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Two on a Tower

Chapter 25
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impulsively, ruinously, perhaps; but she had played it; it could not be withdrawn;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 entertainment.
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 said
innocently.
'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 is?'
In answering Viviette showed a little nervousness, for the first time that day.
'O yes. He is the son of an unfortunate gentleman who was formerly curate here,-
-a Mr. St. Cleeve.'
 
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