In her days of prosperity Lady Constantine had often gone to the
city of Bath, either frivolously, for shopping purposes, or musico-
religiously, to attend choir festivals in the abbey; so there was
nothing surprising in her reverting to an old practice. That the
journey might appear to be of a somewhat similar nature she took
with her the servant who had been accustomed to accompany her on
former occasions, though the woman, having now left her service, and
settled in the village as the wife of Anthony Green, with a young
child on her hands, could with some difficulty leave home. Lady
Constantine overcame the anxious mother's scruples by providing that
young Green should be well cared for; and knowing that she could
count upon this woman's fidelity, if upon anybody's, in case of an
accident (for it was chiefly Lady Constantine's exertions that had
made an honest wife of Mrs. Green), she departed for a fortnight's
The next day found mistress and maid settled in lodgings in an old
plum-coloured brick street, which a hundred years ago could boast of
rank and fashion among its residents, though now the broad fan-light
over each broad door admitted the sun to the halls of a lodging-
house keeper only. The lamp-posts were still those that had done
duty with oil lights; and rheumatic old coachmen and postilions,
that once had driven and ridden gloriously from London to Land's
End, ornamented with their bent persons and bow legs the pavement in
front of the chief inn, in the sorry hope of earning sixpence to
keep body and soul together.
'We are kept well informed on the time o' day, my lady,' said Mrs.
Green, as she pulled down the blinds in Lady Constantine's room on
the evening of their arrival. 'There's a church exactly at the back
of us, and I hear every hour strike.'
Lady Constantine said she had noticed that there was a church quite
'Well, it is better to have that at the back than other folks'
winders. And if your ladyship wants to go there it won't be far to
'That's what occurred to me,' said Lady Constantine, 'IF I should
want to go.'
During the ensuing days she felt to the utmost the tediousness of
waiting merely that time might pass. Not a soul knew her there, and
she knew not a soul, a circumstance which, while it added to her
sense of secrecy, intensified her solitude. Occasionally she went
to a shop, with Green as her companion. Though there were purchases
to be made, they were by no means of a pressing nature, and but
poorly filled up the vacancies of those strange, speculative days,--
days surrounded by a shade of fear, yet poetized by sweet
On the thirteenth day she told Green that she was going to take a
walk, and leaving the house she passed by the obscurest streets to
the Abbey. After wandering about beneath the aisles till her
courage was screwed to its highest, she went out at the other side,
and, looking timidly round to see if anybody followed, walked on
till she came to a certain door, which she reached just at the
moment when her heart began to sink to its very lowest, rendering
all the screwing up in vain.
Whether it was because the month was October, or from any other
reason, the deserted aspect of the quarter in general sat especially
on this building. Moreover the pavement was up, and heaps of stone
and gravel obstructed the footway. Nobody was coming, nobody was
going, in that thoroughfare; she appeared to be the single one of
the human race bent upon marriage business, which seemed to have
been unanimously abandoned by all the rest of the world as proven
folly. But she thought of Swithin, his blonde hair, ardent eyes,
and eloquent lips, and was carried onward by the very reflection.
Entering the surrogate's room Lady Constantine managed, at the last
juncture, to state her errand in tones so collected as to startle
even herself to which her listener replied also as if the whole
thing were the most natural in the world. When it came to the
affirmation that she had lived fifteen days in the parish, she said
'O no! I thought the fifteen days meant the interval of residence
before the marriage takes place. I have lived here only thirteen
days and a half. Now I must come again!'
'Ah--well--I think you need not be so particular,' said the
surrogate. 'As a matter of fact, though the letter of the law
requires fifteen days' residence, many people make five sufficient.
The provision is inserted, as you doubtless are aware, to hinder
runaway marriages as much as possible, and secret unions, and other
such objectionable practices. You need not come again.'
That evening Lady Constantine wrote to Swithin St. Cleeve the last
letter of the fortnight:--
'MY DEAREST,--Do come to me as soon as you can. By a sort of
favouring blunder I have been able to shorten the time of waiting by
a day. Come at once, for I am almost broken down with apprehension.
It seems rather rash at moments, all this, and I wish you were here
to reassure me. I did not know I should feel so alarmed. I am
frightened at every footstep, and dread lest anybody who knows me
should accost me, and find out why I am here. I sometimes wonder
how I could have agreed to come and enact your part, but I did not
realize how trying it would be. You ought not to have asked me,
Swithin; upon my word, it was too cruel of you, and I will punish
you for it when you come! But I won't upbraid. I hope the
homestead is repaired that has cost me all this sacrifice of
modesty. If it were anybody in the world but YOU in question I
would rush home, without waiting here for the end of it,--I really
think I would! But, dearest, no. I must show my strength now, or
let it be for ever hid. The barriers of ceremony are broken down
between us, and it is for the best that I am here.'
And yet, at no point of this trying prelude need Lady Constantine
have feared for her strength. Deeds in this connexion demand the
particular kind of courage that such perfervid women are endowed
with, the courage of their emotions, in which young men are often
lamentably deficient. Her fear was, in truth, the fear of being
discovered in an unwonted position; not of the act itself. And
though her letter was in its way a true exposition of her feeling,
had it been necessary to go through the whole legal process over
again she would have been found equal to the emergency.
It had been for some days a point of anxiety with her what to do
with Green during the morning of the wedding. Chance unexpectedly
helped her in this difficulty. The day before the purchase of the
license Green came to Lady Constantine with a letter in her hand
from her husband Anthony, her face as long as a fiddle.
'I hope there's nothing the matter?' said Lady Constantine.
'The child's took bad, my lady!' said Mrs. Green, with suspended
floods of water in her eyes. 'I love the child better than I shall
love all them that's coming put together; for he's been a good boy
to his mother ever since twelve weeks afore he was born! 'Twas he,
a tender deary, that made Anthony marry me, and thereby turned
hisself from a little calamity to a little blessing! For, as you
know, the man were a backward man in the church part o' matrimony,
my lady; though he'll do anything when he's forced a bit by his
manly feelings. And now to lose the child--hoo-hoo-hoo! What shall
'Well, you want to go home at once, I suppose?'
Mrs. Green explained, between her sobs, that such was her desire;
and though this was a day or two sooner than her mistress had wished
to be left alone she consented to Green's departure. So during the
afternoon her woman went off, with directions to prepare for Lady
Constantine's return in two or three days. But as the exact day of
her return was uncertain no carriage was to be sent to the station
to meet her, her intention being to hire one from the hotel.
Lady Constantine was now left in utter solitude to await her lover's