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Chapter 10


At ten o'clock they met in the same room, Paula appearing in a
straw hat having a bent-up brim lined with plaited silk, so
that it surrounded her forehead like a nimbus; and Somerset
armed with sketch-book, measuring-rod, and other apparatus of
his craft.

'And Mr. Havill?' said the young man.

'I have not decided to employ him: if I do he shall go round
with me independently of you,' she replied rather brusquely.

Somerset was by no means sorry to hear this. His duty to
Havill was done.

'And now,' she said, as they walked on together through the
passages, 'I must tell you that I am not a mediaevalist
myself; and perhaps that's a pity.'

'What are you?'

'I am Greek--that's why I don't wish to influence your
design.'

Somerset, as they proceeded, pointed out where roofs had been
and should be again, where gables had been pulled down, and
where floors had vanished, showing her how to reconstruct
their details from marks in the walls, much as a comparative
anatomist reconstructs an antediluvian from fragmentary bones
and teeth. She appeared to be interested, listened
attentively, but said little in reply. They were ultimately
in a long narrow passage, indifferently lighted, when
Somerset, treading on a loose stone, felt a twinge of weakness
in one knee, and knew in a moment that it was the result of
the twist given by his yesterday's fall. He paused, leaning
against the wall.

'What is it?' said Paula, with a sudden timidity in her voice.

'I slipped down yesterday,' he said. 'It will be right in a
moment.'

'I--can I help you?' said Paula. But she did not come near
him; indeed, she withdrew a little. She looked up the
passage, and down the passage, and became conscious that it
was long and gloomy, and that nobody was near. A curious coy
uneasiness seemed to take possession of her. Whether she
thought, for the first time, that she had made a mistake--that
to wander about the castle alone with him was compromising, or
whether it was the mere shy instinct of maidenhood, nobody
knows; but she said suddenly, 'I will get something for you,
and return in a few minutes.'

'Pray don't--it has quite passed!' he said, stepping out
again.

But Paula had vanished. When she came back it was in the rear
of Charlotte De Stancy. Miss De Stancy had a tumbler in one
hand, half full of wine, which she offered him; Paula
remaining in the background.

He took the glass, and, to satisfy his companions, drank a
mouthful or two, though there was really nothing whatever the
matter with him beyond the slight ache above mentioned.
Charlotte was going to retire, but Paula said, quite
anxiously, 'You will stay with me, Charlotte, won't you?
Surely you are interested in what I am doing?'

'What is it?' said Miss De Stancy.

'Planning how to mend and enlarge the castle. Tell Mr.
Somerset what I want done in the quadrangle--you know quite
well--and I will walk on.'

She walked on; but instead of talking on the subject as
directed, Charlotte and Somerset followed chatting on
indifferent matters. They came to an inner court and found
Paula standing there.

She met Miss De Stancy with a smile. 'Did you explain?' she
asked.

'I have not explained yet.' Paula seated herself on a stone
bench, and Charlotte went on: 'Miss Power thought of making a
Greek court of this. But she will not tell you so herself,
because it seems such dreadful anachronism.

'I said I would not tell any architect myself,' interposed
Paula correctingly. 'I did not then know that he would be Mr.
Somerset.'

'It is rather startling,' said Somerset.

'A Greek colonnade all round, you said, Paula,' continued her
less reticent companion. 'A peristyle you called it--you saw
it in a book, don't you remember?--and then you were going to
have a fountain in the middle, and statues like those in the
British Museum.'

'I did say so,' remarked Paula, pulling the leaves from a
young sycamore-tree that had sprung up between the joints of
the paving.

From the spot where they sat they could see over the roofs the
upper part of the great tower wherein Somerset had met with
his misadventure. The tower stood boldly up in the sun, and
from one of the slits in the corner something white waved in
the breeze.

'What can that be?' said Charlotte. 'Is it the fluff of owls,
or a handkerchief?'

'It is my handkerchief,' Somerset answered. 'I fixed it there
with a stone to attract attention, and forgot to take it
away.'

All three looked up at the handkerchief with interest. 'Why
did you want to attract attention?' said Paula.

'O, I fell into the turret; but I got out very easily.'

'O Paula,' said Charlotte, turning to her friend, 'that must
be the place where the man fell in, years ago, and was starved
to death!'

'Starved to death?' said Paula.

'They say so. O Mr. Somerset, what an escape!' And Charlotte
De Stancy walked away to a point from which she could get a
better view of the treacherous turret.

'Whom did you think to attract?' asked Paula, after a pause.

'I thought you might see it.'

'Me personally?' And, blushing faintly, her eyes rested upon
him.

'I hoped for anybody. I thought of you,' said Somerset.

She did not continue. In a moment she arose and went across
to Miss De Stancy. 'Don't YOU go falling down and becoming a
skeleton,' she said--Somerset overheard the words, though
Paula was unaware of it--after which she clasped her fingers
behind Charlotte's neck, and smiled tenderly in her face.

It seemed to be quite unconsciously done, and Somerset thought
it a very beautiful action. Presently Paula returned to him
and said, 'Mr. Somerset, I think we have had enough
architecture for to-day.'

The two women then wished him good-morning and went away.
Somerset, feeling that he had now every reason for prowling
about the castle, remained near the spot, endeavouring to
evolve some plan of procedure for the project entertained by
the beautiful owner of those weather-scathed walls. But for a
long time the mental perspective of his new position so
excited the emotional side of his nature that he could not
concentrate it on feet and inches. As Paula's architect
(supposing Havill not to be admitted as a competitor), he must
of necessity be in constant communication with her for a space
of two or three years to come; and particularly during the
next few months. She, doubtless, cherished far too ambitious
views of her career to feel any personal interest in this
enforced relationship with him; but he would be at liberty to
feel what he chose: and to be the victim of an unrequited
passion, while afforded such splendid opportunities of
communion with the one beloved, deprived that passion of its
most deplorable features. Accessibility is a great point in
matters of love, and perhaps of the two there is less misery
in loving without return a goddess who is to be seen and
spoken to every day, than in having an affection tenderly
reciprocated by one always hopelessly removed.

With this view of having to spend a considerable time in the
neighbourhood Somerset shifted his quarters that afternoon
from the little inn at Sleeping-Green to a larger one at
Markton. He required more rooms in which to carry out Paula's
instructions than the former place afforded, and a more
central position. Having reached and dined at Markton he
found the evening tedious, and again strolled out in the
direction of the castle.

When he reached it the light was declining, and a solemn
stillness overspread the pile. The great tower was in full
view. That spot of white which looked like a pigeon
fluttering from the loophole was his handkerchief, still
hanging in the place where he had left it. His eyes yet
lingered on the walls when he noticed, with surprise, that the
handkerchief suddenly vanished.

Believing that the breezes, though weak below, might have been
strong enough at that height to blow it into the turret, and
in no hurry to get off the premises, he leisurely climbed up
to find it, ascending by the second staircase, crossing the
roof, and going to the top of the treacherous turret. The
ladder by which he had escaped still stood within it, and
beside the ladder he beheld the dim outline of a woman, in a
meditative attitude, holding his handkerchief in her hand.

Somerset softly withdrew. When he had reached the ground he
looked up. A girlish form was standing at the top of the
tower looking over the parapet upon him--possibly not seeing
him, for it was dark on the lawn. It was either Miss De
Stancy or Paula; one of them had gone there alone for his
handkerchief and had remained awhile, pondering on his escape.
But which? 'If I were not a faint-heart I should run all risk
and wave my hat or kiss my hand to her, whoever she is,' he
thought. But he did not do either.

So he lingered about silently in the shades, and then thought
of strolling to his rooms at Markton. Just at leaving, as he
passed under the inhabited wing, whence one or two lights now
blinked, he heard a piano, and a voice singing 'The Mistletoe
Bough.' The song had probably been suggested to the romantic
fancy of the singer by her visit to the scene of his
captivity.

Thomas Hardy