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XL

The silence of Swithin was to be accounted for by the circumstance
that neither to the Mediterranean nor to America had he in the first
place directed his steps. Feeling himself absolutely free he had,
on arriving at Southampton, decided to make straight for the Cape,
and hence had not gone aboard the Occidental at all. His object was
to leave his heavier luggage there, examine the capabilities of the
spot for his purpose, find out the necessity or otherwise of
shipping over his own equatorial, and then cross to America as soon
as there was a good opportunity. Here he might inquire the
movements of the Transit expedition to the South Pacific, and join
it at such a point as might be convenient.

Thus, though wrong in her premisses, Viviette had intuitively
decided with sad precision. There was, as a matter of fact, a great
possibility of her not being able to communicate with him for
several months, notwithstanding that he might possibly communicate
with her.

This excursive time was an awakening for Swithin. To altered
circumstances inevitably followed altered views. That such changes
should have a marked effect upon a young man who had made neither
grand tour nor petty one--who had, in short, scarcely been away from
home in his life--was nothing more than natural. New ideas
struggled to disclose themselves and with the addition of strange
twinklers to his southern horizon came an absorbed attention that
way, and a corresponding forgetfulness of what lay to the north
behind his back, whether human or celestial. Whoever may deplore it
few will wonder that Viviette, who till then had stood high in his
heaven, if she had not dominated it, sank, like the North Star,
lower and lower with his retreat southward. Master of a large
advance of his first year's income in circular notes, he perhaps too
readily forgot that the mere act of honour, but for her self-
suppression, would have rendered him penniless.

Meanwhile, to come back and claim her at the specified time, four
years thence, if she should not object to be claimed, was as much a
part of his programme as were the exploits abroad and elsewhere that
were to prelude it. The very thoroughness of his intention for that
advanced date inclined him all the more readily to shelve the
subject now. Her unhappy caution to him not to write too soon was a
comfortable license in his present state of tension about sublime
scientific things, which knew not woman, nor her sacrifices, nor her
fears. In truth he was not only too young in years, but too
literal, direct, and uncompromising in nature to understand such a
woman as Lady Constantine; and she suffered for that limitation in
him as it had been antecedently probable that she would do.

He stayed but a little time at Cape Town on this his first
reconnoitring journey; and on that account wrote to no one from the
place. On leaving he found there remained some weeks on his hands
before he wished to cross to America; and feeling an irrepressible
desire for further studies in navigation on shipboard, and under
clear skies, he took the steamer for Melbourne; returning thence in
due time, and pursuing his journey to America, where he landed at
Boston.

Having at last had enough of great circles and other nautical
reckonings, and taking no interest in men or cities, this
indefatigable scrutineer of the universe went immediately on to
Cambridge; and there, by the help of an introduction he had brought
from England, he revelled for a time in the glories of the gigantic
refractor (which he was permitted to use on occasion), and in the
pleasures of intercourse with the scientific group around. This
brought him on to the time of starting with the Transit expedition,
when he and his kind became lost to the eye of civilization behind
the horizon of the Pacific Ocean.

To speak of their doings on this pilgrimage, of ingress and egress,
of tangent and parallax, of external and internal contact, would
avail nothing. Is it not all written in the chronicles of the
Astronomical Society? More to the point will it be to mention that
Viviette's letter to Cambridge had been returned long before he
reached that place, while her missive to Marseilles was, of course,
misdirected altogether. On arriving in America, uncertain of an
address in that country at which he would stay long, Swithin wrote
his first letter to his grandmother; and in this he ordered that all
communications should be sent to await him at Cape Town, as the only
safe spot for finding him, sooner or later. The equatorial he also
directed to be forwarded to the same place. At this time, too, he
ventured to break Viviette's commands, and address a letter to her,
not knowing of the strange results that had followed his absence
from home.

It was February. The Transit was over, the scientific company had
broken up, and Swithin had steamed towards the Cape to take up his
permanent abode there, with a view to his great task of surveying,
charting and theorizing on those exceptional features in the
southern skies which had been but partially treated by the younger
Herschel. Having entered Table Bay and landed on the quay, he
called at once at the post-office.

Two letters were handed him, and he found from the date that they
had been waiting there for some time. One of these epistles, which
had a weather-worn look as regarded the ink, and was in old-
fashioned penmanship, he knew to be from his grandmother. He opened
it before he had as much as glanced at the superscription of the
second.

Besides immaterial portions, it contained the following:--


'J reckon you know by now of our main news this fall, but lest you
should not have heard of it J send the exact thing snipped out of
the newspaper. Nobody expected her to do it quite so soon; but it
is said hereabout that my lord bishop and my lady had been drawing
nigh to an understanding before the glum tidings of Sir Blount's
taking of his own life reached her; and the account of this wicked
deed was so sore afflicting to her mind, and made her poor heart so
timid and low, that in charity to my lady her few friends agreed on
urging her to let the bishop go on paying his court as before,
notwithstanding she had not been a widow-woman near so long as was
thought. This, as it turned out, she was willing to do; and when my
lord asked her she told him she would marry him at once or never.
That's as J was told, and J had it from those that know.'


The cutting from the newspaper was an ordinary announcement of
marriage between the Bishop of Melchester and Lady Constantine.

Swithin was so astounded at the intelligence of what for the nonce
seemed Viviette's wanton fickleness that he quite omitted to look at
the second letter; and remembered nothing about it till an hour
afterwards, when sitting in his own room at the hotel.

It was in her handwriting, but so altered that its superscription
had not arrested his eye. It had no beginning, or date; but its
contents soon acquainted him with her motive for the precipitate
act. The few concluding sentences are all that it will be necessary
to quote here:--


'There was no way out of it, even if I could have found you, without
infringing one of the conditions I had previously laid down. The
long desire of my heart has been not to impoverish you or mar your
career. The new desire was to save myself and, still more, another
yet unborn. . . . I have done a desperate thing. Yet for myself I
could do no better, and for you no less. I would have sacrificed my
single self to honesty, but I was not alone concerned. What woman
has a right to blight a coming life to preserve her personal
integrity?. . . The one bright spot is that it saves you and your
endowment from further catastrophes, and preserves you to the
pleasant paths of scientific fame. I no longer lie like a log
across your path, which is now as open as on the day before you saw
me, and ere I encouraged you to win me. Alas, Swithin, I ought to
have known better. The folly was great, and the suffering be upon
my head! I ought not to have consented to that last interview: all
was well till then!. . . Well, I have borne much, and am not
unprepared. As for you, Swithin, by simply pressing straight on
your triumph is assured. Do not communicate with me in any way--not
even in answer to this. Do not think of me. Do not see me ever any
more.--Your unhappy
VIVIETTE.'


Swithin's heart swelled within him in sudden pity for her, first;
then he blanched with a horrified sense of what she had done, and at
his own relation to the deed. He felt like an awakened somnambulist
who should find that he had been accessory to a tragedy during his
unconsciousness. She had loosened the knot of her difficulties by
cutting it unscrupulously through and through.

The big tidings rather dazed than crushed him, his predominant
feeling being soon again one of keenest sorrow and sympathy. Yet
one thing was obvious; he could do nothing--absolutely nothing. The
event which he now heard of for the first time had taken place five
long months ago. He reflected, and regretted--and mechanically went
on with his preparations for settling down to work under the shadow
of Table Mountain. He was as one who suddenly finds the world a
stranger place than he thought; but is excluded by age, temperament,
and situation from being much more than an astonished spectator of
its strangeness.


The Royal Observatory was about a mile out of the town, and hither
he repaired as soon as he had established himself in lodgings. He
had decided, on his first visit to the Cape, that it would be highly
advantageous to him if he could supplement the occasional use of the
large instruments here by the use at his own house of his own
equatorial, and had accordingly given directions that it might be
sent over from England. The precious possession now arrived; and
although the sight of it--of the brasses on which her hand had often
rested, of the eyepiece through which her dark eyes had beamed--
engendered some decidedly bitter regrets in him for a time, he could
not long afford to give to the past the days that were meant for the
future.

Unable to get a room convenient for a private observatory he
resolved at last to fix the instrument on a solid pillar in the
garden; and several days were spent in accommodating it to its new
position. In this latitude there was no necessity for economizing
clear nights as he had been obliged to do on the old tower at
Welland. There it had happened more than once, that after waiting
idle through days and nights of cloudy weather, Viviette would fix
her time for meeting him at an hour when at last he had an
opportunity of seeing the sky; so that in giving to her the golden
moments of cloudlessness he was losing his chance with the orbs
above.

Those features which usually attract the eye of the visitor to a new
latitude are the novel forms of human and vegetable life, and other
such sublunary things. But the young man glanced slightingly at
these; the changes overhead had all his attention. The old subject
was imprinted there, but in a new type. Here was a heaven, fixed
and ancient as the northern; yet it had never appeared above the
Welland hills since they were heaved up from beneath. Here was an
unalterable circumpolar region; but the polar patterns stereotyped
in history and legend--without which it had almost seemed that a
polar sky could not exist--had never been seen therein.

St. Cleeve, as was natural, began by cursory surveys, which were not
likely to be of much utility to the world or to himself. He wasted
several weeks--indeed above two months--in a comparatively idle
survey of southern novelties; in the mere luxury of looking at
stellar objects whose wonders were known, recounted, and classified,
long before his own personality had been heard of. With a child's
simple delight he allowed his instrument to rove, evening after
evening, from the gorgeous glitter of Canopus to the hazy clouds of
Magellan. Before he had well finished this optical prelude there
floated over to him from the other side of the Equator the
postscript to the epistle of his lost Viviette. It came in the
vehicle of a common newspaper, under the head of 'Births:'--

'April 10th, 18--, at the Palace, Melchester, the wife of the Bishop
of Melchester, of a son.'





Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
Category:
General Fiction
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