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Chapter 7

When he awoke the next morning at the Lord-Quantock-Arms Hotel
Somerset felt quite morbid on recalling the intelligence he
had received from Mrs. Camperton. But as the day for serious
practical consultation about the castle works, to which Paula
had playfully alluded, was now close at hand, he determined to
banish sentimental reflections on the frailties that were
besieging her nature, by active preparation for his
professional undertaking. To be her high-priest in art, to
elaborate a structure whose cunning workmanship would be
meeting her eye every day till the end of her natural life,
and saying to her, 'He invented it,' with all the eloquence of
an inanimate thing long regarded--this was no mean
satisfaction, come what else would.

He returned to town the next day to set matters there in such
trim that no inconvenience should result from his prolonged
absence at the castle; for having no other commission he
determined (with an eye rather to heart-interests than to
increasing his professional practice) to make, as before, the
castle itself his office, studio, and chief abiding-place till
the works were fairly in progress.

On the tenth he reappeared at Markton. Passing through the
town, on the road to Stancy Castle, his eyes were again
arrested by the notice-board which had conveyed such startling
information to him on the night of the ball. The small bills
now appeared thereon; but when he anxiously looked them over
to learn how the parts were to be allotted, he found that
intelligence still withheld. Yet they told enough; the list
of lady-players was given, and Miss Power's name was one.

That a young lady who, six months ago, would scarcely join for
conscientious reasons in a simple dance on her own lawn,
should now be willing to exhibit herself on a public stage,
simulating love-passages with a stranger, argued a rate of
development which under any circumstances would have surprised
him, but which, with the particular addition, as leading
colleague, of Captain De Stancy, inflamed him almost to anger.
What clandestine arrangements had been going on in his absence
to produce such a full-blown intention it were futile to
guess. Paula's course was a race rather than a march, and
each successive heat was startling in its eclipse of that
which went before.

Somerset was, however, introspective enough to know that his
morals would have taken no such virtuous alarm had he been the
chief male player instead of Captain De Stancy.

He passed under the castle-arch and entered. There seemed a
little turn in the tide of affairs when it was announced to
him that Miss Power expected him, and was alone.

The well-known ante-chambers through which he walked, filled
with twilight, draughts, and thin echoes that seemed to
reverberate from two hundred years ago, did not delay his eye
as they had done when he had been ignorant that his destiny
lay beyond; and he followed on through all this ancientness to
where the modern Paula sat to receive him.

He forgot everything in the pleasure of being alone in a room
with her. She met his eye with that in her own which cheered
him. It was a light expressing that something was understood
between them. She said quietly in two or three words that she
had expected him in the forenoon.

Somerset explained that he had come only that morning from
London.

After a little more talk, in which she said that her aunt
would join them in a few minutes, and Miss De Stancy was still
indisposed at her father's house, she rang for tea and sat
down beside a little table.

'Shall we proceed to business at once?' she asked him.

'I suppose so.'

'First then, when will the working drawings be ready, which I
think you said must be made out before the work could begin?'

While Somerset informed her on this and other matters, Mrs.
Goodman entered and joined in the discussion, after which they
found it would be necessary to adjourn to the room where the
plans were hanging. On their walk thither Paula asked if he
stayed late at the ball.

'I left soon after you.'

'That was very early, seeing how late you arrived.'

'Yes. . . . I did not dance.'

'What did you do then?'

'I moped, and walked to the door; and saw an announcement.'

'I know--the play that is to be performed.'

'In which you are to be the Princess.'

'That's not settled,--I have not agreed yet. I shall not play
the Princess of France unless Mr. Mild plays the King of
Navarre.'

This sounded rather well. The Princess was the lady beloved
by the King; and Mr. Mild, the young lieutenant of artillery,
was a diffident, inexperienced, rather plain-looking fellow,
whose sole interest in theatricals lay in the consideration of
his costume and the sound of his own voice in the ears of the
audience. With such an unobjectionable person to enact the
part of lover, the prominent character of leading young lady
or heroine, which Paula was to personate, was really the most
satisfactory in the whole list for her. For although she was
to be wooed hard, there was just as much love-making among the
remaining personages; while, as Somerset had understood the
play, there could occur no flingings of her person upon her
lover's neck, or agonized downfalls upon the stage, in her
whole performance, as there were in the parts chosen by Mrs.
Camperton, the major's wife, and some of the other ladies.

'Why do you play at all!' he murmured.

'What a question! How could I refuse for such an excellent
purpose? They say that my taking a part will be worth a
hundred pounds to the charity. My father always supported the
hospital, which is quite undenominational; and he said I was
to do the same.'

'Do you think the peculiar means you have adopted for
supporting it entered into his view?' inquired Somerset,
regarding her with critical dryness. 'For my part I don't.'

'It is an interesting way,' she returned persuasively, though
apparently in a state of mental equipoise on the point raised
by his question. 'And I shall not play the Princess, as I
said, to any other than that quiet young man. Now I assure
you of this, so don't be angry and absurd! Besides, the King
doesn't marry me at the end of the play, as in Shakespeare's
other comedies. And if Miss De Stancy continues seriously
unwell I shall not play at all.'

The young man pressed her hand, but she gently slipped it
away.

'Are we not engaged, Paula!' he asked. She evasively shook
her head.

'Come--yes we are! Shall we tell your aunt?' he continued.
Unluckily at that moment Mrs. Goodman, who had followed them
to the studio at a slower pace, appeared round the doorway.

'No,--to the last,' replied Paula hastily. Then her aunt
entered, and the conversation was no longer personal.

Somerset took his departure in a serener mood though not
completely assured.

Thomas Hardy