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XXV

Meanwhile the interior of Welland House was rattling with the
progress of the ecclesiastical luncheon.

The Bishop, who sat at Lady Constantine's side, seemed enchanted
with her company, and from the beginning she engrossed his attention
almost entirely. The truth was that the circumstance of her not
having her whole soul centred on the success of the repast and the
pleasure of Bishop Helmsdale, imparted to her, in a great measure,
the mood to ensure both. Her brother Louis it was who had laid out
the plan of entertaining the Bishop, to which she had assented but
indifferently. She was secretly bound to another, on whose career
she had staked all her happiness. Having thus other interests she
evinced to-day the ease of one who hazards nothing, and there was no
sign of that preoccupation with housewifely contingencies which so
often makes the hostess hardly recognizable as the charming woman
who graced a friend's home the day before. In marrying Swithin Lady
Constantine had played her card,--recklessly, impulsively,
ruinously, perhaps; but she had played it; it could not be
withdrawn; and she took this morning's luncheon as an episode that
could result in nothing to her beyond the day's entertainment.

Hence, by that power of indirectness to accomplish in an hour what
strenuous aiming will not effect in a life-time, she fascinated the
Bishop to an unprecedented degree. A bachelor, he rejoiced in the
commanding period of life that stretches between the time of waning
impulse and the time of incipient dotage, when a woman can reach the
male heart neither by awakening a young man's passion nor an old
man's infatuation. He must be made to admire, or he can be made to
do nothing. Unintentionally that is how Viviette operated on her
guest.

Lady Constantine, to external view, was in a position to desire many
things, and of a sort to desire them. She was obviously, by nature,
impulsive to indiscretion. But instead of exhibiting activities to
correspond, recently gratified affection lent to her manner just now
a sweet serenity, a truly Christian contentment, which it puzzled
the learned Bishop exceedingly to find in a warm young widow, and
increased his interest in her every moment. Thus matters stood when
the conversation veered round to the morning's confirmation.

'That was a singularly engaging young man who came up among Mr.
Torkingham's candidates,' said the Bishop to her somewhat abruptly.

But abruptness does not catch a woman without her wit. 'Which one?'
she said innocently.

'That youth with the "corn-coloured" hair, as a poet of the new
school would call it, who sat just at the side of the organ. Do you
know who he is?'

In answering Viviette showed a little nervousness, for the first
time that day.

'O yes. He is the son of an unfortunate gentleman who was formerly
curate here,--a Mr. St. Cleeve.'

'I never saw a handsomer young man in my life,' said the Bishop.
Lady Constantine blushed. 'There was a lack of self-consciousness,
too, in his manner of presenting himself, which very much won me. A
Mr. St. Cleeve, do you say? A curate's son? His father must have
been St. Cleeve of All Angels, whom I knew. How comes he to be
staying on here? What is he doing?'

Mr. Torkingham, who kept one ear on the Bishop all the lunch-time,
finding that Lady Constantine was not ready with an answer, hastened
to reply: 'Your lordship is right. His father was an All Angels'
man. The youth is rather to be pitied.'

'He was a man of talent,' affirmed the Bishop. 'But I quite lost
sight of him.'

'He was curate to the late vicar,' resumed the parson, 'and was much
liked by the parish: but, being erratic in his tastes and
tendencies, he rashly contracted a marriage with the daughter of a
farmer, and then quarrelled with the local gentry for not taking up
his wife. This lad was an only child. There was enough money to
educate him, and he is sufficiently well provided for to be
independent of the world so long as he is content to live here with
great economy. But of course this gives him few opportunities of
bettering himself.'

'Yes, naturally,' replied the Bishop of Melchester. 'Better have
been left entirely dependent on himself. These half-incomes do men
little good, unless they happen to be either weaklings or geniuses.'

Lady Constantine would have given the world to say, 'He is a genius,
and the hope of my life;' but it would have been decidedly risky,
and in another moment was unnecessary, for Mr. Torkingham said,
'There is a certain genius in this young man, I sometimes think.'

'Well, he really looks quite out of the common,' said the Bishop.

'Youthful genius is sometimes disappointing,' observed Viviette, not
believing it in the least.

'Yes,' said the Bishop. 'Though it depends, Lady Constantine, on
what you understand by disappointing. It may produce nothing
visible to the world's eye, and yet may complete its development
within to a very perfect degree. Objective achievements, though the
only ones which are counted, are not the only ones that exist and
have value; and I for one should be sorry to assert that, because a
man of genius dies as unknown to the world as when he was born, he
therefore was an instance of wasted material.'

Objective achievements were, however, those that Lady Constantine
had a weakness for in the present case, and she asked her more
experienced guest if he thought early development of a special
talent a good sign in youth.

The Bishop thought it well that a particular bent should not show
itself too early, lest disgust should result.

'Still,' argued Lady Constantine rather firmly (for she felt this
opinion of the Bishop's to be one throwing doubt on Swithin),
'sustained fruition is compatible with early bias. Tycho Brahe
showed quite a passion for the solar system when he was but a youth,
and so did Kepler; and James Ferguson had a surprising knowledge of
the stars by the time he was eleven or twelve.'

'Yes; sustained fruition,' conceded the Bishop (rather liking the
words), 'is certainly compatible with early bias. Fenelon preached
at fourteen.'

'He--Mr. St. Cleeve--is not in the church,' said Lady Constantine.

'He is a scientific young man, my lord,' explained Mr. Torkingham.

'An astronomer,' she added, with suppressed pride.

'An astronomer! Really, that makes him still more interesting than
being handsome and the son of a man I knew. How and where does he
study astronomy?'

'He has a beautiful observatory. He has made use of an old column
that was erected on this manor to the memory of one of the
Constantines. It has been very ingeniously adapted for his purpose,
and he does very good work there. I believe he occasionally sends
up a paper to the Royal Society, or Greenwich, or somewhere, and to
astronomical periodicals.'

'I should have had no idea, from his boyish look, that he had
advanced so far,' the Bishop answered. 'And yet I saw on his face
that within there was a book worth studying. His is a career I
should very much like to watch.'

A thrill of pleasure chased through Lady Constantine's heart at this
praise of her chosen one. It was an unwitting compliment to her
taste and discernment in singling him out for her own, despite its
temporary inexpediency.

Her brother Louis now spoke. 'I fancy he is as interested in one of
his fellow-creatures as in the science of astronomy,' observed the
cynic dryly.

'In whom?' said Lady Constantine quickly.

'In the fair maiden who sat at the organ,--a pretty girl, rather. I
noticed a sort of by-play going on between them occasionally, during
the sermon, which meant mating, if I am not mistaken.'

'She!' said Lady Constantine. 'She is only a village girl, a
dairyman's daughter,--Tabitha Lark, who used to come to read to me.'

'She may be a savage, for all that I know: but there is something
between those two young people, nevertheless.'

The Bishop looked as if he had allowed his interest in a stranger to
carry him too far, and Mr. Torkingham was horrified at the
irreverent and easy familiarity of Louis Glanville's talk in the
presence of a consecrated bishop. As for Viviette, her tongue lost
all its volubility. She felt quite faint at heart, and hardly knew
how to control herself.

'I have never noticed anything of the sort,' said Mr. Torkingham.

'It would be a matter for regret,' said the Bishop, 'if he should
follow his father in forming an attachment that would be a hindrance
to him in any honourable career; though perhaps an early marriage,
intrinsically considered, would not be bad for him. A youth who
looks as if he had come straight from old Greece may be exposed to
many temptations, should he go out into the world without a friend
or counsellor to guide him.'

Despite her sudden jealousy Viviette's eyes grew moist at the
picture of her innocent Swithin going into the world without a
friend or counsellor. But she was sick in soul and disquieted still
by Louis's dreadful remarks, who, unbeliever as he was in human
virtue, could have no reason whatever for representing Swithin as
engaged in a private love affair if such were not his honest
impression.

She was so absorbed during the remainder of the luncheon that she
did not even observe the kindly light that her presence was shedding
on the right reverend ecclesiastic by her side. He reflected it
back in tones duly mellowed by his position; the minor clergy caught
up the rays thereof, and so the gentle influence played down the
table.

The company soon departed when luncheon was over, and the remainder
of the day passed in quietness, the Bishop being occupied in his
room at the vicarage with writing letters or a sermon. Having a
long journey before him the next day he had expressed a wish to be
housed for the night without ceremony, and would have dined alone
with Mr. Torkingham but that, by a happy thought, Lady Constantine
and her brother were asked to join them.

However, when Louis crossed the churchyard and entered the vicarage
drawing-room at seven o'clock, his sister was not in his company.
She was, he said, suffering from a slight headache, and much
regretted that she was on that account unable to come. At this
intelligence the social sparkle disappeared from the Bishop's eye,
and he sat down to table, endeavouring to mould into the form of
episcopal serenity an expression which was really one of common
human disappointment.

In his simple statement Louis Glanville had by no means expressed
all the circumstances which accompanied his sister's refusal, at the
last moment, to dine at her neighbour's house. Louis had strongly
urged her to bear up against her slight indisposition--if it were
that, and not disinclination--and come along with him on just this
one occasion, perhaps a more important episode in her life than she
was aware of. Viviette thereupon knew quite well that he alluded to
the favourable impression she was producing on the Bishop,
notwithstanding that neither of them mentioned the Bishop's name.
But she did not give way, though the argument waxed strong between
them; and Louis left her in no very amiable mood, saying, 'I don't
believe you have any more headache than I have, Viviette. It is
some provoking whim of yours--nothing more.'

In this there was a substratum of truth. When her brother had left
her, and she had seen him from the window entering the vicarage
gate, Viviette seemed to be much relieved, and sat down in her
bedroom till the evening grew dark, and only the lights shining
through the trees from the parsonage dining-room revealed to the eye
where that dwelling stood. Then she arose, and putting on the cloak
she had used so many times before for the same purpose, she locked
her bedroom door (to be supposed within, in case of the accidental
approach of a servant), and let herself privately out of the house.

Lady Constantine paused for a moment under the vicarage windows,
till she could sufficiently well hear the voices of the diners to be
sure that they were actually within, and then went on her way, which
was towards the Rings-Hill column. She appeared a mere spot, hardly
distinguishable from the grass, as she crossed the open ground, and
soon became absorbed in the black mass of the fir plantation.

Meanwhile the conversation at Mr. Torkingham's dinner-table was not
of a highly exhilarating quality. The parson, in long self-
communing during the afternoon, had decided that the Diocesan Synod,
whose annual session at Melchester had occurred in the month
previous, would afford a solid and unimpeachable subject to launch
during the meal, whenever conversation flagged; and that it would be
one likely to win the respect of his spiritual chieftain for himself
as the introducer. Accordingly, in the further belief that you
could not have too much of a good thing, Mr. Torkingham not only
acted upon his idea, but at every pause rallied to the synod point
with unbroken firmness. Everything which had been discussed at that
last session--such as the introduction of the lay element into the
councils of the church, the reconstitution of the ecclesiastical
courts, church patronage, the tithe question--was revived by Mr.
Torkingham, and the excellent remarks which the Bishop had made in
his addresses on those subjects were quoted back to him.

As for Bishop Helmsdale himself, his instincts seemed to be to
allude in a debonair spirit to the incidents of the past day--to the
flowers in Lady Constantine's beds, the date of her house--perhaps
with a view of hearing a little more about their owner from Louis,
who would very readily have followed the Bishop's lead had the
parson allowed him room. But this Mr. Torkingham seldom did, and
about half-past nine they prepared to separate.

Louis Glanville had risen from the table, and was standing by the
window, looking out upon the sky, and privately yawning, the topics
discussed having been hardly in his line.

'A fine night,' he said at last.

'I suppose our young astronomer is hard at work now,' said the
Bishop, following the direction of Louis's glance towards the clear
sky.

'Yes,' said the parson; 'he is very assiduous whenever the nights
are good for observation. I have occasionally joined him in his
tower, and looked through his telescope with great benefit to my
ideas of celestial phenomena. I have not seen what he has been
doing lately.'

'Suppose we stroll that way?' said Louis. 'Would you be interested
in seeing the observatory, Bishop?'

'I am quite willing to go,' said the Bishop, 'if the distance is not
too great. I should not be at all averse to making the acquaintance
of so exceptional a young man as this Mr. St. Cleeve seems to be;
and I have never seen the inside of an observatory in my life.'

The intention was no sooner formed than it was carried out, Mr.
Torkingham leading the way.





Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
Category:
General Fiction
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