Meanwhile the interior of Welland
House was rattling with the progress of the ecclesiastical
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not be withdrawn; and she took this morning’s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
But abruptness does not catch a woman
without her wit. ‘Which one?’ she
’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
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
’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
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
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
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
‘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