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XXVIII

The conversation which arose between the Bishop and Lady Constantine
was of that lively and reproductive kind which cannot be ended
during any reasonable halt of two people going in opposite
directions. He turned, and walked with her along the laurel-
screened lane that bordered the churchyard, till their voices died
away in the distance. Swithin then aroused himself from his
thoughtful regard of them, and went out of the churchyard by another
gate.

Seeing himself now to be left alone on the scene, Louis Glanville
descended from his post of observation in the arbour. He came
through the private doorway, and on to that spot among the graves
where the Bishop and St. Cleeve had conversed. On the tombstone
still lay the coral bracelet which Dr. Helmsdale had flung down
there in his indignation; for the agitated, introspective mood into
which Swithin had been thrown had banished from his mind all thought
of securing the trinket and putting it in his pocket.

Louis picked up the little red scandal-breeding thing, and while
walking on with it in his hand he observed Tabitha Lark approaching
the church, in company with the young blower whom she had gone in
search of to inspire her organ-practising within. Louis immediately
put together, with that rare diplomatic keenness of which he was
proud, the little scene he had witnessed between Tabitha and Swithin
during the confirmation, and the Bishop's stern statement as to
where he had found the bracelet. He had no longer any doubt that it
belonged to her.

'Poor girl!' he said to himself, and sang in an undertone--

'Tra deri, dera,
L'histoire n'est pas nouvelle!'

When she drew nearer Louis called her by name. She sent the boy
into the church, and came forward, blushing at having been called by
so fine a gentleman. Louis held out the bracelet.

'Here is something I have found, or somebody else has found,' he
said to her. 'I won't state where. Put it away, and say no more
about it. I will not mention it either. Now go on into the church
where you are going, and may Heaven have mercy on your soul, my
dear.'

'Thank you, sir,' said Tabitha, with some perplexity, yet inclined
to be pleased, and only recognizing in the situation the fact that
Lady Constantine's humorous brother was making her a present.

'You are much obliged to me?'

'O yes!'

'Well, Miss Lark, I've discovered a secret, you see.'

'What may that be, Mr. Glanville?'

'That you are in love.'

'I don't admit it, sir. Who told you so?'

'Nobody. Only I put two and two together. Now take my advice.
Beware of lovers! They are a bad lot, and bring young women to
tears.'

'Some do, I dare say. But some don't.'

'And you think that in your particular case the latter alternative
will hold good? We generally think we shall be lucky ourselves,
though all the world before us, in the same situation, have been
otherwise.'

'O yes, or we should die outright of despair.'

'Well, I don't think you will be lucky in your case.'

'Please how do you know so much, since my case has not yet arrived?'
asked Tabitha, tossing her head a little disdainfully, but less than
she might have done if he had not obtained a charter for his
discourse by giving her the bracelet.

'Fie, Tabitha! '

'I tell you it has not arrived!' she said, with some anger. 'I have
not got a lover, and everybody knows I haven't, and it's an
insinuating thing for you to say so!'

Louis laughed, thinking how natural it was that a girl should so
emphatically deny circumstances that would not bear curious inquiry.

'Why, of course I meant myself,' he said soothingly. 'So, then, you
will not accept me?'

'I didn't know you meant yourself,' she replied. 'But I won't
accept you. And I think you ought not to jest on such subjects.'

'Well, perhaps not. However, don't let the Bishop see your
bracelet, and all will be well. But mind, lovers are deceivers.'

Tabitha laughed, and they parted, the girl entering the church. She
had been feeling almost certain that, having accidentally found the
bracelet somewhere, he had presented it in a whim to her as the
first girl he met. Yet now she began to have momentary doubts
whether he had not been labouring under a mistake, and had imagined
her to be the owner. The bracelet was not valuable; it was, in
fact, a mere toy,--the pair of which this was one being a little
present made to Lady Constantine by Swithin on the day of their
marriage; and she had not worn them with sufficient frequency out of
doors for Tabitha to recognize either as positively her ladyship's.
But when, out of sight of the blower, the girl momentarily tried it
on, in a corner by the organ, it seemed to her that the ornament was
possibly Lady Constantine's. Now that the pink beads shone before
her eyes on her own arm she remembered having seen a bracelet with
just such an effect gracing the wrist of Lady Constantine upon one
occasion. A temporary self-surrender to the sophism that if Mr.
Louis Glanville chose to give away anything belonging to his sister,
she, Tabitha, had a right to take it without question, was soon
checked by a resolve to carry the tempting strings of coral to her
ladyship that evening, and inquire the truth about them. This
decided on she slipped the bracelet into her pocket, and played her
voluntaries with a light heart.


Bishop Helmsdale did not tear himself away from Welland till about
two o'clock that afternoon, which was three hours later than he had
intended to leave. It was with a feeling of relief that Swithin,
looking from the top of the tower, saw the carriage drive out from
the vicarage into the turnpike road, and whirl the right reverend
gentleman again towards Warborne. The coast being now clear of him
Swithin meditated how to see Viviette, and explain what had
happened. With this in view he waited where he was till evening
came on.

Meanwhile Lady Constantine and her brother dined by themselves at
Welland House. They had not met since the morning, and as soon as
they were left alone Louis said, 'You have done very well so far;
but you might have been a little warmer.'

'Done well?' she asked, with surprise.

'Yes, with the Bishop. The difficult question is how to follow up
our advantage. How are you to keep yourself in sight of him?'

'Heavens, Louis! You don't seriously mean that the Bishop of
Melchester has any feelings for me other than friendly?'

'Viviette, this is affectation. You know he has as well as I do.'

She sighed. 'Yes,' she said. 'I own I had a suspicion of the same
thing. What a misfortune!'

'A misfortune? Surely the world is turned upside down! You will
drive me to despair about our future if you see things so awry.
Exert yourself to do something, so as to make of this accident a
stepping-stone to higher things. The gentleman will give us the
slip if we don't pursue the friendship at once.'

'I cannot have you talk like this,' she cried impatiently. 'I have
no more thought of the Bishop than I have of the Pope. I would much
rather not have had him here to lunch at all. You said it would be
necessary to do it, and an opportunity, and I thought it my duty to
show some hospitality when he was coming so near, Mr. Torkingham's
house being so small. But of course I understood that the
opportunity would be one for you in getting to know him, your
prospects being so indefinite at present; not one for me.'

'If you don't follow up this chance of being spiritual queen of
Melchester, you will never have another of being anything. Mind
this, Viviette: you are not so young as you were. You are getting
on to be a middle-aged woman, and your black hair is precisely of
the sort which time quickly turns grey. You must make up your mind
to grizzled bachelors or widowers. Young marriageable men won't
look at you; or if they do just now, in a year or two more they'll
despise you as an antiquated party.'

Lady Constantine perceptibly paled. 'Young men what?' she asked.
'Say that again.'

'I said it was no use to think of young men; they won't look at you
much longer; or if they do, it will be to look away again very
quickly.'

'You imply that if I were to marry a man younger than myself he
would speedily acquire a contempt for me? How much younger must a
man be than his wife--to get that feeling for her?' She was resting
her elbow on the chair as she faintly spoke the words, and covered
her eyes with her hand.

'An exceedingly small number of years,' said Louis drily. 'Now the
Bishop is at least fifteen years older than you, and on that
account, no less than on others, is an excellent match. You would
be head of the church in this diocese: what more can you require
after these years of miserable obscurity? In addition, you would
escape that minor thorn in the flesh of bishops' wives, of being
only "Mrs." while their husbands are peers.'

She was not listening; his previous observation still detained her
thoughts.

'Louis,' she said, 'in the case of a woman marrying a man much
younger than herself, does he get to dislike her, even if there has
been a social advantage to him in the union?'

'Yes,--not a whit less. Ask any person of experience. But what of
that? Let's talk of our own affairs. You say you have no thought
of the Bishop. And yet if he had stayed here another day or two he
would have proposed to you straight off.'

'Seriously, Louis, I could not accept him.'

'Why not?'

'I don't love him.'

'Oh, oh, I like those words!' cried Louis, throwing himself back in
his chair and looking at the ceiling in satirical enjoyment. 'A
woman who at two-and-twenty married for convenience, at thirty talks
of not marrying without love; the rule of inverse, that is, in which
more requires less, and less requires more. As your only brother,
older than yourself, and more experienced, I insist that you
encourage the Bishop.'

'Don't quarrel with me, Louis!' she said piteously. 'We don't know
that he thinks anything of me,--we only guess.'

'I know it,--and you shall hear how I know. I am of a curious and
conjectural nature, as you are aware. Last night, when everybody
had gone to bed, I stepped out for a five minutes' smoke on the
lawn, and walked down to where you get near the vicarage windows.
While I was there in the dark one of them opened, and Bishop
Helmsdale leant out. The illuminated oblong of your window shone
him full in the face between the trees, and presently your shadow
crossed it. He waved his hand, and murmured some tender words,
though what they were exactly I could not hear.'

'What a vague, imaginary story,--as if he could know my shadow!
Besides, a man of the Bishop's dignity wouldn't have done such a
thing. When I knew him as a younger man he was not at all romantic,
and he's not likely to have grown so now.'

'That's just what he is likely to have done. No lover is so extreme
a specimen of the species as an old lover. Come, Viviette, no more
of this fencing. I have entered into the project heart and soul--so
much that I have postponed my departure till the matter is well
under way.'

'Louis--my dear Louis--you will bring me into some disagreeable
position!' said she, clasping her hands. 'I do entreat you not to
interfere or do anything rash about me. The step is impossible. I
have something to tell you some day. I must live on, and endure--'

'Everything except this penury,' replied Louis, unmoved. 'Come, I
have begun the campaign by inviting Bishop Helmsdale, and I'll take
the responsibility of carrying it on. All I ask of you is not to
make a ninny of yourself. Come, give me your promise!'

'No, I cannot,--I don't know how to! I only know one thing,--that I
am in no hurry--'

'"No hurry" be hanged! Agree, like a good sister, to charm the
Bishop.'

'I must consider!' she replied, with perturbed evasiveness.

It being a fine evening Louis went out of the house to enjoy his
cigar in the shrubbery. On reaching his favourite seat he found he
had left his cigar-case behind him; he immediately returned for it.
When he approached the window by which he had emerged he saw Swithin
St. Cleeve standing there in the dusk, talking to Viviette inside.

St. Cleeve's back was towards Louis, but, whether at a signal from
her or by accident, he quickly turned and recognized Glanville;
whereupon raising his hat to Lady Constantine the young man passed
along the terrace-walk and out by the churchyard door.

Louis rejoined his sister. 'I didn't know you allowed your lawn to
be a public thoroughfare for the parish,' he said.

'I am not exclusive, especially since I have been so poor,' replied
she.

'Then do you let everybody pass this way, or only that illustrious
youth because he is so good-looking?'

'I have no strict rule in the case. Mr. St. Cleeve is an
acquaintance of mine, and he can certainly come here if he chooses.'
Her colour rose somewhat, and she spoke warmly.

Louis was too cautious a bird to reveal to her what had suddenly
dawned upon his mind--that his sister, in common with the (to his
thinking) unhappy Tabitha Lark, had been foolish enough to get
interested in this phenomenon of the parish, this scientific Adonis.
But he resolved to cure at once her tender feeling, if it existed,
by letting out a secret which would inflame her dignity against the
weakness.

'A good-looking young man,' he said, with his eyes where Swithin had
vanished. 'But not so good as he looks. In fact a regular young
sinner.'

'What do you mean?'

'Oh, only a little feature I discovered in St. Cleeve's history.
But I suppose he has a right to sow his wild oats as well as other
young men.'

'Tell me what you allude to,--do, Louis.'

'It is hardly fit that I should. However, the case is amusing
enough. I was sitting in the arbour to-day, and was an unwilling
listener to the oddest interview I ever heard of. Our friend the
Bishop discovered, when we visited the observatory last night, that
our astronomer was not alone in his seclusion. A lady shared his
romantic cabin with him; and finding this, the Bishop naturally
enough felt that the ordinance of confirmation had been profaned.
So his lordship sent for Master Swithin this morning, and meeting
him in the churchyard read him such an excommunicating lecture as I
warrant he won't forget in his lifetime. Ha-ha-ha! 'Twas very
good,--very.'

He watched her face narrowly while he spoke with such seeming
carelessness. Instead of the agitation of jealousy that he had
expected to be aroused by this hint of another woman in the case,
there was a curious expression, more like embarrassment than
anything else which might have been fairly attributed to the
subject. 'Can it be that I am mistaken?' he asked himself.

The possibility that he might be mistaken restored Louis to good-
humour, and lights having been brought he sat with his sister for
some time, talking with purpose of Swithin's low rank on one side,
and the sordid struggles that might be in store for him. St. Cleeve
being in the unhappy case of deriving his existence through two
channels of society, it resulted that he seemed to belong to either
this or that according to the altitude of the beholder. Louis threw
the light entirely on Swithin's agricultural side, bringing out old
Mrs. Martin and her connexions and her ways of life with luminous
distinctness, till Lady Constantine became greatly depressed. She,
in her hopefulness, had almost forgotten, latterly, that the bucolic
element, so incisively represented by Messrs. Hezzy Biles, Haymoss
Fry, Sammy Blore, and the rest entered into his condition at all; to
her he had been the son of his academic father alone.

But she would not reveal the depression to which she had been
subjected by this resuscitation of the homely half of poor Swithin,
presently putting an end to the subject by walking hither and
thither about the room.

'What have you lost?' said Louis, observing her movements.

'Nothing of consequence,--a bracelet.'

'Coral?' he inquired calmly.

'Yes. How did you know it was coral? You have never seen it, have
you?'

He was about to make answer; but the amazed enlightenment which her
announcement had produced in him through knowing where the Bishop
had found such an article, led him to reconsider himself. Then,
like an astute man, by no means sure of the dimensions of the
intrigue he might be uncovering, he said carelessly, 'I found such a
one in the churchyard to-day. But I thought it appeared to be of no
great rarity, and I gave it to one of the village girls who was
passing by.'

'Did she take it? Who was she?' said the unsuspecting Viviette.

'Really, I don't remember. I suppose it is of no consequence?'

'O no; its value is nothing, comparatively. It was only one of a
pair such as young girls wear.' Lady Constantine could not add
that, in spite of this, she herself valued it as being Swithin's
present, and the best he could afford.

Panic-struck by his ruminations, although revealing nothing by his
manner, Louis soon after went up to his room, professedly to write
letters. He gave vent to a low whistle when he was out of hearing.
He of course remembered perfectly well to whom he had given the
corals, and resolved to seek out Tabitha the next morning to
ascertain whether she could possibly have owned such a trinket as
well as his sister,--which at present he very greatly doubted,
though fervently hoping that she might.





Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
Category:
General Fiction
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