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Chapter 10

Somerset was in the studio the next morning about ten o'clock
superintending the labours of Knowles, Bowles, and Cockton,
whom he had again engaged to assist him with the drawings on
his appointment to carry out the works. When he had set them
going he ascended the staircase of the great tower for some
purpose that bore upon the forthcoming repairs of this part.
Passing the door of the telegraph-room he heard little sounds
from the instrument, which somebody was working. Only two
people in the castle, to the best of his knowledge, knew the
trick of this; Miss Power, and a page in her service called
John. Miss De Stancy could also despatch messages, but she
was at Myrtle Villa.

The door was closed, and much as he would have liked to enter,
the possibility that Paula was not the performer led him to
withhold his steps. He went on to where the uppermost masonry
had resisted the mighty hostility of the elements for five
hundred years without receiving worse dilapidation than half-
a-century produces upon the face of man. But he still
wondered who was telegraphing, and whether the message bore on
housekeeping, architecture, theatricals, or love.

Could Somerset have seen through the panels of the door in
passing, he would have beheld the room occupied by Paula
alone.

It was she who sat at the instrument, and the message she was
despatching ran as under:--

'Can you send down a competent actress, who will undertake the
part of Princess of France in "Love's Labour's Lost" this
evening in a temporary theatre here? Dresses already provided
suitable to a lady about the middle height. State price.'

The telegram was addressed to a well-known theatrical agent in
London.

Off went the message, and Paula retired into the next room,
leaving the door open between that and the one she had just
quitted. Here she busied herself with writing some letters,
till in less than an hour the telegraph instrument showed
signs of life, and she hastened back to its side. The reply
received from the agent was as follows:--

'Miss Barbara Bell of the Regent's Theatre could come. Quite
competent. Her terms would be about twenty-five guineas.'

Without a moment's pause Paula returned for answer:--

'The terms are quite satisfactory.'

Presently she heard the instrument again, and emerging from
the next room in which she had passed the intervening time as
before, she read:--

'Miss Barbara Bell's terms were accidentally understated.
They would be forty guineas, in consequence of the distance.
Am waiting at the office for a reply.'

Paula set to work as before and replied:--

'Quite satisfactory; only let her come at once.'

She did not leave the room this time, but went to an arrow-
slit hard by and gazed out at the trees till the instrument
began to speak again. Returning to it with a leisurely
manner, implying a full persuasion that the matter was
settled, she was somewhat surprised to learn that

'Miss Bell, in stating her terms, understands that she will
not be required to leave London till the middle of the
afternoon. If it is necessary for her to leave at once, ten
guineas extra would be indispensable, on account of the great
inconvenience of such a short notice.'

Paula seemed a little vexed, but not much concerned she sent
back with a readiness scarcely politic in the circumstances: -

'She must start at once. Price agreed to.'

Her impatience for the answer was mixed with curiosity as to
whether it was due to the agent or to Miss Barbara Bell that
the prices had grown like Jack's Bean-stalk in the
negotiation. Another telegram duly came:--

'Travelling expenses are expected to be paid.'

With decided impatience she dashed off:--

'Of course; but nothing more will be agreed to.'

Then, and only then, came the desired reply:--

'Miss Bell starts by the twelve o'clock train.'

This business being finished, Paula left the chamber and
descended into the inclosure called the Pleasance, a spot
grassed down like a lawn. Here stood Somerset, who, having
come down from the tower, was looking on while a man searched
for old foundations under the sod with a crowbar. He was glad
to see her at last, and noticed that she looked serene and
relieved; but could not for the moment divine the cause.
Paula came nearer, returned his salutation, and regarded the
man's operations in silence awhile till his work led him to a
distance from them.

'Do you still wish to consult me?' asked Somerset.

'About the building perhaps,' said she. 'Not about the play.'

'But you said so?'

'Yes; but it will be unnecessary.'

Somerset thought this meant skittishness, and merely bowed.

'You mistake me as usual,' she said, in a low tone. 'I am not
going to consult you on that matter, because I have done all
you could have asked for without consulting you. I take no
part in the play to-night.'

'Forgive my momentary doubt!'

'Somebody else will play for me--an actress from London. But
on no account must the substitution be known beforehand or the
performance to-night will never come off: and that I should
much regret.'

'Captain De Stancy will not play his part if he knows you will
not play yours--that's what you mean?'

'You may suppose it is,' she said, smiling. 'And to guard
against this you must help me to keep the secret by being my
confederate.'

To be Paula's confederate; to-day, indeed, time had brought
him something worth waiting for. 'In anything!' cried
Somerset.

'Only in this!' said she, with soft severity. 'And you know
what you have promised, George! And you remember there is to
be no--what we talked about! Now will you go in the one-horse
brougham to Markton Station this afternoon, and meet the four
o'clock train? Inquire for a lady for Stancy Castle--a Miss
Bell; see her safely into the carriage, and send her straight
on here. I am particularly anxious that she should not enter
the town, for I think she once came to Markton in a starring
company, and she might be recognized, and my plan be
defeated.'

Thus she instructed her lover and devoted friend; and when he
could stay no longer he left her in the garden to return to
his studio. As Somerset went in by the garden door he met a
strange-looking personage coming out by the same passage--a
stranger, with the manner of a Dutchman, the face of a
smelter, and the clothes of an inhabitant of Guiana. The
stranger, whom we have already seen sitting at the back of the
theatre the night before, looked hard from Somerset to Paula,
and from Paula again to Somerset, as he stepped out. Somerset
had an unpleasant conviction that this queer gentleman had
been standing for some time in the doorway unnoticed, quizzing
him and his mistress as they talked together. If so he might
have learnt a secret.

When he arrived upstairs, Somerset went to a window commanding
a view of the garden. Paula still stood in her place, and the
stranger was earnestly conversing with her. Soon they passed
round the corner and disappeared.

It was now time for him to see about starting for Markton, an
intelligible zest for circumventing the ardent and coercive
captain of artillery saving him from any unnecessary delay in
the journey. He was at the station ten minutes before the
train was due; and when it drew up to the platform the first
person to jump out was Captain De Stancy in sportsman's attire
and with a gun in his hand. Somerset nodded, and De Stancy
spoke, informing the architect that he had been ten miles up
the line shooting waterfowl. 'That's Miss Power's carriage, I
think,' he added.

'Yes,' said Somerset carelessly. 'She expects a friend, I
believe. We shall see you at the castle again to-night?'

De Stancy assured him that they would, and the two men parted,
Captain De Stancy, when he had glanced to see that the
carriage was empty, going on to where a porter stood with a
couple of spaniels.

Somerset now looked again to the train. While his back had
been turned to converse with the captain, a lady of five-and-
thirty had alighted from the identical compartment occupied by
De Stancy. She made an inquiry about getting to Stancy
Castle, upon which Somerset, who had not till now observed
her, went forward, and introducing himself assisted her to the
carriage and saw her safely off.

De Stancy had by this time disappeared, and Somerset walked on
to his rooms at the Lord-Quantock-Arms, where he remained till
he had dined, picturing the discomfiture of his alert rival
when there should enter to him as Princess, not Paula Power,
but Miss Bell of the Regent's Theatre, London. Thus the hour
passed, till he found that if he meant to see the issue of the
plot it was time to be off.

On arriving at the castle, Somerset entered by the public door
from the hall as before, a natural delicacy leading him to
feel that though he might be welcomed as an ally at the stage-
door--in other words, the door from the corridor--it was
advisable not to take too ready an advantage of a privilege
which, in the existing secrecy of his understanding with
Paula, might lead to an overthrow of her plans on that point.

Not intending to sit out the whole performance, Somerset
contented himself with standing in a window recess near the
proscenium, whence he could observe both the stage and the
front rows of spectators. He was quite uncertain whether
Paula would appear among the audience to-night, and resolved
to wait events. Just before the rise of the curtain the young
lady in question entered and sat down. When the scenery was
disclosed and the King of Navarre appeared, what was
Somerset's surprise to find that, though the part was the part
taken by De Stancy on the previous night, the voice was that
of Mr. Mild; to him, at the appointed season, entered the
Princess, namely, Miss Barbara Bell.

Before Somerset had recovered from his crestfallen sensation
at De Stancy's elusiveness, that officer himself emerged in
evening dress from behind a curtain forming a wing to the
proscenium, and Somerset remarked that the minor part
originally allotted to him was filled by the subaltern who had
enacted it the night before. De Stancy glanced across,
whether by accident or otherwise Somerset could not determine,
and his glance seemed to say he quite recognized there had
been a trial of wits between them, and that, thanks to his
chance meeting with Miss Bell in the train, his had proved the
stronger.

The house being less crowded to-night there were one or two
vacant chairs in the best part. De Stancy, advancing from
where he had stood for a few moments, seated himself
comfortably beside Miss Power.

On the other side of her he now perceived the same queer
elderly foreigner (as he appeared) who had come to her in the
garden that morning. Somerset was surprised to perceive also
that Paula with very little hesitation introduced him and De
Stancy to each other. A conversation ensued between the
three, none the less animated for being carried on in a
whisper, in which Paula seemed on strangely intimate terms
with the stranger, and the stranger to show feelings of great
friendship for De Stancy, considering that they must be new
acquaintances.

The play proceeded, and Somerset still lingered in his corner.
He could not help fancying that De Stancy's ingenious
relinquishment of his part, and its obvious reason, was
winning Paula's admiration. His conduct was homage carried to
unscrupulous and inconvenient lengths, a sort of thing which a
woman may chide, but which she can never resent. Who could do
otherwise than talk kindly to a man, incline a little to him,
and condone his fault, when the sole motive of so audacious an
exercise of his wits was to escape acting with any other
heroine than herself.

His conjectures were brought to a pause by the ending of the
comedy, and the opportunity afforded him of joining the group
in front. The mass of people were soon gone, and the knot of
friends assembled around Paula were discussing the merits and
faults of the two days' performance.

'My uncle, Mr. Abner Power,' said Paula suddenly to Somerset,
as he came near, presenting the stranger to the astonished
young man. 'I could not see you before the performance, as I
should have liked to do. The return of my uncle is so
extraordinary that it ought to be told in a less hurried way
than this. He has been supposed dead by all of us for nearly
ten years--ever since the time we last heard from him.'

'For which I am to blame,' said Mr. Power, nodding to Paula's
architect. 'Yet not I, but accident and a sluggish
temperament. There are times, Mr Somerset, when the human
creature feels no interest in his kind, and assumes that his
kind feels no interest in him. The feeling is not active
enough to make him fly from their presence; but sufficient to
keep him silent if he happens to be away. I may not have
described it precisely; but this I know, that after my long
illness, and the fancied neglect of my letters--'

'For which my father was not to blame, since he did not
receive them,' said Paula.

'For which nobody was to blame--after that, I say, I wrote no
more.'

'You have much pleasure in returning at last, no doubt,' said
Somerset.

'Sir, as I remained away without particular pain, so I return
without particular joy. I speak the truth, and no
compliments. I may add that there is one exception to this
absence of feeling from my heart, namely, that I do derive
great satisfaction from seeing how mightily this young woman
has grown and prevailed.'

This address, though delivered nominally to Somerset, was
listened to by Paula, Mrs. Goodman, and De Stancy also. After
uttering it, the speaker turned away, and continued his
previous conversation with Captain De Stancy. From this time
till the group parted he never again spoke directly to
Somerset, paying him barely so much attention as he might have
expected as Paula's architect, and certainly less than he
might have supposed his due as her accepted lover.

The result of the appearance, as from the tomb, of this wintry
man was that the evening ended in a frigid and formal way
which gave little satisfaction to the sensitive Somerset, who
was abstracted and constrained by reason of thoughts on how
this resuscitation of the uncle would affect his relation with
Paula. It was possibly also the thought of two at least of
the others. There had, in truth, scarcely yet been time
enough to adumbrate the possibilities opened up by this
gentleman's return.

The only private word exchanged by Somerset with any one that
night was with Mrs. Goodman, in whom he always recognized a
friend to his cause, though the fluidity of her character
rendered her but a feeble one at the best of times. She
informed him that Mr. Power had no sort of legal control over
Paula, or direction in her estates; but Somerset could not
doubt that a near and only blood relation, even had he
possessed but half the static force of character that made
itself apparent in Mr. Power, might exercise considerable
moral influence over the girl if he chose. And in view of Mr.
Power's marked preference for De Stancy, Somerset had many
misgivings as to its operating in a direction favourable to
himself.

Thomas Hardy