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Chapter 3

By half-past ten the next morning Somerset was once more
approaching the precincts of the building which had interested
him the night before. Referring to his map he had learnt that
it bore the name of Stancy Castle or Castle de Stancy; and he
had been at once struck with its familiarity, though he had
never understood its position in the county, believing it
further to the west. If report spoke truly there was some
excellent vaulting in the interior, and a change of study from
ecclesiastical to secular Gothic was not unwelcome for a
while.

The entrance-gate was open now, and under the archway the
outer ward was visible, a great part of it being laid out as a
flower-garden. This was in process of clearing from weeds and
rubbish by a set of gardeners, and the soil was so encumbered
that in rooting out the weeds such few hardy flowers as still
remained in the beds were mostly brought up with them. The
groove wherein the portcullis had run was as fresh as if only
cut yesterday, the very tooling of the stone being visible.
Close to this hung a bell-pull formed of a large wooden acorn
attached to a vertical rod. Somerset's application brought a
woman from the porter's door, who informed him that the day
before having been the weekly show-day for visitors, it was
doubtful if he could be admitted now.

'Who is at home?' said Somerset.

'Only Miss de Stancy,' the porteress replied.

His dread of being considered an intruder was such that he
thought at first there was no help for it but to wait till the
next week. But he had already through his want of effrontery
lost a sight of many interiors, whose exhibition would have
been rather a satisfaction to the inmates than a trouble. It
was inconvenient to wait; he knew nobody in the neighbourhood
from whom he could get an introductory letter: he turned and
passed the woman, crossed the ward where the gardeners were at
work, over a second and smaller bridge, and up a flight of
stone stairs, open to the sky, along whose steps sunburnt
Tudor soldiers and other renowned dead men had doubtless many
times walked. It led to the principal door on this side.
Thence he could observe the walls of the lower court in
detail, and the old mosses with which they were padded--mosses
that from time immemorial had been burnt brown every summer,
and every winter had grown green again. The arrow-slit and
the electric wire that entered it, like a worm uneasy at being
unearthed, were distinctly visible now. So also was the
clock, not, as he had supposed, a chronometer coeval with the
fortress itself, but new and shining, and bearing the name of
a recent maker.

The door was opened by a bland, intensely shaven man out of
livery, who took Somerset's name and politely worded request
to be allowed to inspect the architecture of the more public
portions of the castle. He pronounced the word 'architecture'
in the tone of a man who knew and practised that art; 'for,'
he said to himself, 'if she thinks I am a mere idle tourist,
it will not be so well.'

No such uncomfortable consequences ensued. Miss De Stancy had
great pleasure in giving Mr. Somerset full permission to walk
through whatever parts of the building he chose.

He followed the butler into the inner buildings of the
fortress, the ponderous thickness of whose walls made itself
felt like a physical pressure. An internal stone staircase,
ranged round four sides of a square, was next revealed,
leading at the top of one flight into a spacious hall, which
seemed to occupy the whole area of the keep. From this
apartment a corridor floored with black oak led to the more
modern wing, where light and air were treated in a less
gingerly fashion.

Here passages were broader than in the oldest portion, and
upholstery enlisted in the service of the fine arts hid to a
great extent the coldness of the walls.

Somerset was now left to himself, and roving freely from room
to room he found time to inspect the different objects of
interest that abounded there. Not all the chambers, even of
the habitable division, were in use as dwelling-rooms, though
these were still numerous enough for the wants of an ordinary
country family. In a long gallery with a coved ceiling of
arabesques which had once been gilded, hung a series of
paintings representing the past personages of the De Stancy
line. It was a remarkable array--even more so on account of
the incredibly neglected condition of the canvases than for
the artistic peculiarities they exhibited. Many of the frames
were dropping apart at their angles, and some of the canvas
was so dingy that the face of the person depicted was only
distinguishable as the moon through mist. For the colour they
had now they might have been painted during an eclipse; while,
to judge by the webs tying them to the wall, the spiders that
ran up and down their backs were such as to make the fair
originals shudder in their graves.

He wondered how many of the lofty foreheads and smiling lips
of this pictorial pedigree could be credited as true
reflections of their prototypes. Some were wilfully false, no
doubt; many more so by unavoidable accident and want of skill.
Somerset felt that it required a profounder mind than his to
disinter from the lumber of conventionality the lineaments
that really sat in the painter's presence, and to discover
their history behind the curtain of mere tradition.

The painters of this long collection were those who usually
appear in such places; Holbein, Jansen, and Vandyck; Sir
Peter, Sir Geoffrey, Sir Joshua, and Sir Thomas. Their
sitters, too, had mostly been sirs; Sir William, Sir John, or
Sir George De Stancy--some undoubtedly having a nobility
stamped upon them beyond that conferred by their robes and
orders; and others not so fortunate. Their respective ladies
hung by their sides--feeble and watery, or fat and
comfortable, as the case might be; also their fathers and
mothers-in-law, their brothers and remoter relatives; their
contemporary reigning princes, and their intimate friends. Of
the De Stancys pure there ran through the collection a mark by
which they might surely have been recognized as members of one
family; this feature being the upper part of the nose. Every
one, even if lacking other points in common, had the special
indent at this point in the face--sometimes moderate in
degree, sometimes excessive.

While looking at the pictures--which, though not in his
regular line of study, interested Somerset more than the
architecture, because of their singular dilapidation, it
occurred to his mind that he had in his youth been
schoolfellow for a very short time with a pleasant boy bearing
a surname attached to one of the paintings--the name of
Ravensbury. The boy had vanished he knew not how--he thought
he had been removed from school suddenly on account of ill
health. But the recollection was vague, and Somerset moved on
to the rooms above and below. In addition to the
architectural details of which he had as yet obtained but
glimpses, there was a great collection of old movables and
other domestic art-work--all more than a century old, and
mostly lying as lumber. There were suites of tapestry
hangings, common and fine; green and scarlet leather-work, on
which the gilding was still but little injured; venerable
damask curtains; quilted silk table-covers, ebony cabinets,
worked satin window-cushions, carved bedsteads, and
embroidered bed-furniture which had apparently screened no
sleeper for these many years. Downstairs there was also an
interesting collection of armour, together with several huge
trunks and coffers. A great many of them had been recently
taken out and cleaned, as if a long dormant interest in them
were suddenly revived. Doubtless they were those which had
been used by the living originals of the phantoms that looked
down from the frames.

This excellent hoard of suggestive designs for wood-work,
metal-work, and work of other sorts, induced Somerset to
divert his studies from the ecclesiastical direction, to
acquire some new ideas from the objects here for domestic
application. Yet for the present he was inclined to keep his
sketch-book closed and his ivory rule folded, and devote
himself to a general survey. Emerging from the ground-floor
by a small doorway, he found himself on a terrace to the
north-east, and on the other side than that by which he had
entered. It was bounded by a parapet breast high, over which
a view of the distant country met the eye, stretching from the
foot of the slope to a distance of many miles. Somerset went
and leaned over, and looked down upon the tops of the bushes
beneath. The prospect included the village he had passed
through on the previous day: and amidst the green lights and
shades of the meadows he could discern the red brick chapel
whose recalcitrant inmate had so engrossed him.

Before his attention had long strayed over the incident which
romanticized that utilitarian structure, he became aware that
he was not the only person who was looking from the terrace
towards that point of the compass. At the right-hand corner,
in a niche of the curtain-wall, reclined a girlish shape; and
asleep on the bench over which she leaned was a white cat--the
identical Persian as it seemed--that had been taken into the
carriage at the chapel-door.

Somerset began to muse on the probability or otherwise of the
backsliding Baptist and this young lady resulting in one and
the same person; and almost without knowing it he found
himself deeply hoping for such a unity. The object of his
inspection was idly leaning, and this somewhat disguised her
figure. It might have been tall or short, curvilinear or
angular. She carried a light sunshade which she fitfully
twirled until, thrusting it back over her shoulder, her head
was revealed sufficiently to show that she wore no hat or
bonnet. This token of her being an inmate of the castle, and
not a visitor, rather damped his expectations: but he
persisted in believing her look towards the chapel must have a
meaning in it, till she suddenly stood erect, and revealed
herself as short in stature--almost dumpy--at the same time
giving him a distinct view of her profile. She was not at all
like the heroine of the chapel. He saw the dinted nose of the
De Stancys outlined with Holbein shadowlessness against the
blue-green of the distant wood. It was not the De Stancy face
with all its original specialities: it was, so to speak, a
defective reprint of that face: for the nose tried hard to
turn up and deal utter confusion to the family shape.

As for the rest of the countenance, Somerset was obliged to
own that it was not beautiful: Nature had done there many
things that she ought not to have done, and left undone much
that she should have executed. It would have been decidedly
plain but for a precious quality which no perfection of
chiselling can give when the temperament denies it, and which
no facial irregularity can take away--a tender
affectionateness which might almost be called yearning; such
as is often seen in the women of Correggio when they are
painted in profile. But the plain features of Miss De Stancy-
-who she undoubtedly was--were rather severely handled by
Somerset's judgment owing to his impression of the previous
night. A beauty of a sort would have been lent by the
flexuous contours of the mobile parts but for that unfortunate
condition the poor girl was burdened with, of having to hand
on a traditional feature with which she did not find herself
otherwise in harmony.

She glanced at him for a moment, and showed by an
imperceptible movement that he had made his presence felt.
Not to embarrass her Somerset hastened to withdraw, at the
same time that she passed round to the other part of the
terrace, followed by the cat, in whom Somerset could imagine a
certain denominational cast of countenance, notwithstanding
her company. But as white cats are much alike each other at a
distance, it was reasonable to suppose this creature was not
the same one as that possessed by the beauty.

Thomas Hardy