Two on a Tower
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 weather, 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 to 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,