Part 6 out of 6
by a strenuous effort, she disguised her despair and asked vacantly:
'From America to the South Pacific--Transit of Venus?' (Swithin's
arrangement to accompany the expedition had been made at the last
moment, and therefore she had not as yet been informed.)
'Yes, to a lone island, I believe.'
'Yes, a lone islant, my lady!' echoed Hannah, who had crept in and
made herself one of the family again, in spite of Mrs. Martin.
'He is going to meet the English and American astronomers there at
the end of the year. After that he will most likely go on to the
'But before the end of the year--what places did he tell you of
'Let me collect myself; he is going to the observatory of Cambridge,
United States, to meet some gentlemen there, and spy through the
great refractor. Then there's the observatory of Chicago; and I
think he has a letter to make him beknown to a gentleman in the
observatory at Marseilles--and he wants to go to Vienna--and
Poulkowa, too, he means to take in his way--there being great
instruments and a lot of astronomers at each place.'
'Does he take Europe or America first?' she asked faintly, for the
account seemed hopeless.
Mrs. Martin could not tell till she had heard from Swithin. It
depended upon what he had decided to do on the day of his leaving
Lady Constantine bade the old people good-bye, and dragged her weary
limbs homeward. The fatuousness of forethought had seldom been
evinced more ironically. Had she done nothing to hinder him, he
would have kept up an unreserved communication with her, and all
might have been well.
For that night she could undertake nothing further, and she waited
for the next day. Then at once she wrote two letters to Swithin,
directing one to Marseilles observatory, one to the observatory of
Cambridge, U.S., as being the only two spots on the face of the
globe at which they were likely to intercept him. Each letter
stated to him the urgent reasons which existed for his return, and
contained a passionately regretful intimation that the annuity on
which his hopes depended must of necessity be sacrificed by the
completion of their original contract without delay.
But letter conveyance was too slow a process to satisfy her. To
send an epitome of her epistles by telegraph was, after all,
indispensable. Such an imploring sentence as she desired to address
to him it would be hazardous to despatch from Warborne, and she took
a dreary journey to a strange town on purpose to send it from an
office at which she was unknown.
There she handed in her message, addressing it to the port of
arrival of the Occidental, and again returned home.
She waited; and there being no return telegram, the inference was
that he had somehow missed hers. For an answer to either of her
letters she would have to wait long enough to allow him time to
reach one of the observatories--a tedious while.
Then she considered the weakness, the stultifying nature of her
attempt at recall.
Events mocked her on all sides. By the favour of an accident, and
by her own immense exertions against her instincts, Swithin had been
restored to the rightful heritage that he had nearly forfeited on
her account. He had just started off to utilize it; when she,
without a moment's warning, was asking him again to cast it away.
She had set a certain machinery in motion--to stop it before it had
A horrid apprehension possessed her. It had been easy for Swithin
to give up what he had never known the advantages of keeping; but
having once begun to enjoy his possession would he give it up now?
Could he be depended on for such self-sacrifice? Before leaving, he
would have done anything at her request; but the mollia tempora
fandi had now passed. Suppose there arrived no reply from him for
the next three months; and that when his answer came he were to
inform her that, having now fully acquiesced in her original
decision, he found the life he was leading so profitable as to be
unable to abandon it, even to please her; that he was very sorry,
but having embarked on this course by her advice he meant to adhere
to it by his own.
There was, indeed, every probability that, moving about as he was
doing, and cautioned as he had been by her very self against
listening to her too readily, she would receive no reply of any sort
from him for three or perhaps four months. This would be on the eve
of the Transit; and what likelihood was there that a young man, full
of ardour for that spectacle, would forego it at the last moment to
return to a humdrum domesticity with a woman who was no longer a
If she could only leave him to his career, and save her own
situation also! But at that moment the proposition seemed as
impossible as to construct a triangle of two straight lines.
In her walk home, pervaded by these hopeless views, she passed near
the dark and deserted tower. Night in that solitary place, which
would have caused her some uneasiness in her years of blitheness,
had no terrors for her now. She went up the winding path, and, the
door being unlocked, felt her way to the top. The open sky greeted
her as in times previous to the dome-and-equatorial period; but
there was not a star to suggest to her in which direction Swithin
had gone. The absence of the dome suggested a way out of her
difficulties. A leap in the dark, and all would be over. But she
had not reached that stage of action as yet, and the thought was
dismissed as quickly as it had come.
The new consideration which at present occupied her mind was whether
she could have the courage to leave Swithin to himself, as in the
original plan, and singly meet her impending trial, despising the
shame, till he should return at five-and-twenty and claim her? Yet
was this assumption of his return so very safe? How altered things
would be at that time! At twenty-five he would still be young and
handsome; she would be three-and-thirty, fading to middle-age and
homeliness, from a junior's point of view. A fear sharp as a frost
settled down upon her, that in any such scheme as this she would be
building upon the sand.
She hardly knew how she reached home that night. Entering by the
lawn door she saw a red coal in the direction of the arbour. Louis
was smoking there, and he came forward.
He had not seen her since the morning and was naturally anxious
about her. She blessed the chance which enveloped her in night and
lessened the weight of the encounter one half by depriving him of
'Did you accomplish your object?' he asked.
'No,' said she.
'How was that?'
'He has sailed.'
'A very good thing for both, I say. I believe you would have
married him, if you could have overtaken him.'
'That would I!' she said.
'I would marry a tinker for that matter; I have reasons for being
any man's wife,' she said recklessly, 'only I should prefer to drown
Louis held his breath, and stood rigid at the meaning her words
'But Louis, you don't know all!' cried Viviette. 'I am not so bad
as you think; mine has been folly--not vice. I thought I had
married him--and then I found I had not; the marriage was invalid--
Sir Blount was alive! And now Swithin has gone away, and will not
come back for my calling! How can he? His fortune is left him on
condition that he forms no legal tie. O will he--will he, come
'Never, if that's the position of affairs,' said Louis firmly, after
'What then shall I do?' said Viviette.
Louis escaped the formidable difficulty of replying by pretending to
continue his Havannah; and she, bowed down to dust by what she had
revealed, crept from him into the house. Louis's cigar went out in
his hand as he stood looking intently at the ground.
Louis got up the next morning with an idea in his head. He had
dressed for a journey, and breakfasted hastily.
Before he had started Viviette came downstairs. Louis, who was now
greatly disturbed about her, went up to his sister and took her
'Aux grands maux les grands remedes,' he said, gravely. 'I have a
'I have a dozen!' said she.
'Yes. But what are they worth? And yet there must--there MUST be a
'Viviette,' said Louis, 'promise that you will wait till I come home
to-night, before you do anything.'
Her distracted eyes showed slight comprehension of his request as
she said 'Yes.'
An hour after that time Louis entered the train at Warborne, and was
speedily crossing a country of ragged woodland, which, though
intruded on by the plough at places, remained largely intact from
prehistoric times, and still abounded with yews of gigantic growth
and oaks tufted with mistletoe. It was the route to Melchester.
On setting foot in that city he took the cathedral spire as his
guide, the place being strange to him; and went on till he reached
the archway dividing Melchester sacred from Melchester secular.
Thence he threaded his course into the precincts of the damp and
venerable Close, level as a bowling-green, and beloved of rooks, who
from their elm perches on high threatened any unwary gazer with the
mishap of Tobit. At the corner of this reposeful spot stood the
Louis entered the gates, rang the bell, and looked around. Here the
trees and rooks seemed older, if possible, than those in the Close
behind him. Everything was dignified, and he felt himself like
Punchinello in the king's chambers. Verily in the present case
Glanville was not a man to stick at trifles any more than his
illustrious prototype; and on the servant bringing a message that
his lordship would see him at once, Louis marched boldly in.
Through an old dark corridor, roofed with old dark beams, the
servant led the way to the heavily-moulded door of the Bishop's
room. Dr. Helmsdale was there, and welcomed Louis with considerable
stateliness. But his condescension was tempered with a curious
anxiety, and even with nervousness.
He asked in pointed tones after the health of Lady Constantine; if
Louis had brought an answer to the letter he had addressed to her a
day or two earlier; and if the contents of the letter, or of the
previous one, were known to him.
'I have brought no answer from her,' said Louis. 'But the contents
of your letter have been made known to me.'
Since entering the building Louis had more than once felt some
hesitation, and it might now, with a favouring manner from his
entertainer, have operated to deter him from going further with his
intention. But the Bishop had personal weaknesses that were fatal
to sympathy for more than a moment.
'Then I may speak in confidence to you as her nearest relative,'
said the prelate, 'and explain that I am now in a position with
regard to Lady Constantine which, in view of the important office I
hold, I should not have cared to place myself in unless I had felt
quite sure of not being refused by her. And hence it is a great
grief, and some mortification to me, that I was refused--owing, of
course, to the fact that I unwittingly risked making my proposal at
the very moment when she was under the influence of those strange
tidings, and therefore not herself, and scarcely able to judge what
was best for her.'
The Bishop's words disclosed a mind whose sensitive fear of danger
to its own dignity hindered it from criticism elsewhere. Things
might have been worse for Louis's Puck-like idea of mis-mating his
Hermia with this Demetrius.
Throwing a strong colour of earnestness into his mien he replied:
'Bishop, Viviette is my only sister; I am her only brother and
friend. I am alarmed for her health and state of mind. Hence I
have come to consult you on this very matter that you have broached.
I come absolutely without her knowledge, and I hope
unconventionality may be excused in me on the score of my anxiety
'Certainly. I trust that the prospect opened up by my proposal,
combined with this other news, has not proved too much for her?'
'My sister is distracted and distressed, Bishop Helmsdale. She
'Not distressed by my letter?' said the Bishop, turning red. 'Has
it lowered me in her estimation?'
'On the contrary; while your disinterested offer was uppermost in
her mind she was a different woman. It is this other matter that
oppresses her. The result upon her of the recent discovery with
regard to the late Sir Blount Constantine is peculiar. To say that
he ill-used her in his lifetime is to understate a truth. He has
been dead now a considerable period; but this revival of his memory
operates as a sort of terror upon her. Images of the manner of Sir
Blount's death are with her night and day, intensified by a hideous
picture of the supposed scene, which was cruelly sent her. She
dreads being alone. Nothing will restore my poor Viviette to her
former cheerfulness but a distraction--a hope--a new prospect.'
'That is precisely what acceptance of my offer would afford.'
'Precisely,' said Louis, with great respect. 'But how to get her to
avail herself of it, after once refusing you, is the difficulty, and
my earnest problem.'
'Then we are quite at one.'
'We are. And it is to promote our wishes that I am come; since she
will do nothing of herself.'
'Then you can give me no hope of a reply to my second
'None whatever--by letter,' said Louis. 'Her impression plainly is
that she cannot encourage your lordship. Yet, in the face of all
this reticence, the secret is that she loves you warmly.'
'Can you indeed assure me of that? Indeed, indeed!' said the good
Bishop musingly. 'Then I must try to see her. I begin to feel--to
feel strongly--that a course which would seem premature and
unbecoming in other cases would be true and proper conduct in this.
Her unhappy dilemmas--her unwonted position--yes, yes--I see it all!
I can afford to have some little misconstruction put upon my
motives. I will go and see her immediately. Her past has been a
cruel one; she wants sympathy; and with Heaven's help I'll give it.'
'I think the remedy lies that way,' said Louis gently. 'Some words
came from her one night which seemed to show it. I was standing on
the terrace: I heard somebody sigh in the dark, and found that it
was she. I asked her what was the matter, and gently pressed her on
this subject of boldly and promptly contracting a new marriage as a
means of dispersing the horrors of the old. Her answer implied that
she would have no objection to do it, and to do it at once, provided
she could remain externally passive in the matter, that she would
tacitly yield, in fact, to pressure, but would not meet solicitation
half-way. Now, Bishop Helmsdale, you see what has prompted me. On
the one hand is a dignitary of high position and integrity, to say
no more, who is anxious to save her from the gloom of her situation;
on the other is this sister, who will not make known to you her
willingness to be saved--partly from apathy, partly from a fear that
she may be thought forward in responding favourably at so early a
moment, partly also, perhaps, from a modest sense that there would
be some sacrifice on your part in allying yourself with a woman of
her secluded and sad experience.'
'O, there is no sacrifice! Quite otherwise. I care greatly for
this alliance, Mr. Glanville. Your sister is very dear to me.
Moreover, the advantages her mind would derive from the enlarged
field of activity that the position of a bishop's wife would afford,
are palpable. I am induced to think that an early settlement of the
question--an immediate coming to the point--which might be called
too early in the majority of cases, would be a right and considerate
tenderness here. My only dread is that she should think an
immediate following up of the subject premature. And the risk of a
rebuff a second time is one which, as you must perceive, it would be
highly unbecoming in me to run.'
'I think the risk would be small, if your lordship would approach
her frankly. Write she will not, I am assured; and knowing that,
and having her interest at heart, I was induced to come to you and
make this candid statement in reply to your communication. Her late
husband having been virtually dead these four or five years,
believed dead two years, and actually dead nearly one, no reproach
could attach to her if she were to contract another union to-
'I agree with you, Mr. Glanville,' said the Bishop warmly. 'I will
think this over. Her motive in not replying I can quite understand:
your motive in coming I can also understand and appreciate in a
brother. If I feel convinced that it would be a seemly and
expedient thing I will come to Welland to-morrow.'
The point to which Louis had brought the Bishop being so
satisfactory, he feared to endanger it by another word. He went
away almost hurriedly, and at once left the precincts of the
cathedral, lest another encounter with Dr. Helmsdale should lead the
latter to take a new and slower view of his duties as Viviette's
He reached Welland by dinner-time, and came upon Viviette in the
same pensive mood in which he had left her. It seemed she had
hardly moved since.
'Have you discovered Swithin St. Cleeve's address?' she said,
without looking up at him.
'No,' said Louis.
Then she broke out with indescribable anguish: 'But you asked me to
wait till this evening; and I have waited through the long day, in
the belief that your words meant something, and that you would bring
good tidings! And now I find your words meant nothing, and you have
NOT brought good tidings!'
Louis could not decide for a moment what to say to this. Should he
venture to give her thoughts a new course by a revelation of his
design? No: it would be better to prolong her despair yet another
night, and spring relief upon her suddenly, that she might jump at
it and commit herself without an interval for reflection on certain
aspects of the proceeding.
Nothing, accordingly, did he say; and conjecturing that she would be
hardly likely to take any desperate step that night, he left her to
His anxiety at this crisis continued to be great. Everything
depended on the result of the Bishop's self-communion. Would he or
would he not come the next day? Perhaps instead of his important
presence there would appear a letter postponing the visit
indefinitely. If so, all would be lost.
Louis's suspense kept him awake, and he was not alone in his
sleeplessness. Through the night he heard his sister walking up and
down, in a state which betokened that for every pang of grief she
had disclosed, twice as many had remained unspoken. He almost
feared that she might seek to end her existence by violence, so
unreasonably sudden were her moods; and he lay and longed for the
It was morning. She came down the same as usual, and asked if there
had arrived any telegram or letter; but there was neither. Louis
avoided her, knowing that nothing he could say just then would do
her any good.
No communication had reached him from the Bishop, and that looked
well. By one ruse and another, as the day went on, he led her away
from contemplating the remote possibility of hearing from Swithin,
and induced her to look at the worst contingency as her probable
fate. It seemed as if she really made up her mind to this, for by
the afternoon she was apathetic, like a woman who neither hoped nor
And then a fly drove up to the door.
Louis, who had been standing in the hall the greater part of that
day, glanced out through a private window, and went to Viviette.
'The Bishop has called,' he said. 'Be ready to see him.'
'The Bishop of Melchester?' said Viviette, bewildered.
'Yes. I asked him to come. He comes for an answer to his letters.'
'An answer--to--his--letters?' she murmured.
'An immediate reply of yes or no.'
Her face showed the workings of her mind. How entirely an answer of
assent, at once acted on for better or for worse, would clear the
spectre from her path, there needed no tongue to tell. It would,
moreover, accomplish that end without involving the impoverishment
of Swithin--the inevitable result if she had adopted the legitimate
road out of her trouble. Hitherto there had seemed to her dismayed
mind, unenlightened as to any course save one of honesty, no
possible achievement of BOTH her desires--the saving of Swithin and
the saving of herself. But behold, here was a way! A tempter had
shown it to her. It involved a great wrong, which to her had quite
obscured its feasibility. But she perceived now that it was indeed
a way. Nature was forcing her hand at this game; and to what will
not nature compel her weaker victims, in extremes?
Louis left her to think it out. When he reached the drawing-room
Dr. Helmsdale was standing there with the air of a man too good for
his destiny--which, to be just to him, was not far from the truth
'Have you broken my message to her?' asked the Bishop sonorously.
'Not your message; your visit,' said Louis. 'I leave the rest in
your Lordship's hands. I have done all I can for her.'
She was in her own small room to-day; and, feeling that it must be a
bold stroke or none, he led the Bishop across the hall till he
reached her apartment and opened the door; but instead of following
he shut it behind his visitor.
Then Glanville passed an anxious time. He walked from the foot of
the staircase to the star of old swords and pikes on the wall; from
these to the stags' horns; thence down the corridor as far as the
door, where he could hear murmuring inside, but not its import. The
longer they remained closeted the more excited did he become. That
she had not peremptorily negatived the proposal at the outset was a
strong sign of its success. It showed that she had admitted
argument; and the worthy Bishop had a pleader on his side whom he
knew little of. The very weather seemed to favour Dr. Helmsdale in
his suit. A blusterous wind had blown up from the west, howling in
the smokeless chimneys, and suggesting to the feminine mind storms
at sea, a tossing ocean, and the hopeless inaccessibility of all
astronomers and men on the other side of the same.
The Bishop had entered Viviette's room at ten minutes past three.
The long hand of the hall clock lay level at forty-five minutes past
when the knob of the door moved, and he came out. Louis met him
where the passage joined the hall.
Dr. Helmsdale was decidedly in an emotional state, his face being
slightly flushed. Louis looked his anxious inquiry without speaking
'She accepts me,' said the Bishop in a low voice. 'And the wedding
is to be soon. Her long solitude and sufferings justify haste.
What you said was true. Sheer weariness and distraction have driven
her to me. She was quite passive at last, and agreed to anything I
proposed--such is the persuasive force of trained logical reasoning!
A good and wise woman, she perceived what a true shelter from
sadness was offered in me, and was not the one to despise Heaven's
The silence of Swithin was to be accounted for by the circumstance
that neither to the Mediterranean nor to America had he in the first
place directed his steps. Feeling himself absolutely free he had,
on arriving at Southampton, decided to make straight for the Cape,
and hence had not gone aboard the Occidental at all. His object was
to leave his heavier luggage there, examine the capabilities of the
spot for his purpose, find out the necessity or otherwise of
shipping over his own equatorial, and then cross to America as soon
as there was a good opportunity. Here he might inquire the
movements of the Transit expedition to the South Pacific, and join
it at such a point as might be convenient.
Thus, though wrong in her premisses, Viviette had intuitively
decided with sad precision. There was, as a matter of fact, a great
possibility of her not being able to communicate with him for
several months, notwithstanding that he might possibly communicate
This excursive time was an awakening for Swithin. To altered
circumstances inevitably followed altered views. That such changes
should have a marked effect upon a young man who had made neither
grand tour nor petty one--who had, in short, scarcely been away from
home in his life--was nothing more than natural. New ideas
struggled to disclose themselves and with the addition of strange
twinklers to his southern horizon came an absorbed attention that
way, and a corresponding forgetfulness of what lay to the north
behind his back, whether human or celestial. Whoever may deplore it
few will wonder that Viviette, who till then had stood high in his
heaven, if she had not dominated it, sank, like the North Star,
lower and lower with his retreat southward. Master of a large
advance of his first year's income in circular notes, he perhaps too
readily forgot that the mere act of honour, but for her self-
suppression, would have rendered him penniless.
Meanwhile, to come back and claim her at the specified time, four
years thence, if she should not object to be claimed, was as much a
part of his programme as were the exploits abroad and elsewhere that
were to prelude it. The very thoroughness of his intention for that
advanced date inclined him all the more readily to shelve the
subject now. Her unhappy caution to him not to write too soon was a
comfortable license in his present state of tension about sublime
scientific things, which knew not woman, nor her sacrifices, nor her
fears. In truth he was not only too young in years, but too
literal, direct, and uncompromising in nature to understand such a
woman as Lady Constantine; and she suffered for that limitation in
him as it had been antecedently probable that she would do.
He stayed but a little time at Cape Town on this his first
reconnoitring journey; and on that account wrote to no one from the
place. On leaving he found there remained some weeks on his hands
before he wished to cross to America; and feeling an irrepressible
desire for further studies in navigation on shipboard, and under
clear skies, he took the steamer for Melbourne; returning thence in
due time, and pursuing his journey to America, where he landed at
Having at last had enough of great circles and other nautical
reckonings, and taking no interest in men or cities, this
indefatigable scrutineer of the universe went immediately on to
Cambridge; and there, by the help of an introduction he had brought
from England, he revelled for a time in the glories of the gigantic
refractor (which he was permitted to use on occasion), and in the
pleasures of intercourse with the scientific group around. This
brought him on to the time of starting with the Transit expedition,
when he and his kind became lost to the eye of civilization behind
the horizon of the Pacific Ocean.
To speak of their doings on this pilgrimage, of ingress and egress,
of tangent and parallax, of external and internal contact, would
avail nothing. Is it not all written in the chronicles of the
Astronomical Society? More to the point will it be to mention that
Viviette's letter to Cambridge had been returned long before he
reached that place, while her missive to Marseilles was, of course,
misdirected altogether. On arriving in America, uncertain of an
address in that country at which he would stay long, Swithin wrote
his first letter to his grandmother; and in this he ordered that all
communications should be sent to await him at Cape Town, as the only
safe spot for finding him, sooner or later. The equatorial he also
directed to be forwarded to the same place. At this time, too, he
ventured to break Viviette's commands, and address a letter to her,
not knowing of the strange results that had followed his absence
It was February. The Transit was over, the scientific company had
broken up, and Swithin had steamed towards the Cape to take up his
permanent abode there, with a view to his great task of surveying,
charting and theorizing on those exceptional features in the
southern skies which had been but partially treated by the younger
Herschel. Having entered Table Bay and landed on the quay, he
called at once at the post-office.
Two letters were handed him, and he found from the date that they
had been waiting there for some time. One of these epistles, which
had a weather-worn look as regarded the ink, and was in old-
fashioned penmanship, he knew to be from his grandmother. He opened
it before he had as much as glanced at the superscription of the
Besides immaterial portions, it contained the following:--
'J reckon you know by now of our main news this fall, but lest you
should not have heard of it J send the exact thing snipped out of
the newspaper. Nobody expected her to do it quite so soon; but it
is said hereabout that my lord bishop and my lady had been drawing
nigh to an understanding before the glum tidings of Sir Blount's
taking of his own life reached her; and the account of this wicked
deed was so sore afflicting to her mind, and made her poor heart so
timid and low, that in charity to my lady her few friends agreed on
urging her to let the bishop go on paying his court as before,
notwithstanding she had not been a widow-woman near so long as was
thought. This, as it turned out, she was willing to do; and when my
lord asked her she told him she would marry him at once or never.
That's as J was told, and J had it from those that know.'
The cutting from the newspaper was an ordinary announcement of
marriage between the Bishop of Melchester and Lady Constantine.
Swithin was so astounded at the intelligence of what for the nonce
seemed Viviette's wanton fickleness that he quite omitted to look at
the second letter; and remembered nothing about it till an hour
afterwards, when sitting in his own room at the hotel.
It was in her handwriting, but so altered that its superscription
had not arrested his eye. It had no beginning, or date; but its
contents soon acquainted him with her motive for the precipitate
act. The few concluding sentences are all that it will be necessary
to quote here:--
'There was no way out of it, even if I could have found you, without
infringing one of the conditions I had previously laid down. The
long desire of my heart has been not to impoverish you or mar your
career. The new desire was to save myself and, still more, another
yet unborn. . . . I have done a desperate thing. Yet for myself I
could do no better, and for you no less. I would have sacrificed my
single self to honesty, but I was not alone concerned. What woman
has a right to blight a coming life to preserve her personal
integrity?. . . The one bright spot is that it saves you and your
endowment from further catastrophes, and preserves you to the
pleasant paths of scientific fame. I no longer lie like a log
across your path, which is now as open as on the day before you saw
me, and ere I encouraged you to win me. Alas, Swithin, I ought to
have known better. The folly was great, and the suffering be upon
my head! I ought not to have consented to that last interview: all
was well till then!. . . Well, I have borne much, and am not
unprepared. As for you, Swithin, by simply pressing straight on
your triumph is assured. Do not communicate with me in any way--not
even in answer to this. Do not think of me. Do not see me ever any
Swithin's heart swelled within him in sudden pity for her, first;
then he blanched with a horrified sense of what she had done, and at
his own relation to the deed. He felt like an awakened somnambulist
who should find that he had been accessory to a tragedy during his
unconsciousness. She had loosened the knot of her difficulties by
cutting it unscrupulously through and through.
The big tidings rather dazed than crushed him, his predominant
feeling being soon again one of keenest sorrow and sympathy. Yet
one thing was obvious; he could do nothing--absolutely nothing. The
event which he now heard of for the first time had taken place five
long months ago. He reflected, and regretted--and mechanically went
on with his preparations for settling down to work under the shadow
of Table Mountain. He was as one who suddenly finds the world a
stranger place than he thought; but is excluded by age, temperament,
and situation from being much more than an astonished spectator of
The Royal Observatory was about a mile out of the town, and hither
he repaired as soon as he had established himself in lodgings. He
had decided, on his first visit to the Cape, that it would be highly
advantageous to him if he could supplement the occasional use of the
large instruments here by the use at his own house of his own
equatorial, and had accordingly given directions that it might be
sent over from England. The precious possession now arrived; and
although the sight of it--of the brasses on which her hand had often
rested, of the eyepiece through which her dark eyes had beamed--
engendered some decidedly bitter regrets in him for a time, he could
not long afford to give to the past the days that were meant for the
Unable to get a room convenient for a private observatory he
resolved at last to fix the instrument on a solid pillar in the
garden; and several days were spent in accommodating it to its new
position. In this latitude there was no necessity for economizing
clear nights as he had been obliged to do on the old tower at
Welland. There it had happened more than once, that after waiting
idle through days and nights of cloudy weather, Viviette would fix
her time for meeting him at an hour when at last he had an
opportunity of seeing the sky; so that in giving to her the golden
moments of cloudlessness he was losing his chance with the orbs
Those features which usually attract the eye of the visitor to a new
latitude are the novel forms of human and vegetable life, and other
such sublunary things. But the young man glanced slightingly at
these; the changes overhead had all his attention. The old subject
was imprinted there, but in a new type. Here was a heaven, fixed
and ancient as the northern; yet it had never appeared above the
Welland hills since they were heaved up from beneath. Here was an
unalterable circumpolar region; but the polar patterns stereotyped
in history and legend--without which it had almost seemed that a
polar sky could not exist--had never been seen therein.
St. Cleeve, as was natural, began by cursory surveys, which were not
likely to be of much utility to the world or to himself. He wasted
several weeks--indeed above two months--in a comparatively idle
survey of southern novelties; in the mere luxury of looking at
stellar objects whose wonders were known, recounted, and classified,
long before his own personality had been heard of. With a child's
simple delight he allowed his instrument to rove, evening after
evening, from the gorgeous glitter of Canopus to the hazy clouds of
Magellan. Before he had well finished this optical prelude there
floated over to him from the other side of the Equator the
postscript to the epistle of his lost Viviette. It came in the
vehicle of a common newspaper, under the head of 'Births:'--
'April 10th, 18--, at the Palace, Melchester, the wife of the Bishop
of Melchester, of a son.'
Three years passed away, and Swithin still remained at the Cape,
quietly pursuing the work that had brought him there. His memoranda
of observations had accumulated to a wheelbarrow load, and he was
beginning to shape them into a treatise which should possess some
He had gauged the southern skies with greater results than even he
himself had anticipated. Those unfamiliar constellations which, to
the casual beholder, are at most a new arrangement of ordinary
points of light, were to this professed astronomer, as to his
brethren, a far greater matter.
It was below the surface that his material lay. There, in regions
revealed only to the instrumental observer, were suns of hybrid
kind--fire-fogs, floating nuclei, globes that flew in groups like
swarms of bees, and other extraordinary sights--which, when
decomposed by Swithin's equatorial, turned out to be the beginning
of a new series of phenomena instead of the end of an old one.
There were gloomy deserts in those southern skies such as the north
shows scarcely an example of; sites set apart for the position of
suns which for some unfathomable reason were left uncreated, their
places remaining ever since conspicuous by their emptiness.
The inspection of these chasms brought him a second pulsation of
that old horror which he had used to describe to Viviette as
produced in him by bottomlessness in the north heaven. The ghostly
finger of limitless vacancy touched him now on the other side.
Infinite deeps in the north stellar region had a homely familiarity
about them, when compared with infinite deeps in the region of the
south pole. This was an even more unknown tract of the unknown.
Space here, being less the historic haunt of human thought than
overhead at home, seemed to be pervaded with a more lonely
Were there given on paper to these astronomical exercitations of St.
Cleeve a space proportionable to that occupied by his year with
Viviette at Welland, this narrative would treble its length; but not
a single additional glimpse would be afforded of Swithin in his
relations with old emotions. In these experiments with tubes and
glasses, important as they were to human intellect, there was little
food for the sympathetic instincts which create the changes in a
life. That which is the foreground and measuring base of one
perspective draught may be the vanishing-point of another
perspective draught, while yet they are both draughts of the same
thing. Swithin's doings and discoveries in the southern sidereal
system were, no doubt, incidents of the highest importance to him;
and yet from an intersocial point of view they served but the humble
purpose of killing time, while other doings, more nearly allied to
his heart than to his understanding, developed themselves at home.
In the intervals between his professional occupations he took walks
over the sand-flats near, or among the farms which were gradually
overspreading the country in the vicinity of Cape Town. He grew
familiar with the outline of Table Mountain, and the fleecy 'Devil's
Table-Cloth' which used to settle on its top when the wind was
south-east. On these promenades he would more particularly think of
Viviette, and of that curious pathetic chapter in his life with her
which seemed to have wound itself up and ended for ever. Those
scenes were rapidly receding into distance, and the intensity of his
sentiment regarding them had proportionately abated. He felt that
there had been something wrong therein, and yet he could not exactly
define the boundary of the wrong. Viviette's sad and amazing sequel
to that chapter had still a fearful, catastrophic aspect in his
eyes; but instead of musing over it and its bearings he shunned the
subject, as we shun by night the shady scene of a disaster, and keep
to the open road.
He sometimes contemplated her apart from the past--leading her life
in the Cathedral Close at Melchester; and wondered how often she
looked south and thought of where he was.
On one of these afternoon walks in the neighbourhood of the Royal
Observatory he turned and gazed towards the signal-post on the
Lion's Rump. This was a high promontory to the north-west of Table
Mountain, and overlooked Table Bay. Before his eyes had left the
scene the signal was suddenly hoisted on the staff. It announced
that a mail steamer had appeared in view over the sea. In the
course of an hour he retraced his steps, as he had often done on
such occasions, and strolled leisurely across the intervening mile
and a half till he arrived at the post-office door.
There was no letter from England for him; but there was a newspaper,
addressed in the seventeenth century handwriting of his grandmother,
who, in spite of her great age, still retained a steady hold on
life. He turned away disappointed, and resumed his walk into the
country, opening the paper as he went along.
A cross in black ink attracted his attention; and it was opposite a
name among the 'Deaths.' His blood ran icily as he discerned the
words 'The Palace, Melchester.' But it was not she. Her husband,
the Bishop of Melchester, had, after a short illness, departed this
life at the comparatively early age of fifty years.
All the enactments of the bygone days at Welland now started up like
an awakened army from the ground. But a few months were wanting to
the time when he would be of an age to marry without sacrificing the
annuity which formed his means of subsistence. It was a point in
his life that had had no meaning or interest for him since his
separation from Viviette, for women were now no more to him than the
inhabitants of Jupiter. But the whirligig of time having again set
Viviette free, the aspect of home altered, and conjecture as to her
future found room to work anew.
But beyond the simple fact that she was a widow he for some time
gained not an atom of intelligence concerning her. There was no one
of whom he could inquire but his grandmother, and she could tell him
nothing about a lady who dwelt far away at Melchester.
Several months slipped by thus; and no feeling within him rose to
sufficient strength to force him out of a passive attitude. Then by
the merest chance his granny stated in one of her rambling epistles
that Lady Constantine was coming to live again at Welland in the old
house, with her child, now a little boy between three and four years
Swithin, however, lived on as before.
But by the following autumn a change became necessary for the young
man himself. His work at the Cape was done. His uncle's wishes
that he should study there had been more than observed. The
materials for his great treatise were collected, and it now only
remained for him to arrange, digest, and publish them, for which
purpose a return to England was indispensable.
So the equatorial was unscrewed, and the stand taken down; the
astronomer's barrow-load of precious memoranda, and rolls upon rolls
of diagrams, representing three years of continuous labour, were
safely packed; and Swithin departed for good and all from the shores
of Cape Town.
He had long before informed his grandmother of the date at which she
might expect him; and in a reply from her, which reached him just
previous to sailing, she casually mentioned that she frequently saw
Lady Constantine; that on the last occasion her ladyship had shown
great interest in the information that Swithin was coming home, and
had inquired the time of his return.
On a late summer day Swithin stepped from the train at Warborne,
and, directing his baggage to be sent on after him, set out on foot
for old Welland once again.
It seemed but the day after his departure, so little had the scene
changed. True, there was that change which is always the first to
arrest attention in places that are conventionally called
unchanging--a higher and broader vegetation at every familiar corner
than at the former time.
He had not gone a mile when he saw walking before him a clergyman
whose form, after consideration, he recognized, in spite of a novel
whiteness in that part of his hair that showed below the brim of his
hat. Swithin walked much faster than this gentleman, and soon was
at his side.
'Mr. Torkingham! I knew it was,' said Swithin.
Mr. Torkingham was slower in recognizing the astronomer, but in a
moment had greeted him with a warm shake of the hand.
'I have been to the station on purpose to meet you!' cried Mr.
Torkingham, 'and was returning with the idea that you had not come.
I am your grandmother's emissary. She could not come herself, and
as she was anxious, and nobody else could be spared, I came for
Then they walked on together. The parson told Swithin all about his
grandmother, the parish, and his endeavours to enlighten it; and in
due course said, 'You are no doubt aware that Lady Constantine is
living again at Welland?'
Swithin said he had heard as much, and added, what was far within
the truth, that the news of the Bishop's death had been a great
surprise to him.
'Yes,' said Mr. Torkingham, with nine thoughts to one word. 'One
might have prophesied, to look at him, that Melchester would not
lack a bishop for the next forty years. Yes; pale death knocks at
the cottages of the poor and the palaces of kings with an impartial
'Was he a particularly good man?' asked Swithin.
'He was not a Ken or a Heber. To speak candidly, he had his faults,
of which arrogance was not the least. But who is perfect?'
Swithin, somehow, felt relieved to hear that the Bishop was not a
'His poor wife, I fear, had not a great deal more happiness with him
than with her first husband. But one might almost have foreseen it;
the marriage was hasty--the result of a red-hot caprice, hardly
becoming in a man of his position; and it betokened a want of
temperate discretion which soon showed itself in other ways. That's
all there was to be said against him, and now it's all over, and
things have settled again into their old course. But the Bishop's
widow is not the Lady Constantine of former days. No; put it as you
will, she is not the same. There seems to be a nameless something
on her mind--a trouble--a rooted melancholy, which no man's ministry
can reach. Formerly she was a woman whose confidence it was easy to
gain; but neither religion nor philosophy avails with her now.
Beyond that, her life is strangely like what it was when you were
Conversing thus they pursued the turnpike road till their
conversation was interrupted by a crying voice on their left. They
looked, and perceived that a child, in getting over an adjoining
stile, had fallen on his face.
Mr. Torkingham and Swithin both hastened up to help the sufferer,
who was a lovely little fellow with flaxen hair, which spread out in
a frill of curls from beneath a quaint, close-fitting velvet cap
that he wore. Swithin picked him up, while Mr. Torkingham wiped the
sand from his lips and nose, and administered a few words of
consolation, together with a few sweet-meats, which, somewhat to
Swithin's surprise, the parson produced as if by magic from his
pocket. One half the comfort rendered would have sufficed to soothe
such a disposition as the child's. He ceased crying and ran away in
delight to his unconscious nurse, who was reaching up for
blackberries at a hedge some way off.
'You know who he is, of course?' said Mr. Torkingham, as they
resumed their journey.
'No,' said Swithin.
'Oh, I thought you did. Yet how should you? It is Lady
Constantine's boy--her only child. His fond mother little thinks he
is so far away from home.'
'Dear me!--Lady Constantine's--ah, how interesting!' Swithin paused
abstractedly for a moment, then stepped back again to the stile,
while he stood watching the little boy out of sight.
'I can never venture out of doors now without sweets in my pocket,'
continued the good-natured vicar: 'and the result is that I meet
that young man more frequently on my rounds than any other of my
St. Cleeve was silent, and they turned into Welland Lane, where
their paths presently diverged, and Swithin was left to pursue his
way alone. He might have accompanied the vicar yet further, and
gone straight to Welland House; but it would have been difficult to
do so then without provoking inquiry. It was easy to go there now:
by a cross path he could be at the mansion almost as soon as by the
direct road. And yet Swithin did not turn; he felt an indescribable
reluctance to see Viviette. He could not exactly say why. True,
before he knew how the land lay it might be awkward to attempt to
call: and this was a sufficient excuse for postponement.
In this mood he went on, following the direct way to his
grandmother's homestead. He reached the garden-gate, and, looking
into the bosky basin where the old house stood, saw a graceful
female form moving before the porch, bidding adieu to some one
within the door.
He wondered what creature of that mould his grandmother could know,
and went forward with some hesitation. At his approach the
apparition turned, and he beheld, developed into blushing womanhood,
one who had once been known to him as the village maiden Tabitha
Lark. Seeing Swithin, and apparently from an instinct that her
presence would not be desirable just then, she moved quickly round
into the garden.
The returned traveller entered the house, where he found awaiting
him poor old Mrs. Martin, to whose earthly course death stood rather
as the asymptote than as the end. She was perceptibly smaller in
form than when he had left her, and she could see less distinctly.
A rather affecting greeting followed, in which his grandmother
murmured the words of Israel: '"Now let me die, since I have seen
thy face, because thou art yet alive."'
The form of Hannah had disappeared from the kitchen, that ancient
servant having been gathered to her fathers about six months before,
her place being filled by a young girl who knew not Joseph. They
presently chatted with much cheerfulness, and his grandmother said,
'Have you heard what a wonderful young woman Miss Lark has become?--
a mere fleet-footed, slittering maid when you were last home.'
St. Cleeve had not heard, but he had partly seen, and he was
informed that Tabitha had left Welland shortly after his own
departure, and had studied music with great success in London, where
she had resided ever since till quite recently; that she played at
concerts, oratorios--had, in short, joined the phalanx of Wonderful
Women who had resolved to eclipse masculine genius altogether, and
humiliate the brutal sex to the dust.
'She is only in the garden,' added his grandmother. 'Why don't ye
go out and speak to her?'
Swithin was nothing loth, and strolled out under the apple-trees,
where he arrived just in time to prevent Miss Lark from going off by
the back gate. There was not much difficulty in breaking the ice
between them, and they began to chat with vivacity.
Now all these proceedings occupied time, for somehow it was very
charming to talk to Miss Lark; and by degrees St. Cleeve informed
Tabitha of his great undertaking, and of the voluminous notes he had
amassed, which would require so much rearrangement and recopying by
an amanuensis as to absolutely appal him. He greatly feared he
should not get one careful enough for such scientific matter;
whereupon Tabitha said she would be delighted to do it for him.
Then blushing, and declaring suddenly that it had grown quite late,
she left him and the garden for her relation's house hard by.
Swithin, no less than Tabitha, had been surprised by the
disappearance of the sun behind the hill; and the question now arose
whether it would be advisable to call upon Viviette that night.
There was little doubt that she knew of his coming; but more than
that he could not predicate; and being entirely ignorant of whom she
had around her, entirely in the dark as to her present feelings
towards him, he thought it would be better to defer his visit until
the next day.
Walking round to the front of the house he beheld the well-known
agriculturists Hezzy Biles, Haymoss Fry, and some others of the same
old school, passing the gate homeward from their work with bundles
of wood at their backs. Swithin saluted them over the top rail.
'Well! do my eyes and ears--' began Hezzy; and then, balancing his
faggot on end against the hedge, he came forward, the others
'Says I to myself as soon as I heerd his voice,' Hezzy continued
(addressing Swithin as if he were a disinterested spectator and not
himself), 'please God I'll pitch my nitch, and go across and speak
'I knowed in a winking 'twas some great navigator that I see a
standing there,' said Haymoss. 'But whe'r 'twere a sort of nabob,
or a diment-digger, or a lion-hunter, I couldn't so much as guess
till I heerd en speak.'
'And what changes have come over Welland since I was last at home?'
'Well, Mr. San Cleeve,' Hezzy replied, 'when you've said that a few
stripling boys and maidens have busted into blooth, and a few
married women have plimmed and chimped (my lady among 'em), why,
you've said anighst all, Mr. San Cleeve.'
The conversation thus began was continued on divers matters till
they were all enveloped in total darkness, when his old
acquaintances shouldered their faggots again and proceeded on their
Now that he was actually within her coasts again Swithin felt a
little more strongly the influence of the past and Viviette than he
had been accustomed to do for the last two or three years. During
the night he felt half sorry that he had not marched off to the
Great House to see her, regardless of the time of day. If she
really nourished for him any particle of her old affection it had
been the cruellest thing not to call. A few questions that he put
concerning her to his grandmother elicited that Lady Constantine had
no friends about her--not even her brother--and that her health had
not been so good since her return from Melchester as formerly.
Still, this proved nothing as to the state of her heart, and as she
had kept a dead silence since the Bishop's death it was quite
possible that she would meet him with that cold repressive tone and
manner which experienced women know so well how to put on when they
wish to intimate to the long-lost lover that old episodes are to be
taken as forgotten.
The next morning he prepared to call, if only on the ground of old
acquaintance, for Swithin was too straightforward to ascertain
anything indirectly. It was rather too early for this purpose when
he went out from his grandmother's garden-gate, after breakfast, and
he waited in the garden. While he lingered his eye fell on Rings-
It appeared dark, for a moment, against the blue sky behind it; then
the fleeting cloud which shadowed it passed on, and the face of the
column brightened into such luminousness that the sky behind sank to
the complexion of a dark foil.
'Surely somebody is on the column,' he said to himself, after gazing
at it awhile.
Instead of going straight to the Great House he deviated through the
insulating field, now sown with turnips, which surrounded the
plantation on Rings-Hill. By the time that he plunged under the
trees he was still more certain that somebody was on the tower. He
crept up to the base with proprietary curiosity, for the spot seemed
again like his own.
The path still remained much as formerly, but the nook in which the
cabin had stood was covered with undergrowth. Swithin entered the
door of the tower, ascended the staircase about half-way on tip-toe,
and listened, for he did not wish to intrude on the top if any
stranger were there. The hollow spiral, as he knew from old
experience, would bring down to his ears the slightest sound from
above; and it now revealed to him the words of a duologue in
progress at the summit of the tower.
'Mother, what shall I do?' a child's voice said. 'Shall I sing?'
The mother seemed to assent, for the child began--
'The robin has fled from the wood
To the snug habitation of man.'
This performance apparently attracted but little attention from the
child's companion, for the young voice suggested, as a new form of
entertainment, 'Shall I say my prayers?'
'Yes,' replied one whom Swithin had begun to recognize.
'Who shall I pray for?'
'Who shall I pray for?'
'Pray for father.'
'But he is gone to heaven?'
A sigh from Viviette was distinctly audible.
'You made a mistake, didn't you, mother?' continued the little one.
'I must have. The strangest mistake a woman ever made!'
Nothing more was said, and Swithin ascended, words from above
indicating to him that his footsteps were heard. In another half-
minute he rose through the hatchway. A lady in black was sitting in
the sun, and the boy with the flaxen hair whom he had seen yesterday
was at her feet.
'Viviette!' he said.
'Swithin!--at last!' she cried.
The words died upon her lips, and from very faintness she bent her
head. For instead of rushing forward to her he had stood still; and
there appeared upon his face a look which there was no mistaking.
Yes; he was shocked at her worn and faded aspect. The image he had
mentally carried out with him to the Cape he had brought home again
as that of the woman he was now to rejoin. But another woman sat
before him, and not the original Viviette. Her cheeks had lost for
ever that firm contour which had been drawn by the vigorous hand of
youth, and the masses of hair that were once darkness visible had
become touched here and there by a faint grey haze, like the Via
Lactea in a midnight sky.
Yet to those who had eyes to understand as well as to see, the
chastened pensiveness of her once handsome features revealed more
promising material beneath than ever her youth had done. But
Swithin was hopelessly her junior. Unhappily for her he had now
just arrived at an age whose canon of faith it is that the silly
period of woman's life is her only period of beauty. Viviette saw
it all, and knew that Time had at last brought about his revenges.
She had tremblingly watched and waited without sleep, ever since
Swithin had re-entered Welland, and it was for this.
Swithin came forward, and took her by the hand, which she passively
allowed him to do.
'Swithin, you don't love me,' she said simply.
'You don't love me,' she repeated.
'Don't say it!'
'Yes, but I will! you have a right not to love me. You did once.
But now I am an old woman, and you are still a young man; so how can
you love me? I do not expect it. It is kind and charitable of you
to come and see me here.'
'I have come all the way from the Cape,' he faltered, for her
insistence took all power out of him to deny in mere politeness what
'Yes; you have come from the Cape; but not for me,' she answered.
'It would be absurd if you had come for me. You have come because
your work there is finished. . . . I like to sit here with my
little boy--it is a pleasant spot. It was once something to us, was
it not? but that was long ago. You scarcely knew me for the same
woman, did you?'
'Knew you--yes, of course I knew you!'
'You looked as if you did not. But you must not be surprised at me.
I belong to an earlier generation than you, remember.'
Thus, in sheer bitterness of spirit did she inflict wounds on
herself by exaggerating the difference in their years. But she had
nevertheless spoken truly. Sympathize with her as he might, and as
he unquestionably did, he loved her no longer. But why had she
expected otherwise? 'O woman,' might a prophet have said to her,
'great is thy faith if thou believest a junior lover's love will
last five years!'
'I shall be glad to know through your grandmother how you are
getting on,' she said meekly. 'But now I would much rather that we
part. Yes; do not question me. I would rather that we part. Good-
Hardly knowing what he did he touched her hand, and obeyed. He was
a scientist, and took words literally. There is something in the
inexorably simple logic of such men which partakes of the cruelty of
the natural laws that are their study. He entered the tower-steps,
and mechanically descended; and it was not till he got half-way down
that he thought she could not mean what she had said.
Before leaving Cape Town he had made up his mind on this one point;
that if she were willing to marry him, marry her he would without
let or hindrance. That much he morally owed her, and was not the
man to demur. And though the Swithin who had returned was not quite
the Swithin who had gone away, though he could not now love her with
the sort of love he had once bestowed; he believed that all her
conduct had been dictated by the purest benevolence to him, by that
charity which 'seeketh not her own.' Hence he did not flinch from a
wish to deal with loving-kindness towards her--a sentiment perhaps
in the long-run more to be prized than lover's love.
Her manner had caught him unawares; but now recovering himself he
turned back determinedly. Bursting out upon the roof he clasped her
in his arms, and kissed her several times.
'Viviette, Viviette,' he said, 'I have come to marry you!'
She uttered a shriek--a shriek of amazed joy--such as never was
heard on that tower before or since--and fell in his arms, clasping
There she lay heavily. Not to disturb her he sat down in her seat,
still holding her fast. Their little son, who had stood with round
conjectural eyes throughout the meeting, now came close; and
presently looking up to Swithin said--
'Mother has gone to sleep.'
Swithin looked down, and started. Her tight clasp had loosened. A
wave of whiteness, like that of marble which had never seen the sun,
crept up from her neck, and travelled upwards and onwards over her
cheek, lips, eyelids, forehead, temples, its margin banishing back
the live pink till the latter had entirely disappeared.
Seeing that something was wrong, yet not understanding what, the
little boy began to cry; but in his concentration Swithin hardly
heard it. 'Viviette--Viviette!' he said.
The child cried with still deeper grief, and, after a momentary
hesitation, pushed his hand into Swithin's for protection.
'Hush, hush! my child,' said Swithin distractedly. 'I'll take care
of you! O Viviette!' he exclaimed again, pressing her face to his.
But she did not reply.
'What can this be?' he asked himself. He would not then answer
according to his fear.
He looked up for help. Nobody appeared in sight but Tabitha Lark,
who was skirting the field with a bounding tread--the single bright
spot of colour and animation within the wide horizon. When he
looked down again his fear deepened to certainty. It was no longer
a mere surmise that help was vain. Sudden joy after despair had
touched an over-strained heart too smartly. Viviette was dead. The
Bishop was avenged.