VIVIETTE’S determination to hamper Swithin no longer had led her, as has been shown, to thwart any weak impulse of hers to write and entreat his return, by forbidding him to furnish her with his foreign address. His obedient disposition, his fear that there might be other reasons behind, made him obey her command only too literally. Thus, to her terror and dismay, she had placed a gratuitous difficulty in the way of her present endeavor.
She was ready before Green, and urged on that factotum so wildly as to leave him no time to change the corduroys and skitty-boots in which he had been gardening. He therefore turned himself into a coachman as far down as his waist merely, putting 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, today. 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, strolled away, and sat down on a pile of merchandise.
Copyright, 1882, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.
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 up-stairs, 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, very sorry, my lady,” said Hannah, slightly awed on beholding her visitor. “ But we was a putting poor Mr. Swithin’s rooms to rights, now that he is, as a woman may say, dead and buried to us ; so we did n’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 instantly overflowed.
“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 fourscore years, my Lady Constantine; my junketing days are over, and whether’t is feasting or whether ’t is 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.”
Old 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 looming 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,” she said hastily to Mrs. Martin. “ Don’t ye see how it disturbs my lady ? ” And turning to Viviette she whispered, “ Her years be so great, your ladyship, that perhaps ye ’ll excuse her for bursting 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, ’t is only the rames 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 women 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 upon the wall. “ I shall never rub ’em out; no, though ’t is 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 going 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 did n’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 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 Cape.”
“ But before the end of the year, what places did he tell you of visiting? ”
“ 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 learned instruments and a staff 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 been advised to do by his great-uncle’s solicitor.
Lady Constantine bade the old people good-by, 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 the Marseilles observatory, one to the observatory of Cambridge, Massachusetts, 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 dispatch from Warborne ; and she took a dreary journey to Southampton, on purpose to send it from an office at which she was unknown.
Here she handed in her messages in duplicate, addressing them as she had addressed the letters, and again returned home.
With regard to Marseilles, she assumed that an answer might be expected in a day, if he had gone there. She waited two days, three days ; and there being no return telegram from Marseilles, the inference was that he had gone to America. For an answer to her American telegram she ought to wait a week or ten days longer, to allow him time to get to Cambridge and receive it.
Then she considered the weakness, the stultifying nature, of her attempt at recall.
Events mocked her on all sides. By the favor 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 revolved once.
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 ? 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 ardor for that spectacle, would forego it at the last moment to return to a humdrum domesticity with a woman eight years his senior?
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, faded, middle-aged, and homely. 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 arbor. 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 vision.
“ 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 fervently.
“ Good God ! “What! Would you marry anybody or anything ? ” asked Louis, aghast.
“I would marry a tinker, for that matter,” she said recklessly. “Only I should prefer to drown myself.”
Louis held his breath, and stood rigid, such was the force of the meaning her words conveyed.
“ But, Louis, you don’t know all! ” cried poor 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. Oh, will he, will he come again ! ”
“ Never, if that’s the position of affairs,” said Louis firmly, after a pause.
“ What then shall i do ? ” said Viviette.
Louis escaped the formidable difficulty of replying by pretending to continue his Havana; 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 down-stairs. Louis, who was now greatly disturbed about her, went up to his sister and took her hand.
“ Aux grands maux les grands remèdes,” he said gravely. " I have a plan.”
“ I have a dozen,” said she.
“ You have ? ”
“ Yes. But what are they worth ? And yet there must, there must be a way ! ”
“ Viviette,” said Louis, “ promise that you will wait till I come home to-night, before you do anything.”
Her distracted eyes showed but 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, although intruded on by the plow 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 episcopal palace.
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 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 favoring 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 his lordship, “ 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 hence not able to fudge 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 mismating his Hermia with this Demetrius.
Throwing a strong flavor of earnestness into his mien, he replied, “ Your lordship, 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 for her.”
“ Certainly. I trust that the prospect opened up by ray proposal, combined with this other news, has not proved too much for her.”
“ My sister is distracted and distressed, Bishop Helmsdale. She wants comfort.”
“ 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 life-time 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 communication ? ” “ 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 Bishop Helmsdale 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 Heaveu’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 favorably 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.”
“ Oh, 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 lest 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 having her interest at heart, it was that which induced me 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-morrow.”
“ 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. The interview having ended as far as its object was concerned, he went away almost hurriedly, and at once left the precincts of the cathedral, lest another encounter with Bishop Helmsdale should lead the latter to take a new and slower view of his duties as Viviette’s suitor.
He reached Welland by dinner-time, and came upon Viviette in the same pensive mood in which he had left her. It seemed that 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 herself.
His anxiety at this crisis began 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. The Bishop was as abjectly in love as only pompous people can be ; and this thought gave him hope.
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 day.
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 led 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 feared.
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 Melehester ? ” 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 errand, — which was, indeed, 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.”
Viviette was in her own small room to-day. Feeling that it must be a bold stroke or none, Louis led the Bishop across the hall till he reached the apartment, opened the door, and, instead of following, shut it behind him.
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 favor 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 it.
“ 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 a trained mind! A good and wise woman, she perceived what a true shelter from sadness was offered, and was not the one to despise Heaven’s gift.”
The silence of Swithin was to be accounted for by the circumstance that neither to Marseilles nor to America had he, in the first place, directed his steps. Feeling himself absolutely free, he had, upon arriving at Southampton, decided to make straight for the Cape. 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 premises, Viviette had intuitively decided with absolute precision. There was, as a matter of fact, no chance of her being able to communicate with him for several months, notwithstanding that he might possibly communicate with her.
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 lower and lower, like the North Star. Master of a large advance of his first year’s income in circular notes and other forms, he perhaps too readily forgot that the mere act of honor, 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 did 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 to shelve the subject now. Her unhappy caution to him not to write too soon was a comfortable license in his present state of tensity 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 was antecedently probable she would do.
He stayed but a little time at Cape Town, on this first, reconnoitring journey, and on that account wrote to no one from there. 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 under clear skies, he took the steamer for Melbourne; returning thence in due time, and pursuing his journey to America, where he landed at Boston. 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 to Cambridge; and there, by the help of an introduction he had brought from England, he reveled for a time in the glories of the gigantic refractor (which he was permitted to use on odd occasions), 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 poor Viviette’s telegram and letter to Cambridge had been returned long before Swithin reached that place, while her missives to Marseilles were of course misdirected altogether. On arriving in America, uncertain of an address in that country to which he would return, Swithin wrote his first letter to his grandmother ; and in this he directed 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 from home.
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 inadequately treated by the younger Hersehel. Having entered Table Pay, 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 weatherworn look as regarded the ink, and was in old-fashioned penmanship, he knew to be from his grandmother, and opened it before he had as much as glanced at the superscription of the second.
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 a 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 her 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 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 another.
. . . 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 soul ? . . . 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
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 more. Your unhappy
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 a period of 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 its strangeness.
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 eye-piece through which her dark eye 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 future.
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, to his sorrow, that, after he had waited idle through days and nights of cloudy weather, poor 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 above. But here there was clear atmosphere enough for both science and love, had an object for the latter been present with him.
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 our young man glanced slightingly at these : the changes overhead had 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 poor Viviette. It came in the vehicle of a common newspaper, under the head of “ Births : ” —
“April 10, 18—, at The Palace, Melchester, Lady Helmsdale, 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 work of scientific utility.
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 world pollen, 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 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 pervaded with a more lonely loneliness.
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 convex glasses, important as they were to eye and intellect, there was little food for the sympathetic instincts which create the changes in a life, and therefore are more particularly the question here. 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 our present 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 moors 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 southeast. 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 forever. 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 in that period of his existence, 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 tragedy, 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 neighborhood of the Royal Observatory, he turned and looked towards the signal-post on the Lion’s Rump. This was a high promontory to the northwest of Table Mountain, which overlooked Table Bay. Before his eyes had left the scene the signal was suddenly hoisted on the staff. This announced that a mail steamer had appeared in view over the sea. 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 word “ Helmsdale.” 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. Only 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. However, 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 Helmsdale was coming to live again at Welland, in the old house, with her child, now a little boy between three and four years of age.
Swithin, however, lived on as before.
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 labor, 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 Helmsdale; 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 her.”
Then they walked on together. The parson told Swithin all about his grandmother, the parish, and his endeavors to enlighten it; and in due course said, “ You are no doubt aware that Lady Helmsdale— the Lady Constantine of former days — is living again at Welland.”
Swithin said he had heard as much, and added, what was perfectly true, 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 foot.”
“ 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 perfect man.
“ 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 to a man in 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 Lady Helmsdale is not Lady Constantine. 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 with us.”
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 sweetmeats, 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 Helmsdale’s boy, her only child. His fond mother little thinks he is so far away from home.”
“ Dear me — Lady Helmsdale’s — ah — how interesting ! ” Swithin paused abstractedly for a moment ; then stepped back again to the stile, where 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 than any other of my parishioners.”
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. Moreover, 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 in which 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 astronomer 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, at oratorios ; that she had, in short, joined the phalanx of wonderful women who have sternly 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 loath, 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 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 told 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 garden gate homeward from their work, with bundles of wood upon their backs. Swithin saluted them over the top-rail.
“ Well! do my eyes and ears ” — began Hezzy; and then, with a smile almost as wide as the gate, and balancing his fagot on end against the hedge, he came forward, the others following.
“ 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 to en.”
“ I knowed in a winking’t was some great navigator that I see a standing there,” said Haymoss. “ But whe'r ’t were a sort of nabob, or a diment-digger, or a lion-hunter, I could n’t so much as guess till I heerd en spak ”
“ And what changes have come over Welland since I was last at home ? ” asked Swithin.
“ 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 begun was continued on divers matters, till they were all enveloped in total darkness, when his old acquaintance shouldered their fagots again and proceeded on their way.
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 cruelest thing not to call. A few questions that he had put concerning her to his grandmother elicited that Lady Helmsdale 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 do 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 the Rings-Hill Speer. 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 a while.
Instead of going straight to the great house, he deviated through the insulating field, now sown to 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 dialogue 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 : —
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, did n’t you ? ” 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 golden 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 which 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 forever 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 gray haze, like the Via Lactea in a midnight sky.
Yet to those who had eyes to understand, as well as to see, the chastened sweetness 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 revenge. She had tremblingly watched and waited, without sleep, ever since Swithin had reëntered 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.
“ Oh, Viviette ! ”
“ 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 she said.
“ 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 weakly. “ But now — I would much rather that we part. Yes ; do not question me. I would rather that we part. Good-by ! ”
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 and mechanically descended the steps ; 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 he 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 his neck.
There she lay heavily. Not to disturb her he sat down in her seat, still holding her fast. The little boy, 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 has never seen the sun, crept up from her neck, and traveled upwards and onwards over her cheek, lips, eyelids, forehead, temples ; its margin banishing back the live pink till the latter had entirely disappeared.
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 pushed his hand into Swithin’s for protection. “ Hush, hush, my child ! ” said Swithin distractedly. “ I ’ll take care of you. Oh, 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.
But he had to do so soon. Sudden joy after despair had touched an overstrained heart too smartly. Viviette was dead. The Bishop was avenged.