Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 3

As he had promised, De Stancy made use the next day of the
coveted permission that had been brought about by the
ingenious Dare. Dare's timely suggestion of tendering
assistance had the practical result of relieving the other of
all necessity for occupying his time with the proceeding,
further than to bestow a perfunctory superintendence now and
then, to give a colour to his regular presence in the
fortress, the actual work of taking copies being carried on by
the younger man.

The weather was frequently wet during these operations, and
Paula, Miss De Stancy, and her brother, were often in the
house whole mornings together. By constant urging and coaxing
the latter would induce his gentle sister, much against her
conscience, to leave him opportunities for speaking to Paula
alone. It was mostly before some print or painting that these
conversations occurred, while De Stancy was ostensibly
occupied with its merits, or in giving directions to his
photographer how to proceed. As soon as the dialogue began,
the latter would withdraw out of earshot, leaving Paula to
imagine him the most deferential young artist in the world.

'You will soon possess duplicates of the whole gallery,' she
said on one of these occasions, examining some curled sheets
which Dare had printed off from the negatives.

'No,' said the soldier. 'I shall not have patience to go on.
I get ill-humoured and indifferent, and then leave off.'

'Why ill-humoured?'

'I scarcely know--more than that I acquire a general sense of
my own family's want of merit through seeing how meritorious
the people are around me. I see them happy and thriving
without any necessity for me at all; and then I regard these
canvas grandfathers and grandmothers, and ask, "Why was a line
so antiquated and out of date prolonged till now?"'

She chid him good-naturedly for such views. 'They will do you
an injury,' she declared. 'Do spare yourself, Captain De
Stancy!'

De Stancy shook his head as he turned the painting before him
a little further to the light.

'But, do you know,' said Paula, 'that notion of yours of being
a family out of date is delightful to some people. I talk to
Charlotte about it often. I am never weary of examining those
canopied effigies in the church, and almost wish they were
those of my relations.'

'I will try to see things in the same light for your sake,'
said De Stancy fervently.

'Not for my sake; for your own was what I meant, of course,'
she replied with a repressive air.

Captain De Stancy bowed.

'What are you going to do with your photographs when you have
them?' she asked, as if still anxious to obliterate the
previous sentimental lapse.

'I shall put them into a large album, and carry them with me
in my campaigns; and may I ask, now I have an opportunity,
that you would extend your permission to copy a little
further, and let me photograph one other painting that hangs
in the castle, to fittingly complete my set?'

'Which?'

'That half-length of a lady which hangs in the morning-room.
I remember seeing it in the Academy last year.'

Paula involuntarily closed herself up. The picture was her
own portrait. 'It does not belong to your series,' she said
somewhat coldly.

De Stancy's secret thought was, I hope from my soul it will
belong some day! He answered with mildness: 'There is a sort
of connection--you are my sister's friend.'

Paula assented.

'And hence, might not your friend's brother photograph your
picture?'

Paula demurred.

A gentle sigh rose from the bosom of De Stancy. 'What is to
become of me?' he said, with a light distressed laugh. 'I am
always inconsiderate and inclined to ask too much. Forgive
me! What was in my mind when I asked I dare not say.'

'I quite understand your interest in your family pictures--and
all of it,' she remarked more gently, willing not to hurt the
sensitive feelings of a man so full of romance.

'And in that ONE!' he said, looking devotedly at her. 'If I
had only been fortunate enough to include it with the rest, my
album would indeed have been a treasure to pore over by the
bivouac fire!'

'O, Captain De Stancy, this is provoking perseverance!' cried
Paula, laughing half crossly. 'I expected that after
expressing my decision so plainly the first time I should not
have been further urged upon the subject.' Saying which she
turned and moved decisively away.

It had not been a productive meeting, thus far. 'One word!'
said De Stancy, following and almost clasping her hand. 'I
have given offence, I know: but do let it all fall on my own
head--don't tell my sister of my misbehaviour! She loves you
deeply, and it would wound her to the heart.'

'You deserve to be told upon,' said Paula as she withdrew,
with just enough playfulness to show that her anger was not
too serious.

Charlotte looked at Paula uneasily when the latter joined her
in the drawing-room. She wanted to say, 'What is the matter?'
but guessing that her brother had something to do with it,
forbore to speak at first. She could not contain her anxiety
long. 'Were you talking with my brother?' she said.

'Yes,' returned Paula, with reservation. However, she soon
added, 'He not only wants to photograph his ancestors, but MY
portrait too. They are a dreadfully encroaching sex, and
perhaps being in the army makes them worse!'

'I'll give him a hint, and tell him to be careful.'

'Don't say I have definitely complained of him; it is not
worth while to do that; the matter is too trifling for
repetition. Upon the whole, Charlotte, I would rather you
said nothing at all.'

De Stancy's hobby of photographing his ancestors seemed to
become a perfect mania with him. Almost every morning
discovered him in the larger apartments of the castle, taking
down and rehanging the dilapidated pictures, with the
assistance of the indispensable Dare; his fingers stained
black with dust, and his face expressing a busy attention to
the work in hand, though always reserving a look askance for
the presence of Paula.

Though there was something of subterfuge, there was no deep
and double subterfuge in all this. De Stancy took no
particular interest in his ancestral portraits; but he was
enamoured of Paula to weakness. Perhaps the composition of
his love would hardly bear looking into, but it was recklessly
frank and not quite mercenary. His photographic scheme was
nothing worse than a lover's not too scrupulous contrivance.
After the refusal of his request to copy her picture he fumed
and fretted at the prospect of Somerset's return before any
impression had been made on her heart by himself; he swore at
Dare, and asked him hotly why he had dragged him into such a
hopeless dilemma as this.

'Hopeless? Somerset must still be kept away, so that it is
not hopeless. I will consider how to prolong his stay.'

Thereupon Dare considered.

The time was coming--had indeed come--when it was necessary
for Paula to make up her mind about her architect, if she
meant to begin building in the spring. The two sets of plans,
Somerset's and Havill's, were hanging on the walls of the room
that had been used by Somerset as his studio, and were
accessible by anybody. Dare took occasion to go and study
both sets, with a view to finding a flaw in Somerset's which
might have been passed over unnoticed by the committee of
architects, owing to their absence from the actual site. But
not a blunder could he find.

He next went to Havill; and here he was met by an amazing
state of affairs. Havill's creditors, at last suspecting
something mythical in Havill's assurance that the grand
commission was his, had lost all patience; his house was
turned upside-down, and a poster gleamed on the front wall,
stating that the excellent modern household furniture was to
be sold by auction on Friday next. Troubles had apparently
come in battalions, for Dare was informed by a bystander that
Havill's wife was seriously ill also.

Without staying for a moment to enter his friend's house, back
went Mr. Dare to the castle, and told Captain De Stancy of the
architect's desperate circumstances, begging him to convey the
news in some way to Miss Power. De Stancy promised to make
representations in the proper quarter without perceiving that
he was doing the best possible deed for himself thereby.

He told Paula of Havill's misfortunes in the presence of his
sister, who turned pale. She discerned how this misfortune
would bear upon the undecided competition.

'Poor man,' murmured Paula. 'He was my father's architect,
and somehow expected, though I did not promise it, the work of
rebuilding the castle.'

Then De Stancy saw Dare's aim in sending him to Miss Power
with the news; and, seeing it, concurred: Somerset was his
rival, and all was fair. 'And is he not to have the work of
the castle after expecting it?' he asked.

Paula was lost in reflection. 'The other architect's design
and Mr. Havill's are exactly equal in merit, and we cannot
decide how to give it to either,' explained Charlotte.

'That is our difficulty,' Paula murmured. 'A bankrupt, and
his wife ill--dear me! I wonder what's the cause.'

'He has borrowed on the expectation of having to execute the
castle works, and now he is unable to meet his liabilities.'

'It is very sad,' said Paula.

'Let me suggest a remedy for this dead-lock,' said De Stancy.

'Do,' said Paula.

'Do the work of building in two halves or sections. Give
Havill the first half, since he is in need; when that is
finished the second half can be given to your London
architect. If, as I understand, the plans are identical,
except in ornamental details, there will be no difficulty
about it at all.'

Paula sighed--just a little one; and yet the suggestion seemed
to satisfy her by its reasonableness. She turned sad,
wayward, but was impressed by De Stancy's manner and words.
She appeared indeed to have a smouldering desire to please
him. In the afternoon she said to Charlotte, 'I mean to do as
your brother says.'

A note was despatched to Havill that very day, and in an hour
the crestfallen architect presented himself at the castle.
Paula instantly gave him audience, commiserated him, and
commissioned him to carry out a first section of the
buildings, comprising work to the extent of about twenty
thousand pounds expenditure; and then, with a prematureness
quite amazing among architects' clients, she handed him over a
cheque for five hundred pounds on account.

When he had gone, Paula's bearing showed some sign of being
disquieted at what she had done; but she covered her mood
under a cloak of saucy serenity. Perhaps a tender remembrance
of a certain thunderstorm in the foregoing August when she
stood with Somerset in the arbour, and did not own that she
loved him, was pressing on her memory and bewildering her.
She had not seen quite clearly, in adopting De Stancy's
suggestion, that Somerset would now have no professional
reason for being at the castle for the next twelve months.

But the captain had, and when Havill entered the castle he
rejoiced with great joy. Dare, too, rejoiced in his cold way,
and went on with his photography, saying, 'The game
progresses, captain.'

'Game? Call it Divine Comedy, rather!' said the soldier
exultingly.

'He is practically banished for a year or more. What can't
you do in a year, captain!'

Havill, in the meantime, having respectfully withdrawn from
the presence of Paula, passed by Dare and De Stancy in the
gallery as he had done in entering. He spoke a few words to
Dare, who congratulated him. While they were talking somebody
was heard in the hall, inquiring hastily for Mr. Havill.

'What shall I tell him?' demanded the porter.

'His wife is dead,' said the messenger.

Havill overheard the words, and hastened away.

'An unlucky man!' said Dare.

'That, happily for us, will not affect his installation here,'
said De Stancy. 'Now hold your tongue and keep at a distance.
She may come this way.'

Surely enough in a few minutes she came. De Stancy, to make
conversation, told her of the new misfortune which had just
befallen Mr. Havill.

Paula was very sorry to hear it, and remarked that it gave her
great satisfaction to have appointed him as architect of the
first wing before he learnt the bad news. 'I owe you best
thanks, Captain De Stancy, for showing me such an expedient.'

'Do I really deserve thanks?' asked De Stancy. 'I wish I
deserved a reward; but I must bear in mind the fable of the
priest and the jester.'

'I never heard it.'

'The jester implored the priest for alms, but the smallest sum
was refused, though the holy man readily agreed to give him
his blessing. Query, its value?'

'How does it apply?'

'You give me unlimited thanks, but deny me the tiniest
substantial trifle I desire.'

'What persistence!' exclaimed Paula, colouring. 'Very well,
if you WILL photograph my picture you must. It is really not
worthy further pleading. Take it when you like.'

When Paula was alone she seemed vexed with herself for having
given way; and rising from her seat she went quietly to the
door of the room containing the picture, intending to lock it
up till further consideration, whatever he might think of her.
But on casting her eyes round the apartment the painting was
gone. The captain, wisely taking the current when it served,
already had it in the gallery, where he was to be seen bending
attentively over it, arranging the lights and directing Dare
with the instruments. On leaving he thanked her, and said
that he had obtained a splendid copy. Would she look at it?

Paula was severe and icy. 'Thank you--I don't wish to see
it,' she said.

De Stancy bowed and departed in a glow of triumph; satisfied,
notwithstanding her frigidity, that he had compassed his
immediate aim, which was that she might not be able to dismiss
from her thoughts him and his persevering desire for the
shadow of her face during the next four-and-twenty-hours. And
his confidence was well founded: she could not.

'I fear this Divine Comedy will be slow business for us,
captain,' said Dare, who had heard her cold words.

'O no!' said De Stancy, flushing a little: he had not been
perceiving that the lad had the measure of his mind so
entirely as to gauge his position at any moment. But he would
show no shamefacedness. 'Even if it is, my boy,' he answered,
'there's plenty of time before the other can come.'

At that hour and minute of De Stancy's remark 'the other,' to
look at him, seemed indeed securely shelved. He was sitting
lonely in his chambers far away, wondering why she did not
write, and yet hoping to hear--wondering if it had all been
but a short-lived strain of tenderness. He knew as well as if
it had been stated in words that her serious acceptance of him
as a suitor would be her acceptance of him as an architect--
that her schemes in love would be expressed in terms of art;
and conversely that her refusal of him as a lover would be
neatly effected by her choosing Havill's plans for the castle,
and returning his own with thanks. The position was so clear:
he was so well walled in by circumstances that he was
absolutely helpless.

To wait for the line that would not come--the letter saying
that, as she had desired, his was the design that pleased her-
-was still the only thing to do. The (to Somerset) surprising
accident that the committee of architects should have
pronounced the designs absolutely equal in point of merit, and
thus have caused the final choice to revert after all to
Paula, had been a joyous thing to him when he first heard of
it, full of confidence in her favour. But the fact of her
having again become the arbitrator, though it had made
acceptance of his plans all the more probable, made refusal of
them, should it happen, all the more crushing. He could have
conceived himself favoured by Paula as her lover, even had the
committee decided in favour of Havill as her architect. But
not to be chosen as architect now was to be rejected in both
kinds.

Thomas Hardy