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XXVII

All night the astronomer's mind was on the stretch with curiosity as
to what the Bishop could wish to say to him. A dozen conjectures
entered his brain, to be abandoned in turn as unlikely. That which
finally seemed the most plausible was that the Bishop, having become
interested in his pursuits, and entertaining friendly recollections
of his father, was going to ask if he could do anything to help him
on in the profession he had chosen. Should this be the case,
thought the suddenly sanguine youth, it would seem like an
encouragement to that spirit of firmness which had led him to reject
his late uncle's offer because it involved the renunciation of Lady
Constantine.

At last he fell asleep; and when he awoke it was so late that the
hour was ready to solve what conjecture could not. After a hurried
breakfast he paced across the fields, entering the churchyard by the
south gate precisely at the appointed minute.

The inclosure was well adapted for a private interview, being
bounded by bushes of laurel and alder nearly on all sides. He
looked round; the Bishop was not there, nor any living creature save
himself. Swithin sat down upon a tombstone to await Bishop
Helmsdale's arrival.

While he sat he fancied he could hear voices in conversation not far
off, and further attention convinced him that they came from Lady
Constantine's lawn, which was divided from the churchyard by a high
wall and shrubbery only. As the Bishop still delayed his coming,
though the time was nearly eleven, and as the lady whose sweet voice
mingled with those heard from the lawn was his personal property,
Swithin became exceedingly curious to learn what was going on within
that screened promenade. A way of doing so occurred to him. The
key was in the church door; he opened it, entered, and ascended to
the ringers' loft in the west tower. At the back of this was a
window commanding a full view of Viviette's garden front.

The flowers were all in gayest bloom, and the creepers on the walls
of the house were bursting into tufts of young green. A broad
gravel-walk ran from end to end of the facade, terminating in a
large conservatory. In the walk were three people pacing up and
down. Lady Constantine's was the central figure, her brother being
on one side of her, and on the other a stately form in a corded
shovel-hat of glossy beaver and black breeches. This was the
Bishop. Viviette carried over her shoulder a sunshade lined with
red, which she twirled idly. They were laughing and chatting gaily,
and when the group approached the churchyard many of their remarks
entered the silence of the church tower through the ventilator of
the window.

The conversation was general, yet interesting enough to Swithin. At
length Louis stepped upon the grass and picked up something that had
lain there, which turned out to be a bowl: throwing it forward he
took a second, and bowled it towards the first, or jack. The
Bishop, who seemed to be in a sprightly mood, followed suit, and
bowled one in a curve towards the jack, turning and speaking to Lady
Constantine as he concluded the feat. As she had not left the
gravelled terrace he raised his voice, so that the words reached
Swithin distinctly.

'Do you follow us?' he asked gaily.

'I am not skilful,' she said. 'I always bowl narrow.'

The Bishop meditatively paused.

'This moment reminds one of the scene in Richard the Second,' he
said. 'I mean the Duke of York's garden, where the queen and her
two ladies play, and the queen says--

"What sport shall we devise here in this garden,
To drive away the heavy thought of care?"

To which her lady answers, "Madam, we'll play at bowls."'

'That's an unfortunate quotation for you,' said Lady Constantine;
'for if I don't forget, the queen declines, saying, "Twill make me
think the world is full of rubs, and that my fortune runs against
the bias."'

'Then I cite mal a propos. But it is an interesting old game, and
might have been played at that very date on this very green.'

The Bishop lazily bowled another, and while he was doing it
Viviette's glance rose by accident to the church tower window, where
she recognized Swithin's face. Her surprise was only momentary; and
waiting till both her companions' backs were turned she smiled and
blew him a kiss. In another minute she had another opportunity, and
blew him another; afterwards blowing him one a third time.

Her blowings were put a stop to by the Bishop and Louis throwing
down the bowls and rejoining her in the path, the house clock at the
moment striking half-past eleven.

'This is a fine way of keeping an engagement,' said Swithin to
himself. 'I have waited an hour while you indulge in those
trifles!'

He fumed, turned, and behold somebody was at his elbow: Tabitha
Lark. Swithin started, and said, 'How did you come here, Tabitha?'

'In the course of my calling, Mr. St. Cleeve,' said the smiling
girl. 'I come to practise on the organ. When I entered I saw you
up here through the tower arch, and I crept up to see what you were
looking at. The Bishop is a striking man, is he not?'

'Yes, rather,' said Swithin.

'I think he is much devoted to Lady Constantine, and I am glad of
it. Aren't you?'

'O yes--very,' said Swithin, wondering if Tabitha had seen the
tender little salutes between Lady Constantine and himself.

'I don't think she cares much for him,' added Tabitha judicially.
'Or, even if she does, she could be got away from him in no time by
a younger man.'

'Pooh, that's nothing,' said Swithin impatiently.

Tabitha then remarked that her blower had not come to time, and that
she must go to look for him; upon which she descended the stairs,
and left Swithin again alone.

A few minutes later the Bishop suddenly looked at his watch, Lady
Constantine having withdrawn towards the house. Apparently
apologizing to Louis the Bishop came down the terrace, and through
the door into the churchyard. Swithin hastened downstairs and
joined him in the path under the sunny wall of the aisle.

Their glances met, and it was with some consternation that Swithin
beheld the change that a few short minutes had wrought in that
episcopal countenance. On the lawn with Lady Constantine the rays
of an almost perpetual smile had brightened his dark aspect like
flowers in a shady place: now the smile was gone as completely as
yesterday; the lines of his face were firm; his dark eyes and
whiskers were overspread with gravity; and, as he gazed upon Swithin
from the repose of his stable figure it was like an evangelized King
of Spades come to have it out with the Knave of Hearts.


To return for a moment to Louis Glanville. He had been somewhat
struck with the abruptness of the Bishop's departure, and more
particularly by the circumstance that he had gone away by the
private door into the churchyard instead of by the regular exit on
the other side. True, great men were known to suffer from absence
of mind, and Bishop Helmsdale, having a dim sense that he had
entered by that door yesterday, might have unconsciously turned
thitherward now. Louis, upon the whole, thought little of the
matter, and being now left quite alone on the lawn, he seated
himself in an arbour and began smoking.

The arbour was situated against the churchyard wall. The atmosphere
was as still as the air of a hot-house; only fourteen inches of
brickwork divided Louis from the scene of the Bishop's interview
with St. Cleeve, and as voices on the lawn had been audible to
Swithin in the churchyard, voices in the churchyard could be heard
without difficulty from that close corner of the lawn. No sooner
had Louis lit a cigar than the dialogue began.

'Ah, you are here, St. Cleeve,' said the Bishop, hardly replying to
Swithin's good morning. 'I fear I am a little late. Well, my
request to you to meet me may have seemed somewhat unusual, seeing
that we were strangers till a few hours ago.'

'I don't mind that, if your lordship wishes to see me.'

'I thought it best to see you regarding your confirmation yesterday;
and my reason for taking a more active step with you than I should
otherwise have done is that I have some interest in you through
having known your father when we were undergraduates. His rooms
were on the same staircase with mine at All Angels, and we were
friendly till time and affairs separated us even more completely
than usually happens. However, about your presenting yourself for
confirmation.' (The Bishop's voice grew stern.) 'If I had known
yesterday morning what I knew twelve hours later, I wouldn't have
confirmed you at all.'

'Indeed, my lord!"

'Yes, I say it, and I mean it. I visited your observatory last
night.'

'You did, my lord.'

'In inspecting it I noticed something which I may truly describe as
extraordinary. I have had young men present themselves to me who
turned out to be notoriously unfit, either from giddiness, from
being profane or intemperate, or from some bad quality or other.
But I never remember a case which equalled the cool culpability of
this. While infringing the first principles of social decorum you
might at least have respected the ordinance sufficiently to have
stayed away from it altogether. Now I have sent for you here to see
if a last entreaty and a direct appeal to your sense of manly
uprightness will have any effect in inducing you to change your
course of life.'

The voice of Swithin in his next remark showed how tremendously this
attack of the Bishop had told upon his feelings. Louis, of course,
did not know the reason why the words should have affected him
precisely as they did; to any one in the secret the double
embarrassment arising from misapprehended ethics and inability to
set matters right, because his word of secrecy to another was
inviolable, would have accounted for the young man's emotion
sufficiently well.

'I am very sorry your lordship should have seen anything
objectionable,' said Swithin. 'May I ask what it was?'

'You know what it was. Something in your chamber, which forced me
to the above conclusions. I disguised my feelings of sorrow at the
time for obvious reasons, but I never in my whole life was so
shocked!'

'At what, my lord?'

'At what I saw.'

'Pardon me, Bishop Helmsdale, but you said just now that we are
strangers; so what you saw in my cabin concerns me only.'

'There I contradict you. Twenty-four hours ago that remark would
have been plausible enough; but by presenting yourself for
confirmation at my hands you have invited my investigation into your
principles.'

Swithin sighed. 'I admit it,' he said.

'And what do I find them?'

'You say reprehensible. But you might at least let me hear the
proof!'

'I can do more, sir. I can let you see it!'

There was a pause. Louis Glanville was so highly interested that he
stood upon the seat of the arbour, and looked through the leafage
over the wall. The Bishop had produced an article from his pocket.

'What is it?' said Swithin, laboriously scrutinizing the thing.

'Why, don't you see?' said the Bishop, holding it out between his
finger and thumb in Swithin's face. 'A bracelet,--a coral bracelet.
I found the wanton object on the bed in your cabin! And of the sex
of the owner there can be no doubt. More than that, she was
concealed behind the curtains, for I saw them move.' In the
decision of his opinion the Bishop threw the coral bracelet down on
a tombstone.

'Nobody was in my room, my lord, who had not a perfect right to be
there,' said the younger man.

'Well, well, that's a matter of assertion. Now don't get into a
passion, and say to me in your haste what you'll repent of saying
afterwards.'

'I am not in a passion, I assure your lordship. I am too sad for
passion.'

'Very well; that's a hopeful sign. Now I would ask you, as one man
of another, do you think that to come to me, the Bishop of this
large and important diocese, as you came yesterday, and pretend to
be something that you are not, is quite upright conduct, leave alone
religious? Think it over. We may never meet again. But bear in
mind what your Bishop and spiritual head says to you, and see if you
cannot mend before it is too late.'

Swithin was meek as Moses, but he tried to appear sturdy. 'My lord,
I am in a difficult position,' he said mournfully; 'how difficult,
nobody but myself can tell. I cannot explain; there are insuperable
reasons against it. But will you take my word of assurance that I
am not so bad as I seem? Some day I will prove it. Till then I
only ask you to suspend your judgment on me.'

The Bishop shook his head incredulously and went towards the
vicarage, as if he had lost his hearing. Swithin followed him with
his eyes, and Louis followed the direction of Swithin's. Before the
Bishop had reached the vicarage entrance Lady Constantine crossed in
front of him. She had a basket on her arm, and was, in fact, going
to visit some of the poorer cottages. Who could believe the Bishop
now to be the same man that he had been a moment before? The
darkness left his face as if he had come out of a cave; his look was
all sweetness, and shine, and gaiety, as he again greeted Viviette.





Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
Category:
General Fiction
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