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XIX

At the station Lady Constantine appeared, standing expectant; he saw
her face from the window of the carriage long before she saw him.
He no sooner saw her than he was satisfied to his heart's content
with his prize. If his great-uncle had offered him from the grave a
kingdom instead of her, he would not have accepted it.

Swithin jumped out, and nature never painted in a woman's face more
devotion than appeared in my lady's at that moment. To both the
situation seemed like a beautiful allegory, not to be examined too
closely, lest its defects of correspondence with real life should be
apparent.

They almost feared to shake hands in public, so much depended upon
their passing that morning without molestation. A fly was called
and they drove away.

'Take this,' she said, handing him a folded paper. 'It belongs to
you rather than to me.'

At crossings, and other occasional pauses, pedestrians turned their
faces and looked at the pair (for no reason but that, among so many,
there were naturally a few of the sort who have eyes to note what
incidents come in their way as they plod on); but the two in the
vehicle could not but fear that these innocent beholders had special
detective designs on them.

'You look so dreadfully young!' she said with humorous fretfulness,
as they drove along (Swithin's cheeks being amazingly fresh from the
morning air). 'Do try to appear a little haggard, that the parson
mayn't ask us awkward questions!'

Nothing further happened, and they were set down opposite a shop
about fifty yards from the church door, at five minutes to eleven.

'We will dismiss the fly,' she said. 'It will only attract idlers.'

On turning the corner and reaching the church they found the door
ajar; but the building contained only two persons, a man and a
woman,--the clerk and his wife, as they learnt. Swithin asked when
the clergyman would arrive.

The clerk looked at his watch, and said, 'At just on eleven
o'clock.'

'He ought to be here,' said Swithin.

'Yes,' replied the clerk, as the hour struck. 'The fact is, sir, he
is a deppity, and apt to be rather wandering in his wits as regards
time and such like, which hev stood in the way of the man's getting
a benefit. But no doubt he'll come.'

'The regular incumbent is away, then?'

'He's gone for his bare pa'son's fortnight,--that's all; and we was
forced to put up with a weak-talented man or none. The best men
goes into the brewing, or into the shipping now-a-days, you see,
sir; doctrines being rather shaddery at present, and your money's
worth not sure in our line. So we church officers be left poorly
provided with men for odd jobs. I'll tell ye what, sir; I think I'd
better run round to the gentleman's lodgings, and try to find him?'

'Pray do,' said Lady Constantine.

The clerk left the church; his wife busied herself with dusting at
the further end, and Swithin and Viviette were left to themselves.
The imagination travels so rapidly, and a woman's forethought is so
assumptive, that the clerk's departure had no sooner doomed them to
inaction than it was borne in upon Lady Constantine's mind that she
would not become the wife of Swithin St. Cleeve, either to-day or on
any other day. Her divinations were continually misleading her, she
knew: but a hitch at the moment of marriage surely had a meaning in
it.

'Ah,--the marriage is not to be!' she said to herself. 'This is a
fatality.'

It was twenty minutes past, and no parson had arrived. Swithin took
her hand.

'If it cannot be to-day, it can be to-morrow,' he whispered.

'I cannot say,' she answered. 'Something tells me no.'

It was almost impossible that she could know anything of the
deterrent force exercised on Swithin by his dead uncle that morning.
Yet her manner tallied so curiously well with such knowledge that he
was struck by it, and remained silent.

'You have a black tie,' she continued, looking at him.

'Yes,' replied Swithin. 'I bought it on my way here.'

'Why could it not have been less sombre in colour?'

'My great-uncle is dead.'

'You had a great-uncle? You never told me.'

'I never saw him in my life. I have only heard about him since his
death.'

He spoke in as quiet and measured a way as he could, but his heart
was sinking. She would go on questioning; he could not tell her an
untruth. She would discover particulars of that great-uncle's
provision for him, which he, Swithin, was throwing away for her
sake, and she would refuse to be his for his own sake. His
conclusion at this moment was precisely what hers had been five
minutes sooner: they were never to be husband and wife.

But she did not continue her questions, for the simplest of all
reasons: hasty footsteps were audible in the entrance, and the
parson was seen coming up the aisle, the clerk behind him wiping the
beads of perspiration from his face. The somewhat sorry clerical
specimen shook hands with them, and entered the vestry; and the
clerk came up and opened the book.

'The poor gentleman's memory is a bit topsy-turvy,' whispered the
latter. 'He had got it in his mind that 'twere a funeral, and I
found him wandering about the cemetery a-looking for us. However,
all's well as ends well.' And the clerk wiped his forehead again.

'How ill-omened!' murmured Viviette.

But the parson came out robed at this moment, and the clerk put on
his ecclesiastical countenance and looked in his book. Lady
Constantine's momentary languor passed; her blood resumed its
courses with a new spring. The grave utterances of the church then
rolled out upon the palpitating pair, and no couple ever joined
their whispers thereto with more fervency than they.

Lady Constantine (as she continued to be called by the outside
world, though she liked to think herself the Mrs. St. Cleeve that
she legally was) had told Green that she might be expected at
Welland in a day, or two, or three, as circumstances should dictate.
Though the time of return was thus left open it was deemed
advisable, by both Swithin and herself, that her journey back should
not be deferred after the next day, in case any suspicions might be
aroused. As for St. Cleeve, his comings and goings were of no
consequence. It was seldom known whether he was at home or abroad,
by reason of his frequent seclusion at the column.

Late in the afternoon of the next day he accompanied her to the Bath
station, intending himself to remain in that city till the following
morning. But when a man or youth has such a tender article on his
hands as a thirty-hour bride it is hardly in the power of his
strongest reason to set her down at a railway, and send her off like
a superfluous portmanteau. Hence the experiment of parting so soon
after their union proved excruciatingly severe to these. The
evening was dull; the breeze of autumn crept fitfully through every
slit and aperture in the town; not a soul in the world seemed to
notice or care about anything they did. Lady Constantine sighed;
and there was no resisting it,--he could not leave her thus. He
decided to get into the train with her, and keep her company for at
least a few stations on her way.

It drew on to be a dark night, and, seeing that there was no serious
risk after all, he prolonged his journey with her so far as to the
junction at which the branch line to Warborne forked off. Here it
was necessary to wait a few minutes, before either he could go back
or she could go on. They wandered outside the station doorway into
the gloom of the road, and there agreed to part.

While she yet stood holding his arm a phaeton sped towards the
station-entrance, where, in ascending the slope to the door, the
horse suddenly jibbed. The gentleman who was driving, being either
impatient, or possessed with a theory that all jibbers may be
started by severe whipping, applied the lash; as a result of it, the
horse thrust round the carriage to where they stood, and the end of
the driver's sweeping whip cut across Lady Constantine's face with
such severity as to cause her an involuntary cry. Swithin turned
her round to the lamplight, and discerned a streak of blood on her
cheek.

By this time the gentleman who had done the mischief, with many
words of regret, had given the reins to his man and dismounted.

'I will go to the waiting-room for a moment,' whispered Viviette
hurriedly; and, loosing her hand from his arm, she pulled down her
veil and vanished inside the building.

The stranger came forward and raised his hat. He was a slightly
built and apparently town-bred man of twenty-eight or thirty; his
manner of address was at once careless and conciliatory.

'I am greatly concerned at what I have done,' he said. 'I sincerely
trust that your wife'--but observing the youthfulness of Swithin, he
withdrew the word suggested by the manner of Swithin towards Lady
Constantine--'I trust the young lady was not seriously cut?'

'I trust not,' said Swithin, with some vexation.

'Where did the lash touch her?'

'Straight down her cheek.'

'Do let me go to her, and learn how she is, and humbly apologize.'

'I'll inquire.'

He went to the ladies' room, in which Viviette had taken refuge.
She met him at the door, her handkerchief to her cheek, and Swithin
explained that the driver of the phaeton had sent to make inquiries.

'I cannot see him!' she whispered. 'He is my brother Louis! He is,
no doubt, going on by the train to my house. Don't let him
recognize me! We must wait till he is gone.'

Swithin thereupon went out again, and told the young man that the
cut on her face was not serious, but that she could not see him;
after which they parted. St. Cleeve then heard him ask for a ticket
for Warborne, which confirmed Lady Constantine's view that he was
going on to her house. When the branch train had moved off Swithin
returned to his bride, who waited in a trembling state within.

On being informed that he had departed she showed herself much
relieved.

'Where does your brother come from?' said Swithin.

'From London, immediately. Rio before that. He has a friend or two
in this neighbourhood, and visits here occasionally. I have seldom
or never spoken to you of him, because of his long absence.'

'Is he going to settle near you?'

'No, nor anywhere, I fear. He is, or rather was, in the diplomatic
service. He was first a clerk in the Foreign Office, and was
afterwards appointed attache at Rio Janeiro. But he has resigned
the appointment. I wish he had not.'

Swithin asked why he resigned.

'He complained of the banishment, and the climate, and everything
that people complain of who are determined to be dissatisfied,--
though, poor fellow, there is some ground for his complaints.
Perhaps some people would say that he is idle. But he is scarcely
that; he is rather restless than idle, so that he never persists in
anything. Yet if a subject takes his fancy he will follow it up
with exemplary patience till something diverts him.'

'He is not kind to you, is he, dearest?'

'Why do you think that?'

'Your manner seems to say so.'

'Well, he may not always be kind. But look at my face; does the
mark show?'

A streak, straight as a meridian, was visible down her cheek. The
blood had been brought almost to the surface, but was not quite
through, that which had originally appeared thereon having possibly
come from the horse. It signified that to-morrow the red line would
be a black one.

Swithin informed her that her brother had taken a ticket for
Warborne, and she at once perceived that he was going on to visit
her at Welland, though from his letter she had not expected him so
soon by a few days. 'Meanwhile,' continued Swithin, 'you can now
get home only by the late train, having missed that one.'

'But, Swithin, don't you see my new trouble? If I go to Welland
House to-night, and find my brother just arrived there, and he sees
this cut on my face, which I suppose you described to him--'

'I did.'

'He will know I was the lady with you!'

'Whom he called my wife. I wonder why we look husband and wife
already!'

'Then what am I to do? For the ensuing three or four days I bear in
my face a clue to his discovery of our secret.'

'Then you must not be seen. We must stay at an inn here.'

'O no!' she said timidly. 'It is too near home to be quite safe.
We might not be known; but IF we were!'

'We can't go back to Bath now. I'll tell you, dear Viviette, what
we must do. We'll go on to Warborne in separate carriages; we'll
meet outside the station; thence we'll walk to the column in the
dark, and I'll keep you a captive in the cabin till the scar has
disappeared.'

As there was nothing which better recommended itself this course was
decided on; and after taking from her trunk the articles that might
be required for an incarceration of two or three days they left the
said trunk at the cloak-room, and went on by the last train, which
reached Warborne about ten o'clock.

It was only necessary for Lady Constantine to cover her face with
the thick veil that she had provided for this escapade, to walk out
of the station without fear of recognition. St. Cleeve came forth
from another compartment, and they did not rejoin each other till
they had reached a shadowy bend in the old turnpike road, beyond the
irradiation of the Warborne lamplight.

The walk to Welland was long. It was the walk which Swithin had
taken in the rain when he had learnt the fatal forestalment of his
stellar discovery; but now he was moved by a less desperate mood,
and blamed neither God nor man. They were not pressed for time, and
passed along the silent, lonely way with that sense rather of
predestination than of choice in their proceedings which the
presence of night sometimes imparts. Reaching the park gate, they
found it open, and from this they inferred that her brother Louis
had arrived.

Leaving the house and park on their right they traced the highway
yet a little further, and, plunging through the stubble of the
opposite field, drew near the isolated earthwork bearing the
plantation and tower, which together rose like a flattened dome and
lantern from the lighter-hued plain of stubble. It was far too dark
to distinguish firs from other trees by the eye alone, but the
peculiar dialect of sylvan language which the piny multitude used
would have been enough to proclaim their class at any time. In the
lovers' stealthy progress up the slopes a dry stick here and there
snapped beneath their feet, seeming like a shot of alarm.

On being unlocked the hut was found precisely as Swithin had left it
two days before. Lady Constantine was thoroughly wearied, and sat
down, while he gathered a handful of twigs and spikelets from the
masses strewn without and lit a small fire, first taking the
precaution to blind the little window and relock the door.

Lady Constantine looked curiously around by the light of the blaze.
The hut was small as the prophet's chamber provided by the
Shunammite: in one corner stood the stove, with a little table and
chair, a small cupboard hard by, a pitcher of water, a rack
overhead, with various articles, including a kettle and a gridiron;
while the remaining three or four feet at the other end of the room
was fitted out as a dormitory, for Swithin's use during late
observations in the tower overhead.

'It is not much of a palace to offer you,' he remarked, smiling.
'But at any rate, it is a refuge.'

The cheerful firelight dispersed in some measure Lady Constantine's
anxieties. 'If we only had something to eat!' she said.

'Dear me,' cried St. Cleeve, blankly. 'That's a thing I never
thought of.'

'Nor I, till now,' she replied.

He reflected with misgiving.

'Beyond a small loaf of bread in the cupboard I have nothing.
However, just outside the door there are lots of those little
rabbits, about the size of rats, that the keepers call runners. And
they are as tame as possible. But I fear I could not catch one now.
Yet, dear Viviette, wait a minute; I'll try. You must not be
starved.'

He softly let himself out, and was gone some time. When he
reappeared, he produced, not a rabbit, but four sparrows and a
thrush.

'I could do nothing in the way of a rabbit without setting a wire,'
he said. 'But I have managed to get these by knowing where they
roost.'

He showed her how to prepare the birds, and, having set her to roast
them by the fire, departed with the pitcher, to replenish it at the
brook which flowed near the homestead in the neighbouring Bottom.

'They are all asleep at my grandmother's,' he informed her when he
re-entered, panting, with the dripping pitcher. 'They imagine me to
be a hundred miles off.'

The birds were now ready, and the table was spread. With this fare,
eked out by dry toast from the loaf, and moistened with cups of
water from the pitcher, to which Swithin added a little wine from
the flask he had carried on his journey, they were forced to be
content for their supper.





Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
Category:
General Fiction
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