the circumstances would probably have felt that, the future
considered, Swithin's more natural mate would have been one of the
clad maidens who were to be presented to the Bishop with him that day.
When the Bishop had arrived and gone into the chancel, and blown his
nose, the congregation were sufficiently impressed by his presence to
leave off looking at one another.
The Right Reverend Cuthbert Helmsdale, D.D., ninety-fourth occupant of
the episcopal throne of the diocese, revealed himself to be a personage
of dark complexion, whose darkness was thrown still further into
prominence by the lawn protuberances that now rose upon his two
like the Eastern and Western hemispheres. In stature he seemed to be
tall and imposing, but something of this aspect may have been derived
from his robes.
The service was, as usual, of a length which severely tried the tarrying
powers of the young people assembled; and it was not till the youth of
all the other parishes had gone up that the turn came for the Welland
bevy. Swithin and some older ones were nearly the last. When, at the
heels of Mr. Torkingham, he passed Lady Constantine's pew, he lifted his
eyes from the red lining of that gentleman's hood sufficiently high to
catch hers. She was abstracted, tearful, regarding him with all the rapt
mingling of religion, love, fervour, and hope which such women can feel
at such times, and which men know nothing of. How fervidly she watched
the Bishop place his hand on her beloved youth's head; how she saw the
great episcopal ring glistening in the sun among Swithin's brown curls;
how she waited to hear if Dr. Helmsdale uttered the form 'this thy child'
which he used for the younger ones, or 'this thy servant' which he used
for those older; and how, when he said, 'this thy child,' she felt a
prick of conscience, like a person who had entrapped an innocent youth
into marriage for her own gratification, till she remembered that she had
raised his social position thereby,--all this could only have been told
in its entirety by herself.
As for Swithin, he felt ashamed of his own utter lack of the high
enthusiasm which beamed so eloquently from her eyes. When he passed
again, on the return journey from the Bishop to his seat, her face was
warm with a blush which her brother might have observed had he regarded
Whether he had observed it or not, as soon as St. Cleeve had sat himself
down again Louis Glanville turned and looked hard at the young
astronomer. This was the first time that St. Cleeve and Viviette's
brother had been face to face in a distinct light, their first meeting
having occurred in the dusk of a railway-station. Swithin was not in the
habit of noticing people's features; he scarcely ever observed any detail
of physiognomy in his friends, a generalization from their whole aspect
forming his idea of them; and he now only noted a young man of perhaps
thirty, who lolled a good deal, and in whose small dark eyes seemed to be
concentrated the activity that the rest of his frame decidedly lacked.
This gentleman's eyes were henceforward, to the end of the service,
continually fixed upon Swithin; but as this was their natural direction,
from the position of his seat, there was no great strangeness in the
Swithin wanted to say to Viviette, 'Now I hope you are pleased; I have
conformed to your ideas of my duty, leaving my fitness out of
consideration;' but as he could only see her bonnet and forehead it was
not possible even to look the intelligence. He turned to his left hand,
where the organ stood, with Miss Tabitha Lark seated behind it.
It being now sermon-time the youthful blower had fallen asleep over the
handle of his bellows, and Tabitha pulled out her handkerchief intending
to flap him awake with it. With the handkerchief tumbled out a whole
family of unexpected articles: a silver thimble; a photograph; a little
purse; a scent-bottle; some loose halfpence; nine green gooseberries; a
key. They rolled to Swithin's feet, and, passively obeying his first
instinct, he picked up as many of the articles as he could find, and
handed them to her amid the smiles of the neighbours.
Tabitha was half-dead with humiliation at such an event, happening under
the very eyes of the Bishop on this glorious occasion; she turned pale as
a sheet, and could hardly keep her seat. Fearing she might faint,
Swithin, who had genuinely sympathized, bent over and whispered
encouragingly, 'Don't mind it, Tabitha. Shall I take you out into the
air?' She declined his offer, and presently the sermon came to an end.
Swithin lingered behind the rest of the congregation sufficiently long to
see Lady Constantine, accompanied by her brother, the Bishop, the
Bishop's chaplain, Mr. Torkingham, and several other clergy and ladies,
enter to the grand luncheon by the door which admitted from the
churchyard to the lawn of Welland House; the whole group talking with a
vivacity all the more intense, as it seemed, from the recent two hours'
enforced repression of their social qualities within the adjoining
The young man stood till he was left quite alone in the churchyard, and
then went slowly homeward over the hill, perhaps a trifle depressed at
the impossibility of being near Viviette in this her one day of gaiety,
and joining in the conversation of those who surrounded her.
Not that he felt much jealousy of her situation, as his wife, in
comparison with his own. He had so clearly understood from the beginning
that, in the event of marriage, their outward lives were to run on as
before, that to rebel now would have been unmanly in himself and cruel to
her, by adding to embarrassments that were great enough already. His
momentary doubt was of his own strength to achieve sufficiently high
things to render him, in relation to her, other than a patronized young
favourite, whom she had married at an immense sacrifice of position. Now,
at twenty, he was doomed to isolation even from a wife; could it be that
at, say thirty, he would be welcomed everywhere?
But with motion through the sun and air his mood assumed a lighter
complexion, and on reaching home he remembered with interest that Venus
was in a favourable aspect for observation that afternoon.
Meanwhile the interior of Welland House was rattling with the progress of
the ecclesiastical luncheon.
The Bishop, who sat at Lady Constantine's side, seemed enchanted with her
company, and from the beginning she engrossed his attention almost
entirely. The truth was that the circumstance of her not having her
whole soul centred on the success of the repast and the pleasure of
Bishop Helmsdale, imparted to her, in a great measure, the mood to ensure
both. Her brother Louis it was who had laid out the plan of entertaining
the Bishop, to which she had assented but indifferently. She was
secretly bound to another, on whose career she had staked all her
happiness. Having thus other interests she evinced to-day the ease of
one who hazards nothing, and there was no sign of that preoccupation with
housewifely contingencies which so often makes the hostess hardly
recognizable as the charming woman who graced a friend's home the day
before. In marrying Swithin Lady Constantine had played her
card,--recklessly, impulsively, ruinously, perhaps; but she had played
it; it could not be withdrawn; and she took this morning's luncheon as an
episode that could result in nothing to her beyond the day's
Hence, by that power of indirectness to accomplish in an hour what
strenuous aiming will not effect in a life-time, she fascinated the
Bishop to an unprecedented degree. A bachelor, he rejoiced in the
commanding period of life that stretches between the time of waning
impulse and the time of incipient dotage, when a woman can reach the male
heart neither by awakening a young man's passion nor an old man's
infatuation. He must be made to admire, or he can be made to do nothing.
Unintentionally that is how Viviette operated on her guest.
Lady Constantine, to external view, was in a position to desire many
things, and of a sort to desire them. She was obviously, by nature,
impulsive to indiscretion. But instead of exhibiting activities to
correspond, recently gratified affection lent to her manner just now a
sweet serenity, a truly Christian contentment, which it puzzled the
learned Bishop exceedingly to find in a warm young widow, and increased
his interest in her every moment. Thus matters stood when the
conversation veered round to the morning's confirmation.
'That was a singularly engaging young man who came up among Mr.
Torkingham's candidates,' said the Bishop to her somewhat abruptly.
But abruptness does not catch a woman without her wit. 'Which one?' she
'That youth with the "corn-coloured" hair, as a poet of the new school
would call it, who sat just at the side of the organ. Do you know who he
In answering Viviette showed a little nervousness, for the first time
'O yes. He is the son of an unfortunate gentleman who was formerly
curate here,--a Mr. St. Cleeve.'
'I never saw a handsomer young man in my life,' said the Bishop. Lady
Constantine blushed. 'There was a lack of self-consciousness, too, in
his manner of presenting himself, which very much won me. A Mr. St.
Cleeve, do you say? A curate's son? His father must have been St.
Cleeve of All Angels, whom I knew. How comes he to be staying on here?
What is he doing?'
Mr. Torkingham, who kept one ear on the Bishop all the lunch-time,
finding that Lady Constantine was not ready with an answer, hastened to
reply: 'Your lordship is right. His father was an All Angels' man. The
youth is rather to be pitied.'
'He was a man of talent,' affirmed the Bishop. 'But I quite lost sight
'He was curate to the late vicar,' resumed the parson, 'and was much
liked by the parish: but, being erratic in his tastes and tendencies, he
rashly contracted a marriage with the daughter of a farmer, and then
quarrelled with the local gentry for not taking up his wife. This lad
was an only child. There was enough money to educate him, and he is
sufficiently well provided for to be independent of the world so long as
he is content to live here with great economy. But of course this gives
him few opportunities of bettering himself.'
'Yes, naturally,' replied the Bishop of Melchester. 'Better have been
left entirely dependent on himself. These half-incomes do men little
good, unless they happen to be either weaklings or geniuses.'
Lady Constantine would have given the world to say, 'He is a genius, and
the hope of my life;' but it would have been decidedly risky, and in
another moment was unnecessary, for Mr. Torkingham said, 'There is a
certain genius in this young man, I sometimes think.'
'Well, he really looks quite out of the common,' said the Bishop.
'Youthful genius is sometimes disappointing,' observed Viviette, not
believing it in the least.
'Yes,' said the Bishop. 'Though it depends, Lady Constantine, on what
you understand by disappointing. It may produce nothing visible to the
world's eye, and yet may complete its development within to a very
perfect degree. Objective achievements, though the only ones which are
counted, are not the only ones that exist and have value; and I for one
should be sorry to assert that, because a man of genius dies as unknown
to the world as when he was born, he therefore was an instance of wasted
Objective achievements were, however, those that Lady Constantine had a
weakness for in the present case, and she asked her more experienced
guest if he thought early development of a special talent a good sign in
The Bishop thought it well that a particular bent should not show itself
too early, lest disgust should result.
'Still,' argued Lady Constantine rather firmly (for she felt this opinion
of the Bishop's to be one throwing doubt on Swithin), 'sustained fruition
is compatible with early bias. Tycho Brahe showed quite a passion for
the solar system when he was but a youth, and so did Kepler; and James
Ferguson had a surprising knowledge of the stars by the time he was
eleven or twelve.'
'Yes; sustained fruition,' conceded the Bishop (rather liking the words),
'is certainly compatible with early bias. Fenelon preached at fourteen.'
'He--Mr. St. Cleeve--is not in the church,' said Lady Constantine.
'He is a scientific young man, my lord,' explained Mr. Torkingham.
'An astronomer,' she added, with suppressed pride.
'An astronomer! Really, that makes him still more interesting than being
handsome and the son of a man I knew. How and where does he study
'He has a beautiful observatory. He has made use of an old column that
was erected on this manor to the memory of one of the Constantines. It
has been very ingeniously adapted for his purpose, and he does very good
work there. I believe he occasionally sends up a paper to the Royal
Society, or Greenwich, or somewhere, and to astronomical periodicals.'
'I should have had no idea, from his boyish look, that he had advanced so
far,' the Bishop answered. 'And yet I saw on his face that within there
was a book worth studying. His is a career I should very much like to
A thrill of pleasure chased through Lady Constantine's heart at this
praise of her chosen one. It was an unwitting compliment to her taste
and discernment in singling him out for her own, despite its temporary
Her brother Louis now spoke. 'I fancy he is as interested in one of his
fellow-creatures as in the science of astronomy,' observed the cynic
'In whom?' said Lady Constantine quickly.
'In the fair maiden who sat at the organ,--a pretty girl, rather. I
noticed a sort of by-play going on between them occasionally, during the
sermon, which meant mating, if I am not mistaken.'
'She!' said Lady Constantine. 'She is only a village girl, a dairyman's
daughter,--Tabitha Lark, who used to come to read to me.'
'She may be a savage, for all that I know: but there is something between
those two young people, nevertheless.'
The Bishop looked as if he had allowed his interest in a stranger to
carry him too far, and Mr. Torkingham was horrified at the irreverent and
easy familiarity of Louis Glanville's talk in the presence of a
consecrated bishop. As for Viviette, her tongue lost all its volubility.
She felt quite faint at heart, and hardly knew how to control herself.
'I have never noticed anything of the sort,' said Mr. Torkingham.
'It would be a matter for regret,' said the Bishop, 'if he should follow
his father in forming an attachment that would be a hindrance to him in
any honourable career; though perhaps an early marriage, intrinsically
considered, would not be bad for him. A youth who looks as if he had
come straight from old Greece may be exposed to many temptations, should
he go out into the world without a friend or counsellor to guide him.'
Despite her sudden jealousy Viviette's eyes grew moist at the picture of
her innocent Swithin going into the world without a friend or counsellor.
But she was sick in soul and disquieted still by Louis's dreadful
remarks, who, unbeliever as he was in human virtue, could have no reason
whatever for representing Swithin as engaged in a private love affair if
such were not his honest impression.
She was so absorbed during the remainder of the luncheon that she did not
even observe the kindly light that her presence was shedding on the right
reverend ecclesiastic by her side. He reflected it back in tones duly
mellowed by his position; the minor clergy caught up the rays thereof,
and so the gentle influence played down the table.
The company soon departed when luncheon was over, and the remainder of
the day passed in quietness, the Bishop being occupied in his room at the
vicarage with writing letters or a sermon. Having a long journey before
him the next day he had expressed a wish to be housed for the night
without ceremony, and would have dined alone with Mr. Torkingham but
that, by a happy thought, Lady Constantine and her brother were asked to
However, when Louis crossed the churchyard and entered the vicarage
drawing-room at seven o'clock, his sister was not in his company. She
was, he said, suffering from a slight headache, and much regretted that
she was on that account unable to come. At this intelligence the social
sparkle disappeared from the Bishop's eye, and he sat down to table,
endeavouring to mould into the form of episcopal serenity an expression
which was really one of common human disappointment.
In his simple statement Louis Glanville had by no means expressed all the
circumstances which accompanied his sister's refusal, at the last moment,
to dine at her neighbour's house. Louis had strongly urged her to bear
up against her slight indisposition--if it were that, and not
disinclination--and come along with him on just this one occasion,
perhaps a more important episode in her life than she was aware of.
Viviette thereupon knew quite well that he alluded to the favourable
impression she was producing on the Bishop, notwithstanding that neither
of them mentioned the Bishop's name. But she did not give way, though
the argument waxed strong between them; and Louis left her in no very
amiable mood, saying, 'I don't believe you have any more headache than I
have, Viviette. It is some provoking whim of yours--nothing more.'
In this there was a substratum of truth. When her brother had left her,
and she had seen him from the window entering the vicarage gate, Viviette
seemed to be much relieved, and sat down in her bedroom till the evening
grew dark, and only the lights shining through the trees from the
parsonage dining-room revealed to the eye where that dwelling stood. Then
she arose, and putting on the cloak she had used so many times before for
the same purpose, she locked her bedroom door (to be supposed within, in
case of the accidental approach of a servant), and let herself privately
out of the house.
Lady Constantine paused for a moment under the vicarage windows, till she
could sufficiently well hear the voices of the diners to be sure that
they were actually within, and then went on her way, which was towards
the Rings-Hill column. She appeared a mere spot, hardly distinguishable
from the grass, as she crossed the open ground, and soon became absorbed
in the black mass of the fir plantation.
Meanwhile the conversation at Mr. Torkingham's dinner-table was not of a
highly exhilarating quality. The parson, in long self-communing during
the afternoon, had decided that the Diocesan Synod, whose annual session
at Melchester had occurred in the month previous, would afford a solid
and unimpeachable subject to launch during the meal, whenever
conversation flagged; and that it would be one likely to win the respect
of his spiritual chieftain for himself as the introducer. Accordingly,
in the further belief that you could not have too much of a good thing,
Mr. Torkingham not only acted upon his idea, but at every pause rallied
to the synod point with unbroken firmness. Everything which had been
discussed at that last session--such as the introduction of the lay
element into the councils of the church, the reconstitution of the
ecclesiastical courts, church patronage, the tithe question--was revived
by Mr. Torkingham, and the excellent remarks which the Bishop had made
his addresses on those subjects were quoted back to him.
As for Bishop Helmsdale himself, his instincts seemed to be to allude in
a debonair spirit to the incidents of the past day--to the flowers in
Lady Constantine's beds, the date of her house--perhaps with a view of
hearing a little more about their owner from Louis, who would very
readily have followed the Bishop's lead had the parson allowed him room.
But this Mr. Torkingham seldom did, and about half-past nine they
prepared to separate.
Louis Glanville had risen from the table, and was standing by the window,
looking out upon the sky, and privately yawning, the topics discussed
having been hardly in his line.
'A fine night,' he said at last.
'I suppose our young astronomer is hard at work now,' said the Bishop,
following the direction of Louis's glance towards the clear sky.
'Yes,' said the parson; 'he is very assiduous whenever the nights are
good for observation. I have occasionally joined him in his tower, and
looked through his telescope with great benefit to my ideas of celestial
phenomena. I have not seen what he has been doing lately.'
'Suppose we stroll that way?' said Louis. 'Would you be interested in
seeing the observatory, Bishop?'
'I am quite willing to go,' said the Bishop, 'if the distance is not too
great. I should not be at all averse to making the acquaintance of so
exceptional a young man as this Mr. St. Cleeve seems to be; and I have
never seen the inside of an observatory in my life.'
The intention was no sooner formed than it was carried out, Mr.
Torkingham leading the way.
Half an hour before this time Swithin St. Cleeve had been sitting in his
cabin at the base of the column, working out some figures from
observations taken on preceding nights, with a view to a theory that he
had in his head on the motions of certain so-called fixed stars.
The evening being a little chilly a small fire was burning in the stove,
and this and the shaded lamp before him lent a remarkably cosy air to the
chamber. He was awakened from his reveries by a scratching at the
pane like that of the point of an ivy leaf, which he knew to be really
caused by the tip of his sweetheart-wife's forefinger. He rose and
opened the door to admit her, not without astonishment as to how she had
been able to get away from her friends.
'Dearest Viv, why, what's the matter?' he said, perceiving that her face,
as the lamplight fell on it, was sad, and even stormy.
'I thought I would run across to see you. I have heard something
so--so--to your discredit, and I know it can't be true! I know you are
constancy itself; but your constancy produces strange effects in people's
'Good heavens! Nobody has found us out--'
'No, no--it is not that. You know, Swithin, that I am always sincere,
and willing to own if I am to blame in anything. Now will you prove to
me that you are the same by owning some fault to me?'
'Yes, dear, indeed; directly I can think of one worth owning.'
'I wonder one does not rush upon your tongue in a moment!'
'I confess that I am sufficiently a Pharisee not to experience that
'Swithin, don't speak so affectedly, when you know so well what I mean!
Is it nothing to you that, after all our vows for life, you have thought
it right to--flirt with a village girl?'
'O Viviette!' interrupted Swithin, taking her hand, which was hot and
trembling. 'You who are full of noble and generous feelings, and regard
me with devoted tenderness that has never been surpassed by woman,--how
can you be so greatly at fault? I flirt, Viviette? By thinking that
you injure yourself in my eyes. Why, I am so far from doing so that I
continually pull myself up for watching you too jealously, as to-day,
when I have been dreading the effect upon you of other company in my
absence, and thinking that you rather shut the gates against me when you
have big-wigs to entertain.'
'Do you, Swithin?' she cried. It was evident that the honest tone of his
words was having a great effect in clearing away the clouds. She added
with an uncertain smile, 'But how can I believe that, after what was seen
to-day? My brother, not knowing in the least that I had an iota of
interest in you, told me that he witnessed the signs of an attachment
between you and Tabitha Lark in church, this morning.'
'Ah!' cried Swithin, with a burst of laughter. 'Now I know what you
mean, and what has caused this misunderstanding! How good of you,
Viviette, to come at once and have it out with me, instead of brooding
over it with dark imaginings, and thinking bitter things of me, as many
women would have done!' He succinctly told the whole story of his little
adventure with Tabitha that morning; and the sky was clear on both sides.
'When shall I be able to claim you,' he added, 'and put an end to all
such painful accidents as these?'
She partially sighed. Her perception of what the outside world was made
of, latterly somewhat obscured by solitude and her lover's company, had
been revived to-day by her entertainment of the Bishop, clergymen, and,
more particularly, clergymen's wives; and it did not diminish her sense
of the difficulties in Swithin's path to see anew how little was thought
of the greatest gifts, mental and spiritual, if they were not backed up
by substantial temporalities. However, the pair made the best of their
future that circumstances permitted, and the interview was at length
drawing to a close when there came, without the slightest forewarning, a
smart rat-tat-tat upon the little door.
'O I am lost!' said Viviette, seizing his arm. 'Why was I so
'It is nobody of consequence,' whispered Swithin assuringly. 'Somebody
from my grandmother, probably, to know when I am coming home.'
They were unperceived so far, for the only window which gave light to the
hut was screened by a curtain. At that moment they heard the sound of
their visitors' voices, and, with a consternation as great as her own,
Swithin discerned the tones of Mr. Torkingham and the Bishop of
'Where shall I get? What shall I do?' said the poor lady, clasping her
Swithin looked around the cabin, and a very little look was required to
take in all its resources. At one end, as previously explained, were a
table, stove, chair, cupboard, and so on; while the other was completely
occupied by a diminutive Arabian bedstead, hung with curtains of pink-and-
white chintz. On the inside of the bed there was a narrow channel, about
a foot wide, between it and the wall of the hut. Into this cramped
retreat Viviette slid herself, and stood trembling behind the curtains.
By this time the knock had been repeated more loudly, the light through
the window-blind unhappily revealing the presence of some inmate. Swithin
threw open the door, and Mr. Torkingham introduced his visitors.
The Bishop shook hands with the young man, told him he had known his
father, and at Swithin's invitation, weak as it was, entered the cabin,
the vicar and Louis Glanville remaining on the threshold, not to
inconveniently crowd the limited space within.
Bishop Helmsdale looked benignantly around the apartment, and said,
'Quite a settlement in the backwoods--quite: far enough from the world to
afford the votary of science the seclusion he needs, and not so far as to
limit his resources. A hermit might apparently live here in as much
solitude as in a primeval forest.'
'His lordship has been good enough to express an interest in your
studies,' said Mr. Torkingham to St. Cleeve. 'And we have come to ask
you to let us see the observatory.'
'With great pleasure,' stammered Swithin.
'Where is the observatory?' inquired the Bishop, peering round again.
'The staircase is just outside this door,' Swithin answered. 'I am at
your lordship's service, and will show you up at once.'
'And this is your little bed, for use when you work late,' said the
'Yes; I am afraid it is rather untidy,' Swithin apologized.
'And here are your books,' the Bishop continued, turning to the table and
the shaded lamp. 'You take an observation at the top, I presume, and
come down here to record your observations.'
The young man explained his precise processes as well as his state of
mind would let him, and while he was doing so Mr. Torkingham and Louis
waited patiently without, looking sometimes into the night, and sometimes
through the door at the interlocutors, and listening to their scientific
converse. When all had been exhibited here below, Swithin lit his
lantern, and, inviting his visitors to follow, led the way up the column,
experiencing no small sense of relief as soon as he heard the footsteps
of all three tramping on the stairs behind him. He knew very well that,
once they were inside the spiral, Viviette was out of danger, her
knowledge of the locality enabling her to find her way with perfect
safety through the plantation, and into the park home.
At the top he uncovered his equatorial, and, for the first time at ease,
explained to them its beauties, and revealed by its help the glories of
those stars that were eligible for inspection. The Bishop spoke as
intelligently as could be expected on a topic not peculiarly his own;
but, somehow, he seemed rather more abstracted in manner now than when
had arrived. Swithin thought that perhaps the long clamber up the
stairs, coming after a hard day's work, had taken his spontaneity out of
him, and Mr. Torkingham was afraid that his lordship was getting bored.
But this did not appear to be the case; for though he said little he
stayed on some time longer, examining the construction of the dome after
relinquishing the telescope; while occasionally Swithin caught the eyes
of the Bishop fixed hard on him.
'Perhaps he sees some likeness of my father in me,' the young man
thought; and the party making ready to leave at this time he conducted
them to the bottom of the tower.
Swithin was not prepared for what followed their descent. All were
standing at the foot of the staircase. The astronomer, lantern in hand,
offered to show them the way out of the plantation, to which Mr.
Torkingham replied that he knew the way very well, and would not trouble
his young friend. He strode forward with the words, and Louis followed
him, after waiting a moment and finding that the Bishop would not take
the precedence. The latter and Swithin were thus left together for one
moment, whereupon the Bishop turned.
'Mr. St. Cleeve,' he said in a strange voice, 'I should like to speak to
you privately, before I leave, to-morrow morning. Can you meet me--let
me see--in the churchyard, at half-past ten o'clock?'
'O yes, my lord, certainly,' said Swithin. And before he had recovered
from his surprise the Bishop had joined the others in the shades of the
Swithin immediately opened the door of the hut, and scanned the nook
behind the bed. As he had expected his bird had flown.
All night the astronomer's mind was on the stretch with curiosity as to
what the Bishop could wish to say to him. A dozen conjectures entered
his brain, to be abandoned in turn as unlikely. That which finally
seemed the most plausible was that the Bishop, having become interested
in his pursuits, and entertaining friendly recollections of his father,
was going to ask if he could do anything to help him on in the profession
he had chosen. Should this be the case, thought the suddenly sanguine
youth, it would seem like an encouragement to that spirit of firmness
which had led him to reject his late uncle's offer because it involved
the renunciation of Lady Constantine.
At last he fell asleep; and when he awoke it was so late that the hour
was ready to solve what conjecture could not. After a hurried breakfast
he paced across the fields, entering the churchyard by the south gate
precisely at the appointed minute.
The inclosure was well adapted for a private interview, being bounded by
bushes of laurel and alder nearly on all sides. He looked round; the
Bishop was not there, nor any living creature save himself. Swithin sat
down upon a tombstone to await Bishop Helmsdale's arrival.
While he sat he fancied he could hear voices in conversation not far off,
and further attention convinced him that they came from Lady
Constantine's lawn, which was divided from the churchyard by a high wall
and shrubbery only. As the Bishop still delayed his coming, though the
time was nearly eleven, and as the lady whose sweet voice mingled with
those heard from the lawn was his personal property, Swithin became
exceedingly curious to learn what was going on within that screened
promenade. A way of doing so occurred to him. The key was in the church
door; he opened it, entered, and ascended to the ringers' loft in the
west tower. At the back of this was a window commanding a full view of
Viviette's garden front.
The flowers were all in gayest bloom, and the creepers on the walls of
the house were bursting into tufts of young green. A broad gravel-walk
ran from end to end of the facade, terminating in a large conservatory.
In the walk were three people pacing up and down. Lady Constantine's was
the central figure, her brother being on one side of her, and on the
other a stately form in a corded shovel-hat of glossy beaver and black
breeches. This was the Bishop. Viviette carried over her shoulder a
sunshade lined with red, which she twirled idly. They were laughing and
chatting gaily, and when the group approached the churchyard many of
their remarks entered the silence of the church tower through the
ventilator of the window.
The conversation was general, yet interesting enough to Swithin. At
length Louis stepped upon the grass and picked up something that had lain
there, which turned out to be a bowl: throwing it forward he took a
second, and bowled it towards the first, or jack. The Bishop, who seemed
to be in a sprightly mood, followed suit, and bowled one in a curve
towards the jack, turning and speaking to Lady Constantine as he
concluded the feat. As she had not left the gravelled terrace he raised
his voice, so that the words reached Swithin distinctly.
'Do you follow us?' he asked gaily.
'I am not skilful,' she said. 'I always bowl narrow.'
The Bishop meditatively paused.
'This moment reminds one of the scene in Richard the Second,' he said.
'I mean the Duke of York's garden, where the queen and her two ladies
play, and the queen says--
"What sport shall we devise here in this garden,
To drive away the heavy thought of care?"
To which her lady answers, "Madam, we'll play at bowls."'
'That's an unfortunate quotation for you,' said Lady Constantine; 'for if
I don't forget, the queen declines, saying, "Twill make me think the
world is full of rubs, and that my fortune runs against the bias."'
'Then I cite mal a propos. But it is an interesting old game, and
might have been played at that very date on this very green.'
The Bishop lazily bowled another, and while he was doing it Viviette's
glance rose by accident to the church tower window, where she recognized
Swithin's face. Her surprise was only momentary; and waiting till both
her companions' backs were turned she smiled and blew him a kiss. In
another minute she had another opportunity, and blew him another;
afterwards blowing him one a third time.
Her blowings were put a stop to by the Bishop and Louis throwing down the
bowls and rejoining her in the path, the house clock at the moment
striking half-past eleven.
'This is a fine way of keeping an engagement,' said Swithin to himself.
'I have waited an hour while you indulge in those trifles!'
He fumed, turned, and behold somebody was at his elbow: Tabitha Lark.
Swithin started, and said, 'How did you come here, Tabitha?'
'In the course of my calling, Mr. St. Cleeve,' said the smiling girl. 'I
come to practise on the organ. When I entered I saw you up here through
the tower arch, and I crept up to see what you were looking at. The
Bishop is a striking man, is he not?'
'Yes, rather,' said Swithin.
'I think he is much devoted to Lady Constantine, and I am glad of it.
'O yes--very,' said Swithin, wondering if Tabitha had seen the tender
little salutes between Lady Constantine and himself.
'I don't think she cares much for him,' added Tabitha judicially. 'Or,
even if she does, she could be got away from him in no time by a younger
'Pooh, that's nothing,' said Swithin impatiently.
Tabitha then remarked that her blower had not come to time, and that she
must go to look for him; upon which she descended the stairs, and left
Swithin again alone.
A few minutes later the Bishop suddenly looked at his watch, Lady
Constantine having withdrawn towards the house. Apparently apologizing
to Louis the Bishop came down the terrace, and through the door into the
churchyard. Swithin hastened downstairs and joined him in the path under
the sunny wall of the aisle.
Their glances met, and it was with some consternation that Swithin beheld
the change that a few short minutes had wrought in that episcopal
countenance. On the lawn with Lady Constantine the rays of an almost
perpetual smile had brightened his dark aspect like flowers in a shady
place: now the smile was gone as completely as yesterday; the lines of
his face were firm; his dark eyes and whiskers were overspread with
gravity; and, as he gazed upon Swithin from the repose of his stable
figure it was like an evangelized King of Spades come to have it out with
the Knave of Hearts.
* * * * *
To return for a moment to Louis Glanville. He had been somewhat struck
with the abruptness of the Bishop's departure, and more particularly by
the circumstance that he had gone away by the private door into the
churchyard instead of by the regular exit on the other side. True, great
men were known to suffer from absence of mind, and Bishop Helmsdale,
having a dim sense that he had entered by that door yesterday, might have
unconsciously turned thitherward now. Louis, upon the whole, thought
little of the matter, and being now left quite alone on the lawn, he
seated himself in an arbour and began smoking.
The arbour was situated against the churchyard wall. The atmosphere was
as still as the air of a hot-house; only fourteen inches of brickwork
divided Louis from the scene of the Bishop's interview with St. Cleeve,
and as voices on the lawn had been audible to Swithin in the churchyard,
voices in the churchyard could be heard without difficulty from that
close corner of the lawn. No sooner had Louis lit a cigar than the
'Ah, you are here, St. Cleeve,' said the Bishop, hardly replying to
Swithin's good morning. 'I fear I am a little late. Well, my request to
you to meet me may have seemed somewhat unusual, seeing that we were
strangers till a few hours ago.'
'I don't mind that, if your lordship wishes to see me.'
'I thought it best to see you regarding your confirmation yesterday; and
my reason for taking a more active step with you than I should otherwise
have done is that I have some interest in you through having known your
father when we were undergraduates. His rooms were on the same
with mine at All Angels, and we were friendly till time and affairs
separated us even more completely than usually happens. However, about
your presenting yourself for confirmation.' (The Bishop's voice grew
stern.) 'If I had known yesterday morning what I knew twelve hours
later, I wouldn't have confirmed you at all.'
'Indeed, my lord!'
'Yes, I say it, and I mean it. I visited your observatory last night.'
'You did, my lord.'
'In inspecting it I noticed something which I may truly describe as
extraordinary. I have had young men present themselves to me who turned
out to be notoriously unfit, either from giddiness, from being profane or
intemperate, or from some bad quality or other. But I never remember a
case which equalled the cool culpability of this. While infringing the
first principles of social decorum you might at least have respected the
ordinance sufficiently to have stayed away from it altogether. Now I
have sent for you here to see if a last entreaty and a direct appeal to
your sense of manly uprightness will have any effect in inducing you to
change your course of life.'
The voice of Swithin in his next remark showed how tremendously this
attack of the Bishop had told upon his feelings. Louis, of course, did
not know the reason why the words should have affected him precisely as
they did; to any one in the secret the double embarrassment arising from
misapprehended ethics and inability to set matters right, because his
word of secrecy to another was inviolable, would have accounted for the
young man's emotion sufficiently well.
'I am very sorry your lordship should have seen anything objectionable,'
said Swithin. 'May I ask what it was?'
'You know what it was. Something in your chamber, which forced me to the
above conclusions. I disguised my feelings of sorrow at the time for
obvious reasons, but I never in my whole life was so shocked!'
'At what, my lord?'
'At what I saw.'
'Pardon me, Bishop Helmsdale, but you said just now that we are
strangers; so what you saw in my cabin concerns me only.'
'There I contradict you. Twenty-four hours ago that remark would have
been plausible enough; but by presenting yourself for confirmation at my
hands you have invited my investigation into your principles.'
Swithin sighed. 'I admit it,' he said.
'And what do I find them?'
'You say reprehensible. But you might at least let me hear the proof!'
'I can do more, sir. I can let you see it!'
There was a pause. Louis Glanville was so highly interested that he
stood upon the seat of the arbour, and looked through the leafage over
the wall. The Bishop had produced an article from his pocket.
'What is it?' said Swithin, laboriously scrutinizing the thing.
'Why, don't you see?' said the Bishop, holding it out between his finger
and thumb in Swithin's face. 'A bracelet,--a coral bracelet. I found
the wanton object on the bed in your cabin! And of the sex of the owner
there can be no doubt. More than that, she was concealed behind the
curtains, for I saw them move.' In the decision of his opinion the
Bishop threw the coral bracelet down on a tombstone.
'Nobody was in my room, my lord, who had not a perfect right to be
there,' said the younger man.
'Well, well, that's a matter of assertion. Now don't get into a passion,
and say to me in your haste what you'll repent of saying afterwards.'
'I am not in a passion, I assure your lordship. I am too sad for
'Very well; that's a hopeful sign. Now I would ask you, as one man of
another, do you think that to come to me, the Bishop of this large and
important diocese, as you came yesterday, and pretend to be something
that you are not, is quite upright conduct, leave alone religious? Think
it over. We may never meet again. But bear in mind what your Bishop and
spiritual head says to you, and see if you cannot mend before it is too
Swithin was meek as Moses, but he tried to appear sturdy. 'My lord, I am
in a difficult position,' he said mournfully; 'how difficult, nobody but
myself can tell. I cannot explain; there are insuperable reasons against
it. But will you take my word of assurance that I am not so bad as I
seem? Some day I will prove it. Till then I only ask you to suspend
your judgment on me.'
The Bishop shook his head incredulously and went towards the vicarage, as
if he had lost his hearing. Swithin followed him with his eyes, and
Louis followed the direction of Swithin's. Before the Bishop had reached
the vicarage entrance Lady Constantine crossed in front of him. She had
a basket on her arm, and was, in fact, going to visit some of the poorer
cottages. Who could believe the Bishop now to be the same man that he
had been a moment before? The darkness left his face as if he had come
out of a cave; his look was all sweetness, and shine, and gaiety, as he
again greeted Viviette.
The conversation which arose between the Bishop and Lady Constantine
of that lively and reproductive kind which cannot be ended during any
reasonable halt of two people going in opposite directions. He turned,
and walked with her along the laurel-screened lane that bordered the
churchyard, till their voices died away in the distance. Swithin then
aroused himself from his thoughtful regard of them, and went out of the
churchyard by another gate.
Seeing himself now to be left alone on the scene, Louis Glanville
descended from his post of observation in the arbour. He came through
the private doorway, and on to that spot among the graves where the
Bishop and St. Cleeve had conversed. On the tombstone still lay the
coral bracelet which Dr. Helmsdale had flung down there in his
indignation; for the agitated, introspective mood into which Swithin had
been thrown had banished from his mind all thought of securing the
trinket and putting it in his pocket.
Louis picked up the little red scandal-breeding thing, and while walking
on with it in his hand he observed Tabitha Lark approaching the church,
in company with the young blower whom she had gone in search of to
inspire her organ-practising within. Louis immediately put together,
with that rare diplomatic keenness of which he was proud, the little
scene he had witnessed between Tabitha and Swithin during the
confirmation, and the Bishop's stern statement as to where he had found
the bracelet. He had no longer any doubt that it belonged to her.
'Poor girl!' he said to himself, and sang in an undertone--
'Tra deri, dera,
L'histoire n'est pas nouvelle!'
When she drew nearer Louis called her by name. She sent the boy into the
church, and came forward, blushing at having been called by so fine a
gentleman. Louis held out the bracelet.
'Here is something I have found, or somebody else has found,' he said to
her. 'I won't state where. Put it away, and say no more about it. I
will not mention it either. Now go on into the church where you are
going, and may Heaven have mercy on your soul, my dear.'
'Thank you, sir,' said Tabitha, with some perplexity, yet inclined to be
pleased, and only recognizing in the situation the fact that Lady
Constantine's humorous brother was making her a present.
'You are much obliged to me?'
'Well, Miss Lark, I've discovered a secret, you see.'
'What may that be, Mr. Glanville?'
'That you are in love.'
'I don't admit it, sir. Who told you so?'
'Nobody. Only I put two and two together. Now take my advice. Beware
of lovers! They are a bad lot, and bring young women to tears.'
'Some do, I dare say. But some don't.'
'And you think that in your particular case the latter alternative will
hold good? We generally think we shall be lucky ourselves, though all
the world before us, in the same situation, have been otherwise.'
'O yes, or we should die outright of despair.'
'Well, I don't think you will be lucky in your case.'
'Please how do you know so much, since my case has not yet arrived?'
asked Tabitha, tossing her head a little disdainfully, but less than she
might have done if he had not obtained a charter for his discourse by
giving her the bracelet.
'I tell you it has not arrived!' she said, with some anger. 'I have not
got a lover, and everybody knows I haven't, and it's an insinuating thing
for you to say so!'
Louis laughed, thinking how natural it was that a girl should so
emphatically deny circumstances that would not bear curious inquiry.
'Why, of course I meant myself,' he said soothingly. 'So, then, you will
not accept me?'
'I didn't know you meant yourself,' she replied. 'But I won't accept
you. And I think you ought not to jest on such subjects.'
'Well, perhaps not. However, don't let the Bishop see your bracelet, and
all will be well. But mind, lovers are deceivers.'
Tabitha laughed, and they parted, the girl entering the church. She had
been feeling almost certain that, having accidentally found the bracelet
somewhere, he had presented it in a whim to her as the first girl he met.
Yet now she began to have momentary doubts whether he had not been
labouring under a mistake, and had imagined her to be the owner. The
bracelet was not valuable; it was, in fact, a mere toy,--the pair of
which this was one being a little present made to Lady Constantine by
Swithin on the day of their marriage; and she had not worn them with
sufficient frequency out of doors for Tabitha to recognize either as
positively her ladyship's. But when, out of sight of the blower, the
girl momentarily tried it on, in a corner by the organ, it seemed to her
that the ornament was possibly Lady Constantine's. Now that the pink
beads shone before her eyes on her own arm she remembered having seen a
bracelet with just such an effect gracing the wrist of Lady Constantine
upon one occasion. A temporary self-surrender to the sophism that if Mr.
Louis Glanville chose to give away anything belonging to his sister, she,
Tabitha, had a right to take it without question, was soon checked by a
resolve to carry the tempting strings of coral to her ladyship that
evening, and inquire the truth about them. This decided on she slipped
the bracelet into her pocket, and played her voluntaries with a light
* * * * *
Bishop Helmsdale did not tear himself away from Welland till about two
o'clock that afternoon, which was three hours later than he had intended
to leave. It was with a feeling of relief that Swithin, looking from the
top of the tower, saw the carriage drive out from the vicarage into the
turnpike road, and whirl the right reverend gentleman again towards
Warborne. The coast being now clear of him Swithin meditated how to see
Viviette, and explain what had happened. With this in view he waited
where he was till evening came on.
Meanwhile Lady Constantine and her brother dined by themselves at
House. They had not met since the morning, and as soon as they were left
alone Louis said, 'You have done very well so far; but you might have
been a little warmer.'
'Done well?' she asked, with surprise.
'Yes, with the Bishop. The difficult question is how to follow up our
advantage. How are you to keep yourself in sight of him?'
'Heavens, Louis! You don't seriously mean that the Bishop of Melchester
has any feelings for me other than friendly?'
'Viviette, this is affectation. You know he has as well as I do.'
She sighed. 'Yes,' she said. 'I own I had a suspicion of the same
thing. What a misfortune!'
'A misfortune? Surely the world is turned upside down! You will drive
me to despair about our future if you see things so awry. Exert yourself
to do something, so as to make of this accident a stepping-stone to
higher things. The gentleman will give us the slip if we don't pursue
the friendship at once.'
'I cannot have you talk like this,' she cried impatiently. 'I have no
more thought of the Bishop than I have of the Pope. I would much rather
not have had him here to lunch at all. You said it would be necessary to
do it, and an opportunity, and I thought it my duty to show some
hospitality when he was coming so near, Mr. Torkingham's house being so
small. But of course I understood that the opportunity would be one for
you in getting to know him, your prospects being so indefinite at
present; not one for me.'
'If you don't follow up this chance of being spiritual queen of
Melchester, you will never have another of being anything. Mind this,
Viviette: you are not so young as you were. You are getting on to be a
middle-aged woman, and your black hair is precisely of the sort which
time quickly turns grey. You must make up your mind to grizzled
bachelors or widowers. Young marriageable men won't look at you; or if
they do just now, in a year or two more they'll despise you as an
Lady Constantine perceptibly paled. 'Young men what?' she asked. 'Say
'I said it was no use to think of young men; they won't look at you much
longer; or if they do, it will be to look away again very quickly.'
'You imply that if I were to marry a man younger than myself he would
speedily acquire a contempt for me? How much younger must a man be
his wife--to get that feeling for her?' She was resting her elbow on the
chair as she faintly spoke the words, and covered her eyes with her hand.
'An exceedingly small number of years,' said Louis drily. 'Now the
Bishop is at least fifteen years older than you, and on that account, no
less than on others, is an excellent match. You would be head of the
church in this diocese: what more can you require after these years of
miserable obscurity? In addition, you would escape that minor thorn in
the flesh of bishops' wives, of being only "Mrs." while their husbands
She was not listening; his previous observation still detained her
'Louis,' she said, 'in the case of a woman marrying a man much younger
than herself, does he get to dislike her, even if there has been a social
advantage to him in the union?'
'Yes,--not a whit less. Ask any person of experience. But what of that?
Let's talk of our own affairs. You say you have no thought of the
Bishop. And yet if he had stayed here another day or two he would have
proposed to you straight off.'
'Seriously, Louis, I could not accept him.'
'I don't love him.'
'Oh, oh, I like those words!' cried Louis, throwing himself back in his
chair and looking at the ceiling in satirical enjoyment. 'A woman who at
two-and-twenty married for convenience, at thirty talks of not marrying
without love; the rule of inverse, that is, in which more requires less,
and less requires more. As your only brother, older than yourself, and
more experienced, I insist that you encourage the Bishop.'
'Don't quarrel with me, Louis!' she said piteously. 'We don't know that
he thinks anything of me,--we only guess.'
'I know it,--and you shall hear how I know. I am of a curious and
conjectural nature, as you are aware. Last night, when everybody had
gone to bed, I stepped out for a five minutes' smoke on the lawn, and
walked down to where you get near the vicarage windows. While I was
there in the dark one of them opened, and Bishop Helmsdale leant out. The
illuminated oblong of your window shone him full in the face between the
trees, and presently your shadow crossed it. He waved his hand, and
murmured some tender words, though what they were exactly I could not
'What a vague, imaginary story,--as if he could know my shadow! Besides,
a man of the Bishop's dignity wouldn't have done such a thing. When I
knew him as a younger man he was not at all romantic, and he's not likely
to have grown so now.'
'That's just what he is likely to have done. No lover is so extreme a
specimen of the species as an old lover. Come, Viviette, no more of this
fencing. I have entered into the project heart and soul--so much that I
have postponed my departure till the matter is well under way.'
'Louis--my dear Louis--you will bring me into some disagreeable
position!' said she, clasping her hands. 'I do entreat you not to
interfere or do anything rash about me. The step is impossible. I have
something to tell you some day. I must live on, and endure--'
'Everything except this penury,' replied Louis, unmoved. 'Come, I have
begun the campaign by inviting Bishop Helmsdale, and I'll take the
responsibility of carrying it on. All I ask of you is not to make a
ninny of yourself. Come, give me your promise!'
'No, I cannot,--I don't know how to! I only know one thing,--that I am
in no hurry--'
'"No hurry" be hanged! Agree, like a good sister, to charm the Bishop.'
'I must consider!' she replied, with perturbed evasiveness.
It being a fine evening Louis went out of the house to enjoy his cigar in
the shrubbery. On reaching his favourite seat he found he had left his
cigar-case behind him; he immediately returned for it. When he
approached the window by which he had emerged he saw Swithin St. Cleeve
standing there in the dusk, talking to Viviette inside.
St. Cleeve's back was towards Louis, but, whether at a signal from her or
by accident, he quickly turned and recognized Glanville; whereupon
raising his hat to Lady Constantine the young man passed along the
terrace-walk and out by the churchyard door.
Louis rejoined his sister. 'I didn't know you allowed your lawn to be a
public thoroughfare for the parish,' he said.
'I am not exclusive, especially since I have been so poor,' replied she.
'Then do you let everybody pass this way, or only that illustrious youth
because he is so good-looking?'
'I have no strict rule in the case. Mr. St. Cleeve is an acquaintance of
mine, and he can certainly come here if he chooses.' Her colour rose
somewhat, and she spoke warmly.
Louis was too cautious a bird to reveal to her what had suddenly dawned
upon his mind--that his sister, in common with the (to his thinking)
unhappy Tabitha Lark, had been foolish enough to get interested in this
phenomenon of the parish, this scientific Adonis. But he resolved to
cure at once her tender feeling, if it existed, by letting out a secret
which would inflame her dignity against the weakness.
'A good-looking young man,' he said, with his eyes where Swithin had
vanished. 'But not so good as he looks. In fact a regular young
'What do you mean?'
'Oh, only a little feature I discovered in St. Cleeve's history. But I
suppose he has a right to sow his wild oats as well as other young men.'
'Tell me what you allude to,--do, Louis.'
'It is hardly fit that I should. However, the case is amusing enough. I
was sitting in the arbour to-day, and was an unwilling listener to the
oddest interview I ever heard of. Our friend the Bishop discovered, when
we visited the observatory last night, that our astronomer was not alone
in his seclusion. A lady shared his romantic cabin with him; and finding
this, the Bishop naturally enough felt that the ordinance of confirmation
had been profaned. So his lordship sent for Master Swithin this morning,
and meeting him in the churchyard read him such an excommunicating
lecture as I warrant he won't forget in his lifetime. Ha-ha-ha! 'Twas
He watched her face narrowly while he spoke with such seeming
carelessness. Instead of the agitation of jealousy that he had expected
to be aroused by this hint of another woman in the case, there was a
curious expression, more like embarrassment than anything else which
might have been fairly attributed to the subject. 'Can it be that I am
mistaken?' he asked himself.
The possibility that he might be mistaken restored Louis to good-humour,
and lights having been brought he sat with his sister for some time,
talking with purpose of Swithin's low rank on one side, and the sordid
struggles that might be in store for him. St. Cleeve being in the
unhappy case of deriving his existence through two channels of society,
it resulted that he seemed to belong to either this or that according to
the altitude of the beholder. Louis threw the light entirely on
Swithin's agricultural side, bringing out old Mrs. Martin and her
connexions and her ways of life with luminous distinctness, till Lady
Constantine became greatly depressed. She, in her hopefulness, had
almost forgotten, latterly, that the bucolic element, so incisively
represented by Messrs. Hezzy Biles, Haymoss Fry, Sammy Blore, and the
rest entered into his condition at all; to her he had been the son of his
academic father alone.
But she would not reveal the depression to which she had been subjected
by this resuscitation of the homely half of poor Swithin, presently
putting an end to the subject by walking hither and thither about the
'What have you lost?' said Louis, observing her movements.
'Nothing of consequence,--a bracelet.'
'Coral?' he inquired calmly.
'Yes. How did you know it was coral? You have never seen it, have you?'
He was about to make answer; but the amazed enlightenment which her
announcement had produced in him through knowing where the Bishop
found such an article, led him to reconsider himself. Then, like an
astute man, by no means sure of the dimensions of the intrigue he might
be uncovering, he said carelessly, 'I found such a one in the churchyard
to-day. But I thought it appeared to be of no great rarity, and I gave
it to one of the village girls who was passing by.'
'Did she take it? Who was she?' said the unsuspecting Viviette.
'Really, I don't remember. I suppose it is of no consequence?'
'O no; its value is nothing, comparatively. It was only one of a pair
such as young girls wear.' Lady Constantine could not add that, in spite
of this, she herself valued it as being Swithin's present, and the best
he could afford.
Panic-struck by his ruminations, although revealing nothing by his
manner, Louis soon after went up to his room, professedly to write
letters. He gave vent to a low whistle when he was out of hearing. He
of course remembered perfectly well to whom he had given the corals, and
resolved to seek out Tabitha the next morning to ascertain whether she
could possibly have owned such a trinket as well as his sister,--which at
present he very greatly doubted, though fervently hoping that she might.
The effect upon Swithin of the interview with the Bishop had been a very
marked one. He felt that he had good ground for resenting that
dignitary's tone in haughtily assuming that all must be sinful which at
the first blush appeared to be so, and in narrowly refusing a young man
the benefit of a single doubt. Swithin's assurance that he would be able
to explain all some day had been taken in contemptuous incredulity.
'He may be as virtuous as his prototype Timothy; but he's an opinionated
old fogey all the same,' said St. Cleeve petulantly.
Yet, on the other hand, Swithin's nature was so fresh and ingenuous,
notwithstanding that recent affairs had somewhat denaturalized him, that
for a man in the Bishop's position to think him immoral was almost as
overwhelming as if he had actually been so, and at moments he could
scarcely bear existence under so gross a suspicion. What was his union
with Lady Constantine worth to him when, by reason of it, he was thought
a reprobate by almost the only man who had professed to take an interest
Certainly, by contrast with his air-built image of himself as a worthy
astronomer, received by all the world, and the envied husband of
Viviette, the present imputation was humiliating. The glorious light of
this tender and refined passion seemed to have become debased to
burlesque hues by pure accident, and his aesthetic no less than his ethic
taste was offended by such an anti-climax. He who had soared amid the
remotest grandeurs of nature had been taken to task on a rudimentary
question of morals, which had never been a question with him at all. This
was what the exigencies of an awkward attachment had brought him to; but
he blamed the circumstances, and not for one moment Lady Constantine.
Having now set his heart against a longer concealment he was disposed to
think that an excellent way of beginning a revelation of their marriage
would be by writing a confidential letter to the Bishop, detailing the
whole case. But it was impossible to do this on his own responsibility.
He still recognized the understanding entered into with Viviette, before
the marriage, to be as binding as ever,--that the initiative in
disclosing their union should come from her. Yet he hardly doubted that
she would take that initiative when he told her of his extraordinary
reprimand in the churchyard.
This was what he had come to do when Louis saw him standing at the
window. But before he had said half-a-dozen words to Viviette she
motioned him to go on, which he mechanically did, ere he could
sufficiently collect his thoughts on its advisability or otherwise. He
did not, however, go far. While Louis and his sister were discussing him
in the drawing-room he lingered musing in the churchyard, hoping that she
might be able to escape and join him in the consultation he so earnestly
She at last found opportunity to do this. As soon as Louis had left the
room and shut himself in upstairs she ran out by the window in the
direction Swithin had taken. When her footsteps began crunching on the
gravel he came forward from the churchyard door.
They embraced each other in haste, and then, in a few short panting
words, she explained to him that her brother had heard and witnessed the
interview on that spot between himself and the Bishop, and had told her
the substance of the Bishop's accusation, not knowing she was the woman
in the cabin.
'And what I cannot understand is this,' she added; 'how did the Bishop
discover that the person behind the bed-curtains was a woman and not a
Swithin explained that the Bishop had found the bracelet on the bed, and
had brought it to him in the churchyard.
'O Swithin, what do you say? Found the coral bracelet? What did you do
Swithin clapped his hand to his pocket.
'Dear me! I recollect--I left it where it lay on Reuben Heath's
'Oh, my dear, dear Swithin!' she cried miserably. 'You have compromised
me by your forgetfulness. I have claimed the article as mine. My
brother did not tell me that the Bishop brought it from the cabin. What
can I, can I do, that neither the Bishop nor my brother may conclude I
was the woman there?'
'But if we announce our marriage--'
'Even as your wife, the position was too undignified--too I don't know
what--for me ever to admit that I was there! Right or wrong, I must
declare the bracelet was not mine. Such an escapade--why, it would make
me ridiculous in the county; and anything rather than that!'
'I was in hope that you would agree to let our marriage be known,' said
Swithin, with some disappointment. 'I thought that these circumstances
would make the reason for doing so doubly strong.'
'Yes. But there are, alas, reasons against it still stronger! Let me
have my way.'
'Certainly, dearest. I promised that before you agreed to be mine. My
reputation--what is it! Perhaps I shall be dead and forgotten before the
next transit of Venus!'
She soothed him tenderly, but could not tell him why she felt the reasons
against any announcement as yet to be stronger than those in favour of
it. How could she, when her feeling had been cautiously fed and
developed by her brother Louis's unvarnished exhibition of Swithin's
material position in the eyes of the world?--that of a young man, the
scion of a family of farmers recently her tenants, living at the
homestead with his grandmother, Mrs. Martin.
To soften her refusal she said in declaring it, 'One concession, Swithin,
I certainly will make. I will see you oftener. I will come to the cabin
and tower frequently; and will contrive, too, that you come to the house
occasionally. During the last winter we passed whole weeks without
meeting; don't let us allow that to happen again.'
'Very well, dearest,' said Swithin good-humouredly. 'I don't care so
terribly much for the old man's opinion of me, after all. For the
present, then, let things be as they are.'
Nevertheless, the youth felt her refusal more than he owned; but the
unequal temperament of Swithin's age, so soon depressed on his own
account, was also soon to recover on hers, and it was with almost a
child's forgetfulness of the past that he took her view of the case.
When he was gone she hastily re-entered the house. Her brother had not
reappeared from upstairs; but she was informed that Tabitha Lark was
waiting to see her, if her ladyship would pardon the said Tabitha for
coming so late. Lady Constantine made no objection, and saw the young
girl at once.
When Lady Constantine entered the waiting-room behold, in Tabitha's
outstretched hand lay the coral ornament which had been causing Viviette
so much anxiety.
'I guessed, on second thoughts, that it was yours, my lady,' said
Tabitha, with rather a frightened face; 'and so I have brought it back.'
'But how did you come by it, Tabitha?'
'Mr. Glanville gave it to me; he must have thought it was mine. I took
it, fancying at the moment that he handed it to me because I happened to
come by first after he had found it.'
Lady Constantine saw how the situation might be improved so as to effect
her deliverance from this troublesome little web of evidence.
'Oh, you can keep it,' she said brightly. 'It was very good of you to
bring it back. But keep it for your very own. Take Mr. Glanville at his
word, and don't explain. And, Tabitha, divide the strands into two
bracelets; there are enough of them to make a pair.'
The next morning, in pursuance of his resolution, Louis wandered round
the grounds till he saw the girl for whom he was waiting enter the
church. He accosted her over the wall. But, puzzling to view, a coral
bracelet blushed on each of her young arms, for she had promptly carried
out the suggestion of Lady Constantine.
'You are wearing it, I see, Tabitha, with the other,' he murmured. 'Then
you mean to keep it?'
'Yes, I mean to keep it.'
'You are sure it is not Lady Constantine's? I find she has one like it.'
'Quite sure. But you had better take it to her, sir, and ask her,' said
the saucy girl.
'Oh, no; that's not necessary,' replied Louis, considerably shaken in his
When Louis met his sister, a short time after, he did not catch her, as
he had intended to do, by saying suddenly, 'I have found your bracelet. I
know who has got it.'
'You cannot have found it,' she replied quietly, 'for I have discovered
that it was never lost,' and stretching out both her hands she revealed
one on each, Viviette having performed the same operation with her
remaining bracelet that she had advised Tabitha to do with the other.
Louis was mystified, but by no means convinced. In spite of this attempt
to hoodwink him his mind returned to the subject every hour of the day.
There was no doubt that either Tabitha or Viviette had been with Swithin
in the cabin. He recapitulated every case that had occurred during his
visit to Welland in which his sister's manner had been of a colour to
justify the suspicion that it was she. There was that strange incident
in the corridor, when she had screamed at what she described to be a
shadowy resemblance to her late husband; how very improbable that this
fancy should have been the only cause of her agitation! Then he had
noticed, during Swithin's confirmation, a blush upon her cheek when he
passed her on his way to the Bishop, and the fervour in her glance during
the few moments of the imposition of hands. Then he suddenly recalled
the night at the railway station, when the accident with the whip took
place, and how, when he reached Welland House an hour later, he had
no Viviette there. Running thus from incident to incident he increased
his suspicions without being able to cull from the circumstances anything
amounting to evidence; but evidence he now determined to acquire without
saying a word to any one.
His plan was of a cruel kind: to set a trap into which the pair would
blindly walk if any secret understanding existed between them of the
nature he suspected.
Louis began his stratagem by calling at the tower one afternoon, as if on
the impulse of the moment.
After a friendly chat with Swithin, whom he found there (having watched
him enter), Louis invited the young man to dine the same evening at the
House, that he might have an opportunity of showing him some interesting
old scientific works in folio, which, according to Louis's account, he
had stumbled on in the library. Louis set no great bait for St. Cleeve
in this statement, for old science was not old art which, having
perfected itself, has died and left its secret hidden in its remains. But
Swithin was a responsive fellow, and readily agreed to come; being,
moreover, always glad of a chance of meeting Viviette en famille. He
hoped to tell her of a scheme that had lately suggested itself to him as
likely to benefit them both: that he should go away for a while, and
endeavour to raise sufficient funds to visit the great observatories of
Europe, with an eye to a post in one of them. Hitherto the only bar to
the plan had been the exceeding narrowness of his income, which, though
sufficient for his present life, was absolutely inadequate to the
requirements of a travelling astronomer.
Meanwhile Louis Glanville had returned to the House and told his sister
in the most innocent manner that he had been in the company of St. Cleeve
that afternoon, getting a few wrinkles on astronomy; that they had grown
so friendly over the fascinating subject as to leave him no alternative
but to invite St. Cleeve to dine at Welland the same evening, with a view
to certain researches in the library afterwards.
'I could quite make allowances for any youthful errors into which he may
have been betrayed,' Louis continued sententiously, 'since, for a
scientist, he is really admirable. No doubt the Bishop's caution will
not be lost upon him; and as for his birth and connexions,--those he
Lady Constantine showed such alacrity in adopting the idea of having
Swithin to dinner, and she ignored his 'youthful errors' so completely,
as almost to betray herself. In fulfilment of her promise to see him
oftener she had been intending to run across to Swithin on that identical
evening. Now the trouble would be saved in a very delightful way, by the
exercise of a little hospitality which Viviette herself would not have
dared to suggest.
Dinner-time came and with it Swithin, exhibiting rather a blushing and
nervous manner that was, unfortunately, more likely to betray their cause
than was Viviette's own more practised bearing. Throughout the meal
Louis sat like a spider in the corner of his web, observing them
narrowly, and at moments flinging out an artful thread here and there,
with a view to their entanglement. But they underwent the ordeal
marvellously well. Perhaps the actual tie between them, through being so
much closer and of so much more practical a nature than even their critic
supposed it, was in itself a protection against their exhibiting that
ultra-reciprocity of manner which, if they had been merely lovers, might
have betrayed them.
After dinner the trio duly adjourned to the library as had been planned,
and the volumes were brought forth by Louis with the zest of a
bibliophilist. Swithin had seen most of them before, and thought but
little of them; but the pleasure of staying in the house made him welcome
any reason for doing so, and he willingly looked at whatever was put
before him, from Bertius's Ptolemy to Rees's Cyclopaedia.
The evening thus passed away, and it began to grow late. Swithin who,
among other things, had planned to go to Greenwich next day to view the
Royal Observatory, would every now and then start up and prepare to leave
for home, when Glanville would unearth some other volume and so detain
him yet another half-hour.
'By George!' he said, looking at the clock when Swithin was at last
really about to depart. 'I didn't know it was so late. Why not stay
here to-night, St. Cleeve? It is very dark, and the way to your place is
an awkward cross-cut over the fields.'
'It would not inconvenience us at all, Mr. St. Cleeve, if you would care
to stay,' said Lady Constantine.
'I am afraid--the fact is, I wanted to take an observation at twenty
minutes past two,' began Swithin.
'Oh, now, never mind your observation,' said Louis. 'That's only an
excuse. Do that to-morrow night. Now you will stay. It is settled.
Viviette, say he must stay, and we'll have another hour of these charming
Viviette obeyed with delightful ease. 'Do stay, Mr St. Cleeve!' she said
'Well, in truth I can do without the observation,' replied the young man,
as he gave way. 'It is not of the greatest consequence.'
Thus it was arranged; but the researches among the tomes were not
prolonged to the extent that Louis had suggested. In three-quarters of
an hour from that time they had all retired to their respective rooms;
Lady Constantine's being on one side of the west corridor, Swithin's
opposite, and Louis's at the further end.
Had a person followed Louis when he withdrew, that watcher would have
discovered, on peeping through the key-hole of his door, that he was
engaged in one of the oddest of occupations for such a man,--sweeping
down from the ceiling, by means of a walking-cane, a long cobweb which
lingered on high in the corner. Keeping it stretched upon the cane he
gently opened the door, and set the candle in such a position on the mat
that the light shone down the corridor. Thus guided by its rays he
passed out slipperless, till he reached the door of St. Cleeve's room,
where he applied the dangling spider's thread in such a manner that it
stretched across like a tight-rope from jamb to jamb, barring, in its
fragile way, entrance and egress. The operation completed he retired
again, and, extinguishing his light, went through his bedroom window out
upon the flat roof of the portico to which it gave access.
Here Louis made himself comfortable in his chair and smoking-cap,
enjoying the fragrance of a cigar for something like half-an-hour. His
position commanded a view of the two windows of Lady Constantine's room,
and from these a dim light shone continuously. Having the window partly
open at his back, and the door of his room also scarcely closed, his ear
retained a fair command of any noises that might be made.
In due time faint movements became audible; whereupon, returning to his
room, he re-entered the corridor and listened intently. All was silent
again, and darkness reigned from end to end. Glanville, however, groped
his way along the passage till he again reached Swithin's door, where he
examined, by the light of a wax-match he had brought, the condition of
the spider's thread. It was gone; somebody had carried it off bodily, as
Samson carried off the pin and the web. In other words, a person had
passed through the door.
Still holding the faint wax-light in his hand Louis turned to the door of
Lady Constantine's chamber, where he observed first that, though it was
pushed together so as to appear fastened to cursory view, the door was
not really closed by about a quarter of an inch. He dropped his light
and extinguished it with his foot. Listening, he heard a voice
within,--Viviette's voice, in a subdued murmur, though speaking
Without any hesitation Louis then returned to Swithin's door, opened it,
and walked in. The starlight from without was sufficient, now that his
eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, to reveal that the room was
unoccupied, and that nothing therein had been disturbed.
With a heavy tread Louis came forth, walked loudly across the corridor,
knocked at Lady Constantine's door, and called 'Viviette!'
She heard him instantly, replying 'Yes' in startled tones. Immediately
afterwards she opened her door, and confronted him in her dressing-gown,
with a light in her hand. 'What is the matter, Louis?' she said.
'I am greatly alarmed. Our visitor is missing.'
'Missing? What, Mr. St. Cleeve?'
'Yes. I was sitting up to finish a cigar, when I thought I heard a noise
in this direction. On coming to his room I find he is not there.'
'Good Heaven! I wonder what has happened!' she exclaimed, in apparently
'I wonder,' said Glanville grimly.
'Suppose he is a somnambulist! If so, he may have gone out and broken
his neck. I have never heard that he is one, but they say that sleeping
in strange places disturbs the minds of people who are given to that sort
of thing, and provokes them to it.'
'Unfortunately for your theory his bed has not been touched.'
'Oh, what then can it be?'
Her brother looked her full in the face. 'Viviette!' he said sternly.
She seemed puzzled. 'Well?' she replied, in simple tones.
'I heard voices in your room,' he continued.
'Yes, you may have done so. It was mine.'
'A listener is required for a speaker.'
'Well, to whom were you speaking?'
'Viviette! I am ashamed of you.'
'I was saying my prayers.'
'Prayers--to God! To St. Swithin, rather!'
'What do you mean, Louis?' she asked, flushing up warm, and drawing back
from him. 'It was a form of prayer I use, particularly when I am in
trouble. It was recommended to me by the Bishop, and Mr. Torkingham
commends it very highly.'
'On your honour, if you have any,' he said bitterly, 'whom have you there
in your room?'
'No human being.'
'Flatly, I don't believe you.'
She gave a dignified little bow, and, waving her hand into the apartment,
said, 'Very well; then search and see.'
Louis entered, and glanced round the room, behind the curtains, under the
bed, out of the window--a view from which showed that escape thence would
have been impossible,--everywhere, in short, capable or incapable of
affording a retreat to humanity; but discovered nobody. All he observed
was that a light stood on the low table by her bedside; that on the bed
lay an open Prayer-Book, the counterpane being unpressed, except into a
little pit beside the Prayer Book, apparently where her head had rested
'But where is St. Cleeve?' he said, turning in bewilderment from these
evidences of innocent devotion.
'Where can he be?' she chimed in, with real distress. 'I should so much
like to know. Look about for him. I am quite uneasy!'
'I will, on one condition: that you own that you love him.'
'Why should you force me to that?' she murmured. 'It would be no such
wonder if I did.'
'Come, you do.'
'Well, I do.'
'Now I'll look for him.'
Louis took a light, and turned away, astonished that she had not
indignantly resented his intrusion and the nature of his questioning.
At this moment a slight noise was heard on the staircase, and they could
see a figure rising step by step, and coming forward against the long
lights of the staircase window. It was Swithin, in his ordinary dress,
and carrying his boots in his hand. When he beheld them standing there
so motionless, he looked rather disconcerted, but came on towards his
Lady Constantine was too agitated to speak, but Louis said, 'I am glad to
see you again. Hearing a noise, a few minutes ago, I came out to learn
what it could be. I found you absent, and we have been very much
'I am very sorry,' said Swithin, with contrition. 'I owe you a hundred
apologies: but the truth is that on entering my bedroom I found the sky
remarkably clear, and though I told you that the observation I was to
make was of no great consequence, on thinking it over alone I felt it
ought not to be allowed to pass; so I was tempted to run across to the
observatory, and make it, as I had hoped, without disturbing anybody. If
I had known that I should alarm you I would not have done it for the
Swithin spoke very earnestly to Louis, and did not observe the tender
reproach in Viviette's eyes when he showed by his tale his decided notion
that the prime use of dark nights lay in their furtherance of practical
Everything being now satisfactorily explained the three retired to their
several chambers, and Louis heard no more noises that night, or rather
morning; his attempts to solve the mystery of Viviette's life here and
her relations with St. Cleeve having thus far resulted chiefly in
perplexity. True, an admission had been wrung from her; and even without
such an admission it was clear that she had a tender feeling for Swithin.
How to extinguish that romantic folly it now became his object to
Swithin's midnight excursion to the tower in the cause of science led him
to oversleep himself, and when the brother and sister met at breakfast in
the morning he did not appear.
'Don't disturb him,--don't disturb him,' said Louis laconically. 'Hullo,
Viviette, what are you reading there that makes you flame up so?'
She was glancing over a letter that she had just opened, and at his words
looked up with misgiving.
The incident of the previous night left her in great doubt as to what her
bearing towards him ought to be. She had made no show of resenting his
conduct at the time, from a momentary supposition that he must know all
her secret; and afterwards, finding that he did not know it, it seemed
too late to affect indignation at his suspicions. So she preserved a
quiet neutrality. Even had she resolved on an artificial part she might
have forgotten to play it at this instant, the letter being of a kind to
banish previous considerations.
'It is a letter from Bishop Helmsdale,' she faltered.
'Well done! I hope for your sake it is an offer.'
'That's just what it is.'
'No,--surely?' said Louis, beginning a laugh of surprise.
'Yes,' she returned indifferently. 'You can read it, if you like.'
'I don't wish to pry into a communication of that sort.'
'Oh, you may read it,' she said, tossing the letter across to him.
Louis thereupon read as under:--
'THE PALACE, MELCHESTER,
June 28, 18--.
'MY DEAR LADY CONSTANTINE,--During the two or three weeks that have
elapsed since I experienced the great pleasure of renewing my
acquaintance with you, the varied agitation of my feelings has clearly
proved that my only course is to address you by letter, and at once.
Whether the subject of my communication be acceptable to you or not, I
can at least assure you that to suppress it would be far less natural,
and upon the whole less advisable, than to speak out frankly, even if
afterwards I hold my peace for ever.
'The great change in my experience during the past year or two--the
change, that is, which has resulted from my advancement to a
bishopric--has frequently suggested to me, of late, that a
discontinuance in my domestic life of the solitude of past years was a
question which ought to be seriously contemplated. But whether I
should ever have contemplated it without the great good fortune of my
meeting with you is doubtful. However, the thing has been considered
at last, and without more ado I candidly ask if you would be willing
to give up your life at Welland, and relieve my household loneliness
here by becoming my wife.
'I am far from desiring to force a hurried decision on your part, and
will wait your good pleasure patiently, should you feel any
uncertainty at the moment as to the step. I am quite disqualified, by
habits and experience, for the delightful procedure of urging my suit
in the ardent terms which would be so appropriate towards such a lady,
and so expressive of my inmost feeling. In truth, a prosy cleric of
five-and-forty wants encouragement to make him eloquent. Of this,
however, I can assure you: that if admiration, esteem, and devotion
can compensate in any way for the lack of those qualities which might
be found to burn with more outward brightness in a younger man, those
it is in my power to bestow for the term of my earthly life. Your
steady adherence to church principles and your interest in
ecclesiastical polity (as was shown by your bright questioning on
those subjects during our morning walk round your grounds) have
indicated strongly to me the grace and appropriateness with which you
would fill the position of a bishop's wife, and how greatly you would
add to his reputation, should you be disposed to honour him with your
hand. Formerly there have been times when I was of opinion--and you
will rightly appreciate my candour in owning it--that a wife was an
impediment to a bishop's due activities; but constant observation has
convinced me that, far from this being the truth, a meet consort
infuses life into episcopal influence and teaching.
'Should you reply in the affirmative I will at once come to see you,
and with your permission will, among other things, show you a few
plain, practical rules which I have interested myself in drawing up
for our future guidance. Should you refuse to change your condition
on my account, your decision will, as I need hardly say, be a great
blow to me. In any event, I could not do less than I have done, after
giving the subject my full consideration. Even if there be a slight
deficiency of warmth on your part, my earnest hope is that a mind
comprehensive as yours will perceive the immense power for good that
you might exercise in the position in which a union with me would
place you, and allow that perception to weigh in determining your
'I remain, my dear Lady Constantine, with the highest respect and
'Well, you will not have the foolhardiness to decline, now that the
question has actually been popped, I should hope,' said Louis, when he
had done reading.
'Certainly I shall,' she replied.
'You will really be such a flat, Viviette?'
'You speak without much compliment. I have not the least idea of
'Surely you will not let your infatuation for that young fellow carry you
so far, after my acquainting you with the shady side of his character?
You call yourself a religious woman, say your prayers out loud, follow up
the revived methods in church practice, and what not; and yet you can
think with partiality of a person who, far from having any religion in
him, breaks the most elementary commandments in the decalogue.'
'I cannot agree with you,' she said, turning her face askance, for she
knew not how much of her brother's language was sincere, and how much
assumed, the extent of his discoveries with regard to her secret ties
being a mystery. At moments she was disposed to declare the whole truth,
and have done with it. But she hesitated, and left the words unsaid; and
Louis continued his breakfast in silence.
When he had finished, and she had eaten little or nothing, he asked once
more, 'How do you intend to answer that letter? Here you are, the
poorest woman in the county, abandoned by people who used to be glad to
know you, and leading a life as dismal and dreary as a nun's, when an
opportunity is offered you of leaping at once into a leading position in
this part of England. Bishops are given to hospitality; you would be
welcomed everywhere. In short, your answer must be yes.'
'And yet it will be no,' she said, in a low voice. She had at length
learnt, from the tone of her brother's latter remarks, that at any rate
he had no knowledge of her actual marriage, whatever indirect ties he
might suspect her guilty of.
Louis could restrain himself no longer at her answer. 'Then conduct your
affairs your own way. I know you to be leading a life that won't bear
investigation, and I'm hanged if I'll stay here any longer!'
Saying which, Glanville jerked back his chair, and strode out of the
room. In less than a quarter of an hour, and before she had moved a step
from the table, she heard him leaving the house.
What to do she could not tell. The step which Swithin had entreated her
to take, objectionable and premature as it had seemed in a county aspect,
would at all events have saved her from this dilemma. Had she allowed
him to tell the Bishop his simple story in its fulness, who could say but
that that divine might have generously bridled his own impulses, entered
into the case with sympathy, and forwarded with zest their designs for
the future, owing to his interest of old in Swithin's father, and in the
naturally attractive features of the young man's career.
A puff of wind from the open window, wafting the Bishop's letter to the
floor, aroused her from her reverie. With a sigh she stooped and picked
it up, glanced at it again; then arose, and with the deliberateness of
inevitable action wrote her reply:--
'WELLAND HOUSE, June 29, 18--.
'MY DEAR BISHOP OF MELCHESTER,--I confess to you that your letter,
gracious and flattering as it is, has taken your friend somewhat
unawares. The least I can do in return for its contents is to reply
as quickly as possible.
'There is no one in the world who esteems your high qualities more
than myself, or who has greater faith in your ability to adorn the
episcopal seat that you have been called on to fill. But to your
question I can give only one reply, and that is an unqualified
negative. To state this unavoidable decision distresses me, without
affectation; and I trust you will believe that, though I decline the
distinction of becoming your wife, I shall never cease to interest
myself in all that pertains to you and your office; and shall feel the
keenest regret if this refusal should operate to prevent a lifelong
friendship between us.--I am, my dear Bishop of Melchester, ever
A sudden revulsion from the subterfuge of writing as if she were still a
widow, wrought in her mind a feeling of dissatisfaction with the whole
scheme of concealment; and pushing aside the letter she allowed it to
remain unfolded and unaddressed. In a few minutes she heard Swithin
approaching, when she put the letter out of the way and turned to receive
Swithin entered quietly, and looked round the room. Seeing with
unexpected pleasure that she was there alone, he came over and kissed
her. Her discomposure at some foregone event was soon obvious.
'Has my staying caused you any trouble?' he asked in a whisper. 'Where
is your brother this morning?'
She smiled through her perplexity as she took his hand. 'The oddest
things happen to me, dear Swithin,' she said. 'Do you wish particularly
to know what has happened now?'
'Yes, if you don't mind telling me.'
'I do mind telling you. But I must. Among other things I am resolving
to give way to your representations,--in part, at least. It will be best
to tell the Bishop everything, and my brother, if not other people.'
'I am truly glad to hear it, Viviette,' said he cheerfully. 'I have felt
for a long time that honesty is the best policy.'
'I at any rate feel it now. But it is a policy that requires a great
deal of courage!'
'It certainly requires some courage,--I should not say a great deal; and
indeed, as far as I am concerned, it demands less courage to speak out
than to hold my tongue.'
'But, you silly boy, you don't know what has happened. The Bishop has
made me an offer of marriage.'
'Good gracious, what an impertinent old man! What have you done about
'Well, I have hardly accepted him,' she replied, laughing. 'It is this
event which has suggested to me that I should make my refusal a reason
for confiding our situation to him.'
'What would you have done if you had not been already appropriated?'
'That's an inscrutable mystery. He is a worthy man; but he has very
pronounced views about his own position, and some other undesirable
qualities. Still, who knows? You must bless your stars that you have
secured me. Now let us consider how to draw up our confession to him. I
wish I had listened to you at first, and allowed you to take him into our
confidence before his declaration arrived. He may possibly resent the
concealment now. However, this cannot be helped.'
'I tell you what, Viviette,' said Swithin, after a thoughtful pause, 'if
the Bishop is such an earthly sort of man as this, a man who goes falling
in love, and wanting to marry you, and so on, I am not disposed to
confess anything to him at all. I fancied him altogether different from
'But he's none the worse for it, dear.'
'I think he is--to lecture me and love you, all in one breath!'
'Still, that's only a passing phase; and you first proposed making a
confidant of him.'
'I did. . . . Very well. Then we are to tell nobody but the Bishop?'
'And my brother Louis. I must tell him; it is unavoidable. He suspects
me in a way I could never have credited of him!'
Swithin, as was before stated, had arranged to start for Greenwich that
morning, permission having been accorded him by the Astronomer-Royal to
view the Observatory; and their final decision was that, as he could not
afford time to sit down with her, and write to the Bishop in
collaboration, each should, during the day, compose a well-considered
letter, disclosing their position from his and her own point of view;
Lady Constantine leading up to her confession by her refusal of the
Bishop's hand. It was necessary that she should know what Swithin
contemplated saying, that her statements might precisely harmonize. He
ultimately agreed to send her his letter by the next morning's post,
when, having read it, she would in due course despatch it with her own.
As soon as he had breakfasted Swithin went his way, promising to return
from Greenwich by the end of the week.
Viviette passed the remainder of that long summer day, during which her
young husband was receding towards the capital, in an almost motionless
state. At some instants she felt exultant at the idea of announcing her
marriage and defying general opinion. At another her heart misgave her,
and she was tormented by a fear lest Swithin should some day accuse her
of having hampered his deliberately-shaped plan of life by her intrusive
romanticism. That was often the trick of men who had sealed by marriage,
in their inexperienced youth, a love for those whom their maturer
judgment would have rejected as too obviously disproportionate in years.
However, it was now too late for these lugubrious thoughts; and, bracing
herself, she began to frame the new reply to Bishop Helmsdale--the plain,
unvarnished tale that was to supplant the undivulging answer first
written. She was engaged on this difficult problem till daylight faded
in the west, and the broad-faced moon edged upwards, like a plate of old
gold, over the elms towards the village. By that time Swithin had
reached Greenwich; her brother had gone she knew not whither; and she
loneliness dwelt solely, as before, within the walls of Welland House.
At this hour of sunset and moonrise the new parlourmaid entered, to
inform her that Mr. Cecil's head clerk, from Warborne, particularly
wished to see her.
Mr. Cecil was her solicitor, and she knew of nothing whatever that
required his intervention just at present. But he would not have sent at
this time of day without excellent reasons, and she directed that the
young man might be shown in where she was. On his entry the first thing
she noticed was that in his hand he carried a newspaper.
'In case you should not have seen this evening's paper, Lady Constantine,
Mr. Cecil has directed me to bring it to you at once, on account of what
appears there in relation to your ladyship. He has only just seen it
'What is it? How does it concern me?'
'I will point it out.'
'Read it yourself to me. Though I am afraid there's not enough light.'
'I can see very well here,' said the lawyer's clerk stepping to the
window. Folding back the paper he read:--
'"NEWS FROM SOUTH AFRICA.
'"CAPE TOWN, May 17 (via Plymouth).--A correspondent of the Cape
Chronicle states that he has interviewed an Englishman just arrived
from the interior, and learns from him that a considerable
misapprehension exists in England concerning the death of the
traveller and hunter, Sir Blount Constantine--"'
'O, he's living! My husband is alive,' she cried, sinking down in nearly
a fainting condition.
'No, my lady. Sir Blount is dead enough, I am sorry to say.'
'Dead, did you say?'
'Certainly, Lady Constantine; there is no doubt of it.'
She sat up, and her intense relief almost made itself perceptible like a
fresh atmosphere in the room. 'Yes. Then what did you come for?' she
'That Sir Blount has died is unquestionable,' replied the lawyer's clerk
gently. 'But there has been some mistake about the date of his death.'
'He died of malarious fever on the banks of the Zouga, October 24, 18--.'
'No; he only lay ill there a long time it seems. It was a companion who
died at that date. But I'll read the account to your ladyship, with your
'"The decease of this somewhat eccentric wanderer did not occur at the
time hitherto supposed, but only in last December. The following is
the account of the Englishman alluded to, given as nearly as possible
in his own words: During the illness of Sir Blount and his friend by
the Zouga, three of the servants went away, taking with them a portion
of his clothing and effects; and it must be they who spread the report
of his death at this time. After his companion's death he mended, and
when he was strong enough he and I travelled on to a healthier
district. I urged him not to delay his return to England; but he was
much against going back there again, and became so rough in his manner
towards me that we parted company at the first opportunity I could
find. I joined a party of white traders returning to the West Coast.
I stayed here among the Portuguese for many months. I then found that
an English travelling party were going to explore a district adjoining
that which I had formerly traversed with Sir Blount. They said they
would be glad of my services, and I joined them. When we had crossed
the territory to the South of Ulunda, and drew near to Marzambo, I
heard tidings of a man living there whom I suspected to be Sir Blount,
although he was not known by that name. Being so near I was induced
to seek him out, and found that he was indeed the same. He had
dropped his old name altogether, and had married a native princess--"'
'Married a native princess!' said Lady Constantine.
'That's what it says, my lady,--"married a native princess according to
the rites of the tribe, and was living very happily with her. He told me
he should never return to England again. He also told me that having
seen this princess just after I had left him, he had been attracted by
her, and had thereupon decided to reside with her in that country, as
being a land which afforded him greater happiness than he could hope to
attain elsewhere. He asked me to stay with him, instead of going on with
my party, and not reveal his real title to any of them. After some
hesitation I did stay, and was not uncomfortable at first. But I soon
found that Sir Blount drank much harder now than when I had known him,
and that he was at times very greatly depressed in mind at his position.
One morning in the middle of December last I heard a shot from his
dwelling. His wife rushed frantically past me as I hastened to the spot,
and when I entered I found that he had put an end to himself with his
revolver. His princess was broken-hearted all that day. When we had
buried him I discovered in his house a little box directed to his
solicitors at Warborne, in England, and a note for myself, saying that I
had better get the first chance of returning that offered, and requesting
me to take the box with me. It is supposed to contain papers and
articles for friends in England who have deemed him dead for some time."'
The clerk stopped his reading, and there was a silence. 'The middle of
last December,' she at length said, in a whisper. 'Has the box arrived
'Not yet, my lady. We have no further proof of anything. As soon as the
package comes to hand you shall know of it immediately.'
Such was the clerk's mission; and, leaving the paper with her, he
withdrew. The intelligence amounted to thus much: that, Sir Blount
having been alive till at least six weeks after her marriage with Swithin
St. Cleeve, Swithin St. Cleeve was not her husband in the eye of the law;
that she would have to consider how her marriage with the latter might be
instantly repeated, to establish herself legally as that young man's
Next morning Viviette received a visit from Mr. Cecil himself. He
informed her that the box spoken of by the servant had arrived quite
unexpectedly just after the departure of his clerk on the previous
evening. There had not been sufficient time for him to thoroughly
examine it as yet, but he had seen enough to enable him to state that it
contained letters, dated memoranda in Sir Blount's handwriting, notes
referring to events which had happened later than his supposed death, and
other irrefragable proofs that the account in the newspapers was correct
as to the main fact--the comparatively recent date of Sir Blount's
She looked up, and spoke with the irresponsible helplessness of a child.
'On reviewing the circumstances, I cannot think how I could have allowed
myself to believe the first tidings!' she said.
'Everybody else believed them, and why should you not have done so?' said
'How came the will to be permitted to be proved, as there could, after
all, have been no complete evidence?' she asked. 'If I had been the
executrix I would not have attempted it! As I was not, I know very
little about how the business was pushed through. In a very unseemly
way, I think.'
'Well, no,' said Mr. Cecil, feeling himself morally called upon to defend
legal procedure from such imputations. 'It was done in the usual way in
all cases where the proof of death is only presumptive. The evidence,
such as it was, was laid before the court by the applicants, your
husband's cousins; and the servants who had been with him deposed to his
death with a particularity that was deemed sufficient. Their error was,
not that somebody died--for somebody did die at the time affirmed--but
that they mistook one person for another; the person who died being not
Sir Blount Constantine. The court was of opinion that the evidence led
up to a reasonable inference that the deceased was actually Sir Blount,
and probate was granted on the strength of it. As there was a doubt
about the exact day of the month, the applicants were allowed to swear
that he died on or after the date last given of his existence--which, in
spite of their error then, has really come true, now, of course.'
'They little think what they have done to me by being so ready to swear!'
Mr. Cecil, supposing her to allude only to the pecuniary straits in which
she had been prematurely placed by the will taking effect a year before
its due time, said, 'True. It has been to your ladyship's loss, and to
their gain. But they will make ample restitution, no doubt: and all will
be wound up satisfactorily.'
Lady Constantine was far from explaining that this was not her meaning;
and, after some further conversation of a purely technical nature, Mr.
Cecil left her presence.
When she was again unencumbered with the necessity of exhibiting a proper
bearing, the sense that she had greatly suffered in pocket by the undue
haste of the executors weighed upon her mind with a pressure quite
inappreciable beside the greater gravity of her personal position. What
was her position as legatee to her situation as a woman? Her face
crimsoned with a flush which she was almost ashamed to show to the
daylight, as she hastily penned the following note to Swithin at
Greenwich--certainly one of the most informal documents she had ever
'O Swithin, my dear Swithin, what I have to tell you is so sad and so
humiliating that I can hardly write it--and yet I must. Though we are
dearer to each other than all the world besides, and as firmly united
as if we were one, I am not legally your wife! Sir Blount did not die
till some time after we in England supposed. The service must be
repeated instantly. I have not been able to sleep all night. I feel
so frightened and ashamed that I can scarcely arrange my thoughts. The
newspapers sent with this will explain, if you have not seen
particulars. Do come to me as soon as you can, that we may consult on
what to do. Burn this at once.
When the note was despatched she remembered that there was another
less important question to be answered--the proposal of the Bishop for
her hand. His communication had sunk into nothingness beside the
momentous news that had so greatly distressed her. The two replies lay
before her--the one she had first written, simply declining to become Dr.
Helmsdale's wife, without giving reasons; the second, which she had
elaborated with so much care on the previous day, relating in
confidential detail the history of her love for Swithin, their secret
marriage, and their hopes for the future; asking his advice on what their
procedure should be to escape the strictures of a censorious world. It
was the letter she had barely finished writing when Mr. Cecil's clerk
announced news tantamount to a declaration that she was no wife at all.
This epistle she now destroyed--and with the less reluctance in knowing
that Swithin had been somewhat averse to the confession as soon as he
found that Bishop Helmsdale was also a victim to tender sentiment
concerning her. The first, in which, at the time of writing, the
suppressio veri was too strong for her conscience, had now become an
honest letter, and sadly folding it she sent the missive on its way.
The sense of her undefinable position kept her from much repose on the
second night also; but the following morning brought an unexpected letter
from Swithin, written about the same hour as hers to him, and it
comforted her much.
He had seen the account in the papers almost as soon as it had come to
her knowledge, and sent this line to reassure her in the perturbation she
must naturally feel. She was not to be alarmed at all. They two were
husband and wife in moral intent and antecedent belief, and the legal
flaw which accident had so curiously uncovered could be mended in half-an-
hour. He would return on Saturday night at latest, but as the hour would
probably be far advanced, he would ask her to meet him by slipping out of
the house to the tower any time during service on Sunday morning, when
there would be few persons about likely to observe them. Meanwhile he
might provisionally state that their best course in the emergency would
be, instead of confessing to anybody that there had already been a
solemnization of marriage between them, to arrange their re-marriage in
as open a manner as possible--as if it were the just-reached climax of a
sudden affection, instead of a harking back to an old departure--prefacing
it by a public announcement in the usual way.
This plan of approaching their second union with all the show and
circumstance of a new thing, recommended itself to her strongly, but for
one objection--that by such a course the wedding could not, without
appearing like an act of unseemly haste, take place so quickly as she
desired for her own moral satisfaction. It might take place somewhat
early, say in the course of a month or two, without bringing down upon
her the charge of levity; for Sir Blount, a notoriously unkind husband,
had been out of her sight four years, and in his grave nearly one. But
what she naturally desired was that there should be no more delay than
was positively necessary for obtaining a new license--two or three days
at longest; and in view of this celerity it was next to impossible to
make due preparation for a wedding of ordinary publicity, performed in
her own church, from her own house, with a feast and amusements for the
villagers, a tea for the school children, a bonfire, and other of those
proclamatory accessories which, by meeting wonder half-way, deprive it of
much of its intensity. It must be admitted, too, that she even now
shrank from the shock of surprise that would inevitably be caused by her
openly taking for husband such a mere youth of no position as Swithin
still appeared, notwithstanding that in years he was by this time within
a trifle of one-and-twenty.
The straightforward course had, nevertheless, so much to recommend it, so
well avoided the disadvantage of future revelation which a private
repetition of the ceremony would entail, that assuming she could depend
upon Swithin, as she knew she could do, good sense counselled its serious
She became more composed at her queer situation: hour after hour passed,
and the first spasmodic impulse of womanly decorum--not to let the sun go
down upon her present improper state--was quite controllable. She could
regard the strange contingency that had arisen with something like
philosophy. The day slipped by: she thought of the awkwardness of the
accident rather than of its humiliation; and, loving Swithin now in a far
calmer spirit than at that past date when they had rushed into each
other's arms and vowed to be one for the first time, she ever and anon
caught herself reflecting, 'Were it not that for my honour's sake I must
re-marry him, I should perhaps be a nobler woman in not allowing him to
encumber his bright future by a union with me at all.'
This thought, at first artificially raised, as little more than a mental
exercise, became by stages a genuine conviction; and while her heart
enforced, her reason regretted the necessity of abstaining from
self-sacrifice--the being obliged, despite his curious escape from the
first attempt, to lime Swithin's young wings again solely for her
However, the deed had to be done; Swithin was to be made legally hers.
Selfishness in a conjuncture of this sort was excusable, and even
obligatory. Taking brighter views, she hoped that upon the whole this
yoking of the young fellow with her, a portionless woman and his senior,
would not greatly endanger his career. In such a mood night overtook
her, and she went to bed conjecturing that Swithin had by this time
arrived in the parish, was perhaps even at that moment passing homeward
beneath her walls, and that in less than twelve hours she would have met
him, have ventilated the secret which oppressed her, and have
satisfactorily arranged with him the details of their reunion.
Sunday morning came, and complicated her previous emotions by bringing
new and unexpected shock to mingle with them. The postman had delivered
among other things an illustrated newspaper, sent by a hand she did not
recognize; and on opening the cover the sheet that met her eyes filled
her with a horror which she could not express. The print was one which
drew largely on its imagination for its engravings, and it already
contained an illustration of the death of Sir Blount Constantine. In
this work of art he was represented as standing with his pistol to his
mouth, his brains being in process of flying up to the roof of his
chamber, and his native princess rushing terror-stricken away to a remote
position in the thicket of palms which neighboured the dwelling.
The crude realism of the picture, possibly harmless enough in its effect
upon others, overpowered and sickened her. By a curious fascination she
would look at it again and again, till every line of the engraver's
performance seemed really a transcript from what had happened before his
eyes. With such details fresh in her thoughts she was going out of the
door to make arrangements for confirming, by repetition, her marriage
with another. No interval was available for serious reflection on the
tragedy, or for allowing the softening effects of time to operate in her
mind. It was as though her first husband had died that moment, and she
was keeping an appointment with another in the presence of his corpse.
So revived was the actuality of Sir Blount's recent life and death by
this incident, that the distress of her personal relations with Swithin
was the single force in the world which could have coerced her into
abandoning to him the interval she would fain have set apart for getting
over these new and painful impressions. Self-pity for ill-usage afforded
her good reasons for ceasing to love Sir Blount; but he was yet too
closely intertwined with her past life to be destructible on the instant
as a memory.
But there was no choice of occasions for her now, and she steadily waited
for the church bells to cease chiming. At last all was silent; the
surrounding cottagers had gathered themselves within the walls of the
adjacent building. Tabitha Lark's first voluntary then droned from the
tower window, and Lady Constantine left the garden in which she had been
loitering, and went towards Rings-Hill Speer.
The sense of her situation obscured the morning prospect. The country
was unusually silent under the intensifying sun, the songless season of
birds having just set in. Choosing her path amid the efts that were
basking upon the outer slopes of the plantation she wound her way up the
tree-shrouded camp to the wooden cabin in the centre.
The door was ajar, but on entering she found the place empty. The tower
door was also partly open; and listening at the foot of the stairs she
heard Swithin above, shifting the telescope and wheeling round the
rumbling dome, apparently in preparation for the next nocturnal
reconnoitre. There was no doubt that he would descend in a minute or two
to look for her, and not wishing to interrupt him till he was ready she
re-entered the cabin, where she patiently seated herself among the books
and papers that lay scattered about.
She did as she had often done before when waiting there for him; that is,
she occupied her moments in turning over the papers and examining the
progress of his labours. The notes were mostly astronomical, of course,
and she had managed to keep sufficiently abreast of him to catch the
meaning of a good many of these. The litter on the table, however, was
somewhat more marked this morning than usual, as if it had been hurriedly
overhauled. Among the rest of the sheets lay an open note, and, in the
entire confidence that existed between them, she glanced over and read it
as a matter of course.
It was a most business-like communication, and beyond the address and
date contained only the following words:--
'DEAR SIR,--We beg leave to draw your attention to a letter we
addressed to you on the 26th ult., to which we have not yet been
favoured with a reply. As the time for payment of the first moiety of
the six hundred pounds per annum settled on you by your late uncle is
now at hand, we should be obliged by your giving directions as to
where and in what manner the money is to be handed over to you, and
shall also be glad to receive any other definite instructions from you
with regard to the future.--We are, dear Sir, yours faithfully,
HANNER AND RAWLES.'
'SWITHIN ST. CLEEVE, Esq.'
An income of six hundred a year for Swithin, whom she had hitherto
understood to be possessed of an annuity of eighty pounds at the outside,
with no prospect of increasing the sum but by hard work! What could this
communication mean? He whose custom and delight it was to tell her all
his heart, had breathed not a syllable of this matter to her, though it
met the very difficulty towards which their discussions invariably
tended--how to secure for him a competency that should enable him to
establish his pursuits on a wider basis, and throw himself into more
direct communion with the scientific world. Quite bewildered by the lack
of any explanation she rose from her seat, and with the note in her hand
ascended the winding tower-steps.
Reaching the upper aperture she perceived him under the dome, moving
musingly about as if he had never been absent an hour, his light hair
frilling out from under the edge of his velvet skull-cap as it was always
wont to do. No question of marriage seemed to be disturbing the mind of
this juvenile husband of hers. The primum mobile of his gravitation
was apparently the equatorial telescope which she had given him, and
which he was carefully adjusting by means of screws and clamps. Hearing
her movements he turned his head.
'O here you are, my dear Viviette! I was just beginning to expect you,'
he exclaimed, coming forward. 'I ought to have been looking out for you,
but I have found a little defect here in the instrument, and I wanted to
set it right before evening comes on. As a rule it is not a good thing
to tinker your glasses; but I have found that the diffraction-rings are
not perfect circles. I learnt at Greenwich how to correct them--so kind
they have been to me there!--and so I have been loosening the screws and
gently shifting the glass, till I think that I have at last made the
illumination equal all round. I have so much to tell you about my visit;
one thing is, that the astronomical world is getting quite excited about
the coming Transit of Venus. There is to be a regular expedition fitted
out. How I should like to join it!'
He spoke enthusiastically, and with eyes sparkling at the mental image of
the said expedition; and as it was rather gloomy in the dome he rolled it
round on its axis, till the shuttered slit for the telescope directly
faced the morning sun, which thereupon flooded the concave interior,
touching the bright metal-work of the equatorial, and lighting up her
pale, troubled face.
'But Swithin!' she faltered; 'my letter to you--our marriage!'
'O yes, this marriage question,' he added. 'I had not forgotten it, dear
Viviette--or at least only for a few minutes.'
'Can you forget it, Swithin, for a moment? O how can you!' she said
reproachfully. 'It is such a distressing thing. It drives away all my
'Forgotten is not the word I should have used,' he apologized.
'Temporarily dismissed it from my mind, is all I meant. The simple fact
is, that the vastness of the field of astronomy reduces every terrestrial
thing to atomic dimensions. Do not trouble, dearest. The remedy is
quite easy, as I stated in my letter. We can now be married in a prosy
public way. Yes, early or late--next week, next month, six months
hence--just as you choose. Say the word when, and I will obey.'
The absence of all anxiety or consternation from his face contrasted
strangely with hers, which at last he saw, and, looking at the writing
she held, inquired--
'But what paper have you in your hand?'
'A letter which to me is actually inexplicable,' said she, her curiosity
returning to the letter, and overriding for the instant her immediate
concerns. 'What does this income of six hundred a year mean? Why have
you never told me about it, dear Swithin? or does it not refer to you?'
He looked at the note, flushed slightly, and was absolutely unable to
begin his reply at once.
'I did not mean you to see that, Viviette,' he murmured.
'I thought you had better not, as it does not concern me further now. The
solicitors are labouring under a mistake in supposing that it does. I
have to write at once and inform them that the annuity is not mine to
'What a strange mystery in your life!' she said, forcing a perplexed
smile. 'Something to balance the tragedy in mine. I am absolutely in
the dark as to your past history, it seems. And yet I had thought you
told me everything.'
'I could not tell you that, Viviette, because it would have endangered
our relations--though not in the way you may suppose. You would have
reproved me. You, who are so generous and noble, would have forbidden
to do what I did; and I was determined not to be forbidden.'
'To do what?'
'To marry you.'
'Why should I have forbidden?'
'Must I tell--what I would not?' he said, placing his hands upon her
arms, and looking somewhat sadly at her. 'Well, perhaps as it has come
to this you ought to know all, since it can make no possible difference
to my intentions now. We are one for ever--legal blunders
notwithstanding; for happily they are quickly reparable--and this
question of a devise from my uncle Jocelyn only concerned me when I was a
Thereupon, with obviously no consideration of the possibilities that were
reopened of the nullity of their marriage contract, he related in detail,
and not without misgiving for having concealed them so long, the events
that had occurred on the morning of their wedding-day; how he had met the
postman on his way to Warborne after dressing in the cabin, and how he
had received from him the letter his dead uncle had confided to his
family lawyers, informing him of the annuity, and of the important
request attached--that he should remain unmarried until his
five-and-twentieth year; how in comparison with the possession of her
dear self he had reckoned the income as nought, abandoned all idea of it
there and then, and had come on to the wedding as if nothing had happened
to interrupt for a moment the working out of their plan; how he had
scarcely thought with any closeness of the circumstances of the case
since, until reminded of them by this note she had seen, and a previous
one of a like sort received from the same solicitors.
'O Swithin! Swithin!' she cried, bursting into tears as she realized it
all, and sinking on the observing-chair; 'I have ruined you! yes, I have
The young man was dismayed by her unexpected grief, and endeavoured to
soothe her; but she seemed touched by a poignant remorse which would not
'And now,' she continued, as soon as she could speak, 'when you are once
more free, and in a position--actually in a position to claim the annuity
that would be the making of you, I am compelled to come to you, and
beseech you to undo yourself again, merely to save me!'
'Not to save you, Viviette, but to bless me. You do not ask me to re-
marry; it is not a question of alternatives at all; it is my straight
course. I do not dream of doing otherwise. I should be wretched if you
thought for one moment I could entertain the idea of doing otherwise.'
But the more he said the worse he made the matter. It was a state of
affairs that would not bear discussion at all, and the unsophisticated
view he took of his course seemed to increase her responsibility.
'Why did your uncle attach such a cruel condition to his bounty?' she
cried bitterly. 'O, he little thinks how hard he hits me from the
grave--me, who have never done him wrong; and you, too! Swithin, are you
sure that he makes that condition indispensable? Perhaps he meant that
you should not marry beneath you; perhaps he did not mean to object in
such a case as your marrying (forgive me for saying it) a little above
'There is no doubt that he did not contemplate a case which has led to
such happiness as this has done,' the youth murmured with hesitation; for
though he scarcely remembered a word of his uncle's letter of advice, he
had a dim apprehension that it was couched in terms alluding specifically
to Lady Constantine.
'Are you sure you cannot retain the money, and be my lawful husband too?'
she asked piteously. 'O, what a wrong I am doing you! I did not dream
that it could be as bad as this. I knew I was wasting your time by
letting you love me, and hampering your projects; but I thought there
were compensating advantages. This wrecking of your future at my hands I
did not contemplate. You are sure there is no escape? Have you his
letter with the conditions, or the will? Let me see the letter in which
he expresses his wishes.'
'I assure you it is all as I say,' he pensively returned. 'Even if I
were not legally bound by the conditions I should be morally.'
'But how does he put it? How does he justify himself in making such a
harsh restriction? Do let me see the letter, Swithin. I shall think it
a want of confidence if you do not. I may discover some way out of the
difficulty if you let me look at the papers. Eccentric wills can be
evaded in all sorts of ways.'
Still he hesitated. 'I would rather you did not see the papers,' he
But she persisted as only a fond woman can. Her conviction was that she
who, as a woman many years his senior, should have shown her love for
by guiding him straight into the paths he aimed at, had blocked his
attempted career for her own happiness. This made her more intent than
ever to find out a device by which, while she still retained him, he
might also retain the life-interest under his uncle's will.
Her entreaties were at length too potent for his resistance. Accompanying
her downstairs to the cabin, he opened the desk from which the other
papers had been taken, and against his better judgment handed her the
ominous communication of Jocelyn St. Cleeve which lay in the envelope
just as it had been received three-quarters of a year earlier.
'Don't read it now,' he said. 'Don't spoil our meeting by entering into
a subject which is virtually past and done with. Take it with you, and
look it over at your leisure--merely as an old curiosity, remember, and
not as a still operative document. I have almost forgotten what the
contents are, beyond the general advice and stipulation that I was to
remain a bachelor.'
'At any rate,' she rejoined, 'do not reply to the note I have seen from
the solicitors till I have read this also.'
He promised. 'But now about our public wedding,' he said. 'Like certain
royal personages, we shall have had the religious rite and the civil
contract performed on independent occasions. Will you fix the day? When
is it to be? and shall it take place at a registrar's office, since there
is no necessity for having the sacred part over again?'
'I'll think,' replied she. 'I'll think it over.'
'And let me know as soon as you can how you decide to proceed.'
'I will write to-morrow, or come. I do not know what to say now. I
cannot forget how I am wronging you. This is almost more than I can
To divert her mind he began talking about Greenwich Observatory, and the
great instruments therein, and how he had been received by the
astronomers, and the details of the expedition to observe the Transit of
Venus, together with many other subjects of the sort, to which she had
not power to lend her attention.
'I must reach home before the people are out of church,' she at length
said wearily. 'I wish nobody to know I have been out this morning.' And
forbidding Swithin to cross into the open in her company she left him on
the edge of the isolated plantation, which had latterly known her tread
Lady Constantine crossed the field and the park beyond, and found on
passing the church that the congregation was still within. There was no
hurry for getting indoors, the open windows enabling her to hear that Mr.
Torkingham had only just given out his text. So instead of entering the
house she went through the garden-door to the old bowling-green, and sat
down in the arbour that Louis had occupied when he overheard the
interview between Swithin and the Bishop. Not until then did she find
courage to draw out the letter and papers relating to the bequest, which
Swithin in a critical moment had handed to her.
Had he been ever so little older he would not have placed that
unconsidered confidence in Viviette which had led him to give way to her
curiosity. But the influence over him which eight or nine outnumbering
years lent her was immensely increased by her higher position and wider
experiences, and he had yielded the point, as he yielded all social
points; while the same conditions exempted him from any deep
consciousness that it was his duty to protect her even from herself.
The preamble of Dr. St. Cleeve's letter, in which he referred to his
pleasure at hearing of the young man's promise as an astronomer,
disturbed her not at all--indeed, somewhat prepossessed her in favour of
the old gentleman who had written it. The first item of what he called
'unfavourable news,' namely, the allusion to the inadequacy of Swithin's
income to the wants of a scientific man, whose lines of work were not
calculated to produce pecuniary emolument for many years, deepened the
cast of her face to concern. She reached the second item of the
so-called unfavourable news; and her face flushed as she read how the
doctor had learnt 'that there was something in your path worse than
narrow means, and that something is a woman.'
'To save you, if possible, from ruin on these heads,' she read on, 'I
take the preventive measures entailed below.'
And then followed the announcement of the 600 pounds a year settled on
the youth for life, on the single condition that he remained unmarried
till the age of twenty-five--just as Swithin had explained to her. She
next learnt that the bequest was for a definite object--that he might
have resources sufficient to enable him to travel in an inexpensive way,
and begin a study of the southern constellations, which, according to the
shrewd old man's judgment, were a mine not so thoroughly worked as the
northern, and therefore to be recommended. This was followed by some
sentences which hit her in the face like a switch:--
'The only other preventive step in my power is that of exhortation. . . .
Swithin St. Cleeve, don't make a fool of yourself, as your father did. If
your studies are to be worth anything, believe me they must be carried on
without the help of a woman. Avoid her, and every one of the sex, if you
mean to achieve any worthy thing. Eschew all of that sort for many a
year yet. Moreover, I say, the lady of your acquaintance avoid in
particular. . . . She has, in addition to her original disqualification
as a companion for you (that is, that of sex), these two special
drawbacks: she is much older than yourself--'
Lady Constantine's indignant flush forsook her, and pale despair
succeeded in its stead. Alas, it was true. Handsome, and in her prime,
she might be; but she was too old for Swithin!
'And she is so impoverished. . . . Beyond this, frankly, I don't think
well of her. I don't think well of any woman who dotes upon a man
younger than herself. . . . To care to be the first fancy of a young
fellow like you shows no great common sense in her. If she were worth
her salt she would have too much pride to be intimate with a youth in
your unassured position, to say no more.' (Viviette's face by this time
tingled hot again.) 'She is old enough to know that a liaison with her
may, and almost certainly would, be your ruin; and, on the other hand,
that a marriage would be preposterous--unless she is a complete fool; and
in that case there is even more reason for avoiding her than if she were
in her few senses.
'A woman of honourable feeling, nephew, would be careful to do nothing to
hinder you in your career, as this putting of herself in your way most
certainly will. Yet I hear that she professes a great anxiety on this
same future of yours as a physicist. The best way in which she can show
the reality of her anxiety is by leaving you to yourself.'
Leaving him to himself! She paled again, as if chilled by a conviction
that in this the old man was right.
'She'll blab your most secret plans and theories to every one of her
acquaintance, and make you appear ridiculous by announcing them before
they are matured. If you attempt to study with a woman, you'll be ruled
by her to entertain fancies instead of theories, air-castles instead of
intentions, qualms instead of opinions, sickly prepossessions instead of
reasoned conclusions. . . .
'An experienced woman waking a young man's passions just at a moment
he is endeavouring to shine intellectually, is doing little less than
committing a crime.'
* * * * *
Thus much the letter; and it was enough for her, indeed. The flushes of
indignation which had passed over her, as she gathered this man's opinion
of herself, combined with flushes of grief and shame when she considered
that Swithin--her dear Swithin--was perfectly acquainted with this
cynical view of her nature; that, reject it as he might, and as he
unquestionably did, such thoughts of her had been implanted in him, and
lay in him. Stifled as they were, they lay in him like seeds too deep
for germination, which accident might some day bring near the surface and
aerate into life.
The humiliation of such a possibility was almost too much to endure; the
mortification--she had known nothing like it till now. But this was not
all. There succeeded a feeling in comparison with which resentment and
mortification were happy moods--a miserable conviction that this old man
who spoke from the grave was not altogether wrong in his speaking; that
he was only half wrong; that he was, perhaps, virtually right. Only
those persons who are by nature affected with that ready esteem for
others' positions which induces an undervaluing of their own, fully
experience the deep smart of such convictions against self--the wish for
annihilation that is engendered in the moment of despair, at feeling that
at length we, our best and firmest friend, cease to believe in our cause.
Viviette could hear the people coming out of church on the other side of
the garden wall. Their footsteps and their cheerful voices died away;
the bell rang for lunch; and she went in. But her life during that
morning and afternoon was wholly introspective. Knowing the full
circumstances of his situation as she knew them now--as she had never
before known them--ought she to make herself the legal wife of Swithin
St. Cleeve, and so secure her own honour at any price to him? such was
the formidable question which Lady Constantine propounded to her startled
understanding. As a subjectively honest woman alone, beginning her
charity at home, there was no doubt that she ought. Save Thyself was
sound Old Testament doctrine, and not altogether discountenanced in the
New. But was there a line of conduct which transcended mere
self-preservation? and would it not be an excellent thing to put it in
That she had wronged St. Cleeve by marrying him--that she would wrong
infinitely more by completing the marriage--there was, in her opinion, no
doubt. She in her experience had sought out him in his inexperience, and
had led him like a child. She remembered--as if it had been her fault,
though it was in fact only her misfortune--that she had been the one to
go for the license and take up residence in the parish in which they were
wedded. He was now just one-and-twenty. Without her, he had all the
world before him, six hundred a year, and leave to cut as straight a road
to fame as he should choose: with her, this story was negatived.
No money from his uncle; no power of advancement; but a bondage with a
woman whose disparity of years, though immaterial just now, would operate
in the future as a wet blanket upon his social ambitions; and that
content with life as it was which she had noticed more than once in him
latterly, a content imperilling his scientific spirit by abstracting his
zeal for progress.
It was impossible, in short, to blind herself to the inference that
marriage with her had not benefited him. Matters might improve in the
future; but to take upon herself the whole liability of Swithin's life,
as she would do by depriving him of the help his uncle had offered, was a
fearful responsibility. How could she, an unendowed woman, replace such
assistance? His recent visit to Greenwich, which had momentarily revived
that zest for his pursuit that was now less constant than heretofore,
should by rights be supplemented by other such expeditions. It would be
true benevolence not to deprive him of means to continue them, so as to
keep his ardour alive, regardless of the cost to herself.
It could be done. By the extraordinary favour of a unique accident she
had now an opportunity of redeeming Swithin's seriously compromised
future, and restoring him to a state no worse than his first. His
annuity could be enjoyed by him, his travels undertaken, his studies
pursued, his high vocation initiated, by one little sacrifice--that of
herself. She only had to refuse to legalize their marriage, to part from
him for ever, and all would be well with him thenceforward. The pain to
him would after all be but slight, whatever it might be to his wretched
The ineptness of retaining him at her side lay not only in the fact
itself of injury to him, but in the likelihood of his living to see it as
such, and reproaching her for selfishness in not letting him go in this
unprecedented opportunity for correcting a move proved to be false. He
wished to examine the southern heavens--perhaps his uncle's letter was
the father of the wish--and there was no telling what good might not
result to mankind at large from his exploits there. Why should she, to
save her narrow honour, waste the wide promise of his ability?
That in immolating herself by refusing him, and leaving him free to work
wonders for the good of his fellow-creatures, she would in all
probability add to the sum of human felicity, consoled her by its breadth
as an idea even while it tortured her by making herself the scapegoat or
single unit on whom the evil would fall. Ought a possibly large number,
Swithin included, to remain unbenefited because the one individual to
whom his release would be an injury chanced to be herself? Love between
man and woman, which in Homer, Moses, and other early exhibitors of life,
is mere desire, had for centuries past so far broadened as to include
sympathy and friendship; surely it should in this advanced stage of the
world include benevolence also. If so, it was her duty to set her young
Thus she laboured, with a generosity more worthy even than its object, to
sink her love for her own decorum in devotion to the world in general,
and to Swithin in particular. To counsel her activities by her
understanding, rather than by her emotions as usual, was hard work for a
tender woman; but she strove hard, and made advance. The self-centred
attitude natural to one in her situation was becoming displaced by the
sympathetic attitude, which, though it had to be artificially fostered at
first, gave her, by degrees, a certain sweet sense that she was rising
above self-love. That maternal element which had from time to time
evinced itself in her affection for the youth, and was imparted by her
superior ripeness in experience and years, appeared now again, as she
drew nearer the resolve not to secure propriety in her own social
condition at the expense of this youth's earthly utility.
Unexpectedly grand fruits are sometimes forced forth by harsh pruning.
The illiberal letter of Swithin's uncle was suggesting to Lady
Constantine an altruism whose thoroughness would probably have amazed
that queer old gentleman into a withdrawal of the conditions that had
induced it. To love St. Cleeve so far better than herself as this was to
surpass the love of women as conventionally understood, and as mostly
Before, however, clinching her decision by any definite step she worried
her little brain by devising every kind of ingenious scheme, in the hope
of lighting on one that might show her how that decision could be avoided
with the same good result. But to secure for him the advantages offered,
and to retain him likewise; reflection only showed it to be impossible.
Yet to let him go for ever was more than she could endure, and at
length she jumped at an idea which promised some sort of improvement on
that design. She would propose that reunion should not be entirely
abandoned, but simply postponed--namely, till after his twenty-fifth
birthday--when he might be her husband without, at any rate, the loss to
him of the income. By this time he would approximate to a man's full
judgment, and that painful aspect of her as one who had deluded his raw
immaturity would have passed for ever.
The plan somewhat appeased her disquieted honour. To let a marriage sink
into abeyance for four or five years was not to nullify it; and though
she would leave it to him to move its substantiation at the end of that
time, without present stipulations, she had not much doubt upon the
The clock struck five. This silent mental debate had occupied her whole
afternoon. Perhaps it would not have ended now but for an unexpected
incident--the entry of her brother Louis. He came into the room where
she was sitting, or rather writhing, and after a few words to explain how
he had got there and about the mistake in the date of Sir Blount's death,
he walked up close to her. His next remarks were apologetic in form, but
in essence they were bitterness itself.
'Viviette,' he said, 'I am sorry for my hasty words to you when I last
left this house. I readily withdraw them. My suspicions took a wrong
direction. I think now that I know the truth. You have been even madder
than I supposed!'
'In what way?' she asked distantly.
'I lately thought that unhappy young man was only your too-favoured
'You thought wrong: he is not.'
'He is not--I believe you--for he is more. I now am persuaded that he is
your lawful husband. Can you deny it!'
'On your sacred word!'
'On my sacred word he is not that either.'
'Thank heaven for that assurance!' said Louis, exhaling a breath of
relief. 'I was not so positive as I pretended to be--but I wanted to
know the truth of this mystery. Since you are not fettered to him in
that way I care nothing.'
Louis turned away; and that afforded her an opportunity for leaving the
room. Those few words were the last grains that had turned the balance,
and settled her doom.
She would let Swithin go. All the voices in her world seemed to clamour
for that consummation. The morning's mortification, the afternoon's
benevolence, and the evening's instincts of evasion had joined to carry
Accordingly she sat down, and wrote to Swithin a summary of the thoughts
'We shall separate,' she concluded. 'You to obey your uncle's orders and
explore the southern skies; I to wait as one who can implicitly trust
you. Do not see me again till the years have expired. You will find me
still the same. I am your wife through all time; the letter of the law
is not needed to reassert it at present; while the absence of the letter
secures your fortune.'
Nothing can express what it cost Lady Constantine to marshal her
arguments; but she did it, and vanquished self-comfort by a sense of the
general expediency. It may unhesitatingly be affirmed that the only
ignoble reason which might have dictated such a step was non-existent;
that is to say, a serious decline in her affection. Tenderly she had
loved the youth at first, and tenderly she loved him now, as time and her
Women the most delicate get used to strange moral situations. Eve
probably regained her normal sweet composure about a week after the Fall.
On first learning of her anomalous position Lady Constantine had blushed
hot, and her pure instincts had prompted her to legalize her marriage
without a moment's delay. Heaven and earth were to be moved at once to
effect it. Day after day had passed; her union had remained unsecured,
and the idea of its nullity had gradually ceased to be strange to her;
till it became of little account beside her bold resolve for the young
The immediate effect upon St. Cleeve of the receipt of her well-reasoned
argument for retrocession was, naturally, a bitter attack upon himself
for having been guilty of such cruel carelessness as to leave in her way
the lawyer's letter that had first made her aware of his uncle's
provision for him. Immature as he was, he could realize Viviette's
position sufficiently well to perceive what the poor lady must suffer at
having suddenly thrust upon her the responsibility of repairing her own
situation as a wife by ruining his as a legatee. True, it was by the
purest inadvertence that his pending sacrifice of means had been
discovered; but he should have taken special pains to render such a
mishap impossible. If on the first occasion, when a revelation might
have been made with impunity, he would not put it in the power of her
good nature to relieve his position by refusing him, he should have shown
double care not to do so now, when she could not exercise that
benevolence without the loss of honour.
With a young man's inattention to issues he had not considered how sharp
her feelings as a woman must be in this contingency. It had seemed the
easiest thing in the world to remedy the defect in their marriage, and
therefore nothing to be anxious about. And in his innocence of any
thought of appropriating the bequest by taking advantage of the loophole
in his matrimonial bond, he undervalued the importance of concealing the
existence of that bequest.
The looming fear of unhappiness between them revived in Swithin the warm
emotions of their earlier acquaintance. Almost before the sun had set he
hastened to Welland House in search of her. The air was disturbed by
stiff summer blasts, productive of windfalls and premature descents of
leafage. It was an hour when unripe apples shower down in orchards, and
unbrowned chestnuts descend in their husks upon the park glades. There
was no help for it this afternoon but to call upon her in a direct
manner, regardless of suspicions. He was thunderstruck when, while
waiting in the full expectation of being admitted to her presence, the
answer brought back to him was that she was unable to see him.
This had never happened before in the whole course of their acquaintance.
But he knew what it meant, and turned away with a vague disquietude. He
did not know that Lady Constantine was just above his head, listening to
his movements with the liveliest emotions, and, while praying for him to
go, longing for him to insist on seeing her and spoil all. But the
faintest symptom being always sufficient to convince him of having
blundered, he unwittingly took her at her word, and went rapidly away.
However, he called again the next day, and she, having gained strength by
one victory over herself, was enabled to repeat her refusal with greater
ease. Knowing this to be the only course by which her point could be
maintained, she clung to it with strenuous and religious pertinacity.
Thus immured and self-controlling she passed a week. Her brother, though
he did not live in the house (preferring the nearest watering-place at
this time of the year), was continually coming there; and one day he
happened to be present when she denied herself to Swithin for the third
time. Louis, who did not observe the tears in her eyes, was astonished
and delighted: she was coming to her senses at last. Believing now that
there had been nothing more between them than a too-plainly shown
partiality on her part, he expressed his commendation of her conduct to
her face. At this, instead of owning to its advantage also, her tears
burst forth outright.
Not knowing what to make of this, Louis said--
'Well, I am simply upholding you in your course.'
'Yes, yes; I know it!' she cried. 'And it is my deliberately chosen
course. I wish he--Swithin St. Cleeve--would go on his travels at once,
and leave the place! Six hundred a year has been left him for travel and
study of the southern constellations; and I wish he would use it. You
might represent the advantage to him of the course if you cared to.'
Louis thought he could do no better than let Swithin know this as soon as
possible. Accordingly when St. Cleeve was writing in the hut the next
day he heard the crackle of footsteps over the fir-needles outside, and
jumped up, supposing them to be hers; but, to his disappointment, it was
her brother who appeared at the door.
'Excuse my invading the hermitage, St. Cleeve,' he said in his careless
way, 'but I have heard from my sister of your good fortune.'
'My good fortune?'
'Yes, in having an opportunity for roving; and with a traveller's conceit
I couldn't help coming to give you the benefit of my experience. When do
'I have not formed any plan as yet. Indeed, I had not quite been
thinking of going.'
'Not going? Then I may have been misinformed. What I have heard is that
a good uncle has kindly bequeathed you a sufficient income to make a
second Isaac Newton of you, if you only use it as he directs.'
Swithin breathed quickly, but said nothing.
'If you have not decided so to make use of it, let me implore you, as
your friend, and one nearly old enough to be your father, to decide at
once. Such a chance does not happen to a scientific youth once in a
'Thank you for your good advice--for it is good in itself, I know,' said
Swithin, in a low voice. 'But has Lady Constantine spoken of it at all?'
'She thinks as I do.'
'She has spoken to you on the subject?'
'Certainly. More than that; it is at her request--though I did not
intend to say so--that I come to speak to you about it now.'
'Frankly and plainly,' said Swithin, his voice trembling with a compound
of scientific and amatory emotion that defies definition, 'does she say
seriously that she wishes me to go?'
'Then go I will,' replied Swithin firmly. 'I have been fortunate enough
to interest some leading astronomers, including the Astronomer Royal; and
in a letter received this morning I learn that the use of the Cape
Observatory has been offered me for any southern observations I may wish
to make. This offer I will accept. Will you kindly let Lady Constantine
know this, since she is interested in my welfare?'
Louis promised, and when he was gone Swithin looked blankly at his own
situation, as if he could scarcely believe in its reality. Her letter to
him, then, had been deliberately written; she meant him to go.
But he was determined that none of those misunderstandings which ruin
happiness of lovers should be allowed to operate in the present case. He
would see her, if he slept under her walls all night to do it, and would
hear the order to depart from her own lips. This unexpected stand she
was making for his interests was winning his admiration to such a degree
as to be in danger of defeating the very cause it was meant to subserve.
A woman like this was not to be forsaken in a hurry. He wrote two lines,
and left the note at the house with his own hand.
'THE CABIN, RINGS-HILL,
'DEAREST VIVIETTE,--If you insist, I will go. But letter-writing will
not do. I must have the command from your own two lips, otherwise I
shall not stir. I am here every evening at seven. Can you come?--S.'
This note, as fate would have it, reached her hands in the single hour of
that week when she was in a mood to comply with his request, just when
moved by a reactionary emotion after dismissing Swithin. She went
upstairs to the window that had so long served purposes of this kind, and
St. Cleeve soon saw the answer she had given and watched her approach
from the tower as the sunset drew on. The vivid circumstances of his
life at this date led him ever to remember the external scenes in which
they were set. It was an evening of exceptional irradiations, and the
west heaven gleamed like a foundry of all metals common and rare. The
clouds were broken into a thousand fragments, and the margin of every
fragment shone. Foreseeing the disadvantage and pain to her of
maintaining a resolve under the pressure of a meeting, he vowed not to
urge her by word or sign; to put the question plainly and calmly, and to
discuss it on a reasonable basis only, like the philosophers they assumed
themselves to be.
But this intention was scarcely adhered to in all its integrity. She
duly appeared on the edge of the field, flooded with the metallic
radiance that marked the close of this day; whereupon he quickly
descended the steps, and met her at the cabin door. They entered it
As the evening grew darker and darker he listened to her reasoning, which
was precisely a repetition of that already sent him by letter, and by
degrees accepted her decision, since she would not revoke it. Time came
for them to say good-bye, and then--
'He turn'd and saw the terror in her eyes,
That yearn'd upon him, shining in such wise
As a star midway in the midnight fix'd.'
It was the misery of her own condition that showed forth, hitherto
obscured by her ardour for ameliorating his. They closed together, and
kissed each other as though the emotion of their whole year-and-half's
acquaintance had settled down upon that moment.
'I won't go away from you!' said Swithin huskily. 'Why did you propose
it for an instant?'
Thus the nearly ended interview was again prolonged, and Viviette yielded
to all the passion of her first union with him. Time, however, was
merciless, and the hour approached midnight, and she was compelled to
depart. Swithin walked with her towards the house, as he had walked many
times before, believing that all was now smooth again between them, and
caring, it must be owned, very little for his fame as an expositor of the
southern constellations just then.
When they reached the silent house he said what he had not ventured to
say before, 'Fix the day--you have decided that it is to be soon, and
that I am not to go?'
But youthful Swithin was far, very far, from being up to the fond
subtlety of Viviette this evening. 'I cannot decide here,' she said
gently, releasing herself from his arm; 'I will speak to you from the
window. Wait for me.'
She vanished; and he waited. It was a long time before the window
opened, and he was not aware that, with her customary complication of
feeling, she had knelt for some time inside the room before looking out.
'Well?' said he.
'It cannot be,' she answered. 'I cannot ruin you. But the day after you
are five-and-twenty our marriage shall be confirmed, if you choose.'
'O, my Viviette, how is this!' he cried.
'Swithin, I have not altered. But I feared for my powers, and could not
tell you whilst I stood by your side. I ought not to have given way as I
did to-night. Take the bequest, and go. You are too young--to be
fettered--I should have thought of it! Do not communicate with me for at
least a year: it is imperative. Do not tell me your plans. If we part,
we do part. I have vowed a vow not to further obstruct the course you
had decided on before you knew me and my puling ways; and by Heaven's
help I'll keep that vow. . . . Now go. These are the parting words of
your own Viviette!'
Swithin, who was stable as a giant in all that appertained to nature and
life outside humanity, was a mere pupil in domestic matters. He was
quite awed by her firmness, and looked vacantly at her for a time, till
she closed the window. Then he mechanically turned, and went, as she had
A week had passed away. It had been a time of cloudy mental weather to
Swithin and Viviette, but the only noteworthy fact about it was that what
had been planned to happen therein had actually taken place. Swithin had
gone from Welland, and would shortly go from England.
She became aware of it by a note that he posted to her on his way through
Warborne. There was much evidence of haste in the note, and something of
reserve. The latter she could not understand, but it might have been
obvious enough if she had considered.
On the morning of his departure he had sat on the edge of his bed, the
sunlight streaming through the early mist, the house-martens scratching
the back of the ceiling over his head as they scrambled out from the roof
for their day's gnat-chasing, the thrushes cracking snails on the garden
stones outside with the noisiness of little smiths at work on little
anvils. The sun, in sending its rods of yellow fire into his room, sent,
as he suddenly thought, mental illumination with it. For the first time,
as he sat there, it had crossed his mind that Viviette might have reasons
for this separation which he knew not of. There might be family
reasons--mysterious blood necessities which are said to rule members of
old musty-mansioned families, and are unknown to other classes of
society--and they may have been just now brought before her by her
brother Louis on the condition that they were religiously concealed.
The idea that some family skeleton, like those he had read of in memoirs,
had been unearthed by Louis, and held before her terrified understanding
as a matter which rendered Swithin's departure, and the neutralization of
the marriage, no less indispensable to them than it was an advantage to
himself, seemed a very plausible one to Swithin just now. Viviette might
have taken Louis into her confidence at last, for the sake of his
brotherly advice. Swithin knew that of her own heart she would never
wish to get rid of him; but coerced by Louis, might she not have grown to
entertain views of its expediency? Events made such a supposition on St.
Cleeve's part as natural as it was inaccurate, and, conjoined with his
own excitement at the thought of seeing a new heaven overhead, influenced
him to write but the briefest and most hurried final note to her, in
which he fully obeyed her sensitive request that he would omit all
reference to his plans. These at the last moment had been modified to
fall in with the winter expedition formerly mentioned, to observe the
Transit of Venus at a remote southern station.
The business being done, and himself fairly plunged into the
preliminaries of an important scientific pilgrimage, Swithin acquired
that lightness of heart which most young men feel in forsaking old love
for new adventure, no matter how charming may be the girl they leave
behind them. Moreover, in the present case, the man was endowed with
that schoolboy temperament which does not see, or at least consider with
much curiosity, the effect of a given scheme upon others than himself.
The bearing upon Lady Constantine of what was an undoubted predicament
for any woman, was forgotten in his feeling that she had done a very
handsome and noble thing for him, and that he was therefore bound in
honour to make the most of it.
His going had resulted in anything but lightness of heart for her. Her
sad fancy could, indeed, indulge in dreams of her yellow-haired laddie
without that formerly besetting fear that those dreams would prompt her
to actions likely to distract and weight him. She was wretched on her
own account, relieved on his. She no longer stood in the way of his
advancement, and that was enough. For herself she could live in
retirement, visit the wood, the old camp, the column, and, like OEnone,
think of the life they had led there--
'Mournful OEnone, wandering forlorn
Of Paris, once her playmate on the hills,'
leaving it entirely to his goodness whether he would come and claim her
in the future, or desert her for ever.
She was diverted for a time from these sad performances by a letter which
reached her from Bishop Helmsdale. To see his handwriting again on an
envelope, after thinking so anxiously of making a father-confessor of
him, started her out of her equanimity. She speedily regained it,
however, when she read his note.
'THE PALACE, MELCHESTER,
July 30, 18--.
'MY DEAR LADY CONSTANTINE,--I am shocked and grieved that, in the
strange dispensation of things here below, my offer of marriage should
have reached you almost simultaneously with the intelligence that your
widowhood had been of several months less duration than you and I, and
the world, had supposed. I can quite understand that, viewed from any
side, the news must have shaken and disturbed you; and your
unequivocal refusal to entertain any thought of a new alliance at such
a moment was, of course, intelligible, natural, and praiseworthy. At
present I will say no more beyond expressing a hope that you will
accept my assurances that I was quite ignorant of the news at the hour
of writing, and a sincere desire that in due time, and as soon as you
have recovered your equanimity, I may be allowed to renew my
proposal.--I am, my dear Lady Constantine, yours ever sincerely,
She laid the letter aside, and thought no more about it, beyond a
momentary meditation on the errors into which people fall in reasoning
from actions to motives. Louis, who was now again with her, became in
due course acquainted with the contents of the letter, and was satisfied
with the promising position in which matters seemingly stood all round.
Lady Constantine went her mournful ways as she had planned to do, her
chief resort being the familiar column, where she experienced the
unutterable melancholy of seeing two carpenters dismantle the dome of its
felt covering, detach its ribs, and clear away the enclosure at the top
till everything stood as it had stood before Swithin had been known to
the place. The equatorial had already been packed in a box, to be in
readiness if he should send for it from abroad. The cabin, too, was in
course of demolition, such having been his directions, acquiesced in by
her, before he started. Yet she could not bear the idea that these
structures, so germane to the events of their romance, should be removed
as if removed for ever. Going to the men she bade them store up the
materials intact, that they might be re-erected if desired. She had the
junctions of the timbers marked with figures, the boards numbered, and
the different sets of screws tied up in independent papers for
identification. She did not hear the remarks of the workmen when she had
gone, to the effect that the young man would as soon think of buying a
halter for himself as come back and spy at the moon from Rings-Hill
Speer, after seeing the glories of other nations and the gold and jewels
that were found there, or she might have been more unhappy than she was.
On returning from one of these walks to the column a curious circumstance
occurred. It was evening, and she was coming as usual down through the
sighing plantation, choosing her way between the ramparts of the camp
towards the outlet giving upon the field, when suddenly in a dusky vista
among the fir-trunks she saw, or thought she saw, a golden-haired,
toddling child. The child moved a step or two, and vanished behind a
tree. Lady Constantine, fearing it had lost its way, went quickly to the
spot, searched, and called aloud. But no child could she perceive or
hear anywhere around. She returned to where she had stood when first
beholding it, and looked in the same direction, but nothing reappeared.
The only object at all resembling a little boy or girl was the upper tuft
of a bunch of fern, which had prematurely yellowed to about the colour of
a fair child's hair, and waved occasionally in the breeze. This,
however, did not sufficiently explain the phenomenon, and she returned to
make inquiries of the man whom she had left at work, removing the last
traces of Swithin's cabin. But he had gone with her departure and the
approach of night. Feeling an indescribable dread she retraced her
steps, and hastened homeward doubting, yet half believing, what she had
seemed to see, and wondering if her imagination had played her some
The tranquil mournfulness of her night of solitude terminated in a most
The morning after the above-mentioned incident Lady Constantine, after
meditating a while, arose with a strange personal conviction that bore
curiously on the aforesaid hallucination. She realized a condition of
things that she had never anticipated, and for a moment the discovery of
her state so overwhelmed her that she thought she must die outright. In
her terror she said she had sown the wind to reap the whirlwind. Then
the instinct of self-preservation flamed up in her like a fire. Her
altruism in subjecting her self-love to benevolence, and letting Swithin
go away from her, was demolished by the new necessity, as if it had been
a gossamer web.
There was no resisting or evading the spontaneous plan of action which
matured in her mind in five minutes. Where was Swithin? how could he be
got at instantly?--that was her ruling thought. She searched about the
room for his last short note, hoping, yet doubting, that its contents
were more explicit on his intended movements than the few meagre
syllables which alone she could call to mind. She could not find the
letter in her room, and came downstairs to Louis as pale as a ghost.
He looked up at her, and with some concern said, 'What's the matter?'
'I am searching everywhere for a letter--a note from Mr. St. Cleeve--just
a few words telling me when the Occidental sails, that I think he goes
'Why do you want that unimportant document?'
'It is of the utmost importance that I should know whether he has
actually sailed or not!' said she in agonized tones. 'Where can that
Louis knew where that letter was, for having seen it on her desk he had,
without reading it, torn it up and thrown it into the waste-paper basket,
thinking the less that remained to remind her of the young philosopher
'I destroyed it,' he said.
'O Louis! why did you?' she cried. 'I am going to follow him; I think it
best to do so; and I want to know if he is gone--and now the date is
'Going to run after St. Cleeve? Absurd!'
'Yes, I am!' she said with vehement firmness. 'I must see him; I want to
speak to him as soon as possible.'
'Good Lord, Viviette! Are you mad?'
'O what was the date of that ship! But it cannot be helped. I start at
once for Southampton. I have made up my mind to do it. He was going to
his uncle's solicitors in the North first; then he was coming back to
Southampton. He cannot have sailed yet.'
'I believe he has sailed,' muttered Louis sullenly.
She did not wait to argue with him, but returned upstairs, where she rang
to tell Green to be ready with the pony to drive her to Warborne station
in a quarter of an hour.
Viviette's determination to hamper Swithin no longer had led her, as has
been shown, to balk any weak impulse to entreat his return, by forbidding
him to furnish her with his foreign address. His ready disposition, his
fear that there might be other reasons behind, made him obey her only too
literally. Thus, to her terror and dismay, she had placed a gratuitous
difficulty in the way of her present endeavour.
She was ready before Green, and urged on that factotum so wildly as to
leave him no time to change his corduroys and 'skitty-boots' in which he
had been gardening; he therefore turned himself into a coachman as far
down as his waist merely--clapping on his proper coat, hat, and
waistcoat, and wrapping a rug over his horticultural half below. In this
compromise he appeared at the door, mounted, and reins in hand.
Seeing how sad and determined Viviette was, Louis pitied her so far as to
put nothing in the way of her starting, though he forbore to help her. He
thought her conduct sentimental foolery, the outcome of mistaken pity and
'such a kind of gain-giving as would trouble a woman;' and he decided
that it would be better to let this mood burn itself out than to keep it
smouldering by obstruction.
'Do you remember the date of his sailing?' she said finally, as the pony-
carriage turned to drive off.
'He sails on the 25th, that is, to-day. But it may not be till late in
With this she started, and reached Warborne in time for the up-train. How
much longer than it really is a long journey can seem to be, was fully
learnt by the unhappy Viviette that day. The changeful procession of
country seats past which she was dragged, the names and memories of their
owners, had no points of interest for her now. She reached Southampton
about midday, and drove straight to the docks.
On approaching the gates she was met by a crowd of people and vehicles
coming out--men, women, children, porters, police, cabs, and carts. The
Occidental had just sailed.
The adverse intelligence came upon her with such odds after her morning's
tension that she could scarcely crawl back to the cab which had brought
her. But this was not a time to succumb. As she had no luggage she
dismissed the man, and, without any real consciousness of what she was
doing, crept away and sat down on a pile of merchandise.
After long thinking her case assumed a more hopeful complexion. Much
might probably be done towards communicating with him in the time at her
command. The obvious step to this end, which she should have thought of
sooner, would be to go to his grandmother in Welland Bottom, and there
obtain his itinerary in detail--no doubt well known to Mrs. Martin. There
was no leisure for her to consider longer if she would be home again that
night; and returning to the railway she waited on a seat without eating
or drinking till a train was ready to take her back.
By the time she again stood in Warborne the sun rested his chin upon the
meadows, and enveloped the distant outline of the Rings-Hill column in
his humid rays. Hiring an empty fly that chanced to be at the station
she was driven through the little town onward to Welland, which she
approached about eight o'clock. At her request the man set her down at
the entrance to the park, and when he was out of sight, instead of
pursuing her way to the House, she went along the high road in the
direction of Mrs. Martin's.
Dusk was drawing on, and the bats were wheeling over the green basin
called Welland Bottom by the time she arrived; and had any other errand
instigated her call she would have postponed it till the morrow. Nobody
responded to her knock, but she could hear footsteps going hither and
thither upstairs, and dull noises as of articles moved from their places.
She knocked again and again, and ultimately the door was opened by
'I could make nobody hear,' said Lady Constantine, who was so weary she
could scarcely stand.
'I am very sorry, my lady,' said Hannah, slightly awed on beholding her
visitor. 'But we was a putting poor Mr. Swithin's room to rights, now
that he is, as a woman may say, dead and buried to us; so we didn't hear
your ladyship. I'll call Mrs. Martin at once. She is up in the room
that used to be his work-room.'
Here Hannah's voice implied moist eyes, and Lady Constantine's instantly
'No, I'll go up to her,' said Viviette; and almost in advance of Hannah
she passed up the shrunken ash stairs.
The ebbing light was not enough to reveal to Mrs. Martin's aged gaze the
personality of her visitor, till Hannah explained.
'I'll get a light, my lady,' said she.
'No, I would rather not. What are you doing, Mrs. Martin?'
'Well, the poor misguided boy is gone--and he's gone for good to me! I
am a woman of over four-score years, my Lady Constantine; my junketting
days are over, and whether 'tis feasting or whether 'tis sorrowing in the
land will soon be nothing to me. But his life may be long and active,
and for the sake of him I care for what I shall never see, and wish to
make pleasant what I shall never enjoy. I am setting his room in order,
as the place will be his own freehold when I am gone, so that when he
comes back he may find all his poor jim-cracks and trangleys as he left
'em, and not feel that I have betrayed his trust.'
Mrs. Martin's voice revealed that she had burst into such few tears as
were left her, and then Hannah began crying likewise; whereupon Lady
Constantine, whose heart had been bursting all day (and who, indeed,
considering her coming trouble, had reason enough for tears), broke into
bitterer sobs than either--sobs of absolute pain, that could no longer be
Hannah was the first to discover that Lady Constantine was weeping with
them; and her feelings being probably the least intense among the three
she instantly controlled herself.
'Refrain yourself, my dear woman, refrain!' she said hastily to Mrs.
Martin; 'don't ye see how it do raft my lady?' And turning to Viviette
she whispered, 'Her years be so great, your ladyship, that perhaps ye'll
excuse her for busting out afore ye? We know when the mind is dim, my
lady, there's not the manners there should be; but decayed people can't
help it, poor old soul!'
'Hannah, that will do now. Perhaps Lady Constantine would like to speak
to me alone,' said Mrs. Martin. And when Hannah had retreated Mrs.
Martin continued: 'Such a charge as she is, my lady, on account of her
great age! You'll pardon her biding here as if she were one of the
family. I put up with such things because of her long service, and we
know that years lead to childishness.'
'What are you doing? Can I help you?' Viviette asked, as Mrs. Martin,
after speaking, turned to lift some large article.
'Oh, 'tis only the skeleton of a telescope that's got no works in his
inside,' said Swithin's grandmother, seizing the huge pasteboard tube
that Swithin had made, and abandoned because he could get no lenses to
suit it. 'I am going to hang it up to these hooks, and there it will
bide till he comes again.'
Lady Constantine took one end, and the tube was hung up against the
whitewashed wall by strings that the old woman had tied round it.
'Here's all his equinoctial lines, and his topics of Capricorn, and I
don't know what besides,' Mrs. Martin continued, pointing to some
charcoal scratches on the wall. 'I shall never rub 'em out; no, though
'tis such untidiness as I was never brought up to, I shall never rub 'em
'Where has Swithin gone to first?' asked Viviette anxiously. 'Where does
he say you are to write to him?'
'Nowhere yet, my lady. He's gone traipsing all over Europe and America,
and then to the South Pacific Ocean about this Transit of Venus that's
going to be done there. He is to write to us first--God knows when!--for
he said that if we didn't hear from him for six months we were not to be
gallied at all.'
At this intelligence, so much worse than she had expected, Lady
Constantine stood mute, sank down, and would have fallen to the floor if
there had not been a chair behind her. Controlling herself by a
strenuous effort, she disguised her despair and asked vacantly: 'From
America to the South Pacific--Transit of Venus?' (Swithin's arrangement
to accompany the expedition had been made at the last moment, and
therefore she had not as yet been informed.)
'Yes, to a lone island, I believe.'
'Yes, a lone islant, my lady!' echoed Hannah, who had crept in and made
herself one of the family again, in spite of Mrs. Martin.
'He is going to meet the English and American astronomers there at the
end of the year. After that he will most likely go on to the Cape.'
'But before the end of the year--what places did he tell you of
'Let me collect myself; he is going to the observatory of Cambridge,
United States, to meet some gentlemen there, and spy through the great
refractor. Then there's the observatory of Chicago; and I think he has a
letter to make him beknown to a gentleman in the observatory at
Marseilles--and he wants to go to Vienna--and Poulkowa, too, he means to
take in his way--there being great instruments and a lot of astronomers
at each place.'
'Does he take Europe or America first?' she asked faintly, for the
account seemed hopeless.
Mrs. Martin could not tell till she had heard from Swithin. It depended
upon what he had decided to do on the day of his leaving England.
Lady Constantine bade the old people good-bye, and dragged her weary
limbs homeward. The fatuousness of forethought had seldom been evinced
more ironically. Had she done nothing to hinder him, he would have kept
up an unreserved communication with her, and all might have been well.
For that night she could undertake nothing further, and she waited for
the next day. Then at once she wrote two letters to Swithin, directing
one to Marseilles observatory, one to the observatory of Cambridge, U.S.,
as being the only two spots on the face of the globe at which they were
likely to intercept him. Each letter stated to him the urgent reasons
which existed for his return, and contained a passionately regretful
intimation that the annuity on which his hopes depended must of necessity
be sacrificed by the completion of their original contract without delay.
But letter conveyance was too slow a process to satisfy her. To send an
epitome of her epistles by telegraph was, after all, indispensable. Such
an imploring sentence as she desired to address to him it would be
hazardous to despatch from Warborne, and she took a dreary journey to a
strange town on purpose to send it from an office at which she was
There she handed in her message, addressing it to the port of arrival of
the Occidental, and again returned home.
She waited; and there being no return telegram, the inference was that he
had somehow missed hers. For an answer to either of her letters she
would have to wait long enough to allow him time to reach one of the
observatories--a tedious while.
Then she considered the weakness, the stultifying nature of her attempt
Events mocked her on all sides. By the favour of an accident, and by her
own immense exertions against her instincts, Swithin had been restored to
the rightful heritage that he had nearly forfeited on her account. He
had just started off to utilize it; when she, without a moment's warning,
was asking him again to cast it away. She had set a certain machinery in
motion--to stop it before it had revolved once.
A horrid apprehension possessed her. It had been easy for Swithin to
give up what he had never known the advantages of keeping; but having
once begun to enjoy his possession would he give it up now? Could he be
depended on for such self-sacrifice? Before leaving, he would have done
anything at her request; but the mollia tempora fandi had now passed.
Suppose there arrived no reply from him for the next three months; and
that when his answer came he were to inform her that, having now fully
acquiesced in her original decision, he found the life he was leading so
profitable as to be unable to abandon it, even to please her; that he was
very sorry, but having embarked on this course by her advice he meant to
adhere to it by his own.
There was, indeed, every probability that, moving about as he was doing,
and cautioned as he had been by her very self against listening to her
too readily, she would receive no reply of any sort from him for three or
perhaps four months. This would be on the eve of the Transit; and what
likelihood was there that a young man, full of ardour for that spectacle,
would forego it at the last moment to return to a humdrum domesticity
with a woman who was no longer a novelty?
If she could only leave him to his career, and save her own situation
also! But at that moment the proposition seemed as impossible as to
construct a triangle of two straight lines.
In her walk home, pervaded by these hopeless views, she passed near the
dark and deserted tower. Night in that solitary place, which would have
caused her some uneasiness in her years of blitheness, had no terrors for
her now. She went up the winding path, and, the door being unlocked,
felt her way to the top. The open sky greeted her as in times previous
to the dome-and-equatorial period; but there was not a star to suggest to
her in which direction Swithin had gone. The absence of the dome
suggested a way out of her difficulties. A leap in the dark, and all
would be over. But she had not reached that stage of action as yet, and
the thought was dismissed as quickly as it had come.
The new consideration which at present occupied her mind was whether she
could have the courage to leave Swithin to himself, as in the original
plan, and singly meet her impending trial, despising the shame, till he
should return at five-and-twenty and claim her? Yet was this assumption
of his return so very safe? How altered things would be at that time! At
twenty-five he would still be young and handsome; she would be three-and-
thirty, fading to middle-age and homeliness, from a junior's point of
view. A fear sharp as a frost settled down upon her, that in any such
scheme as this she would be building upon the sand.
She hardly knew how she reached home that night. Entering by the lawn
door she saw a red coal in the direction of the arbour. Louis was
smoking there, and he came forward.
He had not seen her since the morning and was naturally anxious about
her. She blessed the chance which enveloped her in night and lessened
the weight of the encounter one half by depriving him of vision.
'Did you accomplish your object?' he asked.
'No,' said she.
'How was that?'
'He has sailed.'
'A very good thing for both, I say. I believe you would have married
him, if you could have overtaken him.'
'That would I!' she said.
'I would marry a tinker for that matter; I have reasons for being any
man's wife,' she said recklessly, 'only I should prefer to drown myself.'
Louis held his breath, and stood rigid at the meaning her words conveyed.
'But Louis, you don't know all!' cried Viviette. 'I am not so bad as you
think; mine has been folly--not vice. I thought I had married him--and
then I found I had not; the marriage was invalid--Sir Blount was alive!
And now Swithin has gone away, and will not come back for my calling!
can he? His fortune is left him on condition that he forms no legal tie.
O will he--will he, come again?'
'Never, if that's the position of affairs,' said Louis firmly, after a
'What then shall I do?' said Viviette.
Louis escaped the formidable difficulty of replying by pretending to
continue his Havannah; and she, bowed down to dust by what she had
revealed, crept from him into the house. Louis's cigar went out in his
hand as he stood looking intently at the ground.
Louis got up the next morning with an idea in his head. He had dressed
for a journey, and breakfasted hastily.
Before he had started Viviette came downstairs. Louis, who was now
greatly disturbed about her, went up to his sister and took her hand.
'Aux grands maux les grands remedes,' he said, gravely. 'I have a plan.'
'I have a dozen!' said she.
'Yes. But what are they worth? And yet there must--there must be a
'Viviette,' said Louis, 'promise that you will wait till I come home to-
night, before you do anything.'
Her distracted eyes showed slight comprehension of his request as she
An hour after that time Louis entered the train at Warborne, and was
speedily crossing a country of ragged woodland, which, though intruded on
by the plough at places, remained largely intact from prehistoric times,
and still abounded with yews of gigantic growth and oaks tufted with
mistletoe. It was the route to Melchester.
On setting foot in that city he took the cathedral spire as his guide,
the place being strange to him; and went on till he reached the archway
dividing Melchester sacred from Melchester secular. Thence he threaded
his course into the precincts of the damp and venerable Close, level as a
bowling-green, and beloved of rooks, who from their elm perches on high
threatened any unwary gazer with the mishap of Tobit. At the corner of
this reposeful spot stood the episcopal palace.
Louis entered the gates, rang the bell, and looked around. Here the
trees and rooks seemed older, if possible, than those in the Close behind
him. Everything was dignified, and he felt himself like Punchinello in
the king's chambers. Verily in the present case Glanville was not a man
to stick at trifles any more than his illustrious prototype; and on the
servant bringing a message that his lordship would see him at once, Louis
marched boldly in.
Through an old dark corridor, roofed with old dark beams, the servant led
the way to the heavily-moulded door of the Bishop's room. Dr. Helmsdale
was there, and welcomed Louis with considerable stateliness. But his
condescension was tempered with a curious anxiety, and even with
He asked in pointed tones after the health of Lady Constantine; if Louis
had brought an answer to the letter he had addressed to her a day or two
earlier; and if the contents of the letter, or of the previous one, were
known to him.
'I have brought no answer from her,' said Louis. 'But the contents of
your letter have been made known to me.'
Since entering the building Louis had more than once felt some
hesitation, and it might now, with a favouring manner from his
entertainer, have operated to deter him from going further with his
intention. But the Bishop had personal weaknesses that were fatal to
sympathy for more than a moment.
'Then I may speak in confidence to you as her nearest relative,' said the
prelate, 'and explain that I am now in a position with regard to Lady
Constantine which, in view of the important office I hold, I should not
have cared to place myself in unless I had felt quite sure of not being
refused by her. And hence it is a great grief, and some mortification to
me, that I was refused--owing, of course, to the fact that I unwittingly
risked making my proposal at the very moment when she was under the
influence of those strange tidings, and therefore not herself, and
scarcely able to judge what was best for her.'
The Bishop's words disclosed a mind whose sensitive fear of danger to its
own dignity hindered it from criticism elsewhere. Things might have been
worse for Louis's Puck-like idea of mis-mating his Hermia with this
Throwing a strong colour of earnestness into his mien he replied:
'Bishop, Viviette is my only sister; I am her only brother and friend. I
am alarmed for her health and state of mind. Hence I have come to
consult you on this very matter that you have broached. I come
absolutely without her knowledge, and I hope unconventionality may be
excused in me on the score of my anxiety for her.'
'Certainly. I trust that the prospect opened up by my proposal, combined
with this other news, has not proved too much for her?'
'My sister is distracted and distressed, Bishop Helmsdale. She wants
'Not distressed by my letter?' said the Bishop, turning red. 'Has it
lowered me in her estimation?'
'On the contrary; while your disinterested offer was uppermost in her
mind she was a different woman. It is this other matter that oppresses
her. The result upon her of the recent discovery with regard to the late
Sir Blount Constantine is peculiar. To say that he ill-used her in his
lifetime is to understate a truth. He has been dead now a considerable
period; but this revival of his memory operates as a sort of terror upon
her. Images of the manner of Sir Blount's death are with her night and
day, intensified by a hideous picture of the supposed scene, which was
cruelly sent her. She dreads being alone. Nothing will restore my poor
Viviette to her former cheerfulness but a distraction--a hope--a new
'That is precisely what acceptance of my offer would afford.'
'Precisely,' said Louis, with great respect. 'But how to get her to
avail herself of it, after once refusing you, is the difficulty, and my
'Then we are quite at one.'
'We are. And it is to promote our wishes that I am come; since she will
do nothing of herself.'
'Then you can give me no hope of a reply to my second communication?'
'None whatever--by letter,' said Louis. 'Her impression plainly is that
she cannot encourage your lordship. Yet, in the face of all this
reticence, the secret is that she loves you warmly.'
'Can you indeed assure me of that? Indeed, indeed!' said the good Bishop
musingly. 'Then I must try to see her. I begin to feel--to feel
strongly--that a course which would seem premature and unbecoming in
other cases would be true and proper conduct in this. Her unhappy
dilemmas--her unwonted position--yes, yes--I see it all! I can afford to
have some little misconstruction put upon my motives. I will go and see
her immediately. Her past has been a cruel one; she wants sympathy; and
with Heaven's help I'll give it.'
'I think the remedy lies that way,' said Louis gently. 'Some words came
from her one night which seemed to show it. I was standing on the
terrace: I heard somebody sigh in the dark, and found that it was she. I
asked her what was the matter, and gently pressed her on this subject of
boldly and promptly contracting a new marriage as a means of dispersing
the horrors of the old. Her answer implied that she would have no
objection to do it, and to do it at once, provided she could remain
externally passive in the matter, that she would tacitly yield, in fact,
to pressure, but would not meet solicitation half-way. Now, Bishop
Helmsdale, you see what has prompted me. On the one hand is a dignitary
of high position and integrity, to say no more, who is anxious to save
her from the gloom of her situation; on the other is this sister, who
will not make known to you her willingness to be saved--partly from
apathy, partly from a fear that she may be thought forward in responding
favourably at so early a moment, partly also, perhaps, from a modest
sense that there would be some sacrifice on your part in allying yourself
with a woman of her secluded and sad experience.'
'O, there is no sacrifice! Quite otherwise. I care greatly for this
alliance, Mr. Glanville. Your sister is very dear to me. Moreover, the
advantages her mind would derive from the enlarged field of activity that
the position of a bishop's wife would afford, are palpable. I am induced
to think that an early settlement of the question--an immediate coming to
the point--which might be called too early in the majority of cases,
would be a right and considerate tenderness here. My only dread is that
she should think an immediate following up of the subject premature. And
the risk of a rebuff a second time is one which, as you must perceive, it
would be highly unbecoming in me to run.'
'I think the risk would be small, if your lordship would approach her
frankly. Write she will not, I am assured; and knowing that, and having
her interest at heart, I was induced to come to you and make this candid
statement in reply to your communication. Her late husband having been
virtually dead these four or five years, believed dead two years, and
actually dead nearly one, no reproach could attach to her if she were to
contract another union to-morrow.'
'I agree with you, Mr. Glanville,' said the Bishop warmly. 'I will think
this over. Her motive in not replying I can quite understand: your
motive in coming I can also understand and appreciate in a brother. If I
feel convinced that it would be a seemly and expedient thing I will come
to Welland to-morrow.'
The point to which Louis had brought the Bishop being so satisfactory, he
feared to endanger it by another word. He went away almost hurriedly,
and at once left the precincts of the cathedral, lest another encounter
with Dr. Helmsdale should lead the latter to take a new and slower view
of his duties as Viviette's suitor.
He reached Welland by dinner-time, and came upon Viviette in the same
pensive mood in which he had left her. It seemed she had hardly moved
'Have you discovered Swithin St. Cleeve's address?' she said, without
looking up at him.
'No,' said Louis.
Then she broke out with indescribable anguish: 'But you asked me to wait
till this evening; and I have waited through the long day, in the belief
that your words meant something, and that you would bring good tidings!
And now I find your words meant nothing, and you have not brought good
Louis could not decide for a moment what to say to this. Should he
venture to give her thoughts a new course by a revelation of his design?
No: it would be better to prolong her despair yet another night, and
spring relief upon her suddenly, that she might jump at it and commit
herself without an interval for reflection on certain aspects of the
Nothing, accordingly, did he say; and conjecturing that she would be
hardly likely to take any desperate step that night, he left her to
His anxiety at this crisis continued to be great. Everything depended on
the result of the Bishop's self-communion. Would he or would he not come
the next day? Perhaps instead of his important presence there would
appear a letter postponing the visit indefinitely. If so, all would be
Louis's suspense kept him awake, and he was not alone in his
sleeplessness. Through the night he heard his sister walking up and
down, in a state which betokened that for every pang of grief she had
disclosed, twice as many had remained unspoken. He almost feared that
she might seek to end her existence by violence, so unreasonably sudden
were her moods; and he lay and longed for the day.
It was morning. She came down the same as usual, and asked if there had
arrived any telegram or letter; but there was neither. Louis avoided
her, knowing that nothing he could say just then would do her any good.
No communication had reached him from the Bishop, and that looked well.
By one ruse and another, as the day went on, he led her away from
contemplating the remote possibility of hearing from Swithin, and induced
her to look at the worst contingency as her probable fate. It seemed as
if she really made up her mind to this, for by the afternoon she was
apathetic, like a woman who neither hoped nor feared.
And then a fly drove up to the door.
Louis, who had been standing in the hall the greater part of that day,
glanced out through a private window, and went to Viviette. 'The Bishop
has called,' he said. 'Be ready to see him.'
'The Bishop of Melchester?' said Viviette, bewildered.
'Yes. I asked him to come. He comes for an answer to his letters.'
'An answer--to--his--letters?' she murmured.
'An immediate reply of yes or no.'
Her face showed the workings of her mind. How entirely an answer of
assent, at once acted on for better or for worse, would clear the spectre
from her path, there needed no tongue to tell. It would, moreover,
accomplish that end without involving the impoverishment of Swithin--the
inevitable result if she had adopted the legitimate road out of her
trouble. Hitherto there had seemed to her dismayed mind, unenlightened
as to any course save one of honesty, no possible achievement of both
her desires--the saving of Swithin and the saving of herself. But
behold, here was a way! A tempter had shown it to her. It involved a
great wrong, which to her had quite obscured its feasibility. But she
perceived now that it was indeed a way. Nature was forcing her hand at
this game; and to what will not nature compel her weaker victims, in
Louis left her to think it out. When he reached the drawing-room Dr.
Helmsdale was standing there with the air of a man too good for his
destiny--which, to be just to him, was not far from the truth this time.
'Have you broken my message to her?' asked the Bishop sonorously.
'Not your message; your visit,' said Louis. 'I leave the rest in your
Lordship's hands. I have done all I can for her.'
She was in her own small room to-day; and, feeling that it must be a bold
stroke or none, he led the Bishop across the hall till he reached her
apartment and opened the door; but instead of following he shut it behind
Then Glanville passed an anxious time. He walked from the foot of the
staircase to the star of old swords and pikes on the wall; from these to
the stags' horns; thence down the corridor as far as the door, where he
could hear murmuring inside, but not its import. The longer they
remained closeted the more excited did he become. That she had not
peremptorily negatived the proposal at the outset was a strong sign of
its success. It showed that she had admitted argument; and the worthy
Bishop had a pleader on his side whom he knew little of. The very
weather seemed to favour Dr. Helmsdale in his suit. A blusterous wind
had blown up from the west, howling in the smokeless chimneys, and
suggesting to the feminine mind storms at sea, a tossing ocean, and the
hopeless inaccessibility of all astronomers and men on the other side of
The Bishop had entered Viviette's room at ten minutes past three. The
long hand of the hall clock lay level at forty-five minutes past when the
knob of the door moved, and he came out. Louis met him where the
joined the hall.
Dr. Helmsdale was decidedly in an emotional state, his face being
slightly flushed. Louis looked his anxious inquiry without speaking it.
'She accepts me,' said the Bishop in a low voice. 'And the wedding is to
be soon. Her long solitude and sufferings justify haste. What you said
was true. Sheer weariness and distraction have driven her to me. She
was quite passive at last, and agreed to anything I proposed--such is the
persuasive force of trained logical reasoning! A good and wise woman,
she perceived what a true shelter from sadness was offered in me, and was
not the one to despise Heaven's gift.'
The silence of Swithin was to be accounted for by the circumstance that
neither to the Mediterranean nor to America had he in the first place
directed his steps. Feeling himself absolutely free he had, on arriving
at Southampton, decided to make straight for the Cape, and hence had not
gone aboard the Occidental at all. His object was to leave his heavier
luggage there, examine the capabilities of the spot for his purpose, find
out the necessity or otherwise of shipping over his own equatorial, and
then cross to America as soon as there was a good opportunity. Here he
might inquire the movements of the Transit expedition to the South
Pacific, and join it at such a point as might be convenient.
Thus, though wrong in her premisses, Viviette had intuitively decided
with sad precision. There was, as a matter of fact, a great possibility
of her not being able to communicate with him for several months,
notwithstanding that he might possibly communicate with her.
This excursive time was an awakening for Swithin. To altered
circumstances inevitably followed altered views. That such changes
should have a marked effect upon a young man who had made neither
tour nor petty one--who had, in short, scarcely been away from home in
his life--was nothing more than natural. New ideas struggled to disclose
themselves and with the addition of strange twinklers to his southern
horizon came an absorbed attention that way, and a corresponding
forgetfulness of what lay to the north behind his back, whether human or
celestial. Whoever may deplore it few will wonder that Viviette, who
till then had stood high in his heaven, if she had not dominated it,
sank, like the North Star, lower and lower with his retreat southward.
Master of a large advance of his first year's income in circular notes,
he perhaps too readily forgot that the mere act of honour, but for her
self-suppression, would have rendered him penniless.
Meanwhile, to come back and claim her at the specified time, four years
thence, if she should not object to be claimed, was as much a part of his
programme as were the exploits abroad and elsewhere that were to prelude
it. The very thoroughness of his intention for that advanced date
inclined him all the more readily to shelve the subject now. Her unhappy
caution to him not to write too soon was a comfortable license in his
present state of tension about sublime scientific things, which knew not
woman, nor her sacrifices, nor her fears. In truth he was not only too
young in years, but too literal, direct, and uncompromising in nature to
understand such a woman as Lady Constantine; and she suffered for that
limitation in him as it had been antecedently probable that she would do.
He stayed but a little time at Cape Town on this his first reconnoitring
journey; and on that account wrote to no one from the place. On leaving
he found there remained some weeks on his hands before he wished to cross
to America; and feeling an irrepressible desire for further studies in
navigation on shipboard, and under clear skies, he took the steamer for
Melbourne; returning thence in due time, and pursuing his journey to
America, where he landed at Boston.
Having at last had enough of great circles and other nautical reckonings,
and taking no interest in men or cities, this indefatigable scrutineer of
the universe went immediately on to Cambridge; and there, by the help of
an introduction he had brought from England, he revelled for a time in
the glories of the gigantic refractor (which he was permitted to use on
occasion), and in the pleasures of intercourse with the scientific group
around. This brought him on to the time of starting with the Transit
expedition, when he and his kind became lost to the eye of civilization
behind the horizon of the Pacific Ocean.
To speak of their doings on this pilgrimage, of ingress and egress, of
tangent and parallax, of external and internal contact, would avail
nothing. Is it not all written in the chronicles of the Astronomical
Society? More to the point will it be to mention that Viviette's letter
to Cambridge had been returned long before he reached that place, while
her missive to Marseilles was, of course, misdirected altogether. On
arriving in America, uncertain of an address in that country at which he
would stay long, Swithin wrote his first letter to his grandmother; and
in this he ordered that all communications should be sent to await him at
Cape Town, as the only safe spot for finding him, sooner or later. The
equatorial he also directed to be forwarded to the same place. At this
time, too, he ventured to break Viviette's commands, and address a letter
to her, not knowing of the strange results that had followed his absence
It was February. The Transit was over, the scientific company had broken
up, and Swithin had steamed towards the Cape to take up his permanent
abode there, with a view to his great task of surveying, charting and
theorizing on those exceptional features in the southern skies which had
been but partially treated by the younger Herschel. Having entered Table
Bay and landed on the quay, he called at once at the post-office.
Two letters were handed him, and he found from the date that they had
been waiting there for some time. One of these epistles, which had a
weather-worn look as regarded the ink, and was in old-fashioned
penmanship, he knew to be from his grandmother. He opened it before he
had as much as glanced at the superscription of the second.
Besides immaterial portions, it contained the following:--
'J reckon you know by now of our main news this fall, but lest you
should not have heard of it J send the exact thing snipped out of the
newspaper. Nobody expected her to do it quite so soon; but it is said
hereabout that my lord bishop and my lady had been drawing nigh to an
understanding before the glum tidings of Sir Blount's taking of his
own life reached her; and the account of this wicked deed was so sore
afflicting to her mind, and made her poor heart so timid and low, that
in charity to my lady her few friends agreed on urging her to let the
bishop go on paying his court as before, notwithstanding she had not
been a widow-woman near so long as was thought. This, as it turned
out, she was willing to do; and when my lord asked her she told him
she would marry him at once or never. That's as J was told, and J had
it from those that know.'
The cutting from the newspaper was an ordinary announcement of marriage
between the Bishop of Melchester and Lady Constantine.
Swithin was so astounded at the intelligence of what for the nonce seemed
Viviette's wanton fickleness that he quite omitted to look at the second
letter; and remembered nothing about it till an hour afterwards, when
sitting in his own room at the hotel.
It was in her handwriting, but so altered that its superscription had not
arrested his eye. It had no beginning, or date; but its contents soon
acquainted him with her motive for the precipitate act. The few
concluding sentences are all that it will be necessary to quote here:--
'There was no way out of it, even if I could have found you, without
infringing one of the conditions I had previously laid down. The long
desire of my heart has been not to impoverish you or mar your career.
The new desire was to save myself and, still more, another yet unborn.
. . . I have done a desperate thing. Yet for myself I could do no
better, and for you no less. I would have sacrificed my single self
to honesty, but I was not alone concerned. What woman has a right to
blight a coming life to preserve her personal integrity? . . . The
one bright spot is that it saves you and your endowment from further
catastrophes, and preserves you to the pleasant paths of scientific
fame. I no longer lie like a log across your path, which is now as
open as on the day before you saw me, and ere I encouraged you to win
me. Alas, Swithin, I ought to have known better. The folly was
great, and the suffering be upon my head! I ought not to have
consented to that last interview: all was well till then! . . . Well,
I have borne much, and am not unprepared. As for you, Swithin, by
simply pressing straight on your triumph is assured. Do not
communicate with me in any way--not even in answer to this. Do not
think of me. Do not see me ever any more.--Your unhappy
Swithin's heart swelled within him in sudden pity for her, first; then he
blanched with a horrified sense of what she had done, and at his own
relation to the deed. He felt like an awakened somnambulist who should
find that he had been accessory to a tragedy during his unconsciousness.
She had loosened the knot of her difficulties by cutting it
unscrupulously through and through.
The big tidings rather dazed than crushed him, his predominant feeling
being soon again one of keenest sorrow and sympathy. Yet one thing was
obvious; he could do nothing--absolutely nothing. The event which he now
heard of for the first time had taken place five long months ago. He
reflected, and regretted--and mechanically went on with his preparations
for settling down to work under the shadow of Table Mountain. He was as
one who suddenly finds the world a stranger place than he thought; but is
excluded by age, temperament, and situation from being much more than
astonished spectator of its strangeness.
* * * * *
The Royal Observatory was about a mile out of the town, and hither he
repaired as soon as he had established himself in lodgings. He had
decided, on his first visit to the Cape, that it would be highly
advantageous to him if he could supplement the occasional use of the
large instruments here by the use at his own house of his own equatorial,
and had accordingly given directions that it might be sent over from
England. The precious possession now arrived; and although the sight of
it--of the brasses on which her hand had often rested, of the eyepiece
through which her dark eyes had beamed--engendered some decidedly bitter
regrets in him for a time, he could not long afford to give to the past
the days that were meant for the future.
Unable to get a room convenient for a private observatory he resolved at
last to fix the instrument on a solid pillar in the garden; and several
days were spent in accommodating it to its new position. In this
latitude there was no necessity for economizing clear nights as he had
been obliged to do on the old tower at Welland. There it had happened
more than once, that after waiting idle through days and nights of cloudy
weather, Viviette would fix her time for meeting him at an hour when at
last he had an opportunity of seeing the sky; so that in giving to her
the golden moments of cloudlessness he was losing his chance with the
Those features which usually attract the eye of the visitor to a new
latitude are the novel forms of human and vegetable life, and other such
sublunary things. But the young man glanced slightingly at these; the
changes overhead had all his attention. The old subject was imprinted
there, but in a new type. Here was a heaven, fixed and ancient as the
northern; yet it had never appeared above the Welland hills since they
were heaved up from beneath. Here was an unalterable circumpolar region;
but the polar patterns stereotyped in history and legend--without which
it had almost seemed that a polar sky could not exist--had never been
St. Cleeve, as was natural, began by cursory surveys, which were not
likely to be of much utility to the world or to himself. He wasted
several weeks--indeed above two months--in a comparatively idle survey of
southern novelties; in the mere luxury of looking at stellar objects
whose wonders were known, recounted, and classified, long before his own
personality had been heard of. With a child's simple delight he allowed
his instrument to rove, evening after evening, from the gorgeous glitter
of Canopus to the hazy clouds of Magellan. Before he had well finished
this optical prelude there floated over to him from the other side of the
Equator the postscript to the epistle of his lost Viviette. It came in
the vehicle of a common newspaper, under the head of 'Births:'--
'April 10th, 18--, at the Palace, Melchester, the wife of the Bishop of
Melchester, of a son.'
Three years passed away, and Swithin still remained at the Cape, quietly
pursuing the work that had brought him there. His memoranda of
observations had accumulated to a wheelbarrow load, and he was beginning
to shape them into a treatise which should possess some scientific
He had gauged the southern skies with greater results than even he
himself had anticipated. Those unfamiliar constellations which, to the
casual beholder, are at most a new arrangement of ordinary points of
light, were to this professed astronomer, as to his brethren, a far
It was below the surface that his material lay. There, in regions
revealed only to the instrumental observer, were suns of hybrid kind--fire-
fogs, floating nuclei, globes that flew in groups like swarms of bees,
and other extraordinary sights--which, when decomposed by Swithin's
equatorial, turned out to be the beginning of a new series of phenomena
instead of the end of an old one.
There were gloomy deserts in those southern skies such as the north shows
scarcely an example of; sites set apart for the position of suns which
for some unfathomable reason were left uncreated, their places remaining
ever since conspicuous by their emptiness.
The inspection of these chasms brought him a second pulsation of that old
horror which he had used to describe to Viviette as produced in him by
bottomlessness in the north heaven. The ghostly finger of limitless
vacancy touched him now on the other side. Infinite deeps in the north
stellar region had a homely familiarity about them, when compared with
infinite deeps in the region of the south pole. This was an even more
unknown tract of the unknown. Space here, being less the historic haunt
of human thought than overhead at home, seemed to be pervaded with a
Were there given on paper to these astronomical exercitations of St.
Cleeve a space proportionable to that occupied by his year with Viviette
at Welland, this narrative would treble its length; but not a single
additional glimpse would be afforded of Swithin in his relations with old
emotions. In these experiments with tubes and glasses, important as they
were to human intellect, there was little food for the sympathetic
instincts which create the changes in a life. That which is the
foreground and measuring base of one perspective draught may be the
vanishing-point of another perspective draught, while yet they are both
draughts of the same thing. Swithin's doings and discoveries in the
southern sidereal system were, no doubt, incidents of the highest
importance to him; and yet from an intersocial point of view they served
but the humble purpose of killing time, while other doings, more nearly
allied to his heart than to his understanding, developed themselves at
In the intervals between his professional occupations he took walks over
the sand-flats near, or among the farms which were gradually
overspreading the country in the vicinity of Cape Town. He grew familiar
with the outline of Table Mountain, and the fleecy 'Devil's Table-Cloth'
which used to settle on its top when the wind was south-east. On these
promenades he would more particularly think of Viviette, and of that
curious pathetic chapter in his life with her which seemed to have wound
itself up and ended for ever. Those scenes were rapidly receding into
distance, and the intensity of his sentiment regarding them had
proportionately abated. He felt that there had been something wrong
therein, and yet he could not exactly define the boundary of the wrong.
Viviette's sad and amazing sequel to that chapter had still a fearful,
catastrophic aspect in his eyes; but instead of musing over it and its
bearings he shunned the subject, as we shun by night the shady scene of a
disaster, and keep to the open road.
He sometimes contemplated her apart from the past--leading her life in
the Cathedral Close at Melchester; and wondered how often she looked
south and thought of where he was.
On one of these afternoon walks in the neighbourhood of the Royal
Observatory he turned and gazed towards the signal-post on the Lion's
Rump. This was a high promontory to the north-west of Table Mountain,
and overlooked Table Bay. Before his eyes had left the scene the signal
was suddenly hoisted on the staff. It announced that a mail steamer had
appeared in view over the sea. In the course of an hour he retraced his
steps, as he had often done on such occasions, and strolled leisurely
across the intervening mile and a half till he arrived at the post-office
There was no letter from England for him; but there was a newspaper,
addressed in the seventeenth century handwriting of his grandmother, who,
in spite of her great age, still retained a steady hold on life. He
turned away disappointed, and resumed his walk into the country, opening
the paper as he went along.
A cross in black ink attracted his attention; and it was opposite a name
among the 'Deaths.' His blood ran icily as he discerned the words 'The
Palace, Melchester.' But it was not she. Her husband, the Bishop of
Melchester, had, after a short illness, departed this life at the
comparatively early age of fifty years.
All the enactments of the bygone days at Welland now started up like an
awakened army from the ground. But a few months were wanting to the
when he would be of an age to marry without sacrificing the annuity which
formed his means of subsistence. It was a point in his life that had had
no meaning or interest for him since his separation from Viviette, for
women were now no more to him than the inhabitants of Jupiter. But the
whirligig of time having again set Viviette free, the aspect of home
altered, and conjecture as to her future found room to work anew.
But beyond the simple fact that she was a widow he for some time gained
not an atom of intelligence concerning her. There was no one of whom he
could inquire but his grandmother, and she could tell him nothing about a
lady who dwelt far away at Melchester.
Several months slipped by thus; and no feeling within him rose to
sufficient strength to force him out of a passive attitude. Then by the
merest chance his granny stated in one of her rambling epistles that Lady
Constantine was coming to live again at Welland in the old house, with
her child, now a little boy between three and four years of age.
Swithin, however, lived on as before.
But by the following autumn a change became necessary for the young man
himself. His work at the Cape was done. His uncle's wishes that he
should study there had been more than observed. The materials for his
great treatise were collected, and it now only remained for him to
arrange, digest, and publish them, for which purpose a return to England
So the equatorial was unscrewed, and the stand taken down; the
astronomer's barrow-load of precious memoranda, and rolls upon rolls of
diagrams, representing three years of continuous labour, were safely
packed; and Swithin departed for good and all from the shores of Cape
He had long before informed his grandmother of the date at which she
might expect him; and in a reply from her, which reached him just
previous to sailing, she casually mentioned that she frequently saw Lady
Constantine; that on the last occasion her ladyship had shown great
interest in the information that Swithin was coming home, and had
inquired the time of his return.
* * * * *
On a late summer day Swithin stepped from the train at Warborne, and,
directing his baggage to be sent on after him, set out on foot for old
Welland once again.
It seemed but the day after his departure, so little had the scene
changed. True, there was that change which is always the first to arrest
attention in places that are conventionally called unchanging--a higher
and broader vegetation at every familiar corner than at the former time.
He had not gone a mile when he saw walking before him a clergyman whose
form, after consideration, he recognized, in spite of a novel whiteness
in that part of his hair that showed below the brim of his hat. Swithin
walked much faster than this gentleman, and soon was at his side.
'Mr. Torkingham! I knew it was,' said Swithin.
Mr. Torkingham was slower in recognizing the astronomer, but in a moment
had greeted him with a warm shake of the hand.
'I have been to the station on purpose to meet you!' cried Mr.
Torkingham, 'and was returning with the idea that you had not come. I am
your grandmother's emissary. She could not come herself, and as she was
anxious, and nobody else could be spared, I came for her.'
Then they walked on together. The parson told Swithin all about his
grandmother, the parish, and his endeavours to enlighten it; and in due
course said, 'You are no doubt aware that Lady Constantine is living
again at Welland?'
Swithin said he had heard as much, and added, what was far within the
truth, that the news of the Bishop's death had been a great surprise to
'Yes,' said Mr. Torkingham, with nine thoughts to one word. 'One might
have prophesied, to look at him, that Melchester would not lack a bishop
for the next forty years. Yes; pale death knocks at the cottages of the
poor and the palaces of kings with an impartial foot!'
'Was he a particularly good man?' asked Swithin.
'He was not a Ken or a Heber. To speak candidly, he had his faults, of
which arrogance was not the least. But who is perfect?'
Swithin, somehow, felt relieved to hear that the Bishop was not a perfect
'His poor wife, I fear, had not a great deal more happiness with him than
with her first husband. But one might almost have foreseen it; the
marriage was hasty--the result of a red-hot caprice, hardly becoming in a
man of his position; and it betokened a want of temperate discretion
which soon showed itself in other ways. That's all there was to be said
against him, and now it's all over, and things have settled again into
their old course. But the Bishop's widow is not the Lady Constantine of
former days. No; put it as you will, she is not the same. There seems
to be a nameless something on her mind--a trouble--a rooted melancholy,
which no man's ministry can reach. Formerly she was a woman whose
confidence it was easy to gain; but neither religion nor philosophy
avails with her now. Beyond that, her life is strangely like what it was
when you were with us.'
Conversing thus they pursued the turnpike road till their conversation
was interrupted by a crying voice on their left. They looked, and
perceived that a child, in getting over an adjoining stile, had fallen on
Mr. Torkingham and Swithin both hastened up to help the sufferer, who was
a lovely little fellow with flaxen hair, which spread out in a frill of
curls from beneath a quaint, close-fitting velvet cap that he wore.
Swithin picked him up, while Mr. Torkingham wiped the sand from his lips
and nose, and administered a few words of consolation, together with a
few sweet-meats, which, somewhat to Swithin's surprise, the parson
produced as if by magic from his pocket. One half the comfort rendered
would have sufficed to soothe such a disposition as the child's. He
ceased crying and ran away in delight to his unconscious nurse, who was
reaching up for blackberries at a hedge some way off.
'You know who he is, of course?' said Mr. Torkingham, as they resumed
'No,' said Swithin.
'Oh, I thought you did. Yet how should you? It is Lady Constantine's
boy--her only child. His fond mother little thinks he is so far away
'Dear me!--Lady Constantine's--ah, how interesting!' Swithin paused
abstractedly for a moment, then stepped back again to the stile, while he
stood watching the little boy out of sight.
'I can never venture out of doors now without sweets in my pocket,'
continued the good-natured vicar: 'and the result is that I meet that
young man more frequently on my rounds than any other of my
St. Cleeve was silent, and they turned into Welland Lane, where their
paths presently diverged, and Swithin was left to pursue his way alone.
He might have accompanied the vicar yet further, and gone straight to
Welland House; but it would have been difficult to do so then without
provoking inquiry. It was easy to go there now: by a cross path he could
be at the mansion almost as soon as by the direct road. And yet Swithin
did not turn; he felt an indescribable reluctance to see Viviette. He
could not exactly say why. True, before he knew how the land lay it
might be awkward to attempt to call: and this was a sufficient excuse for
In this mood he went on, following the direct way to his grandmother's
homestead. He reached the garden-gate, and, looking into the bosky basin
where the old house stood, saw a graceful female form moving before the
porch, bidding adieu to some one within the door.
He wondered what creature of that mould his grandmother could know, and
went forward with some hesitation. At his approach the apparition
turned, and he beheld, developed into blushing womanhood, one who had
once been known to him as the village maiden Tabitha Lark. Seeing
Swithin, and apparently from an instinct that her presence would not be
desirable just then, she moved quickly round into the garden.
The returned traveller entered the house, where he found awaiting him
poor old Mrs. Martin, to whose earthly course death stood rather as the
asymptote than as the end. She was perceptibly smaller in form than when
he had left her, and she could see less distinctly.
A rather affecting greeting followed, in which his grandmother murmured
the words of Israel: '"Now let me die, since I have seen thy face,
because thou art yet alive."'
The form of Hannah had disappeared from the kitchen, that ancient servant
having been gathered to her fathers about six months before, her place
being filled by a young girl who knew not Joseph. They presently chatted
with much cheerfulness, and his grandmother said, 'Have you heard what a
wonderful young woman Miss Lark has become?--a mere fleet-footed,
slittering maid when you were last home.'
St. Cleeve had not heard, but he had partly seen, and he was informed
that Tabitha had left Welland shortly after his own departure, and had
studied music with great success in London, where she had resided ever
since till quite recently; that she played at concerts, oratorios--had,
in short, joined the phalanx of Wonderful Women who had resolved to
eclipse masculine genius altogether, and humiliate the brutal sex to the
'She is only in the garden,' added his grandmother. 'Why don't ye go out
and speak to her?'
Swithin was nothing loth, and strolled out under the apple-trees, where
he arrived just in time to prevent Miss Lark from going off by the back
gate. There was not much difficulty in breaking the ice between them,
and they began to chat with vivacity.
Now all these proceedings occupied time, for somehow it was very charming
to talk to Miss Lark; and by degrees St. Cleeve informed Tabitha of his
great undertaking, and of the voluminous notes he had amassed, which
would require so much rearrangement and recopying by an amanuensis as
absolutely appal him. He greatly feared he should not get one careful
enough for such scientific matter; whereupon Tabitha said she would be
delighted to do it for him. Then blushing, and declaring suddenly that
it had grown quite late, she left him and the garden for her relation's
house hard by.
Swithin, no less than Tabitha, had been surprised by the disappearance of
the sun behind the hill; and the question now arose whether it would be
advisable to call upon Viviette that night. There was little doubt that
she knew of his coming; but more than that he could not predicate; and
being entirely ignorant of whom she had around her, entirely in the dark
as to her present feelings towards him, he thought it would be better to
defer his visit until the next day.
Walking round to the front of the house he beheld the well-known
agriculturists Hezzy Biles, Haymoss Fry, and some others of the same old
school, passing the gate homeward from their work with bundles of wood at
their backs. Swithin saluted them over the top rail.
'Well! do my eyes and ears--' began Hezzy; and then, balancing his faggot
on end against the hedge, he came forward, the others following.
'Says I to myself as soon as I heerd his voice,' Hezzy continued
(addressing Swithin as if he were a disinterested spectator and not
himself), 'please God I'll pitch my nitch, and go across and speak to
'I knowed in a winking 'twas some great navigator that I see a standing
there,' said Haymoss. 'But whe'r 'twere a sort of nabob, or a diment-
digger, or a lion-hunter, I couldn't so much as guess till I heerd en
'And what changes have come over Welland since I was last at home?' asked
'Well, Mr. San Cleeve,' Hezzy replied, 'when you've said that a few
stripling boys and maidens have busted into blooth, and a few married
women have plimmed and chimped (my lady among 'em), why, you've said
anighst all, Mr. San Cleeve.'
The conversation thus began was continued on divers matters till they
were all enveloped in total darkness, when his old acquaintances
shouldered their faggots again and proceeded on their way.
Now that he was actually within her coasts again Swithin felt a little
more strongly the influence of the past and Viviette than he had been
accustomed to do for the last two or three years. During the night he
felt half sorry that he had not marched off to the Great House to see
her, regardless of the time of day. If she really nourished for him any
particle of her old affection it had been the cruellest thing not to
call. A few questions that he put concerning her to his grandmother
elicited that Lady Constantine had no friends about her--not even her
brother--and that her health had not been so good since her return from
Melchester as formerly. Still, this proved nothing as to the state of
her heart, and as she had kept a dead silence since the Bishop's death it
was quite possible that she would meet him with that cold repressive tone
and manner which experienced women know so well how to put on when
wish to intimate to the long-lost lover that old episodes are to be taken
The next morning he prepared to call, if only on the ground of old
acquaintance, for Swithin was too straightforward to ascertain anything
indirectly. It was rather too early for this purpose when he went out
from his grandmother's garden-gate, after breakfast, and he waited in the
garden. While he lingered his eye fell on Rings-Hill Speer.
It appeared dark, for a moment, against the blue sky behind it; then the
fleeting cloud which shadowed it passed on, and the face of the column
brightened into such luminousness that the sky behind sank to the
complexion of a dark foil.
'Surely somebody is on the column,' he said to himself, after gazing at
Instead of going straight to the Great House he deviated through the
insulating field, now sown with turnips, which surrounded the plantation
on Rings-Hill. By the time that he plunged under the trees he was still
more certain that somebody was on the tower. He crept up to the base
with proprietary curiosity, for the spot seemed again like his own.
The path still remained much as formerly, but the nook in which the cabin
had stood was covered with undergrowth. Swithin entered the door of the
tower, ascended the staircase about half-way on tip-toe, and listened,
for he did not wish to intrude on the top if any stranger were there. The
hollow spiral, as he knew from old experience, would bring down to his
ears the slightest sound from above; and it now revealed to him the words
of a duologue in progress at the summit of the tower.
'Mother, what shall I do?' a child's voice said. 'Shall I sing?'
The mother seemed to assent, for the child began--
'The robin has fled from the wood
To the snug habitation of man.'
This performance apparently attracted but little attention from the
child's companion, for the young voice suggested, as a new form of
entertainment, 'Shall I say my prayers?'
'Yes,' replied one whom Swithin had begun to recognize.
'Who shall I pray for?'
'Who shall I pray for?'
'Pray for father.'
'But he is gone to heaven?'
A sigh from Viviette was distinctly audible.
'You made a mistake, didn't you, mother?' continued the little one.
'I must have. The strangest mistake a woman ever made!'
Nothing more was said, and Swithin ascended, words from above indicating
to him that his footsteps were heard. In another half-minute he rose
through the hatchway. A lady in black was sitting in the sun, and the
boy with the flaxen hair whom he had seen yesterday was at her feet.
'Viviette!' he said.
'Swithin!--at last!' she cried.
The words died upon her lips, and from very faintness she bent her head.
For instead of rushing forward to her he had stood still; and there
appeared upon his face a look which there was no mistaking.
Yes; he was shocked at her worn and faded aspect. The image he had
mentally carried out with him to the Cape he had brought home again as
that of the woman he was now to rejoin. But another woman sat before
him, and not the original Viviette. Her cheeks had lost for ever that
firm contour which had been drawn by the vigorous hand of youth, and the
masses of hair that were once darkness visible had become touched here
and there by a faint grey haze, like the Via Lactea in a midnight sky.
Yet to those who had eyes to understand as well as to see, the chastened
pensiveness of her once handsome features revealed more promising
material beneath than ever her youth had done. But Swithin was
hopelessly her junior. Unhappily for her he had now just arrived at an
age whose canon of faith it is that the silly period of woman's life is
her only period of beauty. Viviette saw it all, and knew that Time had
at last brought about his revenges. She had tremblingly watched and
waited without sleep, ever since Swithin had re-entered Welland, and it
was for this.
Swithin came forward, and took her by the hand, which she passively
allowed him to do.
'Swithin, you don't love me,' she said simply.
'You don't love me,' she repeated.
'Don't say it!'
'Yes, but I will! you have a right not to love me. You did once. But
now I am an old woman, and you are still a young man; so how can you love
me? I do not expect it. It is kind and charitable of you to come and
see me here.'
'I have come all the way from the Cape,' he faltered, for her insistence
took all power out of him to deny in mere politeness what she said.
'Yes; you have come from the Cape; but not for me,' she answered. 'It
would be absurd if you had come for me. You have come because your work
there is finished. . . . I like to sit here with my little boy--it is a
pleasant spot. It was once something to us, was it not? but that was
long ago. You scarcely knew me for the same woman, did you?'
'Knew you--yes, of course I knew you!'
'You looked as if you did not. But you must not be surprised at me. I
belong to an earlier generation than you, remember.'
Thus, in sheer bitterness of spirit did she inflict wounds on herself by
exaggerating the difference in their years. But she had nevertheless
spoken truly. Sympathize with her as he might, and as he unquestionably
did, he loved her no longer. But why had she expected otherwise? 'O
woman,' might a prophet have said to her, 'great is thy faith if thou
believest a junior lover's love will last five years!'
'I shall be glad to know through your grandmother how you are getting
on,' she said meekly. 'But now I would much rather that we part. Yes;
do not question me. I would rather that we part. Good-bye.'
Hardly knowing what he did he touched her hand, and obeyed. He was a
scientist, and took words literally. There is something in the
inexorably simple logic of such men which partakes of the cruelty of the
natural laws that are their study. He entered the tower-steps, and
mechanically descended; and it was not till he got half-way down that he
thought she could not mean what she had said.
Before leaving Cape Town he had made up his mind on this one point; that
if she were willing to marry him, marry her he would without let or
hindrance. That much he morally owed her, and was not the man to demur.
And though the Swithin who had returned was not quite the Swithin who
gone away, though he could not now love her with the sort of love he had
once bestowed; he believed that all her conduct had been dictated by the
purest benevolence to him, by that charity which 'seeketh not her own.'
Hence he did not flinch from a wish to deal with loving-kindness towards
her--a sentiment perhaps in the long-run more to be prized than lover's
Her manner had caught him unawares; but now recovering himself he
back determinedly. Bursting out upon the roof he clasped her in his
arms, and kissed her several times.
'Viviette, Viviette,' he said, 'I have come to marry you!'
She uttered a shriek--a shriek of amazed joy--such as never was heard on
that tower before or since--and fell in his arms, clasping his neck.
There she lay heavily. Not to disturb her he sat down in her seat, still
holding her fast. Their little son, who had stood with round conjectural
eyes throughout the meeting, now came close; and presently looking up to
'Mother has gone to sleep.'
Swithin looked down, and started. Her tight clasp had loosened. A wave
of whiteness, like that of marble which had never seen the sun, crept up
from her neck, and travelled upwards and onwards over her cheek, lips,
eyelids, forehead, temples, its margin banishing back the live pink till
the latter had entirely disappeared.
Seeing that something was wrong, yet not understanding what, the little
boy began to cry; but in his concentration Swithin hardly heard it.
'Viviette--Viviette!' he said.
The child cried with still deeper grief, and, after a momentary
hesitation, pushed his hand into Swithin's for protection.
'Hush, hush! my child,' said Swithin distractedly. 'I'll take care of
you! O Viviette!' he exclaimed again, pressing her face to his.
But she did not reply.
'What can this be?' he asked himself. He would not then answer according
to his fear.
He looked up for help. Nobody appeared in sight but Tabitha Lark, who
was skirting the field with a bounding tread--the single bright spot of
colour and animation within the wide horizon. When he looked down again
his fear deepened to certainty. It was no longer a mere surmise that
help was vain. Sudden joy after despair had touched an over-strained
heart too smartly. Viviette was dead. The Bishop was avenged.