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A Laodicean by Thomas Hardy

Part 8 out of 10

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a parting hint concerning Paula. Whereupon De Stancy went on
alone. He soon saw Paula above him in the path, which
ascended skyward straight as Jacob's Ladder, but was so
overhung by the brushwood as to be quite shut out from the
sun. When he reached her side she was moving easily upward,
apparently enjoying the seclusion which the place afforded.

'Is not my uncle with you?' she said, on turning and seeing
him.

'He went back,' said De Stancy.

She replied that it was of no consequence; that she should
meet him at the top, she supposed.

Paula looked up amid the green light which filtered through
the leafage as far as her eyes could stretch. But the top did
not appear, and she allowed De Stancy to get in front. 'It
did not seem such a long way as this, to look at,' she
presently said.

He explained that the trees had deceived her as to the real
height, by reason of her seeing the slope foreshortened when
she looked up from the castle. 'Allow me to help you,' he
added.

'No, thank you,' said Paula lightly; 'we must be near the
top.'

They went on again; but no Konigsstuhl. When next De Stancy
turned he found that she was sitting down; immediately going
back he offered his arm. She took it in silence, declaring
that it was no wonder her uncle did not come that wearisome
way, if he had ever been there before.

De Stancy did not explain that Mr. Power had said to him at
parting, 'There's a chance for you, if you want one,' but at
once went on with the subject begun on the terrace. 'If my
behaviour is good, you will reaffirm the statement made at
Carlsruhe?'

'It is not fair to begin that now!' expostulated Paula; 'I can
only think of getting to the top.'

Her colour deepening by the exertion, he suggested that she
should sit down again on one of the mossy boulders by the
wayside. Nothing loth she did, De Stancy standing by, and
with his cane scratching the moss from the stone.

'This is rather awkward,' said Paula, in her usual circumspect
way. 'My relatives and your sister will be sure to suspect me
of having arranged this scramble with you.'

'But I know better,' sighed De Stancy. 'I wish to Heaven you
had arranged it!'

She was not at the top, but she took advantage of the halt to
answer his previous question. 'There are many points on which
I must be satisfied before I can reaffirm anything. Do you
not see that you are mistaken in clinging to this idea?--that
you are laying up mortification and disappointment for
yourself?'

'A negative reply from you would be disappointment, early or
late.'

'And you prefer having it late to accepting it now? If I were
a man, I should like to abandon a false scent as soon as
possible.'

'I suppose all that has but one meaning: that I am to go.'

'O no,' she magnanimously assured him, bounding up from her
seat; 'I adhere to my statement that you may stay; though it
is true something may possibly happen to make me alter my
mind.'

He again offered his arm, and from sheer necessity she leant
upon it as before.

'Grant me but a moment's patience,' he began.

'Captain De Stancy! Is this fair? I am physically obliged to
hold your arm, so that I MUST listen to what you say!'

'No, it is not fair; 'pon my soul it is not!' said De Stancy.
'I won't say another word.'

He did not; and they clambered on through the boughs, nothing
disturbing the solitude but the rustle of their own footsteps
and the singing of birds overhead. They occasionally got a
peep at the sky; and whenever a twig hung out in a position to
strike Paula's face the gallant captain bent it aside with his
stick. But she did not thank him. Perhaps he was just as
well satisfied as if she had done so.

Paula, panting, broke the silence: 'Will you go on, and
discover if the top is near?'

He went on. This time the top was near. When he returned she
was sitting where he had left her among the leaves. 'It is
quite near now,' he told her tenderly, and she took his arm
again without a word. Soon the path changed its nature from a
steep and rugged watercourse to a level green promenade.

'Thank you, Captain De Stancy,' she said, letting go his arm
as if relieved.

Before them rose the tower, and at the base they beheld two of
their friends, Mr. Power being seen above, looking over the
parapet through his glass.

'You will go to the top now?' said De Stancy.

'No, I take no interest in it. My interest has turned to
fatigue. I only want to go home.'

He took her on to where the carriage stood at the foot of the
tower, and leaving her with his sister ascended the turret to
the top. The landscape had quite changed from its afternoon
appearance, and had become rather marvellous than beautiful.
The air was charged with a lurid exhalation that blurred the
extensive view. He could see the distant Rhine at its
junction with the Neckar, shining like a thread of blood
through the mist which was gradually wrapping up the declining
sun. The scene had in it something that was more than
melancholy, and not much less than tragic; but for De Stancy
such evening effects possessed little meaning. He was engaged
in an enterprise that taxed all his resources, and had no
sentiments to spare for air, earth, or skies.

'Remarkable scene,' said Power, mildly, at his elbow.

'Yes; I dare say it is,' said De Stancy. 'Time has been when
I should have held forth upon such a prospect, and wondered if
its livid colours shadowed out my own life, et caetera, et
caetera. But, begad, I have almost forgotten there's such a
thing as Nature, and I care for nothing but a comfortable
life, and a certain woman who does not care for me! . . . Now
shall we go down?'

VIII.

It was quite true that De Stancy at the present period of his
existence wished only to escape from the hurly-burly of active
life, and to win the affection of Paula Power. There were,
however, occasions when a recollection of his old renunciatory
vows would obtrude itself upon him, and tinge his present with
wayward bitterness. So much was this the case that a day or
two after they had arrived at Mainz he could not refrain from
making remarks almost prejudicial to his cause, saying to her,
'I am unfortunate in my situation. There are, unhappily,
worldly reasons why I should pretend to love you, even if I do
not: they are so strong that, though really loving you,
perhaps they enter into my thoughts of you.'

'I don't want to know what such reasons are,' said Paula, with
promptness, for it required but little astuteness to discover
that he alluded to the alienated Wessex home and estates.
'You lack tone,' she gently added: 'that's why the situation
of affairs seems distasteful to you.'

'Yes, I suppose I am ill. And yet I am well enough.'

These remarks passed under a tree in the public gardens during
an odd minute of waiting for Charlotte and Mrs. Goodman; and
he said no more to her in private that day. Few as her words
had been he liked them better than any he had lately received.
The conversation was not resumed till they were gliding
'between the banks that bear the vine,' on board one of the
Rhine steamboats, which, like the hotels in this early summer
time, were comparatively free from other English travellers;
so that everywhere Paula and her party were received with open
arms and cheerful countenances, as among the first swallows of
the season.

The saloon of the steamboat was quite empty, the few
passengers being outside; and this paucity of voyagers
afforded De Stancy a roomy opportunity.

Paula saw him approach her, and there appearing in his face
signs that he would begin again on the eternal subject, she
seemed to be struck with a sense of the ludicrous.

De Stancy reddened. 'Something seems to amuse you,' he said.

'It is over,' she replied, becoming serious.

'Was it about me, and this unhappy fever in me?'

'If I speak the truth I must say it was.'

'You thought, "Here's that absurd man again, going to begin
his daily supplication."'

'Not "absurd,"' she said, with emphasis; 'because I don't
think it is absurd.'

She continued looking through the windows at the Lurlei
Heights under which they were now passing, and he remained
with his eyes on her.

'May I stay here with you?' he said at last. 'I have not had
a word with you alone for four-and-twenty hours.'

'You must be cheerful, then.'

'You have said such as that before. I wish you would say
"loving" instead of "cheerful."'

'Yes, I know, I know,' she responded, with impatient
perplexity. 'But why must you think of me--me only? Is there
no other woman in the world who has the power to make you
happy? I am sure there must be.'

'Perhaps there is; but I have never seen her.'

'Then look for her; and believe me when I say that you will
certainly find her.'

He shook his head.

'Captain De Stancy, I have long felt for you,' she continued,
with a frank glance into his face. 'You have deprived
yourself too long of other women's company. Why not go away
for a little time? and when you have found somebody else
likely to make you happy, you can meet me again. I will see
you at your father's house, and we will enjoy all the pleasure
of easy friendship.'

'Very correct; and very cold, O best of women!'

'You are too full of exclamations and transports, I think!'

They stood in silence, Paula apparently much interested in the
manoeuvring of a raft which was passing by. 'Dear Miss
Power,' he resumed, 'before I go and join your uncle above,
let me just ask, Do I stand any chance at all yet? Is it
possible you can never be more pliant than you have been?'

'You put me out of all patience!'

'But why did you raise my hopes? You should at least pity me
after doing that.'

'Yes; it's that again! I unfortunately raised your hopes
because I was a fool--was not myself that moment. Now
question me no more. As it is I think you presume too much
upon my becoming yours as the consequence of my having
dismissed another.'

'Not on becoming mine, but on listening to me.'

'Your argument would be reasonable enough had I led you to
believe I would listen to you--and ultimately accept you; but
that I have not done. I see now that a woman who gives a man
an answer one shade less peremptory than a harsh negative may
be carried beyond her intentions, and out of her own power
before she knows it.'

'Chide me if you will; I don't care!'

She looked steadfastly at him with a little mischief in her
eyes. 'You DO care,' she said.

'Then why don't you listen to me? I would not persevere for a
moment longer if it were against the wishes of your family.
Your uncle says it would give him pleasure to see you accept
me.'

'Does he say why?' she asked thoughtfully.

'Yes; he takes, of course, a practical view of the matter; he
thinks it commends itself so to reason and common sense that
the owner of Stancy Castle should become a member of the De
Stancy family.'

'Yes, that's the horrid plague of it,' she said, with a
nonchalance which seemed to contradict her words. 'It is so
dreadfully reasonable that we should marry. I wish it
wasn't!'

'Well, you are younger than I, and perhaps that's a natural
wish. But to me it seems a felicitous combination not often
met with. I confess that your interest in our family before
you knew me lent a stability to my hopes that otherwise they
would not have had.'

'My interest in the De Stancys has not been a personal
interest except in the case of your sister,' she returned.
'It has been an historical interest only; and is not at all
increased by your existence.'

'And perhaps it is not diminished?'

'No, I am not aware that it is diminished,' she murmured, as
she observed the gliding shore.

'Well, you will allow me to say this, since I say it without
reference to your personality or to mine--that the Power and
De Stancy families are the complements to each other; and
that, abstractedly, they call earnestly to one another: "How
neat and fit a thing for us to join hands!"'

Paula, who was not prudish when a direct appeal was made to
her common sense, answered with ready candour: 'Yes, from the
point of view of domestic politics, that undoubtedly is the
case. But I hope I am not so calculating as to risk happiness
in order to round off a social idea.'

'I hope not; or that I am either. Still the social idea
exists, and my increased years make its excellence more
obvious to me than to you.'

The ice once broken on this aspect of the question, the
subject seemed further to engross her, and she spoke on as if
daringly inclined to venture where she had never anticipated
going, deriving pleasure from the very strangeness of her
temerity: 'You mean that in the fitness of things I ought to
become a De Stancy to strengthen my social position?'

'And that I ought to strengthen mine by alliance with the
heiress of a name so dear to engineering science as Power.'

'Well, we are talking with unexpected frankness.'

'But you are not seriously displeased with me for saying what,
after all, one can't help feeling and thinking?'

'No. Only be so good as to leave off going further for the
present. Indeed, of the two, I would rather have the other
sort of address. I mean,' she hastily added, 'that what you
urge as the result of a real affection, however unsuitable, I
have some remote satisfaction in listening to--not the least
from any reciprocal love on my side, but from a woman's
gratification at being the object of anybody's devotion; for
that feeling towards her is always regarded as a merit in a
woman's eye, and taken as a kindness by her, even when it is
at the expense of her convenience.'

She had said, voluntarily or involuntarily, better things than
he expected, and perhaps too much in her own opinion, for she
hardly gave him an opportunity of replying.

They passed St. Goar and Boppard, and when steering round the
sharp bend of the river just beyond the latter place De Stancy
met her again, exclaiming, 'You left me very suddenly.'

'You must make allowances, please,' she said; 'I have always
stood in need of them.'

'Then you shall always have them.'

'I don't doubt it,' she said quickly; but Paula was not to be
caught again, and kept close to the side of her aunt while
they glided past Brauback and Oberlahnstein. Approaching
Coblenz her aunt said, 'Paula, let me suggest that you be not
so much alone with Captain De Stancy.'

'And why?' said Paula quietly.

'You'll have plenty of offers if you want them, without taking
trouble,' said the direct Mrs. Goodman. 'Your existence is
hardly known to the world yet, and Captain De Stancy is too
near middle-age for a girl like you.' Paula did not reply to
either of these remarks, being seemingly so interested in
Ehrenbreitstein's heights as not to hear them.

IX.

It was midnight at Coblenz, and the travellers had retired to
rest in their respective apartments, overlooking the river.
Finding that there was a moon shining, Paula leant out of her
window. The tall rock of Ehrenbreitstein on the opposite
shore was flooded with light, and a belated steamer was
drawing up to the landing-stage, where it presently deposited
its passengers.

'We should have come by the last boat, so as to have been
touched into romance by the rays of this moon, like those
happy people,' said a voice.

She looked towards the spot whence the voice proceeded, which
was a window quite near at hand. De Stancy was smoking
outside it, and she became aware that the words were addressed
to her.

'You left me very abruptly,' he continued.

Paula's instinct of caution impelled her to speak.

'The windows are all open,' she murmured. 'Please be
careful.'

'There are no English in this hotel except ourselves. I thank
you for what you said to-day.'

'Please be careful,' she repeated.

'My dear Miss P----'

'Don't mention names, and don't continue the subject!'

'Life and death perhaps depend upon my renewing it soon!'

She shut the window decisively, possibly wondering if De
Stancy had drunk a glass or two of Steinberg more than was
good for him, and saw no more of moonlit Ehrenbreitstein that
night, and heard no more of De Stancy. But it was some time
before he closed his window, and previous to doing so saw a
dark form at an adjoining one on the other side.

It was Mr. Power, also taking the air. 'Well, what luck to-
day?' said Power.

'A decided advance,' said De Stancy.

None of the speakers knew that a little person in the room
above heard all this out-of-window talk. Charlotte, though
not looking out, had left her casement open; and what reached
her ears set her wondering as to the result.

It is not necessary to detail in full De Stancy's
imperceptible advances with Paula during that northward
journey--so slowly performed that it seemed as if she must
perceive there was a special reason for delaying her return to
England. At Cologne one day he conveniently overtook her when
she was ascending the hotel staircase. Seeing him, she went
to the window of the entresol landing, which commanded a view
of the Rhine, meaning that he should pass by to his room.

'I have been very uneasy,' began the captain, drawing up to
her side; 'and I am obliged to trouble you sooner than I meant
to do.'

Paula turned her eyes upon him with some curiosity as to what
was coming of this respectful demeanour. 'Indeed!' she said,

He then informed her that he had been overhauling himself
since they last talked, and had some reason to blame himself
for bluntness and general want of euphemism; which, although
he had meant nothing by it, must have been very disagreeable
to her. But he had always aimed at sincerity, particularly as
he had to deal with a lady who despised hypocrisy and was
above flattery. However, he feared he might have carried his
disregard for conventionality too far. But from that time he
would promise that she should find an alteration by which he
hoped he might return the friendship at least of a young lady
he honoured more than any other in the world.

This retrograde movement was evidently unexpected by the
honoured young lady herself. After being so long accustomed
to rebuke him for his persistence there was novelty in finding
him do the work for her. The guess might even have been
hazarded that there was also disappointment.

Still looking across the river at the bridge of boats which
stretched to the opposite suburb of Deutz: 'You need not
blame yourself,' she said, with the mildest conceivable
manner, 'I can make allowances. All I wish is that you should
remain under no misapprehension.'

'I comprehend,' he said thoughtfully. 'But since, by a
perverse fate, I have been thrown into your company, you could
hardly expect me to feel and act otherwise.'

'Perhaps not.'

'Since I have so much reason to be dissatisfied with myself,'
he added, 'I cannot refrain from criticizing elsewhere to a
slight extent, and thinking I have to do with an ungenerous
person.'

'Why ungenerous?'

'In this way; that since you cannot love me, you see no reason
at all for trying to do so in the fact that I so deeply love
you; hence I say that you are rather to be distinguished by
your wisdom than by your humanity.'

'It comes to this, that if your words are all seriously meant
it is much to be regretted we ever met,' she murmured. 'Now
will you go on to where you were going, and leave me here?'

Without a remonstrance he went on, saying with dejected
whimsicality as he smiled back upon her, 'You show a wisdom
which for so young a lady is perfectly surprising.'

It was resolved to prolong the journey by a circuit through
Holland and Belgium; but nothing changed in the attitudes of
Paula and Captain De Stancy till one afternoon during their
stay at the Hague, when they had gone for a drive down to
Scheveningen by the long straight avenue of chestnuts and
limes, under whose boughs tufts of wild parsley waved their
flowers, except where the buitenplaatsen of retired merchants
blazed forth with new paint of every hue. On mounting the
dune which kept out the sea behind the village a brisk breeze
greeted their faces, and a fine sand blew up into their eyes.
De Stancy screened Paula with his umbrella as they stood with
their backs to the wind, looking down on the red roofs of the
village within the sea wall, and pulling at the long grass
which by some means found nourishment in the powdery soil of
the dune.

When they had discussed the scene he continued, 'It always
seems to me that this place reflects the average mood of human
life. I mean, if we strike the balance between our best moods
and our worst we shall find our average condition to stand at
about the same pitch in emotional colour as these sandy dunes
and this grey scene do in landscape.'

Paula contended that he ought not to measure everybody by
himself.

'I have no other standard,' said De Stancy; 'and if my own is
wrong, it is you who have made it so. Have you thought any
more of what I said at Cologne?'

'I don't quite remember what you did say at Cologne?'

'My dearest life!' Paula's eyes rounding somewhat, he
corrected the exclamation. 'My dear Miss Power, I will,
without reserve, tell it to you all over again.'

'Pray spare yourself the effort,' she said drily. 'What has
that one fatal step betrayed me into!. . . Do you seriously
mean to say that I am the cause of your life being coloured
like this scene of grass and sand? If so, I have committed a
very great fault!'

'It can be nullified by a word.'

'Such a word!'

'It is a very short one.'

'There's a still shorter one more to the purpose. Frankly, I
believe you suspect me to have some latent and unowned
inclination for you--that you think speaking is the only point
upon which I am backward. . . . There now, it is raining;
what shall we do? I thought this wind meant rain.'

'Do? Stand on here, as we are standing now.'

'Your sister and my aunt are gone under the wall. I think we
will walk towards them.'

'You had made me hope,' he continued (his thoughts apparently
far away from the rain and the wind and the possibility of
shelter), 'that you might change your mind, and give to your
original promise a liberal meaning in renewing it. In brief I
mean this, that you would allow it to merge into an
engagement. Don't think it presumptuous,' he went on, as he
held the umbrella over her; 'I am sure any man would speak as
I do. A distinct permission to be with you on probation--that
was what you gave me at Carlsruhe: and flinging casuistry on
one side, what does that mean?'

'That I am artistically interested in your family history.'
And she went out from the umbrella to the shelter of the hotel
where she found her aunt and friend.

De Stancy could not but feel that his persistence had made
some impression. It was hardly possible that a woman of
independent nature would have tolerated his dangling at her
side so long, if his presence were wholly distasteful to her.
That evening when driving back to the Hague by a devious route
through the dense avenues of the Bosch he conversed with her
again; also the next day when standing by the Vijver looking
at the swans; and in each case she seemed to have at least got
over her objection to being seen talking to him, apart from
the remainder of the travelling party.

Scenes very similar to those at Scheveningen and on the Rhine
were enacted at later stages of their desultory journey. Mr.
Power had proposed to cross from Rotterdam; but a stiff north-
westerly breeze prevailing Paula herself became reluctant to
hasten back to Stancy Castle. Turning abruptly they made for
Brussels.

It was here, while walking homeward from the Park one morning,
that her uncle for the first time alluded to the situation of
affairs between herself and her admirer. The captain had gone
up the Rue Royale with his sister and Mrs. Goodman, either to
show them the house in which the ball took place on the eve of
Quatre Bras or some other site of interest, and the two Powers
were thus left to themselves. To reach their hotel they
passed into a little street sloping steeply down from the Rue
Royale to the Place Ste. Gudule, where, at the moment of
nearing the cathedral, a wedding party emerged from the porch
and crossed in front of uncle and niece.

'I hope,' said the former, in his passionless way, 'we shall
see a performance of this sort between you and Captain De
Stancy, not so very long after our return to England.'

'Why?' asked Paula, following the bride with her eyes.

'It is diplomatically, as I may say, such a highly correct
thing--such an expedient thing--such an obvious thing to all
eyes.'

'Not altogether to mine, uncle,' she returned.

''Twould be a thousand pities to let slip such a neat offer of
adjusting difficulties as accident makes you in this. You
could marry more tin, that's true; but you don't want it,
Paula. You want a name, and historic what-do-they-call-it.
Now by coming to terms with the captain you'll be Lady De
Stancy in a few years: and a title which is useless to him,
and a fortune and castle which are in some degree useless to
you, will make a splendid whole useful to you both.'

'I've thought it over--quite,' she answered. 'And I quite see
what the advantages are. But how if I don't care one atom for
artistic completeness and a splendid whole; and do care very
much to do what my fancy inclines me to do?'

'Then I should say that, taking a comprehensive view of human
nature of all colours, your fancy is about the silliest fancy
existing on this earthly ball.'

Paula laughed indifferently, and her uncle felt that,
persistent as was his nature, he was the wrong man to
influence her by argument. Paula's blindness to the
advantages of the match, if she were blind, was that of a
woman who wouldn't see, and the best argument was silence.

This was in some measure proved the next morning. When Paula
made her appearance Mrs. Goodman said, holding up an envelope:
'Here's a letter from Mr. Somerset.'

'Dear me,' said she blandly, though a quick little flush
ascended her cheek. 'I had nearly forgotten him!'

The letter on being read contained a request as brief as it
was unexpected. Having prepared all the drawings necessary
for the rebuilding, Somerset begged leave to resign the
superintendence of the work into other hands.

'His letter caps your remarks very aptly,' said Mrs. Goodman,
with secret triumph. 'You are nearly forgetting him, and he
is quite forgetting you.'

'Yes,' said Paula, affecting carelessness. 'Well, I must get
somebody else, I suppose.'

X.

They next deviated to Amiens, intending to stay there only one
night; but their schemes were deranged by the sudden illness
of Charlotte. She had been looking unwell for a fortnight
past, though, with her usual self-abnegation, she had made
light of her ailment. Even now she declared she could go on;
but this was said over-night, and in the morning it was
abundantly evident that to move her was highly unadvisable.
Still she was not in serious danger, and having called in a
physician, who pronounced rest indispensable, they prepared to
remain in the old Picard capital two or three additional days.
Mr. Power thought he would take advantage of the halt to run
up to Paris, leaving De Stancy in charge of the ladies.

In more ways than in the illness of Charlotte this day was the
harbinger of a crisis.

It was a summer evening without a cloud. Charlotte had fallen
asleep in her bed, and Paula, who had been sitting by her,
looked out into the Place St. Denis, which the hotel
commanded. The lawn of the square was all ablaze with red and
yellow clumps of flowers, the acacia trees were brightly
green, the sun was soft and low. Tempted by the prospect
Paula went and put on her hat; and arousing her aunt, who was
nodding in the next room, to request her to keep an ear on
Charlotte's bedroom, Paula descended into the Rue de Noyon
alone, and entered the green enclosure.

While she walked round, two or three little children in charge
of a nurse trundled a large variegated ball along the grass,
and it rolled to Paula's feet. She smiled at them, and
endeavoured to return it by a slight kick. The ball rose in
the air, and passing over the back of a seat which stood under
one of the trees, alighted in the lap of a gentleman hitherto
screened by its boughs. The back and shoulders proved to be
those of De Stancy. He turned his head, jumped up, and was at
her side in an instant, a nettled flush having meanwhile
crossed Paula's face.

'I thought you had gone to the Hotoie Promenade,' she said
hastily. 'I am going to the cathedral;' (obviously uttered
lest it should seem that she had seen him from the hotel
windows, and entered the square for his company).

'Of course: there is nothing else to go to here--even for
Roundheads.'

'If you mean ME by that, you are very much mistaken,' said she
testily.

'The Roundheads were your ancestors, and they knocked down my
ancestors' castle, and broke the stained glass and statuary of
the cathedral,' said De Stancy slily; 'and now you go not only
to a cathedral, but to a service of the unreformed Church in
it.'

'In a foreign country it is different from home,' said Paula
in extenuation; 'and you of all men should not reproach me for
tergiversation--when it has been brought about by--by my
sympathies with--'

'With the troubles of the De Stancys.'

'Well, you know what I mean,' she answered, with considerable
anxiety not to be misunderstood; 'my liking for the old
castle, and what it contains, and what it suggests. I declare
I will not explain to you further--why should I? I am not
answerable to you!'

Paula's show of petulance was perhaps not wholly because she
had appeared to seek him, but also from being reminded by his
criticism that Mr. Woodwell's prophecy on her weakly
succumbing to surroundings was slowly working out its
fulfilment.

She moved forward towards the gate at the further end of the
square, beyond which the cathedral lay at a very short
distance. Paula did not turn her head, and De Stancy strolled
slowly after her down the Rue du College. The day happened to
be one of the church festivals, and people were a second time
flocking into the lofty monument of Catholicism at its
meridian. Paula vanished into the porch with the rest; and,
almost catching the wicket as it flew back from her hand, he
too entered the high-shouldered edifice--an edifice doomed to
labour under the melancholy misfortune of seeming only half as
vast as it really is, and as truly as whimsically described by
Heine as a monument built with the strength of Titans, and
decorated with the patience of dwarfs.

De Stancy walked up the nave, so close beside her as to touch
her dress; but she would not recognize his presence; the
darkness that evening had thrown over the interior, which was
scarcely broken by the few candles dotted about, being a
sufficient excuse if she required one.

'Miss Power,' De Stancy said at last, 'I am coming to the
service with you.'

She received the intelligence without surprise, and he knew
she had been conscious of him all the way.

Paula went no further than the middle of the nave, where there
was hardly a soul, and took a chair beside a solitary
rushlight which looked amid the vague gloom of the
inaccessible architecture like a lighthouse at the foot of
tall cliffs.

He put his hand on the next chair, saying, 'Do you object?'

'Not at all,' she replied; and he sat down.

'Suppose we go into the choir,' said De Stancy presently.
'Nobody sits out here in the shadows.'

'This is sufficiently near, and we have a candle,' Paula
murmured.

Before another minute had passed the candle flame began to
drown in its own grease, slowly dwindled, and went out.

'I suppose that means I am to go into the choir in spite of
myself. Heaven is on your side,' said Paula. And rising they
left their now totally dark corner, and joined the noiseless
shadowy figures who in twos and threes kept passing up the
nave.

Within the choir there was a blaze of light, partly from the
altar, and more particularly from the image of the saint whom
they had assembled to honour, which stood, surrounded by
candles and a thicket of flowering plants, some way in advance
of the foot-pace. A secondary radiance from the same source
was reflected upward into their faces by the polished marble
pavement, except when interrupted by the shady forms of the
officiating priests.

When it was over and the people were moving off, De Stancy and
his companion went towards the saint, now besieged by numbers
of women anxious to claim the respective flower-pots they had
lent for the decoration. As each struggled for her own,
seized and marched off with it, Paula remarked--'This rather
spoils the solemn effect of what has gone before.'

'I perceive you are a harsh Puritan.'

'No, Captain De Stancy! Why will you speak so? I am far too
much otherwise. I have grown to be so much of your way of
thinking, that I accuse myself, and am accused by others, of
being worldly, and half-and-half, and other dreadful things--
though it isn't that at all.'

They were now walking down the nave, preceded by the sombre
figures with the pot flowers, who were just visible in the
rays that reached them through the distant choir screen at
their back; while above the grey night sky and stars looked in
upon them through the high clerestory windows.

'Do be a little MORE of my way of thinking!' rejoined De
Stancy passionately.

'Don't, don't speak,' she said rapidly. 'There are Milly and
Champreau!'

Milly was one of the maids, and Champreau the courier and
valet who had been engaged by Abner Power. They had been
sitting behind the other pair throughout the service, and
indeed knew rather more of the relations between Paula and De
Stancy than Paula knew herself.

Hastening on the two latter went out, and walked together
silently up the short street. The Place St. Denis was now lit
up, lights shone from the hotel windows, and the world without
the cathedral had so far advanced in nocturnal change that it
seemed as if they had been gone from it for hours. Within the
hotel they found the change even greater than without. Mrs.
Goodman met them half-way on the stairs.

'Poor Charlotte is worse,' she said. 'Quite feverish, and
almost delirious.'

Paula reproached herself with 'Why did I go away!'

The common interest of De Stancy and Paula in the sufferer at
once reproduced an ease between them as nothing else could
have done. The physician was again called in, who prescribed
certain draughts, and recommended that some one should sit up
with her that night. If Paula allowed demonstrations of love
to escape her towards anybody it was towards Charlotte, and
her instinct was at once to watch by the invalid's couch
herself, at least for some hours, it being deemed unnecessary
to call in a regular nurse unless she should sicken further.

'But I will sit with her,' said De Stancy. 'Surely you had
better go to bed?' Paula would not be persuaded; and
thereupon De Stancy, saying he was going into the town for a
short time before retiring, left the room.

The last omnibus returned from the last train, and the inmates
of the hotel retired to rest. Meanwhile a telegram had
arrived for Captain De Stancy; but as he had not yet returned
it was put in his bedroom, with directions to the night-porter
to remind him of its arrival.

Paula sat on with the sleeping Charlotte. Presently she
retired into the adjacent sitting-room with a book, and flung
herself on a couch, leaving the door open between her and her
charge, in case the latter should awake. While she sat a new
breathing seemed to mingle with the regular sound of
Charlotte's that reached her through the doorway: she turned
quickly, and saw her uncle standing behind her.

'O--I thought you were in Paris!' said Paula.

'I have just come from there--I could not stay. Something has
occurred to my mind about this affair.' His strangely marked
visage, now more noticeable from being worn with fatigue, had
a spectral effect by the night-light.

'What affair?'

'This marriage. . . . Paula, De Stancy is a good fellow
enough, but you must not accept him just yet.'

Paula did not answer.

'Do you hear? You must not accept him,' repeated her uncle,
'till I have been to England and examined into matters. I
start in an hour's time--by the ten-minutes-past-two train.'

'This is something very new!'

'Yes--'tis new,' he murmured, relapsing into his Dutch manner.
'You must not accept him till something is made clear to me--
something about a queer relationship. I have come from Paris
to say so.'

'Uncle, I don't understand this. I am my own mistress in all
matters, and though I don't mind telling you I have by no
means resolved to accept him, the question of her marriage is
especially a woman's own affair.'

Her uncle stood irresolute for a moment, as if his convictions
were more than his proofs. 'I say no more at present,' he
murmured. 'Can I do anything for you about a new architect?'

'Appoint Havill.'

'Very well. Good night.' And then he left her. In a short
time she heard him go down and out of the house to cross to
England by the morning steamboat.

With a little shrug, as if she resented his interference in so
delicate a point, she settled herself down anew to her book.

One, two, three hours passed, when Charlotte awoke, but soon
slumbered sweetly again. Milly had stayed up for some time
lest her mistress should require anything; but the girl being
sleepy Paula sent her to bed.

It was a lovely night of early summer, and drawing aside the
window curtains she looked out upon the flowers and trees of
the Place, now quite visible, for it was nearly three o'clock,
and the morning light was growing strong. She turned her face
upwards. Except in the case of one bedroom all the windows on
that side of the hotel were in darkness. The room being
rather close she left the casement ajar, and opening the door
walked out upon the staircase landing. A number of caged
canaries were kept here, and she observed in the dim light of
the landing lamp how snugly their heads were all tucked in.
On returning to the sitting-room again she could hear that
Charlotte was still slumbering, and this encouraging
circumstance disposed her to go to bed herself. Before,
however, she had made a move a gentle tap came to the door.

Paula opened it. There, in the faint light by the sleeping
canaries, stood Charlotte's brother.

'How is she now?' he whispered.

'Sleeping soundly,' said Paula.

'That's a blessing. I have not been to bed. I came in late,
and have now come down to know if I had not better take your
place?'

'Nobody is required, I think. But you can judge for
yourself.'

Up to this point they had conversed in the doorway of the
sitting-room, which De Stancy now entered, crossing it to
Charlotte's apartment. He came out from the latter at a
pensive pace.

'She is doing well,' he said gently. 'You have been very good
to her. Was the chair I saw by her bed the one you have been
sitting in all night?'

'I sometimes sat there; sometimes here.'

'I wish I could have sat beside you, and held your hand--I
speak frankly.'

'To excess.'

'And why not? I do not wish to hide from you any corner of my
breast, futile as candour may be. Just Heaven! for what
reason is it ordered that courtship, in which soldiers are
usually so successful, should be a failure with me?'

'Your lack of foresight chiefly in indulging feelings that
were not encouraged. That, and my uncle's indiscreet
permission to you to travel with us, have precipitated our
relations in a way that I could neither foresee nor avoid,
though of late I have had apprehensions that it might come to
this. You vex and disturb me by such words of regret.'

'Not more than you vex and disturb me. But you cannot hate
the man who loves you so devotedly?'

'I have said before I don't hate you. I repeat that I am
interested in your family and its associations because of its
complete contrast with my own.' She might have added, 'And I
am additionally interested just now because my uncle has
forbidden me to be.'

'But you don't care enough for me personally to save my
happiness.'

Paula hesitated; from the moment De Stancy confronted her she
had felt that this nocturnal conversation was to be a grave
business. The cathedral clock struck three. 'I have thought
once or twice,' she said with a naivete unusual in her, 'that
if I could be sure of giving peace and joy to your mind by
becoming your wife, I ought to endeavour to do so and make the
best of it--merely as a charity. But I believe that feeling
is a mistake: your discontent is constitutional, and would go
on just the same whether I accepted you or no. My refusal of
you is purely an imaginary grievance.'

'Not if I think otherwise.'

'O no,' she murmured, with a sense that the place was very
lonely and silent. 'If you think it otherwise, I suppose it
is otherwise.'

'My darling; my Paula!' he said, seizing her hand. 'Do
promise me something. You must indeed!'

'Captain De Stancy!' she said, trembling and turning away.
'Captain De Stancy!' She tried to withdraw her fingers, then
faced him, exclaiming in a firm voice a third time, 'Captain
De Stancy! let go my hand; for I tell you I will not marry
you!'

'Good God!' he cried, dropping her hand. 'What have I driven
you to say in your anger! Retract it--O, retract it!'

'Don't urge me further, as you value my good opinion!'

'To lose you now, is to lose you for ever. Come, please
answer!'

'I won't be compelled!' she interrupted with vehemence. 'I am
resolved not to be yours--not to give you an answer to-night!
Never, never will I be reasoned out of my intention; and I say
I won't answer you to-night! I should never have let you be
so much with me but for pity of you; and now it is come to
this!'

She had sunk into a chair, and now leaned upon her hand, and
buried her face in her handkerchief. He had never caused her
any such agitation as this before.

'You stab me with your words,' continued De Stancy. 'The
experience I have had with you is without parallel, Paula. It
seems like a distracting dream.'

'I won't be hurried by anybody!'

'That may mean anything,' he said, with a perplexed,
passionate air. 'Well, mine is a fallen family, and we must
abide caprices. Would to Heaven it were extinguished!'

'What was extinguished?' she murmured.

'The De Stancys. Here am I, a homeless wanderer, living on my
pay; in the next room lies she, my sister, a poor little
fragile feverish invalid with no social position--and hardly a
friend. We two represent the De Stancy line; and I wish we
were behind the iron door of our old vault at Sleeping-Green.
It can be seen by looking at us and our circumstances that we
cry for the earth and oblivion!'

'Captain De Stancy, it is not like that, I assure you,'
sympathized Paula with damp eyelashes. 'I love Charlotte too
dearly for you to talk like that, indeed. I don't want to
marry you exactly: and yet I cannot bring myself to say I
permanently reject you, because I remember you are Charlotte's
brother, and do not wish to be the cause of any morbid
feelings in you which would ruin your future prospects.'

'My dear life, what is it you doubt in me? Your earnestness
not to do me harm makes it all the harder for me to think of
never being more than a friend.'

'Well, I have not positively refused!' she exclaimed, in mixed
tones of pity and distress. 'Let me think it over a little
while. It is not generous to urge so strongly before I can
collect my thoughts, and at this midnight time!'

'Darling, forgive it!--There, I'll say no more.'

He then offered to sit up in her place for the remainder of
the night; but Paula declined, assuring him that she meant to
stay only another half-hour, after which nobody would be
necessary.

He had already crossed the landing to ascend to his room, when
she stepped after him, and asked if he had received his
telegram.

'No,' said De Stancy. 'Nor have I heard of one.'

Paula explained that it was put in his room, that he might see
it the moment he came in.

'It matters very little,' he replied, 'since I shall see it
now. Good-night, dearest: good-night!' he added tenderly.

She gravely shook her head. 'It is not for you to express
yourself like that,' she answered. 'Good-night, Captain De
Stancy.'

He went up the stairs to the second floor, and Paula returned
to the sitting-room. Having left a light burning De Stancy
proceeded to look for the telegram, and found it on the
carpet, where it had been swept from the table. When he had
opened the sheet a sudden solemnity overspread his face. He
sat down, rested his elbow on the table, and his forehead on
his hands.

Captain De Stancy did not remain thus long. Rising he went
softly downstairs. The grey morning had by this time crept
into the hotel, rendering a light no longer necessary. The
old clock on the landing was within a few minutes of four, and
the birds were hopping up and down their cages, and whetting
their bills. He tapped at the sitting-room, and she came
instantly.

'But I told you it was not necessary--' she began.

'Yes, but the telegram,' he said hurriedly. 'I wanted to let
you know first that--it is very serious. Paula--my father is
dead! He died suddenly yesterday, and I must go at once. . .
. About Charlotte--and how to let her know--'

'She must not be told yet,' said Paula. . . . 'Sir William
dead!'

'You think we had better not tell her just yet?' said De
Stancy anxiously. 'That's what I want to consult you about,
if you--don't mind my intruding.'

'Certainly I don't,' she said.

They continued the discussion for some time; and it was
decided that Charlotte should not be informed of what had
happened till the doctor had been consulted, Paula promising
to account for her brother's departure.

De Stancy then prepared to leave for England by the first
morning train, and roused the night-porter, which functionary,
having packed off Abner Power, was discovered asleep on the
sofa of the landlord's parlour. At half-past five Paula, who
in the interim had been pensively sitting with her hand to her
chin, quite forgetting that she had meant to go to bed, heard
wheels without, and looked from the window. A fly had been
brought round, and one of the hotel servants was in the act of
putting up a portmanteau with De Stancy's initials upon it. A
minute afterwards the captain came to her door.

'I thought you had not gone to bed, after all.'

'I was anxious to see you off,' said she, 'since neither of
the others is awake; and you wished me not to rouse them.'

'Quite right, you are very good;' and lowering his voice:
'Paula, it is a sad and solemn time with me. Will you grant
me one word--not on our last sad subject, but on the previous
one--before I part with you to go and bury my father?'

'Certainly,' she said, in gentle accents.

'Then have you thought over my position? Will you at last
have pity upon my loneliness by becoming my wife?'

Paula sighed deeply; and said, 'Yes.'

'Your hand upon it.'

She gave him her hand: he held it a few moments, then raised
it to his lips, and was gone.

When Mrs. Goodman rose she was informed of Sir William's
death, and of his son's departure.

'Then the captain is now Sir William De Stancy!' she
exclaimed. 'Really, Paula, since you would be Lady De Stancy
by marrying him, I almost think--'

'Hush, aunt!'

'Well; what are you writing there?'

'Only entering in my diary that I accepted him this morning
for pity's sake, in spite of Uncle Abner. They'll say it was
for the title, but knowing it was not I don't care.'

XI.

On the evening of the fourth day after the parting between
Paula and De Stancy at Amiens, when it was quite dark in the
Markton highway, except in so far as the shades were broken by
the faint lights from the adjacent town, a young man knocked
softly at the door of Myrtle Villa, and asked if Captain De
Stancy had arrived from abroad. He was answered in the
affirmative, and in a few moments the captain himself came
from an adjoining room.

Seeing that his visitor was Dare, from whom, as will be
remembered, he had parted at Carlsruhe in no very satisfied
mood, De Stancy did not ask him into the house, but putting on
his hat went out with the youth into the public road. Here
they conversed as they walked up and down, Dare beginning by
alluding to the death of Sir William, the suddenness of which
he feared would delay Captain De Stancy's overtures for the
hand of Miss Power.

'No,' said De Stancy moodily. 'On the contrary, it has
precipitated matters.'

'She has accepted you, captain?'

'We are engaged to be married.'

'Well done. I congratulate you.' The speaker was about to
proceed to further triumphant notes on the intelligence, when
casting his eye upon the upper windows of the neighbouring
villa, he appeared to reflect on what was within them, and
checking himself, 'When is the funeral to be?'

'To-morrow,' De Stancy replied. 'It would be advisable for
you not to come near me during the day.'

'I will not. I will be a mere spectator. The old vault of
our ancestors will be opened, I presume, captain?'

'It is opened.'

'I must see it--and ruminate on what we once were: it is a
thing I like doing. The ghosts of our dead--Ah, what was
that?'

'I heard nothing.'

'I thought I heard a footstep behind us.'

They stood still; but the road appeared to be quite deserted,
and likely to continue so for the remainder of that evening.
They walked on again, speaking in somewhat lower tones than
before.

'Will the late Sir William's death delay the wedding much?'
asked the younger man curiously.

De Stancy languidly answered that he did not see why it should
do so. Some little time would of course intervene, but, since
there were several reasons for despatch, he should urge Miss
Power and her relatives to consent to a virtually private
wedding which might take place at a very early date; and he
thought there would be a general consent on that point.

'There are indeed reasons for despatch. Your title, Sir
William, is a new safeguard over her heart, certainly; but
there is many a slip, and you must not lose her now.'

'I don't mean to lose her!' said De Stancy. 'She is too good
to be lost. And yet--since she gave her promise I have felt
more than once that I would not engage in such a struggle
again. It was not a thing of my beginning, though I was
easily enough inflamed to follow. But I will not lose her
now.--For God's sake, keep that secret you have so foolishly
pricked on your breast. It fills me with remorse to think
what she with her scrupulous notions will feel, should she
ever know of you and your history, and your relation to me!'

Dare made no reply till after a silence, when he said, 'Of
course mum's the word till the wedding is over.'

'And afterwards--promise that for her sake?'

'And probably afterwards.'

Sir William De Stancy drew a dejected breath at the tone of
the answer. They conversed but a little while longer, the
captain hinting to Dare that it was time for them to part;
not, however, before he had uttered a hope that the young man
would turn over a new leaf and engage in some regular pursuit.
Promising to call upon him at his lodgings De Stancy went
indoors, and Dare briskly retraced his steps to Markton.

When his footfall had died away, and the door of the house
opposite had been closed, another man appeared upon the scene.
He came gently out of the hedge opposite Myrtle Villa, which
he paused to regard for a moment. But instead of going
townward, he turned his back upon the distant sprinkle of
lights, and did not check his walk till he reached the lodge
of Stancy Castle.

Here he pulled the wooden acorn beside the arch, and when the
porter appeared his light revealed the pedestrian's
countenance to be scathed, as by lightning.

'I beg your pardon, Mr. Power,' said the porter with sudden
deference as he opened the wicket. 'But we wasn't expecting
anybody to-night, as there is nobody at home, and the servants
on board wages; and that's why I was so long a-coming.'

'No matter, no matter,' said Abner Power. 'I have returned on
sudden business, and have not come to stay longer than to-
night. Your mistress is not with me. I meant to sleep in
Markton, but have changed my mind.'

Mr. Power had brought no luggage with him beyond a small hand-
bag, and as soon as a room could be got ready he retired to
bed.

The next morning he passed in idly walking about the grounds
and observing the progress which had been made in the works--
now temporarily suspended. But that inspection was less his
object in remaining there than meditation, was abundantly
evident. When the bell began to toll from the neighbouring
church to announce the burial of Sir William De Stancy, he
passed through the castle, and went on foot in the direction
indicated by the sound. Reaching the margin of the churchyard
he looked over the wall, his presence being masked by bushes
and a group of idlers from Markton who stood in front. Soon a
funeral procession of simple--almost meagre and threadbare--
character arrived, but Power did not join the people who
followed the deceased into the church. De Stancy was the
chief mourner and only relation present, the other followers
of the broken-down old man being an ancient lawyer, a couple
of faithful servants, and a bowed villager who had been page
to the late Sir William's father--the single living person
left in the parish who remembered the De Stancys as people of
wealth and influence, and who firmly believed that family
would come into its rights ere long, and oust the
uncircumcized Philistines who had taken possession of the old
lands.

The funeral was over, and the rusty carriages had gone,
together with many of the spectators; but Power lingered in
the churchyard as if he were looking for some one. At length
he entered the church, passing by the cavernous pitfall with
descending steps which stood open outside the wall of the De
Stancy aisle. Arrived within he scanned the few idlers of
antiquarian tastes who had remained after the service to
inspect the monuments; and beside a recumbent effigy--the
effigy in alabaster whose features Paula had wiped with her
handkerchief when there with Somerset--he beheld the man it
had been his business to find. Abner Power went up and
touched this person, who was Dare, on the shoulder.

'Mr. Power--so it is!' said the youth. 'I have not seen you
since we met in Carlsruhe.'

'You shall see all the more of me now to make up for it.
Shall we walk round the church?'

'With all my heart,' said Dare.

They walked round; and Abner Power began in a sardonic
recitative: 'I am a traveller, and it takes a good deal to
astonish me. So I neither swooned nor screamed when I learnt
a few hours ago what I had suspected for a week, that you are
of the house and lineage of Jacob.' He flung a nod towards
the canopied tombs as he spoke.--'In other words, that you are
of the same breed as the De Stancys.'

Dare cursorily glanced round. Nobody was near enough to hear
their words, the nearest persons being two workmen just
outside, who were bringing their tools up from the vault
preparatively to closing it.

Having observed this Dare replied, 'I, too, am a traveller;
and neither do I swoon nor scream at what you say. But I
assure you that if you busy yourself about me, you may truly
be said to busy yourself about nothing.'

'Well, that's a matter of opinion. Now, there's no scarlet
left in my face to blush for men's follies; but as an alliance
is afoot between my niece and the present Sir William, this
must be looked into.'

Dare reflectively said 'O,' as he observed through the window
one of the workmen bring up a candle from the vault and
extinguish it with his fingers.

'The marriage is desirable, and your relationship in itself is
of no consequence,' continued the elder, 'but just look at
this. You have forced on the marriage by unscrupulous means,
your object being only too clearly to live out of the proceeds
of that marriage.'

'Mr. Power, you mock me, because I labour under the misfortune
of having an illegitimate father to provide for. I really
deserve commiseration.'

'You might deserve it if that were all. But it looks bad for
my niece's happiness as Lady De Stancy, that she and her
husband are to be perpetually haunted by a young chevalier
d'industrie, who can forge a telegram on occasion, and libel
an innocent man by an ingenious device in photography. It
looks so bad, in short, that, advantageous as a title and old
family name would be to her and her children, I won't let my
brother's daughter run the risk of having them at the expense
of being in the grip of a man like you. There are other
suitors in the world, and other titles: and she is a
beautiful woman, who can well afford to be fastidious. I
shall let her know at once of these things, and break off the
business--unless you do ONE THING.'

A workman brought up another candle from the vault, and
prepared to let down the slab. 'Well, Mr. Power, and what is
that one thing?'

'Go to Peru as my agent in a business I have just undertaken
there.'

'And settle there?'

'Of course. I am soon going over myself, and will bring you
anything you require.'

'How long will you give me to consider?' said Dare.

Power looked at his watch. 'One, two, three, four hours,' he
said. 'I leave Markton by the seven o'clock train this
evening.'

'And if I meet your proposal with a negative?'

'I shall go at once to my niece and tell her the whole
circumstances--tell her that, by marrying Sir William, she
allies herself with an unhappy gentleman in the power of a
criminal son who makes his life a burden to him by perpetual
demands upon his purse; who will increase those demands with
his accession to wealth, threaten to degrade her by exposing
her husband's antecedents if she opposes his extortions, and
who will make her miserable by letting her know that her old
lover was shamefully victimized by a youth she is bound to
screen out of respect to her husband's feelings. Now a man
does not care to let his own flesh and blood incur the danger
of such anguish as that, and I shall do what I say to prevent
it. Knowing what a lukewarm sentiment hers is for Sir William
at best, I shall not have much difficulty.'

'Well, I don't feel inclined to go to Peru.'

'Neither do I want to break off the match, though I am ready
to do it. But you care about your personal freedom, and you
might be made to wear the broad arrow for your tricks on
Somerset.'

'Mr. Power, I see you are a hard man.'

'I am a hard man. You will find me one. Well, will you go to
Peru? Or I don't mind Australia or California as
alternatives. As long as you choose to remain in either of
those wealth-producing places, so long will Cunningham Haze go
uninformed.'

'Mr. Power, I am overcome. Will you allow me to sit down?
Suppose we go into the vestry. It is more comfortable.'

They entered the vestry, and seated themselves in two chairs,
one at each end of the table.

'In the meantime,' continued Dare, 'to lend a little romance
to stern realities, I'll tell you a singular dream I had just
before you returned to England.' Power looked contemptuous,
but Dare went on: 'I dreamt that once upon a time there were
two brothers, born of a Nonconformist family, one of whom
became a railway-contractor, and the other a mechanical
engineer.'

'A mechanical engineer--good,' said Power, beginning to
attend.

'When the first went abroad in his profession, and became
engaged on continental railways, the second, a younger man,
looking round for a start, also betook himself to the
continent. But though ingenious and scientific, he had not
the business capacity of the elder, whose rebukes led to a
sharp quarrel between them; and they parted in bitter
estrangement--never to meet again as it turned out, owing to
the dogged obstinacy and self-will of the younger man. He,
after this, seemed to lose his moral ballast altogether, and
after some eccentric doings he was reduced to a state of
poverty, and took lodgings in a court in a back street of a
town we will call Geneva, considerably in doubt as to what
steps he should take to keep body and soul together.'

Abner Power was shooting a narrow ray of eyesight at Dare from
the corner of his nearly closed lids. 'Your dream is so
interesting,' he said, with a hard smile, 'that I could listen
to it all day.'

'Excellent!' said Dare, and went on: 'Now it so happened that
the house opposite to the one taken by the mechanician was
peculiar. It was a tall narrow building, wholly unornamented,
the walls covered with a layer of white plaster cracked and
soiled by time. I seem to see that house now! Six stone
steps led up to the door, with a rusty iron railing on each
side, and under these steps were others which went down to a
cellar--in my dream of course.'

'Of course--in your dream,' said Power, nodding
comprehensively.

'Sitting lonely and apathetic without a light, at his own
chamber-window at night time, our mechanician frequently
observed dark figures descending these steps and ultimately
discovered that the house was the meeting-place of a
fraternity of political philosophers, whose object was the
extermination of tyrants and despots, and the overthrow of
established religions. The discovery was startling enough,
but our hero was not easily startled. He kept their secret
and lived on as before. At last the mechanician and his
affairs became known to the society, as the affairs of the
society had become known to the mechanician, and, instead of
shooting him as one who knew too much for their safety, they
were struck with his faculty for silence, and thought they
might be able to make use of him.'

'To be sure,' said Abner Power.

'Next, like friend Bunyan, I saw in my dream that denunciation
was the breath of life to this society. At an earlier date in
its history, objectionable persons in power had been from time
to time murdered, and curiously enough numbered; that is, upon
the body of each was set a mark or seal, announcing that he
was one of a series. But at this time the question before the
society related to the substitution for the dagger, which was
vetoed as obsolete, of some explosive machine that would be
both more effectual and less difficult to manage; and in
short, a large reward was offered to our needy Englishman if
he would put their ideas of such a machine into shape.'

Abner Power nodded again, his complexion being peculiar--which
might partly have been accounted for by the reflection of
window-light from the green-baize table-cloth.

'He agreed, though no politician whatever himself, to exercise
his wits on their account, and brought his machine to such a
pitch of perfection, that it was the identical one used in the
memorable attempt--' (Dare whispered the remainder of the
sentence in tones so low that not a mouse in the corner could
have heard.) 'Well, the inventor of that explosive has
naturally been wanted ever since by all the heads of police in
Europe. But the most curious--or perhaps the most natural
part of my story is, that our hero, after the catastrophe,
grew disgusted with himself and his comrades, acquired, in a
fit of revulsion, quite a conservative taste in politics,
which was strengthened greatly by the news he indirectly
received of the great wealth and respectability of his
brother, who had had no communion with him for years, and
supposed him dead. He abjured his employers and resolved to
abandon them; but before coming to England he decided to
destroy all trace of his combustible inventions by dropping
them into the neighbouring lake at night from a boat. You
feel the room close, Mr. Power?'

'No, I suffer from attacks of perspiration whenever I sit in a
consecrated edifice--that's all. Pray go on.'

'In carrying out this project, an explosion occurred, just as
he was throwing the stock overboard--it blew up into his face,
wounding him severely, and nearly depriving him of sight. The
boat was upset, but he swam ashore in the darkness, and
remained hidden till he recovered, though the scars produced
by the burns had been set on him for ever. This accident,
which was such a misfortune to him as a man, was an advantage
to him as a conspirators' engineer retiring from practice, and
afforded him a disguise both from his own brotherhood and from
the police, which he has considered impenetrable, but which is
getting seen through by one or two keen eyes as time goes on.
Instead of coming to England just then, he went to Peru,
connected himself with the guano trade, I believe, and after
his brother's death revisited England, his old life
obliterated as far as practicable by his new principles. He
is known only as a great traveller to his surviving relatives,
though he seldom says where he has travelled. Unluckily for
himself, he is WANTED by certain European governments as badly
as ever.'

Dare raised his eyes as he concluded his narration. As has
been remarked, he was sitting at one end of the vestry-table,
Power at the other, the green cloth stretching between them.
On the edge of the table adjoining Mr. Power a shining nozzle
of metal was quietly resting, like a dog's nose. It was
directed point-blank at the young man.

Dare started. 'Ah--a revolver?' he said.

Mr. Power nodded placidly, his hand still grasping the pistol
behind the edge of the table. 'As a traveller I always carry
one of 'em,' he returned; 'and for the last five minutes I
have been closely considering whether your numerous brains are
worth blowing out or no. The vault yonder has suggested
itself as convenient and snug for one of the same family; but
the mental problem that stays my hand is, how am I to despatch
and bury you there without the workmen seeing?'

''Tis a strange problem, certainly,' replied Dare, 'and one on
which I fear I could not give disinterested advice. Moreover,
while you, as a traveller, always carry a weapon of defence,
as a traveller so do I. And for the last three-quarters of an
hour I have been thinking concerning you, an intensified form
of what you have been thinking of me, but without any concern
as to your interment. See here for a proof of it.' And a
second steel nose rested on the edge of the table opposite to
the first, steadied by Dare's right hand.

They remained for some time motionless, the tick of the tower
clock distinctly audible.

Mr. Power spoke first.

'Well, 'twould be a pity to make a mess here under such
dubious circumstances. Mr. Dare, I perceive that a mean
vagabond can be as sharp as a political regenerator. I cry
quits, if you care to do the same?'

Dare assented, and the pistols were put away.

'Then we do nothing at all, either side; but let the course of
true love run on to marriage--that's the understanding, I
think?' said Dare as he rose.

'It is,' said Power; and turning on his heel, he left the
vestry.

Dare retired to the church and thence to the outside, where he
idled away a few minutes in looking at the workmen, who were
now lowering into its place a large stone slab, bearing the
words 'DE STANCY,' which covered the entrance to the vault.
When the footway of the churchyard was restored to its normal
condition Dare pursued his way to Markton.

Abner Power walked back to the castle at a slow and equal
pace, as though he carried an over-brimming vessel on his
head. He silently let himself in, entered the long gallery,
and sat down. The length of time that he sat there was so
remarkable as to raise that interval of inanition to the rank
of a feat.

Power's eyes glanced through one of the window-casements:
from a hole without he saw the head of a tomtit protruding.
He listlessly watched the bird during the successive epochs of
his thought, till night came, without any perceptible change
occurring in him. Such fixity would have meant nothing else
than sudden death in any other man, but in Mr. Power it merely
signified that he was engaged in ruminations which
necessitated a more extensive survey than usual. At last, at
half-past eight, after having sat for five hours with his eyes
on the residence of the tomtits, to whom night had brought
cessation of thought, if not to him who had observed them, he
rose amid the shades of the furniture, and rang the bell.
There were only a servant or two in the castle, one of whom
presently came with a light in her hand and a startled look
upon her face, which was not reduced when she recognized him;
for in the opinion of that household there was something
ghoul-like in Mr. Power, which made him no desirable guest.

He ate a late meal, and retired to bed, where he seemed to
sleep not unsoundly. The next morning he received a letter
which afforded him infinite satisfaction and gave his stagnant
impulses a new momentum. He entered the library, and amid
objects swathed in brown holland sat down and wrote a note to
his niece at Amiens. Therein he stated that, finding that the
Anglo-South-American house with which he had recently
connected himself required his presence in Peru, it obliged
him to leave without waiting for her return. He felt the less
uneasy at going, since he had learnt that Captain De Stancy
would return at once to Amiens to his sick sister, and see
them safely home when she improved. He afterwards left the
castle, disappearing towards a railway station some miles
above Markton, the road to which lay across an unfrequented
down.

XII.

It was a fine afternoon of late summer, nearly three months
subsequent to the death of Sir William De Stancy and Paula's
engagement to marry his successor in the title. George
Somerset had started on a professional journey that took him
through the charming district which lay around Stancy Castle.
Having resigned his appointment as architect to that important
structure--a resignation which had been accepted by Paula
through her solicitor--he had bidden farewell to the locality
after putting matters in such order that his successor,
whoever he might be, should have no difficulty in obtaining
the particulars necessary to the completion of the work in
hand. Hardly to his surprise this successor was Havill.

Somerset's resignation had been tendered in no hasty mood. On
returning to England, and in due course to the castle,
everything bore in upon his mind the exceeding sorrowfulness--
he would not say humiliation--of continuing to act in his
former capacity for a woman who, from seeming more than a dear
friend, had become less than an acquaintance.

So he resigned; but now, as the train drew on into that once
beloved tract of country, the images which met his eye threw
him back in point of emotion to very near where he had been
before making himself a stranger here. The train entered the
cutting on whose brink he had walked when the carriage
containing Paula and her friends surprised him the previous
summer. He looked out of the window: they were passing the
well-known curve that led up to the tunnel constructed by her
father, into which he had gone when the train came by and
Paula had been alarmed for his life. There was the path they
had both climbed afterwards, involuntarily seizing each
other's hand; the bushes, the grass, the flowers, everything
just the same:

'-----Here was the pleasant place,
And nothing wanting was, save She, alas!'

When they came out of the tunnel at the other end he caught a
glimpse of the distant castle-keep, and the well-remembered
walls beneath it. The experience so far transcended the
intensity of what is called mournful pleasure as to make him
wonder how he could have miscalculated himself to the extent
of supposing that he might pass the spot with controllable
emotion.

On entering Markton station he withdrew into a remote corner
of the carriage, and closed his eyes with a resolve not to
open them till the embittering scenes should be passed by. He
had not long to wait for this event. When again in motion his
eye fell upon the skirt of a lady's dress opposite, the owner
of which had entered and seated herself so softly as not to
attract his attention.

'Ah indeed!' he exclaimed as he looked up to her face. 'I had
not a notion that it was you!' He went over and shook hands
with Charlotte De Stancy.

'I am not going far,' she said; 'only to the next station. We
often run down in summer time. Are you going far?'

'I am going to a building further on; thence to Normandy by
way of Cherbourg, to finish out my holiday.'

Miss De Stancy thought that would be very nice.

'Well, I hope so. But I fear it won't.'

After saying that Somerset asked himself why he should mince
matters with so genuine and sympathetic a girl as Charlotte De
Stancy? She could tell him particulars which he burned to
know. He might never again have an opportunity of knowing
them, since she and he would probably not meet for years to
come, if at all.

'Have the castle works progressed pretty rapidly under the new
architect?' he accordingly asked.

'Yes,' said Charlotte in her haste--then adding that she was
not quite sure if they had progressed so rapidly as before;
blushingly correcting herself at this point and that, in the
tinkering manner of a nervous organization aiming at nicety
where it was not required.

'Well, I should have liked to carry out the undertaking to its
end,' said Somerset. 'But I felt I could not consistently do
so. Miss Power--' (here a lump came into Somerset's throat--
so responsive was he yet to her image)--'seemed to have lost
confidence in me, and--it was best that the connection should
be severed.'

There was a long pause. 'She was very sorry about it,' said
Charlotte gently.

'What made her alter so?--I never can think!'

Charlotte waited again as if to accumulate the necessary force
for honest speaking at the expense of pleasantness. 'It was
the telegram that began it of course,' she answered.

'Telegram?'

She looked up at him in quite a frightened way--little as
there was to be frightened at in a quiet fellow like him in
this sad time of his life--and said, 'Yes: some telegram--I
think--when you were in trouble? Forgive my alluding to it;
but you asked me the question.'

Somerset began reflecting on what messages he had sent Paula,
troublous or otherwise. All he had sent had been sent from
the castle, and were as gentle and mellifluous as sentences
well could be which had neither articles nor pronouns. 'I
don't understand,' he said. 'Will you explain a little more--
as plainly as you like--without minding my feelings?'

'A telegram from Nice, I think?'

'I never sent one.'

'O! The one I meant was about money.'

Somerset shook his head. 'No,' he murmured, with the
composure of a man who, knowing he had done nothing of the
sort himself, was blinded by his own honesty to the
possibility that another might have done it for him. 'That
must be some other affair with which I had nothing to do. O
no, it was nothing like that; the reason for her change of
manner was quite different!'

So timid was Charlotte in Somerset's presence, that her
timidity at this juncture amounted to blameworthiness. The
distressing scene which must have followed a clearing up there
and then of any possible misunderstanding, terrified her
imagination; and quite confounded by contradictions that she
could not reconcile, she held her tongue, and nervously looked
out of the window.

'I have heard that Miss Power is soon to be married,'
continued Somerset.

'Yes,' Charlotte murmured. 'It is sooner than it ought to be
by rights, considering how recently my dear father died; but
there are reasons in connection with my brother's position
against putting it off: and it is to be absolutely simple and
private.'

There was another interval. 'May I ask when it is to be?' he
said.

'Almost at once--this week.'

Somerset started back as if some stone had hit his face.

Still there was nothing wonderful in such promptitude:
engagements broken in upon by the death of a near relative of
one of the parties had been often carried out in a subdued
form with no longer delay.

Charlotte's station was now at hand. She bade him farewell;
and he rattled on to the building he had come to inspect, and
next to Budmouth, whence he intended to cross the Channel by
steamboat that night.

He hardly knew how the evening passed away. He had taken up
his quarters at an inn near the quay, and as the night drew on
he stood gazing from the coffee-room window at the steamer
outside, which nearly thrust its spars through the bedroom
casements, and at the goods that were being tumbled on board
as only shippers can tumble them. All the goods were laden, a
lamp was put on each side the gangway, the engines broke into
a crackling roar, and people began to enter. They were only
waiting for the last train: then they would be off. Still
Somerset did not move; he was thinking of that curious half-
told story of Charlotte's, about a telegram to Paula for money
from Nice. Not once till within the last half-hour had it
recurred to his mind that he had met Dare both at Nice and at
Monte Carlo; that at the latter place he had been absolutely
out of money and wished to borrow, showing considerable
sinister feeling when Somerset declined to lend: that on one
or two previous occasions he had reasons for doubting Dare's
probity; and that in spite of the young man's impoverishment
at Monte Carlo he had, a few days later, beheld him in shining
raiment at Carlsruhe. Somerset, though misty in his
conjectures, was seized with a growing conviction that there
was something in Miss De Stancy's allusion to the telegram
which ought to be explained.

He felt an insurmountable objection to cross the water that
night, or till he had been able to see Charlotte again, and
learn more of her meaning. He countermanded the order to put
his luggage on board, watched the steamer out of the harbour,
and went to bed. He might as well have gone to battle, for
any rest that he got. On rising the next morning he felt
rather blank, though none the less convinced that a matter
required investigation. He left Budmouth by a morning train,
and about eleven o'clock found himself in Markton.

The momentum of a practical inquiry took him through that
ancient borough without leaving him much leisure for those
reveries which had yesterday lent an unutterable sadness to
every object there. It was just before noon that he started
for the castle, intending to arrive at a time of the morning
when, as he knew from experience, he could speak to Charlotte
without difficulty. The rising ground soon revealed the old
towers to him, and, jutting out behind them, the scaffoldings
for the new wing.

While halting here on the knoll in some doubt about his
movements he beheld a man coming along the road, and was soon
confronted by his former competitor, Havill. The first
instinct of each was to pass with a nod, but a second instinct
for intercourse was sufficient to bring them to a halt. After
a few superficial words had been spoken Somerset said, 'You
have succeeded me.'

'I have,' said Havill; 'but little to my advantage. I have
just heard that my commission is to extend no further than
roofing in the wing that you began, and had I known that
before, I would have seen the castle fall flat as Jericho
before I would have accepted the superintendence. But I know
who I have to thank for that--De Stancy.'

Somerset still looked towards the distant battlements. On the
scaffolding, among the white-jacketed workmen, he could
discern one figure in a dark suit.

'You have a clerk of the works, I see,' he observed.

'Nominally I have, but practically I haven't.'

'Then why do you keep him?'

'I can't help myself. He is Mr. Dare; and having been
recommended by a higher power than I, there he must stay in
spite of me.'

'Who recommended him?'

'The same--De Stancy.'

'It is very odd,' murmured Somerset, 'but that young man is
the object of my visit.'

'You had better leave him alone,' said Havill drily.

Somerset asked why.

'Since I call no man master over that way I will inform you.'
Havill then related in splenetic tones, to which Somerset did
not care to listen till the story began to advance itself, how
he had passed the night with Dare at the inn, and the
incidents of that night, relating how he had seen some letters
on the young man's breast which long had puzzled him. 'They
were an E, a T, an N, and a C. I thought over them long, till
it eventually occurred to me that the word when filled out was
"De Stancy," and that kinship explains the offensive and
defensive alliance between them.'

'But, good heavens, man!' said Somerset, more and more
disturbed. 'Does she know of it?'

'You may depend she does not yet; but she will soon enough.
Hark--there it is!' The notes of the castle clock were heard
striking noon. 'Then it is all over.'

'What?--not their marriage!'

'Yes. Didn't you know it was the wedding day? They were to
be at the church at half-past eleven. I should have waited to
see her go, but it was no sight to hinder business for, as she
was only going to drive over in her brougham with Miss De
Stancy.'

'My errand has failed!' said Somerset, turning on his heel.
'I'll walk back to the town with you.'

However he did not walk far with Havill; society was too much
at that moment. As soon as opportunity offered he branched
from the road by a path, and avoiding the town went by railway
to Budmouth, whence he resumed, by the night steamer, his
journey to Normandy

XIII.

To return to Charlotte De Stancy. When the train had borne
Somerset from her side, and she had regained her self-
possession, she became conscious of the true proportions of
the fact he had asserted. And, further, if the telegram had
not been his, why should the photographic distortion be
trusted as a phase of his existence? But after a while it
seemed so improbable to her that God's sun should bear false
witness, that instead of doubting both evidences she was
inclined to readmit the first. Still, upon the whole, she
could not question for long the honesty of Somerset's denial
and if that message had indeed been sent by him, it must have
been done while he was in another such an unhappy state as
that exemplified by the portrait. The supposition reconciled
all differences; and yet she could not but fight against it
with all the strength of a generous affection.

All the afternoon her poor little head was busy on this
perturbing question, till she inquired of herself whether
after all it might not be possible for photographs to
represent people as they had never been. Before rejecting the
hypothesis she determined to have the word of a professor on
the point, which would be better than all her surmises.
Returning to Markton early, she told the coachman whom Paula
had sent, to drive her to the shop of Mr. Ray, an obscure
photographic artist in that town, instead of straight home.

Ray's establishment consisted of two divisions, the
respectable and the shabby. If, on entering the door, the
visitor turned to the left, he found himself in a magazine of
old clothes, old furniture, china, umbrellas, guns, fishing-
rods, dirty fiddles, and split flutes. Entering the right-
hand room, which had originally been that of an independent
house, he was in an ordinary photographer's and print-
collector's depository, to which a certain artistic solidity
was imparted by a few oil paintings in the background.
Charlotte made for the latter department, and when she was
inside Mr. Ray appeared in person from the lumber-shop
adjoining, which, despite its manginess, contributed by far
the greater share to his income.

Charlotte put her question simply enough. The man did not
answer her directly, but soon found that she meant no harm to
him. He told her that such misrepresentations were quite
possible, and that they embodied a form of humour which was
getting more and more into vogue among certain facetious
persons of society.

Charlotte was coming away when she asked, as on second
thoughts, if he had any specimens of such work to show her.

'None of my own preparation,' said Mr. Ray, with unimpeachable
probity of tone. 'I consider them libellous myself. Still, I
have one or two samples by me, which I keep merely as
curiosities.--There's one,' he said, throwing out a portrait
card from a drawer. 'That represents the German Emperor in a

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