Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy - HTML preview
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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 observations.
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 tonight? Indeed, we cannot; the Aurora light overpowers everything.' 'Very well. To-morrow night there will be no interruption. I shall be gone.' '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 the door. '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 every day.'
'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 outward aspect.
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 Green. 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 present occasion?'
'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 married.'
'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 Louis, surely?'
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 planned?' '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; and 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 doing.'
She kindled the little light, and again retreated, closing the door upon him. 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 ringing.
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 was disclosed. '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 apparition.'
'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 smoothedout 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 sepulchrally. '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 in it.' '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 sitting-room. '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 the rascal.'
'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 said. 'I am going to, this time,' said Swithin, and turned the chat to other matters.
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 ludicrous.
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 RingsHill 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 something serious.
'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 was as docile as a child in her hands wherever matters of that kind were concerned. 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 altogether.
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 earlier days. 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 through 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 little way.'
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, wellwearing 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 with 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 her side.
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 woman 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 muslin-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 shoulders 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 her 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 her.
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 circumstance.
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 building.
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 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.'
'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 of him.' '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 material.'
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 youth. 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 astronomy?'
'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 watch.'
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 inexpediency.
Her brother Louis now spoke. 'I fancy he is as interested in one of his fellowcreatures as in the science of astronomy,' observed the cynic dryly. '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 join them.
However, when Louis crossed the churchyard and entered the vicarage drawingroom 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 in 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 window-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 eyes!'
'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 spontaneity.' '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 incautious?' '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 Melchester.
'Where shall I get? What shall I do?' said the poor lady, clasping her hands. 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 Bishop. '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 he 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 plantation. 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 halfpast 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. Aren't you?' '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 man.' '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 dialogue began.
'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 staircase 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 passion.' '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 late.'
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 was 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. 'Fie, Tabitha! '
'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 selfsurrender 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 heart. 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 Welland 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 antiquated party.'
Lady Constantine perceptibly paled. 'Young men what?' she asked. 'Say that again.'
'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 than 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 are peers.'
She was not listening; his previous observation still detained her thoughts. '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 hear.'
'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 sinner.'
'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 very good,--very.'
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 room.
'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 had 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 in him?
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 desired.
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 man?' 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 with it?' Swithin clapped his hand to his pocket.
'Dear me! I recollect--I left it where it lay on Reuben Heath's tombstone.' '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 convictions.
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 found 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 can't help.'
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 ultrareciprocity 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 intellectual researches.' Viviette obeyed with delightful ease. 'Do stay, Mr St. Cleeve!' she said sweetly. '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 earnestly.
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 intense alarm.
'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 in kneeling.
'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 room.
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 alarmed.'
'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 world.'
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 astronomy.
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 consider.