Part 5 out of 6
'A listener is required for a speaker.'
'Well, to whom were you speaking?'
'Viviette! I am ashamed of you.'
'I was saying my prayers.'
'Prayers--to God! To St. Swithin, rather!'
'What do you mean, Louis?' she asked, flushing up warm, and drawing
back from him. 'It was a form of prayer I use, particularly when I
am in trouble. It was recommended to me by the Bishop, and Mr.
Torkingham commends it very highly.'
'On your honour, if you have any,' he said bitterly, 'whom have you
there in your room?'
'No human being.'
'Flatly, I don't believe you.'
She gave a dignified little bow, and, waving her hand into the
apartment, said, 'Very well; then search and see.'
Louis entered, and glanced round the room, behind the curtains,
under the bed, out of the window--a view from which showed that
escape thence would have been impossible,--everywhere, in short,
capable or incapable of affording a retreat to humanity; but
discovered nobody. All he observed was that a light stood on the
low table by her bedside; that on the bed lay an open Prayer-Book,
the counterpane being unpressed, except into a little pit beside the
Prayer Book, apparently where her head had rested in kneeling.
'But where is St. Cleeve?' he said, turning in bewilderment from
these evidences of innocent devotion.
'Where can he be?' she chimed in, with real distress. 'I should so
much like to know. Look about for him. I am quite uneasy!'
'I will, on one condition: that you own that you love him.'
'Why should you force me to that?' she murmured. 'It would be no
such wonder if I did.'
'Come, you do.'
'Well, I do.'
'Now I'll look for him.'
Louis took a light, and turned away, astonished that she had not
indignantly resented his intrusion and the nature of his
At this moment a slight noise was heard on the staircase, and they
could see a figure rising step by step, and coming forward against
the long lights of the staircase window. It was Swithin, in his
ordinary dress, and carrying his boots in his hand. When he beheld
them standing there so motionless, he looked rather disconcerted,
but came on towards his room.
Lady Constantine was too agitated to speak, but Louis said, 'I am
glad to see you again. Hearing a noise, a few minutes ago, I came
out to learn what it could be. I found you absent, and we have been
very much alarmed.'
'I am very sorry,' said Swithin, with contrition. 'I owe you a
hundred apologies: but the truth is that on entering my bedroom I
found the sky remarkably clear, and though I told you that the
observation I was to make was of no great consequence, on thinking
it over alone I felt it ought not to be allowed to pass; so I was
tempted to run across to the observatory, and make it, as I had
hoped, without disturbing anybody. If I had known that I should
alarm you I would not have done it for the world.'
Swithin spoke very earnestly to Louis, and did not observe the
tender reproach in Viviette's eyes when he showed by his tale his
decided notion that the prime use of dark nights lay in their
furtherance of practical astronomy.
Everything being now satisfactorily explained the three retired to
their several chambers, and Louis heard no more noises that night,
or rather morning; his attempts to solve the mystery of Viviette's
life here and her relations with St. Cleeve having thus far resulted
chiefly in perplexity. True, an admission had been wrung from her;
and even without such an admission it was clear that she had a
tender feeling for Swithin. How to extinguish that romantic folly
it now became his object to consider.
Swithin's midnight excursion to the tower in the cause of science
led him to oversleep himself, and when the brother and sister met at
breakfast in the morning he did not appear.
'Don't disturb him,--don't disturb him,' said Louis laconically.
'Hullo, Viviette, what are you reading there that makes you flame up
She was glancing over a letter that she had just opened, and at his
words looked up with misgiving.
The incident of the previous night left her in great doubt as to
what her bearing towards him ought to be. She had made no show of
resenting his conduct at the time, from a momentary supposition that
he must know all her secret; and afterwards, finding that he did not
know it, it seemed too late to affect indignation at his suspicions.
So she preserved a quiet neutrality. Even had she resolved on an
artificial part she might have forgotten to play it at this instant,
the letter being of a kind to banish previous considerations.
'It is a letter from Bishop Helmsdale,' she faltered.
'Well done! I hope for your sake it is an offer.'
'That's just what it is.'
'No,--surely?' said Louis, beginning a laugh of surprise.
'Yes,' she returned indifferently. 'You can read it, if you like.'
'I don't wish to pry into a communication of that sort.'
'Oh, you may read it,' she said, tossing the letter across to him.
Louis thereupon read as under:--
'THE PALACE, MELCHESTER,
June 28, 18--.
'MY DEAR LADY CONSTANTINE,--During the two or three weeks that have
elapsed since I experienced the great pleasure of renewing my
acquaintance with you, the varied agitation of my feelings has
clearly proved that my only course is to address you by letter, and
at once. Whether the subject of my communication be acceptable to
you or not, I can at least assure you that to suppress it would be
far less natural, and upon the whole less advisable, than to speak
out frankly, even if afterwards I hold my peace for ever.
'The great change in my experience during the past year or two--the
change, that is, which has resulted from my advancement to a
bishopric--has frequently suggested to me, of late, that a
discontinuance in my domestic life of the solitude of past years was
a question which ought to be seriously contemplated. But whether I
should ever have contemplated it without the great good fortune of
my meeting with you is doubtful. However, the thing has been
considered at last, and without more ado I candidly ask if you would
be willing to give up your life at Welland, and relieve my household
loneliness here by becoming my wife.
'I am far from desiring to force a hurried decision on your part,
and will wait your good pleasure patiently, should you feel any
uncertainty at the moment as to the step. I am quite disqualified,
by habits and experience, for the delightful procedure of urging my
suit in the ardent terms which would be so appropriate towards such
a lady, and so expressive of my inmost feeling. In truth, a prosy
cleric of five-and-forty wants encouragement to make him eloquent.
Of this, however, I can assure you: that if admiration, esteem, and
devotion can compensate in any way for the lack of those qualities
which might be found to burn with more outward brightness in a
younger man, those it is in my power to bestow for the term of my
earthly life. Your steady adherence to church principles and your
interest in ecclesiastical polity (as was shown by your bright
questioning on those subjects during our morning walk round your
grounds) have indicated strongly to me the grace and appropriateness
with which you would fill the position of a bishop's wife, and how
greatly you would add to his reputation, should you be disposed to
honour him with your hand. Formerly there have been times when I
was of opinion--and you will rightly appreciate my candour in owning
it--that a wife was an impediment to a bishop's due activities; but
constant observation has convinced me that, far from this being the
truth, a meet consort infuses life into episcopal influence and
'Should you reply in the affirmative I will at once come to see you,
and with your permission will, among other things, show you a few
plain, practical rules which I have interested myself in drawing up
for our future guidance. Should you refuse to change your condition
on my account, your decision will, as I need hardly say, be a great
blow to me. In any event, I could not do less than I have done,
after giving the subject my full consideration. Even if there be a
slight deficiency of warmth on your part, my earnest hope is that a
mind comprehensive as yours will perceive the immense power for good
that you might exercise in the position in which a union with me
would place you, and allow that perception to weigh in determining
'I remain, my dear Lady Constantine, with the highest respect and
'Well, you will not have the foolhardiness to decline, now that the
question has actually been popped, I should hope,' said Louis, when
he had done reading.
'Certainly I shall,' she replied.
'You will really be such a flat, Viviette?'
'You speak without much compliment. I have not the least idea of
'Surely you will not let your infatuation for that young fellow
carry you so far, after my acquainting you with the shady side of
his character? You call yourself a religious woman, say your
prayers out loud, follow up the revived methods in church practice,
and what not; and yet you can think with partiality of a person who,
far from having any religion in him, breaks the most elementary
commandments in the decalogue.'
'I cannot agree with you,' she said, turning her face askance, for
she knew not how much of her brother's language was sincere, and how
much assumed, the extent of his discoveries with regard to her
secret ties being a mystery. At moments she was disposed to declare
the whole truth, and have done with it. But she hesitated, and left
the words unsaid; and Louis continued his breakfast in silence.
When he had finished, and she had eaten little or nothing, he asked
once more, 'How do you intend to answer that letter? Here you are,
the poorest woman in the county, abandoned by people who used to be
glad to know you, and leading a life as dismal and dreary as a
nun's, when an opportunity is offered you of leaping at once into a
leading position in this part of England. Bishops are given to
hospitality; you would be welcomed everywhere. In short, your
answer must be yes.'
'And yet it will be no,' she said, in a low voice. She had at
length learnt, from the tone of her brother's latter remarks, that
at any rate he had no knowledge of her actual marriage, whatever
indirect ties he might suspect her guilty of.
Louis could restrain himself no longer at her answer. 'Then conduct
your affairs your own way. I know you to be leading a life that
won't bear investigation, and I'm hanged if I'll stay here any
Saying which, Glanville jerked back his chair, and strode out of the
room. In less than a quarter of an hour, and before she had moved a
step from the table, she heard him leaving the house.
What to do she could not tell. The step which Swithin had entreated
her to take, objectionable and premature as it had seemed in a
county aspect, would at all events have saved her from this dilemma.
Had she allowed him to tell the Bishop his simple story in its
fulness, who could say but that that divine might have generously
bridled his own impulses, entered into the case with sympathy, and
forwarded with zest their designs for the future, owing to his
interest of old in Swithin's father, and in the naturally attractive
features of the young man's career.
A puff of wind from the open window, wafting the Bishop's letter to
the floor, aroused her from her reverie. With a sigh she stooped
and picked it up, glanced at it again; then arose, and with the
deliberateness of inevitable action wrote her reply:--
'WELLAND HOUSE, June 29, 18--.
'MY DEAR BISHOP OF MELCHESTER,--I confess to you that your letter,
so gracious and flattering as it is, has taken your friend somewhat
unawares. The least I can do in return for its contents is to reply
as quickly as possible.
'There is no one in the world who esteems your high qualities more
than myself, or who has greater faith in your ability to adorn the
episcopal seat that you have been called on to fill. But to your
question I can give only one reply, and that is an unqualified
negative. To state this unavoidable decision distresses me, without
affectation; and I trust you will believe that, though I decline the
distinction of becoming your wife, I shall never cease to interest
myself in all that pertains to you and your office; and shall feel
the keenest regret if this refusal should operate to prevent a
lifelong friendship between us.--I am, my dear Bishop of Melchester,
ever sincerely yours,
A sudden revulsion from the subterfuge of writing as if she were
still a widow, wrought in her mind a feeling of dissatisfaction with
the whole scheme of concealment; and pushing aside the letter she
allowed it to remain unfolded and unaddressed. In a few minutes she
heard Swithin approaching, when she put the letter out of the way
and turned to receive him.
Swithin entered quietly, and looked round the room. Seeing with
unexpected pleasure that she was there alone, he came over and
kissed her. Her discomposure at some foregone event was soon
'Has my staying caused you any trouble?' he asked in a whisper.
'Where is your brother this morning?'
She smiled through her perplexity as she took his hand. 'The oddest
things happen to me, dear Swithin,' she said. 'Do you wish
particularly to know what has happened now?'
'Yes, if you don't mind telling me.'
'I do mind telling you. But I must. Among other things I am
resolving to give way to your representations,--in part, at least.
It will be best to tell the Bishop everything, and my brother, if
not other people.'
'I am truly glad to hear it, Viviette,' said he cheerfully. 'I have
felt for a long time that honesty is the best policy.'
'I at any rate feel it now. But it is a policy that requires a
great deal of courage!'
'It certainly requires some courage,--I should not say a great deal;
and indeed, as far as I am concerned, it demands less courage to
speak out than to hold my tongue.'
'But, you silly boy, you don't know what has happened. The Bishop
has made me an offer of marriage.'
'Good gracious, what an impertinent old man! What have you done
about it, dearest?'
'Well, I have hardly accepted him,' she replied, laughing. 'It is
this event which has suggested to me that I should make my refusal a
reason for confiding our situation to him.'
'What would you have done if you had not been already appropriated?'
'That's an inscrutable mystery. He is a worthy man; but he has very
pronounced views about his own position, and some other undesirable
qualities. Still, who knows? You must bless your stars that you
have secured me. Now let us consider how to draw up our confession
to him. I wish I had listened to you at first, and allowed you to
take him into our confidence before his declaration arrived. He may
possibly resent the concealment now. However, this cannot be
'I tell you what, Viviette,' said Swithin, after a thoughtful pause,
'if the Bishop is such an earthly sort of man as this, a man who
goes falling in love, and wanting to marry you, and so on, I am not
disposed to confess anything to him at all. I fancied him
altogether different from that.'
'But he's none the worse for it, dear.'
'I think he is--to lecture me and love you, all in one breath!'
'Still, that's only a passing phase; and you first proposed making a
confidant of him.'
'I did. . . . Very well. Then we are to tell nobody but the
'And my brother Louis. I must tell him; it is unavoidable. He
suspects me in a way I could never have credited of him!'
Swithin, as was before stated, had arranged to start for Greenwich
that morning, permission having been accorded him by the Astronomer-
Royal to view the Observatory; and their final decision was that, as
he could not afford time to sit down with her, and write to the
Bishop in collaboration, each should, during the day, compose a
well-considered letter, disclosing their position from his and her
own point of view; Lady Constantine leading up to her confession by
her refusal of the Bishop's hand. It was necessary that she should
know what Swithin contemplated saying, that her statements might
precisely harmonize. He ultimately agreed to send her his letter by
the next morning's post, when, having read it, she would in due
course despatch it with her own.
As soon as he had breakfasted Swithin went his way, promising to
return from Greenwich by the end of the week.
Viviette passed the remainder of that long summer day, during which
her young husband was receding towards the capital, in an almost
motionless state. At some instants she felt exultant at the idea of
announcing her marriage and defying general opinion. At another her
heart misgave her, and she was tormented by a fear lest Swithin
should some day accuse her of having hampered his deliberately-
shaped plan of life by her intrusive romanticism. That was often
the trick of men who had sealed by marriage, in their inexperienced
youth, a love for those whom their maturer judgment would have
rejected as too obviously disproportionate in years.
However, it was now too late for these lugubrious thoughts; and,
bracing herself, she began to frame the new reply to Bishop
Helmsdale--the plain, unvarnished tale that was to supplant the
undivulging answer first written. She was engaged on this difficult
problem till daylight faded in the west, and the broad-faced moon
edged upwards, like a plate of old gold, over the elms towards the
village. By that time Swithin had reached Greenwich; her brother
had gone she knew not whither; and she and loneliness dwelt solely,
as before, within the walls of Welland House.
At this hour of sunset and moonrise the new parlourmaid entered, to
inform her that Mr. Cecil's head clerk, from Warborne, particularly
wished to see her.
Mr. Cecil was her solicitor, and she knew of nothing whatever that
required his intervention just at present. But he would not have
sent at this time of day without excellent reasons, and she directed
that the young man might be shown in where she was. On his entry
the first thing she noticed was that in his hand he carried a
'In case you should not have seen this evening's paper, Lady
Constantine, Mr. Cecil has directed me to bring it to you at once,
on account of what appears there in relation to your ladyship. He
has only just seen it himself.'
'What is it? How does it concern me?'
'I will point it out.'
'Read it yourself to me. Though I am afraid there's not enough
'I can see very well here,' said the lawyer's clerk stepping to the
window. Folding back the paper he read:--
'"NEWS FROM SOUTH AFRICA.
'"CAPE TOWN, May 17 (via Plymouth).--A correspondent of the Cape
Chronicle states that he has interviewed an Englishman just arrived
from the interior, and learns from him that a considerable
misapprehension exists in England concerning the death of the
traveller and hunter, Sir Blount Constantine--"'
'O, he's living! My husband is alive,' she cried, sinking down in
nearly a fainting condition.
'No, my lady. Sir Blount is dead enough, I am sorry to say.'
'Dead, did you say?'
'Certainly, Lady Constantine; there is no doubt of it.'
She sat up, and her intense relief almost made itself perceptible
like a fresh atmosphere in the room. 'Yes. Then what did you come
for?' she asked calmly.
'That Sir Blount has died is unquestionable,' replied the lawyer's
clerk gently. 'But there has been some mistake about the date of
'He died of malarious fever on the banks of the Zouga, October 24,
'No; he only lay ill there a long time it seems. It was a companion
who died at that date. But I'll read the account to your ladyship,
with your permission:--
'"The decease of this somewhat eccentric wanderer did not occur at
the time hitherto supposed, but only in last December. The
following is the account of the Englishman alluded to, given as
nearly as possible in his own words: During the illness of Sir
Blount and his friend by the Zouga, three of the servants went away,
taking with them a portion of his clothing and effects; and it must
be they who spread the report of his death at this time. After his
companion's death he mended, and when he was strong enough he and I
travelled on to a healthier district. I urged him not to delay his
return to England; but he was much against going back there again,
and became so rough in his manner towards me that we parted company
at the first opportunity I could find. I joined a party of white
traders returning to the West Coast. I stayed here among the
Portuguese for many months. I then found that an English travelling
party were going to explore a district adjoining that which I had
formerly traversed with Sir Blount. They said they would be glad of
my services, and I joined them. When we had crossed the territory
to the South of Ulunda, and drew near to Marzambo, I heard tidings
of a man living there whom I suspected to be Sir Blount, although he
was not known by that name. Being so near I was induced to seek him
out, and found that he was indeed the same. He had dropped his old
name altogether, and had married a native princess--"'
'Married a native princess!' said Lady Constantine.
'That's what it says, my lady,--"married a native princess according
to the rites of the tribe, and was living very happily with her. He
told me he should never return to England again. He also told me
that having seen this princess just after I had left him, he had
been attracted by her, and had thereupon decided to reside with her
in that country, as being a land which afforded him greater
happiness than he could hope to attain elsewhere. He asked me to
stay with him, instead of going on with my party, and not reveal his
real title to any of them. After some hesitation I did stay, and
was not uncomfortable at first. But I soon found that Sir Blount
drank much harder now than when I had known him, and that he was at
times very greatly depressed in mind at his position. One morning
in the middle of December last I heard a shot from his dwelling.
His wife rushed frantically past me as I hastened to the spot, and
when I entered I found that he had put an end to himself with his
revolver. His princess was broken-hearted all that day. When we
had buried him I discovered in his house a little box directed to
his solicitors at Warborne, in England, and a note for myself,
saying that I had better get the first chance of returning that
offered, and requesting me to take the box with me. It is supposed
to contain papers and articles for friends in England who have
deemed him dead for some time."'
The clerk stopped his reading, and there was a silence. 'The middle
of last December,' she at length said, in a whisper. 'Has the box
'Not yet, my lady. We have no further proof of anything. As soon
as the package comes to hand you shall know of it immediately.'
Such was the clerk's mission; and, leaving the paper with her, he
withdrew. The intelligence amounted to thus much: that, Sir Blount
having been alive till at least six weeks after her marriage with
Swithin St. Cleeve, Swithin St. Cleeve was not her husband in the
eye of the law; that she would have to consider how her marriage
with the latter might be instantly repeated, to establish herself
legally as that young man's wife.
Next morning Viviette received a visit from Mr. Cecil himself. He
informed her that the box spoken of by the servant had arrived quite
unexpectedly just after the departure of his clerk on the previous
evening. There had not been sufficient time for him to thoroughly
examine it as yet, but he had seen enough to enable him to state
that it contained letters, dated memoranda in Sir Blount's
handwriting, notes referring to events which had happened later than
his supposed death, and other irrefragable proofs that the account
in the newspapers was correct as to the main fact--the comparatively
recent date of Sir Blount's decease.
She looked up, and spoke with the irresponsible helplessness of a
'On reviewing the circumstances, I cannot think how I could have
allowed myself to believe the first tidings!' she said.
'Everybody else believed them, and why should you not have done so?'
said the lawyer.
'How came the will to be permitted to be proved, as there could,
after all, have been no complete evidence?' she asked. 'If I had
been the executrix I would not have attempted it! As I was not, I
know very little about how the business was pushed through. In a
very unseemly way, I think.'
'Well, no,' said Mr. Cecil, feeling himself morally called upon to
defend legal procedure from such imputations. 'It was done in the
usual way in all cases where the proof of death is only presumptive.
The evidence, such as it was, was laid before the court by the
applicants, your husband's cousins; and the servants who had been
with him deposed to his death with a particularity that was deemed
sufficient. Their error was, not that somebody died--for somebody
did die at the time affirmed--but that they mistook one person for
another; the person who died being not Sir Blount Constantine. The
court was of opinion that the evidence led up to a reasonable
inference that the deceased was actually Sir Blount, and probate was
granted on the strength of it. As there was a doubt about the exact
day of the month, the applicants were allowed to swear that he died
on or after the date last given of his existence--which, in spite of
their error then, has really come true, now, of course.'
'They little think what they have done to me by being so ready to
swear!' she murmured.
Mr. Cecil, supposing her to allude only to the pecuniary straits in
which she had been prematurely placed by the will taking effect a
year before its due time, said, 'True. It has been to your
ladyship's loss, and to their gain. But they will make ample
restitution, no doubt: and all will be wound up satisfactorily.'
Lady Constantine was far from explaining that this was not her
meaning; and, after some further conversation of a purely technical
nature, Mr. Cecil left her presence.
When she was again unencumbered with the necessity of exhibiting a
proper bearing, the sense that she had greatly suffered in pocket by
the undue haste of the executors weighed upon her mind with a
pressure quite inappreciable beside the greater gravity of her
personal position. What was her position as legatee to her
situation as a woman? Her face crimsoned with a flush which she was
almost ashamed to show to the daylight, as she hastily penned the
following note to Swithin at Greenwich--certainly one of the most
informal documents she had ever written.
'O Swithin, my dear Swithin, what I have to tell you is so sad and
so humiliating that I can hardly write it--and yet I must. Though
we are dearer to each other than all the world besides, and as
firmly united as if we were one, I am not legally your wife! Sir
Blount did not die till some time after we in England supposed. The
service must be repeated instantly. I have not been able to sleep
all night. I feel so frightened and ashamed that I can scarcely
arrange my thoughts. The newspapers sent with this will explain, if
you have not seen particulars. Do come to me as soon as you can,
that we may consult on what to do. Burn this at once.
When the note was despatched she remembered that there was another
hardly less important question to be answered--the proposal of the
Bishop for her hand. His communication had sunk into nothingness
beside the momentous news that had so greatly distressed her. The
two replies lay before her--the one she had first written, simply
declining to become Dr. Helmsdale's wife, without giving reasons;
the second, which she had elaborated with so much care on the
previous day, relating in confidential detail the history of her
love for Swithin, their secret marriage, and their hopes for the
future; asking his advice on what their procedure should be to
escape the strictures of a censorious world. It was the letter she
had barely finished writing when Mr. Cecil's clerk announced news
tantamount to a declaration that she was no wife at all.
This epistle she now destroyed--and with the less reluctance in
knowing that Swithin had been somewhat averse to the confession as
soon as he found that Bishop Helmsdale was also a victim to tender
sentiment concerning her. The first, in which, at the time of
writing, the suppressio veri was too strong for her conscience, had
now become an honest letter, and sadly folding it she sent the
missive on its way.
The sense of her undefinable position kept her from much repose on
the second night also; but the following morning brought an
unexpected letter from Swithin, written about the same hour as hers
to him, and it comforted her much.
He had seen the account in the papers almost as soon as it had come
to her knowledge, and sent this line to reassure her in the
perturbation she must naturally feel. She was not to be alarmed at
all. They two were husband and wife in moral intent and antecedent
belief, and the legal flaw which accident had so curiously uncovered
could be mended in half-an-hour. He would return on Saturday night
at latest, but as the hour would probably be far advanced, he would
ask her to meet him by slipping out of the house to the tower any
time during service on Sunday morning, when there would be few
persons about likely to observe them. Meanwhile he might
provisionally state that their best course in the emergency would
be, instead of confessing to anybody that there had already been a
solemnization of marriage between them, to arrange their re-marriage
in as open a manner as possible--as if it were the just-reached
climax of a sudden affection, instead of a harking back to an old
departure--prefacing it by a public announcement in the usual way.
This plan of approaching their second union with all the show and
circumstance of a new thing, recommended itself to her strongly, but
for one objection--that by such a course the wedding could not,
without appearing like an act of unseemly haste, take place so
quickly as she desired for her own moral satisfaction. It might
take place somewhat early, say in the course of a month or two,
without bringing down upon her the charge of levity; for Sir Blount,
a notoriously unkind husband, had been out of her sight four years,
and in his grave nearly one. But what she naturally desired was
that there should be no more delay than was positively necessary for
obtaining a new license--two or three days at longest; and in view
of this celerity it was next to impossible to make due preparation
for a wedding of ordinary publicity, performed in her own church,
from her own house, with a feast and amusements for the villagers, a
tea for the school children, a bonfire, and other of those
proclamatory accessories which, by meeting wonder half-way, deprive
it of much of its intensity. It must be admitted, too, that she
even now shrank from the shock of surprise that would inevitably be
caused by her openly taking for husband such a mere youth of no
position as Swithin still appeared, notwithstanding that in years he
was by this time within a trifle of one-and-twenty.
The straightforward course had, nevertheless, so much to recommend
it, so well avoided the disadvantage of future revelation which a
private repetition of the ceremony would entail, that assuming she
could depend upon Swithin, as she knew she could do, good sense
counselled its serious consideration.
She became more composed at her queer situation: hour after hour
passed, and the first spasmodic impulse of womanly decorum--not to
let the sun go down upon her present improper state--was quite
controllable. She could regard the strange contingency that had
arisen with something like philosophy. The day slipped by: she
thought of the awkwardness of the accident rather than of its
humiliation; and, loving Swithin now in a far calmer spirit than at
that past date when they had rushed into each other's arms and vowed
to be one for the first time, she ever and anon caught herself
reflecting, 'Were it not that for my honour's sake I must re-marry
him, I should perhaps be a nobler woman in not allowing him to
encumber his bright future by a union with me at all.'
This thought, at first artificially raised, as little more than a
mental exercise, became by stages a genuine conviction; and while
her heart enforced, her reason regretted the necessity of abstaining
from self-sacrifice--the being obliged, despite his curious escape
from the first attempt, to lime Swithin's young wings again solely
for her credit's sake.
However, the deed had to be done; Swithin was to be made legally
hers. Selfishness in a conjuncture of this sort was excusable, and
even obligatory. Taking brighter views, she hoped that upon the
whole this yoking of the young fellow with her, a portionless woman
and his senior, would not greatly endanger his career. In such a
mood night overtook her, and she went to bed conjecturing that
Swithin had by this time arrived in the parish, was perhaps even at
that moment passing homeward beneath her walls, and that in less
than twelve hours she would have met him, have ventilated the secret
which oppressed her, and have satisfactorily arranged with him the
details of their reunion.
Sunday morning came, and complicated her previous emotions by
bringing a new and unexpected shock to mingle with them. The
postman had delivered among other things an illustrated newspaper,
sent by a hand she did not recognize; and on opening the cover the
sheet that met her eyes filled her with a horror which she could not
express. The print was one which drew largely on its imagination
for its engravings, and it already contained an illustration of the
death of Sir Blount Constantine. In this work of art he was
represented as standing with his pistol to his mouth, his brains
being in process of flying up to the roof of his chamber, and his
native princess rushing terror-stricken away to a remote position in
the thicket of palms which neighboured the dwelling.
The crude realism of the picture, possibly harmless enough in its
effect upon others, overpowered and sickened her. By a curious
fascination she would look at it again and again, till every line of
the engraver's performance seemed really a transcript from what had
happened before his eyes. With such details fresh in her thoughts
she was going out of the door to make arrangements for confirming,
by repetition, her marriage with another. No interval was available
for serious reflection on the tragedy, or for allowing the softening
effects of time to operate in her mind. It was as though her first
husband had died that moment, and she was keeping an appointment
with another in the presence of his corpse.
So revived was the actuality of Sir Blount's recent life and death
by this incident, that the distress of her personal relations with
Swithin was the single force in the world which could have coerced
her into abandoning to him the interval she would fain have set
apart for getting over these new and painful impressions. Self-pity
for ill-usage afforded her good reasons for ceasing to love Sir
Blount; but he was yet too closely intertwined with her past life to
be destructible on the instant as a memory.
But there was no choice of occasions for her now, and she steadily
waited for the church bells to cease chiming. At last all was
silent; the surrounding cottagers had gathered themselves within the
walls of the adjacent building. Tabitha Lark's first voluntary then
droned from the tower window, and Lady Constantine left the garden
in which she had been loitering, and went towards Rings-Hill Speer.
The sense of her situation obscured the morning prospect. The
country was unusually silent under the intensifying sun, the
songless season of birds having just set in. Choosing her path amid
the efts that were basking upon the outer slopes of the plantation
she wound her way up the tree-shrouded camp to the wooden cabin in
The door was ajar, but on entering she found the place empty. The
tower door was also partly open; and listening at the foot of the
stairs she heard Swithin above, shifting the telescope and wheeling
round the rumbling dome, apparently in preparation for the next
nocturnal reconnoitre. There was no doubt that he would descend in
a minute or two to look for her, and not wishing to interrupt him
till he was ready she re-entered the cabin, where she patiently
seated herself among the books and papers that lay scattered about.
She did as she had often done before when waiting there for him;
that is, she occupied her moments in turning over the papers and
examining the progress of his labours. The notes were mostly
astronomical, of course, and she had managed to keep sufficiently
abreast of him to catch the meaning of a good many of these. The
litter on the table, however, was somewhat more marked this morning
than usual, as if it had been hurriedly overhauled. Among the rest
of the sheets lay an open note, and, in the entire confidence that
existed between them, she glanced over and read it as a matter of
It was a most business-like communication, and beyond the address
and date contained only the following words:--
'DEAR SIR,--We beg leave to draw your attention to a letter we
addressed to you on the 26th ult., to which we have not yet been
favoured with a reply. As the time for payment of the first moiety
of the six hundred pounds per annum settled on you by your late
uncle is now at hand, we should be obliged by your giving directions
as to where and in what manner the money is to be handed over to
you, and shall also be glad to receive any other definite
instructions from you with regard to the future.--We are, dear Sir,
HANNER AND RAWLES.'
'SWITHIN ST. CLEEVE, Esq.'
An income of six hundred a year for Swithin, whom she had hitherto
understood to be possessed of an annuity of eighty pounds at the
outside, with no prospect of increasing the sum but by hard work!
What could this communication mean? He whose custom and delight it
was to tell her all his heart, had breathed not a syllable of this
matter to her, though it met the very difficulty towards which their
discussions invariably tended--how to secure for him a competency
that should enable him to establish his pursuits on a wider basis,
and throw himself into more direct communion with the scientific
world. Quite bewildered by the lack of any explanation she rose
from her seat, and with the note in her hand ascended the winding
Reaching the upper aperture she perceived him under the dome, moving
musingly about as if he had never been absent an hour, his light
hair frilling out from under the edge of his velvet skull-cap as it
was always wont to do. No question of marriage seemed to be
disturbing the mind of this juvenile husband of hers. The primum
mobile of his gravitation was apparently the equatorial telescope
which she had given him, and which he was carefully adjusting by
means of screws and clamps. Hearing her movements he turned his
'O here you are, my dear Viviette! I was just beginning to expect
you,' he exclaimed, coming forward. 'I ought to have been looking
out for you, but I have found a little defect here in the
instrument, and I wanted to set it right before evening comes on.
As a rule it is not a good thing to tinker your glasses; but I have
found that the diffraction-rings are not perfect circles. I learnt
at Greenwich how to correct them--so kind they have been to me
there!--and so I have been loosening the screws and gently shifting
the glass, till I think that I have at last made the illumination
equal all round. I have so much to tell you about my visit; one
thing is, that the astronomical world is getting quite excited about
the coming Transit of Venus. There is to be a regular expedition
fitted out. How I should like to join it!'
He spoke enthusiastically, and with eyes sparkling at the mental
image of the said expedition; and as it was rather gloomy in the
dome he rolled it round on its axis, till the shuttered slit for the
telescope directly faced the morning sun, which thereupon flooded
the concave interior, touching the bright metal-work of the
equatorial, and lighting up her pale, troubled face.
'But Swithin!' she faltered; 'my letter to you--our marriage!'
'O yes, this marriage question,' he added. 'I had not forgotten it,
dear Viviette--or at least only for a few minutes.'
'Can you forget it, Swithin, for a moment? O how can you!' she said
reproachfully. 'It is such a distressing thing. It drives away all
'Forgotten is not the word I should have used,' he apologized.
'Temporarily dismissed it from my mind, is all I meant. The simple
fact is, that the vastness of the field of astronomy reduces every
terrestrial thing to atomic dimensions. Do not trouble, dearest.
The remedy is quite easy, as I stated in my letter. We can now be
married in a prosy public way. Yes, early or late--next week, next
month, six months hence--just as you choose. Say the word when, and
I will obey.'
The absence of all anxiety or consternation from his face contrasted
strangely with hers, which at last he saw, and, looking at the
writing she held, inquired--
'But what paper have you in your hand?'
'A letter which to me is actually inexplicable,' said she, her
curiosity returning to the letter, and overriding for the instant
her immediate concerns. 'What does this income of six hundred a
year mean? Why have you never told me about it, dear Swithin? or
does it not refer to you?'
He looked at the note, flushed slightly, and was absolutely unable
to begin his reply at once.
'I did not mean you to see that, Viviette,' he murmured.
'I thought you had better not, as it does not concern me further
now. The solicitors are labouring under a mistake in supposing that
it does. I have to write at once and inform them that the annuity
is not mine to receive.'
'What a strange mystery in your life!' she said, forcing a perplexed
smile. 'Something to balance the tragedy in mine. I am absolutely
in the dark as to your past history, it seems. And yet I had
thought you told me everything.'
'I could not tell you that, Viviette, because it would have
endangered our relations--though not in the way you may suppose.
You would have reproved me. You, who are so generous and noble,
would have forbidden me to do what I did; and I was determined not
to be forbidden.'
'To do what?'
'To marry you.'
'Why should I have forbidden?'
'Must I tell--what I would not?' he said, placing his hands upon her
arms, and looking somewhat sadly at her. 'Well, perhaps as it has
come to this you ought to know all, since it can make no possible
difference to my intentions now. We are one for ever--legal
blunders notwithstanding; for happily they are quickly reparable--
and this question of a devise from my uncle Jocelyn only concerned
me when I was a single man.'
Thereupon, with obviously no consideration of the possibilities that
were reopened of the nullity of their marriage contract, he related
in detail, and not without misgiving for having concealed them so
long, the events that had occurred on the morning of their wedding-
day; how he had met the postman on his way to Warborne after
dressing in the cabin, and how he had received from him the letter
his dead uncle had confided to his family lawyers, informing him of
the annuity, and of the important request attached--that he should
remain unmarried until his five-and-twentieth year; how in
comparison with the possession of her dear self he had reckoned the
income as nought, abandoned all idea of it there and then, and had
come on to the wedding as if nothing had happened to interrupt for a
moment the working out of their plan; how he had scarcely thought
with any closeness of the circumstances of the case since, until
reminded of them by this note she had seen, and a previous one of a
like sort received from the same solicitors.
'O Swithin! Swithin!' she cried, bursting into tears as she realized
it all, and sinking on the observing-chair; 'I have ruined you! yes,
I have ruined you!'
The young man was dismayed by her unexpected grief, and endeavoured
to soothe her; but she seemed touched by a poignant remorse which
would not be comforted.
'And now,' she continued, as soon as she could speak, 'when you are
once more free, and in a position--actually in a position to claim
the annuity that would be the making of you, I am compelled to come
to you, and beseech you to undo yourself again, merely to save me!'
'Not to save you, Viviette, but to bless me. You do not ask me to
re-marry; it is not a question of alternatives at all; it is my
straight course. I do not dream of doing otherwise. I should be
wretched if you thought for one moment I could entertain the idea of
But the more he said the worse he made the matter. It was a state
of affairs that would not bear discussion at all, and the
unsophisticated view he took of his course seemed to increase her
'Why did your uncle attach such a cruel condition to his bounty?'
she cried bitterly. 'O, he little thinks how hard he hits me from
the grave--me, who have never done him wrong; and you, too!
Swithin, are you sure that he makes that condition indispensable?
Perhaps he meant that you should not marry beneath you; perhaps he
did not mean to object in such a case as your marrying (forgive me
for saying it) a little above you.'
'There is no doubt that he did not contemplate a case which has led
to such happiness as this has done,' the youth murmured with
hesitation; for though he scarcely remembered a word of his uncle's
letter of advice, he had a dim apprehension that it was couched in
terms alluding specifically to Lady Constantine.
'Are you sure you cannot retain the money, and be my lawful husband
too?' she asked piteously. 'O, what a wrong I am doing you! I did
not dream that it could be as bad as this. I knew I was wasting
your time by letting you love me, and hampering your projects; but I
thought there were compensating advantages. This wrecking of your
future at my hands I did not contemplate. You are sure there is no
escape? Have you his letter with the conditions, or the will? Let
me see the letter in which he expresses his wishes.'
'I assure you it is all as I say,' he pensively returned. 'Even if
I were not legally bound by the conditions I should be morally.'
'But how does he put it? How does he justify himself in making such
a harsh restriction? Do let me see the letter, Swithin. I shall
think it a want of confidence if you do not. I may discover some
way out of the difficulty if you let me look at the papers.
Eccentric wills can be evaded in all sorts of ways.'
Still he hesitated. 'I would rather you did not see the papers,' he
But she persisted as only a fond woman can. Her conviction was that
she who, as a woman many years his senior, should have shown her
love for him by guiding him straight into the paths he aimed at, had
blocked his attempted career for her own happiness. This made her
more intent than ever to find out a device by which, while she still
retained him, he might also retain the life-interest under his
Her entreaties were at length too potent for his resistance.
Accompanying her downstairs to the cabin, he opened the desk from
which the other papers had been taken, and against his better
judgment handed her the ominous communication of Jocelyn St. Cleeve
which lay in the envelope just as it had been received three-
quarters of a year earlier.
'Don't read it now,' he said. 'Don't spoil our meeting by entering
into a subject which is virtually past and done with. Take it with
you, and look it over at your leisure--merely as an old curiosity,
remember, and not as a still operative document. I have almost
forgotten what the contents are, beyond the general advice and
stipulation that I was to remain a bachelor.'
'At any rate,' she rejoined, 'do not reply to the note I have seen
from the solicitors till I have read this also.'
He promised. 'But now about our public wedding,' he said. 'Like
certain royal personages, we shall have had the religious rite and
the civil contract performed on independent occasions. Will you fix
the day? When is it to be? and shall it take place at a registrar's
office, since there is no necessity for having the sacred part over
'I'll think,' replied she. 'I'll think it over.'
'And let me know as soon as you can how you decide to proceed.'
'I will write to-morrow, or come. I do not know what to say now. I
cannot forget how I am wronging you. This is almost more than I can
To divert her mind he began talking about Greenwich Observatory, and
the great instruments therein, and how he had been received by the
astronomers, and the details of the expedition to observe the
Transit of Venus, together with many other subjects of the sort, to
which she had not power to lend her attention.
'I must reach home before the people are out of church,' she at
length said wearily. 'I wish nobody to know I have been out this
morning.' And forbidding Swithin to cross into the open in her
company she left him on the edge of the isolated plantation, which
had latterly known her tread so well.
Lady Constantine crossed the field and the park beyond, and found on
passing the church that the congregation was still within. There
was no hurry for getting indoors, the open windows enabling her to
hear that Mr. Torkingham had only just given out his text. So
instead of entering the house she went through the garden-door to
the old bowling-green, and sat down in the arbour that Louis had
occupied when he overheard the interview between Swithin and the
Bishop. Not until then did she find courage to draw out the letter
and papers relating to the bequest, which Swithin in a critical
moment had handed to her.
Had he been ever so little older he would not have placed that
unconsidered confidence in Viviette which had led him to give way to
her curiosity. But the influence over him which eight or nine
outnumbering years lent her was immensely increased by her higher
position and wider experiences, and he had yielded the point, as he
yielded all social points; while the same conditions exempted him
from any deep consciousness that it was his duty to protect her even
The preamble of Dr. St. Cleeve's letter, in which he referred to his
pleasure at hearing of the young man's promise as an astronomer,
disturbed her not at all--indeed, somewhat prepossessed her in
favour of the old gentleman who had written it. The first item of
what he called 'unfavourable news,' namely, the allusion to the
inadequacy of Swithin's income to the wants of a scientific man,
whose lines of work were not calculated to produce pecuniary
emolument for many years, deepened the cast of her face to concern.
She reached the second item of the so-called unfavourable news; and
her face flushed as she read how the doctor had learnt 'that there
was something in your path worse than narrow means, and that
something is a woman.'
'To save you, if possible, from ruin on these heads,' she read on,
'I take the preventive measures entailed below.'
And then followed the announcement of the 600 pounds a year settled
on the youth for life, on the single condition that he remained
unmarried till the age of twenty-five--just as Swithin had explained
to her. She next learnt that the bequest was for a definite object-
-that he might have resources sufficient to enable him to travel in
an inexpensive way, and begin a study of the southern
constellations, which, according to the shrewd old man's judgment,
were a mine not so thoroughly worked as the northern, and therefore
to be recommended. This was followed by some sentences which hit
her in the face like a switch:--
'The only other preventive step in my power is that of exhortation.
. . . Swithin St. Cleeve, don't make a fool of yourself, as your
father did. If your studies are to be worth anything, believe me
they must be carried on without the help of a woman. Avoid her, and
every one of the sex, if you mean to achieve any worthy thing.
Eschew all of that sort for many a year yet. Moreover, I say, the
lady of your acquaintance avoid in particular. . . . She has, in
addition to her original disqualification as a companion for you
(that is, that of sex), these two special drawbacks: she is much
older than yourself--'
Lady Constantine's indignant flush forsook her, and pale despair
succeeded in its stead. Alas, it was true. Handsome, and in her
prime, she might be; but she was too old for Swithin!
'And she is so impoverished. . . . Beyond this, frankly, I don't
think well of her. I don't think well of any woman who dotes upon a
man younger than herself. . . . To care to be the first fancy of a
young fellow like you shows no great common sense in her. If she
were worth her salt she would have too much pride to be intimate
with a youth in your unassured position, to say no more.'
(Viviette's face by this time tingled hot again.) 'She is old
enough to know that a liaison with her may, and almost certainly
would, be your ruin; and, on the other hand, that a marriage would
be preposterous--unless she is a complete fool; and in that case
there is even more reason for avoiding her than if she were in her
'A woman of honourable feeling, nephew, would be careful to do
nothing to hinder you in your career, as this putting of herself in
your way most certainly will. Yet I hear that she professes a great
anxiety on this same future of yours as a physicist. The best way
in which she can show the reality of her anxiety is by leaving you
Leaving him to himself! She paled again, as if chilled by a
conviction that in this the old man was right.
'She'll blab your most secret plans and theories to every one of her
acquaintance, and make you appear ridiculous by announcing them
before they are matured. If you attempt to study with a woman,
you'll be ruled by her to entertain fancies instead of theories,
air-castles instead of intentions, qualms instead of opinions,
sickly prepossessions instead of reasoned conclusions. . . .
'An experienced woman waking a young man's passions just at a moment
when he is endeavouring to shine intellectually, is doing little
less than committing a crime.'
Thus much the letter; and it was enough for her, indeed. The
flushes of indignation which had passed over her, as she gathered
this man's opinion of herself, combined with flushes of grief and
shame when she considered that Swithin--her dear Swithin--was
perfectly acquainted with this cynical view of her nature; that,
reject it as he might, and as he unquestionably did, such thoughts
of her had been implanted in him, and lay in him. Stifled as they
were, they lay in him like seeds too deep for germination, which
accident might some day bring near the surface and aerate into life.
The humiliation of such a possibility was almost too much to endure;
the mortification--she had known nothing like it till now. But this
was not all. There succeeded a feeling in comparison with which
resentment and mortification were happy moods--a miserable
conviction that this old man who spoke from the grave was not
altogether wrong in his speaking; that he was only half wrong; that
he was, perhaps, virtually right. Only those persons who are by
nature affected with that ready esteem for others' positions which
induces an undervaluing of their own, fully experience the deep
smart of such convictions against self--the wish for annihilation
that is engendered in the moment of despair, at feeling that at
length we, our best and firmest friend, cease to believe in our
Viviette could hear the people coming out of church on the other
side of the garden wall. Their footsteps and their cheerful voices
died away; the bell rang for lunch; and she went in. But her life
during that morning and afternoon was wholly introspective. Knowing
the full circumstances of his situation as she knew them now--as she
had never before known them--ought she to make herself the legal
wife of Swithin St. Cleeve, and so secure her own honour at any
price to him? such was the formidable question which Lady
Constantine propounded to her startled understanding. As a
subjectively honest woman alone, beginning her charity at home,
there was no doubt that she ought. Save Thyself was sound Old
Testament doctrine, and not altogether discountenanced in the New.
But was there a line of conduct which transcended mere self-
preservation? and would it not be an excellent thing to put it in
That she had wronged St. Cleeve by marrying him--that she would
wrong him infinitely more by completing the marriage--there was, in
her opinion, no doubt. She in her experience had sought out him in
his inexperience, and had led him like a child. She remembered--as
if it had been her fault, though it was in fact only her misfortune-
-that she had been the one to go for the license and take up
residence in the parish in which they were wedded. He was now just
one-and-twenty. Without her, he had all the world before him, six
hundred a year, and leave to cut as straight a road to fame as he
should choose: with her, this story was negatived.
No money from his uncle; no power of advancement; but a bondage with
a woman whose disparity of years, though immaterial just now, would
operate in the future as a wet blanket upon his social ambitions;
and that content with life as it was which she had noticed more than
once in him latterly, a content imperilling his scientific spirit by
abstracting his zeal for progress.
It was impossible, in short, to blind herself to the inference that
marriage with her had not benefited him. Matters might improve in
the future; but to take upon herself the whole liability of
Swithin's life, as she would do by depriving him of the help his
uncle had offered, was a fearful responsibility. How could she, an
unendowed woman, replace such assistance? His recent visit to
Greenwich, which had momentarily revived that zest for his pursuit
that was now less constant than heretofore, should by rights be
supplemented by other such expeditions. It would be true
benevolence not to deprive him of means to continue them, so as to
keep his ardour alive, regardless of the cost to herself.
It could be done. By the extraordinary favour of a unique accident
she had now an opportunity of redeeming Swithin's seriously
compromised future, and restoring him to a state no worse than his
first. His annuity could be enjoyed by him, his travels undertaken,
his studies pursued, his high vocation initiated, by one little
sacrifice--that of herself. She only had to refuse to legalize
their marriage, to part from him for ever, and all would be well
with him thenceforward. The pain to him would after all be but
slight, whatever it might be to his wretched Viviette.
The ineptness of retaining him at her side lay not only in the fact
itself of injury to him, but in the likelihood of his living to see
it as such, and reproaching her for selfishness in not letting him
go in this unprecedented opportunity for correcting a move proved to
be false. He wished to examine the southern heavens--perhaps his
uncle's letter was the father of the wish--and there was no telling
what good might not result to mankind at large from his exploits
there. Why should she, to save her narrow honour, waste the wide
promise of his ability?
That in immolating herself by refusing him, and leaving him free to
work wonders for the good of his fellow-creatures, she would in all
probability add to the sum of human felicity, consoled her by its
breadth as an idea even while it tortured her by making herself the
scapegoat or single unit on whom the evil would fall. Ought a
possibly large number, Swithin included, to remain unbenefited
because the one individual to whom his release would be an injury
chanced to be herself? Love between man and woman, which in Homer,
Moses, and other early exhibitors of life, is mere desire, had for
centuries past so far broadened as to include sympathy and
friendship; surely it should in this advanced stage of the world
include benevolence also. If so, it was her duty to set her young
Thus she laboured, with a generosity more worthy even than its
object, to sink her love for her own decorum in devotion to the
world in general, and to Swithin in particular. To counsel her
activities by her understanding, rather than by her emotions as
usual, was hard work for a tender woman; but she strove hard, and
made advance. The self-centred attitude natural to one in her
situation was becoming displaced by the sympathetic attitude, which,
though it had to be artificially fostered at first, gave her, by
degrees, a certain sweet sense that she was rising above self-love.
That maternal element which had from time to time evinced itself in
her affection for the youth, and was imparted by her superior
ripeness in experience and years, appeared now again, as she drew
nearer the resolve not to secure propriety in her own social
condition at the expense of this youth's earthly utility.
Unexpectedly grand fruits are sometimes forced forth by harsh
pruning. The illiberal letter of Swithin's uncle was suggesting to
Lady Constantine an altruism whose thoroughness would probably have
amazed that queer old gentleman into a withdrawal of the conditions
that had induced it. To love St. Cleeve so far better than herself
as this was to surpass the love of women as conventionally
understood, and as mostly existing.
Before, however, clinching her decision by any definite step she
worried her little brain by devising every kind of ingenious scheme,
in the hope of lighting on one that might show her how that decision
could be avoided with the same good result. But to secure for him
the advantages offered, and to retain him likewise; reflection only
showed it to be impossible.
Yet to let him go FOR EVER was more than she could endure, and at
length she jumped at an idea which promised some sort of improvement
on that design. She would propose that reunion should not be
entirely abandoned, but simply postponed--namely, till after his
twenty-fifth birthday--when he might be her husband without, at any
rate, the loss to him of the income. By this time he would
approximate to a man's full judgment, and that painful aspect of her
as one who had deluded his raw immaturity would have passed for
The plan somewhat appeased her disquieted honour. To let a marriage
sink into abeyance for four or five years was not to nullify it; and
though she would leave it to him to move its substantiation at the
end of that time, without present stipulations, she had not much
doubt upon the issue.
The clock struck five. This silent mental debate had occupied her
whole afternoon. Perhaps it would not have ended now but for an
unexpected incident--the entry of her brother Louis. He came into
the room where she was sitting, or rather writhing, and after a few
words to explain how he had got there and about the mistake in the
date of Sir Blount's death, he walked up close to her. His next
remarks were apologetic in form, but in essence they were bitterness
'Viviette,' he said, 'I am sorry for my hasty words to you when I
last left this house. I readily withdraw them. My suspicions took
a wrong direction. I think now that I know the truth. You have
been even madder than I supposed!'
'In what way?' she asked distantly.
'I lately thought that unhappy young man was only your too-favoured
'You thought wrong: he is not.'
'He is not--I believe you--for he is more. I now am persuaded that
he is your lawful husband. Can you deny it!'
'On your sacred word!'
'On my sacred word he is not that either.'
'Thank heaven for that assurance!' said Louis, exhaling a breath of
relief. 'I was not so positive as I pretended to be--but I wanted
to know the truth of this mystery. Since you are not fettered to
him in that way I care nothing.'
Louis turned away; and that afforded her an opportunity for leaving
the room. Those few words were the last grains that had turned the
balance, and settled her doom.
She would let Swithin go. All the voices in her world seemed to
clamour for that consummation. The morning's mortification, the
afternoon's benevolence, and the evening's instincts of evasion had
joined to carry the point.
Accordingly she sat down, and wrote to Swithin a summary of the
thoughts above detailed.
'We shall separate,' she concluded. 'You to obey your uncle's
orders and explore the southern skies; I to wait as one who can
implicitly trust you. Do not see me again till the years have
expired. You will find me still the same. I am your wife through
all time; the letter of the law is not needed to reassert it at
present; while the absence of the letter secures your fortune.'
Nothing can express what it cost Lady Constantine to marshal her
arguments; but she did it, and vanquished self-comfort by a sense of
the general expediency. It may unhesitatingly be affirmed that the
only ignoble reason which might have dictated such a step was non-
existent; that is to say, a serious decline in her affection.
Tenderly she had loved the youth at first, and tenderly she loved
him now, as time and her after-conduct proved.
Women the most delicate get used to strange moral situations. Eve
probably regained her normal sweet composure about a week after the
Fall. On first learning of her anomalous position Lady Constantine
had blushed hot, and her pure instincts had prompted her to legalize
her marriage without a moment's delay. Heaven and earth were to be
moved at once to effect it. Day after day had passed; her union had
remained unsecured, and the idea of its nullity had gradually ceased
to be strange to her; till it became of little account beside her
bold resolve for the young man's sake.
The immediate effect upon St. Cleeve of the receipt of her well-
reasoned argument for retrocession was, naturally, a bitter attack
upon himself for having been guilty of such cruel carelessness as to
leave in her way the lawyer's letter that had first made her aware
of his uncle's provision for him. Immature as he was, he could
realize Viviette's position sufficiently well to perceive what the
poor lady must suffer at having suddenly thrust upon her the
responsibility of repairing her own situation as a wife by ruining
his as a legatee. True, it was by the purest inadvertence that his
pending sacrifice of means had been discovered; but he should have
taken special pains to render such a mishap impossible. If on the
first occasion, when a revelation might have been made with
impunity, he would not put it in the power of her good nature to
relieve his position by refusing him, he should have shown double
care not to do so now, when she could not exercise that benevolence
without the loss of honour.
With a young man's inattention to issues he had not considered how
sharp her feelings as a woman must be in this contingency. It had
seemed the easiest thing in the world to remedy the defect in their
marriage, and therefore nothing to be anxious about. And in his
innocence of any thought of appropriating the bequest by taking
advantage of the loophole in his matrimonial bond, he undervalued
the importance of concealing the existence of that bequest.
The looming fear of unhappiness between them revived in Swithin the
warm emotions of their earlier acquaintance. Almost before the sun
had set he hastened to Welland House in search of her. The air was
disturbed by stiff summer blasts, productive of windfalls and
premature descents of leafage. It was an hour when unripe apples
shower down in orchards, and unbrowned chestnuts descend in their
husks upon the park glades. There was no help for it this afternoon
but to call upon her in a direct manner, regardless of suspicions.
He was thunderstruck when, while waiting in the full expectation of
being admitted to her presence, the answer brought back to him was
that she was unable to see him.
This had never happened before in the whole course of their
acquaintance. But he knew what it meant, and turned away with a
vague disquietude. He did not know that Lady Constantine was just
above his head, listening to his movements with the liveliest
emotions, and, while praying for him to go, longing for him to
insist on seeing her and spoil all. But the faintest symptom being
always sufficient to convince him of having blundered, he
unwittingly took her at her word, and went rapidly away.
However, he called again the next day, and she, having gained
strength by one victory over herself, was enabled to repeat her
refusal with greater ease. Knowing this to be the only course by
which her point could be maintained, she clung to it with strenuous
and religious pertinacity.
Thus immured and self-controlling she passed a week. Her brother,
though he did not live in the house (preferring the nearest
watering-place at this time of the year), was continually coming
there; and one day he happened to be present when she denied herself
to Swithin for the third time. Louis, who did not observe the tears
in her eyes, was astonished and delighted: she was coming to her
senses at last. Believing now that there had been nothing more
between them than a too-plainly shown partiality on her part, he
expressed his commendation of her conduct to her face. At this,
instead of owning to its advantage also, her tears burst forth
Not knowing what to make of this, Louis said--
'Well, I am simply upholding you in your course.'
'Yes, yes; I know it!' she cried. 'And it is my deliberately chosen
course. I wish he--Swithin St. Cleeve--would go on his travels at
once, and leave the place! Six hundred a year has been left him for
travel and study of the southern constellations; and I wish he would
use it. You might represent the advantage to him of the course if
you cared to.'
Louis thought he could do no better than let Swithin know this as
soon as possible. Accordingly when St. Cleeve was writing in the
hut the next day he heard the crackle of footsteps over the fir-
needles outside, and jumped up, supposing them to be hers; but, to
his disappointment, it was her brother who appeared at the door.
'Excuse my invading the hermitage, St. Cleeve,' he said in his
careless way, 'but I have heard from my sister of your good
'My good fortune?'
'Yes, in having an opportunity for roving; and with a traveller's
conceit I couldn't help coming to give you the benefit of my
experience. When do you start?'
'I have not formed any plan as yet. Indeed, I had not quite been
thinking of going.'
'Not going? Then I may have been misinformed. What I have heard is
that a good uncle has kindly bequeathed you a sufficient income to
make a second Isaac Newton of you, if you only use it as he
Swithin breathed quickly, but said nothing.
'If you have not decided so to make use of it, let me implore you,
as your friend, and one nearly old enough to be your father, to
decide at once. Such a chance does not happen to a scientific youth
once in a century.'
'Thank you for your good advice--for it is good in itself, I know,'
said Swithin, in a low voice. 'But has Lady Constantine spoken of
it at all?'
'She thinks as I do.'
'She has spoken to you on the subject?'
'Certainly. More than that; it is at her request--though I did not
intend to say so--that I come to speak to you about it now.'
'Frankly and plainly,' said Swithin, his voice trembling with a
compound of scientific and amatory emotion that defies definition,
'does she say seriously that she wishes me to go?'
'Then go I will,' replied Swithin firmly. 'I have been fortunate
enough to interest some leading astronomers, including the
Astronomer Royal; and in a letter received this morning I learn that
the use of the Cape Observatory has been offered me for any southern
observations I may wish to make. This offer I will accept. Will
you kindly let Lady Constantine know this, since she is interested
in my welfare?'
Louis promised, and when he was gone Swithin looked blankly at his
own situation, as if he could scarcely believe in its reality. Her
letter to him, then, had been deliberately written; she meant him to
But he was determined that none of those misunderstandings which
ruin the happiness of lovers should be allowed to operate in the
present case. He would see her, if he slept under her walls all
night to do it, and would hear the order to depart from her own
lips. This unexpected stand she was making for his interests was
winning his admiration to such a degree as to be in danger of
defeating the very cause it was meant to subserve. A woman like
this was not to be forsaken in a hurry. He wrote two lines, and
left the note at the house with his own hand.
'THE CABIN, RINGS-HILL,
'DEAREST VIVIETTE,--If you insist, I will go. But letter-writing
will not do. I must have the command from your own two lips,
otherwise I shall not stir. I am here every evening at seven. Can
This note, as fate would have it, reached her hands in the single
hour of that week when she was in a mood to comply with his request,
just when moved by a reactionary emotion after dismissing Swithin.
She went upstairs to the window that had so long served purposes of
this kind, and signalled 'Yes.'
St. Cleeve soon saw the answer she had given and watched her
approach from the tower as the sunset drew on. The vivid
circumstances of his life at this date led him ever to remember the
external scenes in which they were set. It was an evening of
exceptional irradiations, and the west heaven gleamed like a foundry
of all metals common and rare. The clouds were broken into a
thousand fragments, and the margin of every fragment shone.
Foreseeing the disadvantage and pain to her of maintaining a resolve
under the pressure of a meeting, he vowed not to urge her by word or
sign; to put the question plainly and calmly, and to discuss it on a
reasonable basis only, like the philosophers they assumed themselves
But this intention was scarcely adhered to in all its integrity.
She duly appeared on the edge of the field, flooded with the
metallic radiance that marked the close of this day; whereupon he
quickly descended the steps, and met her at the cabin door. They
entered it together.
As the evening grew darker and darker he listened to her reasoning,
which was precisely a repetition of that already sent him by letter,
and by degrees accepted her decision, since she would not revoke it.
Time came for them to say good-bye, and then--
'He turn'd and saw the terror in her eyes,
That yearn'd upon him, shining in such wise
As a star midway in the midnight fix'd.'
It was the misery of her own condition that showed forth, hitherto
obscured by her ardour for ameliorating his. They closed together,
and kissed each other as though the emotion of their whole year-and-
half's acquaintance had settled down upon that moment.
'I won't go away from you!' said Swithin huskily. 'Why did you
propose it for an instant?'
Thus the nearly ended interview was again prolonged, and Viviette
yielded to all the passion of her first union with him. Time,
however, was merciless, and the hour approached midnight, and she
was compelled to depart. Swithin walked with her towards the house,
as he had walked many times before, believing that all was now
smooth again between them, and caring, it must be owned, very little
for his fame as an expositor of the southern constellations just
When they reached the silent house he said what he had not ventured
to say before, 'Fix the day--you have decided that it is to be soon,
and that I am not to go?'
But youthful Swithin was far, very far, from being up to the fond
subtlety of Viviette this evening. 'I cannot decide here,' she said
gently, releasing herself from his arm; 'I will speak to you from
the window. Wait for me.'
She vanished; and he waited. It was a long time before the window
opened, and he was not aware that, with her customary complication
of feeling, she had knelt for some time inside the room before
'Well?' said he.
'It cannot be,' she answered. 'I cannot ruin you. But the day
after you are five-and-twenty our marriage shall be confirmed, if
'O, my Viviette, how is this!' he cried.
'Swithin, I have not altered. But I feared for my powers, and could
not tell you whilst I stood by your side. I ought not to have given
way as I did to-night. Take the bequest, and go. You are too
young--to be fettered--I should have thought of it! Do not
communicate with me for at least a year: it is imperative. Do not
tell me your plans. If we part, we do part. I have vowed a vow not
to further obstruct the course you had decided on before you knew me
and my puling ways; and by Heaven's help I'll keep that vow. . . .
Now go. These are the parting words of your own Viviette!'
Swithin, who was stable as a giant in all that appertained to nature
and life outside humanity, was a mere pupil in domestic matters. He
was quite awed by her firmness, and looked vacantly at her for a
time, till she closed the window. Then he mechanically turned, and
went, as she had commanded.
A week had passed away. It had been a time of cloudy mental weather
to Swithin and Viviette, but the only noteworthy fact about it was
that what had been planned to happen therein had actually taken
place. Swithin had gone from Welland, and would shortly go from
She became aware of it by a note that he posted to her on his way
through Warborne. There was much evidence of haste in the note, and
something of reserve. The latter she could not understand, but it
might have been obvious enough if she had considered.
On the morning of his departure he had sat on the edge of his bed,
the sunlight streaming through the early mist, the house-martens
scratching the back of the ceiling over his head as they scrambled
out from the roof for their day's gnat-chasing, the thrushes
cracking snails on the garden stones outside with the noisiness of
little smiths at work on little anvils. The sun, in sending its
rods of yellow fire into his room, sent, as he suddenly thought,
mental illumination with it. For the first time, as he sat there,
it had crossed his mind that Viviette might have reasons for this
separation which he knew not of. There might be family reasons--
mysterious blood necessities which are said to rule members of old
musty-mansioned families, and are unknown to other classes of
society--and they may have been just now brought before her by her
brother Louis on the condition that they were religiously concealed.
The idea that some family skeleton, like those he had read of in
memoirs, had been unearthed by Louis, and held before her terrified
understanding as a matter which rendered Swithin's departure, and
the neutralization of the marriage, no less indispensable to them
than it was an advantage to himself, seemed a very plausible one to
Swithin just now. Viviette might have taken Louis into her
confidence at last, for the sake of his brotherly advice. Swithin
knew that of her own heart she would never wish to get rid of him;
but coerced by Louis, might she not have grown to entertain views of
its expediency? Events made such a supposition on St. Cleeve's part
as natural as it was inaccurate, and, conjoined with his own
excitement at the thought of seeing a new heaven overhead,
influenced him to write but the briefest and most hurried final note
to her, in which he fully obeyed her sensitive request that he would
omit all reference to his plans. These at the last moment had been
modified to fall in with the winter expedition formerly mentioned,
to observe the Transit of Venus at a remote southern station.
The business being done, and himself fairly plunged into the
preliminaries of an important scientific pilgrimage, Swithin
acquired that lightness of heart which most young men feel in
forsaking old love for new adventure, no matter how charming may be
the girl they leave behind them. Moreover, in the present case, the
man was endowed with that schoolboy temperament which does not see,
or at least consider with much curiosity, the effect of a given
scheme upon others than himself. The bearing upon Lady Constantine
of what was an undoubted predicament for any woman, was forgotten in
his feeling that she had done a very handsome and noble thing for
him, and that he was therefore bound in honour to make the most of
His going had resulted in anything but lightness of heart for her.
Her sad fancy could, indeed, indulge in dreams of her yellow-haired
laddie without that formerly besetting fear that those dreams would
prompt her to actions likely to distract and weight him. She was
wretched on her own account, relieved on his. She no longer stood
in the way of his advancement, and that was enough. For herself she
could live in retirement, visit the wood, the old camp, the column,
and, like OEnone, think of the life they had led there--
'Mournful OEnone, wandering forlorn
Of Paris, once her playmate on the hills,'
leaving it entirely to his goodness whether he would come and claim
her in the future, or desert her for ever.
She was diverted for a time from these sad performances by a letter
which reached her from Bishop Helmsdale. To see his handwriting
again on an envelope, after thinking so anxiously of making a
father-confessor of him, started her out of her equanimity. She
speedily regained it, however, when she read his note.
'THE PALACE, MELCHESTER,
July 30, 18--.
MY DEAR LADY CONSTANTINE,--I am shocked and grieved that, in the
strange dispensation of things here below, my offer of marriage
should have reached you almost simultaneously with the intelligence
that your widowhood had been of several months less duration than
you and I, and the world, had supposed. I can quite understand
that, viewed from any side, the news must have shaken and disturbed
you; and your unequivocal refusal to entertain any thought of a new
alliance at such a moment was, of course, intelligible, natural, and
praiseworthy. At present I will say no more beyond expressing a
hope that you will accept my assurances that I was quite ignorant of
the news at the hour of writing, and a sincere desire that in due
time, and as soon as you have recovered your equanimity, I may be
allowed to renew my proposal.--I am, my dear Lady Constantine, yours
She laid the letter aside, and thought no more about it, beyond a
momentary meditation on the errors into which people fall in
reasoning from actions to motives. Louis, who was now again with
her, became in due course acquainted with the contents of the
letter, and was satisfied with the promising position in which
matters seemingly stood all round.
Lady Constantine went her mournful ways as she had planned to do,
her chief resort being the familiar column, where she experienced
the unutterable melancholy of seeing two carpenters dismantle the
dome of its felt covering, detach its ribs, and clear away the
enclosure at the top till everything stood as it had stood before
Swithin had been known to the place. The equatorial had already
been packed in a box, to be in readiness if he should send for it
from abroad. The cabin, too, was in course of demolition, such
having been his directions, acquiesced in by her, before he started.
Yet she could not bear the idea that these structures, so germane to
the events of their romance, should be removed as if removed for
ever. Going to the men she bade them store up the materials intact,
that they might be re-erected if desired. She had the junctions of
the timbers marked with figures, the boards numbered, and the
different sets of screws tied up in independent papers for
identification. She did not hear the remarks of the workmen when
she had gone, to the effect that the young man would as soon think
of buying a halter for himself as come back and spy at the moon from
Rings-Hill Speer, after seeing the glories of other nations and the
gold and jewels that were found there, or she might have been more
unhappy than she was.
On returning from one of these walks to the column a curious
circumstance occurred. It was evening, and she was coming as usual
down through the sighing plantation, choosing her way between the
ramparts of the camp towards the outlet giving upon the field, when
suddenly in a dusky vista among the fir-trunks she saw, or thought
she saw, a golden-haired, toddling child. The child moved a step or
two, and vanished behind a tree. Lady Constantine, fearing it had
lost its way, went quickly to the spot, searched, and called aloud.
But no child could she perceive or hear anywhere around. She
returned to where she had stood when first beholding it, and looked
in the same direction, but nothing reappeared. The only object at
all resembling a little boy or girl was the upper tuft of a bunch of
fern, which had prematurely yellowed to about the colour of a fair
child's hair, and waved occasionally in the breeze. This, however,
did not sufficiently explain the phenomenon, and she returned to
make inquiries of the man whom she had left at work, removing the
last traces of Swithin's cabin. But he had gone with her departure
and the approach of night. Feeling an indescribable dread she
retraced her steps, and hastened homeward doubting, yet half
believing, what she had seemed to see, and wondering if her
imagination had played her some trick.
The tranquil mournfulness of her night of solitude terminated in a
most unexpected manner.
The morning after the above-mentioned incident Lady Constantine,
after meditating a while, arose with a strange personal conviction
that bore curiously on the aforesaid hallucination. She realized a
condition of things that she had never anticipated, and for a moment
the discovery of her state so overwhelmed her that she thought she
must die outright. In her terror she said she had sown the wind to
reap the whirlwind. Then the instinct of self-preservation flamed
up in her like a fire. Her altruism in subjecting her self-love to
benevolence, and letting Swithin go away from her, was demolished by
the new necessity, as if it had been a gossamer web.
There was no resisting or evading the spontaneous plan of action
which matured in her mind in five minutes. Where was Swithin? how
could he be got at instantly?--that was her ruling thought. She
searched about the room for his last short note, hoping, yet
doubting, that its contents were more explicit on his intended
movements than the few meagre syllables which alone she could call
to mind. She could not find the letter in her room, and came
downstairs to Louis as pale as a ghost.
He looked up at her, and with some concern said, 'What's the
'I am searching everywhere for a letter--a note from Mr. St. Cleeve-
-just a few words telling me when the Occidental sails, that I think
he goes in.'
'Why do you want that unimportant document?'
'It is of the utmost importance that I should know whether he has
actually sailed or not!' said she in agonized tones. 'Where CAN
that letter be?'
Louis knew where that letter was, for having seen it on her desk he
had, without reading it, torn it up and thrown it into the waste-
paper basket, thinking the less that remained to remind her of the
young philosopher the better.
'I destroyed it,' he said.
'O Louis! why did you?' she cried. 'I am going to follow him; I
think it best to do so; and I want to know if he is gone--and now
the date is lost!'
'Going to run after St. Cleeve? Absurd!'
'Yes, I am!' she said with vehement firmness. 'I must see him; I
want to speak to him as soon as possible.'
'Good Lord, Viviette! Are you mad?'
'O what was the date of that ship! But it cannot be helped. I
start at once for Southampton. I have made up my mind to do it. He
was going to his uncle's solicitors in the North first; then he was
coming back to Southampton. He cannot have sailed yet.'
'I believe he has sailed,' muttered Louis sullenly.
She did not wait to argue with him, but returned upstairs, where she
rang to tell Green to be ready with the pony to drive her to
Warborne station in a quarter of an hour.
Viviette's determination to hamper Swithin no longer had led her, as
has been shown, to balk any weak impulse to entreat his return, by
forbidding him to furnish her with his foreign address. His ready
disposition, his fear that there might be other reasons behind, made
him obey her only too literally. Thus, to her terror and dismay,
she had placed a gratuitous difficulty in the way of her present
She was ready before Green, and urged on that factotum so wildly as
to leave him no time to change his corduroys and 'skitty-boots' in
which he had been gardening; he therefore turned himself into a
coachman as far down as his waist merely--clapping on his proper
coat, hat, and waistcoat, and wrapping a rug over his horticultural
half below. In this compromise he appeared at the door, mounted,
and reins in hand.
Seeing how sad and determined Viviette was, Louis pitied her so far
as to put nothing in the way of her starting, though he forbore to
help her. He thought her conduct sentimental foolery, the outcome
of mistaken pity and 'such a kind of gain-giving as would trouble a
woman;' and he decided that it would be better to let this mood burn
itself out than to keep it smouldering by obstruction.
'Do you remember the date of his sailing?' she said finally, as the
pony-carriage turned to drive off.
'He sails on the 25th, that is, to-day. But it may not be till late
in the evening.'
With this she started, and reached Warborne in time for the up-
train. How much longer than it really is a long journey can seem to
be, was fully learnt by the unhappy Viviette that day. The
changeful procession of country seats past which she was dragged,
the names and memories of their owners, had no points of interest
for her now. She reached Southampton about midday, and drove
straight to the docks.
On approaching the gates she was met by a crowd of people and
vehicles coming out--men, women, children, porters, police, cabs,
and carts. The Occidental had just sailed.
The adverse intelligence came upon her with such odds after her
morning's tension that she could scarcely crawl back to the cab
which had brought her. But this was not a time to succumb. As she
had no luggage she dismissed the man, and, without any real
consciousness of what she was doing, crept away and sat down on a
pile of merchandise.
After long thinking her case assumed a more hopeful complexion.
Much might probably be done towards communicating with him in the
time at her command. The obvious step to this end, which she should
have thought of sooner, would be to go to his grandmother in Welland
Bottom, and there obtain his itinerary in detail--no doubt well
known to Mrs. Martin. There was no leisure for her to consider
longer if she would be home again that night; and returning to the
railway she waited on a seat without eating or drinking till a train
was ready to take her back.
By the time she again stood in Warborne the sun rested his chin upon
the meadows, and enveloped the distant outline of the Rings-Hill
column in his humid rays. Hiring an empty fly that chanced to be at
the station she was driven through the little town onward to
Welland, which she approached about eight o'clock. At her request
the man set her down at the entrance to the park, and when he was
out of sight, instead of pursuing her way to the House, she went
along the high road in the direction of Mrs. Martin's.
Dusk was drawing on, and the bats were wheeling over the green basin
called Welland Bottom by the time she arrived; and had any other
errand instigated her call she would have postponed it till the
morrow. Nobody responded to her knock, but she could hear footsteps
going hither and thither upstairs, and dull noises as of articles
moved from their places. She knocked again and again, and
ultimately the door was opened by Hannah as usual.
'I could make nobody hear,' said Lady Constantine, who was so weary
she could scarcely stand.
'I am very sorry, my lady,' said Hannah, slightly awed on beholding
her visitor. 'But we was a putting poor Mr. Swithin's room to
rights, now that he is, as a woman may say, dead and buried to us;
so we didn't hear your ladyship. I'll call Mrs. Martin at once.
She is up in the room that used to be his work-room.'
Here Hannah's voice implied moist eyes, and Lady Constantine's
'No, I'll go up to her,' said Viviette; and almost in advance of
Hannah she passed up the shrunken ash stairs.
The ebbing light was not enough to reveal to Mrs. Martin's aged gaze
the personality of her visitor, till Hannah explained.
'I'll get a light, my lady,' said she.
'No, I would rather not. What are you doing, Mrs. Martin?'
'Well, the poor misguided boy is gone--and he's gone for good to me!
I am a woman of over four-score years, my Lady Constantine; my
junketting days are over, and whether 'tis feasting or whether 'tis
sorrowing in the land will soon be nothing to me. But his life may
be long and active, and for the sake of him I care for what I shall
never see, and wish to make pleasant what I shall never enjoy. I am
setting his room in order, as the place will be his own freehold
when I am gone, so that when he comes back he may find all his poor
jim-cracks and trangleys as he left 'em, and not feel that I have
betrayed his trust.'
Mrs. Martin's voice revealed that she had burst into such few tears
as were left her, and then Hannah began crying likewise; whereupon
Lady Constantine, whose heart had been bursting all day (and who,
indeed, considering her coming trouble, had reason enough for
tears), broke into bitterer sobs than either--sobs of absolute pain,
that could no longer be concealed.
Hannah was the first to discover that Lady Constantine was weeping
with them; and her feelings being probably the least intense among
the three she instantly controlled herself.
'Refrain yourself, my dear woman, refrain!' she said hastily to Mrs.
Martin; 'don't ye see how it do raft my lady?' And turning to
Viviette she whispered, 'Her years be so great, your ladyship, that
perhaps ye'll excuse her for busting out afore ye? We know when the
mind is dim, my lady, there's not the manners there should be; but
decayed people can't help it, poor old soul!'
'Hannah, that will do now. Perhaps Lady Constantine would like to
speak to me alone,' said Mrs. Martin. And when Hannah had retreated
Mrs. Martin continued: 'Such a charge as she is, my lady, on
account of her great age! You'll pardon her biding here as if she
were one of the family. I put up with such things because of her
long service, and we know that years lead to childishness.'
'What are you doing? Can I help you?' Viviette asked, as Mrs.
Martin, after speaking, turned to lift some large article.
'Oh, 'tis only the skeleton of a telescope that's got no works in
his inside,' said Swithin's grandmother, seizing the huge pasteboard
tube that Swithin had made, and abandoned because he could get no
lenses to suit it. 'I am going to hang it up to these hooks, and
there it will bide till he comes again.'
Lady Constantine took one end, and the tube was hung up against the
whitewashed wall by strings that the old woman had tied round it.
'Here's all his equinoctial lines, and his topics of Capricorn, and
I don't know what besides,' Mrs. Martin continued, pointing to some
charcoal scratches on the wall. 'I shall never rub 'em out; no,
though 'tis such untidiness as I was never brought up to, I shall
never rub 'em out.'
'Where has Swithin gone to first?' asked Viviette anxiously. 'Where
does he say you are to write to him?'
'Nowhere yet, my lady. He's gone traipsing all over Europe and
America, and then to the South Pacific Ocean about this Transit of
Venus that's going to be done there. He is to write to us first--
God knows when!--for he said that if we didn't hear from him for six
months we were not to be gallied at all.'
At this intelligence, so much worse than she had expected, Lady
Constantine stood mute, sank down, and would have fallen to the
floor if there had not been a chair behind her. Controlling herself