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Chapter 5

Anybody who had closely considered Dare at this time would
have discovered that, shortly after the arrival of the Royal
Horse Artillery at Markton Barracks, he gave up his room at
the inn at Sleeping-Green and took permanent lodgings over a
broker's shop in the town above-mentioned. The peculiarity of
the rooms was that they commanded a view lengthwise of the
barrack lane along which any soldier, in the natural course of
things, would pass either to enter the town, to call at Myrtle
Villa, or to go to Stancy Castle.

Dare seemed to act as if there were plenty of time for his
business. Some few days had slipped by when, perceiving
Captain De Stancy walk past his window and into the town, Dare
took his hat and cane, and followed in the same direction.
When he was about fifty yards short of Myrtle Villa on the
other side of the town he saw De Stancy enter its gate.

Dare mounted a stile beside the highway and patiently waited.
In about twenty minutes De Stancy came out again and turned
back in the direction of the town, till Dare was revealed to
him on his left hand. When De Stancy recognized the youth he
was visibly agitated, though apparently not surprised.
Standing still a moment he dropped his glance upon the ground,
and then came forward to Dare, who having alighted from the
stile stood before the captain with a smile.

'My dear lad!' said De Stancy, much moved by recollections.
He held Dare's hand for a moment in both his own, and turned
askance.

'You are not astonished,' said Dare, still retaining his
smile, as if to his mind there were something comic in the
situation.

'I knew you were somewhere near. Where do you come from?'

'From going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down
in it, as Satan said to his Maker.--Southampton last, in
common speech.'

'Have you come here to see me?'

'Entirely. I divined that your next quarters would be
Markton, the previous batteries that were at your station
having come on here. I have wanted to see you badly.'

'You have?'

'I am rather out of cash. I have been knocking about a good
deal since you last heard from me.'

'I will do what I can again.'

'Thanks, captain.'

'But, Willy, I am afraid it will not be much at present. You
know I am as poor as a mouse.'

'But such as it is, could you write a cheque for it now?'

'I will send it to you from the barracks.'

'I have a better plan. By getting over this stile we could go
round at the back of the villas to Sleeping-Green Church.
There is always a pen-and-ink in the vestry, and we can have a
nice talk on the way. It would be unwise for me to appear at
the barracks just now.'

'That's true.'

De Stancy sighed, and they were about to walk across the
fields together. 'No,' said Dare, suddenly stopping: my
plans make it imperative that we should not run the risk of
being seen in each other's company for long. Walk on, and I
will follow. You can stroll into the churchyard, and move
about as if you were ruminating on the epitaphs. There are
some with excellent morals. I'll enter by the other gate, and
we can meet easily in the vestry-room.'

De Stancy looked gloomy, and was on the point of acquiescing
when he turned back and said, 'Why should your photograph be
shown to the chief constable?'

'By whom?'

'Somerset the architect. He suspects your having broken into
his office or something of the sort.' De Stancy briefly
related what Somerset had explained to him at the dinner-
table.

'It was merely diamond cut diamond between us, on an
architectural matter,' murmured Dare. 'Ho! and he suspects;
and that's his remedy!'

'I hope this is nothing serious?' asked De Stancy gravely.

'I peeped at his drawing--that's all. But since he chooses to
make that use of my photograph, which I gave him in
friendship, I'll make use of his in a way he little dreams of.
Well now, let's on.'

A quarter of an hour later they met in the vestry of the
church at Sleeping-Green.

'I have only just transferred my account to the bank here,'
said De Stancy, as he took out his cheque-book, 'and it will
be more convenient to me at present to draw but a small sum.
I will make up the balance afterwards.'

When he had written it Dare glanced over the paper and said
ruefully, 'It is small, dad. Well, there is all the more
reason why I should broach my scheme, with a view to making
such documents larger in the future.'

'I shall be glad to hear of any such scheme,' answered De
Stancy, with a languid attempt at jocularity.

'Then here it is. The plan I have arranged for you is of the
nature of a marriage.'

'You are very kind!' said De Stancy, agape.

'The lady's name is Miss Paula Power, who, as you may have
heard since your arrival, is in absolute possession of her
father's property and estates, including Stancy Castle. As
soon as I heard of her I saw what a marvellous match it would
be for you, and your family; it would make a man of you, in
short, and I have set my mind upon your putting no objection
in the way of its accomplishment.'

'But, Willy, it seems to me that, of us two, it is you who
exercise paternal authority?'

'True, it is for your good. Let me do it.'

'Well, one must be indulgent under the circumstances, I
suppose. . . . But,' added De Stancy simply, 'Willy, I--don't
want to marry, you know. I have lately thought that some day
we may be able to live together, you and I: go off to America
or New Zealand, where we are not known, and there lead a
quiet, pastoral life, defying social rules and troublesome
observances.'

'I can't hear of it, captain,' replied Dare reprovingly. 'I
am what events have made me, and having fixed my mind upon
getting you settled in life by this marriage, I have put
things in train for it at an immense trouble to myself. If
you had thought over it o' nights as much as I have, you would
not say nay.'

'But I ought to have married your mother if anybody. And as I
have not married her, the least I can do in respect to her is
to marry no other woman.'

'You have some sort of duty to me, have you not, Captain De
Stancy?'

'Yes, Willy, I admit that I have,' the elder replied
reflectively. 'And I don't think I have failed in it thus
far?'

'This will be the crowning proof. Paternal affection, family
pride, the noble instincts to reinstate yourself in the castle
of your ancestors, all demand the step. And when you have
seen the lady! She has the figure and motions of a sylph, the
face of an angel, the eye of love itself. What a sight she is
crossing the lawn on a sunny afternoon, or gliding airily
along the corridors of the old place the De Stancys knew so
well! Her lips are the softest, reddest, most distracting
things you ever saw. Her hair is as soft as silk, and of the
rarest, tenderest brown.'

The captain moved uneasily. 'Don't take the trouble to say
more, Willy,' he observed. 'You know how I am. My cursed
susceptibility to these matters has already wasted years of my
life, and I don't want to make myself a fool about her too.'

'You must see her.'

'No, don't let me see her,' De Stancy expostulated. 'If she
is only half so good-looking as you say, she will drag me at
her heels like a blind Samson. You are a mere youth as yet,
but I may tell you that the misfortune of never having been my
own master where a beautiful face was concerned obliges me to
be cautious if I would preserve my peace of mind.'

'Well, to my mind, Captain De Stancy, your objections seem
trivial. Are those all?'

'They are all I care to mention just now to you.'

'Captain! can there be secrets between us?'

De Stancy paused and looked at the lad as if his heart wished
to confess what his judgment feared to tell. 'There should
not be--on this point,' he murmured.

'Then tell me--why do you so much object to her?'

'I once vowed a vow.'

'A vow!' said Dare, rather disconcerted.

'A vow of infinite solemnity. I must tell you from the
beginning; perhaps you are old enough to hear it now, though
you have been too young before. Your mother's life ended in
much sorrow, and it was occasioned entirely by me. In my
regret for the wrong done her I swore to her that though she
had not been my wife, no other woman should stand in that
relationship to me; and this to her was a sort of comfort.
When she was dead my knowledge of my own plaguy
impressionableness, which seemed to be ineradicable--as it
seems still--led me to think what safeguards I could set over
myself with a view to keeping my promise to live a life of
celibacy; and among other things I determined to forswear the
society, and if possible the sight, of women young and
attractive, as far as I had the power to do.'

'It is not so easy to avoid the sight of a beautiful woman if
she crosses your path, I should think?'

'It is not easy; but it is possible.'

'How?'

'By directing your attention another way.'

'But do you mean to say, captain, that you can be in a room
with a pretty woman who speaks to you, and not look at her?'

'I do: though mere looking has less to do with it than mental
attentiveness--allowing your thoughts to flow out in her
direction--to comprehend her image.'

'But it would be considered very impolite not to look at the
woman or comprehend her image?'

'It would, and is. I am considered the most impolite officer
in the service. I have been nicknamed the man with the
averted eyes--the man with the detestable habit--the man who
greets you with his shoulder, and so on. Ninety-and-nine fair
women at the present moment hate me like poison and death for
having persistently refused to plumb the depths of their
offered eyes.'

'How can you do it, who are by nature courteous?'

'I cannot always--I break down sometimes. But, upon the
whole, recollection holds me to it: dread of a lapse.
Nothing is so potent as fear well maintained.'

De Stancy narrated these details in a grave meditative tone
with his eyes on the wall, as if he were scarcely conscious of
a listener.

'But haven't you reckless moments, captain?--when you have
taken a little more wine than usual, for instance?'

'I don't take wine.'

'O, you are a teetotaller?'

'Not a pledged one--but I don't touch alcohol unless I get
wet, or anything of that sort.'

'Don't you sometimes forget this vow of yours to my mother?'

'No, I wear a reminder.'

'What is that like?'

De Stancy held up his left hand, on the third finger of which
appeared an iron ring.

Dare surveyed it, saying, 'Yes, I have seen that before,
though I never knew why you wore it. Well, I wear a reminder
also, but of a different sort.'

He threw open his shirt-front, and revealed tattooed on his
breast the letters DE STANCY; the same marks which Havill had
seen in the bedroom by the light of the moon.

The captain rather winced at the sight. 'Well, well,' he said
hastily, 'that's enough. . . . Now, at any rate, you
understand my objection to know Miss Power.'

'But, captain,' said the lad coaxingly, as he fastened his
shirt; 'you forget me and the good you may do me by marrying?
Surely that's a sufficient reason for a change of sentiment.
This inexperienced sweet creature owns the castle and estate
which bears your name, even to the furniture and pictures.
She is the possessor of at least forty thousand a year--how
much more I cannot say--while, buried here in Outer Wessex,
she lives at the rate of twelve hundred in her simplicity.'

'It is very good of you to set this before me. But I prefer
to go on as I am going.'

'Well, I won't bore you any more with her to-day. A monk in
regimentals!--'tis strange.' Dare arose and was about to open
the door, when, looking through the window, Captain De Stancy
said, 'Stop.' He had perceived his father, Sir William De
Stancy, walking among the tombstones without.

'Yes, indeed,' said Dare, turning the key in the door. 'It
would look strange if he were to find us here.'

As the old man seemed indisposed to leave the churchyard just
yet they sat down again.

'What a capital card-table this green cloth would make,' said
Dare, as they waited. 'You play, captain, I suppose?'

'Very seldom.'

'The same with me. But as I enjoy a hand of cards with a
friend, I don't go unprovided.' Saying which, Dare drew a
pack from the tail of his coat. 'Shall we while away this
leisure with the witching things?'

'Really, I'd rather not.'

'But,' coaxed the young man, 'I am in the humour for it; so
don't be unkind!'

'But, Willy, why do you care for these things? Cards are
harmless enough in their way; but I don't like to see you
carrying them in your pocket. It isn't good for you.'

'It was by the merest chance I had them. Now come, just one
hand, since we are prisoners. I want to show you how nicely I
can play. I won't corrupt you!'

'Of course not,' said De Stancy, as if ashamed of what his
objection implied. 'You are not corrupt enough yourself to do
that, I should hope.'

The cards were dealt and they began to play--Captain De Stancy
abstractedly, and with his eyes mostly straying out of the
window upon the large yew, whose boughs as they moved were
distorted by the old green window-panes.

'It is better than doing nothing,' said Dare cheerfully, as
the game went on. 'I hope you don't dislike it?'

'Not if it pleases you,' said De Stancy listlessly.

'And the consecration of this place does not extend further
than the aisle wall.'

'Doesn't it?' said De Stancy, as he mechanically played out
his cards. 'What became of that box of books I sent you with
my last cheque?'

'Well, as I hadn't time to read them, and as I knew you would
not like them to be wasted, I sold them to a bloke who peruses
them from morning till night. Ah, now you have lost a fiver
altogether--how queer! We'll double the stakes. So, as I was
saying, just at the time the books came I got an inkling of
this important business, and literature went to the wall.'

'Important business--what?'

'The capture of this lady, to be sure.'

De Stancy sighed impatiently. 'I wish you were less
calculating, and had more of the impulse natural to your
years!'

'Game--by Jove! You have lost again, captain. That makes--
let me see--nine pounds fifteen to square us.'

'I owe you that?' said De Stancy, startled. 'It is more than
I have in cash. I must write another cheque.'

'Never mind. Make it payable to yourself, and our connection
will be quite unsuspected.'

Captain De Stancy did as requested, and rose from his seat.
Sir William, though further off, was still in the churchyard.

'How can you hesitate for a moment about this girl?' said
Dare, pointing to the bent figure of the old man. 'Think of
the satisfaction it would be to him to see his son within the
family walls again. It should be a religion with you to
compass such a legitimate end as this.'

'Well, well, I'll think of it,' said the captain, with an
impatient laugh. 'You are quite a Mephistopheles, Will--I say
it to my sorrow!'

'Would that I were in your place.'

'Would that you were! Fifteen years ago I might have called
the chance a magnificent one.'

'But you are a young man still, and you look younger than you
are. Nobody knows our relationship, and I am not such a fool
as to divulge it. Of course, if through me you reclaim this
splendid possession, I should leave it to your feelings what
you would do for me.'

Sir William had by this time cleared out of the churchyard,
and the pair emerged from the vestry and departed. Proceeding
towards Markton by the same bypath, they presently came to an
eminence covered with bushes of blackthorn, and tufts of
yellowing fern. From this point a good view of the woods and
glades about Stancy Castle could be obtained. Dare stood
still on the top and stretched out his finger; the captain's
eye followed the direction, and he saw above the many-hued
foliage in the middle distance the towering keep of Paula's
castle.

'That's the goal of your ambition, captain--ambition do I
say?--most righteous and dutiful endeavour! How the hoary
shape catches the sunlight--it is the raison d'etre of the
landscape, and its possession is coveted by a thousand hearts.
Surely it is an hereditary desire of yours? You must make a
point of returning to it, and appearing in the map of the
future as in that of the past. I delight in this work of
encouraging you, and pushing you forward towards your own.
You are really very clever, you know, but--I say it with
respect--how comes it that you want so much waking up?'

'Because I know the day is not so bright as it seems, my boy.
However, you make a little mistake. If I care for anything on
earth, I do care for that old fortress of my forefathers. I
respect so little among the living that all my reverence is
for my own dead. But manoeuvring, even for my own, as you
call it, is not in my line. It is distasteful--it is
positively hateful to me.'

'Well, well, let it stand thus for the present. But will you
refuse me one little request--merely to see her? I'll
contrive it so that she may not see you. Don't refuse me, it
is the one thing I ask, and I shall think it hard if you deny
me.'

'O Will!' said the captain wearily. 'Why will you plead so?
No--even though your mind is particularly set upon it, I
cannot see her, or bestow a thought upon her, much as I should
like to gratify you.'

Thomas Hardy