Thomas Hardy.

Two on a tower : a novel online

. (page 1 of 23)
Online LibraryThomas HardyTwo on a tower : a novel → online text (page 1 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook













Atcthor of "Far from tJte i\Iadding Crowd^''
''A Pair of Blue Eyes,'' etc.








(~\>^ an early winter afternoon, clear but not cold, when
^-^ the vegetable world was a weird multitude of skele-
tons through whose ribs the sun shone freely, a gleaming
landau came to a pause on the crest of a hill in Wessex.
The spot was where the old Melchester road, which the
carriage had hitherto followed, was joined by a drive that
led round into a park at no great distance off. The foot-
man alighted, and went to the occupant of the carriage,
a lady of about six and twenty. She was looking through
the opening afforded by a field-gate at the undulating
stretch of country beyond. In pursuance of some remark
from her, the servant looked in the same direction.

The central feature of the middle distance, as they be-
held it, was a circular, isolated hill, of no great elevation,
which placed itself in strong chromatic contrast with a wide
acreage of surrounding arable, by being covered with fir-
trees. The trees were all of one size and age, so that their
tips assumed the precise curve of the hill they grew upon.
This pine-clad protuberance was yet further marked out


from the general landscape by having on its summit a
tower in the form of a classical column, which, though
partly immersed in the plantation, rose above the tree-
tops to a considerable height. Upon this object the eyes
of lady and servant were bent.

"Then there is no road leading near it.?" she asked.

"Nothing nearer than where we are now, my lady."

"Oh! Then drive home." And the carriage rolled
on its way.

A few da}-s later, the same lady, in the same carriage,
passed that spot again. Her eyes, as before, turned to
the distant tower.

"Nobbs,"she said, "could you find your way home
through that field, so as to get near the outskirts of the
plantation .? "

The coachman regarded the field. "Well, my lady, "
he observed, "in dry weather we might drive in there,
and so get across by Five-and-Twenty Acres, all being
well. But the valler ground is so heavy after these rains
that — perhaps it would hardly be safe to try it now."

" Perhaos not, " she assented indifferentlv. " Remem-
ber it, will you, at a drier time.? " And again the carriage
sped along the road, the lady's eyes resting on the seg-
mental hill, the blue trees that muffled it, and the column
that formed its apex, till they were out of sight.

A long time elapsed before that lady drove over the hill
again. It was February; the soil was now unquestionabl)
dry, the weather and scene being in other respects much
a.s they had been before. The familiar shape of the col-
umn .seemed to remind her that at last an opportunity for
a close inspection had arrived. Giving her directions, sho


saw the gate opened, and after a little manoeuvring the car-
riage swayed slowly into the uneven fieltl. Although the
pillar stood upon the hereditary estate of her husband, the
ladv had never visited it, owing to its insulation by this
well-nigh impracticable ground. The drive to the base of
the hill \vas tedious and jerky, and on reaching it she
llighted, directing that the carriage should be driven back
empty over the clods, to wait for her on the nearest edge
of the field. She then ascended beneath the trees on foot.

The column now showed itself as a much more impor-
tant erection than it had appeared from the road, or the
park, or the windows of Wclland House, her residence
hard by, whence she had surveyed it hundreds of times
without ever feeling a sufficient mterest in its details to in-
vestigate them. The column had been erected in the last
century, as a substantial memorial of her husbands great-
grandfather, a respectable officer who had fallen in the
American war, and the reason of her lack of interest was
partly owing to her relations with this husband, of which
more anon. It was little more than the sheer desire for
something to do— the chronic desire of her curiously lonely
life — that had brought her here now. She was in a mood
to welcome anything that would in some measure disperse
an almost killing ennui. She would have welcomed even a
misfortune. She had heard that from the summit of the
■)!llar three counties could be seen. Whatever pleasurable
eflect was to be derived from looking into three counties
at the same tim^ she would enjoy to-day.

The fir-shrouded hill-top turned out to be an old Ro-
man camp, — -if it were not an old British castle, or an on''
Saxon field of Witenagernote, — witli remains of an out


and an inner vallum, a winding path leading up between
their overlapping ends by an easy ascent. The spikelets
from the trees formed a soft carpet over the route, and oc-
casionally a brake of brambles barred the interspaces of the
trunks. Soon she stood immediately at the foot of the

I* had been built in the Tuscan order of architecture,
4nd was really a tower, being hollow, with steps inside.
The gloom and solitude which prevailed round the base
were remarkable. The sob of the environing trees was
here expressively manifest, and as, m the light breeze, their
thin, straight stems rocked in seconds, like inverted pen-
dulums, some boughs and twigs rubbed the pillar's sides,
or occasionally clicked in catching each other. Below
the level of their summits the masonry was lichen-
stained and mildewed, for the sun never pierced that
moaning clgud of blue-black vegetation; pads of moss
grew in the joints of the stone-work, and here and there
shade-loving insects had engraved on the mortar patterns
of no human st3'le or meaning, but curious and suggestive.
Above the trees the case was different: the pillar rose into
the sky a bright and cheerful thing, unimpeded, clean, and
flushed with the sunlight.

The spot was seldom visited by a pedestrian, e.xcept per-
haj)s in the shooting season. The rarity of human intru-
sion was evidenced by the mazes of rabbit-runs, the feathers
^f :;hy birds, the exuvice of reptiles; as also by the fresli
an I uninterrupted paths of squirrels down the sides of
trunks, and thence horizontally away. The circumstance
of the plantiition being an Lsland in the midst of an arable
plain sufficiently accounted for this lack of visitors. Few


unaccustomed to such places can be aware of the insula-
ting effect of plowed ground, when no necessity compels
jieople to traverse it. This rotund hill of trees and bram-
bles, standing in the center of a plowed field of some
ninety or a hundred acres, was probably visited less fre-
quently than a rock would have been visited in a lake of
c<]iial extent.

She walked round the column to the other side, where
lih'j found the door through which the interior was reached.
'I'hc paint, if it had ever had any, was all washed from its
fixcc, and down the decaying surface of the boards liquid
rust from the nails and hinges had run in red stains. Over
the door was a stone tablet, bearing, apparently, letters or
words; but the inscription, whatever it was, had been
smoothed over with a plaster of lichen.

Here stood this aspiring piece of masonry, erected a?
the most conspicuous and ineffaceable reminder of a man
that could be thought of; and yet the whole aspect of the
memorial betokened forgetfulness. Probably not a dozen
people wilhin the district knew the name of the person
commemorated, while perhaps not a soul remembered
whether the column was hollow or solid, whether with or
without a tablet and a door. She herself had lived within
a mile of it for the last five years, and had never come
near it till now.

She had no intention of ascending, but finding that the
door was not fastened she pushed it open with her foot,
and entered. A scrap of writing-paper lay within, and ar-
rested her attention by its freshness. Some human being,
then, knew the spot, despite her surmises. But as the
paper had u^diing on it, no clew was afforded; yet, feel-


ing herself the proprietor of the column and of all around
it, her self-assertiveness was sufficient to lead her on. The
staircase was lighted by slits in the wall, and there was no
difficulty in reaching the top, the steps being quite un-
ft^orn. The trap door giving on to the roof was open, and
on looking through it an interesting spectacle met her

A youth was sitting on a stool in the center of the lead
flat which formed the summit of the column, his eye being
applied to the end of a large telescope that stood before
him on a tripod. This sort of presence was unexpected,
and the lady started back into the shade of the opening.
The only effect produced upon him by her footfall was an
impatient wave of the hand, without removing his eye
from the instrument, as if to forbid her or anybody inter-
rupting him.

Pausing where she stood, the lady examined the aspect
of the individual who thus made himself so completely at
home on a building which she deemed her unquestioned
property. He was a youth who might properly have been
characterized by a word which the judicious chronicler would
not readily use in such a connection, preferring to reserve
it for raising images of the opposite sex. Whether because
no deep felicity is likely to arise from the circumstance, or
fiom any other reason, to say in these days that a youth is
beautiful is not to award him that amount of credit which
the expression would have carried with it if he had lived in
the times of the Classical Dictionary. So much, indeed,
is the reverse the case that the assertion creates an awk-
w.irdness in saying anything more about him. The beau-
t^fui y. luth usually verges so perilously on the incipient


coxcomb, who is about to become the Lothario or Juan
among the neighboring maidens, that, for the due under-
standing of our present joung man, his sublime innocence
of any thought concerning his own material aspect, or tha*
of others, is most fervently asserted, and must be as fer-
vently believed.

Such as he was, there the lad stood The sun shone
full in his face, and his hat was pushed aside for conven-
ience, disclosing a curly head of very light, shining hair,
which accorded well with the flush upon his cheek. He
had such a complexion as that with which Raphael en-
riches the countenance of the youthful son of Zacharias,
— a complexion which, though clear, is far enough re-
moved from virgin delicacy, and suggests plenty of sun
and wind as its accompaniment. His features were suf-
ficiently straight in the contours to correct the behold-
er's first impression that the head was the head of a girl.
Beside him stood a little oak table, and in front was the
tel -Scope.

His visitor had ample time to make these observations;
and she may have done so all the more keenly through
being herself of a totally opposite type. Her hair was
black as midnight, her eyes had no less deep a shade, and
her complexion showed the richness demanded as a sup
port to these decided features. As she continued to look
at the pretty fellow before her, apparently so far abstracted
into some speculative world as scarcely to need a real one,
a warmer wase of her warm temperament glowed visibly
through her, and a qualified observer might from this have
hazarded a guess that there was Southern blood, in her


But even the interest attaching to the youth could not
arrest her attention forever, and as he made no further
signs of moving his eye from the instrument she broke
the silence with " What do you see ? — something happen
ing somewhere ? "

"Yes, quite a catastrophe," he automatically murmured,
without moving round.


"A cyclone in the sun."

The lady paused as if to consider the doubtful weight
of that event in the scale of terrene life. "Will it make
anv difference to us, here.' " she asked.

The young man by this time seemed to be awakened to
the consciousness that somebody unusual was talking to
him, and he turned.

" 1 beg your pardon," he said. " I thought it was my
relative come to look after me. She often comes about
this time."

He continued to look at her and forget the sun, just
such a reciprocity of influence as might have been expected
between a dark lady and a flaxen-haired youth making
itself apparent in the faces of each.

"Don't let me interrupt your observations," said she.

"Ah, no," said he, again applying his eye; where jpon face lost the animation which her presence had lent ii,
and became immutable as that of a bust, though super-
adding to the serenity of repose, the sensitiveness of life.
The expression that settled on him was one of awe. Not
unaptly might it have been said that he was worshiping
the sun. Among the various intensities of that worship
which have prevailed since the first intelligent being saw


the luminary decline westward, as the young man now
beheld it doing, his was not the weakest. He was en-
gaged in what may be called a very chastened or schooled
■or^a of that first and most natural of adorations.

■■]5ut would }ou like to see it.^" he recommenced.
"It is an event that is v.itnessed only about once in two
.)r three years, though it may occur often enough."

She assented, and looked, and saw a whirling mass, in
the center of which the fiery globe seemed to be laid
bare to its core. It was a peep into a maelstrom of
lire, taking place where nobody had ever been or ever
would be.

"It is the strangest thing I ever beheld," she said.
Then he looked again; and, wondering who her compan-
ion could be, she asked, "Are you often here.' "

" ICvery night when it is not cloudy, and often in the
day. ■■

"Ah, n'ght, of course. The heavens must be beauti-
ful f om this point."

" 1 hey are rather more than that."

"Indeed ! Have you entirely taken possession of this
column .' "


■' But it is my column," she said, with smiling asperity.

"Then are you Lady Constantine, wife of the absent
Sir Blount Constantine.-'"

" I am Lady Constantine."

" .Ml, then I agree that it is yours. But will you allow
ma to rent it of you for a time, Lady Constantine.' "

'• You have taken it, whether I allow it or not. IT)W-
ev.r, in the interests of science it is advisable that you con-


tinue your tenancy. Nobody knows you are here, I

suppose ? "

' ' Hardly anybody. "

Me then took her down a few steps into the interior,
uid showed her some ingenious contrivances for stowing
iirticles away. " Nobody ever comes near the column, —
or, as it's called here, Rings-Hill Speer, " he continued;
"and when I first came up it nobody had been here for
thirty or forty years. The staircase was choked with daws'
nests and feathers, but I cleared them out."

" I understood the column was always kept locked .? "

"Yes, it has been so. When it was built, in 1782, the
key was given to m\- great-grandfather, to keep by him in
case visitors should happen to want it. He lived just
down there where I live now. " He denoted by a nod a
little dell lying immediately beyond the plowed land which
environed them. " He kept it in his bureau, and as the
bureau descended to my grandflither, my mother, and
m}'self, the key descended with it. After the first thirty
or forty years, nobody ever asked for it. One day I saw
it, lying rusty in its niche, ark J, finding that it belonged
to this column, I took it and came up. I stayed here till
it was dark, and the stars came out, and that night I re-
solved to be an astronomer. I came back here from
J .lioul three months ago, and I mean to be an astronomer
still.' He lowered his voice. "I aim at nothing less
thin the dignity and office of Astronomer-Royal, if I live.
Perhaps I shall not live."

" I don't see why you should suppose that. How long
are you going to make this your observatory ^ "

"About a year, — -till I have obt-tined a practical famil-


iarity with the heavens. Ah, if I only had a good equa-
torial ! ''

"What is that?"

"A proper instrument for my pursuit. But time is
short, and science is infinite, — how infinite only those who
study astronomy fully realize, — and perhaps I shall be worn
out before I make my mark."

She seemed to be greatly struck with the odd mixture
in him of scientific earnestness and melancholy mistrust of
all things human. Perhaps it was owing to the nature of
his studies. "You are often on this tower alone at night.' "
she said.

"Yes; at this time of the year particularly, and while
there is no moon. I observe from seven or eight till about
two in the morning, with a view to my great work on va-
riable stars. But with such a telescope as this — well, I
must put up with it ! "

"Can you see Saturn's ring and Jupiter's moons.' "

He said dryly that he could manage to do that, not
without some contempt for the state of her knowledge.

"I have never seen any planet or star through a

"If you will come the first clear night, Lady Con-
stantine, I will show you any number. I mean, at youi
express wish; not otherwise."

"I should like to come, and possibly may at some
time. These stars that vary so much — sometimes even-
ing stars, sometimes morning stars, sometimes in the
east, and sometimes in the west, — have always interested

* ' Ah — now there is a reason for your not coming. Your


ignorance of the realities of astronomy is so satisfactory that
I will not disturb it except at your serious request."

"But I wish to be enlightened."

" Let me caution you against it."

"Is enlightenment on iie subject, then, so terrible?'

"Yes, indeed."

She laughingly declared that nothing could have so
piqued her curiosity as his statement, and turned to de'
scend. He helped her down the stairs and through the
briers. He would have gone further, and crossed the open
corn-land with her, but she preferred to go alone. He
then retraced his way to the top of the column, but, in-
stead of looking longer at the sun, watched her diminish-
ing towards the distant fence, behind which waited the
carriage. When in the midst of the field, a dark spot on
an area of brown, there crossed her path a moving figure,
whom it was as difficult to distinguish from the earth he
trod as the caterpillar from its leaf, by reason of the excel-
lent match between his clothes and the clods. He was
one of a dying-out generation who retained the principle,
nearly unlearnt now, that a man's habiliments should be
in harmony with his environment. Lady Constantine and
this figure halted beside each other for some minutes; then
they went on their several ways.

The brown person wat a laboring man known to the
world of Welland as PLiymoss (the "worn" form of the
word Amos, to adopt the phrase of philologists). The
reason of the halt had been the following dialogue: —

Lady Constantine : "Who is that.' Amos Fry, I think."

Haymoss: "Yes, my lady; a homely barley driller, born
under the very eavesdroppings of your ladyship's smallest

TWO ON A 7'OWRR. 1 3

outbuildings, in a manner of speaking,— though your
ladyship was neither born nor 'tempted at that time."

LadyC: "Who lives in the old house behind the
plantation ? "

H.: " Old Gammer Martin, my lady, and her grand-

Lady C: " He has neither father nor mother, then?"

H. : " Not a single one, my lady."

Lady C. : "Where was he educated ? "

II. : "At Warborne, — a place where they draw up young
gam'sters' brains like rhubarb under a ninepenny pan, my
lady, excusing my common way. They hit so much lam-
ing into en that 'a could talk like the day of Pentecost;
which is a wonderful thing for a simple boy, and his moth-
er only the plainest ciphering woman in the world. War-
borne Grammar School — that's where 't was 'a went to.
His father, the reverent Pa'son St. Cleeve, made a terrible
bruckle hit in 's marrying, in the sight of the high. He
were the curate here, my lady, for a length o' time. "

Lad}' C. : " Oh, curate. It was before I knew the vil-

H. : "Ay, long and merry ago ! And he married Farm-
er- Martin's daughter, — Giles Martin, a limberish man,
who used to go rather bad upon his lags, if you can mind.
I knowed the man well enough: who should know en
better ! The maid was a poor windling thing, and, though
a playward piece o' flesh when he married her, 'a socked
and sighed, and went out like a snoff. Well, when
Pa'son St. Cleeve married this homespun woman the
toppermost folk wouldn't speak to his wife. Then he
dro])po(l a cuss or two, and said he'd no lontrer ge' his


living by curing their twopenny souls o' such damn non-
sense as that (excusing my common way), and he took to
farming straightway, and then 'a dropped down dead in
a nor'west thunder-storm; it being said — hee-hee ! — that
Master God was in tantrums wi" en for leaving his service,
— hee-hee ! I give the story as I heard it, my lady, buf
be dazed if I believe in such trumpery behavior of the
fokes in the sky, nor anything else that's said about 'em.
Well, Swithin, the boy, was sent to the grammar school,
as I say for; but what with having two stations of life in
his blood, he's good for nothing, my lady. He mopes
about, — sometimes here, and sometimes there; nobody
troubles about en. "

Lady Constantine thanked her informant, and proceeded
onward. To her, as a woman, the most curious feature
in the afternoon's incident was that this lad, of striking
beauty, scientific attainments, and cultured bearing, should
be linked, on the maternal side, with a local agricultural
family, through his father's matrimonial eccentricity. A
more attractive feature in the case was that the same youth,
so capable of being ruined by flattery, blandishment, pleas-
ure, even gross prosperity, should be at present living on
in a primitive Eden of unconsciousness, with aims towards
whose accomplishment a Caliban shape would have been
as effective as his own.


OWITHIN ST. CLEEVE lingered on at his post, until
^^ the more sanguine birds of the plantation, already
recovering from their midwinter consternation, piped a
short evening hymn to the vanishing sun. The landscape
was gently concave; with the exception of tower and hill,
there were no points on which late rays might linger; and
hence the dish-shaped ninety acres of tilled land assumed
a uniform hue of shade quite suddenly. The one or two
stars that appeared were quickly clouded over, and it was
soon obvious that there would be no sweeping the heaven?
that night. After tying a piece of tarpaulin, which hacJ
once seen service on his maternal grandfather's farm, over
all the apparatus around him, he went down the stairs in
the dark, and locked the door. With the key in his
pocket, he descended through the underwood on the side
of the slope opposite to that trodden by Lady Constantine,
ind crossed the field in a line mathematically straight, and
in a manner that left no traces, by keeping in the same
furrow all the way on tiptoe. In a few minutes he reached
a little dell, which occurred quite unexpectedly on the
other side of the field-fence, and descended to a venerable


thatched house, whose enormous roof, broken up by dor-
mers as big as haycocks, could be seen even in ihe twi-
light. Over the white walls, built of chalk in the lump,
outlines of creepers formed dark patterns, as if drawn in

Inside the house his maternal grandmother w?.s sitting
by a wood fire. Before it stood a pipkin, in which some-
ihing was evidently kept warm. An eight-legged oak
table in the middle of the room was laid for a meal.
This woman of eighty-three, in a large mob cap, under
which she wore a little cap to keep the other clean, re-
tained faculties but little blunted. She sat looking into
the fire, with her hands upon her knees, quietly re-enact-
ing in her brain certain of the long chain of episodes, pa-
thetic, tragical, and humorous, which had constituted the
parish history for the last sixty years. On Swithin's entry
she looked up at him in a sideway direction.

"You should not have waited for me, granny," he said.

" 'Tis of no account, my child. I've had a nap while
sitting here. Yes, I've had a nap, and was up in my old
country again, as usual. The place was as natural as when

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryThomas HardyTwo on a tower : a novel → online text (page 1 of 23)