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Chapter 6

A quick arrested expression in her two sapphirine eyes,
accompanied by a little, a very little, blush which loitered
long, was all the outward disturbance that the sight of her
lover caused. The habit of self-repression at any new
emotional impact was instinctive with her always. Somerset
could not say more than a word; he looked his intense
solicitude, and Paula spoke.

She declared that this was an unexpected pleasure. Had he
arranged to come on the tenth as she wished? How strange that
they should meet thus!--and yet not strange--the world was so
small.

Somerset said that he was coming on the very day she
mentioned--that the appointment gave him infinite
gratification, which was quite within the truth.

'Come into this shop with me,' said Paula, with good-humoured
authoritativeness.

They entered the shop and talked on while she made a small
purchase. But not a word did Paula say of her sudden errand
to town.

'I am having an exciting morning,' she said. 'I am going from
here to catch the one-o'clock train to Markton.'

'It is important that you get there this afternoon, I
suppose?'

'Yes. You know why?'

'Not at all.'

'The Hunt Ball. It was fixed for the sixth, and this is the
sixth. I thought they might have asked you.'

'No,' said Somerset, a trifle gloomily. 'No, I am not asked.
But it is a great task for you--a long journey and a ball all
in one day.'

'Yes: Charlotte said that. But I don't mind it.'

'You are glad you are going. Are you glad?' he said softly.

Her air confessed more than her words. 'I am not so very glad
that I am going to the Hunt Ball,' she replied confidentially.

'Thanks for that,' said he.

She lifted her eyes to his for a moment. Her manner had
suddenly become so nearly the counterpart of that in the tea-
house that to suspect any deterioration of affection in her
was no longer generous. It was only as if a thin layer of
recent events had overlaid her memories of him, until his
presence swept them away.

Somerset looked up, and finding the shopman to be still some
way off, he added, 'When will you assure me of something in
return for what I assured you that evening in the rain?'

'Not before you have built the castle. My aunt does not know
about it yet, nor anybody.'

'I ought to tell her.'

'No, not yet. I don't wish it.'

'Then everything stands as usual?'

She lightly nodded.

'That is, I may love you: but you still will not say you love
me.'

She nodded again, and directing his attention to the advancing
shopman, said, 'Please not a word more.'

Soon after this, they left the jeweller's, and parted, Paula
driving straight off to the station and Somerset going on his
way uncertainly happy. His re-impression after a few minutes
was that a special journey to town to fetch that magnificent
necklace which she had not once mentioned to him, but which
was plainly to be the medium of some proud purpose with her
this evening, was hardly in harmony with her assertions of
indifference to the attractions of the Hunt Ball.

He got into a cab and drove to his club, where he lunched, and
mopingly spent a great part of the afternoon in making
calculations for the foundations of the castle works. Later
in the afternoon he returned to his chambers, wishing that he
could annihilate the three days remaining before the tenth,
particularly this coming evening. On his table was a letter
in a strange writing, and indifferently turning it over he
found from the superscription that it had been addressed to
him days before at the Lord-Quantock-Arms Hotel, Markton,
where it had lain ever since, the landlord probably expecting
him to return. Opening the missive, he found to his surprise
that it was, after all, an invitation to the Hunt Ball.

'Too late!' said Somerset. 'To think I should be served this
trick a second time!'

After a moment's pause, however, he looked to see the time of
day. It was five minutes past five--just about the hour when
Paula would be driving from Markton Station to Stancy Castle
to rest and prepare herself for her evening triumph. There
was a train at six o'clock, timed to reach Markton between
eleven and twelve, which by great exertion he might save even
now, if it were worth while to undertake such a scramble for
the pleasure of dropping in to the ball at a late hour. A
moment's vision of Paula moving to swift tunes on the arm of a
person or persons unknown was enough to impart the impetus
required. He jumped up, flung his dress clothes into a
portmanteau, sent down to call a cab, and in a few minutes was
rattling off to the railway which had borne Paula away from
London just five hours earlier.

Once in the train, he began to consider where and how he could
most conveniently dress for the dance. The train would
certainly be half-an-hour late; half-an-hour would be spent in
getting to the town-hall, and that was the utmost delay
tolerable if he would secure the hand of Paula for one spin,
or be more than a mere dummy behind the earlier arrivals. He
looked for an empty compartment at the next stoppage, and
finding the one next his own unoccupied, he entered it and
changed his raiment for that in his portmanteau during the
ensuing run of twenty miles.

Thus prepared he awaited the Markton platform, which was
reached as the clock struck twelve. Somerset called a fly and
drove at once to the town-hall.

The borough natives had ascended to their upper floors, and
were putting out their candles one by one as he passed along
the streets; but the lively strains that proceeded from the
central edifice revealed distinctly enough what was going on
among the temporary visitors from the neighbouring manors.
The doors were opened for him, and entering the vestibule
lined with flags, flowers, evergreens, and escutcheons, he
stood looking into the furnace of gaiety beyond.

It was some time before he could gather his impressions of the
scene, so perplexing were the lights, the motions, the
toilets, the full-dress uniforms of officers and the harmonies
of sound. Yet light, sound, and movement were not so much the
essence of that giddy scene as an intense aim at obliviousness
in the beings composing it. For two or three hours at least
those whirling young people meant not to know that they were
mortal. The room was beating like a heart, and the pulse was
regulated by the trembling strings of the most popular
quadrille band in Wessex. But at last his eyes grew settled
enough to look critically around.

The room was crowded--too crowded. Every variety of fair one,
beauties primary, secondary, and tertiary, appeared among the
personages composing the throng. There were suns and moons;
also pale planets of little account. Broadly speaking, these
daughters of the county fell into two classes: one the pink-
faced unsophisticated girls from neighbouring rectories and
small country-houses, who knew not town except for an
occasional fortnight, and who spent their time from Easter to
Lammas Day much as they spent it during the remaining nine
months of the year: the other class were the children of the
wealthy landowners who migrated each season to the town-house;
these were pale and collected, showed less enjoyment in their
countenances, and wore in general an approximation to the
languid manners of the capital.

A quadrille was in progress, and Somerset scanned each set.
His mind had run so long upon the necklace, that his glance
involuntarily sought out that gleaming object rather than the
personality of its wearer. At the top of the room there he
beheld it; but it was on the neck of Charlotte De Stancy.

The whole lucid explanation broke across his understanding in
a second. His dear Paula had fetched the necklace that
Charlotte should not appear to disadvantage among the county
people by reason of her poverty. It was generously done--a
disinterested act of sisterly kindness; theirs was the
friendship of Hermia and Helena. Before he had got further
than to realize this, there wheeled round amongst the dancers
a lady whose tournure he recognized well. She was Paula; and
to the young man's vision a superlative something
distinguished her from all the rest. This was not dress or
ornament, for she had hardly a gem upon her, her attire being
a model of effective simplicity. Her partner was Captain De
Stancy.

The discovery of this latter fact slightly obscured his
appreciation of what he had discovered just before. It was
with rather a lowering brow that he asked himself whether
Paula's predilection d'artiste, as she called it, for the De
Stancy line might not lead to a predilection of a different
sort for its last representative which would be not at all
satisfactory.

The architect remained in the background till the dance drew
to a conclusion, and then he went forward. The circumstance
of having met him by accident once already that day seemed to
quench any surprise in Miss Power's bosom at seeing him now.
There was nothing in her parting from Captain De Stancy, when
he led her to a seat, calculated to make Somerset uneasy after
his long absence. Though, for that matter, this proved
nothing; for, like all wise maidens, Paula never ventured on
the game of the eyes with a lover in public; well knowing that
every moment of such indulgence overnight might mean an hour's
sneer at her expense by the indulged gentleman next day, when
weighing womankind by the aid of a cold morning light and a
bad headache.

While Somerset was explaining to Paula and her aunt the reason
of his sudden appearance, their attention was drawn to a seat
a short way off by a fluttering of ladies round the spot. In
a moment it was whispered that somebody had fallen ill, and in
another that the sufferer was Miss De Stancy. Paula, Mrs.
Goodman, and Somerset at once joined the group of friends who
were assisting her. Neither of them imagined for an instant
that the unexpected advent of Somerset on the scene had
anything to do with the poor girl's indisposition.

She was assisted out of the room, and her brother, who now
came up, prepared to take her home, Somerset exchanging a few
civil words with him, which the hurry of the moment prevented
them from continuing; though on taking his leave with
Charlotte, who was now better, De Stancy informed Somerset in
answer to a cursory inquiry, that he hoped to be back again at
the ball in half-an-hour.

When they were gone Somerset, feeling that now another dog
might have his day, sounded Paula on the delightful question
of a dance.

Paula replied in the negative.

'How is that?' asked Somerset with reproachful disappointment.

'I cannot dance again,' she said in a somewhat depressed tone;
'I must be released from every engagement to do so, on account
of Charlotte's illness. I should have gone home with her if I
had not been particularly requested to stay a little longer,
since it is as yet so early, and Charlotte's illness is not
very serious.'

If Charlotte's illness was not very serious, Somerset thought,
Paula might have stretched a point; but not wishing to hinder
her in showing respect to a friend so well liked by himself,
he did not ask it. De Stancy had promised to be back again in
half-an-hour, and Paula had heard the promise. But at the end
of twenty minutes, still seeming indifferent to what was going
on around her, she said she would stay no longer, and
reminding Somerset that they were soon to meet and talk over
the rebuilding, drove off with her aunt to Stancy Castle.

Somerset stood looking after the retreating carriage till it
was enveloped in shades that the lamps could not disperse.
The ball-room was now virtually empty for him, and feeling no
great anxiety to return thither he stood on the steps for some
minutes longer, looking into the calm mild night, and at the
dark houses behind whose blinds lay the burghers with their
eyes sealed up in sleep. He could not but think that it was
rather too bad of Paula to spoil his evening for a sentimental
devotion to Charlotte which could do the latter no appreciable
good; and he would have felt seriously hurt at her move if it
had not been equally severe upon Captain De Stancy, who was
doubtless hastening back, full of a belief that she would
still be found there.

The star of gas-jets over the entrance threw its light upon
the walls on the opposite side of the street, where there were
notice-boards of forthcoming events. In glancing over these
for the fifth time, his eye was attracted by the first words
of a placard in blue letters, of a size larger than the rest,
and moving onward a few steps he read:--

STANCY CASTLE.

By the kind permission of Miss Power,

A PLAY

Will shortly be performed at the above CASTLE,


IN AID OF THE FUNDS OF THE

COUNTY HOSPITAL,

By the Officers of the

ROYAL HORSE ARTILLERY,

MARKTON BARRACKS,

ASSISTED BY SEVERAL

LADIES OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD.

The cast and other particulars will be duly announced in
small
bills. Places will be reserved on application to Mr.
Clangham,
High Street, Markton, where a plan of the room may be seen.

N.B--The Castle is about twenty minutes' drive from Markton
Station,
to which there are numerous convenient trains from all parts
of the
county.

In a profound study Somerset turned and re-entered the ball-
room, where he remained gloomily standing here and there for
about five minutes, at the end of which he observed Captain De
Stancy, who had returned punctually to his word, crossing the
hall in his direction.

The gallant officer darted glances of lively search over every
group of dancers and sitters; and then with rather a blank
look in his face, he came on to Somerset. Replying to the
latter's inquiry for his sister that she had nearly recovered,
he said, 'I don't see my father's neighbours anywhere.'

'They have gone home,' replied Somerset, a trifle drily.
'They asked me to make their apologies to you for leading you
to expect they would remain. Miss Power was too anxious about
Miss De Stancy to care to stay longer.'

The eyes of De Stancy and the speaker met for an instant.
That curious guarded understanding, or inimical confederacy,
which arises at moments between two men in love with the same
woman, was present here; and in their mutual glances each said
as plainly as by words that her departure had ruined his
evening's hope.

They were now about as much in one mood as it was possible for
two such differing natures to be. Neither cared further for
elaborating giddy curves on that town-hall floor. They stood
talking languidly about this and that local topic, till De
Stancy turned aside for a short time to speak to a dapper
little lady who had beckoned to him. In a few minutes he came
back to Somerset.

'Mrs. Camperton, the wife of Major Camperton of my battery,
would very much like me to introduce you to her. She is an
old friend of your father's, and has wanted to know you for a
long time.'

De Stancy and Somerset crossed over to the lady, and in a few
minutes, thanks to her flow of spirits, she and Somerset were
chatting with remarkable freedom.

'It is a happy coincidence,' continued Mrs. Camperton, 'that I
should have met you here, immediately after receiving a letter
from your father: indeed it reached me only this morning. He
has been so kind! We are getting up some theatricals, as you
know, I suppose, to help the funds of the County Hospital,
which is in debt.'

'I have just seen the announcement--nothing more.'

'Yes, such an estimable purpose; and as we wished to do it
thoroughly well, I asked Mr. Somerset to design us the
costumes, and he has now sent me the sketches. It is quite a
secret at present, but we are going to play Shakespeare's
romantic drama, 'Love's Labour's Lost,' and we hope to get
Miss Power to take the leading part. You see, being such a
handsome girl, and so wealthy, and rather an undiscovered
novelty in the county as yet, she would draw a crowded room,
and greatly benefit the funds.'

'Miss Power going to play herself?--I am rather surprised,'
said Somerset. 'Whose idea is all this?'

'O, Captain De Stancy's--he's the originator entirely. You
see he is so interested in the neighbourhood, his family
having been connected with it for so many centuries, that
naturally a charitable object of this local nature appeals to
his feelings.'

'Naturally!' her listener laconically repeated. 'And have you
settled who is to play the junior gentleman's part, leading
lover, hero, or whatever he is called?'

'Not absolutely; though I think Captain De Stancy will not
refuse it; and he is a very good figure. At present it lies
between him and Mr. Mild, one of our young lieutenants. My
husband, of course, takes the heavy line; and I am to be the
second lady, though I am rather too old for the part really.
If we can only secure Miss Power for heroine the cast will be
excellent.'

'Excellent!' said Somerset, with a spectral smile.


Thomas Hardy