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Chapter 13

Though exhibiting indifference, Somerset had felt a pang of
disappointment when he heard the news of Paula's approaching
dinner-party. It seemed a little unkind of her to pass him
over, seeing how much they were thrown together just now.
That dinner meant more than it sounded. Notwithstanding the
roominess of her castle, she was at present living somewhat
incommodiously, owing partly to the stagnation caused by her
recent bereavement, and partly to the necessity for
overhauling the De Stancy lumber piled in those vast and
gloomy chambers before they could be made tolerable to
nineteenth-century fastidiousness.

To give dinners on any large scale before Somerset had at
least set a few of these rooms in order for her, showed, to
his thinking, an overpowering desire for society.

During the week he saw less of her than usual, her time being
to all appearance much taken up with driving out to make calls
on her neighbours and receiving return visits. All this he
observed from the windows of his studio overlooking the castle
ward, in which room he now spent a great deal of his time,
bending over drawing-boards and instructing Dare, who worked
as well as could be expected of a youth of such varied
attainments.

Nearer came the Wednesday of the party, and no hint of that
event reached Somerset, but such as had been communicated by
the Baptist minister. At last, on the very afternoon, an
invitation was handed into his studio--not a kind note in
Paula's handwriting, but a formal printed card in the joint
names of Mrs. Goodman and Miss Power. It reached him just
four hours before the dinner-time. He was plainly to be used
as a stop-gap at the last moment because somebody could not
come.

Having previously arranged to pass a quiet evening in his
rooms at the Lord Quantock Arms, in reading up chronicles of
the castle from the county history, with the view of gathering
some ideas as to the distribution of rooms therein before the
demolition of a portion of the structure, he decided off-hand
that Paula's dinner was not of sufficient importance to him as
a professional man and student of art to justify a waste of
the evening by going. He accordingly declined Mrs. Goodman's
and Miss Power's invitation; and at five o'clock left the
castle and walked across the fields to the little town.

He dined early, and, clearing away heaviness with a cup of
coffee, applied himself to that volume of the county history
which contained the record of Stancy Castle.

Here he read that 'when this picturesque and ancient structure
was founded, or by whom, is extremely uncertain. But that a
castle stood on the site in very early times appears from many
old books of charters. In its prime it was such a masterpiece
of fortification as to be the wonder of the world, and it was
thought, before the invention of gunpowder, that it never
could be taken by any force less than divine.'

He read on to the times when it first passed into the hands of
'De Stancy, Chivaler,' and received the family name, and so on
from De Stancy to De Stancy till he was lost in the reflection
whether Paula would or would not have thought more highly of
him if he had accepted the invitation to dinner. Applying
himself again to the tome, he learned that in the year 1504
Stephen the carpenter was 'paid eleven pence for necessarye
repayrs,' and William the mastermason eight shillings 'for
whyt lyming of the kitchen, and the lyme to do it with,'
including 'a new rope for the fyer bell;' also the sundry
charges for 'vij crockes, xiij lytyll pans, a pare of pot
hookes, a fyer pane, a lanterne, a chafynge dyshe, and xij
candyll stychs.'

Bang went eight strokes of the clock: it was the dinner-hour.

'There, now I can't go, anyhow!' he said bitterly, jumping up,
and picturing her receiving her company. How would she look;
what would she wear? Profoundly indifferent to the early
history of the noble fabric, he felt a violent reaction
towards modernism, eclecticism, new aristocracies, everything,
in short, that Paula represented. He even gave himself up to
consider the Greek court that she had wished for, and passed
the remainder of the evening in making a perspective view of
the same.

The next morning he awoke early, and, resolving to be at work
betimes, started promptly. It was a fine calm hour of day;
the grass slopes were silvery with excess of dew, and the blue
mists hung in the depths of each tree for want of wind to blow
them out. Somerset entered the drive on foot, and when near
the castle he observed in the gravel the wheel-marks of the
carriages that had conveyed the guests thither the night
before. There seemed to have been a large number, for the
road where newly repaired was quite cut up. Before going
indoors he was tempted to walk round to the wing in which
Paula slept.

Rooks were cawing, sparrows were chattering there; but the
blind of her window was as closely drawn as if it were
midnight. Probably she was sound asleep, dreaming of the
compliments which had been paid her by her guests, and of the
future triumphant pleasures that would follow in their train.
Reaching the outer stone stairs leading to the great hall he
found them shadowed by an awning brilliantly striped with red
and blue, within which rows of flowering plants in pots
bordered the pathway. She could not have made more
preparation had the gathering been a ball. He passed along
the gallery in which his studio was situated, entered the
room, and seized a drawing-board to put into correct drawing
the sketch for the Greek court that he had struck out the
night before, thereby abandoning his art principles to please
the whim of a girl. Dare had not yet arrived, and after a
time Somerset threw down his pencil and leant back.

His eye fell upon something that moved. It was white, and lay
in the folding chair on the opposite side of the room. On
near approach he found it to be a fragment of swan's-down
fanned into motion by his own movements, and partially
squeezed into the chink of the chair as though by some person
sitting on it.

None but a woman would have worn or brought that swan's-down
into his studio, and it made him reflect on the possible one.
Nothing interrupted his conjectures till ten o'clock, when
Dare came. Then one of the servants tapped at the door to
know if Mr. Somerset had arrived. Somerset asked if Miss
Power wished to see him, and was informed that she had only
wished to know if he had come. Somerset sent a return message
that he had a design on the board which he should soon be glad
to submit to her, and the messenger departed.

'Fine doings here last night, sir,' said Dare, as he dusted
his T-square.

'O indeed!'

'A dinner-party, I hear; eighteen guests.'

'Ah,' said Somerset.

'The young lady was magnificent--sapphires and opals--she
carried as much as a thousand pounds upon her head and
shoulders during that three or four hour. Of course they call
her charming; Compuesta no hay muger fea, as they say at
Madrid.'

'I don't doubt it for a moment,' said Somerset, with reserve.

Dare said no more, and presently the door opened, and there
stood Paula.

Somerset nodded to Dare to withdraw into an adjoining room,
and offered her a chair.

'You wish to show me the design you have prepared?' she asked,
without taking the seat.

'Yes; I have come round to your opinion. I have made a plan
for the Greek court you were anxious to build.' And he
elevated the drawing-board against the wall.

She regarded it attentively for some moments, her finger
resting lightly against her chin, and said, 'I have given up
the idea of a Greek court.'

He showed his astonishment, and was almost disappointed. He
had been grinding up Greek architecture entirely on her
account; had wrenched his mind round to this strange
arrangement, all for nothing.

'Yes,' she continued; 'on reconsideration I perceive the want
of harmony that would result from inserting such a piece of
marble-work in a mediaeval fortress; so in future we will
limit ourselves strictly to synchronism of style--that is to
say, make good the Norman work by Norman, the Perpendicular by
Perpendicular, and so on. I have informed Mr. Havill of the
same thing.'

Somerset pulled the Greek drawing off the board, and tore it
in two pieces.

She involuntarily turned to look in his face, but stopped
before she had quite lifted her eyes high enough. 'Why did
you do that?' she asked with suave curiosity.

'It is of no further use,' said Somerset, tearing the drawing
in the other direction, and throwing the pieces into the
fireplace. 'You have been reading up orders and styles to
some purpose, I perceive.' He regarded her with a faint
smile.

'I have had a few books down from town. It is desirable to
know a little about the architecture of one's own house.'

She remained looking at the torn drawing, when Somerset,
observing on the table the particle of swan's-down he had
found in the chair, gently blew it so that it skimmed across
the table under her eyes.

'It looks as if it came off a lady's dress,' he said idly.

'Off a lady's fan,' she replied.

'O, off a fan?'

'Yes; off mine.'

At her reply Somerset stretched out his hand for the swan's-
down, and put it carefully in his pocket-book; whereupon
Paula, moulding her cherry-red lower lip beneath her upper one
in arch self-consciousness at his act, turned away to the
window, and after a pause said softly as she looked out, 'Why
did you not accept our invitation to dinner?'

It was impossible to explain why. He impulsively drew near
and confronted her, and said, 'I hope you pardon me?'

'I don't know that I can quite do that,' answered she, with
ever so little reproach. 'I know why you did not come--you
were mortified at not being asked sooner! But it was purely
by an accident that you received your invitation so late. My
aunt sent the others by post, but as yours was to be delivered
by hand it was left on her table, and was overlooked.'

Surely he could not doubt her words; those nice friendly
accents were the embodiment of truth itself.

'I don't mean to make a serious complaint,' she added, in
injured tones, showing that she did. 'Only we had asked
nearly all of them to meet you, as the son of your illustrious
father, whom many of my friends know personally; and--they
were disappointed.'

It was now time for Somerset to be genuinely grieved at what
he had done. Paula seemed so good and honourable at that
moment that he could have laid down his life for her.

'When I was dressed, I came in here to ask you to reconsider
your decision,' she continued; 'or to meet us in the drawing-
room if you could not possibly be ready for dinner. But you
were gone.'

'And you sat down in that chair, didn't you, darling, and
remained there a long time musing!' he thought. But that he
did not say.

'I am very sorry,' he murmured.

'Will you make amends by coming to our garden party? I ask
you the very first.'

'I will,' replied Somerset. To add that it would give him
great pleasure, etc., seemed an absurdly weak way of
expressing his feelings, and he said no more.

'It is on the nineteenth. Don't forget the day.'

He met her eyes in such a way that, if she were woman, she
must have seen it to mean as plainly as words: 'Do I look as
if I could forget anything you say?'

She must, indeed, have understood much more by this time--the
whole of his open secret. But he did not understand her.
History has revealed that a supernumerary lover or two is
rarely considered a disadvantage by a woman, from queen to
cottage-girl; and the thought made him pause.

Thomas Hardy