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Chapter 5

The cheering message from Paula to Somerset sped through the
loophole of Stancy Castle keep, over the trees, along the
railway, under bridges, across four counties--from extreme
antiquity of environment to sheer modernism--and finally
landed itself on a table in Somerset's chambers in the midst
of a cloud of fog. He read it and, in the moment of reaction
from the depression of his past days, clapped his hands like a
child.

Then he considered the date at which she wanted to see him.
Had she so worded her despatch he would have gone that very
day; but there was nothing to complain of in her giving him a
week's notice. Pure maiden modesty might have checked her
indulgence in a too ardent recall.

Time, however, dragged somewhat heavily along in the interim,
and on the second day he thought he would call on his father
and tell him of his success in obtaining the appointment.

The elder Mr. Somerset lived in a detached house in the north-
west part of fashionable London; and ascending the chief
staircase the young man branched off from the first landing
and entered his father's painting-room. It was an hour when
he was pretty sure of finding the well-known painter at work,
and on lifting the tapestry he was not disappointed, Mr.
Somerset being busily engaged with his back towards the door.

Art and vitiated nature were struggling like wrestlers in that
apartment, and art was getting the worst of it. The
overpowering gloom pervading the clammy air, rendered still
more intense by the height of the window from the floor,
reduced all the pictures that were standing around to the
wizened feebleness of corpses on end. The shadowy parts of
the room behind the different easels were veiled in a brown
vapour, precluding all estimate of the extent of the studio,
and only subdued in the foreground by the ruddy glare from an
open stove of Dutch tiles. Somerset's footsteps had been so
noiseless over the carpeting of the stairs and landing, that
his father was unaware of his presence; he continued at his
work as before, which he performed by the help of a
complicated apparatus of lamps, candles, and reflectors, so
arranged as to eke out the miserable daylight, to a power
apparently sufficient for the neutral touches on which he was
at that moment engaged.

The first thought of an unsophisticated stranger on entering
that room could only be the amazed inquiry why a professor of
the art of colour, which beyond all other arts requires pure
daylight for its exercise, should fix himself on the single
square league in habitable Europe to which light is denied at
noonday for weeks in succession.

'O! it's you, George, is it?' said the Academician, turning
from the lamps, which shone over his bald crown at such a
slant as to reveal every cranial irregularity. 'How are you
this morning? Still a dead silence about your grand castle
competition?'

Somerset told the news. His father duly congratulated him,
and added genially, 'It is well to be you, George. One large
commission to attend to, and nothing to distract you from it.
I am bothered by having a dozen irons in the fire at once.
And people are so unreasonable.--Only this morning, among
other things, when you got your order to go on with your
single study, I received a letter from a woman, an old friend
whom I can scarcely refuse, begging me as a great favour to
design her a set of theatrical costumes, in which she and her
friends can perform for some charity. It would occupy me a
good week to go into the subject and do the thing properly.
Such are the sort of letters I get. I wish, George, you could
knock out something for her before you leave town. It is
positively impossible for me to do it with all this work in
hand, and these eternal fogs to contend against.'

'I fear costumes are rather out of my line,' said the son.
'However, I'll do what I can. What period and country are
they to represent?'

His father didn't know. He had never looked at the play of
late years. It was 'Love's Labour's Lost.' 'You had better
read it for yourself,' he said, 'and do the best you can.'

During the morning Somerset junior found time to refresh his
memory of the play, and afterwards went and hunted up
materials for designs to suit the same, which occupied his
spare hours for the next three days. As these occupations
made no great demands upon his reasoning faculties he mostly
found his mind wandering off to imaginary scenes at Stancy
Castle: particularly did he dwell at this time upon Paula's
lively interest in the history, relics, tombs, architecture,--
nay, the very Christian names of the De Stancy line, and her
'artistic' preference for Charlotte's ancestors instead of her
own. Yet what more natural than that a clever meditative
girl, encased in the feudal lumber of that family, should
imbibe at least an antiquarian interest in it? Human nature
at bottom is romantic rather than ascetic, and the local
habitation which accident had provided for Paula was perhaps
acting as a solvent of the hard, morbidly introspective views
thrust upon her in early life.

Somerset wondered if his own possession of a substantial
genealogy like Captain De Stancy's would have had any
appreciable effect upon her regard for him. His suggestion to
Paula of her belonging to a worthy strain of engineers had
been based on his content with his own intellectual line of
descent through Pheidias, Ictinus and Callicrates,
Chersiphron, Vitruvius, Wilars of Cambray, William of Wykeham,
and the rest of that long and illustrious roll; but Miss
Power's marked preference for an animal pedigree led him to
muse on what he could show for himself in that kind.

These thoughts so far occupied him that when he took the
sketches to his father, on the morning of the fifth, he was
led to ask: 'Has any one ever sifted out our family
pedigree?'

'Family pedigree?'

'Yes. Have we any pedigree worthy to be compared with that of
professedly old families? I never remember hearing of any
ancestor further back than my great-grandfather.'

Somerset the elder reflected and said that he believed there
was a genealogical tree about the house somewhere, reaching
back to a very respectable distance. 'Not that I ever took
much interest in it,' he continued, without looking up from
his canvas; 'but your great uncle John was a man with a taste
for those subjects, and he drew up such a sheet: he made
several copies on parchment, and gave one to each of his
brothers and sisters. The one he gave to my father is still
in my possession, I think.'

Somerset said that he should like to see it; but half-an-
hour's search about the house failed to discover the document;
and the Academician then remembered that it was in an iron box
at his banker's. He had used it as a wrapper for some title-
deeds and other valuable writings which were deposited there
for safety. 'Why do you want it?' he inquired.

The young man confessed his whim to know if his own antiquity
would bear comparison with that of another person, whose name
he did not mention; whereupon his father gave him a key that
would fit the said chest, if he meant to pursue the subject
further. Somerset, however, did nothing in the matter that
day, but the next morning, having to call at the bank on other
business, he remembered his new fancy.

It was about eleven o'clock. The fog, though not so brown as
it had been on previous days, was still dense enough to
necessitate lights in the shops and offices. When Somerset
had finished his business in the outer office of the bank he
went to the manager's room. The hour being somewhat early the
only persons present in that sanctuary of balances, besides
the manager who welcomed him, were two gentlemen, apparently
lawyers, who sat talking earnestly over a box of papers. The
manager, on learning what Somerset wanted, unlocked a door
from which a flight of stone steps led to the vaults, and sent
down a clerk and a porter for the safe.

Before, however, they had descended far a gentle tap came to
the door, and in response to an invitation to enter a lady
appeared, wrapped up in furs to her very nose.

The manager seemed to recognize her, for he went across the
room in a moment, and set her a chair at the middle table,
replying to some observation of hers with the words, 'O yes,
certainly,' in a deferential tone.

'I should like it brought up at once,' said the lady.

Somerset, who had seated himself at a table in a somewhat
obscure corner, screened by the lawyers, started at the words.
The voice was Miss Power's, and so plainly enough was the
figure as soon as he examined it. Her back was towards him,
and either because the room was only lighted in two places, or
because she was absorbed in her own concerns, she seemed to be
unconscious of any one's presence on the scene except the
banker and herself. The former called back the clerk, and two
other porters having been summoned they disappeared to get
whatever she required.

Somerset, somewhat excited, sat wondering what could have
brought Paula to London at this juncture, and was in some
doubt if the occasion were a suitable one for revealing
himself, her errand to her banker being possibly of a very
private nature. Nothing helped him to a decision. Paula
never once turned her head, and the progress of time was
marked only by the murmurs of the two lawyers, and the
ceaseless clash of gold and rattle of scales from the outer
room, where the busy heads of cashiers could be seen through
the partition moving about under the globes of the gas-lamps.

Footsteps were heard upon the cellar-steps, and the three men
previously sent below staggered from the doorway, bearing a
huge safe which nearly broke them down. Somerset knew that
his father's box, or boxes, could boast of no such dimensions,
and he was not surprised to see the chest deposited in front
of Miss Power. When the immense accumulation of dust had been
cleared off the lid, and the chest conveniently placed for
her, Somerset was attended to, his modest box being brought up
by one man unassisted, and without much expenditure of breath.

His interest in Paula was of so emotional a cast that his
attention to his own errand was of the most perfunctory kind.
She was close to a gas-standard, and the lawyers, whose seats
had intervened, having finished their business and gone away,
all her actions were visible to him. While he was opening his
father's box the manager assisted Paula to unseal and unlock
hers, and he now saw her lift from it a morocco case, which
she placed on the table before her, and unfastened. Out of it
she took a dazzling object that fell like a cascade over her
fingers. It was a necklace of diamonds and pearls, apparently
of large size and many strands, though he was not near enough
to see distinctly. When satisfied by her examination that she
had got the right article she shut it into its case.

The manager closed the chest for her; and when it was again
secured Paula arose, tossed the necklace into her hand-bag,
bowed to the manager, and was about to bid him good morning.
Thereupon he said with some hesitation: 'Pardon one question,
Miss Power. Do you intend to take those jewels far?'

'Yes,' she said simply, 'to Stancy Castle.'

'You are going straight there?'

'I have one or two places to call at first.'

'I would suggest that you carry them in some other way--by
fastening them into the pocket of your dress, for instance.'

'But I am going to hold the bag in my hand and never once let
it go.'

The banker slightly shook his head. 'Suppose your carriage
gets overturned: you would let it go then.'

'Perhaps so.'

'Or if you saw a child under the wheels just as you were
stepping in; or if you accidentally stumbled in getting out;
or if there was a collision on the railway--you might let it
go.'

'Yes; I see I was too careless. I thank you.'

Paula removed the necklace from the bag, turned her back to
the manager, and spent several minutes in placing her treasure
in her bosom, pinning it and otherwise making it absolutely
secure.

'That's it,' said the grey-haired man of caution, with evident
satisfaction. 'There is not much danger now: you are not
travelling alone?'

Paula replied that she was not alone, and went to the door.
There was one moment during which Somerset might have
conveniently made his presence known; but the juxtaposition of
the bank-manager, and his own disarranged box of securities,
embarrassed him: the moment slipped by, and she was gone.

In the meantime he had mechanically unearthed the pedigree,
and, locking up his father's chest, Somerset also took his
departure at the heels of Paula. He walked along the misty
street, so deeply musing as to be quite unconscious of the
direction of his walk. What, he inquired of himself, could
she want that necklace for so suddenly? He recollected a
remark of Dare's to the effect that her appearance on a
particular occasion at Stancy Castle had been magnificent by
reason of the jewels she wore; which proved that she had
retained a sufficient quantity of those valuables at the
castle for ordinary requirements. What exceptional occasion,
then, was impending on which she wished to glorify herself
beyond all previous experience? He could not guess. He was
interrupted in these conjectures by a carriage nearly passing
over his toes at a crossing in Bond Street: looking up he saw
between the two windows of the vehicle the profile of a
thickly mantled bosom, on which a camellia rose and fell. All
the remainder part of the lady's person was hidden; but he
remembered that flower of convenient season as one which had
figured in the bank parlour half-an-hour earlier to-day.

Somerset hastened after the carriage, and in a minute saw it
stop opposite a jeweller's shop. Out came Paula, and then
another woman, in whom he recognized Mrs. Birch, one of the
lady's maids at Stancy Castle. The young man was at Paula's
side before she had crossed the pavement.

Thomas Hardy