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XXIII

Swithin could not sleep that night for thinking of his Viviette.
Nothing told so significantly of the conduct of her first husband
towards the poor lady as the abiding dread of him which was revealed
in her by any sudden revival of his image or memory. But for that
consideration her almost childlike terror at Swithin's inadvertent
disguise would have been ludicrous.

He waited anxiously through several following days for an
opportunity of seeing her, but none was afforded. Her brother's
presence in the house sufficiently accounted for this. At length he
ventured to write a note, requesting her to signal to him in a way
she had done once or twice before,--by pulling down a blind in a
particular window of the house, one of the few visible from the top
of the Rings-Hill column; this to be done on any evening when she
could see him after dinner on the terrace.

When he had levelled the glass at that window for five successive
nights he beheld the blind in the position suggested. Three hours
later, quite in the dusk, he repaired to the place of appointment.

'My brother is away this evening,' she explained, 'and that's why I
can come out. He is only gone for a few hours, nor is he likely to
go for longer just yet. He keeps himself a good deal in my company,
which has made it unsafe for me to venture near you.'

'Has he any suspicion?'

'None, apparently. But he rather depresses me.'

'How, Viviette?' Swithin feared, from her manner, that this was
something serious.

'I would rather not tell.'

'But-- Well, never mind.'

'Yes, Swithin, I will tell you. There should be no secrets between
us. He urges upon me the necessity of marrying, day after day.'

'For money and position, of course.'

'Yes. But I take no notice. I let him go on.'

'Really, this is sad!' said the young man. 'I must work harder than
ever, or you will never be able to own me.'

'O yes, in good time!' she cheeringly replied.

'I shall be very glad to have you always near me. I felt the gloom
of our position keenly when I was obliged to disappear that night,
without assuring you it was only I who stood there. Why were you so
frightened at those old clothes I borrowed?'

'Don't ask,--don't ask!' she said, burying her face on his shoulder.
'I don't want to speak of that. There was something so ghastly and
so uncanny in your putting on such garments that I wish you had been
more thoughtful, and had left them alone.'

He assured her that he did not stop to consider whose they were.
'By the way, they must be sent back,' he said.

'No; I never wish to see them again! I cannot help feeling that
your putting them on was ominous.'

'Nothing is ominous in serene philosophy,' he said, kissing her.
'Things are either causes, or they are not causes. When can you see
me again?'

In such wise the hour passed away. The evening was typical of
others which followed it at irregular intervals through the winter.
And during the intenser months of the season frequent falls of snow
lengthened, even more than other difficulties had done, the periods
of isolation between the pair. Swithin adhered with all the more
strictness to the letter of his promise not to intrude into the
house, from his sense of her powerlessness to compel him to keep out
should he choose to rebel. A student of the greatest forces in
nature, he had, like many others of his sort, no personal force to
speak of in a social point of view, mainly because he took no
interest in human ranks and formulas; and hence he was as docile as
a child in her hands wherever matters of that kind were concerned.

Her brother wintered at Welland; but whether because his experience
of tropic climes had unfitted him for the brumal rigours of Britain,
or for some other reason, he seldom showed himself out of doors, and
Swithin caught but passing glimpses of him. Now and then Viviette's
impulsive affection would overcome her sense of risk, and she would
press Swithin to call on her at all costs. This he would by no
means do. It was obvious to his more logical mind that the secrecy
to which they had bound themselves must be kept in its fulness, or
might as well be abandoned altogether.

He was now sadly exercised on the subject of his uncle's will.
There had as yet been no pressing reasons for a full and candid
reply to the solicitor who had communicated with him, owing to the
fact that the payments were not to begin till Swithin was one-and-
twenty; but time was going on, and something definite would have to
be done soon. To own to his marriage and consequent
disqualification for the bequest was easy in itself; but it involved
telling at least one man what both Viviette and himself had great
reluctance in telling anybody. Moreover he wished Viviette to know
nothing of his loss in making her his wife. All he could think of
doing for the present was to write a postponing letter to his
uncle's lawyer, and wait events.

The one comfort of this dreary winter-time was his perception of a
returning ability to work with the regularity and much of the spirit
of earlier days.


One bright night in April there was an eclipse of the moon, and Mr.
Torkingham, by arrangement, brought to the observatory several
labouring men and boys, to whom he had promised a sight of the
phenomenon through the telescope. The coming confirmation, fixed
for May, was again talked of; and St. Cleeve learnt from the parson
that the Bishop had arranged to stay the night at the vicarage, and
was to be invited to a grand luncheon at Welland House immediately
after the ordinance.

This seemed like a going back into life again as regarded the
mistress of that house; and St. Cleeve was a little surprised that,
in his communications with Viviette, she had mentioned no such
probability. The next day he walked round the mansion, wondering
how in its present state any entertainment could be given therein.

He found that the shutters had been opened, which had restored an
unexpected liveliness to the aspect of the windows. Two men were
putting a chimney-pot on one of the chimney-stacks, and two more
were scraping green mould from the front wall. He made no inquiries
on that occasion. Three days later he strolled thitherward again.
Now a great cleaning of window-panes was going on, Hezzy Biles and
Sammy Blore being the operators, for which purpose their services
must have been borrowed from the neighbouring farmer. Hezzy dashed
water at the glass with a force that threatened to break it in, the
broad face of Sammy being discernible inside, smiling at the onset.
In addition to these, Anthony Green and another were weeding the
gravel walks, and putting fresh plants into the flower-beds.
Neither of these reasonable operations was a great undertaking,
singly looked at; but the life Viviette had latterly led and the
mood in which she had hitherto regarded the premises, rendered it
somewhat significant. Swithin, however, was rather curious than
concerned at the proceedings, and returned to his tower with
feelings of interest not entirely confined to the worlds overhead.

Lady Constantine may or may not have seen him from the house; but
the same evening, which was fine and dry, while he was occupying
himself in the observatory with cleaning the eye-pieces of the
equatorial, skull-cap on head, observing-jacket on, and in other
ways primed for sweeping, the customary stealthy step on the winding
staircase brought her form in due course into the rays of the
bull's-eye lantern. The meeting was all the more pleasant to him
from being unexpected, and he at once lit up a larger lamp in honour
of the occasion.

'It is but a hasty visit,' she said when, after putting up her mouth
to be kissed, she had seated herself in the low chair used for
observations, panting a little with the labour of ascent. 'But I
hope to be able to come more freely soon. My brother is still
living on with me. Yes, he is going to stay until the confirmation
is over. After the confirmation he will certainly leave. So good
it is of you, dear, to please me by agreeing to the ceremony. The
Bishop, you know, is going to lunch with us. It is a wonder he has
promised to come, for he is a man averse to society, and mostly
keeps entirely with the clergy on these confirmation tours, or
circuits, or whatever they call them. But Mr. Torkingham's house is
so very small, and mine is so close at hand, that this arrangement
to relieve him of the fuss of one meal, at least, naturally
suggested itself; and the Bishop has fallen in with it very readily.
How are you getting on with your observations? Have you not wanted
me dreadfully, to write down notes?'

'Well, I have been obliged to do without you, whether or no. See
here,--how much I have done.' And he showed her a book ruled in
columns, headed 'Object,' 'Right Ascension,' 'Declination,'
'Features,' 'Remarks,' and so on.

She looked over this and other things, but her mind speedily winged
its way back to the confirmation. 'It is so new to me,' she said,
'to have persons coming to the house, that I feel rather anxious. I
hope the luncheon will be a success.'

'You know the Bishop?' said Swithin.

'I have not seen him for many years. I knew him when I was quite a
girl, and he held the little living of Puddle-sub-Mixen, near us;
but after that time, and ever since I have lived here, I have seen
nothing of him. There has been no confirmation in this village,
they say, for twenty years. The other bishop used to make the young
men and women go to Warborne; he wouldn't take the trouble to come
to such an out-of-the-way parish as ours.'

'This cleaning and preparation that I observe going on must be
rather a tax upon you?'

'My brother Louis sees to it, and, what is more, bears the expense.'

'Your brother?' said Swithin, with surprise.

'Well, he insisted on doing so,' she replied, in a hesitating,
despondent tone. 'He has been active in the whole matter, and was
the first to suggest the invitation. I should not have thought of
it.'

'Well, I will hold aloof till it is all over.'

'Thanks, dearest, for your considerateness. I wish it was not still
advisable! But I shall see you on the day, and watch my own
philosopher all through the service from the corner of my pew!. . .
I hope you are well prepared for the rite, Swithin?' she added,
turning tenderly to him. 'It would perhaps be advisable for you to
give up this astronomy till the confirmation is over, in order to
devote your attention exclusively to that more serious matter.'

'More serious! Well, I will do the best I can. I am sorry to see
that you are less interested in astronomy than you used to be,
Viviette.'

'No; it is only that these preparations for the Bishop unsettle my
mind from study. Now put on your other coat and hat, and come with
me a little way.'





Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
Category:
General Fiction
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