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Chapter 6

When they had parted Dare walked along towards Markton with
resolve on his mouth and an unscrupulous light in his
prominent black eye. Could any person who had heard the
previous conversation have seen him now, he would have found
little difficulty in divining that, notwithstanding De
Stancy's obduracy, the reinstation of Captain De Stancy in the
castle, and the possible legitimation and enrichment of
himself, was still the dream of his brain. Even should any
legal settlement or offspring intervene to nip the extreme
development of his projects, there was abundant opportunity
for his glorification. Two conditions were imperative. De
Stancy must see Paula before Somerset's return. And it was
necessary to have help from Havill, even if it involved
letting him know all.

Whether Havill already knew all was a nice question for Mr.
Dare's luminous mind. Havill had had opportunities of reading
his secret, particularly on the night they occupied the same
room. If so, by revealing it to Paula, Havill might utterly
blast his project for the marriage. Havill, then, was at all
risks to be retained as an ally.

Yet Dare would have preferred a stronger check upon his
confederate than was afforded by his own knowledge of that
anonymous letter and the competition trick. For were the
competition lost to him, Havill would have no further interest
in conciliating Miss Power; would as soon as not let her know
the secret of De Stancy's relation to him.

Fortune as usual helped him in his dilemma. Entering Havill's
office, Dare found him sitting there; but the drawings had all
disappeared from the boards. The architect held an open
letter in his hand.

'Well, what news?' said Dare.

'Miss Power has returned to the castle, Somerset is detained
in London, and the competition is decided,' said Havill, with
a glance of quiet dubiousness.

'And you have won it?'

'No. We are bracketed--it's a tie. The judges say there is
no choice between the designs--that they are singularly equal
and singularly good. That she would do well to adopt either.
Signed So-and-So, Fellows of the Royal Institute of British
Architects. The result is that she will employ which she
personally likes best. It is as if I had spun a sovereign in
the air and it had alighted on its edge. The least false
movement will make it tails; the least wise movement heads.'

'Singularly equal. Well, we owe that to our nocturnal visit,
which must not be known.'

'O Lord, no!' said Havill apprehensively.

Dare felt secure of him at those words. Havill had much at
stake; the slightest rumour of his trick in bringing about the
competition, would be fatal to Havill's reputation.

'The permanent absence of Somerset then is desirable
architecturally on your account, matrimonially on mine.'

'Matrimonially? By the way--who was that captain you pointed
out to me when the artillery entered the town?'

'Captain De Stancy--son of Sir William De Stancy. He's the
husband. O, you needn't look incredulous: it is practicable;
but we won't argue that. In the first place I want him to see
her, and to see her in the most love-kindling, passion-
begetting circumstances that can be thought of. And he must
see her surreptitiously, for he refuses to meet her.'

'Let him see her going to church or chapel?'

Dare shook his head.

'Driving out?'

'Common-place!'

'Walking in the gardens?'

'Ditto.'

'At her toilet?'

'Ah--if it were possible!'

'Which it hardly is. Well, you had better think it over and
make inquiries about her habits, and as to when she is in a
favourable aspect for observation, as the almanacs say.'

Shortly afterwards Dare took his leave. In the evening he
made it his business to sit smoking on the bole of a tree
which commanded a view of the upper ward of the castle, and
also of the old postern-gate, now enlarged and used as a
tradesmen's entrance. It was half-past six o'clock; the
dressing-bell rang, and Dare saw a light-footed young woman
hasten at the sound across the ward from the servants'
quarter. A light appeared in a chamber which he knew to be
Paula's dressing-room; and there it remained half-an-hour, a
shadow passing and repassing on the blind in the style of
head-dress worn by the girl he had previously seen. The
dinner-bell sounded and the light went out.

As yet it was scarcely dark out of doors, and in a few minutes
Dare had the satisfaction of seeing the same woman cross the
ward and emerge upon the slope without. This time she was
bonneted, and carried a little basket in her hand. A nearer
view showed her to be, as he had expected, Milly Birch,
Paula's maid, who had friends living in Markton, whom she was
in the habit of visiting almost every evening during the three
hours of leisure which intervened between Paula's retirement
from the dressing-room and return thither at ten o'clock.
When the young woman had descended the road and passed into
the large drive, Dare rose and followed her.

'O, it is you, Miss Birch,' said Dare, on overtaking her. 'I
am glad to have the pleasure of walking by your side.'

'Yes, sir. O it's Mr. Dare. We don't see you at the castle
now, sir.'

'No. And do you get a walk like this every evening when the
others are at their busiest?'

'Almost every evening; that's the one return to the poor
lady's maid for losing her leisure when the others get it--in
the absence of the family from home.'

'Is Miss Power a hard mistress?'

'No.'

'Rather fanciful than hard, I presume?'

'Just so, sir.'

'And she likes to appear to advantage, no doubt.'

'I suppose so,' said Milly, laughing. 'We all do.'

'When does she appear to the best advantage? When riding, or
driving, or reading her book?'

'Not altogether then, if you mean the very best.'

'Perhaps it is when she sits looking in the glass at herself,
and you let down her hair.'

'Not particularly, to my mind.'

'When does she to your mind? When dressed for a dinner-party
or ball?'

'She's middling, then. But there is one time when she looks
nicer and cleverer than at any. It is when she is in the
gymnasium.'

'O--gymnasium?'

'Because when she is there she wears such a pretty boy's
costume, and is so charming in her movements, that you think
she is a lovely young youth and not a girl at all.'

'When does she go to this gymnasium?'

'Not so much as she used to. Only on wet mornings now, when
she can't get out for walks or drives. But she used to do it
every day.'

'I should like to see her there.'

'Why, sir?'

'I am a poor artist, and can't afford models. To see her
attitudes would be of great assistance to me in the art I love
so well.'

Milly shook her head. 'She's very strict about the door being
locked. If I were to leave it open she would dismiss me, as I
should deserve.'

'But consider, dear Miss Birch, the advantage to a poor artist
the sight of her would be: if you could hold the door ajar it
would be worth five pounds to me, and a good deal to you.'

'No,' said the incorruptible Milly, shaking her head.
'Besides, I don't always go there with her. O no, I
couldn't!'

Milly remained so firm at this point that Dare said no more.

When he had left her he returned to the castle grounds, and
though there was not much light he had no difficulty in
discovering the gymnasium, the outside of which he had
observed before, without thinking to inquire its purpose.
Like the erections in other parts of the shrubberies it was
constructed of wood, the interstices between the framing being
filled up with short billets of fir nailed diagonally. Dare,
even when without a settled plan in his head, could arrange
for probabilities; and wrenching out one of the billets he
looked inside. It seemed to be a simple oblong apartment,
fitted up with ropes, with a little dressing-closet at one
end, and lighted by a skylight or lantern in the roof. Dare
replaced the wood and went on his way.

Havill was smoking on his doorstep when Dare passed up the
street. He held up his hand.

'Since you have been gone,' said the architect, 'I've hit upon
something that may help you in exhibiting your lady to your
gentleman. In the summer I had orders to design a gymnasium
for her, which I did; and they say she is very clever on the
ropes and bars. Now--'

'I've discovered it. I shall contrive for him to see her
there on the first wet morning, which is when she practises.
What made her think of it?'

'As you may have heard, she holds advanced views on social and
other matters; and in those on the higher education of women
she is very strong, talking a good deal about the physical
training of the Greeks, whom she adores, or did. Every
philosopher and man of science who ventilates his theories in
the monthly reviews has a devout listener in her; and this
subject of the physical development of her sex has had its
turn with other things in her mind. So she had the place
built on her very first arrival, according to the latest
lights on athletics, and in imitation of those at the new
colleges for women.'

'How deuced clever of the girl! She means to live to be a
hundred!'


Thomas Hardy