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Chapter 8

His serenity continued during two or three following days,
when, continuing at the castle, he got pleasant glimpses of
Paula now and then. Her strong desire that his love for her
should be kept secret, perplexed him; but his affection was
generous, and he acquiesced in that desire.

Meanwhile news of the forthcoming dramatic performance
radiated in every direction. And in the next number of the
county paper it was announced, to Somerset's comparative
satisfaction, that the cast was definitely settled, Mr. Mild
having agreed to be the King and Miss Power the French
Princess. Captain De Stancy, with becoming modesty for one
who was the leading spirit, figured quite low down, in the
secondary character of Sir Nathaniel.

Somerset remembered that, by a happy chance, the costume he
had designed for Sir Nathaniel was not at all picturesque;
moreover Sir Nathaniel scarcely came near the Princess through
the whole play.

Every day after this there was coming and going to and from
the castle of railway vans laden with canvas columns,
pasteboard trees, limp house-fronts, woollen lawns, and lath
balustrades. There were also frequent arrivals of young
ladies from neighbouring country houses, and warriors from the
X and Y batteries of artillery, distinguishable by their
regulation shaving.

But it was upon Captain De Stancy and Mrs. Camperton that the
weight of preparation fell. Somerset, through being much
occupied in the drawing-office, was seldom present during the
consultations and rehearsals: until one day, tea being served
in the drawing-room at the usual hour, he dropped in with the
rest to receive a cup from Paula's table. The chatter was
tremendous, and Somerset was at once consulted about some
necessary carpentry which was to be specially made at Markton.
After that he was looked on as one of the band, which resulted
in a large addition to the number of his acquaintance in this
part of England.

But his own feeling was that of being an outsider still. This
vagary had been originated, the play chosen, the parts
allotted, all in his absence, and calling him in at the last
moment might, if flirtation were possible in Paula, be but a
sop to pacify him. What would he have given to impersonate
her lover in the piece! But neither Paula nor any one else
had asked him.

The eventful evening came. Somerset had been engaged during
the day with the different people by whom the works were to be
carried out and in the evening went to his rooms at the Lord-
Quantock-Arms, Markton, where he dined. He did not return to
the castle till the hour fixed for the performance, and having
been received by Mrs. Goodman, entered the large apartment,
now transfigured into a theatre, like any other spectator.

Rumours of the projected representation had spread far and
wide. Six times the number of tickets issued might have been
readily sold. Friends and acquaintances of the actors came
from curiosity to see how they would acquit themselves; while
other classes of people came because they were eager to see
well-known notabilities in unwonted situations. When ladies,
hitherto only beheld in frigid, impenetrable positions behind
their coachmen in Markton High Street, were about to reveal
their hidden traits, home attitudes, intimate smiles, nods,
and perhaps kisses, to the public eye, it was a throwing open
of fascinating social secrets not to be missed for money.

The performance opened with no further delay than was
occasioned by the customary refusal of the curtain at these
times to rise more than two feet six inches; but this hitch
was remedied, and the play began. It was with no enviable
emotion that Somerset, who was watching intently, saw, not Mr.
Mild, but Captain De Stancy, enter as the King of Navarre.

Somerset as a friend of the family had had a seat reserved for
him next to that of Mrs. Goodman, and turning to her he said
with some excitement, 'I understood that Mr. Mild had agreed
to take that part?'

'Yes,' she said in a whisper, 'so he had; but he broke down.
Luckily Captain De Stancy was familiar with the part, through
having coached the others so persistently, and he undertook it
off-hand. Being about the same figure as Lieutenant Mild the
same dress fits him, with a little alteration by the tailor.'

It did fit him indeed; and of the male costumes it was that on
which Somerset had bestowed most pains when designing them.
It shrewdly burst upon his mind that there might have been
collusion between Mild and De Stancy, the former agreeing to
take the captain's place and act as blind till the last
moment. A greater question was, could Paula have been aware
of this, and would she perform as the Princess of France now
De Stancy was to be her lover?

'Does Miss Power know of this change?' he inquired.

'She did not till quite a short time ago.'

He controlled his impatience till the beginning of the second
act. The Princess entered; it was Paula. But whether the
slight embarrassment with which she pronounced her opening

'Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise,'

was due to the newness of her situation, or to her knowledge
that De Stancy had usurped Mild's part of her lover, he could
not guess. De Stancy appeared, and Somerset felt grim as he
listened to the gallant captain's salutation of the Princess,
and her response.

De S. Fair Princess, welcome to the court of Navarre.
Paula. Fair, I give you back again: and welcome, I have
not yet.

Somerset listened to this and to all that which followed of
the same sort, with the reflection that, after all, the
Princess never throughout the piece compromised her dignity by
showing her love for the King; and that the latter never
addressed her in words in which passion got the better of
courtesy. Moreover, as Paula had herself observed, they did
not marry at the end of the piece, as in Shakespeare's other
comedies. Somewhat calm in this assurance, he waited on while
the other couples respectively indulged in their love-making,
and banter, including Mrs. Camperton as the sprightly
Rosaline. But he was doomed to be surprised out of his humour
when the end of the act came on. In abridging the play for
the convenience of representation, the favours or gifts from
the gentlemen to the ladies were personally presented: and
now Somerset saw De Stancy advance with the necklace fetched
by Paula from London, and clasp it on her neck.

This seemed to throw a less pleasant light on her hasty
journey. To fetch a valuable ornament to lend it to a poorer
friend was estimable; but to fetch it that the friend's
brother should have something magnificent to use as a lover's
offering to herself in public, that wore a different
complexion. And if the article were recognized by the
spectators as the same that Charlotte had worn at the ball,
the presentation by De Stancy of what must seem to be an
heirloom of his house would be read as symbolizing a union of
the families.

De Stancy's mode of presenting the necklace, though
unauthorized by Shakespeare, had the full approval of the
company, and set them in good humour to receive Major
Camperton as Armado the braggart. Nothing calculated to
stimulate jealousy occurred again till the fifth act; and then
there arose full cause for it.

The scene was the outside of the Princess's pavilion. De
Stancy, as the King of Navarre, stood with his group of
attendants awaiting the Princess, who presently entered from
her door. The two began to converse as the play appointed, De
Stancy turning to her with this reply--

'Rebuke me not for that which you provoke;
The virtue of your eye must break my oath.'

So far all was well; and Paula opened her lips for the set
rejoinder. But before she had spoken De Stancy continued--

'If I profane with my unworthy hand
(Taking her hand)
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this--
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.'

Somerset stared. Surely in this comedy the King never
addressed the Princess in such warm words; and yet they were
Shakespeare's, for they were quite familiar to him. A dim
suspicion crossed his mind. Mrs. Goodman had brought a copy
of Shakespeare with her, which she kept in her lap and never
looked at: borrowing it, Somerset turned to 'Romeo and
Juliet,' and there he saw the words which De Stancy had
introduced as gag, to intensify the mild love-making of the
other play. Meanwhile De Stancy continued--

'O then, dear Saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purg'd!'

Could it be that De Stancy was going to do what came next in
the stage direction--kiss her? Before there was time for
conjecture on that point the sound of a very sweet and long-
drawn osculation spread through the room, followed by loud
applause from the people in the cheap seats. De Stancy
withdrew from bending over Paula, and she was very red in the
face. Nothing seemed clearer than that he had actually done
the deed. The applause continuing, Somerset turned his head.
Five hundred faces had regarded the act, without a
consciousness that it was an interpolation; and four hundred
and fifty mouths in those faces were smiling. About one half
of them were tender smiles; these came from the women. The
other half were at best humorous, and mainly satirical; these
came from the men. It was a profanation without parallel, and
his face blazed like a coal.

The play was now nearly at an end, and Somerset sat on,
feeling what he could not express. More than ever was he
assured that there had been collusion between the two
artillery officers to bring about this end. That he should
have been the unhappy man to design those picturesque dresses
in which his rival so audaciously played the lover to his,
Somerset's, mistress, was an added point to the satire. He
could hardly go so far as to assume that Paula was a
consenting party to this startling interlude; but her
otherwise unaccountable wish that his own love should be
clandestinely shown lent immense force to a doubt of her
sincerity. The ghastly thought that she had merely been
keeping him on, like a pet spaniel, to amuse her leisure
moments till she should have found appropriate opportunity for
an open engagement with some one else, trusting to his sense
of chivalry to keep secret their little episode, filled him
with a grim heat.

Thomas Hardy