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A Laodicean by Thomas Hardy

Part 6 out of 10

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clandestinely shown lent immense force to a doubt of her
sincerity. The ghastly thought that she had merely been
keeping him on, like a pet spaniel, to amuse her leisure
moments till she should have found appropriate opportunity for
an open engagement with some one else, trusting to his sense
of chivalry to keep secret their little episode, filled him
with a grim heat.

IX.

At the back of the room the applause had been loud at the
moment of the kiss, real or counterfeit. The cause was partly
owing to an exceptional circumstance which had occurred in
that quarter early in the play.

The people had all seated themselves, and the first act had
begun, when the tapestry that screened the door was lifted
gently and a figure appeared in the opening. The general
attention was at this moment absorbed by the newly disclosed
stage, and scarcely a soul noticed the stranger. Had any one
of the audience turned his head, there would have been
sufficient in the countenance to detain his gaze,
notwithstanding the counter-attraction forward.

He was obviously a man who had come from afar. There was not
a square inch about him that had anything to do with modern
English life. His visage, which was of the colour of light
porphyry, had little of its original surface left; it was a
face which had been the plaything of strange fires or
pestilences, that had moulded to whatever shape they chose his
originally supple skin, and left it pitted, puckered, and
seamed like a dried water-course. But though dire
catastrophes or the treacherous airs of remote climates had
done their worst upon his exterior, they seemed to have
affected him but little within, to judge from a certain
robustness which showed itself in his manner of standing.

The face-marks had a meaning, for any one who could read them,
beyond the mere suggestion of their origin: they signified
that this man had either been the victim of some terrible
necessity as regarded the occupation to which he had devoted
himself, or that he was a man of dogged obstinacy, from sheer
sang froid holding his ground amid malign forces when others
would have fled affrighted away.

As nobody noticed him, he dropped the door hangings after a
while, walked silently along the matted alley, and sat down in
one of the back chairs. His manner of entry was enough to
show that the strength of character which he seemed to possess
had phlegm for its base and not ardour. One might have said
that perhaps the shocks he had passed through had taken all
his original warmth out of him. His beaver hat, which he had
retained on his head till this moment, he now placed under the
seat, where he sat absolutely motionless till the end of the
first act, as if he were indulging in a monologue which did
not quite reach his lips.

When Paula entered at the beginning of the second act he
showed as much excitement as was expressed by a slight
movement of the eyes. When she spoke he turned to his next
neighbour, and asked him in cold level words which had once
been English, but which seemed to have lost the accent of
nationality: 'Is that the young woman who is the possessor of
this castle--Power by name?'

His neighbour happened to be the landlord at Sleeping-Green,
and he informed the stranger that she was what he supposed.

'And who is that gentleman whose line of business seems to be
to make love to Power?'

'He's Captain De Stancy, Sir William De Stancy's son, who used
to own this property.'

'Baronet or knight?'

'Baronet--a very old-established family about here.'

The stranger nodded, and the play went on, no further word
being spoken till the fourth act was reached, when the
stranger again said, without taking his narrow black eyes from
the stage: 'There's something in that love-making between
Stancy and Power that's not all sham!'

'Well,' said the landlord, 'I have heard different stories
about that, and wouldn't be the man to zay what I couldn't
swear to. The story is that Captain De Stancy, who is as poor
as a gallicrow, is in full cry a'ter her, and that his on'y
chance lies in his being heir to a title and the wold name.
But she has not shown a genuine hanker for anybody yet.'

'If she finds the money, and this Stancy finds the name and
blood, 'twould be a very neat match between 'em,--hey?'

'That's the argument.'

Nothing more was said again for a long time, but the
stranger's eyes showed more interest in the passes between
Paula and De Stancy than they had shown before. At length the
crisis came, as described in the last chapter, De Stancy
saluting her with that semblance of a kiss which gave such
umbrage to Somerset. The stranger's thin lips lengthened a
couple of inches with satisfaction; he put his hand into his
pocket, drew out two half-crowns which he handed to the
landlord, saying, 'Just applaud that, will you, and get your
comrades to do the same.'

The landlord, though a little surprised, took the money, and
began to clap his hands as desired. The example was
contagious, and spread all over the room; for the audience,
gentle and simple, though they might not have followed the
blank verse in all its bearings, could at least appreciate a
kiss. It was the unusual acclamation raised by this means
which had led Somerset to turn his head.

When the play had ended the stranger was the first to rise,
and going downstairs at the head of the crowd he passed out of
doors, and was lost to view. Some questions were asked by the
landlord as to the stranger's individuality; but few had seen
him; fewer had noticed him, singular as he was; and none knew
his name.

While these things had been going on in the quarter allotted
to the commonalty, Somerset in front had waited the fall of
the curtain with those sick and sorry feelings which should be
combated by the aid of philosophy and a good conscience, but
which really are only subdued by time and the abrading rush of
affairs. He was, however, stoical enough, when it was all
over, to accept Mrs. Goodman's invitation to accompany her to
the drawing-room, fully expecting to find there a large
company, including Captain De Stancy.

But none of the acting ladies and gentlemen had emerged from
their dressing-rooms as yet. Feeling that he did not care to
meet any of them that night, he bade farewell to Mrs. Goodman
after a few minutes of conversation, and left her. While he
was passing along the corridor, at the side of the gallery
which had been used as the theatre, Paula crossed it from the
latter apartment towards an opposite door. She was still in
the dress of the Princess, and the diamond and pearl necklace
still hung over her bosom as placed there by Captain De
Stancy.

Her eye caught Somerset's, and she stopped. Probably there
was something in his face which told his mind, for she invited
him by a smile into the room she was entering.

'I congratulate you on your performance,' he said
mechanically, when she pushed to the door.

'Do you really think it was well done?' She drew near him
with a sociable air.

'It was startlingly done--the part from "Romeo and Juliet"
pre-eminently so.'

'Do you think I knew he was going to introduce it, or do you
think I didn't know?' she said, with that gentle sauciness
which shows itself in the loved one's manner when she has had
a triumphant evening without the lover's assistance.

'I think you may have known.'

'No,' she averred, decisively shaking her head. 'It took me
as much by surprise as it probably did you. But why should I
have told!'

Without answering that question Somerset went on. 'Then what
he did at the end of his gag was of course a surprise also.'

'He didn't really do what he seemed to do,' she serenely
answered.

'Well, I have no right to make observations--your actions are
not subject to my surveillance; you float above my plane,'
said the young man with some bitterness. 'But to speak
plainly, surely he--kissed you?'

'No,' she said. 'He only kissed the air in front of me--ever
so far off.'

'Was it six inches off?'

'No, not six inches.'

'Nor three.'

'It was quite one,' she said with an ingenuous air.

'I don't call that very far.'

'A miss is as good as a mile, says the time-honoured proverb;
and it is not for us modern mortals to question its truth.'

'How can you be so off-hand?' broke out Somerset. 'I love you
wildly and desperately, Paula, and you know it well!'

'I have never denied knowing it,' she said softly.

'Then why do you, with such knowledge, adopt an air of levity
at such a moment as this! You keep me at arm's-length, and
won't say whether you care for me one bit, or no. I have
owned all to you; yet never once have you owned anything to
me!'

'I have owned much. And you do me wrong if you consider that
I show levity. But even if I had not owned everything, and
you all, it is not altogether such a grievous thing.'

'You mean to say that it is not grievous, even if a man does
love a woman, and suffers all the pain of feeling he loves in
vain? Well, I say it is quite the reverse, and I have grounds
for knowing.'

'Now, don't fume so, George Somerset, but hear me. My not
owning all may not have the dreadful meaning you think, and
therefore it may not be really such a grievous thing. There
are genuine reasons for women's conduct in these matters as
well as for men's, though it is sometimes supposed to be
regulated entirely by caprice. And if I do not give way to
every feeling--I mean demonstration--it is because I don't
want to. There now, you know what that implies; and be
content'

'Very well,' said Somerset, with repressed sadness, 'I will
not expect you to say more. But you do like me a little,
Paula?'

'Now!' she said, shaking her head with symptoms of tenderness
and looking into his eyes. 'What have you just promised?
Perhaps I like you a little more than a little, which is much
too much! Yes,--Shakespeare says so, and he is always right.
Do you still doubt me? Ah, I see you do!'

'Because somebody has stood nearer to you to-night than I.'

'A fogy like him!--half as old again as either of us! How can
you mind him? What shall I do to show you that I do not for a
moment let him come between me and you?'

'It is not for me to suggest what you should do. Though what
you should permit ME to do is obvious enough.'

She dropped her voice: 'You mean, permit you to do really and
in earnest what he only seemed to do in the play.'

Somerset signified by a look that such had been his thought.

Paula was silent. 'No,' she murmured at last. 'That cannot
be. He did not, nor must you.'

It was said none the less decidedly for being spoken low.

'You quite resent such a suggestion: you have a right to. I
beg your pardon, not for speaking of it, but for thinking it.'

'I don't resent it at all, and I am not offended one bit. But
I am not the less of opinion that it is possible to be
premature in some things; and to do this just now would be
premature. I know what you would say--that you would not have
asked it, but for that unfortunate improvisation of it in the
play. But that I was not responsible for, and therefore owe
no reparation to you now. . . . Listen!'

'Paula--Paula! Where in the world are you?' was heard
resounding along the corridor in the voice of her aunt. 'Our
friends are all ready to leave, and you will surely bid them
good-night!'

'I must be gone--I won't ring for you to be shown out--come
this way.'

'But how will you get on in repeating the play tomorrow
evening if that interpolation is against your wish?' he asked,
looking her hard in the face.

'I'll think it over during the night. Come to-morrow morning
to help me settle. But,' she added, with coy yet genial
independence, 'listen to me. Not a word more about a--what
you asked for, mind! I don't want to go so far, and I will
not--not just yet anyhow--I mean perhaps never. You must
promise that, or I cannot see you again alone.'

'It shall be as you request.'

'Very well. And not a word of this to a soul. My aunt
suspects: but she is a good aunt and will say nothing. Now
that is clearly understood, I should be glad to consult with
you tomorrow early. I will come to you in the studio or
Pleasance as soon as I am disengaged.'

She took him to a little chamfered doorway in the corner,
which opened into a descending turret; and Somerset went down.
When he had unfastened the door at the bottom, and stepped
into the lower corridor, she asked, 'Are you down?' And on
receiving an affirmative reply she closed the top door.

X.

Somerset was in the studio the next morning about ten o'clock
superintending the labours of Knowles, Bowles, and Cockton,
whom he had again engaged to assist him with the drawings on
his appointment to carry out the works. When he had set them
going he ascended the staircase of the great tower for some
purpose that bore upon the forthcoming repairs of this part.
Passing the door of the telegraph-room he heard little sounds
from the instrument, which somebody was working. Only two
people in the castle, to the best of his knowledge, knew the
trick of this; Miss Power, and a page in her service called
John. Miss De Stancy could also despatch messages, but she
was at Myrtle Villa.

The door was closed, and much as he would have liked to enter,
the possibility that Paula was not the performer led him to
withhold his steps. He went on to where the uppermost masonry
had resisted the mighty hostility of the elements for five
hundred years without receiving worse dilapidation than half-
a-century produces upon the face of man. But he still
wondered who was telegraphing, and whether the message bore on
housekeeping, architecture, theatricals, or love.

Could Somerset have seen through the panels of the door in
passing, he would have beheld the room occupied by Paula
alone.

It was she who sat at the instrument, and the message she was
despatching ran as under:--

'Can you send down a competent actress, who will undertake the
part of Princess of France in "Love's Labour's Lost" this
evening in a temporary theatre here? Dresses already provided
suitable to a lady about the middle height. State price.'

The telegram was addressed to a well-known theatrical agent in
London.

Off went the message, and Paula retired into the next room,
leaving the door open between that and the one she had just
quitted. Here she busied herself with writing some letters,
till in less than an hour the telegraph instrument showed
signs of life, and she hastened back to its side. The reply
received from the agent was as follows:--

'Miss Barbara Bell of the Regent's Theatre could come. Quite
competent. Her terms would be about twenty-five guineas.'

Without a moment's pause Paula returned for answer:--

'The terms are quite satisfactory.'

Presently she heard the instrument again, and emerging from
the next room in which she had passed the intervening time as
before, she read:--

'Miss Barbara Bell's terms were accidentally understated.
They would be forty guineas, in consequence of the distance.
Am waiting at the office for a reply.'

Paula set to work as before and replied:--

'Quite satisfactory; only let her come at once.'

She did not leave the room this time, but went to an arrow-
slit hard by and gazed out at the trees till the instrument
began to speak again. Returning to it with a leisurely
manner, implying a full persuasion that the matter was
settled, she was somewhat surprised to learn that

'Miss Bell, in stating her terms, understands that she will
not be required to leave London till the middle of the
afternoon. If it is necessary for her to leave at once, ten
guineas extra would be indispensable, on account of the great
inconvenience of such a short notice.'

Paula seemed a little vexed, but not much concerned she sent
back with a readiness scarcely politic in the circumstances: -

'She must start at once. Price agreed to.'

Her impatience for the answer was mixed with curiosity as to
whether it was due to the agent or to Miss Barbara Bell that
the prices had grown like Jack's Bean-stalk in the
negotiation. Another telegram duly came:--

'Travelling expenses are expected to be paid.'

With decided impatience she dashed off:--

'Of course; but nothing more will be agreed to.'

Then, and only then, came the desired reply:--

'Miss Bell starts by the twelve o'clock train.'

This business being finished, Paula left the chamber and
descended into the inclosure called the Pleasance, a spot
grassed down like a lawn. Here stood Somerset, who, having
come down from the tower, was looking on while a man searched
for old foundations under the sod with a crowbar. He was glad
to see her at last, and noticed that she looked serene and
relieved; but could not for the moment divine the cause.
Paula came nearer, returned his salutation, and regarded the
man's operations in silence awhile till his work led him to a
distance from them.

'Do you still wish to consult me?' asked Somerset.

'About the building perhaps,' said she. 'Not about the play.'

'But you said so?'

'Yes; but it will be unnecessary.'

Somerset thought this meant skittishness, and merely bowed.

'You mistake me as usual,' she said, in a low tone. 'I am not
going to consult you on that matter, because I have done all
you could have asked for without consulting you. I take no
part in the play to-night.'

'Forgive my momentary doubt!'

'Somebody else will play for me--an actress from London. But
on no account must the substitution be known beforehand or the
performance to-night will never come off: and that I should
much regret.'

'Captain De Stancy will not play his part if he knows you will
not play yours--that's what you mean?'

'You may suppose it is,' she said, smiling. 'And to guard
against this you must help me to keep the secret by being my
confederate.'

To be Paula's confederate; to-day, indeed, time had brought
him something worth waiting for. 'In anything!' cried
Somerset.

'Only in this!' said she, with soft severity. 'And you know
what you have promised, George! And you remember there is to
be no--what we talked about! Now will you go in the one-horse
brougham to Markton Station this afternoon, and meet the four
o'clock train? Inquire for a lady for Stancy Castle--a Miss
Bell; see her safely into the carriage, and send her straight
on here. I am particularly anxious that she should not enter
the town, for I think she once came to Markton in a starring
company, and she might be recognized, and my plan be
defeated.'

Thus she instructed her lover and devoted friend; and when he
could stay no longer he left her in the garden to return to
his studio. As Somerset went in by the garden door he met a
strange-looking personage coming out by the same passage--a
stranger, with the manner of a Dutchman, the face of a
smelter, and the clothes of an inhabitant of Guiana. The
stranger, whom we have already seen sitting at the back of the
theatre the night before, looked hard from Somerset to Paula,
and from Paula again to Somerset, as he stepped out. Somerset
had an unpleasant conviction that this queer gentleman had
been standing for some time in the doorway unnoticed, quizzing
him and his mistress as they talked together. If so he might
have learnt a secret.

When he arrived upstairs, Somerset went to a window commanding
a view of the garden. Paula still stood in her place, and the
stranger was earnestly conversing with her. Soon they passed
round the corner and disappeared.

It was now time for him to see about starting for Markton, an
intelligible zest for circumventing the ardent and coercive
captain of artillery saving him from any unnecessary delay in
the journey. He was at the station ten minutes before the
train was due; and when it drew up to the platform the first
person to jump out was Captain De Stancy in sportsman's attire
and with a gun in his hand. Somerset nodded, and De Stancy
spoke, informing the architect that he had been ten miles up
the line shooting waterfowl. 'That's Miss Power's carriage, I
think,' he added.

'Yes,' said Somerset carelessly. 'She expects a friend, I
believe. We shall see you at the castle again to-night?'

De Stancy assured him that they would, and the two men parted,
Captain De Stancy, when he had glanced to see that the
carriage was empty, going on to where a porter stood with a
couple of spaniels.

Somerset now looked again to the train. While his back had
been turned to converse with the captain, a lady of five-and-
thirty had alighted from the identical compartment occupied by
De Stancy. She made an inquiry about getting to Stancy
Castle, upon which Somerset, who had not till now observed
her, went forward, and introducing himself assisted her to the
carriage and saw her safely off.

De Stancy had by this time disappeared, and Somerset walked on
to his rooms at the Lord-Quantock-Arms, where he remained till
he had dined, picturing the discomfiture of his alert rival
when there should enter to him as Princess, not Paula Power,
but Miss Bell of the Regent's Theatre, London. Thus the hour
passed, till he found that if he meant to see the issue of the
plot it was time to be off.

On arriving at the castle, Somerset entered by the public door
from the hall as before, a natural delicacy leading him to
feel that though he might be welcomed as an ally at the stage-
door--in other words, the door from the corridor--it was
advisable not to take too ready an advantage of a privilege
which, in the existing secrecy of his understanding with
Paula, might lead to an overthrow of her plans on that point.

Not intending to sit out the whole performance, Somerset
contented himself with standing in a window recess near the
proscenium, whence he could observe both the stage and the
front rows of spectators. He was quite uncertain whether
Paula would appear among the audience to-night, and resolved
to wait events. Just before the rise of the curtain the young
lady in question entered and sat down. When the scenery was
disclosed and the King of Navarre appeared, what was
Somerset's surprise to find that, though the part was the part
taken by De Stancy on the previous night, the voice was that
of Mr. Mild; to him, at the appointed season, entered the
Princess, namely, Miss Barbara Bell.

Before Somerset had recovered from his crestfallen sensation
at De Stancy's elusiveness, that officer himself emerged in
evening dress from behind a curtain forming a wing to the
proscenium, and Somerset remarked that the minor part
originally allotted to him was filled by the subaltern who had
enacted it the night before. De Stancy glanced across,
whether by accident or otherwise Somerset could not determine,
and his glance seemed to say he quite recognized there had
been a trial of wits between them, and that, thanks to his
chance meeting with Miss Bell in the train, his had proved the
stronger.

The house being less crowded to-night there were one or two
vacant chairs in the best part. De Stancy, advancing from
where he had stood for a few moments, seated himself
comfortably beside Miss Power.

On the other side of her he now perceived the same queer
elderly foreigner (as he appeared) who had come to her in the
garden that morning. Somerset was surprised to perceive also
that Paula with very little hesitation introduced him and De
Stancy to each other. A conversation ensued between the
three, none the less animated for being carried on in a
whisper, in which Paula seemed on strangely intimate terms
with the stranger, and the stranger to show feelings of great
friendship for De Stancy, considering that they must be new
acquaintances.

The play proceeded, and Somerset still lingered in his corner.
He could not help fancying that De Stancy's ingenious
relinquishment of his part, and its obvious reason, was
winning Paula's admiration. His conduct was homage carried to
unscrupulous and inconvenient lengths, a sort of thing which a
woman may chide, but which she can never resent. Who could do
otherwise than talk kindly to a man, incline a little to him,
and condone his fault, when the sole motive of so audacious an
exercise of his wits was to escape acting with any other
heroine than herself.

His conjectures were brought to a pause by the ending of the
comedy, and the opportunity afforded him of joining the group
in front. The mass of people were soon gone, and the knot of
friends assembled around Paula were discussing the merits and
faults of the two days' performance.

'My uncle, Mr. Abner Power,' said Paula suddenly to Somerset,
as he came near, presenting the stranger to the astonished
young man. 'I could not see you before the performance, as I
should have liked to do. The return of my uncle is so
extraordinary that it ought to be told in a less hurried way
than this. He has been supposed dead by all of us for nearly
ten years--ever since the time we last heard from him.'

'For which I am to blame,' said Mr. Power, nodding to Paula's
architect. 'Yet not I, but accident and a sluggish
temperament. There are times, Mr Somerset, when the human
creature feels no interest in his kind, and assumes that his
kind feels no interest in him. The feeling is not active
enough to make him fly from their presence; but sufficient to
keep him silent if he happens to be away. I may not have
described it precisely; but this I know, that after my long
illness, and the fancied neglect of my letters--'

'For which my father was not to blame, since he did not
receive them,' said Paula.

'For which nobody was to blame--after that, I say, I wrote no
more.'

'You have much pleasure in returning at last, no doubt,' said
Somerset.

'Sir, as I remained away without particular pain, so I return
without particular joy. I speak the truth, and no
compliments. I may add that there is one exception to this
absence of feeling from my heart, namely, that I do derive
great satisfaction from seeing how mightily this young woman
has grown and prevailed.'

This address, though delivered nominally to Somerset, was
listened to by Paula, Mrs. Goodman, and De Stancy also. After
uttering it, the speaker turned away, and continued his
previous conversation with Captain De Stancy. From this time
till the group parted he never again spoke directly to
Somerset, paying him barely so much attention as he might have
expected as Paula's architect, and certainly less than he
might have supposed his due as her accepted lover.

The result of the appearance, as from the tomb, of this wintry
man was that the evening ended in a frigid and formal way
which gave little satisfaction to the sensitive Somerset, who
was abstracted and constrained by reason of thoughts on how
this resuscitation of the uncle would affect his relation with
Paula. It was possibly also the thought of two at least of
the others. There had, in truth, scarcely yet been time
enough to adumbrate the possibilities opened up by this
gentleman's return.

The only private word exchanged by Somerset with any one that
night was with Mrs. Goodman, in whom he always recognized a
friend to his cause, though the fluidity of her character
rendered her but a feeble one at the best of times. She
informed him that Mr. Power had no sort of legal control over
Paula, or direction in her estates; but Somerset could not
doubt that a near and only blood relation, even had he
possessed but half the static force of character that made
itself apparent in Mr. Power, might exercise considerable
moral influence over the girl if he chose. And in view of Mr.
Power's marked preference for De Stancy, Somerset had many
misgivings as to its operating in a direction favourable to
himself.

XI.

Somerset was deeply engaged with his draughtsmen and builders
during the three following days, and scarcely entered the
occupied wing of the castle.

At his suggestion Paula had agreed to have the works executed
as such operations were carried out in old times, before the
advent of contractors. Each trade required in the building
was to be represented by a master-tradesman of that
denomination, who should stand responsible for his own section
of labour, and for no other, Somerset himself as chief
technicist working out his designs on the spot. By this means
the thoroughness of the workmanship would be greatly increased
in comparison with the modern arrangement, whereby a nominal
builder, seldom present, who can certainly know no more than
one trade intimately and well, and who often does not know
that, undertakes the whole.

But notwithstanding its manifest advantages to the proprietor,
the plan added largely to the responsibilities of the
architect, who, with his master-mason, master-carpenter,
master-plumber, and what not, had scarcely a moment to call
his own. Still, the method being upon the face of it the true
one, Somerset supervised with a will.

But there seemed to float across the court to him from the
inhabited wing an intimation that things were not as they had
been before; that an influence adverse to himself was at work
behind the ashlared face of inner wall which confronted him.
Perhaps this was because he never saw Paula at the windows, or
heard her footfall in that half of the building given over to
himself and his myrmidons. There was really no reason other
than a sentimental one why he should see her. The uninhabited
part of the castle was almost an independent structure, and it
was quite natural to exist for weeks in this wing without
coming in contact with residents in the other.

A more pronounced cause than vague surmise was destined to
perturb him, and this in an unexpected manner. It happened
one morning that he glanced through a local paper while
waiting at the Lord-Quantock-Arms for the pony-carriage to be
brought round in which he often drove to the castle. The
paper was two days old, but to his unutterable amazement he
read therein a paragraph which ran as follows:--

'We are informed that a marriage is likely to be arranged
between Captain De Stancy, of the Royal Horse Artillery, only
surviving son of Sir William De Stancy, Baronet, and Paula,
only daughter of the late John Power, Esq., M.P., of Stancy
Castle.'

Somerset dropped the paper, and stared out of the window.
Fortunately for his emotions, the horse and carriage were at
this moment brought to the door, so that nothing hindered
Somerset in driving off to the spot at which he would be
soonest likely to learn what truth or otherwise there was in
the newspaper report. From the first he doubted it: and yet
how should it have got there? Such strange rumours, like
paradoxical maxims, generally include a portion of truth.
Five days had elapsed since he last spoke to Paula.

Reaching the castle he entered his own quarters as usual, and
after setting the draughtsmen to work walked up and down
pondering how he might best see her without making the
paragraph the ground of his request for an interview; for if
it were a fabrication, such a reason would wound her pride in
her own honour towards him, and if it were partly true, he
would certainly do better in leaving her alone than in
reproaching her. It would simply amount to a proof that Paula
was an arrant coquette.

In his meditation he stood still, closely scanning one of the
jamb-stones of a doorless entrance, as if to discover where
the old hinge-hook had entered the stonework. He heard a
footstep behind him, and looking round saw Paula standing by.
She held a newspaper in her hand. The spot was one quite
hemmed in from observation, a fact of which she seemed to be
quite aware.

'I have something to tell you,' she said; 'something
important. But you are so occupied with that old stone that I
am obliged to wait.'

'It is not true surely!' he said, looking at the paper.

'No, look here,' she said, holding up the sheet. It was not
what he had supposed, but a new one--the local rival to that
which had contained the announcement, and was still damp from
the press. She pointed, and he read--

'We are authorized to state that there is no foundation
whatever for the assertion of our contemporary that a marriage
is likely to be arranged between Captain De Stancy and Miss
Power of Stancy Castle.'

Somerset pressed her hand. 'It disturbed me,' he said,
'though I did not believe it.'

'It astonished me, as much as it disturbed you; and I sent
this contradiction at once.'

'How could it have got there?'

She shook her head.

'You have not the least knowledge?'

'Not the least. I wish I had.'

'It was not from any friends of De Stancy's? or himself?'

'It was not. His sister has ascertained beyond doubt that he
knew nothing of it. Well, now, don't say any more to me about
the matter.'

'I'll find out how it got into the paper.'

'Not now--any future time will do. I have something else to
tell you.'

'I hope the news is as good as the last,' he said, looking
into her face with anxiety; for though that face was blooming,
it seemed full of a doubt as to how her next information would
be taken.

'O yes; it is good, because everybody says so. We are going
to take a delightful journey. My new-created uncle, as he
seems, and I, and my aunt, and perhaps Charlotte, if she is
well enough, are going to Nice, and other places about there.'

'To Nice!' said Somerset, rather blankly. 'And I must stay
here?'

'Why, of course you must, considering what you have
undertaken!' she said, looking with saucy composure into his
eyes. 'My uncle's reason for proposing the journey just now
is, that he thinks the alterations will make residence here
dusty and disagreeable during the spring. The opportunity of
going with him is too good a one for us to lose, as I have
never been there.'

'I wish I was going to be one of the party! . . . What do YOU
wish about it?'

She shook her head impenetrably. 'A woman may wish some
things she does not care to tell!'

'Are you really glad you are going, dearest?--as I MUST call
you just once,' said the young man, gazing earnestly into her
face, which struck him as looking far too rosy and radiant to
be consistent with ever so little regret at leaving him
behind.

'I take great interest in foreign trips, especially to the
shores of the Mediterranean: and everybody makes a point of
getting away when the house is turned out of the window.'

'But you do feel a little sadness, such as I should feel if
our positions were reversed?'

'I think you ought not to have asked that so incredulously,'
she murmured. 'We can be near each other in spirit, when our
bodies are far apart, can we not?' Her tone grew softer and
she drew a little closer to his side with a slightly nestling
motion, as she went on, 'May I be sure that you will not think
unkindly of me when I am absent from your sight, and not
begrudge me any little pleasure because you are not there to
share it with me?'

'May you! Can you ask it? . . . As for me, I shall have no
pleasure to be begrudged or otherwise. The only pleasure I
have is, as you well know, in you. When you are with me, I am
happy: when you are away, I take no pleasure in anything.'

'I don't deserve it. I have no right to disturb you so,' she
said, very gently. 'But I have given you some pleasure, have
I not? A little more pleasure than pain, perhaps?'

'You have, and yet . . . . But I don't accuse you, dearest.
Yes, you have given me pleasure. One truly pleasant time was
when we stood together in the summer-house on the evening of
the garden-party, and you said you liked me to love you.'

'Yes, it was a pleasant time,' she returned thoughtfully.
'How the rain came down, and formed a gauze between us and the
dancers, did it not; and how afraid we were--at least I was--
lest anybody should discover us there, and how quickly I ran
in after the rain was over!'

'Yes', said Somerset, 'I remember it. But no harm came of it
to you . . . . And perhaps no good will come of it to me.'

'Do not be premature in your conclusions, sir,' she said
archly. 'If you really do feel for me only half what you say,
we shall--you will make good come of it--in some way or
other.'

'Dear Paula--now I believe you, and can bear anything.'

'Then we will say no more; because, as you recollect, we
agreed not to go too far. No expostulations, for we are going
to be practical young people; besides, I won't listen if you
utter them. I simply echo your words, and say I, too, believe
you. Now I must go. Have faith in me, and don't magnify
trifles light as air.'

'I THINK I understand you. And if I do, it will make a great
difference in my conduct. You will have no cause to
complain.'

'Then you must not understand me so much as to make much
difference; for your conduct as my architect is perfect. But
I must not linger longer, though I wished you to know this
news from my very own lips.'

'Bless you for it! When do you leave?'

'The day after to-morrow.'

'So early? Does your uncle guess anything? Do you wish him
to be told just yet?'

'Yes, to the first; no, to the second.'

'I may write to you?'

'On business, yes. It will be necessary.'

'How can you speak so at a time of parting?'

'Now, George--you see I say George, and not Mr. Somerset, and
you may draw your own inference--don't be so morbid in your
reproaches! I have informed you that you may write, or still
better, telegraph, since the wire is so handy--on business.
Well, of course, it is for you to judge whether you will add
postscripts of another sort. There, you make me say more than
a woman ought, because you are so obtuse and literal. Good
afternoon--good-bye! This will be my address.'

She handed him a slip of paper, and flitted away.

Though he saw her again after this, it was during the bustle
of preparation, when there was always a third person present,
usually in the shape of that breathing refrigerator, her
uncle. Hence the few words that passed between them were of
the most formal description, and chiefly concerned the
restoration of the castle, and a church at Nice designed by
him, which he wanted her to inspect.

They were to leave by an early afternoon train, and Somerset
was invited to lunch on that day. The morning was occupied by
a long business consultation in the studio with Mr. Power and
Mrs. Goodman on what rooms were to be left locked up, what
left in charge of the servants, and what thrown open to the
builders and workmen under the surveillance of Somerset. At
present the work consisted mostly of repairs to existing
rooms, so as to render those habitable which had long been
used only as stores for lumber. Paula did not appear during
this discussion; but when they were all seated in the dining-
hall she came in dressed for the journey, and, to outward
appearance, with blithe anticipation at its prospect blooming
from every feature. Next to her came Charlotte De Stancy,
still with some of the pallor of an invalid, but wonderfully
brightened up, as Somerset thought, by the prospect of a visit
to a delightful shore. It might have been this; and it might
have been that Somerset's presence had a share in the change.

It was in the hall, when they were in the bustle of leave-
taking, that there occurred the only opportunity for the two
or three private words with Paula to which his star treated
him on that last day. His took the hasty form of, 'You will
write soon?'

'Telegraphing will be quicker,' she answered in the same low
tone; and whispering 'Be true to me!' turned away.

How unreasonable he was! In addition to those words, warm as
they were, he would have preferred a little paleness of cheek,
or trembling of lip, instead of the bloom and the beauty which
sat upon her undisturbed maidenhood, to tell him that in some
slight way she suffered at his loss.

Immediately after this they went to the carriages waiting at
the door. Somerset, who had in a measure taken charge of the
castle, accompanied them and saw them off, much as if they
were his visitors. She stepped in, a general adieu was
spoken, and she was gone.

While the carriages rolled away, he ascended to the top of the
tower, where he saw them lessen to spots on the road, and turn
the corner out of sight. The chances of a rival seemed to
grow in proportion as Paula receded from his side; but he
could not have answered why. He had bidden her and her
relatives adieu on her own doorstep, like a privileged friend
of the family, while De Stancy had scarcely seen her since the
play-night. That the silence into which the captain appeared
to have sunk was the placidity of conscious power, was
scarcely probable; yet that adventitious aids existed for De
Stancy he could not deny. The link formed by Charlotte
between De Stancy and Paula, much as he liked the ingenuous
girl, was one that he could have wished away. It constituted
a bridge of access to Paula's inner life and feelings which
nothing could rival; except that one fact which, as he firmly
believed, did actually rival it, giving him faith and hope;
his own primary occupation of Paula's heart. Moreover, Mrs.
Goodman would be an influence favourable to himself and his
cause during the journey; though, to be sure, to set against
her there was the phlegmatic and obstinate Abner Power, in
whom, apprised by those subtle media of intelligence which
lovers possess, he fancied he saw no friend.

Somerset remained but a short time at the castle that day.
The light of its chambers had fled, the gross grandeur of the
dictatorial towers oppressed him, and the studio was hateful.
He remembered a promise made long ago to Mr. Woodwell of
calling upon him some afternoon; and a visit which had not
much attractiveness in it at other times recommended itself
now, through being the one possible way open to him of hearing
Paula named and her doings talked of. Hence in walking back
to Markton, instead of going up the High Street, he turned
aside into the unfrequented footway that led to the minister's
cottage.

Mr. Woodwell was not indoors at the moment of his call, and
Somerset lingered at the doorway, and cast his eyes around.
It was a house which typified the drearier tenets of its
occupier with great exactness. It stood upon its spot of
earth without any natural union with it: no mosses disguised
the stiff straight line where wall met earth; not a creeper
softened the aspect of the bare front. The garden walk was
strewn with loose clinkers from the neighbouring foundry,
which rolled under the pedestrian's foot and jolted his soul
out of him before he reached the porchless door. But all was
clean, and clear, and dry.

Whether Mr. Woodwell was personally responsible for this
condition of things there was not time to closely consider,
for Somerset perceived the minister coming up the walk towards
him. Mr. Woodwell welcomed him heartily; and yet with the
mien of a man whose mind has scarcely dismissed some scene
which has preceded the one that confronts him. What that
scene was soon transpired.

'I have had a busy afternoon,' said the minister, as they
walked indoors; 'or rather an exciting afternoon. Your client
at Stancy Castle, whose uncle, as I imagine you know, has so
unexpectedly returned, has left with him to-day for the south
of France; and I wished to ask her before her departure some
questions as to how a charity organized by her father was to
be administered in her absence. But I have been very
unfortunate. She could not find time to see me at her own
house, and I awaited her at the station, all to no purpose,
owing to the presence of her friends. Well, well, I must see
if a letter will find her.'

Somerset asked if anybody of the neighbourhood was there to
see them off.

'Yes, that was the trouble of it. Captain De Stancy was
there, and quite monopolized her. I don't know what 'tis
coming to, and perhaps I have no business to inquire, since
she is scarcely a member of our church now. Who could have
anticipated the daughter of my old friend John Power
developing into the ordinary gay woman of the world as she has
done? Who could have expected her to associate with people
who show contempt for their Maker's intentions by flippantly
assuming other characters than those in which He created
them?'

'You mistake her,' murmured Somerset, in a voice which he
vainly endeavoured to attune to philosophy. 'Miss Power has
some very rare and beautiful qualities in her nature, though I
confess I tremble--fear lest the De Stancy influence should be
too strong.'

'Sir, it is already! Do you remember my telling you that I
thought the force of her surroundings would obscure the pure
daylight of her spirit, as a monkish window of coloured images
attenuates the rays of God's sun? I do not wish to indulge in
rash surmises, but her oscillation from her family creed of
Calvinistic truth towards the traditions of the De Stancys has
been so decided, though so gradual, that--well, I may be
wrong.'

'That what?' said the young man sharply.

'I sometimes think she will take to her as husband the present
representative of that impoverished line--Captain De Stancy--
which she may easily do, if she chooses, as his behaviour to-
day showed.'

'He was probably there on account of his sister,' said
Somerset, trying to escape the mental picture of farewell
gallantries bestowed on Paula.

'It was hinted at in the papers the other day.'

'And it was flatly contradicted.'

'Yes. Well, we shall see in the Lord's good time; I can do no
more for her. And now, Mr. Somerset, pray take a cup of tea.'

The revelations of the minister depressed Somerset a little,
and he did not stay long. As he went to the door Woodwell
said, 'There is a worthy man--the deacon of our chapel, Mr.
Havill--who would like to be friendly with you. Poor man,
since the death of his wife he seems to have something on his
mind--some trouble which my words will not reach. If ever you
are passing his door, please give him a look in. He fears
that calling on you might be an intrusion.'

Somerset did not clearly promise, and went his way. The
minister's allusion to the announcement of the marriage
reminded Somerset that she had expressed a wish to know how
the paragraph came to be inserted. The wish had been
carelessly spoken; but he went to the newspaper office to make
inquiries on the point.

The reply was unexpected. The reporter informed his
questioner that in returning from the theatricals, at which he
was present, he shared a fly with a gentleman who assured him
that such an alliance was certain, so obviously did it
recommend itself to all concerned, as a means of strengthening
both families. The gentleman's knowledge of the Powers was so
precise that the reporter did not hesitate to accept his
assertion. He was a man who had seen a great deal of the
world, and his face was noticeable for the seams and scars on
it.

Somerset recognized Paula's uncle in the portrait.

Hostilities, then, were beginning. The paragraph had been
meant as the first slap. Taking her abroad was the second.

BOOK THE FOURTH. SOMERSET, DARE AND DE STANCY.

I.

There was no part of Paula's journey in which Somerset did not
think of her. He imagined her in the hotel at Havre, in her
brief rest at Paris; her drive past the Place de la Bastille
to the Boulevart Mazas to take the train for Lyons; her
tedious progress through the dark of a winter night till she
crossed the isothermal line which told of the beginning of a
southern atmosphere, and onwards to the ancient blue sea.

Thus, between the hours devoted to architecture, he passed the
next three days. One morning he set himself, by the help of
John, to practise on the telegraph instrument, expecting a
message. But though he watched the machine at every
opportunity, or kept some other person on the alert in its
neighbourhood, no message arrived to gratify him till after
the lapse of nearly a fortnight. Then she spoke from her new
habitation nine hundred miles away, in these meagre words:--

'Are settled at the address given. Can now attend to any
inquiry about the building.'

The pointed implication that she could attend to inquiries
about nothing else, breathed of the veritable Paula so
distinctly that he could forgive its sauciness. His reply was
soon despatched:--

'Will write particulars of our progress. Always the same.'

The last three words formed the sentimental appendage which
she had assured him she could tolerate, and which he hoped she
might desire.

He spent the remainder of the day in making a little sketch to
show what had been done in the castle since her departure.
This he despatched with a letter of explanation ending in a
paragraph of a different tenor:--

'I have demonstrated our progress as well as I could; but
another subject has been in my mind, even whilst writing the
former. Ask yourself if you use me well in keeping me a
fortnight before you so much as say that you have arrived?
The one thing that reconciled me to your departure was the
thought that I should hear early from you: my idea of being
able to submit to your absence was based entirely upon that.

'But I have resolved not to be out of humour, and to believe
that your scheme of reserve is not unreasonable; neither do I
quarrel with your injunction to keep silence to all relatives.
I do not know anything I can say to show you more plainly my
acquiescence in your wish "not to go too far" (in short, to
keep yourself dear--by dear I mean not cheap--you have been
dear in the other sense a long time, as you know), than by not
urging you to go a single degree further in warmth than you
please.'

When this was posted he again turned his attention to her
walls and towers, which indeed were a dumb consolation in many
ways for the lack of herself. There was no nook in the castle
to which he had not access or could not easily obtain access
by applying for the keys, and this propinquity of things
belonging to her served to keep her image before him even more
constantly than his memories would have done.

Three days and a half after the despatch of his subdued
effusion the telegraph called to tell him the good news that

'Your letter and drawing are just received. Thanks for the
latter. Will reply to the former by post this afternoon.'

It was with cheerful patience that he attended to his three
draughtsmen in the studio, or walked about the environs of the
fortress during the fifty hours spent by her presumably tender
missive on the road. A light fleece of snow fell during the
second night of waiting, inverting the position of long-
established lights and shades, and lowering to a dingy grey
the approximately white walls of other weathers; he could
trace the postman's footmarks as he entered over the bridge,
knowing them by the dot of his walking-stick: on entering the
expected letter was waiting upon his table. He looked at its
direction with glad curiosity; it was the first letter he had
ever received from her.

'HOTEL ---, NICE,
Feb. 14.

'MY DEAR MR. SOMERSET' (the 'George,' then, to which she had
so kindly treated him in her last conversation, was not to be
continued in black and white),--

'Your letter explaining the progress of the work, aided by the
sketch enclosed, gave me as clear an idea of the advance made
since my departure as I could have gained by being present. I
feel every confidence in you, and am quite sure the
restoration is in good hands. In this opinion both my aunt
and my uncle coincide. Please act entirely on your own
judgment in everything, and as soon as you give a certificate
to the builders for the first instalment of their money it
will be promptly sent by my solicitors.

'You bid me ask myself if I have used you well in not sending
intelligence of myself till a fortnight after I had left you.
Now, George, don't be unreasonable! Let me remind you that,
as a certain apostle said, there are a thousand things lawful
which are not expedient. I say this, not from pride in my own
conduct, but to offer you a very fair explanation of it. Your
resolve not to be out of humour with me suggests that you have
been sorely tempted that way, else why should such a resolve
have been necessary?

'If you only knew what passes in my mind sometimes you would
perhaps not be so ready to blame. Shall I tell you? No.
For, if it is a great emotion, it may afford you a cruel
satisfaction at finding I suffer through separation; and if it
be a growing indifference to you, it will be inflicting
gratuitous unhappiness upon you to say so, if you care for me;
as I SOMETIMES think you may do A LITTLE.'

('O, Paula!' said Somerset.)

'Please which way would you have it? But it is better that
you should guess at what I feel than that you should
distinctly know it. Notwithstanding this assertion you will,
I know, adhere to your first prepossession in favour of prompt
confessions. In spite of that, I fear that upon trial such
promptness would not produce that happiness which your fancy
leads you to expect. Your heart would weary in time, and when
once that happens, good-bye to the emotion you have told me
of. Imagine such a case clearly, and you will perceive the
probability of what I say. At the same time I admit that a
woman who is ONLY a creature of evasions and disguises is very
disagreeable.

'Do not write VERY frequently, and never write at all unless
you have some real information about the castle works to
communicate. I will explain to you on another occasion why I
make this request. You will possibly set it down as
additional evidence of my cold-heartedness. If so you must.
Would you also mind writing the business letter on an
independent sheet, with a proper beginning and ending?
Whether you inclose another sheet is of course optional.--
Sincerely yours, PAULA POWER.'

Somerset had a suspicion that her order to him not to neglect
the business letter was to escape any invidious remarks from
her uncle. He wished she would be more explicit, so that he
might know exactly how matters stood with them, and whether
Abner Power had ever ventured to express disapproval of him as
her lover.

But not knowing, he waited anxiously for a new architectural
event on which he might legitimately send her another line.
This occurred about a week later, when the men engaged in
digging foundations discovered remains of old ones which
warranted a modification of the original plan. He accordingly
sent off his professional advice on the point, requesting her
assent or otherwise to the amendment, winding up the inquiry
with 'Yours faithfully.' On another sheet he wrote:-

'Do you suffer from any unpleasantness in the manner of others
on account of me? If so, inform me, Paula. I cannot
otherwise interpret your request for the separate sheets.
While on this point I will tell you what I have learnt
relative to the authorship of that false paragraph about your
engagement. It was communicated to the paper by your uncle.
Was the wish father to the thought, or could he have been
misled, as many were, by appearances at the theatricals?

'If I am not to write to you without a professional reason,
surely you can write to me without such an excuse? When you
write tell me of yourself. There is nothing I so much wish to
hear of. Write a great deal about your daily doings, for my
mind's eye keeps those sweet operations more distinctly before
me than my bodily sight does my own.

'You say nothing of having been to look at the chapel-of-ease
I told you of, the plans of which I made when an architect's
pupil, working in metres instead of feet and inches, to my
immense perplexity, that the drawings might be understood by
the foreign workmen. Go there and tell me what you think of
its design. I can assure you that every curve thereof is my
own.

'How I wish you would invite me to run over and see you, if
only for a day or two, for my heart runs after you in a most
distracted manner. Dearest, you entirely fill my life! But I
forget; we have resolved not to go VERY FAR. But the fact is
I am half afraid lest, with such reticence, you should not
remember how very much I am yours, and with what a dogged
constancy I shall always remember you. Paula, sometimes I
have horrible misgivings that something will divide us,
especially if we do not make a more distinct show of our true
relationship. True do I say? I mean the relationship which I
think exists between us, but which you do not affirm too
clearly.--Yours always.'

Away southward like the swallow went the tender lines. He
wondered if she would notice his hint of being ready to pay
her a flying visit, if permitted to do so. His fancy dwelt on
that further side of France, the very contours of whose shore
were now lines of beauty for him. He prowled in the library,
and found interest in the mustiest facts relating to that
place, learning with aesthetic pleasure that the number of its
population was fifty thousand, that the mean temperature of
its atmosphere was 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and that the
peculiarities of a mistral were far from agreeable.

He waited overlong for her reply; but it ultimately came.
After the usual business preliminary, she said:--

'As requested, I have visited the little church you designed.
It gave me great pleasure to stand before a building whose
outline and details had come from the brain of such a valued
friend and adviser.'

('Valued friend and adviser,' repeated Somerset critically.)

'I like the style much, especially that of the windows--Early
English are they not? I am going to attend service there next
Sunday, BECAUSE YOU WERE THE ARCHITECT, AND FOR NO GODLY
REASON AT ALL. Does that content you? Fie for your
despondency! Remember M. Aurelius: "This is the chief thing:
Be not perturbed; for all things are of the nature of the
Universal." Indeed I am a little surprised at your having
forebodings, after my assurance to you before I left. I have
none. My opinion is that, to be happy, it is best to think
that, as we are the product of events, events will continue to
produce that which is in harmony with us. . . . You are too
faint-hearted, and that's the truth of it. I advise you not
to abandon yourself to idolatry too readily; you know what I
mean. It fills me with remorse when I think how very far
below such a position my actual worth removes me.

'I should like to receive another letter from you as soon as
you have got over the misgiving you speak of, but don't write
too soon. I wish I could write anything to raise your
spirits, but you may be so perverse that if, in order to do
this, I tell you of the races, routs, scenery, gaieties, and
gambling going on in this place and neighbourhood (into which
of course I cannot help being a little drawn), you may declare
that my words make you worse than ever. Don't pass the line I
have set down in the way you were tempted to do in your last;
and not too many Dearests--at least as yet. This is not a
time for effusion. You have my very warm affection, and
that's enough for the present.'

As a love-letter this missive was tantalizing enough, but
since its form was simply a continuation of what she had
practised before she left, it produced no undue misgiving in
him. Far more was he impressed by her omitting to answer the
two important questions he had put to her. First, concerning
her uncle's attitude towards them, and his conduct in giving
such strange information to the reporter. Second, on his,
Somerset's, paying her a flying visit some time during the
spring. Since she had requested it, he made no haste in his
reply. When penned, it ran in the words subjoined, which, in
common with every line of their correspondence, acquired from
the strangeness of subsequent circumstances an interest and a
force that perhaps they did not intrinsically possess.

'People cannot' (he wrote) 'be for ever in good spirits on
this gloomy side of the Channel, even though you seem to be so
on yours. However, that I can abstain from letting you know
whether my spirits are good or otherwise, I will prove in our
future correspondence. I admire you more and more, both for
the warm feeling towards me which I firmly believe you have,
and for your ability to maintain side by side with it so much
dignity and resolution with regard to foolish sentiment.
Sometimes I think I could have put up with a little more
weakness if it had brought with it a little more tenderness,
but I dismiss all that when I mentally survey your other
qualities. I have thought of fifty things to say to you of
the TOO FAR sort, not one of any other; so that your
prohibition is very unfortunate, for by it I am doomed to say
things that do not rise spontaneously to my lips. You say
that our shut-up feelings are not to be mentioned yet. How
long is the yet to last?

'But, to speak more solemnly, matters grow very serious with
us, Paula--at least with me: and there are times when this
restraint is really unbearable. It is possible to put up with
reserve when the reserved being is by one's side, for the eyes
may reveal what the lips do not. But when she is absent, what
was piquancy becomes harshness, tender railleries become cruel
sarcasm, and tacit understandings misunderstandings. However
that may be, you shall never be able to reproach me for
touchiness. I still esteem you as a friend; I admire you and
love you as a woman. This I shall always do, however
unconfiding you prove.'

II.

Without knowing it, Somerset was drawing near to a crisis in
this soft correspondence which would speedily put his
assertions to the test; but the knowledge came upon him soon
enough for his peace.

Her next letter, dated March 9th, was the shortest of all he
had received, and beyond the portion devoted to the building-
works it contained only the following sentences:--

'I am almost angry with you, George, for being vexed because I
am not more effusive. Why should the verbal I LOVE YOU be
ever uttered between two beings of opposite sex who have eyes
to see signs? During the seven or eight months that we have
known each other, you have discovered my regard for you, and
what more can you desire? Would a reiterated assertion of
passion really do any good? Remember it is a natural instinct
with us women to retain the power of obliging a man to hope,
fear, pray, and beseech as long as we think fit, before we
confess to a reciprocal affection.

'I am now going to own to a weakness about which I had
intended to keep silent. It will not perhaps add to your
respect for me. My uncle, whom in many ways I like, is
displeased with me for keeping up this correspondence so
regularly. I am quite perverse enough to venture to disregard
his feelings; but considering the relationship, and his
kindness in other respects, I should prefer not to do so at
present. Honestly speaking, I want the courage to resist him
in some things. He said to me the other day that he was very
much surprised that I did not depend upon his judgment for my
future happiness. Whether that meant much or little, I have
resolved to communicate with you only by telegrams for the
remainder of the time we are here. Please reply by the same
means only. There, now, don't flush and call me names! It is
for the best, and we want no nonsense, you and I. Dear
George, I feel more than I say, and if I do not speak more
plainly, you will understand what is behind after all I have
hinted. I can promise you that you will not like me less upon
knowing me better. Hope ever. I would give up a good deal
for you. Good-bye!'

This brought Somerset some cheerfulness and a good deal of
gloom. He silently reproached her, who was apparently so
independent, for lacking independence in such a vital matter.
Perhaps it was mere sex, perhaps it was peculiar to a few,
that her independence and courage, like Cleopatra's, failed
her occasionally at the last moment.

One curious impression which had often haunted him now
returned with redoubled force. He could not see himself as
the husband of Paula Power in any likely future. He could not
imagine her his wife. People were apt to run into mistakes in
their presentiments; but though he could picture her as
queening it over him, as avowing her love for him
unreservedly, even as compromising herself for him, he could
not see her in a state of domesticity with him.

Telegrams being commanded, to the telegraph he repaired, when,
after two days, an immediate wish to communicate with her led
him to dismiss vague conjecture on the future situation. His
first telegram took the following form:--

'I give up the letter writing. I will part with anything to
please you but yourself. Your comfort with your relative is
the first thing to be considered: not for the world do I wish
you to make divisions within doors. Yours.'

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday passed, and on Saturday a
telegram came in reply:--

'I can fear, grieve at, and complain of nothing, having your
nice promise to consider my comfort always.'

This was very pretty; but it admitted little. Such short
messages were in themselves poor substitutes for letters, but
their speed and easy frequency were good qualities which the
letters did not possess. Three days later he replied:--

'You do not once say to me "Come." Would such a strange
accident as my arrival disturb you much?'

She replied rather quickly:--

'I am indisposed to answer you too clearly. Keep your heart
strong: 'tis a censorious world.'

The vagueness there shown made Somerset peremptory, and he
could not help replying somewhat more impetuously than usual:-
-

'Why do you give me so much cause for anxiety! Why treat me
to so much mystification! Say once, distinctly, that what I
have asked is given.'

He awaited for the answer, one day, two days, a week; but none
came. It was now the end of March, and when Somerset walked
of an afternoon by the river and pool in the lower part of the
grounds, his ear newly greeted by the small voices of frogs
and toads and other creatures who had been torpid through the
winter, he became doubtful and uneasy that she alone should be
silent in the awakening year.

He waited through a second week, and there was still no reply.
It was possible that the urgency of his request had tempted
her to punish him, and he continued his walks, to, fro, and
around, with as close an ear to the undertones of nature, and
as attentive an eye to the charms of his own art, as the grand
passion would allow. Now came the days of battle between
winter and spring. On these excursions, though spring was to
the forward during the daylight, winter would reassert itself
at night, and not unfrequently at other moments. Tepid airs
and nipping breezes met on the confines of sunshine and shade;
trembling raindrops that were still akin to frost crystals
dashed themselves from the bushes as he pursued his way from
town to castle; the birds were like an orchestra waiting for
the signal to strike up, and colour began to enter into the
country round.

But he gave only a modicum of thought to these proceedings.
He rather thought such things as, 'She can afford to be saucy,
and to find a source of blitheness in my love, considering the
power that wealth gives her to pick and choose almost where
she will.' He was bound to own, however, that one of the
charms of her conversation was the complete absence of the
note of the heiress from its accents. That, other things
equal, her interest would naturally incline to a person
bearing the name of De Stancy, was evident from her avowed
predilections. His original assumption, that she was a
personification of the modern spirit, who had been dropped,
like a seed from the bill of a bird, into a chink of
mediaevalism, required some qualification. Romanticism, which
will exist in every human breast as long as human nature
itself exists, had asserted itself in her. Veneration for
things old, not because of any merit in them, but because of
their long continuance, had developed in her; and her modern
spirit was taking to itself wings and flying away. Whether
his image was flying with the other was a question which moved
him all the more deeply now that her silence gave him dread of
an affirmative answer.

For another seven days he stoically left in suspension all
forecasts of his possibly grim fate in being the employed and
not the beloved. The week passed: he telegraphed: there was
no reply: he had sudden fears for her personal safety and
resolved to break her command by writing.

'STANCY CASTLE, April
13.

'DEAR PAULA,--Are you ill or in trouble? It is impossible in
the very unquiet state you have put me into by your silence
that I should abstain from writing. Without affectation, you
sorely distress me, and I think you would hardly have done it
could you know what a degree of anxiety you cause. Why,
Paula, do you not write or send to me? What have I done that
you should treat me like this? Do write, if it is only to
reproach me. I am compelled to pass the greater part of the
day in this castle, which reminds me constantly of you, and
yet eternally lacks your presence. I am unfortunate indeed
that you have not been able to find half-an-hour during the
last month to tell me at least that you are alive.

'You have always been ambiguous, it is true; but I thought I
saw encouragement in your eyes; encouragement certainly was in
your eyes, and who would not have been deluded by them and
have believed them sincere? Yet what tenderness can there be
in a heart that can cause me pain so wilfully!

'There may, of course, be some deliberate scheming on the part
of your relations to intercept our letters; but I cannot think
it. I know that the housekeeper has received a letter from
your aunt this very week, in which she incidentally mentions
that all are well, and in the same place as before. How then
can I excuse you?

'Then write, Paula, or at least telegraph, as you proposed.
Otherwise I am resolved to take your silence as a signal to
treat your fair words as wind, and to write to you no more.'

III.

He despatched the letter, and half-an-hour afterwards felt
sure that it would mortally offend her. But he had now
reached a state of temporary indifference, and could
contemplate the loss of such a tantalizing property with
reasonable calm.

In the interim of waiting for a reply he was one day walking
to Markton, when, passing Myrtle Villa, he saw Sir William De
Stancy ambling about his garden-path and examining the
crocuses that palisaded its edge. Sir William saw him and
asked him to come in. Somerset was in the mood for any
diversion from his own affairs, and they seated themselves by
the drawing-room fire.

'I am much alone now,' said Sir William, 'and if the weather
were not very mild, so that I can get out into the garden
every day, I should feel it a great deal.'

'You allude to your daughter's absence?'

'And my son's. Strange to say, I do not miss her so much as I
miss him. She offers to return at any moment; but I do not
wish to deprive her of the advantages of a little foreign
travel with her friend. Always, Mr. Somerset, give your spare
time to foreign countries, especially those which contrast
with your own in topography, language, and art. That's my
advice to all young people of your age. Don't waste your
money on expensive amusements at home. Practise the strictest
economy at home, to have a margin for going abroad.'

Economy, which Sir William had never practised, but to which,
after exhausting all other practices, he now raised an altar,
as the Athenians did to the unknown God, was a topic likely to
prolong itself on the baronet's lips, and Somerset contrived
to interrupt him by asking--

'Captain De Stancy, too, has gone? Has the artillery, then,
left the barracks?'

'No,' said Sir William. 'But my son has made use of his leave
in running over to see his sister at Nice.'

The current of quiet meditation in Somerset changed to a busy
whirl at this reply. That Paula should become indifferent to
his existence from a sense of superiority, physical,
spiritual, or social, was a sufficiently ironical thing; but
that she should have relinquished him because of the presence
of a rival lent commonplace dreariness to her cruelty.

Sir William, noting nothing, continued in the tone of clever
childishness which characterized him: 'It is very singular
how the present situation has been led up to by me. Policy,
and policy alone, has been the rule of my conduct for many
years past; and when I say that I have saved my family by it,
I believe time will show that I am within the truth. I hope
you don't let your passions outrun your policy, as so many
young men are apt to do. Better be poor and politic, than
rich and headstrong: that's the opinion of an old man.
However, I was going to say that it was purely from policy
that I allowed a friendship to develop between my daughter and
Miss Power, and now events are proving the wisdom of my
course. Straws show how the wind blows, and there are little
signs that my son Captain De Stancy will return to Stancy
Castle by the fortunate step of marrying its owner. I say
nothing to either of them, and they say nothing to me; but my
wisdom lies in doing nothing to hinder such a consummation,
despite inherited prejudices.'

Somerset had quite time enough to rein himself in during the
old gentleman's locution, and the voice in which he answered
was so cold and reckless that it did not seem his own: 'But
how will they live happily together when she is a Dissenter,
and a Radical, and a New-light, and a Neo-Greek, and a person
of red blood; while Captain De Stancy is the reverse of them
all!'

'I anticipate no difficulty on that score,' said the baronet.
'My son's star lies in that direction, and, like the Magi, he
is following it without trifling with his opportunity. You
have skill in architecture, therefore you follow it. My son
has skill in gallantry, and now he is about to exercise it
profitably.'

'May nobody wish him more harm in that exercise than I do!'
said Somerset fervently.

A stagnant moodiness of several hours which followed his visit
to Myrtle Villa resulted in a resolve to journey over to Paula
the very next day. He now felt perfectly convinced that the
inviting of Captain De Stancy to visit them at Nice was a
second stage in the scheme of Paula's uncle, the premature
announcement of her marriage having been the first. The
roundness and neatness of the whole plan could not fail to
recommend it to the mind which delighted in putting involved
things straight, and such a mind Abner Power's seemed to be.
In fact, the felicity, in a politic sense, of pairing the
captain with the heiress furnished no little excuse for
manoeuvring to bring it about, so long as that manoeuvring
fell short of unfairness, which Mr. Power's could scarcely be
said to do.

The next day was spent in furnishing the builders with such
instructions as they might require for a coming week or ten
days, and in dropping a short note to Paula; ending as
follows:--

'I am coming to see you. Possibly you will refuse me an
interview. Never mind, I am coming--Yours, G.
SOMERSET.'

The morning after that he was up and away. Between him and
Paula stretched nine hundred miles by the line of journey that
he found it necessary to adopt, namely, the way of London, in
order to inform his father of his movements and to make one or
two business calls. The afternoon was passed in attending to
these matters, the night in speeding onward, and by the time
that nine o'clock sounded next morning through the sunless and
leaden air of the English Channel coasts, he had reduced the
number of miles on his list by two hundred, and cut off the
sea from the impediments between him and Paula.

On awakening from a fitful sleep in the grey dawn of the
morning following he looked out upon Lyons, quiet enough now,
the citizens unaroused to the daily round of bread-winning,
and enveloped in a haze of fog.

Six hundred and fifty miles of his journey had been got over;
there still intervened two hundred and fifty between him and
the end of suspense. When he thought of that he was
disinclined to pause; and pressed on by the same train, which
set him down at Marseilles at mid-day.

Here he considered. By going on to Nice that afternoon he
would arrive at too late an hour to call upon her the same
evening: it would therefore be advisable to sleep in
Marseilles and proceed the next morning to his journey's end,
so as to meet her in a brighter condition than he could boast
of to-day. This he accordingly did, and leaving Marseilles
the next morning about eight, found himself at Nice early in
the afternoon.

Now that he was actually at the centre of his gravitation he
seemed even further away from a feasible meeting with her than
in England. While afar off, his presence at Nice had appeared
to be the one thing needful for the solution of his trouble,
but the very house fronts seemed now to ask him what right he
had there. Unluckily, in writing from England, he had not
allowed her time to reply before his departure, so that he did
not know what difficulties might lie in the way of her seeing
him privately. Before deciding what to do, he walked down the
Avenue de la Gare to the promenade between the shore and the
Jardin Public, and sat down to think.

The hotel which she had given him as her address looked right
out upon him and the sea beyond, and he rested there with the
pleasing hope that her eyes might glance from a window and
discover his form. Everything in the scene was sunny and gay.
Behind him in the gardens a band was playing; before him was
the sea, the Great sea, the historical and original
Mediterranean; the sea of innumerable characters in history
and legend that arranged themselves before him in a long
frieze of memories so diverse as to include both AEneas and
St. Paul.

Northern eyes are not prepared on a sudden for the impact of
such images of warmth and colour as meet them southward, or
for the vigorous light that falls from the sky of this
favoured shore. In any other circumstances the transparency
and serenity of the air, the perfume of the sea, the radiant
houses, the palms and flowers, would have acted upon Somerset
as an enchantment, and wrapped him in a reverie; but at
present he only saw and felt these things as through a thick
glass which kept out half their atmosphere.

At last he made up his mind. He would take up his quarters at
her hotel, and catch echoes of her and her people, to learn
somehow if their attitude towards him as a lover were actually
hostile, before formally encountering them. Under this
crystalline light, full of gaieties, sentiment, languor,
seductiveness, and ready-made romance, the memory of a
solitary unimportant man in the lugubrious North might have
faded from her mind. He was only her hired designer. He was
an artist; but he had been engaged by her, and was not a
volunteer; and she did not as yet know that he meant to accept
no return for his labours but the pleasure of presenting them
to her as a love-offering.

So off he went at once towards the imposing building whither
his letters had preceded him. Owing to a press of visitors
there was a moment's delay before he could be attended to at
the bureau, and he turned to the large staircase that
confronted him, momentarily hoping that her figure might
descend. Her skirts must indeed have brushed the carpeting of
those steps scores of times. He engaged his room, ordered his
luggage to be sent for, and finally inquired for the party he
sought.

'They left Nice yesterday, monsieur,' replied madame.

Was she quite sure, Somerset asked her?

Yes, she was quite sure. Two of the hotel carriages had
driven them to the station.

Did she know where they had gone to?

This and other inquiries resulted in the information that they
had gone to the hotel at Monte Carlo; that how long they were
going to stay there, and whether they were coming back again,
was not known. His final question whether Miss Power had
received a letter from England which must have arrived the day
previous was answered in the affirmative.

Somerset's first and sudden resolve was to follow on after
them to the hotel named; but he finally decided to make his
immediate visit to Monte Carlo only a cautious reconnoitre,
returning to Nice to sleep.

Accordingly, after an early dinner, he again set forth through
the broad Avenue de la Gare, and an hour on the coast railway
brought him to the beautiful and sinister little spot to which
the Power and De Stancy party had strayed in common with the
rest of the frivolous throng.

He assumed that their visit thither would be chiefly one of
curiosity, and therefore not prolonged. This proved to be the
case in even greater measure than he had anticipated. On
inquiry at the hotel he learnt that they had stayed only one
night, leaving a short time before his arrival, though it was
believed that some of the party were still in the town.

In a state of indecision Somerset strolled into the gardens of
the Casino, and looked out upon the sea. There it still lay,
calm yet lively; of an unmixed blue, yet variegated; hushed,
but articulate even to melodiousness. Everything about and
around this coast appeared indeed jaunty, tuneful, and at
ease, reciprocating with heartiness the rays of the splendid
sun; everything, except himself. The palms and flowers on the
terraces before him were undisturbed by a single cold breath.
The marble work of parapets and steps was unsplintered by
frosts. The whole was like a conservatory with the sky for
its dome.

For want of other occupation he went round towards the public
entrance to the Casino, and ascended the great staircase into
the pillared hall. It was possible, after all, that upon
leaving the hotel and sending on their luggage they had taken
another turn through the rooms, to follow by a later train.
With more than curiosity he scanned first the reading-rooms,
only however to see not a face that he knew. He then crossed
the vestibule to the gaming-tables.

IV.

Here he was confronted by a heated phantasmagoria of splendour
and a high pressure of suspense that seemed to make the air
quiver. A low whisper of conversation prevailed, which might
probably have been not wrongly defined as the lowest note of
social harmony.

The people gathered at this negative pole of industry had come
from all civilized countries; their tongues were familiar with
many forms of utterance, that of each racial group or type
being unintelligible in its subtler variations, if not
entirely, to the rest. But the language of meum and tuum they
collectively comprehended without translation. In a half-
charmed spell-bound state they had congregated in knots,
standing, or sitting in hollow circles round the notorious
oval tables marked with figures and lines. The eyes of all
these sets of people were watching the Roulette. Somerset
went from table to table, looking among the loungers rather
than among the regular players, for faces, or at least for one
face, which did not meet his gaze.

The suggestive charm which the centuries-old impersonality
Gaming, rather than games and gamesters, had for Somerset, led
him to loiter on even when his hope of meeting any of the
Power and De Stancy party had vanished. As a non-participant
in its profits and losses, fevers and frenzies, it had that
stage effect upon his imagination which is usually exercised
over those who behold Chance presented to them with
spectacular piquancy without advancing far enough in its
acquaintance to suffer from its ghastly reprisals and impish
tricks. He beheld a hundred diametrically opposed wishes
issuing from the murky intelligences around a table, and
spreading down across each other upon the figured diagram in
their midst, each to its own number. It was a network of
hopes; which at the announcement, 'Sept, Rouge, Impair, et
Manque,' disappeared like magic gossamer, to be replaced in a
moment by new. That all the people there, including himself,
could be interested in what to the eye of perfect reason was a
somewhat monotonous thing--the property of numbers to recur at
certain longer or shorter intervals in a machine containing
them--in other words, the blind groping after fractions of a
result the whole of which was well known--was one testimony
among many of the powerlessness of logic when confronted with
imagination.

At this juncture our lounger discerned at one of the tables
about the last person in the world he could have wished to
encounter there. It was Dare, whom he had supposed to be a
thousand miles off, hanging about the purlieus of Markton.

Dare was seated beside a table in an attitude of application
which seemed to imply that he had come early and engaged in
this pursuit in a systematic manner. Somerset had never
witnessed Dare and De Stancy together, neither had he heard of
any engagement of Dare by the travelling party as artist,
courier, or otherwise; and yet it crossed his mind that Dare
might have had something to do with them, or at least have
seen them. This possibility was enough to overmaster
Somerset's reluctance to speak to the young man, and he did so
as soon as an opportunity occurred.

Dare's face was as rigid and dry as if it had been encrusted
with plaster, and he was like one turned into a computing
machine which no longer had the power of feeling. He
recognized Somerset as indifferently as if he had met him in
the ward of Stancy Castle, and replying to his remarks by a
word or two, concentrated on the game anew.

'Are you here alone?' said Somerset presently.

'Quite alone.' There was a silence, till Dare added, 'But I
have seen some friends of yours.' He again became absorbed in
the events of the table. Somerset retreated a few steps, and
pondered the question whether Dare could know where they had
gone. He disliked to be beholden to Dare for information, but
he would give a great deal to know. While pausing he watched
Dare's play. He staked only five-franc pieces, but it was
done with an assiduity worthy of larger coin. At every half-
minute or so he placed his money on a certain spot, and as
regularly had the mortification of seeing it swept away by the
croupier's rake. After a while he varied his procedure. He
risked his money, which from the look of his face seemed
rather to have dwindled than increased, less recklessly
against long odds than before. Leaving off backing numbers en
plein, he laid his venture a cheval; then tried it upon the
dozens; then upon two numbers; then upon a square; and,
apparently getting nearer and nearer defeat, at last upon the
simple chances of even or odd, over or under, red or black.
Yet with a few fluctuations in his favour fortune bore
steadily against him, till he could breast her blows no
longer. He rose from the table and came towards Somerset, and
they both moved on together into the entrance-hall.

Dare was at that moment the victim of an overpowering mania
for more money. His presence in the South of Europe had its
origin, as may be guessed, in Captain De Stancy's journey in
the same direction, whom he had followed, and troubled with
persistent request for more funds, carefully keeping out of
sight of Paula and the rest. His dream of involving Paula in
the De Stancy pedigree knew no abatement. But Somerset had
lighted upon him at an instant when that idea, though not
displaced, was overwhelmed by a rage for play. In hope of
being able to continue it by Somerset's aid he was prepared to
do almost anything to please the architect.

'You asked me,' said Dare, stroking his impassive brow, 'if I
had seen anything of the Powers. I have seen them; and if I
can be of any use to you in giving information about them I
shall only be too glad.'

'What information can you give?'

'I can tell you where they are gone to.'

'Where?'

'To the Grand Hotel, Genoa. They went on there this
afternoon.'

'Whom do you refer to by they?'

'Mrs. Goodman, Mr. Power, Miss Power, Miss De Stancy, and the
worthy captain. He leaves them tomorrow: he comes back here
for a day on his way to England.'

Somerset was silent. Dare continued: 'Now I have done you a
favour, will you do me one in return?'

Somerset looked towards the gaming-rooms, and said dubiously,
'Well?'

'Lend me two hundred francs.'

'Yes,' said Somerset; 'but on one condition: that I don't
give them to you till you are inside the hotel you are staying
at.'

'That can't be; it's at Nice.'

'Well I am going back to Nice, and I'll lend you the money the
instant we get there.'

'But I want it here, now, instantly!' cried Dare; and for the
first time there was a wiry unreasonableness in his voice that
fortified his companion more firmly than ever in his
determination to lend the young man no money whilst he
remained inside that building.

'You want it to throw it away. I don't approve of it; so come
with me.'

'But,' said Dare, 'I arrived here with a hundred napoleons and
more, expressly to work out my theory of chances and
recurrences, which is sound; I have studied it hundreds of
times by the help of this.' He partially drew from his pocket
the little volume that we have before seen in his hands. 'If
I only persevere in my system, the certainty that I must win
is almost mathematical. I have staked and lost two hundred
and thirty-three times. Allowing out of that one chance in
every thirty-six, which is the average of zero being marked,
and two hundred and four times for the backers of the other
numbers, I have the mathematical expectation of six times at
least, which would nearly recoup me. And shall I, then,
sacrifice that vast foundation of waste chances that I have
laid down, and paid for, merely for want of a little ready
money?'

'You might persevere for a twelvemonth, and still not get the
better of your reverses. Time tells in favour of the bank.
Just imagine for the sake of argument that all the people who
have ever placed a stake upon a certain number to be one
person playing continuously. Has that imaginary person won?
The existence of the bank is a sufficient answer.'

'But a particular player has the option of leaving off at any
point favourable to himself, which the bank has not; and
there's my opportunity.'

'Which from your mood you will be sure not to take advantage
of.'

'I shall go on playing,' said Dare doggedly.

'Not with my money.'

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