Part 2 out of 6
pleasanter to dwell on than likely issues that have no savour of
high speculation in them. The equatorial question was a great one;
and she had caught such a large spark from his enthusiasm that she
could think of nothing so piquant as how to obtain the important
When Tabitha Lark arrived at the Great House next day, instead of
finding Lady Constantine in bed, as formerly, she discovered her in
the library, poring over what astronomical works she had been able
to unearth from the worm-eaten shelves. As these publications were,
for a science of such rapid development, somewhat venerable, there
was not much help of a practical kind to be gained from them.
Nevertheless, the equatorial retained a hold upon her fancy, till
she became as eager to see one on the Rings-Hill column as Swithin
The upshot of it was that Lady Constantine sent a messenger that
evening to Welland Bottom, where the homestead of Swithin's
grandmother was situated, requesting the young man's presence at the
house at twelve o'clock next day.
He hurriedly returned an obedient reply, and the promise was enough
to lend great freshness to her manner next morning, instead of the
leaden air which was too frequent with her before the sun reached
the meridian, and sometimes after. Swithin had, in fact, arisen as
an attractive little intervention between herself and despair.
A fog defaced all the trees of the park that morning, the white
atmosphere adhered to the ground like a fungoid growth from it, and
made the turfed undulations look slimy and raw. But Lady
Constantine settled down in her chair to await the coming of the
late curate's son with a serenity which the vast blanks outside
could neither baffle nor destroy.
At two minutes to twelve the door-bell rang, and a look overspread
the lady's face that was neither maternal, sisterly, nor amorous;
but partook in an indescribable manner of all three kinds. The door
was flung open and the young man was ushered in, the fog still
clinging to his hair, in which she could discern a little notch
where she had nipped off the curl.
A speechlessness that socially was a defect in him was to her view a
piquant attribute just now. He looked somewhat alarmed.
'Lady Constantine, have I done anything, that you have sent--?' he
began breathlessly, as he gazed in her face, with parted lips.
'O no, of course not! I have decided to do something,--nothing
more,' she smilingly said, holding out her hand, which he rather
gingerly touched. 'Don't look so concerned. Who makes
This remark was like the drawing of a weir-hatch and she was
speedily inundated with all she wished to know concerning
astronomical opticians. When he had imparted the particulars he
waited, manifestly burning to know whither these inquiries tended.
'I am not going to buy you one,' she said gently.
He looked as if he would faint.
'Certainly not. I do not wish it. I--could not have accepted it,'
faltered the young man.
'But I am going to buy one for MYSELF. I lack a hobby, and I shall
choose astronomy. I shall fix my equatorial on the column.'
Swithin brightened up.
'And I shall let you have the use of it whenever you choose. In
brief, Swithin St. Cleeve shall be Lady Constantine's Astronomer
Royal; and she--and she--'
'Shall be his Queen.' The words came not much the worse for being
uttered only in the tone of one anxious to complete a tardy
'Well, that's what I have decided to do,' resumed Lady Constantine.
'I will write to these opticians at once.'
There seemed to be no more for him to do than to thank her for the
privilege, whenever it should be available, which he promptly did,
and then made as if to go. But Lady Constantine detained him with,
'Have you ever seen my library?'
'You don't say you would like to see it.'
'But I should.'
'It is the third door on the right. You can find your way in, and
you can stay there as long as you like.'
Swithin then left the morning-room for the apartment designated, and
amused himself in that 'soul of the house,' as Cicero defined it,
till he heard the lunch bell sounding from the turret, when he came
down from the library steps, and thought it time to go home. But at
that moment a servant entered to inquire whether he would or would
not prefer to have his lunch brought in to him there; upon his
replying in the affirmative a large tray arrived on the stomach of a
footman, and Swithin was greatly surprised to see a whole pheasant
placed at his disposal.
Having breakfasted at eight that morning, and having been much in
the open air afterwards, the Adonis-astronomer's appetite assumed
grand proportions. How much of that pheasant he might consistently
eat without hurting his dear patroness Lady Constantine's feelings,
when he could readily eat it all, was a problem in which the
reasonableness of a larger and larger quantity argued itself
inversely as a smaller and smaller quantity remained. When, at
length, he had finally decided on a terminal point in the body of
the bird, the door was gently opened.
'Oh, you have not finished?' came to him over his shoulder, in a
'O yes, thank you, Lady Constantine,' he said, jumping up.
'Why did you prefer to lunch in this awkward, dusty place?'
'I thought--it would be better,' said Swithin simply.
'There is fruit in the other room, if you like to come. But perhaps
you would rather not?'
'O yes, I should much like to,' said Swithin, walking over his
napkin, and following her as she led the way to the adjoining
Here, while she asked him what he had been reading, he modestly
ventured on an apple, in whose flavour he recognized the familiar
taste of old friends robbed from her husband's orchards in his
childhood, long before Lady Constantine's advent on the scene. She
supposed he had confined his search to his own sublime subject,
Swithin suddenly became older to the eye, as his thoughts reverted
to the topic thus reintroduced. 'Yes,' he informed her. 'I seldom
read any other subject. In these days the secret of productive
study is to avoid well.'
'Did you find any good treatises?'
'None. The theories in your books are almost as obsolete as the
Ptolemaic System. Only fancy, that magnificent Cyclopaedia,
leather-bound, and stamped, and gilt, and wide margined, and bearing
the blazon of your house in magnificent colours, says that the
twinkling of the stars is probably caused by heavenly bodies passing
in front of them in their revolutions.'
'And is it not so? That was what I learned when I was a girl.'
The modern Eudoxus now rose above the embarrassing horizon of Lady
Constantine's great house, magnificent furniture, and awe-inspiring
footman. He became quite natural, all his self-consciousness fled,
and his eye spoke into hers no less than his lips to her ears, as he
said, 'How such a theory can have lingered on to this day beats
conjecture! Francois Arago, as long as forty or fifty years ago,
conclusively established the fact that scintillation is the simplest
thing in the world,--merely a matter of atmosphere. But I won't
speak of this to you now. The comparative absence of scintillation
in warm countries was noticed by Humboldt. Then, again, the
scintillations vary. No star flaps his wings like Sirius when he
lies low! He flashes out emeralds and rubies, amethystine flames
and sapphirine colours, in a manner quite marvellous to behold, and
this is only ONE star! So, too, do Arcturus, and Capella, and
lesser luminaries. . . . But I tire you with this subject?'
'On the contrary, you speak so beautifully that I could listen all
The astronomer threw a searching glance upon her for a moment; but
there was no satire in the warm soft eyes which met his own with a
luxurious contemplative interest. 'Say some more of it to me,' she
continued, in a voice not far removed from coaxing.
After some hesitation the subject returned again to his lips, and he
said some more--indeed, much more; Lady Constantine often throwing
in an appreciative remark or question, often meditatively regarding
him, in pursuance of ideas not exactly based on his words, and
letting him go on as he would.
Before he left the house the new astronomical project was set in
train. The top of the column was to be roofed in, to form a proper
observatory; and on the ground that he knew better than any one else
how this was to be carried out, she requested him to give precise
directions on the point, and to superintend the whole. A wooden
cabin was to be erected at the foot of the tower, to provide better
accommodation for casual visitors to the observatory than the spiral
staircase and lead-flat afforded. As this cabin would be completely
buried in the dense fir foliage which enveloped the lower part of
the column and its pedestal, it would be no disfigurement to the
general appearance. Finally, a path was to be made across the
surrounding fallow, by which she might easily approach the scene of
her new study.
When he was gone she wrote to the firm of opticians concerning the
equatorial for whose reception all this was designed.
The undertaking was soon in full progress; and by degrees it became
the talk of the hamlets round that Lady Constantine had given up
melancholy for astronomy, to the great advantage of all who came in
contact with her. One morning, when Tabitha Lark had come as usual
to read, Lady Constantine chanced to be in a quarter of the house to
which she seldom wandered; and while here she heard her maid talking
confidentially to Tabitha in the adjoining room on the curious and
sudden interest which Lady Constantine had acquired in the moon and
'They do say all sorts of trumpery,' observed the handmaid. 'They
say--though 'tis little better than mischief, to be sure--that it
isn't the moon, and it isn't the stars, and it isn't the plannards,
that my lady cares for, but for the pretty lad who draws 'em down
from the sky to please her; and being a married example, and what
with sin and shame knocking at every poor maid's door afore you can
say, "Hands off, my dear," to the civilest young man, she ought to
set a better pattern.'
Lady Constantine's face flamed up vividly.
'If Sir Blount were to come back all of a sudden--oh, my!'
Lady Constantine grew cold as ice.
'There's nothing in it,' said Tabitha scornfully. 'I could prove it
'Well, I wish I had half her chance!' sighed the lady's maid. And
no more was said on the subject then.
Tabitha's remark showed that the suspicion was quite in embryo as
yet. Nevertheless, saying nothing to reveal what she had overheard,
immediately after the reading Lady Constantine flew like a bird to
where she knew that Swithin might be found.
He was in the plantation, setting up little sticks to mark where the
wooden cabin was to stand. She called him to a remote place under
the funereal trees.
'I have altered my mind,' she said. 'I can have nothing to do with
'Indeed?' said Swithin, surprised.
'Astronomy is not my hobby any longer. And you are not my
'O Lady Constantine!' cried the youth, aghast. 'Why, the work is
begun! I thought the equatorial was ordered.'
She dropped her voice, though a Jericho shout would not have been
overheard: 'Of course astronomy is my hobby privately, and you are
to be my Astronomer Royal, and I still furnish the observatory; but
not to the outer world. There is a reason against my indulgence in
such scientific fancies openly; and the project must be arranged in
this wise. The whole enterprise is yours: you rent the tower of
me: you build the cabin: you get the equatorial. I simply give
permission, since you desire it. The path that was to be made from
the hill to the park is not to be thought of. There is to be no
communication between the house and the column. The equatorial will
arrive addressed to you, and its cost I will pay through you. My
name must not appear, and I vanish entirely from the undertaking. .
. . This blind is necessary,' she added, sighing. 'Good-bye!'
'But you DO take as much interest as before, and it WILL be yours
just the same?' he said, walking after her. He scarcely
comprehended the subterfuge, and was absolutely blind as to its
'Can you doubt it? But I dare not do it openly.'
With this she went away; and in due time there circulated through
the parish an assertion that it was a mistake to suppose Lady
Constantine had anything to do with Swithin St. Cleeve or his star-
gazing schemes. She had merely allowed him to rent the tower of her
for use as his observatory, and to put some temporary fixtures on it
for that purpose.
After this Lady Constantine lapsed into her former life of
loneliness; and by these prompt measures the ghost of a rumour which
had barely started into existence was speedily laid to rest. It had
probably originated in her own dwelling, and had gone but little
further. Yet, despite her self-control, a certain north window of
the Great House, that commanded an uninterrupted view of the upper
ten feet of the column, revealed her to be somewhat frequently
gazing from it at a rotundity which had begun to appear on the
summit. To those with whom she came in contact she sometimes
addressed such remarks as, 'Is young Mr. St. Cleeve getting on with
his observatory? I hope he will fix his instruments without
damaging the column, which is so interesting to us as being in
memory of my dear husband's great-grandfather--a truly brave man.'
On one occasion her building-steward ventured to suggest to her
that, Sir Blount having deputed to her the power to grant short
leases in his absence, she should have a distinctive agreement with
Swithin, as between landlord and tenant, with a stringent clause
against his driving nails into the stonework of such an historical
memorial. She replied that she did not wish to be severe on the
last representative of such old and respected parishioners as St.
Cleeve's mother's family had been, and of such a well-descended
family as his father's; so that it would only be necessary for the
steward to keep an eye on Mr. St. Cleeve's doings.
Further, when a letter arrived at the Great House from Hilton and
Pimm's, the opticians, with information that the equatorial was
ready and packed, and that a man would be sent with it to fix it,
she replied to that firm to the effect that their letter should have
been addressed to Mr. St. Cleeve, the local astronomer, on whose
behalf she had made the inquiries; that she had nothing more to do
with the matter; that he would receive the instrument and pay the
bill,--her guarantee being given for the latter performance.
Lady Constantine then had the pleasure of beholding a waggon, laden
with packing-cases, moving across the field towards the pillar; and
not many days later Swithin, who had never come to the Great House
since the luncheon, met her in a path which he knew to be one of her
'The equatorial is fixed, and the man gone,' he said, half in doubt
as to his speech, for her commands to him not to recognize her
agency or patronage still puzzled him. 'I respectfully wish--you
could come and see it, Lady Constantine.'
'I would rather not; I cannot.'
'Saturn is lovely; Jupiter is simply sublime; I can see double stars
in the Lion and in the Virgin, where I had seen only a single one
before. It is all I required to set me going!'
'I'll come. But--you need say nothing about my visit. I cannot
come to-night, but I will some time this week. Yet only this once,
to try the instrument. Afterwards you must be content to pursue
your studies alone.'
Swithin seemed but little affected at this announcement. 'Hilton
and Pimm's man handed me the bill,' he continued.
'How much is it?'
He told her. 'And the man who has built the hut and dome, and done
the other fixing, has sent in his.' He named this amount also.
'Very well. They shall be settled with. My debts must be paid with
my money, which you shall have at once,--in cash, since a cheque
would hardly do. Come to the house for it this evening. But no,
no--you must not come openly; such is the world. Come to the
window--the window that is exactly in a line with the long snowdrop
bed, in the south front--at eight to-night, and I will give you what
'Certainly, Lady Constantine,' said the young man.
At eight that evening accordingly, Swithin entered like a spectre
upon the terrace to seek out the spot she had designated. The
equatorial had so entirely absorbed his thoughts that he did not
trouble himself seriously to conjecture the why and wherefore of her
secrecy. If he casually thought of it, he set it down in a general
way to an intensely generous wish on her part not to lessen his
influence among the poorer inhabitants by making him appear the
object of patronage.
While he stood by the long snowdrop bed, which looked up at him like
a nether Milky Way, the French casement of the window opposite
softly opened, and a hand bordered by a glimmer of lace was
stretched forth, from which he received a crisp little parcel,--
bank-notes, apparently. He knew the hand, and held it long enough
to press it to his lips, the only form which had ever occurred to
him of expressing his gratitude to her without the incumbrance of
clumsy words, a vehicle at the best of times but rudely suited to
such delicate merchandise. The hand was hastily withdrawn, as if
the treatment had been unexpected. Then seemingly moved by second
thoughts she bent forward and said, 'Is the night good for
She paused. 'Then I'll come to-night,' she at last said. 'It makes
no difference to me, after all. Wait just one moment.'
He waited, and she presently emerged, muffled up like a nun;
whereupon they left the terrace and struck across the park together.
Very little was said by either till they were crossing the fallow,
when he asked if his arm would help her. She did not take the
offered support just then; but when they were ascending the
prehistoric earthwork, under the heavy gloom of the fir-trees, she
seized it, as if rather influenced by the oppressive solitude than
Thus they reached the foot of the column, ten thousand spirits in
prison seeming to gasp their griefs from the funereal boughs
overhead, and a few twigs scratching the pillar with the drag of
impish claws as tenacious as those figuring in St. Anthony's
'How intensely dark it is just here!' she whispered. 'I wonder you
can keep in the path. Many ancient Britons lie buried there
He led her round to the other side, where, feeling his way with his
hands, he suddenly left her, appearing a moment after with a light.
'What place is this?' she exclaimed.
'This is the new wood cabin,' said he.
She could just discern the outline of a little house, not unlike a
bathing-machine without wheels.
'I have kept lights ready here,' he went on, 'as I thought you might
come any evening, and possibly bring company.'
'Don't criticize me for coming alone,' she exclaimed with sensitive
promptness. 'There are social reasons for what I do of which you
'Perhaps it is much to my discredit that I don't know.'
'Not at all. You are all the better for it. Heaven forbid that I
should enlighten you. Well, I see this is the hut. But I am more
curious to go to the top of the tower, and make discoveries.'
He brought a little lantern from the cabin, and lighted her up the
winding staircase to the temple of that sublime mystery on whose
threshold he stood as priest.
The top of the column was quite changed. The tub-shaped space
within the parapet, formerly open to the air and sun, was now arched
over by a light dome of lath-work covered with felt. But this dome
was not fixed. At the line where its base descended to the parapet
there were half a dozen iron balls, precisely like cannon-shot,
standing loosely in a groove, and on these the dome rested its whole
weight. In the side of the dome was a slit, through which the wind
blew and the North Star beamed, and towards it the end of the great
telescope was directed. This latter magnificent object, with its
circles, axes, and handles complete, was securely fixed in the
middle of the floor.
'But you can only see one part of the sky through that slit,' said
The astronomer stretched out his arm, and the whole dome turned
horizontally round, running on the balls with a rumble like thunder.
Instead of the star Polaris, which had first been peeping in through
the slit, there now appeared the countenances of Castor and Pollux.
Swithin then manipulated the equatorial, and put it through its
capabilities in like manner.
She was enchanted; being rather excitable she even clapped her hands
just once. She turned to him: 'Now are you happy?'
'But it is all YOURS, Lady Constantine.'
'At this moment. But that's a defect which can soon be remedied.
When is your birthday?'
'Next month,--the seventh.'
'Then it shall all be yours,--a birthday present.'
The young man protested; it was too much.
'No, you must accept it all,--equatorial, dome stand, hut, and
everything that has been put here for this astronomical purpose.
The possession of these apparatus would only compromise me. Already
they are reputed to be yours, and they must be made yours. There is
no help for it. If ever' (here her voice lost some firmness),--'if
ever you go away from me,--from this place, I mean,--and marry, and
settle in a new home elsewhere for good, and forget me, you must
take these things, equatorial and all, and never tell your wife or
anybody how they came to be yours.'
'I wish I could do something more for you!' exclaimed the much-moved
astronomer. 'If you could but share my fame,--supposing I get any,
which I may die before doing,--it would be a little compensation.
As to my going away and marrying, I certainly shall not. I may go
away, but I shall never marry.'
'A beloved science is enough wife for me,--combined, perhaps, with a
little warm friendship with one of kindred pursuits.'
'Who is the friend of kindred pursuits?'
'Yourself I should like it to be.'
'You would have to become a woman before I could be that, publicly;
or I a man,' she replied, with dry melancholy.
'Why I a woman, or you a man, dear Lady Constantine?'
'I cannot explain. No; you must keep your fame and your science all
to yourself, and I must keep my--troubles.'
Swithin, to divert her from melancholy--not knowing that in the
expression of her melancholy thus and now she found much pleasure,--
changed the subject by asking if they should take some observations.
'Yes; the scenery is well hung to-night,' she said looking out upon
Then they proceeded to scan the sky, roving from planet to star,
from single stars to double stars, from double to coloured stars, in
the cursory manner of the merely curious. They plunged down to that
at other times invisible multitude in the back rows of the celestial
theatre: remote layers of constellations whose shapes were new and
singular; pretty twinklers which for infinite ages had spent their
beams without calling forth from a single earthly poet a single
line, or being able to bestow a ray of comfort on a single benighted
'And to think,' said Lady Constantine, 'that the whole race of
shepherds, since the beginning of the world,--even those immortal
shepherds who watched near Bethlehem,--should have gone into their
graves without knowing that for one star that lighted them in their
labours, there were a hundred as good behind trying to do so!. . .
I have a feeling for this instrument not unlike the awe I should
feel in the presence of a great magician in whom I really believed.
Its powers are so enormous, and weird, and fantastical, that I
should have a personal fear in being with it alone. Music drew an
angel down, said the poet: but what is that to drawing down
'I often experience a kind of fear of the sky after sitting in the
observing-chair a long time,' he answered. 'And when I walk home
afterwards I also fear it, for what I know is there, but cannot see,
as one naturally fears the presence of a vast formless something
that only reveals a very little of itself. That's partly what I
meant by saying that magnitude, which up to a certain point has
grandeur, has beyond it ghastliness.'
Thus the interest of their sidereal observations led them on, till
the knowledge that scarce any other human vision was travelling
within a hundred million miles of their own gave them such a sense
of the isolation of that faculty as almost to be a sense of
isolation in respect of their whole personality, causing a shudder
at its absoluteness. At night, when human discords and harmonies
are hushed, in a general sense, for the greater part of twelve
hours, there is nothing to moderate the blow with which the
infinitely great, the stellar universe, strikes down upon the
infinitely little, the mind of the beholder; and this was the case
now. Having got closer to immensity than their fellow-creatures,
they saw at once its beauty and its frightfulness. They more and
more felt the contrast between their own tiny magnitudes and those
among which they had recklessly plunged, till they were oppressed
with the presence of a vastness they could not cope with even as an
idea, and which hung about them like a nightmare.
He stood by her while she observed; she by him when they changed
places. Once that Swithin's emancipation from a trammelling body
had been effected by the telescope, and he was well away in space,
she felt her influence over him diminishing to nothing. He was
quite unconscious of his terrestrial neighbourings, and of herself
as one of them. It still further reduced her towards unvarnished
simplicity in her manner to him.
The silence was broken only by the ticking of the clock-work which
gave diurnal motion to the instrument. The stars moved on, the end
of the telescope followed, but their tongues stood still. To expect
that he was ever voluntarily going to end the pause by speech was
apparently futile. She laid her hand upon his arm.
He started, withdrew his eye from the telescope, and brought himself
back to the earth by a visible--almost painful--effort.
'Do come out of it,' she coaxed, with a softness in her voice which
any man but unpractised Swithin would have felt to be exquisite. 'I
feel that I have been so foolish as to put in your hands an
instrument to effect my own annihilation. Not a word have you
spoken for the last ten minutes.'
'I have been mentally getting on with my great theory. I hope soon
to be able to publish it to the world. What, are you going? I will
walk with you, Lady Constantine. When will you come again?'
'When your great theory is published to the world.'
Lady Constantine, if narrowly observed at this time, would have
seemed to be deeply troubled in conscience, and particularly after
the interview above described. Ash Wednesday occurred in the
calendar a few days later, and she went to morning service with a
look of genuine contrition on her emotional and yearning
Besides herself the congregation consisted only of the parson,
clerk, school-children, and three old people living on alms, who sat
under the reading-desk; and thus, when Mr. Torkingham blazed forth
the denunciatory sentences of the Commination, nearly the whole
force of them seemed to descend upon her own shoulders. Looking
across the empty pews she saw through the one or two clear panes of
the window opposite a youthful figure in the churchyard, and the
very feeling against which she had tried to pray returned again
When she came out and had crossed into the private walk, Swithin
came forward to speak to her. This was a most unusual circumstance,
and argued a matter of importance.
'I have made an amazing discovery in connexion with the variable
stars,' he exclaimed. 'It will excite the whole astronomical world,
and the world outside but little less. I had long suspected the
true secret of their variability; but it was by the merest chance on
earth that I hit upon a proof of my guess. Your equatorial has done
it, my good, kind Lady Constantine, and our fame is established for
He sprang into the air, and waved his hat in his triumph.
'Oh, I am so glad--so rejoiced!' she cried. 'What is it? But don't
stop to tell me. Publish it at once in some paper; nail your name
to it, or somebody will seize the idea and appropriate it,--
forestall you in some way. It will be Adams and Leverrier over
'If I may walk with you I will explain the nature of the discovery.
It accounts for the occasional green tint of Castor, and every
difficulty. I said I would be the Copernicus of the stellar system,
and I have begun to be. Yet who knows?'
'Now don't be so up and down! I shall not understand your
explanation, and I would rather not know it. I shall reveal it if
it is very grand. Women, you know, are not safe depositaries of
such valuable secrets. You may walk with me a little way, with
great pleasure. Then go and write your account, so as to insure
your ownership of the discovery. . . . But how you have watched!'
she cried, in a sudden accession of anxiety, as she turned to look
more closely at him. 'The orbits of your eyes are leaden, and your
eyelids are red and heavy. Don't do it--pray don't. You will be
ill, and break down.'
'I have, it is true, been up a little late this last week,' he said
cheerfully. 'In fact, I couldn't tear myself away from the
equatorial; it is such a wonderful possession that it keeps me there
till daylight. But what does that matter, now I have made the
'Ah, it DOES matter! Now, promise me--I insist--that you will not
commit such imprudences again; for what should I do if my Astronomer
Royal were to die?'
She laughed, but far too apprehensively to be effective as a display
They parted, and he went home to write out his paper. He promised
to call as soon as his discovery was in print. Then they waited for
It is impossible to describe the tremulous state of Lady Constantine
during the interval. The warm interest she took in Swithin St.
Cleeve--many would have said dangerously warm interest--made his
hopes her hopes; and though she sometimes admitted to herself that
great allowance was requisite for the overweening confidence of
youth in the future, she permitted herself to be blinded to
probabilities for the pleasure of sharing his dreams. It seemed not
unreasonable to suppose the present hour to be the beginning of
realization to her darling wish that this young man should become
famous. He had worked hard, and why should he not be famous early?
His very simplicity in mundane affairs afforded a strong presumption
that in things celestial he might be wise. To obtain support for
this hypothesis she had only to think over the lives of many eminent
She waited feverishly for the flourish of trumpets from afar, by
which she expected the announcement of his discovery to be greeted.
Knowing that immediate intelligence of the outburst would be brought
to her by himself, she watched from the windows of the Great House
each morning for a sight of his figure hastening down the glade.
But he did not come.
A long array of wet days passed their dreary shapes before her, and
made the waiting still more tedious. On one of these occasions she
ran across to the tower, at the risk of a severe cold. The door was
Two days after she went again. The door was locked still. But this
was only to be expected in such weather. Yet she would have gone on
to his house, had there not been one reason too many against such
precipitancy. As astronomer and astronomer there was no harm in
their meetings; but as woman and man she feared them.
Ten days passed without a sight of him; ten blurred and dreary days,
during which the whole landscape dripped like a mop; the park trees
swabbed the gravel from the drive, while the sky was a zinc-coloured
archi-vault of immovable cloud. It seemed as if the whole science
of astronomy had never been real, and that the heavenly bodies, with
their motions, were as theoretical as the lines and circles of a
bygone mathematical problem.
She could content herself no longer with fruitless visits to the
column, and when the rain had a little abated she walked to the
nearest hamlet, and in a conversation with the first old woman she
met contrived to lead up to the subject of Swithin St. Cleeve by
talking about his grandmother.
'Ah, poor old heart; 'tis a bad time for her, my lady!' exclaimed
'Her grandson is dying; and such a gentleman through and through!'
'What!. . . Oh, it has something to do with that dreadful
'Discovery, my lady?'
She left the old woman with an evasive answer, and with a breaking
heart crept along the road. Tears brimmed into her eyes as she
walked, and by the time that she was out of sight sobs burst forth
'I am too fond of him!' she moaned; 'but I can't help it; and I
don't care if it's wrong,--I don't care!'
Without further considerations as to who beheld her doings she
instinctively went straight towards Mrs. Martin's. Seeing a man
coming she calmed herself sufficiently to ask him through her
dropped veil how poor Mr. St. Cleeve was that day. But she only got
the same reply: 'They say he is dying, my lady.'
When Swithin had parted from Lady Constantine, on the previous Ash-
Wednesday, he had gone straight to the homestead and prepared his
account of 'A New Astronomical Discovery.' It was written perhaps
in too glowing a rhetoric for the true scientific tone of mind; but
there was no doubt that his assertion met with a most startling
aptness all the difficulties which had accompanied the received
theories on the phenomena attending those changeable suns of
marvellous systems so far away. It accounted for the nebulous mist
that surrounds some of them at their weakest time; in short, took up
a position of probability which has never yet been successfully
The papers were written in triplicate, and carefully sealed up with
blue wax. One copy was directed to Greenwich, another to the Royal
Society, another to a prominent astronomer. A brief statement of
the essence of the discovery was also prepared for the leading daily
He considered these documents, embodying as they did two years of
his constant thought, reading, and observation, too important to be
entrusted for posting to the hands of a messenger; too important to
be sent to the sub-post-office at hand. Though the day was wet,
dripping wet, he went on foot with them to a chief office, five
miles off, and registered them. Quite exhausted by the walk, after
his long night-work, wet through, yet sustained by the sense of a
great achievement, he called at a bookseller's for the astronomical
periodicals to which he subscribed; then, resting for a short time
at an inn, he plodded his way homewards, reading his papers as he
went, and planning how to enjoy a repose on his laurels of a week or
On he strolled through the rain, holding the umbrella vertically
over the exposed page to keep it dry while he read. Suddenly his
eye was struck by an article. It was the review of a pamphlet by an
American astronomer, in which the author announced a conclusive
discovery with regard to variable stars.
The discovery was precisely the discovery of Swithin St. Cleeve.
Another man had forestalled his fame by a period of about six weeks.
Then the youth found that the goddess Philosophy, to whom he had
vowed to dedicate his whole life, would not in return support him
through a single hour of despair. In truth, the impishness of
circumstance was newer to him than it would have been to a
philosopher of threescore-and-ten. In a wild wish for annihilation
he flung himself down on a patch of heather that lay a little
removed from the road, and in this humid bed remained motionless,
while time passed by unheeded.
At last, from sheer misery and weariness, he fell asleep.
The March rain pelted him mercilessly, the beaded moisture from the
heavily charged locks of heath penetrated him through back and
sides, and clotted his hair to unsightly tags and tufts. When he
awoke it was dark. He thought of his grandmother, and of her
possible alarm at missing him. On attempting to rise, he found that
he could hardly bend his joints, and that his clothes were as heavy
as lead from saturation. His teeth chattering and his knees
trembling he pursued his way home, where his appearance excited
great concern. He was obliged at once to retire to bed, and the
next day he was delirious from the chill.
It was about ten days after this unhappy occurrence that Lady
Constantine learnt the news, as above described, and hastened along
to the homestead in that state of anguish in which the heart is no
longer under the control of the judgment, and self-abandonment even
to error, verges on heroism.
On reaching the house in Welland Bottom the door was opened to her
by old Hannah, who wore an assiduously sorrowful look; and Lady
Constantine was shown into the large room,--so wide that the beams
bent in the middle,--where she took her seat in one of a methodic
range of chairs, beneath a portrait of the Reverend Mr. St. Cleeve,
her astronomer's erratic father.
The eight unwatered dying plants, in the row of eight flower-pots,
denoted that there was something wrong in the house. Mrs. Martin
came downstairs fretting, her wonder at beholding Lady Constantine
not altogether displacing the previous mood of grief.
'Here's a pretty kettle of fish, my lady!' she exclaimed.
Lady Constantine said, 'Hush!' and pointed inquiringly upward.
'He is not overhead, my lady,' replied Swithin's grandmother. 'His
bedroom is at the back of the house.'
'How is he now?'
'He is better, just at this moment; and we are more hopeful. But he
'May I go up? I know he would like to see me.'
Her presence having been made known to the sufferer, she was
conducted upstairs to Swithin's room. The way thither was through
the large chamber he had used as a study and for the manufacture of
optical instruments. There lay the large pasteboard telescope, that
had been just such a failure as Crusoe's large boat; there were his
diagrams, maps, globes, and celestial apparatus of various sorts.
The absence of the worker, through illness or death is sufficient to
touch the prosiest workshop and tools with the hues of pathos, and
it was with a swelling bosom that Lady Constantine passed through
this arena of his youthful activities to the little chamber where he
Old Mrs. Martin sat down by the window, and Lady Constantine bent
'Don't speak to me!' she whispered. 'It will weaken you; it will
excite you. If you do speak, it must be very softly.'
She took his hand, and one irrepressible tear fell upon it.
'Nothing will excite me now, Lady Constantine,' he said; 'not even
your goodness in coming. My last excitement was when I lost the
battle. . . . Do you know that my discovery has been forestalled?
It is that that's killing me.'
'But you are going to recover; you are better, they say. Is it so?'
'I think I am, to-day. But who can be sure?'
'The poor boy was so upset at finding that his labour had been
thrown away,' said his grandmother, 'that he lay down in the rain,
and chilled his life out.'
'How could you do it?' Lady Constantine whispered. 'O, how could
you think so much of renown, and so little of me? Why, for every
discovery made there are ten behind that await making. To commit
suicide like this, as if there were nobody in the world to care for
'It was done in my haste, and I am very, very sorry for it! I beg
both you and all my few friends never, never to forgive me! It
would kill me with self-reproach if you were to pardon my rashness!'
At this moment the doctor was announced, and Mrs. Martin went
downstairs to receive him. Lady Constantine thought she would
remain to hear his report, and for this purpose withdrew, and sat
down in a nook of the adjoining work-room of Swithin, the doctor
meeting her as he passed through it into the sick chamber.
He was there a torturingly long time; but at length he came out to
the room she waited in, and crossed it on his way downstairs. She
rose and followed him to the stairhead.
'How is he?' she anxiously asked. 'Will he get over it?'
The doctor, not knowing the depth of her interest in the patient,
spoke with the blunt candour natural towards a comparatively
'No, Lady Constantine,' he replied; 'there's a change for the
And he retired down the stairs.
Scarcely knowing what she did Lady Constantine ran back to Swithin's
side, flung herself upon the bed and in a paroxysm of sorrow kissed
The placid inhabitants of the parish of Welland, including warbling
waggoners, lone shepherds, ploughmen, the blacksmith, the carpenter,
the gardener at the Great House, the steward and agent, the parson,
clerk, and so on, were hourly expecting the announcement of St.
Cleeve's death. The sexton had been going to see his brother-in-
law, nine miles distant, but promptly postponed the visit for a few
days, that there might be the regular professional hand present to
toll the bell in a note of due fulness and solemnity; an attempt by
a deputy, on a previous occasion of his absence, having degenerated
into a miserable stammering clang that was a disgrace to the parish.
But Swithin St. Cleeve did not decease, a fact of which, indeed, the
habituated reader will have been well aware ever since the rain came
down upon the young man in the ninth chapter, and led to his
alarming illness. Though, for that matter, so many maimed histories
are hourly enacting themselves in this dun-coloured world as to lend
almost a priority of interest to narratives concerning those
'Who lay great bases for eternity
Which prove more short than waste or ruining.'
How it arose that he did not die was in this wise; and his example
affords another instance of that reflex rule of the vassal soul over
the sovereign body, which, operating so wonderfully in elastic
natures, and more or less in all, originally gave rise to the legend
that supremacy lay on the other side.
The evening of the day after the tender, despairing, farewell kiss
of Lady Constantine, when he was a little less weak than during her
visit, he lay with his face to the window. He lay alone, quiet and
resigned. He had been thinking, sometimes of her and other friends,
but chiefly of his lost discovery. Although nearly unconscious at
the time, he had yet been aware of that kiss, as the delicate flush
which followed it upon his cheek would have told; but he had
attached little importance to it as between woman and man. Had he
been dying of love instead of wet weather, perhaps the impulsive act
of that handsome lady would have been seized on as a proof that his
love was returned. As it was her kiss seemed but the evidence of a
naturally demonstrative kindliness, felt towards him chiefly because
he was believed to be leaving her for ever.
The reds of sunset passed, and dusk drew on. Old Hannah came
upstairs to pull down the blinds and as she advanced to the window
he said to her, in a faint voice, 'Well, Hannah, what news to-day?'
'Oh, nothing, sir,' Hannah replied, looking out of the window with
sad apathy, 'only that there's a comet, they say.'
'A WHAT?' said the dying astronomer, starting up on his elbow.
'A comet--that's all, Master Swithin,' repeated Hannah, in a lower
voice, fearing she had done harm in some way.
'Well, tell me, tell me!' cried Swithin. 'Is it Gambart's? Is it
Charles the Fifth's, or Halley's, or Faye's, or whose?'
'Hush!' said she, thinking St. Cleeve slightly delirious again.
''Tis God A'mighty's, of course. I haven't seed en myself, but they
say he's getting bigger every night, and that he'll be the biggest
one known for fifty years when he's full growed. There, you must
not talk any more now, or I'll go away.'
Here was an amazing event, little noise as it had made in the
happening. Of all phenomena that he had longed to witness during
his short astronomical career, those appertaining to comets had
excited him most. That the magnificent comet of 1811 would not
return again for thirty centuries had been quite a permanent regret
with him. And now, when the bottomless abyss of death seemed
yawning beneath his feet, one of these much-desired apparitions, as
large, apparently, as any of its tribe, had chosen to show itself.
'O, if I could but live to see that comet through my equatorial!' he
Compared with comets, variable stars, which he had hitherto made his
study, were, from their remoteness, uninteresting. They were to the
former as the celebrities of Ujiji or Unyamwesi to the celebrities
of his own country. Members of the solar system, these dazzling and
perplexing rangers, the fascination of all astronomers, rendered
themselves still more fascinating by the sinister suspicion
attaching to them of being possibly the ultimate destroyers of the
human race. In his physical prostration St. Cleeve wept bitterly at
not being hale and strong enough to welcome with proper honour the
present specimen of these desirable visitors.
The strenuous wish to live and behold the new phenomenon,
supplanting the utter weariness of existence that he had heretofore
experienced, gave him a new vitality. The crisis passed; there was
a turn for the better; and after that he rapidly mended. The comet
had in all probability saved his life. The limitless and complex
wonders of the sky resumed their old power over his imagination; the
possibilities of that unfathomable blue ocean were endless. Finer
feats than ever he would perform were to be achieved in its
investigation. What Lady Constantine had said, that for one
discovery made ten awaited making, was strikingly verified by the
sudden appearance of this splendid marvel.
The windows of St. Cleeve's bedroom faced the west, and nothing
would satisfy him but that his bed should be so pulled round as to
give him a view of the low sky, in which the as yet minute tadpole
of fire was recognizable. The mere sight of it seemed to lend him
sufficient resolution to complete his own cure forthwith. His only
fear now was lest, from some unexpected cause or other, the comet
would vanish before he could get to the observatory on Rings-Hill
In his fervour to begin observing he directed that an old telescope,
which he had used in his first celestial attempts, should be tied at
one end to the bed-post, and at the other fixed near his eye as he
reclined. Equipped only with this rough improvisation he began to
take notes. Lady Constantine was forgotten, till one day, suddenly,
wondering if she knew of the important phenomenon, he revolved in
his mind whether as a fellow-student and sincere friend of his she
ought not to be sent for, and instructed in the use of the
But though the image of Lady Constantine, in spite of her kindness
and unmistakably warm heart, had been obscured in his mind by the
heavenly body, she had not so readily forgotten him. Too shy to
repeat her visit after so nearly betraying her secret, she yet,
every day, by the most ingenious and subtle means that could be
devised by a woman who feared for herself, but could not refrain
from tampering with danger, ascertained the state of her young
friend's health. On hearing of the turn in his condition she
rejoiced on his account, and became yet more despondent on her own.
If he had died she might have mused on him as her dear departed
saint without much sin: but his return to life was a delight that
bewildered and dismayed.
One evening a little later on he was sitting at his bedroom window
as usual, waiting for a sufficient decline of light to reveal the
comet's form, when he beheld, crossing the field contiguous to the
house, a figure which he knew to be hers. He thought she must be
coming to see him on the great comet question, to discuss which with
so delightful and kind a comrade was an expectation full of
pleasure. Hence he keenly observed her approach, till something
happened that surprised him.
When, at the descent of the hill, she had reached the stile that
admitted to Mrs. Martin's garden, Lady Constantine stood quite still
for a minute or more, her gaze bent on the ground. Instead of
coming on to the house she went heavily and slowly back, almost as
if in pain; and then at length, quickening her pace, she was soon
out of sight. She appeared in the path no more that day.
Why had Lady Constantine stopped and turned?
A misgiving had taken sudden possession of her. Her true sentiment
towards St. Cleeve was too recognizable by herself to be tolerated.
That she had a legitimate interest in him as a young astronomer was
true; that her sympathy on account of his severe illness had been
natural and commendable was also true. But the superfluous feeling
was what filled her with trepidation.
Superfluities have been defined as things you cannot do without, and
this particular emotion, that came not within her rightful measure,
was in danger of becoming just such a superfluity with her. In
short, she felt there and then that to see St. Cleeve again would be
an impropriety; and by a violent effort she retreated from his
precincts, as he had observed.
She resolved to ennoble her conduct from that moment of her life
onwards. She would exercise kind patronage towards Swithin without
once indulging herself with his company. Inexpressibly dear to her
deserted heart he was becoming, but for the future he should at
least be hidden from her eyes. To speak plainly, it was growing a
serious question whether, if he were not hidden from her eyes, she
would not soon be plunging across the ragged boundary which divides
the permissible from the forbidden.
By the time that she had drawn near home the sun was going down.
The heavy, many-chevroned church, now subdued by violet shadow
except where its upper courses caught the western stroke of flame-
colour, stood close to her grounds, as in many other parishes,
though the village of which it formerly was the nucleus had become
quite depopulated: its cottages had been demolished to enlarge the
park, leaving the old building to stand there alone, like a standard
without an army.
It was Friday night, and she heard the organist practising
voluntaries within. The hour, the notes, the even-song of the
birds, and her own previous emotions, combined to influence her
devotionally. She entered, turning to the right and passing under
the chancel arch, where she sat down and viewed the whole empty
length, east and west. The semi-Norman arches of the nave, with
their multitudinous notchings, were still visible by the light from
the tower window, but the lower portion of the building was in
obscurity, except where the feeble glimmer from the candle of the
organist spread a glow-worm radiance around. The player, who was
Miss Tabitha Lark, continued without intermission to produce her
wandering sounds, unconscious of any one's presence except that of
the youthful blower at her side.
The rays from the organist's candle illuminated but one small
fragment of the chancel outside the precincts of the instrument, and
that was the portion of the eastern wall whereon the ten
commandments were inscribed. The gilt letters shone sternly into
Lady Constantine's eyes; and she, being as impressionable as a
turtle-dove, watched a certain one of those commandments on the
second table, till its thunder broke her spirit with blank
She knelt down, and did her utmost to eradicate those impulses
towards St. Cleeve which were inconsistent with her position as the
wife of an absent man, though not unnatural in her as his victim.
She knelt till she seemed scarcely to belong to the time she lived
in, which lost the magnitude that the nearness of its perspective
lent it on ordinary occasions, and took its actual rank in the long
line of other centuries. Having once got out of herself, seen
herself from afar off, she was calmer, and went on to register a
magnanimous vow. She would look about for some maiden fit and
likely to make St. Cleeve happy; and this girl she would endow with
what money she could afford, that the natural result of their
apposition should do him no worldly harm. The interest of her, Lady
Constantine's, life should be in watching the development of love
between Swithin and the ideal maiden. The very painfulness of the
scheme to her susceptible heart made it pleasing to her conscience;
and she wondered that she had not before this time thought of a
stratagem which united the possibility of benefiting the astronomer
with the advantage of guarding against peril to both Swithin and
herself. By providing for him a suitable helpmate she would
preclude the dangerous awakening in him of sentiments reciprocating
Arrived at a point of exquisite misery through this heroic
intention, Lady Constantine's tears moistened the books upon which
her forehead was bowed. And as she heard her feverish heart throb
against the desk, she firmly believed the wearing impulses of that
heart would put an end to her sad life, and momentarily recalled the
banished image of St. Cleeve to apostrophise him in thoughts that
paraphrased the quaint lines of Heine's Lieb' Liebchen:--
'Dear my love, press thy hand to my breast, and tell
If thou tracest the knocks in that narrow cell;
A carpenter dwells there; cunning is he,
And slyly he's shaping a coffin for me!'
Lady Constantine was disturbed by a break in the organist's
meandering practice, and raising her head she saw a person standing
by the player. It was Mr. Torkingham, and what he said was
distinctly audible. He was inquiring for herself.
'I thought I saw Lady Constantine walk this way,' he rejoined to
Tabitha's negative. 'I am very anxious indeed to meet with her.'
She went forward. 'I am here,' she said. 'Don't stop playing, Miss
Lark. What is it, Mr. Torkingham?'
Tabitha thereupon resumed her playing, and Mr. Torkingham joined
'I have some very serious intelligence to break to your ladyship,'
he said. 'But--I will not interrupt you here.' (He had seen her
rise from her knees to come to him.) 'I will call at the House the
first moment you can receive me after reaching home.'
'No, tell me here,' she said, seating herself.
He came close, and placed his hand on the poppy-head of the seat.
'I have received a communication,' he resumed haltingly, 'in which I
am requested to prepare you for the contents of a letter that you
will receive to-morrow morning.'
'I am quite ready.'
'The subject is briefly this, Lady Constantine: that you have been
a widow for more than eighteen months.'
'Yes. Sir Blount was attacked by dysentery and malarious fever, on
the banks of the Zouga in South Africa, so long ago as last October
twelvemonths, and it carried him off. Of the three men who were
with him, two succumbed to the same illness, a hundred miles further
on; while the third, retracing his steps into a healthier district,
remained there with a native tribe, and took no pains to make the
circumstances known. It seems to be only by the mere accident of
his having told some third party that we know of the matter now.
This is all I can tell you at present.'
She was greatly agitated for a few moments; and the Table of the Law
opposite, which now seemed to appertain to another dispensation,
glistened indistinctly upon a vision still obscured by the old
'Shall I conduct you home?' asked the parson.
'No thank you,' said Lady Constantine. 'I would rather go alone.'
On the afternoon of the next day Mr. Torkingham, who occasionally
dropped in to see St. Cleeve, called again as usual; after duly
remarking on the state of the weather, congratulating him on his
sure though slow improvement, and answering his inquiries about the
comet, he said, 'You have heard, I suppose, of what has happened to
'No! Nothing serious?'
'Yes, it is serious.' The parson informed him of the death of Sir
Blount, and of the accidents which had hindered all knowledge of the
same,--accidents favoured by the estrangement of the pair and the
cessation of correspondence between them for some time.
His listener received the news with the concern of a friend, Lady
Constantine's aspect in his eyes depending but little on her
'There was no attempt to bring him home when he died?'
'O no. The climate necessitates instant burial. We shall have more
particulars in a day or two, doubtless.'
'Poor Lady Constantine,--so good and so sensitive as she is! I
suppose she is quite prostrated by the bad news.'
'Well, she is rather serious,--not prostrated. The household is
going into mourning.'
'Ah, no, she would not be quite prostrated,' murmured Swithin,
recollecting himself. 'He was unkind to her in many ways. Do you
think she will go away from Welland?'
That the vicar could not tell. But he feared that Sir Blount's
affairs had been in a seriously involved condition, which might
necessitate many and unexpected changes.
Time showed that Mr. Torkingham's surmises were correct.
During the long weeks of early summer, through which the young man
still lay imprisoned, if not within his own chamber, within the
limits of the house and garden, news reached him that Sir Blount's
mismanagement and eccentric behaviour were resulting in serious
consequences to Lady Constantine; nothing less, indeed, than her
almost complete impoverishment. His personalty was swallowed up in
paying his debts, and the Welland estate was so heavily charged with
annuities to his distant relatives that only a mere pittance was
left for her. She was reducing the establishment to the narrowest
compass compatible with decent gentility. The horses were sold one
by one; the carriages also; the greater part of the house was shut
up, and she resided in the smallest rooms. All that was allowed to
remain of her former contingent of male servants were an odd man and
a boy. Instead of using a carriage she now drove about in a donkey-
chair, the said boy walking in front to clear the way and keep the
animal in motion; while she wore, so his informants reported, not an
ordinary widow's cap or bonnet, but something even plainer, the
black material being drawn tightly round her face, giving her
features a small, demure, devout cast, very pleasing to the eye.
'Now, what's the most curious thing in this, Mr. San Cleeve,' said
Sammy Blore, who, in calling to inquire after Swithin's health, had
imparted some of the above particulars, 'is that my lady seems not
to mind being a pore woman half so much as we do at seeing her so.
'Tis a wonderful gift, Mr. San Cleeve, wonderful, to be able to
guide yerself, and not let loose yer soul in blasting at such a
misfortune. I should go and drink neat regular, as soon as I had
swallered my breakfast, till my innerds was burnt out like a' old
copper, if it had happened to me; but my lady's plan is best.
Though I only guess how one feels in such losses, to be sure, for I
never had nothing to lose.'
Meanwhile the observatory was not forgotten; nor that visitant of
singular shape and habits which had appeared in the sky from no one
knew whence, trailing its luminous streamer, and proceeding on its
way in the face of a wondering world, till it should choose to
vanish as suddenly as it had come.
When, about a month after the above dialogue took place, Swithin was
allowed to go about as usual, his first pilgrimage was to the Rings-
Hill Speer. Here he studied at leisure what he had come to see.
On his return to the homestead, just after sunset, he found his
grandmother and Hannah in a state of great concern. The former was
looking out for him against the evening light, her face showing
itself worn and rutted, like an old highway, by the passing of many
days. Her information was that in his absence Lady Constantine had
called in her driving-chair, to inquire for him. Her ladyship had
wished to observe the comet through the great telescope, but had
found the door locked when she applied at the tower. Would he
kindly leave the door unfastened to-morrow, she had asked, that she
might be able to go to the column on the following evening for the
same purpose? She did not require him to attend.
During the next day he sent Hannah with the key to Welland House,
not caring to leave the tower open. As evening advanced and the
comet grew distinct, he doubted if Lady Constantine could handle the
telescope alone with any pleasure or profit to herself. Unable, as
a devotee to science, to rest under this misgiving, he crossed the
field in the furrow that he had used ever since the corn was sown,
and entered the plantation. His unpractised mind never once guessed
that her stipulations against his coming might have existed along
with a perverse hope that he would come.
On ascending he found her already there. She sat in the observing-
chair: the warm light from the west, which flowed in through the
opening of the dome, brightened her face, and her face only, her
robes of sable lawn rendering the remainder of her figure almost
'You have come!' she said with shy pleasure. 'I did not require
you. But never mind.' She extended her hand cordially to him.
Before speaking he looked at her with a great new interest in his
eye. It was the first time that he had seen her thus, and she was
altered in more than dress. A soberly-sweet expression sat on her
face. It was of a rare and peculiar shade--something that he had
never seen before in woman.
'Have you nothing to say?' she continued. 'Your footsteps were
audible to me from the very bottom, and I knew they were yours. You
look almost restored.'
'I am almost restored,' he replied, respectfully pressing her hand.
'A reason for living arose, and I lived.'
'What reason?' she inquired, with a rapid blush.
He pointed to the rocket-like object in the western sky.
'Oh, you mean the comet. Well, you will never make a courtier! You
know, of course, what has happened to me; that I have no longer a
husband--have had none for a year and a half. Have you also heard
that I am now quite a poor woman? Tell me what you think of it.'
'I have thought very little of it since I heard that you seemed to
mind poverty but little. There is even this good in it, that I may
now be able to show you some little kindness for all those you have
done me, my dear lady.'
'Unless for economy's sake, I go and live abroad, at Dinan,
Versailles, or Boulogne.'
Swithin, who had never thought of such a contingency, was earnest in
his regrets; without, however, showing more than a sincere friend's
'I did not say it was absolutely necessary,' she continued. 'I
have, in fact, grown so homely and home-loving, I am so interested
in the place and the people here, that, in spite of advice, I have
almost determined not to let the house; but to continue the less
business-like but pleasanter alternative of living humbly in a part
of it, and shutting up the rest.'
'Your love of astronomy is getting as strong as mine!' he said
ardently. 'You could not tear yourself away from the observatory!'
'You might have supposed me capable of a little human feeling as
well as scientific, in connection with the observatory.'
'Dear Lady Constantine, by admitting that your astronomer has also a
part of your interest--'
'Ah, you did not find it out without my telling!' she said, with a
playfulness which was scarcely playful, a new accession of pinkness
being visible in her face. 'I diminish myself in your esteem by
'You might do anything in this world without diminishing yourself in
my esteem, after the goodness you have shown. And more than that,
no misrepresentation, no rumour, no damning appearance whatever
would ever shake my loyalty to you.'
'But you put a very matter-of-fact construction on my motives
sometimes. You see me in such a hard light that I have to drop
hints in quite a manoeuvring manner to let you know I am as
sympathetic as other people. I sometimes think you would rather
have me die than have your equatorial stolen. Confess that your
admiration for me was based on my house and position in the county!
Now I am shorn of all that glory, such as it was, and am a widow,
and am poorer than my tenants, and can no longer buy telescopes, and
am unable, from the narrowness of my circumstances, to mix in
circles that people formerly said I adorned, I fear I have lost the
little hold I once had over you.'
'You are as unjust now as you have been generous hitherto,' said St.
Cleeve, with tears in his eyes at the gentle banter of the lady,
which he, poor innocent, read as her real opinions. Seizing her
hand he continued, in tones between reproach and anger, 'I swear to
you that I have but two devotions, two thoughts, two hopes, and two
blessings in this world, and that one of them is yourself!'
'And the other?'
'The pursuit of astronomy.'
'And astronomy stands first.'
'I have never ordinated two such dissimilar ideas. And why should
you deplore your altered circumstances, my dear lady? Your
widowhood, if I may take the liberty to speak on such a subject, is,
though I suppose a sadness, not perhaps an unmixed evil. For though
your pecuniary troubles have been discovered to the world and
yourself by it, your happiness in marriage was, as you have confided
to me, not great; and you are now left free as a bird to follow your
'I wonder you recognize that.'
'But perhaps,' he added, with a sigh of regret, 'you will again fall
a prey to some man, some uninteresting country squire or other, and
be lost to the scientific world after all.'
'If I fall a prey to any man, it will not be to a country squire.
But don't go on with this, for heaven's sake! You may think what
you like in silence.'
'We are forgetting the comet,' said St. Cleeve. He turned, and set
the instrument in order for observation, and wheeled round the dome.
While she was looking at the nucleus of the fiery plume, that now
filled so large a space of the sky as completely to dominate it,
Swithin dropped his gaze upon the field, and beheld in the dying
light a number of labourers crossing directly towards the column.
'What do you see?' Lady Constantine asked, without ceasing to
observe the comet.
'Some of the work-folk are coming this way. I know what they are
coming for,--I promised to let them look at the comet through the
'They must not come up here,' she said decisively.
'They shall await your time.'
'I have a special reason for wishing them not to see me here. If
you ask why, I can tell you. They mistakenly suspect my interest to
be less in astronomy than in the astronomer, and they must have no
showing for such a wild notion. What can you do to keep them out?'
'I'll lock the door,' said Swithin. 'They will then think I am
away.' He ran down the staircase, and she could hear him hastily
turning the key. Lady Constantine sighed.
'What weakness, what weakness!' she said to herself. 'That envied
power of self-control, where is it? That power of concealment which
a woman should have--where? To run such risks, to come here alone,-
-oh, if it were known! But I was always so,--always!'
She jumped up, and followed him downstairs.
He was standing immediately inside the door at the bottom, though it
was so dark she could hardly see him. The villagers were audibly
talking just without.
'He's sure to come, rathe or late,' resounded up the spiral in the
vocal note of Hezzy Biles. 'He wouldn't let such a fine show as the
comet makes to-night go by without peeping at it,--not Master
Cleeve! Did ye bring along the flagon, Haymoss? Then we'll sit
down inside his little board-house here, and wait. He'll come afore
bed-time. Why, his spy-glass will stretch out that there comet as
long as Welland Lane!'
'I'd as soon miss the great peep-show that comes every year to
Greenhill Fair as a sight of such a immortal spectacle as this!'
said Amos Fry.
'"Immortal spectacle,"--where did ye get that choice mossel,
Haymoss?' inquired Sammy Blore. 'Well, well, the Lord save good
scholars--and take just a bit o' care of them that bain't! As 'tis
so dark in the hut, suppose we draw out the bench into the front
The bench was accordingly brought forth, and in order to have a back
to lean against, they placed it exactly across the door into the
'Now, have ye got any backy? If ye haven't, I have,' continued
Sammy Blore. A striking of matches followed, and the speaker
concluded comfortably, 'Now we shall do very well.'
'And what do this comet mean?' asked Haymoss. 'That some great
tumult is going to happen, or that we shall die of a famine?'
'Famine--no!' said Nat Chapman. 'That only touches such as we, and
the Lord only consarns himself with born gentlemen. It isn't to be
supposed that a strange fiery lantern like that would be lighted up
for folks with ten or a dozen shillings a week and their gristing,
and a load o' thorn faggots when we can get 'em. If 'tis a token
that he's getting hot about the ways of anybody in this parish, 'tis
about my Lady Constantine's, since she is the only one of a figure
worth such a hint.'
'As for her income,--that she's now lost.'
'Ah, well; I don't take in all I hear.'
Lady Constantine drew close to St. Cleeve's side, and whispered,
trembling, 'Do you think they will wait long? Or can we get out?'
Swithin felt the awkwardness of the situation. The men had placed
the bench close to the door, which, owing to the stairs within,
opened outwards; so that at the first push by the pair inside to
release themselves the bench must have gone over, and sent the
smokers sprawling on their faces. He whispered to her to ascend the
column and wait till he came.
'And have the dead man left her nothing? Hey? And have he carried
his inheritance into's grave? And will his skeleton lie warm on
account o't? Hee-hee!' said Haymoss.
''Tis all swallered up,' observed Hezzy Biles. 'His goings-on made
her miserable till 'a died, and if I were the woman I'd have my
randys now. He ought to have bequeathed to her our young gent, Mr.
St. Cleeve, as some sort of amends. I'd up and marry en, if I were
she; since her downfall has brought 'em quite near together, and
made him as good as she in rank, as he was afore in bone and
'D'ye think she will?' asked Sammy Blore. 'Or is she meaning to
enter upon a virgin life for the rest of her days?'
'I don't want to be unreverent to her ladyship; but I really don't
think she is meaning any such waste of a Christian carcase. I say
she's rather meaning to commit flat matrimony wi' somebody or other,
and one young gentleman in particular.'
'But the young man himself?'
'Planned, cut out, and finished for the delight of 'ooman!'
'Yet he must be willing.'
'That would soon come. If they get up this tower ruling plannards
together much longer, their plannards will soon rule them together,
in my way o' thinking. If she've a disposition towards the knot,
she can soon teach him.'
'True, true, and lawfully. What before mid ha' been a wrong desire
is now a holy wish!'
The scales fell from Swithin St. Cleeve's eyes as he heard the words
of his neighbours. How suddenly the truth dawned upon him; how it
bewildered him, till he scarcely knew where he was; how he recalled
the full force of what he had only half apprehended at earlier
times, particularly of that sweet kiss she had impressed on his lips
when she supposed him dying,--these vivid realizations are difficult
to tell in slow verbiage. He could remain there no longer, and with
an electrified heart he retreated up the spiral.
He found Lady Constantine half way to the top, standing by a loop-
hole; and when she spoke he discovered that she was almost in tears.
'Are they gone?' she asked.
'I fear they will not go yet,' he replied, with a nervous
fluctuation of manner that had never before appeared in his bearing
'What shall I do?' she asked. 'I ought not to be here; nobody knows
that I am out of the house. Oh, this is a mistake! I must go home
'Did you hear what they were saying?'
'No,' said she. 'What is the matter? Surely you are disturbed?
What did they say?'
'It would be the exaggeration of frankness in me to tell you.'
'Is it what a woman ought not to be made acquainted with?'
'It is, in this case. It is so new and so indescribable an idea to
me--that'--he leant against the concave wall, quite tremulous with
strange incipient sentiments.
'What sort of an idea?' she asked gently.
'It is--an awakening. In thinking of the heaven above, I did not
'The better heaven beneath. Pray, dear Lady Constantine, give me
your hand for a moment.'
She seemed startled, and the hand was not given.
'I am so anxious to get home,' she repeated. 'I did not mean to
stay here more than five minutes!'
'I fear I am much to blame for this accident,' he said. 'I ought
not to have intruded here. But don't grieve! I will arrange for
your escape, somehow. Be good enough to follow me down.'
They redescended, and, whispering to Lady Constantine to remain a
few stairs behind, he began to rattle and unlock the door.
The men precipitately removed their bench, and Swithin stepped out,
the light of the summer night being still enough to enable them to
'Well, Hezekiah, and Samuel, and Nat, how are you?' he said boldly.
'Well, sir, 'tis much as before wi' me,' replied Nat. 'One hour a
week wi' God A'mighty and the rest with the devil, as a chap may
say. And really, now yer poor father's gone, I'd as lief that that
Sunday hour should pass like the rest; for Pa'son Tarkenham do tease
a feller's conscience that much, that church is no hollerday at all
to the limbs, as it was in yer reverent father's time! But we've
been waiting here, Mr. San Cleeve, supposing ye had not come.'
'I have been staying at the top, and fastened the door not to be
disturbed. Now I am sorry to disappoint you, but I have another
engagement this evening, so that it would be inconvenient to admit
you. To-morrow evening, or any evening but this, I will show you
the comet and any stars you like.'
They readily agreed to come the next night, and prepared to depart.
But what with the flagon, and the pipes, and the final observations,
getting away was a matter of time. Meanwhile a cloud, which nobody
had noticed, arose from the north overhead, and large drops of rain
began to fall so rapidly that the conclave entered the hut till it
should be over. St. Cleeve strolled off under the firs.
The next moment there was a rustling through the trees at another
point, and a man and woman appeared. The woman took shelter under a
tree, and the man, bearing wraps and umbrellas, came forward.
'My lady's man and maid,' said Sammy.
'Is her ladyship here?' asked the man.
'No. I reckon her ladyship keeps more kissable company,' replied
'Pack o' stuff!' said Blore.
'Not here? Well, to be sure! We can't find her anywhere in the
wide house! I've been sent to look for her with these overclothes
and umbrella. I've suffered horse-flesh traipsing up and down, and
can't find her nowhere. Lord, Lord, where can she be, and two
months' wages owing to me!'
'Why so anxious, Anthony Green, as I think yer name is shaped? You
be not a married man?' said Hezzy.
''Tis what they call me, neighbours, whether or no.'
'But surely you was a bachelor chap by late, afore her ladyship got
rid of the regular servants and took ye?'
'I were; but that's past!'
'And how came ye to bow yer head to 't, Anthony? 'Tis what you
never was inclined to. You was by no means a doting man in my
'Well, had I been left to my own free choice, 'tis as like as not I
should ha' shunned forming such kindred, being at that time a poor
day man, or weekly, at my highest luck in hiring. But 'tis wearing
work to hold out against the custom of the country, and the woman
wanting ye to stand by her and save her from unborn shame; so, since
common usage would have it, I let myself be carried away by opinion,
and took her. Though she's never once thanked me for covering her
confusion, that's true! But, 'tis the way of the lost when safe,
and I don't complain. Here she is, just behind, under the tree, if
you'd like to see her?--a very nice homespun woman to look at, too,
for all her few weather-stains. . . . Well, well, where can my lady
be? And I the trusty jineral man--'tis more than my place is worth
to lose her! Come forward, Christiana, and talk nicely to the work-
While the woman was talking the rain increased so much that they all
retreated further into the hut. St. Cleeve, who had impatiently
stood a little way off, now saw his opportunity, and, putting in his
head, said, 'The rain beats in; you had better shut the door. I
must ascend and close up the dome.'
Slamming the door upon them without ceremony he quickly went to Lady
Constantine in the column, and telling her they could now pass the
villagers unseen he gave her his arm. Thus he conducted her across
the front of the hut into the shadows of the firs.
'I will run to the house and harness your little carriage myself,'
he said tenderly. 'I will then take you home in it.'
'No; please don't leave me alone under these dismal trees!' Neither
would she hear of his getting her any wraps; and, opening her little
sunshade to keep the rain out of her face, she walked with him
across the insulating field, after which the trees of the park
afforded her a sufficient shelter to reach home without much damage.
Swithin was too greatly affected by what he had overheard to speak
much to her on the way, and protected her as if she had been a shorn
lamb. After a farewell which had more meaning than sound in it, he
hastened back to Rings-Hill Speer. The work-folk were still in the
hut, and, by dint of friendly converse and a sip at the flagon, had
so cheered Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Green that they neither thought nor
cared what had become of Lady Constantine.
St. Cleeve's sudden sense of new relations with that sweet patroness
had taken away in one half-hour his natural ingenuousness.
Henceforth he could act a part.
'I have made all secure at the top,' he said, putting his head into
the hut. 'I am now going home. When the rain stops, lock this door
and bring the key to my house.'
The laboured resistance which Lady Constantine's judgment had
offered to her rebellious affection ere she learnt that she was a
widow, now passed into a bashfulness that rendered her almost as
unstable of mood as before. But she was one of that mettle--fervid,
cordial, and spontaneous--who had not the heart to spoil a passion;
and her affairs having gone to rack and ruin by no fault of her own
she was left to a painfully narrowed existence which lent even
something of rationality to her attachment. Thus it was that her
tender and unambitious soul found comfort in her reverses.
As for St. Cleeve, the tardiness of his awakening was the natural
result of inexperience combined with devotion to a hobby. But, like
a spring bud hard in bursting, the delay was compensated by after
speed. At once breathlessly recognizing in this fellow-watcher of
the skies a woman who loved him, in addition to the patroness and
friend, he truly translated the nearly forgotten kiss she had given
him in her moment of despair.
Lady Constantine, in being eight or nine years his senior, was an
object even better calculated to nourish a youth's first passion
than a girl of his own age, superiority of experience and ripeness
of emotion exercising the same peculiar fascination over him as over
other young men in their first ventures in this kind.
The alchemy which thus transmuted an abstracted astronomer into an
eager lover--and, must it be said, spoilt a promising young
physicist to produce a common-place inamorato--may be almost
described as working its change in one short night. Next morning he
was so fascinated with the novel sensation that he wanted to rush
off at once to Lady Constantine, and say, 'I love you true!' in the
intensest tones of his mental condition, to register his assertion
in her heart before any of those accidents which 'creep in 'twixt
vows, and change decrees of kings,' should occur to hinder him. But
his embarrassment at standing in a new position towards her would
not allow him to present himself at her door in any such hurry. He
waited on, as helplessly as a girl, for a chance of encountering
But though she had tacitly agreed to see him on any reasonable
occasion, Lady Constantine did not put herself in his way. She even
kept herself out of his way. Now that for the first time he had
learnt to feel a strong impatience for their meeting, her shyness
for the first time led her to delay it. But given two people living
in one parish, who long from the depths of their hearts to be in
each other's company, what resolves of modesty, policy, pride, or
apprehension will keep them for any length of time apart?
One afternoon he was watching the sun from his tower, half echoing
the Greek astronomer's wish that he might be set close to that
luminary for the wonder of beholding it in all its glory, under the
slight penalty of being consumed the next instant. He glanced over
the high-road between the field and the park (which sublunary
features now too often distracted his attention from his telescope),
and saw her passing along that way.
She was seated in the donkey-carriage that had now taken the place
of her landau, the white animal looking no larger than a cat at that
distance. The buttoned boy, who represented both coachman and
footman, walked alongside the animal's head at a solemn pace; the
dog stalked at the distance of a yard behind the vehicle, without
indulging in a single gambol; and the whole turn-out resembled in
dignity a dwarfed state procession.
Here was an opportunity but for two obstructions: the boy, who
might be curious; and the dog, who might bark and attract the
attention of any labourers or servants near. Yet the risk was to be
run, and, knowing that she would soon turn up a certain shady lane
at right angles to the road she had followed, he ran hastily down
the staircase, crossed the barley (which now covered the field) by
the path not more than a foot wide that he had trodden for himself,
and got into the lane at the other end. By slowly walking along in
the direction of the turnpike-road he soon had the satisfaction of
seeing her coming. To his surprise he also had the satisfaction of
perceiving that neither boy nor dog was in her company.
They both blushed as they approached, she from sex, he from
inexperience. One thing she seemed to see in a moment, that in the
interval of her absence St. Cleeve had become a man; and as he
greeted her with this new and maturer light in his eyes she could
not hide her embarrassment, or meet their fire.
'I have just sent my page across to the column with your book on
Cometary Nuclei,' she said softly; 'that you might not have to come
to the house for it. I did not know I should meet you here.'
'Didn't you wish me to come to the house for it?'
'I did not, frankly. You know why, do you not?'
'Yes, I know. Well, my longing is at rest. I have met you again.
But are you unwell, that you drive out in this chair?'
'No; I walked out this morning, and am a little tired.'
'I have been looking for you night and day. Why do you turn your
face aside? You used not to be so.' Her hand rested on the side of
the chair, and he took it. 'Do you know that since we last met, I
have been thinking of you--daring to think of you--as I never
thought of you before?'
'Yes, I know it.'
'How did you know?'
'I saw it in your face when you came up.'
'Well, I suppose I ought not to think of you so. And yet, had I not
learned to, I should never fully have felt how gentle and sweet you
are. Only think of my loss if I had lived and died without seeing
more in you than in astronomy! But I shall never leave off doing so
now. When you talk I shall love your understanding; when you are
silent I shall love your face. But how shall I know that you care
to be so much to me?'
Her manner was disturbed as she recognized the impending self-
surrender, which she knew not how to resist, and was not altogether
at ease in welcoming.
'O, Lady Constantine,' he continued, bending over her, 'give me some
proof more than mere seeming and inference, which are all I have at
present, that you don't think this I tell you of presumption in me!
I have been unable to do anything since I last saw you for pondering
uncertainly on this. Some proof, or little sign, that we are one in
A blush settled again on her face; and half in effort, half in
spontaneity, she put her finger on her cheek. He almost
devotionally kissed the spot.
'Does that suffice?' she asked, scarcely giving her words voice.
'Yes; I am convinced.'
'Then that must be the end. Let me drive on; the boy will be back
again soon.' She spoke hastily, and looked askance to hide the heat
of her cheek.
'No; the tower door is open, and he will go to the top, and waste
his time in looking through the telescope.'
'Then you should rush back, for he will do some damage.'
'No; he may do what he likes, tinker and spoil the instrument,
destroy my papers,--anything, so that he will stay there and leave
She glanced up with a species of pained pleasure.
'You never used to feel like that!' she said, and there was keen
self-reproach in her voice. 'You were once so devoted to your
science that the thought of an intruder into your temple would have
driven you wild. Now you don't care; and who is to blame? Ah, not
you, not you!'
The animal ambled on with her, and he, leaning on the side of the
little vehicle, kept her company.
'Well, don't let us think of that,' he said. 'I offer myself and
all my energies, frankly and entirely, to you, my dear, dear lady,
whose I shall be always! But my words in telling you this will only
injure my meaning instead of emphasize it. In expressing, even to
myself, my thoughts of you, I find that I fall into phrases which,
as a critic, I should hitherto have heartily despised for their
commonness. What's the use of saying, for instance, as I have just
said, that I give myself entirely to you, and shall be yours
always,--that you have my devotion, my highest homage? Those words
have been used so frequently in a flippant manner that honest use of
them is not distinguishable from the unreal.' He turned to her, and
added, smiling, 'Your eyes are to be my stars for the future.'
'Yes, I know it,--I know it, and all you would say! I dreaded even
while I hoped for this, my dear young friend,' she replied, her eyes
being full of tears. 'I am injuring you; who knows that I am not
ruining your future,--I who ought to know better? Nothing can come
of this, nothing must,--and I am only wasting your time. Why have I
drawn you off from a grand celestial study to study poor lonely me?
Say you will never despise me, when you get older, for this episode
in our lives. But you will,--I know you will! All men do, when
they have been attracted in their unsuspecting youth, as I have
attracted you. I ought to have kept my resolve.'
'What was that?'
'To bear anything rather than draw you from your high purpose; to be
like the noble citizen of old Greece, who, attending a sacrifice,
let himself be burnt to the bone by a coal that jumped into his
sleeve rather than disturb the sacred ceremony.'
'But can I not study and love both?'
'I hope so,--I earnestly hope so. But you'll be the first if you
do, and I am the responsible one if you do not.'
'You speak as if I were quite a child, and you immensely older.
Why, how old do you think I am? I am twenty.'
'You seem younger. Well, that's so much the better. Twenty sounds
strong and firm. How old do you think I am?'
'I have never thought of considering.' He innocently turned to
scrutinize her face. She winced a little. But the instinct was
premature. Time had taken no liberties with her features as yet;
nor had trouble very roughly handled her.
'I will tell you,' she replied, speaking almost with physical pain,
yet as if determination should carry her through. 'I am eight-and-
twenty--nearly--I mean a little more, a few months more. Am I not a
fearful deal older than you?'
'At first it seems a great deal,' he answered, musing. 'But it
doesn't seem much when one gets used to it.'
'Nonsense!' she exclaimed. 'It IS a good deal.'
'Very well, then, sweetest Lady Constantine, let it be,' he said
'You should not let it be! A polite man would have flatly
contradicted me. . . . O I am ashamed of this!' she added a moment
after, with a subdued, sad look upon the ground. 'I am speaking by
the card of the outer world, which I have left behind utterly; no
such lip service is known in your sphere. I care nothing for those
things, really; but that which is called the Eve in us will out
sometimes. Well, we will forget that now, as we must, at no very
distant date, forget all the rest of this.'
He walked beside her thoughtfully awhile, with his eyes also bent on
the road. 'Why must we forget it all?' he inquired.
'It is only an interlude.'
'An interlude! It is no interlude to me. O how can you talk so
lightly of this, Lady Constantine? And yet, if I were to go away
from here, I might, perhaps, soon reduce it to an interlude! Yes,'
he resumed impulsively, 'I will go away. Love dies, and it is just
as well to strangle it in its birth; it can only die once! I'll
'No, no!' she said, looking up apprehensively. 'I misled you. It
is no interlude to me,--it is tragical. I only meant that from a
worldly point of view it is an interlude, which we should try to
forget. But the world is not all. You will not go away?'
But he continued drearily, 'Yes, yes, I see it all; you have
enlightened me. It will be hurting your prospects even more than
mine, if I stay. Now Sir Blount is dead, you are free again,--may
marry where you will, but for this fancy of ours. I'll leave
Welland before harm comes of my staying.'
'Don't decide to do a thing so rash!' she begged, seizing his hand,
and looking miserable at the effect of her words. 'I shall have
nobody left in the world to care for! And now I have given you the
great telescope, and lent you the column, it would be ungrateful to
go away! I was wrong; believe me that I did not mean that it was a
mere interlude to ME. O if you only knew how very, very far it is
from that! It is my doubt of the result to you that makes me speak
They were now approaching cross-roads, and casually looking up they
beheld, thirty or forty yards beyond the crossing, Mr. Torkingham,
who was leaning over a gate, his back being towards them. As yet he
had not recognized their approach.
The master-passion had already supplanted St. Cleeve's natural
ingenuousness by subtlety.
'Would it be well for us to meet Mr. Torkingham just now?' he began.
'Certainly not,' she said hastily, and pulling the rein she
instantly drove down the right-hand road. 'I cannot meet anybody!'
she murmured. 'Would it not be better that you leave me now?--not
for my pleasure, but that there may arise no distressing tales about
us before we know--how to act in this--this'--(she smiled faintly at
him) 'heartaching extremity!'
They were passing under a huge oak-tree, whose limbs, irregular with
shoulders, knuckles, and elbows, stretched horizontally over the
lane in a manner recalling Absalom's death. A slight rustling was
perceptible amid the leafage as they drew out from beneath it, and
turning up his eyes Swithin saw that very buttoned page whose advent
they had dreaded, looking down with interest at them from a perch
not much higher than a yard above their heads. He had a bunch of
oak-apples in one hand, plainly the object of his climb, and was