Part 1 out of 6
This etext was prepared by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset.
TWO ON A TOWER
BY THOMAS HARDY.
'Ah, my heart! her eyes and she
Have taught thee new astrology.
Howe'er Love's native hours were set,
Whatever starry synod met,
'Tis in the mercy of her eye,
If poor Love shall live or die.'
CRASHAW: Love's Horoscope.
This slightly-built romance was the outcome of a wish to set the
emotional history of two infinitesimal lives against the stupendous
background of the stellar universe, and to impart to readers the
sentiment that of these contrasting magnitudes the smaller might be
the greater to them as men.
But, on the publication of the book people seemed to be less struck
with these high aims of the author than with their own opinion,
first, that the novel was an 'improper' one in its morals, and,
secondly, that it was intended to be a satire on the Established
Church of this country. I was made to suffer in consequence from
several eminent pens.
That, however, was thirteen years ago, and, in respect of the first
opinion, I venture to think that those who care to read the story
now will be quite astonished at the scrupulous propriety observed
therein on the relations of the sexes; for though there may be
frivolous, and even grotesque touches on occasion, there is hardly a
single caress in the book outside legal matrimony, or what was
intended so to be.
As for the second opinion, it is sufficient to draw attention, as I
did at the time, to the fact that the Bishop is every inch a
gentleman, and that the parish priest who figures in the narrative
is one of its most estimable characters.
However, the pages must speak for themselves. Some few readers, I
trust--to take a serious view--will be reminded by this imperfect
story, in a manner not unprofitable to the growth of the social
sympathies, of the pathos, misery, long-suffering, and divine
tenderness which in real life frequently accompany the passion of
such a woman as Viviette for a lover several years her junior.
The scene of the action was suggested by two real spots in the part
of the country specified, each of which has a column standing upon
it. Certain surrounding peculiarities have been imported into the
narrative from both sites.
TWO ON A TOWER.
On an early winter afternoon, clear but not cold, when the vegetable
world was a weird multitude of skeletons through whose ribs the sun
shone freely, a gleaming landau came to a pause on the crest of a
hill in Wessex. The spot was where the old Melchester Road, which
the carriage had hitherto followed, was joined by a drive that led
round into a park at no great distance off.
The footman alighted, and went to the occupant of the carriage, a
lady about eight- or nine-and-twenty. She was looking through the
opening afforded by a field-gate at the undulating stretch of
country beyond. In pursuance of some remark from her the servant
looked in the same direction.
The central feature of the middle distance, as they beheld it, was a
circular isolated hill, of no great elevation, which placed itself
in strong chromatic contrast with a wide acreage of surrounding
arable by being covered with fir-trees. The trees were all of one
size and age, so that their tips assumed the precise curve of the
hill they grew upon. This pine-clad protuberance was yet further
marked out from the general landscape by having on its summit a
tower in the form of a classical column, which, though partly
immersed in the plantation, rose above the tree-tops to a
considerable height. Upon this object the eyes of lady and servant
'Then there is no road leading near it?' she asked.
'Nothing nearer than where we are now, my lady.'
'Then drive home,' she said after a moment. And the carriage rolled
on its way.
A few days later, the same lady, in the same carriage, passed that
spot again. Her eyes, as before, turned to the distant tower.
'Nobbs,' she said to the coachman, 'could you find your way home
through that field, so as to get near the outskirts of the
plantation where the column is?'
The coachman regarded the field. 'Well, my lady,' he observed, 'in
dry weather we might drive in there by inching and pinching, and so
get across by Five-and-Twenty Acres, all being well. But the ground
is so heavy after these rains that perhaps it would hardly be safe
to try it now.'
'Perhaps not,' she assented indifferently. 'Remember it, will you,
at a drier time?'
And again the carriage sped along the road, the lady's eyes resting
on the segmental hill, the blue trees that muffled it, and the
column that formed its apex, till they were out of sight.
A long time elapsed before that lady drove over the hill again. It
was February; the soil was now unquestionably dry, the weather and
scene being in other respects much as they had been before. The
familiar shape of the column seemed to remind her that at last an
opportunity for a close inspection had arrived. Giving her
directions she saw the gate opened, and after a little manoeuvring
the carriage swayed slowly into the uneven field.
Although the pillar stood upon the hereditary estate of her husband
the lady had never visited it, owing to its insulation by this well-
nigh impracticable ground. The drive to the base of the hill was
tedious and jerky, and on reaching it she alighted, directing that
the carriage should be driven back empty over the clods, to wait for
her on the nearest edge of the field. She then ascended beneath the
trees on foot.
The column now showed itself as a much more important erection than
it had appeared from the road, or the park, or the windows of
Welland House, her residence hard by, whence she had surveyed it
hundreds of times without ever feeling a sufficient interest in its
details to investigate them. The column had been erected in the
last century, as a substantial memorial of her husband's great-
grandfather, a respectable officer who had fallen in the American
war, and the reason of her lack of interest was partly owing to her
relations with this husband, of which more anon. It was little
beyond the sheer desire for something to do--the chronic desire of
her curiously lonely life--that had brought her here now. She was
in a mood to welcome anything that would in some measure disperse an
almost killing ennui. She would have welcomed even a misfortune.
She had heard that from the summit of the pillar four counties could
be seen. Whatever pleasurable effect was to be derived from looking
into four counties she resolved to enjoy to-day.
The fir-shrouded hill-top was (according to some antiquaries) an old
Roman camp,--if it were not (as others insisted) an old British
castle, or (as the rest swore) an old Saxon field of Witenagemote,--
with remains of an outer and an inner vallum, a winding path leading
up between their overlapping ends by an easy ascent. The spikelets
from the trees formed a soft carpet over the route, and occasionally
a brake of brambles barred the interspaces of the trunks. Soon she
stood immediately at the foot of the column.
It had been built in the Tuscan order of classic architecture, and
was really a tower, being hollow with steps inside. The gloom and
solitude which prevailed round the base were remarkable. The sob of
the environing trees was here expressively manifest; and moved by
the light breeze their thin straight stems rocked in seconds, like
inverted pendulums; while some boughs and twigs rubbed the pillar's
sides, or occasionally clicked in catching each other. Below the
level of their summits the masonry was lichen-stained and mildewed,
for the sun never pierced that moaning cloud of blue-black
vegetation. Pads of moss grew in the joints of the stone-work, and
here and there shade-loving insects had engraved on the mortar
patterns of no human style or meaning; but curious and suggestive.
Above the trees the case was different: the pillar rose into the
sky a bright and cheerful thing, unimpeded, clean, and flushed with
The spot was seldom visited by a pedestrian, except perhaps in the
shooting season. The rarity of human intrusion was evidenced by the
mazes of rabbit-runs, the feathers of shy birds, the exuviae of
reptiles; as also by the well-worn paths of squirrels down the sides
of trunks, and thence horizontally away. The fact of the plantation
being an island in the midst of an arable plain sufficiently
accounted for this lack of visitors. Few unaccustomed to such
places can be aware of the insulating effect of ploughed ground,
when no necessity compels people to traverse it. This rotund hill
of trees and brambles, standing in the centre of a ploughed field of
some ninety or a hundred acres, was probably visited less frequently
than a rock would have been visited in a lake of equal extent.
She walked round the column to the other side, where she found the
door through which the interior was reached. The paint, if it had
ever had any, was all washed from the wood, and down the decaying
surface of the boards liquid rust from the nails and hinges had run
in red stains. Over the door was a stone tablet, bearing,
apparently, letters or words; but the inscription, whatever it was,
had been smoothed over with a plaster of lichen.
Here stood this aspiring piece of masonry, erected as the most
conspicuous and ineffaceable reminder of a man that could be thought
of; and yet the whole aspect of the memorial betokened
forgetfulness. Probably not a dozen people within the district knew
the name of the person commemorated, while perhaps not a soul
remembered whether the column were hollow or solid, whether with or
without a tablet explaining its date and purpose. She herself had
lived within a mile of it for the last five years, and had never
come near it till now.
She hesitated to ascend alone, but finding that the door was not
fastened she pushed it open with her foot, and entered. A scrap of
writing-paper lay within, and arrested her attention by its
freshness. Some human being, then, knew the spot, despite her
surmises. But as the paper had nothing on it no clue was afforded;
yet feeling herself the proprietor of the column and of all around
it her self-assertiveness was sufficient to lead her on. The
staircase was lighted by slits in the wall, and there was no
difficulty in reaching the top, the steps being quite unworn. The
trap-door leading on to the roof was open, and on looking through it
an interesting spectacle met her eye.
A youth was sitting on a stool in the centre of the lead flat which
formed the summit of the column, his eye being applied to the end of
a large telescope that stood before him on a tripod. This sort of
presence was unexpected, and the lady started back into the shade of
the opening. The only effect produced upon him by her footfall was
an impatient wave of the hand, which he did without removing his eye
from the instrument, as if to forbid her to interrupt him.
Pausing where she stood the lady examined the aspect of the
individual who thus made himself so completely at home on a building
which she deemed her unquestioned property. He was a youth who
might properly have been characterized by a word the judicious
chronicler would not readily use in such a connexion, preferring to
reserve it for raising images of the opposite sex. Whether because
no deep felicity is likely to arise from the condition, or from any
other reason, to say in these days that a youth is beautiful is not
to award him that amount of credit which the expression would have
carried with it if he had lived in the times of the Classical
Dictionary. So much, indeed, is the reverse the case that the
assertion creates an awkwardness in saying anything more about him.
The beautiful youth usually verges so perilously on the incipient
coxcomb, who is about to become the Lothario or Juan among the
neighbouring maidens, that, for the due understanding of our present
young man, his sublime innocence of any thought concerning his own
material aspect, or that of others, is most fervently asserted, and
must be as fervently believed.
Such as he was, there the lad sat. The sun shone full in his face,
and on his head he wore a black velvet skull-cap, leaving to view
below it a curly margin of very light shining hair, which accorded
well with the flush upon his cheek.
He had such a complexion as that with which Raffaelle enriches the
countenance of the youthful son of Zacharias,--a complexion which,
though clear, is far enough removed from virgin delicacy, and
suggests plenty of sun and wind as its accompaniment. His features
were sufficiently straight in the contours to correct the beholder's
first impression that the head was the head of a girl. Beside him
stood a little oak table, and in front was the telescope.
His visitor had ample time to make these observations; and she may
have done so all the more keenly through being herself of a totally
opposite type. Her hair was black as midnight, her eyes had no less
deep a shade, and her complexion showed the richness demanded as a
support to these decided features. As she continued to look at the
pretty fellow before her, apparently so far abstracted into some
speculative world as scarcely to know a real one, a warmer wave of
her warm temperament glowed visibly through her, and a qualified
observer might from this have hazarded a guess that there was
Romance blood in her veins.
But even the interest attaching to the youth could not arrest her
attention for ever, and as he made no further signs of moving his
eye from the instrument she broke the silence with--
'What do you see?--something happening somewhere?'
'Yes, quite a catastrophe!' he automatically murmured, without
'A cyclone in the sun.'
The lady paused, as if to consider the weight of that event in the
scale of terrene life.
'Will it make any difference to us here?' she asked.
The young man by this time seemed to be awakened to the
consciousness that somebody unusual was talking to him; he turned,
'I beg your pardon,' he said. 'I thought it was my relative come to
look after me! She often comes about this time.'
He continued to look at her and forget the sun, just such a
reciprocity of influence as might have been expected between a dark
lady and a flaxen-haired youth making itself apparent in the faces
'Don't let me interrupt your observations,' said she.
'Ah, no,' said he, again applying his eye; whereupon his face lost
the animation which her presence had lent it, and became immutable
as that of a bust, though superadding to the serenity of repose the
sensitiveness of life. The expression that settled on him was one
of awe. Not unaptly might it have been said that he was worshipping
the sun. Among the various intensities of that worship which have
prevailed since the first intelligent being saw the luminary decline
westward, as the young man now beheld it doing, his was not the
weakest. He was engaged in what may be called a very chastened or
schooled form of that first and most natural of adorations.
'But would you like to see it?' he recommenced. 'It is an event
that is witnessed only about once in two or three years, though it
may occur often enough.'
She assented, and looked through the shaded eyepiece, and saw a
whirling mass, in the centre of which the blazing globe seemed to be
laid bare to its core. It was a peep into a maelstrom of fire,
taking place where nobody had ever been or ever would be.
'It is the strangest thing I ever beheld,' she said. Then he looked
again; till wondering who her companion could be she asked, 'Are you
'Every night when it is not cloudy, and often in the day.'
'Ah, night, of course. The heavens must be beautiful from this
'They are rather more than that.'
'Indeed! Have you entirely taken possession of this column?'
'But it is my column,' she said, with smiling asperity.
'Then are you Lady Constantine, wife of the absent Sir Blount
'I am Lady Constantine.'
'Ah, then I agree that it is your ladyship's. But will you allow me
to rent it of you for a time, Lady Constantine?'
'You have taken it, whether I allow it or not. However, in the
interests of science it is advisable that you continue your tenancy.
Nobody knows you are here, I suppose?'
He then took her down a few steps into the interior, and showed her
some ingenious contrivances for stowing articles away.
'Nobody ever comes near the column,--or, as it's called here, Rings-
Hill Speer,' he continued; 'and when I first came up it nobody had
been here for thirty or forty years. The staircase was choked with
daws' nests and feathers, but I cleared them out.'
'I understood the column was always kept locked?'
'Yes, it has been so. When it was built, in 1782, the key was given
to my great-grandfather, to keep by him in case visitors should
happen to want it. He lived just down there where I live now.'
He denoted by a nod a little dell lying immediately beyond the
ploughed land which environed them.
'He kept it in his bureau, and as the bureau descended to my
grandfather, my mother, and myself, the key descended with it.
After the first thirty or forty years, nobody ever asked for it.
One day I saw it, lying rusty in its niche, and, finding that it
belonged to this column, I took it and came up. I stayed here till
it was dark, and the stars came out, and that night I resolved to be
an astronomer. I came back here from school several months ago, and
I mean to be an astronomer still.'
He lowered his voice, and added:
'I aim at nothing less than the dignity and office of Astronomer
Royal, if I live. Perhaps I shall not live.'
'I don't see why you should suppose that,' said she. 'How long are
you going to make this your observatory?'
'About a year longer--till I have obtained a practical familiarity
with the heavens. Ah, if I only had a good equatorial!'
'What is that?'
'A proper instrument for my pursuit. But time is short, and science
is infinite,--how infinite only those who study astronomy fully
realize,--and perhaps I shall be worn out before I make my mark.'
She seemed to be greatly struck by the odd mixture in him of
scientific earnestness and melancholy mistrust of all things human.
Perhaps it was owing to the nature of his studies.
'You are often on this tower alone at night?' she said.
'Yes; at this time of the year particularly, and while there is no
moon. I observe from seven or eight till about two in the morning,
with a view to my great work on variable stars. But with such a
telescope as this--well, I must put up with it!'
'Can you see Saturn's ring and Jupiter's moons?'
He said drily that he could manage to do that, not without some
contempt for the state of her knowledge.
'I have never seen any planet or star through a telescope.'
'If you will come the first clear night, Lady Constantine, I will
show you any number. I mean, at your express wish; not otherwise.'
'I should like to come, and possibly may at some time. These stars
that vary so much--sometimes evening stars, sometimes morning stars,
sometimes in the east, and sometimes in the west--have always
'Ah--now there is a reason for your not coming. Your ignorance of
the realities of astronomy is so satisfactory that I will not
disturb it except at your serious request.'
'But I wish to be enlightened.'
'Let me caution you against it.'
'Is enlightenment on the subject, then, so terrible?'
She laughingly declared that nothing could have so piqued her
curiosity as his statement, and turned to descend. He helped her
down the stairs and through the briers. He would have gone further
and crossed the open corn-land with her, but she preferred to go
alone. He then retraced his way to the top of the column, but,
instead of looking longer at the sun, watched her diminishing
towards the distant fence, behind which waited the carriage. When
in the midst of the field, a dark spot on an area of brown, there
crossed her path a moving figure, whom it was as difficult to
distinguish from the earth he trod as the caterpillar from its leaf,
by reason of the excellent match between his clothes and the clods.
He was one of a dying-out generation who retained the principle,
nearly unlearnt now, that a man's habiliments should be in harmony
with his environment. Lady Constantine and this figure halted
beside each other for some minutes; then they went on their several
The brown person was a labouring man known to the world of Welland
as Haymoss (the encrusted form of the word Amos, to adopt the phrase
of philologists). The reason of the halt had been some inquiries
addressed to him by Lady Constantine.
'Who is that--Amos Fry, I think?' she had asked.
'Yes my lady,' said Haymoss; 'a homely barley driller, born under
the eaves of your ladyship's outbuildings, in a manner of speaking,-
-though your ladyship was neither born nor 'tempted at that time.'
'Who lives in the old house behind the plantation?'
'Old Gammer Martin, my lady, and her grandson.'
'He has neither father nor mother, then?'
'Not a single one, my lady.'
'Where was he educated?'
'At Warborne,--a place where they draw up young gam'sters' brains
like rhubarb under a ninepenny pan, my lady, excusing my common way.
They hit so much larning into en that 'a could talk like the day of
Pentecost; which is a wonderful thing for a simple boy, and his
mother only the plainest ciphering woman in the world. Warborne
Grammar School--that's where 'twas 'a went to. His father, the
reverent Pa'son St. Cleeve, made a terrible bruckle hit in 's
marrying, in the sight of the high. He were the curate here, my
lady, for a length o' time.'
'Oh, curate,' said Lady Constantine. 'It was before I knew the
'Ay, long and merry ago! And he married Farmer Martin's daughter--
Giles Martin, a limberish man, who used to go rather bad upon his
lags, if you can mind. I knowed the man well enough; who should
know en better! The maid was a poor windling thing, and, though a
playward piece o' flesh when he married her, 'a socked and sighed,
and went out like a snoff! Yes, my lady. Well, when Pa'son St.
Cleeve married this homespun woman the toppermost folk wouldn't
speak to his wife. Then he dropped a cuss or two, and said he'd no
longer get his living by curing their twopenny souls o' such d---
nonsense as that (excusing my common way), and he took to farming
straightway, and then 'a dropped down dead in a nor'-west
thunderstorm; it being said--hee-hee!--that Master God was in
tantrums wi'en for leaving his service,--hee-hee! I give the story
as I heard it, my lady, but be dazed if I believe in such trumpery
about folks in the sky, nor anything else that's said on 'em, good
or bad. Well, Swithin, the boy, was sent to the grammar school, as
I say for; but what with having two stations of life in his blood
he's good for nothing, my lady. He mopes about--sometimes here, and
sometimes there; nobody troubles about en.'
Lady Constantine thanked her informant, and proceeded onward. To
her, as a woman, the most curious feature in the afternoon's
incident was that this lad, of striking beauty, scientific
attainments, and cultivated bearing, should be linked, on the
maternal side, with a local agricultural family through his father's
matrimonial eccentricity. A more attractive feature in the case was
that the same youth, so capable of being ruined by flattery,
blandishment, pleasure, even gross prosperity, should be at present
living on in a primitive Eden of unconsciousness, with aims towards
whose accomplishment a Caliban shape would have been as effective as
Swithin St. Cleeve lingered on at his post, until the more sanguine
birds of the plantation, already recovering from their midwinter
anxieties, piped a short evening hymn to the vanishing sun.
The landscape was gently concave; with the exception of tower and
hill there were no points on which late rays might linger; and hence
the dish-shaped ninety acres of tilled land assumed a uniform hue of
shade quite suddenly. The one or two stars that appeared were
quickly clouded over, and it was soon obvious that there would be no
sweeping the heavens that night. After tying a piece of tarpaulin,
which had once seen service on his maternal grandfather's farm, over
all the apparatus around him, he went down the stairs in the dark,
and locked the door.
With the key in his pocket he descended through the underwood on the
side of the slope opposite to that trodden by Lady Constantine, and
crossed the field in a line mathematically straight, and in a manner
that left no traces, by keeping in the same furrow all the way on
tiptoe. In a few minutes he reached a little dell, which occurred
quite unexpectedly on the other side of the field-fence, and
descended to a venerable thatched house, whose enormous roof, broken
up by dormers as big as haycocks, could be seen even in the
twilight. Over the white walls, built of chalk in the lump,
outlines of creepers formed dark patterns, as if drawn in charcoal.
Inside the house his maternal grandmother was sitting by a wood
fire. Before it stood a pipkin, in which something was evidently
kept warm. An eight-legged oak table in the middle of the room was
laid for a meal. This woman of eighty, in a large mob cap, under
which she wore a little cap to keep the other clean, retained
faculties but little blunted. She was gazing into the flames, with
her hands upon her knees, quietly re-enacting in her brain certain
of the long chain of episodes, pathetic, tragical, and humorous,
which had constituted the parish history for the last sixty years.
On Swithin's entry she looked up at him in a sideway direction.
'You should not have waited for me, granny,' he said.
''Tis of no account, my child. I've had a nap while sitting here.
Yes, I've had a nap, and went straight up into my old country again,
as usual. The place was as natural as when I left it,--e'en just
threescore years ago! All the folks and my old aunt were there, as
when I was a child,--yet I suppose if I were really to set out and
go there, hardly a soul would be left alive to say to me, dog how
art! But tell Hannah to stir her stumps and serve supper--though
I'd fain do it myself, the poor old soul is getting so unhandy!'
Hannah revealed herself to be much nimbler and several years younger
than granny, though of this the latter seemed to be oblivious. When
the meal was nearly over Mrs. Martin produced the contents of the
mysterious vessel by the fire, saying that she had caused it to be
brought in from the back kitchen, because Hannah was hardly to be
trusted with such things, she was becoming so childish.
'What is it, then?' said Swithin. 'Oh, one of your special
puddings.' At sight of it, however, he added reproachfully, 'Now,
Instead of being round, it was in shape an irregular boulder that
had been exposed to the weather for centuries--a little scrap pared
off here, and a little piece broken away there; the general aim
being, nevertheless, to avoid destroying the symmetry of the pudding
while taking as much as possible of its substance.
'The fact is,' added Swithin, 'the pudding is half gone!'
'I've only sliced off the merest paring once or twice, to taste if
it was well done!' pleaded granny Martin, with wounded feelings. 'I
said to Hannah when she took it up, "Put it here to keep it warm, as
there's a better fire than in the back kitchen."'
'Well, I am not going to eat any of it!' said Swithin decisively, as
he rose from the table, pushed away his chair, and went up-stairs;
the 'other station of life that was in his blood,' and which had
been brought out by the grammar school, probably stimulating him.
'Ah, the world is an ungrateful place! 'Twas a pity I didn't take
my poor name off this earthly calendar and creep under ground sixty
long years ago, instead of leaving my own county to come here!'
mourned old Mrs. Martin. 'But I told his mother how 'twould be--
marrying so many notches above her. The child was sure to chaw
high, like his father!'
When Swithin had been up-stairs a minute or two however, he altered
his mind, and coming down again ate all the pudding, with the aspect
of a person undertaking a deed of great magnanimity. The relish
with which he did so restored the unison that knew no more serious
interruptions than such as this.
'Mr. Torkingham has been here this afternoon,' said his grandmother;
'and he wants me to let him meet some of the choir here to-night for
practice. They who live at this end of the parish won't go to his
house to try over the tunes, because 'tis so far, they say, and so
'tis, poor men. So he's going to see what coming to them will do.
He asks if you would like to join.'
'I would if I had not so much to do.'
'But it is cloudy to-night.'
'Yes; but I have calculations without end, granny. Now, don't you
tell him I'm in the house, will you? and then he'll not ask for me.'
'But if he should, must I then tell a lie, Lord forgive me?'
'No, you can say I'm up-stairs; he must think what he likes. Not a
word about the astronomy to any of them, whatever you do. I should
be called a visionary, and all sorts.'
'So thou beest, child. Why can't ye do something that's of use?'
At the sound of footsteps Swithin beat a hasty retreat up-stairs,
where he struck a light, and revealed a table covered with books and
papers, while round the walls hung star-maps, and other diagrams
illustrative of celestial phenomena. In a corner stood a huge
pasteboard tube, which a close inspection would have shown to be
intended for a telescope. Swithin hung a thick cloth over the
window, in addition to the curtains, and sat down to his papers. On
the ceiling was a black stain of smoke, and under this he placed his
lamp, evidencing that the midnight oil was consumed on that precise
spot very often.
Meanwhile there had entered to the room below a personage who, to
judge from her voice and the quick pit-pat of her feet, was a maiden
young and blithe. Mrs. Martin welcomed her by the title of Miss
Tabitha Lark, and inquired what wind had brought her that way; to
which the visitor replied that she had come for the singing.
'Sit ye down, then,' said granny. 'And do you still go to the House
to read to my lady?'
'Yes, I go and read, Mrs. Martin; but as to getting my lady to
hearken, that's more than a team of six horses could force her to
The girl had a remarkably smart and fluent utterance, which was
probably a cause, or a consequence, of her vocation.
''Tis the same story, then?' said grandmother Martin.
'Yes. Eaten out with listlessness. She's neither sick nor sorry,
but how dull and dreary she is, only herself can tell. When I get
there in the morning, there she is sitting up in bed, for my lady
don't care to get up; and then she makes me bring this book and that
book, till the bed is heaped up with immense volumes that half bury
her, making her look, as she leans upon her elbow, like the stoning
of Stephen. She yawns; then she looks towards the tall glass; then
she looks out at the weather, mooning her great black eyes, and
fixing them on the sky as if they stuck there, while my tongue goes
flick-flack along, a hundred and fifty words a minute; then she
looks at the clock; then she asks me what I've been reading.'
'Ah, poor soul!' said granny. 'No doubt she says in the morning,
"Would God it were evening," and in the evening, "Would God it were
morning," like the disobedient woman in Deuteronomy.'
Swithin, in the room overhead, had suspended his calculations, for
the duologue interested him. There now crunched heavier steps
outside the door, and his grandmother could be heard greeting sundry
local representatives of the bass and tenor voice, who lent a
cheerful and well-known personality to the names Sammy Blore, Nat
Chapman, Hezekiah Biles, and Haymoss Fry (the latter being one with
whom the reader has already a distant acquaintance); besides these
came small producers of treble, who had not yet developed into such
distinctive units of society as to require particularizing.
'Is the good man come?' asked Nat Chapman. 'No,--I see we be here
afore him. And how is it with aged women to-night, Mrs. Martin?'
'Tedious traipsing enough with this one, Nat. Sit ye down. Well,
little Freddy, you don't wish in the morning that 'twere evening,
and at evening that 'twere morning again, do you, Freddy, trust ye
'Now, who might wish such a thing as that, Mrs Martin?--nobody in
this parish?' asked Sammy Blore curiously.
'My lady is always wishing it,' spoke up Miss Tabitha Lark.
'Oh, she! Nobody can be answerable for the wishes of that onnatural
tribe of mankind. Not but that the woman's heart-strings is tried
in many aggravating ways.'
'Ah, poor woman!' said granny. 'The state she finds herself in--
neither maid, wife, nor widow, as you may say--is not the primest
form of life for keeping in good spirits. How long is it since she
has heard from Sir Blount, Tabitha?'
'Two years and more,' said the young woman. 'He went into one side
of Africa, as it might be, three St. Martin's days back. I can mind
it, because 'twas my birthday. And he meant to come out the other
side. But he didn't. He has never come out at all.'
'For all the world like losing a rat in a barley-mow,' said
Hezekiah. 'He's lost, though you know where he is.'
His comrades nodded.
'Ay, my lady is a walking weariness. I seed her yawn just at the
very moment when the fox was halloaed away by Lornton Copse, and the
hounds runned en all but past her carriage wheels. If I were she
I'd see a little life; though there's no fair, club-walking, nor
feast to speak of, till Easter week,--that's true.'
'She dares not. She's under solemn oath to do no such thing.'
'Be cust if I would keep any such oath! But here's the pa'son, if
my ears don't deceive me.'
There was a noise of horse's hoofs without, a stumbling against the
door-scraper, a tethering to the window-shutter, a creaking of the
door on its hinges, and a voice which Swithin recognized as Mr.
Torkingham's. He greeted each of the previous arrivals by name, and
stated that he was glad to see them all so punctually assembled.
'Ay, sir,' said Haymoss Fry. ''Tis only my jints that have kept me
from assembling myself long ago. I'd assemble upon the top of
Welland Steeple, if 'tweren't for my jints. I assure ye, Pa'son
Tarkenham, that in the clitch o' my knees, where the rain used to
come through when I was cutting clots for the new lawn, in old my
lady's time, 'tis as if rats wez gnawing, every now and then. When
a feller's young he's too small in the brain to see how soon a
constitution can be squandered, worse luck!'
'True,' said Biles, to fill the time while the parson was engaged in
finding the Psalms. 'A man's a fool till he's forty. Often have I
thought, when hay-pitching, and the small of my back seeming no
stouter than a harnet's, "The devil send that I had but the making
of labouring men for a twelvemonth!" I'd gie every man jack two
good backbones, even if the alteration was as wrong as forgery.'
'Four,--four backbones,' said Haymoss, decisively.
'Yes, four,' threw in Sammy Blore, with additional weight of
experience. 'For you want one in front for breast-ploughing and
such like, one at the right side for ground-dressing, and one at the
left side for turning mixens.'
'Well; then next I'd move every man's wyndpipe a good span away from
his glutchpipe, so that at harvest time he could fetch breath in 's
drinking, without being choked and strangled as he is now. Thinks
I, when I feel the victuals going--'
'Now, we'll begin,' interrupted Mr. Torkingham, his mind returning
to this world again on concluding his search for a hymn.
Thereupon the racket of chair-legs on the floor signified that they
were settling into their seats,--a disturbance which Swithin took
advantage of by going on tiptoe across the floor above, and putting
sheets of paper over knot-holes in the boarding at points where
carpet was lacking, that his lamp-light might not shine down. The
absence of a ceiling beneath rendered his position virtually that of
one suspended in the same apartment.
The parson announced the tune, and his voice burst forth with
'Onward, Christian soldiers!' in notes of rigid cheerfulness.
In this start, however, he was joined only by the girls and boys,
the men furnishing but an accompaniment of ahas and hems. Mr.
Torkingham stopped, and Sammy Blore spoke,--
'Beg your pardon, sir,--if you'll deal mild with us a moment. What
with the wind and walking, my throat's as rough as a grater; and not
knowing you were going to hit up that minute, I hadn't hawked, and I
don't think Hezzy and Nat had, either,--had ye, souls?'
'I hadn't got thorough ready, that's true,' said Hezekiah.
'Quite right of you, then, to speak,' said Mr. Torkingham. 'Don't
mind explaining; we are here for practice. Now clear your throats,
then, and at it again.'
There was a noise as of atmospheric hoes and scrapers, and the bass
contingent at last got under way with a time of its own:
'Honwerd, Christen sojers!'
'Ah, that's where we are so defective--the pronunciation,'
interrupted the parson. 'Now repeat after me: "On-ward, Christ-
The choir repeated like an exaggerative echo: 'On-wed, Chris-ting,
'Better!' said the parson, in the strenuously sanguine tones of a
man who got his living by discovering a bright side in things where
it was not very perceptible to other people. 'But it should not be
given with quite so extreme an accent; or we may be called affected
by other parishes. And, Nathaniel Chapman, there's a jauntiness in
your manner of singing which is not quite becoming. Why don't you
sing more earnestly?'
'My conscience won't let me, sir. They say every man for himself:
but, thank God, I'm not so mean as to lessen old fokes' chances by
being earnest at my time o' life, and they so much nearer the need
'It's bad reasoning, Nat, I fear. Now, perhaps we had better sol-fa
the tune. Eyes on your books, please. Sol-sol! fa-fa! mi--'
'I can't sing like that, not I!' said Sammy Blore, with condemnatory
astonishment. 'I can sing genuine music, like F and G; but not
anything so much out of the order of nater as that.'
'Perhaps you've brought the wrong book, sir?' chimed in Haymoss,
kindly. 'I've knowed music early in life and late,--in short, ever
since Luke Sneap broke his new fiddle-bow in the wedding psalm, when
Pa'son Wilton brought home his bride (you can mind the time, Sammy?-
-when we sung "His wife, like a fair fertile vine, her lovely fruit
shall bring," when the young woman turned as red as a rose, not
knowing 'twas coming). I've knowed music ever since then, I say,
sir, and never heard the like o' that. Every martel note had his
name of A, B, C, at that time.'
'Yes, yes, men; but this is a more recent system!'
'Still, you can't alter a old-established note that's A or B by
nater,' rejoined Haymoss, with yet deeper conviction that Mr.
Torkingham was getting off his head. 'Now sound A, neighbour Sammy,
and let's have a slap at Christen sojers again, and show the Pa'son
the true way!'
Sammy produced a private tuning-fork, black and grimy, which, being
about seventy years of age, and wrought before pianoforte builders
had sent up the pitch to make their instruments brilliant, was
nearly a note flatter than the parson's. While an argument as to
the true pitch was in progress, there came a knocking without.
'Somebody's at the door!' said a little treble girl.
'Thought I heard a knock before!' said the relieved choir.
The latch was lifted, and a man asked from the darkness, 'Is Mr.
'Yes, Mills. What do you want?'
It was the parson's man.
'Oh, if you please,' said Mills, showing an advanced margin of
himself round the door, 'Lady Constantine wants to see you very
particular, sir, and could you call on her after dinner, if you
ben't engaged with poor fokes? She's just had a letter,--so they
say,--and it's about that, I believe.'
Finding, on looking at his watch, that it was necessary to start at
once if he meant to see her that night, the parson cut short the
practising, and, naming another night for meeting, he withdrew. All
the singers assisted him on to his cob, and watched him till he
disappeared over the edge of the Bottom.
Mr. Torkingham trotted briskly onward to his house, a distance of
about a mile, each cottage, as it revealed its half-buried position
by its single light, appearing like a one-eyed night creature
watching him from an ambush. Leaving his horse at the parsonage he
performed the remainder of the journey on foot, crossing the park
towards Welland House by a stile and path, till he struck into the
drive near the north door of the mansion.
This drive, it may be remarked, was also the common highway to the
lower village, and hence Lady Constantine's residence and park, as
is occasionally the case with old-fashioned manors, possessed none
of the exclusiveness found in some aristocratic settlements. The
parishioners looked upon the park avenue as their natural
thoroughfare, particularly for christenings, weddings, and funerals,
which passed the squire's mansion with due considerations as to the
scenic effect of the same from the manor windows. Hence the house
of Constantine, when going out from its breakfast, had been
continually crossed on the doorstep for the last two hundred years
by the houses of Hodge and Giles in full cry to dinner. At present
these collisions were but too infrequent, for though the villagers
passed the north front door as regularly as ever, they seldom met a
Constantine. Only one was there to be met, and she had no zest for
outings before noon.
The long, low front of the Great House, as it was called by the
parish, stretching from end to end of the terrace, was in darkness
as the vicar slackened his pace before it, and only the distant fall
of water disturbed the stillness of the manorial precincts.
On gaining admittance he found Lady Constantine waiting to receive
him. She wore a heavy dress of velvet and lace, and being the only
person in the spacious apartment she looked small and isolated. In
her left hand she held a letter and a couple of at-home cards. The
soft dark eyes which she raised to him as he entered--large, and
melancholy by circumstance far more than by quality--were the
natural indices of a warm and affectionate, perhaps slightly
voluptuous temperament, languishing for want of something to do,
cherish, or suffer for.
Mr. Torkingham seated himself. His boots, which had seemed elegant
in the farm-house, appeared rather clumsy here, and his coat, that
was a model of tailoring when he stood amid the choir, now exhibited
decidedly strained relations with his limbs. Three years had passed
since his induction to the living of Welland, but he had never as
yet found means to establish that reciprocity with Lady Constantine
which usually grows up, in the course of time, between parsonage and
manor-house,--unless, indeed, either side should surprise the other
by showing respectively a weakness for awkward modern ideas on
landownership, or on church formulas, which had not been the case
here. The present meeting, however, seemed likely to initiate such
There was an appearance of confidence on Lady Constantine's face;
she said she was so very glad that he had come, and looking down at
the letter in her hand was on the point of pulling it from its
envelope; but she did not. After a moment she went on more quickly:
'I wanted your advice, or rather your opinion, on a serious matter,-
-on a point of conscience.' Saying which she laid down the letter
and looked at the cards.
It might have been apparent to a more penetrating eye than the
vicar's that Lady Constantine, either from timidity, misgiving, or
reconviction, had swerved from her intended communication, or
perhaps decided to begin at the other end.
The parson, who had been expecting a question on some local business
or intelligence, at the tenor of her words altered his face to the
higher branch of his profession.
'I hope I may find myself of service, on that or any other
question,' he said gently.
'I hope so. You may possibly be aware, Mr. Torkingham, that my
husband, Sir Blount Constantine, was, not to mince matters, a
mistaken--somewhat jealous man. Yet you may hardly have discerned
it in the short time you knew him.'
'I had some little knowledge of Sir Blount's character in that
'Well, on this account my married life with him was not of the most
comfortable kind.' (Lady Constantine's voice dropped to a more
pathetic note.) 'I am sure I gave him no cause for suspicion;
though had I known his disposition sooner I should hardly have dared
to marry him. But his jealousy and doubt of me were not so strong
as to divert him from a purpose of his,--a mania for African lion-
hunting, which he dignified by calling it a scheme of geographical
discovery; for he was inordinately anxious to make a name for
himself in that field. It was the one passion that was stronger
than his mistrust of me. Before going away he sat down with me in
this room, and read me a lecture, which resulted in a very rash
offer on my part. When I tell it to you, you will find that it
provides a key to all that is unusual in my life here. He bade me
consider what my position would be when he was gone; hoped that I
should remember what was due to him,--that I would not so behave
towards other men as to bring the name of Constantine into
suspicion; and charged me to avoid levity of conduct in attending
any ball, rout, or dinner to which I might be invited. I, in some
contempt for his low opinion of me, volunteered, there and then, to
live like a cloistered nun during his absence; to go into no society
whatever,--scarce even to a neighbour's dinner-party; and demanded
bitterly if that would satisfy him. He said yes, held me to my
word, and gave me no loophole for retracting it. The inevitable
fruits of precipitancy have resulted to me: my life has become a
burden. I get such invitations as these' (holding up the cards),
'but I so invariably refuse them that they are getting very rare. .
. . I ask you, can I honestly break that promise to my husband?'
Mr. Torkingham seemed embarrassed. 'If you promised Sir Blount
Constantine to live in solitude till he comes back, you are, it
seems to me, bound by that promise. I fear that the wish to be
released from your engagement is to some extent a reason why it
should be kept. But your own conscience would surely be the best
guide, Lady Constantine?'
'My conscience is quite bewildered with its responsibilities,' she
continued, with a sigh. 'Yet it certainly does sometimes say to me
that--that I ought to keep my word. Very well; I must go on as I am
going, I suppose.'
'If you respect a vow, I think you must respect your own,' said the
parson, acquiring some further firmness. 'Had it been wrung from
you by compulsion, moral or physical, it would have been open to you
to break it. But as you proposed a vow when your husband only
required a good intention, I think you ought to adhere to it; or
what is the pride worth that led you to offer it?'
'Very well,' she said, with resignation. 'But it was quite a work
of supererogation on my part.'
'That you proposed it in a supererogatory spirit does not lessen
your obligation, having once put yourself under that obligation.
St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, says, "An oath for
confirmation is an end of all strife." And you will readily recall
the words of Ecclesiastes, "Pay that which thou hast vowed. Better
is it that thou shouldest not vow than that thou shouldest vow and
not pay." Why not write to Sir Blount, tell him the inconvenience
of such a bond, and ask him to release you?'
'No; never will I. The expression of such a desire would, in his
mind, be a sufficient reason for disallowing it. I'll keep my
Mr. Torkingham rose to leave. After she had held out her hand to
him, when he had crossed the room, and was within two steps of the
door, she said, 'Mr. Torkingham.' He stopped. 'What I have told
you is only the least part of what I sent for you to tell you.'
Mr. Torkingham walked back to her side. 'What is the rest of it,
then?' he asked, with grave surprise.
'It is a true revelation, as far as it goes; but there is something
more. I have received this letter, and I wanted to say--something.'
'Then say it now, my dear lady.'
'No,' she answered, with a look of utter inability. 'I cannot speak
of it now! Some other time. Don't stay. Please consider this
conversation as private. Good-night.'
It was a bright starlight night, a week or ten days later. There
had been several such nights since the occasion of Lady
Constantine's promise to Swithin St. Cleeve to come and study
astronomical phenomena on the Rings-Hill column; but she had not
gone there. This evening she sat at a window, the blind of which
had not been drawn down. Her elbow rested on a little table, and
her cheek on her hand. Her eyes were attracted by the brightness of
the planet Jupiter, as he rode in the ecliptic opposite, beaming
down upon her as if desirous of notice.
Beneath the planet could be still discerned the dark edges of the
park landscape against the sky. As one of its features, though
nearly screened by the trees which had been planted to shut out the
fallow tracts of the estate, rose the upper part of the column. It
was hardly visible now, even if visible at all; yet Lady Constantine
knew from daytime experience its exact bearing from the window at
which she leaned. The knowledge that there it still was, despite
its rapid envelopment by the shades, led her lonely mind to her late
meeting on its summit with the young astronomer, and to her promise
to honour him with a visit for learning some secrets about the
scintillating bodies overhead. The curious juxtaposition of
youthful ardour and old despair that she had found in the lad would
have made him interesting to a woman of perception, apart from his
fair hair and early-Christian face. But such is the heightening
touch of memory that his beauty was probably richer in her
imagination than in the real. It was a moot point to consider
whether the temptations that would be brought to bear upon him in
his course would exceed the staying power of his nature. Had he
been a wealthy youth he would have seemed one to tremble for. In
spite of his attractive ambitions and gentlemanly bearing, she
thought it would possibly be better for him if he never became known
outside his lonely tower,--forgetting that he had received such
intellectual enlargement as would probably make his continuance in
Welland seem, in his own eye, a slight upon his father's branch of
his family, whose social standing had been, only a few years
earlier, but little removed from her own.
Suddenly she flung a cloak about her and went out on the terrace.
She passed down the steps to the lower lawn, through the door to the
open park, and there stood still. The tower was now discernible.
As the words in which a thought is expressed develop a further
thought, so did the fact of her having got so far influence her to
go further. A person who had casually observed her gait would have
thought it irregular; and the lessenings and increasings of speed
with which she proceeded in the direction of the pillar could be
accounted for only by a motive much more disturbing than an
intention to look through a telescope. Thus she went on, till,
leaving the park, she crossed the turnpike-road, and entered the
large field, in the middle of which the fir-clad hill stood like
Mont St. Michel in its bay.
The stars were so bright as distinctly to show her the place, and
now she could see a faint light at the top of the column, which rose
like a shadowy finger pointing to the upper constellations. There
was no wind, in a human sense; but a steady stertorous breathing
from the fir-trees showed that, now as always, there was movement in
apparent stagnation. Nothing but an absolute vacuum could paralyze
The door of the tower was shut. It was something more than the
freakishness which is engendered by a sickening monotony that had
led Lady Constantine thus far, and hence she made no ado about
admitting herself. Three years ago, when her every action was a
thing of propriety, she had known of no possible purpose which could
have led her abroad in a manner such as this.
She ascended the tower noiselessly. On raising her head above the
hatchway she beheld Swithin bending over a scroll of paper which lay
on the little table beside him. The small lantern that illuminated
it showed also that he was warmly wrapped up in a coat and thick
cap, behind him standing the telescope on its frame.
What was he doing? She looked over his shoulder upon the paper, and
saw figures and signs. When he had jotted down something he went to
the telescope again.
'What are you doing to-night?' she said in a low voice.
Swithin started, and turned. The faint lamp-light was sufficient to
reveal her face to him.
'Tedious work, Lady Constantine,' he answered, without betraying
much surprise. 'Doing my best to watch phenomenal stars, as I may
'You said you would show me the heavens if I could come on a
starlight night. I have come.'
Swithin, as a preliminary, swept round the telescope to Jupiter, and
exhibited to her the glory of that orb. Then he directed the
instrument to the less bright shape of Saturn.
'Here,' he said, warming up to the subject, 'we see a world which is
to my mind by far the most wonderful in the solar system. Think of
streams of satellites or meteors racing round and round the planet
like a fly-wheel, so close together as to seem solid matter!' He
entered further and further into the subject, his ideas gathering
momentum as he went on, like his pet heavenly bodies.
When he paused for breath she said, in tones very different from his
own, 'I ought now to tell you that, though I am interested in the
stars, they were not what I came to see you about. . . . I first
thought of disclosing the matter to Mr. Torkingham; but I altered my
mind, and decided on you.'
She spoke in so low a voice that he might not have heard her. At
all events, abstracted by his grand theme, he did not heed her. He
'Well, we will get outside the solar system altogether,--leave the
whole group of sun, primary and secondary planets quite behind us in
our flight, as a bird might leave its bush and sweep into the whole
forest. Now what do you see, Lady Constantine?' He levelled the
achromatic at Sirius.
She said that she saw a bright star, though it only seemed a point
of light now as before.
'That's because it is so distant that no magnifying will bring its
size up to zero. Though called a fixed star, it is, like all fixed
stars, moving with inconceivable velocity; but no magnifying will
show that velocity as anything but rest.'
And thus they talked on about Sirius, and then about other stars
. . in the scrowl
Of all those beasts, and fish, and fowl,
With which, like Indian plantations,
The learned stock the constellations,
till he asked her how many stars she thought were visible to them at
She looked around over the magnificent stretch of sky that their
high position unfolded. 'Oh, thousands, hundreds of thousands,' she
'No. There are only about three thousand. Now, how many do you
think are brought within sight by the help of a powerful telescope?'
'I won't guess.'
'Twenty millions. So that, whatever the stars were made for, they
were not made to please our eyes. It is just the same in
everything; nothing is made for man.'
'Is it that notion which makes you so sad for your age?' she asked,
with almost maternal solicitude. 'I think astronomy is a bad study
for you. It makes you feel human insignificance too plainly.'
'Perhaps it does. However,' he added more cheerfully, 'though I
feel the study to be one almost tragic in its quality, I hope to be
the new Copernicus. What he was to the solar system I aim to be to
the systems beyond.'
Then, by means of the instrument at hand, they travelled together
from the earth to Uranus and the mysterious outskirts of the solar
system; from the solar system to a star in the Swan, the nearest
fixed star in the northern sky; from the star in the Swan to remoter
stars; thence to the remotest visible; till the ghastly chasm which
they had bridged by a fragile line of sight was realized by Lady
'We are now traversing distances beside which the immense line
stretching from the earth to the sun is but an invisible point,'
said the youth. 'When, just now, we had reached a planet whose
remoteness is a hundred times the remoteness of the sun from the
earth, we were only a two thousandth part of the journey to the spot
at which we have optically arrived now.'
'Oh, pray don't; it overpowers me!' she replied, not without
seriousness. 'It makes me feel that it is not worth while to live;
it quite annihilates me.'
'If it annihilates your ladyship to roam over these yawning spaces
just once, think how it must annihilate me to be, as it were, in
constant suspension amid them night after night.'
'Yes. . . . It was not really this subject that I came to see you
upon, Mr. St. Cleeve,' she began a second time. 'It was a personal
'I am listening, Lady Constantine.'
'I will tell it you. Yet no,--not this moment. Let us finish this
grand subject first; it dwarfs mine.'
It would have been difficult to judge from her accents whether she
were afraid to broach her own matter, or really interested in his.
Or a certain youthful pride that he evidenced at being the
elucidator of such a large theme, and at having drawn her there to
hear and observe it, may have inclined her to indulge him for
Thereupon he took exception to her use of the word 'grand' as
descriptive of the actual universe:
'The imaginary picture of the sky as the concavity of a dome whose
base extends from horizon to horizon of our earth is grand, simply
grand, and I wish I had never got beyond looking at it in that way.
But the actual sky is a horror.'
'A new view of our old friends, the stars,' she said, smiling up at
'But such an obviously true one!' said the young man. 'You would
hardly think, at first, that horrid monsters lie up there waiting to
be discovered by any moderately penetrating mind--monsters to which
those of the oceans bear no sort of comparison.'
'What monsters may they be?'
'Impersonal monsters, namely, Immensities. Until a person has
thought out the stars and their inter-spaces, he has hardly learnt
that there are things much more terrible than monsters of shape,
namely, monsters of magnitude without known shape. Such monsters
are the voids and waste places of the sky. Look, for instance, at
those pieces of darkness in the Milky Way,' he went on, pointing
with his finger to where the galaxy stretched across over their
heads with the luminousness of a frosted web. 'You see that dark
opening in it near the Swan? There is a still more remarkable one
south of the equator, called the Coal Sack, as a sort of nickname
that has a farcical force from its very inadequacy. In these our
sight plunges quite beyond any twinkler we have yet visited. Those
are deep wells for the human mind to let itself down into, leave
alone the human body! and think of the side caverns and secondary
abysses to right and left as you pass on!'
Lady Constantine was heedful and silent.
He tried to give her yet another idea of the size of the universe;
never was there a more ardent endeavour to bring down the
immeasurable to human comprehension! By figures of speech and apt
comparisons he took her mind into leading-strings, compelling her to
follow him into wildernesses of which she had never in her life even
realized the existence.
'There is a size at which dignity begins,' he exclaimed; 'further on
there is a size at which grandeur begins; further on there is a size
at which solemnity begins; further on, a size at which awfulness
begins; further on, a size at which ghastliness begins. That size
faintly approaches the size of the stellar universe. So am I not
right in saying that those minds who exert their imaginative powers
to bury themselves in the depths of that universe merely strain
their faculties to gain a new horror?'
Standing, as she stood, in the presence of the stellar universe,
under the very eyes of the constellations, Lady Constantine
apprehended something of the earnest youth's argument.
'And to add a new weirdness to what the sky possesses in its size
and formlessness, there is involved the quality of decay. For all
the wonder of these everlasting stars, eternal spheres, and what
not, they are not everlasting, they are not eternal; they burn out
like candles. You see that dying one in the body of the Greater
Bear? Two centuries ago it was as bright as the others. The senses
may become terrified by plunging among them as they are, but there
is a pitifulness even in their glory. Imagine them all
extinguished, and your mind feeling its way through a heaven of
total darkness, occasionally striking against the black, invisible
cinders of those stars. . . . If you are cheerful, and wish to
remain so, leave the study of astronomy alone. Of all the sciences,
it alone deserves the character of the terrible.'
'I am not altogether cheerful.'
'Then if, on the other hand, you are restless and anxious about the
future, study astronomy at once. Your troubles will be reduced
amazingly. But your study will reduce them in a singular way, by
reducing the importance of everything. So that the science is still
terrible, even as a panacea. It is quite impossible to think at all
adequately of the sky--of what the sky substantially is, without
feeling it as a juxtaposed nightmare. It is better--far better--for
men to forget the universe than to bear it clearly in mind! . . .
But you say the universe was not really what you came to see me
about. What was it, may I ask, Lady Constantine?'
She mused, and sighed, and turned to him with something pathetic in
'The immensity of the subject you have engaged me on has completely
crushed my subject out of me! Yours is celestial; mine lamentably
human! And the less must give way to the greater.'
'But is it, in a human sense, and apart from macrocosmic magnitudes,
important?' he inquired, at last attracted by her manner; for he
began to perceive, in spite of his prepossession, that she had
really something on her mind.
'It is as important as personal troubles usually are.'
Notwithstanding her preconceived notion of coming to Swithin as
employer to dependant, as chatelaine to page, she was falling into
confidential intercourse with him. His vast and romantic endeavours
lent him a personal force and charm which she could not but
apprehend. In the presence of the immensities that his young mind
had, as it were, brought down from above to hers, they became
unconsciously equal. There was, moreover, an inborn liking in Lady
Constantine to dwell less on her permanent position as a county lady
than on her passing emotions as a woman.
'I will postpone the matter I came to charge you with,' she resumed,
smiling. 'I must reconsider it. Now I will return.'
'Allow me to show you out through the trees and across the fields?'
She said neither a distinct yes nor no; and, descending the tower,
they threaded the firs and crossed the ploughed field. By an odd
coincidence he remarked, when they drew near the Great House--
'You may possibly be interested in knowing, Lady Constantine, that
that medium-sized star you see over there, low down in the south, is
precisely over Sir Blount Constantine's head in the middle of
'How very strange that you should have said so!' she answered. 'You
have broached for me the very subject I had come to speak of.'
'On a domestic matter?' he said, with surprise.
'Yes. What a small matter it seems now, after our astronomical
stupendousness! and yet on my way to you it so far transcended the
ordinary matters of my life as the subject you have led me up to
transcends this. But,' with a little laugh, 'I will endeavour to
sink down to such ephemeral trivialities as human tragedy, and
explain, since I have come. The point is, I want a helper: no
woman ever wanted one more. For days I have wanted a trusty friend
who could go on a secret errand for me. It is necessary that my
messenger should be educated, should be intelligent, should be
silent as the grave. Do you give me your solemn promise as to the
last point, if I confide in you?'
'Most emphatically, Lady Constantine.'
'Your right hand upon the compact.'
He gave his hand, and raised hers to his lips. In addition to his
respect for her as the lady of the manor, there was the admiration
of twenty years for twenty-eight or nine in such relations.
'I trust you,' she said. 'Now, beyond the above conditions, it was
specially necessary that my agent should have known Sir Blount
Constantine well by sight when he was at home. For the errand is
concerning my husband; I am much disturbed at what I have heard
'I am indeed sorry to know it.'
'There are only two people in the parish who fulfil all the
conditions,--Mr. Torkingham, and yourself. I sent for Mr.
Torkingham, and he came. I could not tell him. I felt at the last
moment that he wouldn't do. I have come to you because I think you
will do. This is it: my husband has led me and all the world to
believe that he is in Africa, hunting lions. I have had a
mysterious letter informing me that he has been seen in London, in
very peculiar circumstances. The truth of this I want ascertained.
Will you go on the journey?'
'Personally, I would go to the end of the world for you, Lady
'How can I leave?'
'I am preparing a work on variable stars. There is one of these
which I have exceptionally observed for several months, and on this
my great theory is mainly based. It has been hitherto called
irregular; but I have detected a periodicity in its so-called
irregularities which, if proved, would add some very valuable facts
to those known on this subject, one of the most interesting,
perplexing, and suggestive in the whole field of astronomy. Now, to
clinch my theory, there should be a sudden variation this week,--or
at latest next week,--and I have to watch every night not to let it
pass. You see my reason for declining, Lady Constantine.'
'Young men are always so selfish!' she said.
'It might ruin the whole of my year's labour if I leave now!'
returned the youth, greatly hurt. 'Could you not wait a fortnight
'No,--no. Don't think that I have asked you, pray. I have no wish
to inconvenience you.'
'Lady Constantine, don't be angry with me! Will you do this,--watch
the star for me while I am gone? If you are prepared to do it
effectually, I will go.'
'Will it be much trouble?'
'It will be some trouble. You would have to come here every clear
evening about nine. If the sky were not clear, then you would have
to come at four in the morning, should the clouds have dispersed.'
'Could not the telescope be brought to my house?'
Swithin shook his head.
'Perhaps you did not observe its real size,--that it was fixed to a
frame-work? I could not afford to buy an equatorial, and I have
been obliged to rig up an apparatus of my own devising, so as to
make it in some measure answer the purpose of an equatorial. It
COULD be moved, but I would rather not touch it.'
'Well, I'll go to the telescope,' she went on, with an emphasis that
was not wholly playful. 'You are the most ungallant youth I ever
met with; but I suppose I must set that down to science. Yes, I'll
go to the tower at nine every night.'
'And alone? I should prefer to keep my pursuits there unknown.'
'And alone,' she answered, quite overborne by his inflexibility.
'You will not miss the morning observation, if it should be
'I have given my word.'
'And I give mine. I suppose I ought not to have been so exacting!'
He spoke with that sudden emotional sense of his own insignificance
which made these alternations of mood possible. 'I will go
anywhere--do anything for you--this moment--to-morrow or at any
time. But you must return with me to the tower, and let me show you
the observing process.'
They retraced their steps, the tender hoar-frost taking the imprint
of their feet, while two stars in the Twins looked down upon their
two persons through the trees, as if those two persons could bear
some sort of comparison with them. On the tower the instructions
were given. When all was over, and he was again conducting her to
the Great House she said--
'When can you start?'
'Now,' said Swithin.
'So much the better. You shall go up by the night mail.'
On the third morning after the young man's departure Lady
Constantine opened the post-bag anxiously. Though she had risen
before four o'clock, and crossed to the tower through the gray half-
light when every blade and twig were furred with rime, she felt no
languor. Expectation could banish at cock-crow the eye-heaviness
which apathy had been unable to disperse all the day long.
There was, as she had hoped, a letter from Swithin St. Cleeve.
'DEAR LADY CONSTANTINE,--I have quite succeeded in my mission, and
shall return to-morrow at 10 p.m. I hope you have not failed in the
observations. Watching the star through an opera-glass Sunday
night, I fancied some change had taken place, but I could not make
myself sure. Your memoranda for that night I await with impatience.
Please don't neglect to write down AT THE MOMENT, all remarkable
appearances both as to colour and intensity; and be very exact as to
time, which correct in the way I showed you.--I am, dear Lady
Constantine, yours most faithfully,
Not another word in the letter about his errand; his mind ran on
nothing but this astronomical subject. He had succeeded in his
mission, and yet he did not even say yes or no to the great
question,--whether or not her husband was masquerading in London at
the address she had given.
'Was ever anything so provoking!' she cried.
However, the time was not long to wait. His way homeward would lie
within a stone's-throw of the manor-house, and though for certain
reasons she had forbidden him to call at the late hour of his
arrival, she could easily intercept him in the avenue. At twenty
minutes past ten she went out into the drive, and stood in the dark.
Seven minutes later she heard his footstep, and saw his outline in
the slit of light between the avenue-trees. He had a valise in one
hand, a great-coat on his arm, and under his arm a parcel which
seemed to be very precious, from the manner in which he held it.
'Lady Constantine?' he asked softly.
'Yes,' she said, in her excitement holding out both her hands,
though he had plainly not expected her to offer one.
'Did you watch the star?'
'I'll tell you everything in detail; but, pray, your errand first!'
'Yes, it's all right. Did you watch every night, not missing one?'
'I forgot to go--twice,' she murmured contritely.
'Oh, Lady Constantine!' he cried in dismay. 'How could you serve me
so! what shall I do?'
'Please forgive me! Indeed, I could not help it. I had watched and
watched, and nothing happened; and somehow my vigilance relaxed when
I found nothing was likely to take place in the star.'
'But the very circumstance of it not having happened, made it all
the more likely every day.'
'Have you--seen--' she began imploringly.
Swithin sighed, lowered his thoughts to sublunary things, and told
briefly the story of his journey. Sir Blount Constantine was not in
London at the address which had been anonymously sent her. It was a
mistake of identity. The person who had been seen there Swithin had
sought out. He resembled Sir Blount strongly; but he was a
'How can I reward you!' she exclaimed, when he had done.
'In no way but by giving me your good wishes in what I am going to
tell you on my own account.' He spoke in tones of mysterious
exultation. 'This parcel is going to make my fame!'
'What is it?'
'A huge object-glass for the great telescope I am so busy about!
Such a magnificent aid to science has never entered this county
before, you may depend.'
He produced from under his arm the carefully cuddled-up package,
which was in shape a round flat disk, like a dinner-plate, tied in
Proceeding to explain his plans to her more fully, he walked with
her towards the door by which she had emerged. It was a little side
wicket through a wall dividing the open park from the garden
terraces. Here for a moment he placed his valise and parcel on the
coping of the stone balustrade, till he had bidden her farewell.
Then he turned, and in laying hold of his bag by the dim light
pushed the parcel over the parapet. It fell smash upon the paved
walk ten or a dozen feet beneath.
'Oh, good heavens!' he cried in anguish.
'My object-glass broken!'
'Is it of much value?'
'It cost all I possess!'
He ran round by the steps to the lower lawn, Lady Constantine
following, as he continued, 'It is a magnificent eight-inch first
quality object lens! I took advantage of my journey to London to
get it! I have been six weeks making the tube of milled board; and
as I had not enough money by twelve pounds for the lens, I borrowed
it of my grandmother out of her last annuity payment. What can be,
can be done!'
'Perhaps it is not broken.'
He felt on the ground, found the parcel, and shook it. A clicking
noise issued from inside. Swithin smote his forehead with his hand,
and walked up and down like a mad fellow.
'My telescope! I have waited nine months for this lens. Now the
possibility of setting up a really powerful instrument is over! It
is too cruel--how could it happen!. . . Lady Constantine, I am
ashamed of myself,--before you. Oh, but, Lady Constantine, if you
only knew what it is to a person engaged in science to have the
means of clinching a theory snatched away at the last moment! It is
I against the world; and when the world has accidents on its side in
addition to its natural strength, what chance for me!'
The young astronomer leant against the wall, and was silent. His
misery was of an intensity and kind with that of Palissy, in these
struggles with an adverse fate.
'Don't mind it,--pray don't!' said Lady Constantine. 'It is
dreadfully unfortunate! You have my whole sympathy. Can it be
'Cannot you do with your present one a little longer?'
'It is altogether inferior, cheap, and bad!'
'I'll get you another,--yes, indeed, I will! Allow me to get you
another as soon as possible. I'll do anything to assist you out of
your trouble; for I am most anxious to see you famous. I know you
will be a great astronomer, in spite of this mishap! Come, say I
may get a new one.'
Swithin took her hand. He could not trust himself to speak.
Some days later a little box of peculiar kind came to the Great
House. It was addressed to Lady Constantine, 'with great care.'
She had it partly opened and taken to her own little writing-room;
and after lunch, when she had dressed for walking, she took from the
box a paper parcel like the one which had met with the accident.
This she hid under her mantle, as if she had stolen it; and, going
out slowly across the lawn, passed through the little door before
spoken of, and was soon hastening in the direction of the Rings-Hill
There was a bright sun overhead on that afternoon of early spring,
and its rays shed an unusual warmth on south-west aspects, though
shady places still retained the look and feel of winter. Rooks were
already beginning to build new nests or to mend up old ones, and
clamorously called in neighbours to give opinions on difficulties in
their architecture. Lady Constantine swerved once from her path, as
if she had decided to go to the homestead where Swithin lived; but
on second thoughts she bent her steps to the column.
Drawing near it she looked up; but by reason of the height of the
parapet nobody could be seen thereon who did not stand on tiptoe.
She thought, however, that her young friend might possibly see her,
if he were there, and come down; and that he was there she soon
ascertained by finding the door unlocked, and the key inside. No
movement, however, reached her ears from above, and she began to
Meanwhile affairs at the top of the column had progressed as
follows. The afternoon being exceptionally fine, Swithin had
ascended about two o'clock, and, seating himself at the little table
which he had constructed on the spot, he began reading over his
notes and examining some astronomical journals that had reached him
in the morning. The sun blazed into the hollow roof-space as into a
tub, and the sides kept out every breeze. Though the month was
February below it was May in the abacus of the column. This state
of the atmosphere, and the fact that on the previous night he had
pursued his observations till past two o'clock, produced in him at
the end of half an hour an overpowering inclination to sleep.
Spreading on the lead-work a thick rug which he kept up there, he
flung himself down against the parapet, and was soon in a state of
It was about ten minutes afterwards that a soft rustle of silken
clothes came up the spiral staircase, and, hesitating onwards,
reached the orifice, where appeared the form of Lady Constantine.
She did not at first perceive that he was present, and stood still
to reconnoitre. Her eye glanced over his telescope, now wrapped up,
his table and papers, his observing-chair, and his contrivances for
making the best of a deficiency of instruments. All was warm,
sunny, and silent, except that a solitary bee, which had somehow got
within the hollow of the abacus, was singing round inquiringly,
unable to discern that ascent was the only mode of escape. In
another moment she beheld the astronomer, lying in the sun like a
sailor in the main-top.
Lady Constantine coughed slightly; he did not awake. She then
entered, and, drawing the parcel from beneath her cloak, placed it
on the table. After this she waited, looking for a long time at his
sleeping face, which had a very interesting appearance. She seemed
reluctant to leave, yet wanted resolution to wake him; and,
pencilling his name on the parcel, she withdrew to the staircase,
where the brushing of her dress decreased to silence as she receded
round and round on her way to the base.
Swithin still slept on, and presently the rustle began again in the
far-down interior of the column. The door could be heard closing,
and the rustle came nearer, showing that she had shut herself in,--
no doubt to lessen the risk of an accidental surprise by any roaming
villager. When Lady Constantine reappeared at the top, and saw the
parcel still untouched and Swithin asleep as before, she exhibited
some disappointment; but she did not retreat.
Looking again at him, her eyes became so sentimentally fixed on his
face that it seemed as if she could not withdraw them. There lay,
in the shape of an Antinous, no amoroso, no gallant, but a guileless
philosopher. His parted lips were lips which spoke, not of love,
but of millions of miles; those were eyes which habitually gazed,
not into the depths of other eyes, but into other worlds. Within
his temples dwelt thoughts, not of woman's looks, but of stellar
aspects and the configuration of constellations.
Thus, to his physical attractiveness was added the attractiveness of
mental inaccessibility. The ennobling influence of scientific
pursuits was demonstrated by the speculative purity which expressed
itself in his eyes whenever he looked at her in speaking, and in the
childlike faults of manner which arose from his obtuseness to their
difference of sex. He had never, since becoming a man, looked even
so low as to the level of a Lady Constantine. His heaven at present
was truly in the skies, and not in that only other place where they
say it can be found, in the eyes of some daughter of Eve. Would any
Circe or Calypso--and if so, what one?--ever check this pale-haired
scientist's nocturnal sailings into the interminable spaces
overhead, and hurl all his mighty calculations on cosmic force and
stellar fire into Limbo? Oh, the pity of it, if such should be the
She became much absorbed in these very womanly reflections; and at
last Lady Constantine sighed, perhaps she herself did not exactly
know why. Then a very soft expression lighted on her lips and eyes,
and she looked at one jump ten years more youthful than before--
quite a girl in aspect, younger than he. On the table lay his
implements; among them a pair of scissors, which, to judge from the
shreds around, had been used in cutting curves in thick paper for
some calculating process.
What whim, agitation, or attraction prompted the impulse, nobody
knows; but she took the scissors, and, bending over the sleeping
youth, cut off one of the curls, or rather crooks,--for they hardly
reached a curl,--into which each lock of his hair chose to twist
itself in the last inch of its length. The hair fell upon the rug.
She picked it up quickly, returned the scissors to the table, and,
as if her dignity had suddenly become ashamed of her fantasies,
hastened through the door, and descended the staircase.
When his nap had naturally exhausted itself Swithin awoke. He awoke
without any surprise, for he not unfrequently gave to sleep in the
day-time what he had stolen from it in the night watches. The first
object that met his eyes was the parcel on the table, and, seeing
his name inscribed thereon, he made no scruple to open it.
The sun flashed upon a lens of surprising magnitude, polished to
such a smoothness that the eye could scarcely meet its reflections.
Here was a crystal in whose depths were to be seen more wonders than
had been revealed by the crystals of all the Cagliostros.
Swithin, hot with joyousness, took this treasure to his telescope
manufactory at the homestead; then he started off for the Great
On gaining its precincts he felt shy of calling, never having
received any hint or permission to do so; while Lady Constantine's
mysterious manner of leaving the parcel seemed to demand a like
mysteriousness in his approaches to her. All the afternoon he
lingered about uncertainly, in the hope of intercepting her on her
return from a drive, occasionally walking with an indifferent lounge
across glades commanded by the windows, that if she were in-doors
she might know he was near. But she did not show herself during the
daylight. Still impressed by her playful secrecy he carried on the
same idea after dark, by returning to the house and passing through
the garden door on to the lawn front, where he sat on the parapet
that breasted the terrace.
Now she frequently came out here for a melancholy saunter after
dinner, and to-night was such an occasion. Swithin went forward,
and met her at nearly the spot where he had dropped the lens some
'I have come to see you, Lady Constantine. How did the glass get on
She laughed as lightly as a girl; that he had come to her in this
way was plainly no offence thus far.
'Perhaps it was dropped from the clouds by a bird,' she said.
'Why should you be so good to me?' he cried.
'One good turn deserves another,' answered she.
'Dear Lady Constantine! Whatever discoveries result from this shall
be ascribed to you as much as to me. Where should I have been
without your gift?'
'You would possibly have accomplished your purpose just the same,
and have been so much the nobler for your struggle against ill-luck.
I hope that now you will be able to proceed with your large
telescope as if nothing had happened.'
'O yes, I will, certainly. I am afraid I showed too much feeling,
the reverse of stoical, when the accident occurred. That was not
very noble of me.'
'There is nothing unnatural in such feeling at your age. When you
are older you will smile at such moods, and at the mishaps that gave
rise to them.'
'Ah, I perceive you think me weak in the extreme,' he said, with
just a shade of pique. 'But you will never realize that an incident
which filled but a degree in the circle of your thoughts covered the
whole circumference of mine. No person can see exactly what and
where another's horizon is.'
They soon parted, and she re-entered the house, where she sat
reflecting for some time, till she seemed to fear that she had
wounded his feelings. She awoke in the night, and thought and
thought on the same thing, till she had worked herself into a
feverish fret about it. When it was morning she looked across at
the tower, and sitting down, impulsively wrote the following note:--
'DEAR MR. ST. CLEEVE,--I cannot allow you to remain under the
impression that I despised your scientific endeavours in speaking as
I did last night. I think you were too sensitive to my remark. But
perhaps you were agitated with the labours of the day, and I fear
that watching so late at night must make you very weary. If I can
help you again, please let me know. I never realized the grandeur
of astronomy till you showed me how to do so. Also let me know
about the new telescope. Come and see me at any time. After your
great kindness in being my messenger I can never do enough for you.
I wish you had a mother or sister, and pity your loneliness! I am
lonely too.--Yours truly,
She was so anxious that he should get this letter the same day that
she ran across to the column with it during the morning, preferring
to be her own emissary in so curious a case. The door, as she had
expected, was locked; and, slipping the letter under it, she went
home again. During lunch her ardour in the cause of Swithin's hurt
feelings cooled down, till she exclaimed to herself, as she sat at
her lonely table, 'What could have possessed me to write in that
After lunch she went faster to the tower than she had gone in the
early morning, and peeped eagerly into the chink under the door.
She could discern no letter, and, on trying the latch, found that
the door would open. The letter was gone, Swithin having obviously
arrived in the interval.
She blushed a blush which seemed to say, 'I am getting foolishly
interested in this young man.' She had, in short, in her own
opinion, somewhat overstepped the bounds of dignity. Her instincts
did not square well with the formalities of her existence, and she
walked home despondently.
Had a concert, bazaar, lecture, or Dorcas meeting required the
patronage and support of Lady Constantine at this juncture, the
circumstance would probably have been sufficient to divert her mind
from Swithin St. Cleeve and astronomy for some little time. But as
none of these incidents were within the range of expectation--
Welland House and parish lying far from large towns and watering-
places--the void in her outer life continued, and with it the void
in her life within.
The youth had not answered her letter; neither had he called upon
her in response to the invitation she had regretted, with the rest
of the epistle, as being somewhat too warmly informal for black and
white. To speak tenderly to him was one thing, to write another--
that was her feeling immediately after the event; but his counter-
move of silence and avoidance, though probably the result of pure
unconsciousness on his part, completely dispersed such self-
considerations now. Her eyes never fell upon the Rings-Hill column
without a solicitous wonder arising as to what he was doing. A true
woman, she would assume the remotest possibility to be the most
likely contingency, if the possibility had the recommendation of
being tragical; and she now feared that something was wrong with
Swithin St. Cleeve. Yet there was not the least doubt that he had
become so immersed in the business of the new telescope as to forget
On Sunday, between the services, she walked to Little Welland,
chiefly for the sake of giving a run to a house-dog, a large St.
Bernard, of whom she was fond. The distance was but short; and she
returned along a narrow lane, divided from the river by a hedge,
through whose leafless twigs the ripples flashed silver lights into
her eyes. Here she discovered Swithin, leaning over a gate, his
eyes bent upon the stream.
The dog first attracted his attention; then he heard her, and turned
round. She had never seen him looking so despondent.
'You have never called, though I invited you,' said Lady
'My great telescope won't work!' he replied lugubriously.
'I am sorry for that. So it has made you quite forget me?'
'Ah, yes; you wrote me a very kind letter, which I ought to have
answered. Well, I did forget, Lady Constantine. My new telescope
won't work, and I don't know what to do about it at all!'
'Can I assist you any further?'
'No, I fear not. Besides, you have assisted me already.'
'What would really help you out of all your difficulties? Something
He shook his head.
'There must be some solution to them?'
'O yes,' he replied, with a hypothetical gaze into the stream; 'SOME
solution of course--an equatorial, for instance.'
'Briefly, an impossibility. It is a splendid instrument, with an
object lens of, say, eight or nine inches aperture, mounted with its
axis parallel to the earth's axis, and fitted up with graduated
circles for denoting right ascensions and declinations; besides
having special eye-pieces, a finder, and all sorts of appliances--
clock-work to make the telescope follow the motion in right
ascension--I cannot tell you half the conveniences. Ah, an
equatorial is a thing indeed!'
'An equatorial is the one instrument required to make you quite
'I'll see what I can do.'
'But, Lady Constantine,' cried the amazed astronomer, 'an equatorial
such as I describe costs as much as two grand pianos!'
She was rather staggered at this news; but she rallied gallantly,
and said, 'Never mind. I'll make inquiries.'
'But it could not be put on the tower without people seeing it! It
would have to be fixed to the masonry. And there must be a dome of
some kind to keep off the rain. A tarpaulin might do.'
Lady Constantine reflected. 'It would be a great business, I see,'
she said. 'Though as far as the fixing and roofing go, I would of
course consent to your doing what you liked with the old column. My
workmen could fix it, could they not?'
'O yes. But what would Sir Blount say, if he came home and saw the
Lady Constantine turned aside to hide a sudden displacement of blood
from her cheek. 'Ah--my husband!' she whispered. . . . 'I am just
now going to church,' she added in a repressed and hurried tone. 'I
will think of this matter.'
In church it was with Lady Constantine as with the Lord Angelo of
Vienna in a similar situation--Heaven had her empty words only, and
her invention heard not her tongue. She soon recovered from the
momentary consternation into which she had fallen at Swithin's
abrupt query. The possibility of that young astronomer becoming a
renowned scientist by her aid was a thought which gave her secret
pleasure. The course of rendering him instant material help began
to have a great fascination for her; it was a new and unexpected
channel for her cribbed and confined emotions. With experiences so
much wider than his, Lady Constantine saw that the chances were
perhaps a million to one against Swithin St. Cleeve ever being
Astronomer Royal, or Astronomer Extraordinary of any sort; yet the
remaining chance in his favour was one of those possibilities which,
to a woman of bounding intellect and venturesome fancy, are