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Chapter 12

Somerset did not forget what he had planned, and when lunch
was over he walked away through the trees. The tunnel was
more difficult of discovery than he had anticipated, and it
was only after considerable winding among green lanes, whose
deep ruts were like canyons of Colorado in miniature, that he
reached the slope in the distant upland where the tunnel
began. A road stretched over its crest, and thence along one
side of the railway-cutting.

He there unexpectedly saw standing Miss Power's carriage; and
on drawing nearer he found it to contain Paula herself, Miss
De Stancy, and Mrs. Goodman.

'How singular!' exclaimed Miss De Stancy gaily.

'It is most natural,' said Paula instantly. 'In the morning
two people discuss a feature in the landscape, and in the
afternoon each has a desire to see it from what the other has
said of it. Therefore they accidentally meet.'

Now Paula had distinctly heard Somerset declare that he was
going to walk there; how then could she say this so coolly?
It was with a pang at his heart that he returned to his old
thought of her being possibly a finished coquette and
dissembler. Whatever she might be, she was not a creature
starched very stiffly by Puritanism.

Somerset looked down on the mouth of the tunnel. The popular
commonplace that science, steam, and travel must always be
unromantic and hideous, was not proven at this spot. On
either slope of the deep cutting, green with long grass, grew
drooping young trees of ash, beech, and other flexible
varieties, their foliage almost concealing the actual railway
which ran along the bottom, its thin steel rails gleaming like
silver threads in the depths. The vertical front of the
tunnel, faced with brick that had once been red, was now
weather-stained, lichened, and mossed over in harmonious
rusty-browns, pearly greys, and neutral greens, at the very
base appearing a little blue-black spot like a mouse-hole--the
tunnel's mouth.

The carriage was drawn up quite close to the wood railing, and
Paula was looking down at the same time with him; but he made
no remark to her.

Mrs. Goodman broke the silence by saying, 'If it were not a
railway we should call it a lovely dell.'

Somerset agreed with her, adding that it was so charming that
he felt inclined to go down.

'If you do, perhaps Miss Power will order you up again, as a
trespasser,' said Charlotte De Stancy. 'You are one of the
largest shareholders in the railway, are you not, Paula?'

Miss Power did not reply.

'I suppose as the road is partly yours you might walk all the
way to London along the rails, if you wished, might you not,
dear?' Charlotte continued.

Paula smiled, and said, 'No, of course not.'

Somerset, feeling himself superfluous, raised his hat to his
companions as if he meant not to see them again for a while,
and began to descend by some steps cut in the earth; Miss De
Stancy asked Mrs. Goodman to accompany her to a barrow over
the top of the tunnel; and they left the carriage, Paula
remaining alone.

Down Somerset plunged through the long grass, bushes, late
summer flowers, moths, and caterpillars, vexed with himself
that he had come there, since Paula was so inscrutable, and
humming the notes of some song he did not know. The tunnel
that had seemed so small from the surface was a vast archway
when he reached its mouth, which emitted, as a contrast to the
sultry heat on the slopes of the cutting, a cool breeze, that
had travelled a mile underground from the other end. Far away
in the darkness of this silent subterranean corridor he could
see that other end as a mere speck of light.

When he had conscientiously admired the construction of the
massive archivault, and the majesty of its nude ungarnished
walls, he looked up the slope at the carriage; it was so small
to the eye that it might have been made for a performance by
canaries; Paula's face being still smaller, as she leaned back
in her seat, idly looking down at him. There seemed something
roguish in her attitude of criticism, and to be no longer the
subject of her contemplation he entered the tunnel out of her
sight.

In the middle of the speck of light before him appeared a
speck of black; and then a shrill whistle, dulled by millions
of tons of earth, reached his ears from thence. It was what
he had been on his guard against all the time,--a passing
train; and instead of taking the trouble to come out of the
tunnel he stepped into a recess, till the train had rattled
past and vanished onward round a curve.

Somerset still remained where he had placed himself, mentally
balancing science against art, the grandeur of this fine piece
of construction against that of the castle, and thinking
whether Paula's father had not, after all, the best of it,
when all at once he saw Paula's form confronting him at the
entrance of the tunnel. He instantly went forward into the
light; to his surprise she was as pale as a lily.

'O, Mr. Somerset!' she exclaimed. 'You ought not to frighten
me so--indeed you ought not! The train came out almost as
soon as you had gone in, and as you did not return--an
accident was possible!'

Somerset at once perceived that he had been to blame in not
thinking of this.

'Please do forgive my thoughtlessness in not reflecting how it
would strike you!' he pleaded. 'I--I see I have alarmed you.'

Her alarm was, indeed, much greater than he had at first
thought: she trembled so much that she was obliged to sit
down, at which he went up to her full of solicitousness.

'You ought not to have done it!' she said. 'I naturally
thought--any person would--'

Somerset, perhaps wisely, said nothing at this outburst; the
cause of her vexation was, plainly enough, his perception of
her discomposure. He stood looking in another direction, till
in a few moments she had risen to her feet again, quite calm.

'It would have been dreadful,' she said with faint gaiety, as
the colour returned to her face; 'if I had lost my architect,
and been obliged to engage Mr. Havill without an alternative.'

'I was really in no danger; but of course I ought to have
considered,' he said.

'I forgive you,' she returned good-naturedly. 'I knew there
was no GREAT danger to a person exercising ordinary
discretion; but artists and thinkers like you are indiscreet
for a moment sometimes. I am now going up again. What do you
think of the tunnel?'

They were crossing the railway to ascend by the opposite path,
Somerset keeping his eye on the interior of the tunnel for
safety, when suddenly there arose a noise and shriek from the
contrary direction behind the trees. Both knew in a moment
what it meant, and each seized the other as they rushed off
the permanent way. The ideas of both had been so centred on
the tunnel as the source of danger, that the probability of a
train from the opposite quarter had been forgotten. It rushed
past them, causing Paula's dress, hair, and ribbons to flutter
violently, and blowing up the fallen leaves in a shower over
their shoulders.

Neither spoke, and they went up several steps, holding each
other by the hand, till, becoming conscious of the fact, she
withdrew hers; whereupon Somerset stopped and looked earnestly
at her; but her eyes were averted towards the tunnel wall.

'What an escape!' he said.

'We were not so very near, I think, were we?' she asked
quickly. 'If we were, I think you were--very good to take my
hand.'

They reached the top at last, and the new level and open air
seemed to give her a new mind. 'I don't see the carriage
anywhere,' she said, in the common tones of civilization.

He thought it had gone over the crest of the hill; he would
accompany her till they reached it.

'No--please--I would rather not--I can find it very well.'
Before he could say more she had inclined her head and smiled
and was on her way alone.

The tunnel-cutting appeared a dreary gulf enough now to the
young man, as he stood leaning over the rails above it,
beating the herbage with his stick. For some minutes he could
not criticize or weigh her conduct; the warmth of her presence
still encircled him. He recalled her face as it had looked
out at him from under the white silk puffing of her black hat,
and the speaking power of her eyes at the moment of danger.
The breadth of that clear-complexioned forehead--almost
concealed by the masses of brown hair bundled up around it--
signified that if her disposition were oblique and insincere
enough for trifling, coquetting, or in any way making a fool
of him, she had the intellect to do it cruelly well.

But it was ungenerous to ruminate so suspiciously. A girl not
an actress by profession could hardly turn pale artificially
as she had done, though perhaps mere fright meant nothing, and
would have arisen in her just as readily had he been one of
the labourers on her estate.

The reflection that such feeling as she had exhibited could
have no tender meaning returned upon him with masterful force
when he thought of her wealth and the social position into
which she had drifted. Somerset, being of a solitary and
studious nature, was not quite competent to estimate precisely
the disqualifying effect, if any, of her nonconformity, her
newness of blood, and other things, among the old county
families established round her; but the toughest prejudices,
he thought, were not likely to be long invulnerable to such
cheerful beauty and brightness of intellect as Paula's. When
she emerged, as she was plainly about to do, from the
seclusion in which she had been living since her father's
death, she would inevitably win her way among her neighbours.
She would become the local topic. Fortune-hunters would learn
of her existence and draw near in shoals. What chance would
there then be for him?

The points in his favour were indeed few, but they were just
enough to keep a tantalizing hope alive. Modestly leaving out
of count his personal and intellectual qualifications, he
thought of his family. It was an old stock enough, though not
a rich one. His great-uncle had been the well-known Vice-
admiral Sir Armstrong Somerset, who served his country well in
the Baltic, the Indies, China, and the Caribbean Sea. His
grandfather had been a notable metaphysician. His father, the
Royal Academician, was popular. But perhaps this was not the
sort of reasoning likely to occupy the mind of a young woman;
the personal aspect of the situation was in such circumstances
of far more import. He had come as a wandering stranger--that
possibly lent some interest to him in her eyes. He was
installed in an office which would necessitate free communion
with her for some time to come; that was another advantage,
and would be a still greater one if she showed, as Paula
seemed disposed to do, such artistic sympathy with his work as
to follow up with interest the details of its progress.

The carriage did not reappear, and he went on towards Markton,
disinclined to return again that day to the studio which had
been prepared for him at the castle. He heard feet brushing
the grass behind him, and, looking round, saw the Baptist
minister.

'I have just come from the village,' said Mr. Woodwell, who
looked worn and weary, his boots being covered with dust; 'and
I have learnt that which confirms my fears for her.'

'For Miss Power?'

'Most assuredly.'

'What danger is there?' said Somerset.

'The temptations of her position have become too much for her!
She is going out of mourning next week, and will give a large
dinner-party on the occasion; for though the invitations are
partly in the name of her relative Mrs. Goodman, they must
come from her. The guests are to include people of old
cavalier families who would have treated her grandfather, sir,
and even her father, with scorn for their religion and
connections; also the parson and curate--yes, actually people
who believe in the Apostolic Succession; and what's more,
they're coming. My opinion is, that it has all arisen from
her friendship with Miss De Stancy.'

'Well,' cried Somerset warmly, 'this only shows liberality of
feeling on both sides! I suppose she has invited you as
well?'

'She has not invited me!. . . Mr. Somerset, not withstanding
your erroneous opinions on important matters, I speak to you
as a friend, and I tell you that she has never in her secret
heart forgiven that sermon of mine, in which I likened her to
the church at Laodicea. I admit the words were harsh, but I
was doing my duty, and if the case arose to-morrow I would do
it again. Her displeasure is a deep grief to me; but I serve
One greater than she. . . . You, of course, are invited to
this dinner?'

'I have heard nothing of it,' murmured the young man.

Their paths diverged; and when Somerset reached the hotel he
was informed that somebody was waiting to see him.

'Man or woman?' he asked.

The landlady, who always liked to reply in person to
Somerset's inquiries, apparently thinking him, by virtue of
his drawing implements and liberality of payment, a possible
lord of Burleigh, came forward and said it was certainly not a
woman, but whether man or boy she could not say. 'His name is
Mr. Dare,' she added.

'O--that youth,' he said.

Somerset went upstairs, along the passage, down two steps,
round the angle, and so on to the rooms reserved for him in
this rambling edifice of stage-coach memories, where he found
Dare waiting. Dare came forward, pulling out the cutting of
an advertisement.

'Mr. Somerset, this is yours, I believe, from the
Architectural World?'

Somerset said that he had inserted it.

'I think I should suit your purpose as assistant very well.'

'Are you an architect's draughtsman?'

'Not specially. I have some knowledge of the same, and want
to increase it.'

'I thought you were a photographer.'

'Also of photography,' said Dare with a bow. 'Though but an
amateur in that art I can challenge comparison with Regent
Street or Broadway.'

Somerset looked upon his table. Two letters only, addressed
in initials, were lying there as answers to his advertisement.
He asked Dare to wait, and looked them over. Neither was
satisfactory. On this account he overcame his slight feeling
against Mr. Dare, and put a question to test that gentleman's
capacities. 'How would you measure the front of a building,
including windows, doors, mouldings, and every other feature,
for a ground plan, so as to combine the greatest accuracy with
the greatest despatch?'

'In running dimensions,' said Dare.

As this was the particular kind of work he wanted done,
Somerset thought the answer promising. Coming to terms with
Dare, he requested the would-be student of architecture to
wait at the castle the next day, and dismissed him.

A quarter of an hour later, when Dare was taking a walk in the
country, he drew from his pocket eight other letters addressed
to Somerset in initials, which, to judge by their style and
stationery, were from men far superior to those two whose
communications alone Somerset had seen. Dare looked them over
for a few seconds as he strolled on, then tore them into
minute fragments, and, burying them under the leaves in the
ditch, went on his way again.

Thomas Hardy