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Chapter 11

Somerset was deeply engaged with his draughtsmen and builders
during the three following days, and scarcely entered the
occupied wing of the castle.

At his suggestion Paula had agreed to have the works executed
as such operations were carried out in old times, before the
advent of contractors. Each trade required in the building
was to be represented by a master-tradesman of that
denomination, who should stand responsible for his own section
of labour, and for no other, Somerset himself as chief
technicist working out his designs on the spot. By this means
the thoroughness of the workmanship would be greatly increased
in comparison with the modern arrangement, whereby a nominal
builder, seldom present, who can certainly know no more than
one trade intimately and well, and who often does not know
that, undertakes the whole.

But notwithstanding its manifest advantages to the proprietor,
the plan added largely to the responsibilities of the
architect, who, with his master-mason, master-carpenter,
master-plumber, and what not, had scarcely a moment to call
his own. Still, the method being upon the face of it the true
one, Somerset supervised with a will.

But there seemed to float across the court to him from the
inhabited wing an intimation that things were not as they had
been before; that an influence adverse to himself was at work
behind the ashlared face of inner wall which confronted him.
Perhaps this was because he never saw Paula at the windows, or
heard her footfall in that half of the building given over to
himself and his myrmidons. There was really no reason other
than a sentimental one why he should see her. The uninhabited
part of the castle was almost an independent structure, and it
was quite natural to exist for weeks in this wing without
coming in contact with residents in the other.

A more pronounced cause than vague surmise was destined to
perturb him, and this in an unexpected manner. It happened
one morning that he glanced through a local paper while
waiting at the Lord-Quantock-Arms for the pony-carriage to be
brought round in which he often drove to the castle. The
paper was two days old, but to his unutterable amazement he
read therein a paragraph which ran as follows:--

'We are informed that a marriage is likely to be arranged
between Captain De Stancy, of the Royal Horse Artillery, only
surviving son of Sir William De Stancy, Baronet, and Paula,
only daughter of the late John Power, Esq., M.P., of Stancy
Castle.'

Somerset dropped the paper, and stared out of the window.
Fortunately for his emotions, the horse and carriage were at
this moment brought to the door, so that nothing hindered
Somerset in driving off to the spot at which he would be
soonest likely to learn what truth or otherwise there was in
the newspaper report. From the first he doubted it: and yet
how should it have got there? Such strange rumours, like
paradoxical maxims, generally include a portion of truth.
Five days had elapsed since he last spoke to Paula.

Reaching the castle he entered his own quarters as usual, and
after setting the draughtsmen to work walked up and down
pondering how he might best see her without making the
paragraph the ground of his request for an interview; for if
it were a fabrication, such a reason would wound her pride in
her own honour towards him, and if it were partly true, he
would certainly do better in leaving her alone than in
reproaching her. It would simply amount to a proof that Paula
was an arrant coquette.

In his meditation he stood still, closely scanning one of the
jamb-stones of a doorless entrance, as if to discover where
the old hinge-hook had entered the stonework. He heard a
footstep behind him, and looking round saw Paula standing by.
She held a newspaper in her hand. The spot was one quite
hemmed in from observation, a fact of which she seemed to be
quite aware.

'I have something to tell you,' she said; 'something
important. But you are so occupied with that old stone that I
am obliged to wait.'

'It is not true surely!' he said, looking at the paper.

'No, look here,' she said, holding up the sheet. It was not
what he had supposed, but a new one--the local rival to that
which had contained the announcement, and was still damp from
the press. She pointed, and he read--

'We are authorized to state that there is no foundation
whatever for the assertion of our contemporary that a marriage
is likely to be arranged between Captain De Stancy and Miss
Power of Stancy Castle.'

Somerset pressed her hand. 'It disturbed me,' he said,
'though I did not believe it.'

'It astonished me, as much as it disturbed you; and I sent
this contradiction at once.'

'How could it have got there?'

She shook her head.

'You have not the least knowledge?'

'Not the least. I wish I had.'

'It was not from any friends of De Stancy's? or himself?'

'It was not. His sister has ascertained beyond doubt that he
knew nothing of it. Well, now, don't say any more to me about
the matter.'

'I'll find out how it got into the paper.'

'Not now--any future time will do. I have something else to
tell you.'

'I hope the news is as good as the last,' he said, looking
into her face with anxiety; for though that face was blooming,
it seemed full of a doubt as to how her next information would
be taken.

'O yes; it is good, because everybody says so. We are going
to take a delightful journey. My new-created uncle, as he
seems, and I, and my aunt, and perhaps Charlotte, if she is
well enough, are going to Nice, and other places about there.'

'To Nice!' said Somerset, rather blankly. 'And I must stay
here?'

'Why, of course you must, considering what you have
undertaken!' she said, looking with saucy composure into his
eyes. 'My uncle's reason for proposing the journey just now
is, that he thinks the alterations will make residence here
dusty and disagreeable during the spring. The opportunity of
going with him is too good a one for us to lose, as I have
never been there.'

'I wish I was going to be one of the party! . . . What do YOU
wish about it?'

She shook her head impenetrably. 'A woman may wish some
things she does not care to tell!'

'Are you really glad you are going, dearest?--as I MUST call
you just once,' said the young man, gazing earnestly into her
face, which struck him as looking far too rosy and radiant to
be consistent with ever so little regret at leaving him
behind.

'I take great interest in foreign trips, especially to the
shores of the Mediterranean: and everybody makes a point of
getting away when the house is turned out of the window.'

'But you do feel a little sadness, such as I should feel if
our positions were reversed?'

'I think you ought not to have asked that so incredulously,'
she murmured. 'We can be near each other in spirit, when our
bodies are far apart, can we not?' Her tone grew softer and
she drew a little closer to his side with a slightly nestling
motion, as she went on, 'May I be sure that you will not think
unkindly of me when I am absent from your sight, and not
begrudge me any little pleasure because you are not there to
share it with me?'

'May you! Can you ask it? . . . As for me, I shall have no
pleasure to be begrudged or otherwise. The only pleasure I
have is, as you well know, in you. When you are with me, I am
happy: when you are away, I take no pleasure in anything.'

'I don't deserve it. I have no right to disturb you so,' she
said, very gently. 'But I have given you some pleasure, have
I not? A little more pleasure than pain, perhaps?'

'You have, and yet . . . . But I don't accuse you, dearest.
Yes, you have given me pleasure. One truly pleasant time was
when we stood together in the summer-house on the evening of
the garden-party, and you said you liked me to love you.'

'Yes, it was a pleasant time,' she returned thoughtfully.
'How the rain came down, and formed a gauze between us and the
dancers, did it not; and how afraid we were--at least I was--
lest anybody should discover us there, and how quickly I ran
in after the rain was over!'

'Yes', said Somerset, 'I remember it. But no harm came of it
to you . . . . And perhaps no good will come of it to me.'

'Do not be premature in your conclusions, sir,' she said
archly. 'If you really do feel for me only half what you say,
we shall--you will make good come of it--in some way or
other.'

'Dear Paula--now I believe you, and can bear anything.'

'Then we will say no more; because, as you recollect, we
agreed not to go too far. No expostulations, for we are going
to be practical young people; besides, I won't listen if you
utter them. I simply echo your words, and say I, too, believe
you. Now I must go. Have faith in me, and don't magnify
trifles light as air.'

'I THINK I understand you. And if I do, it will make a great
difference in my conduct. You will have no cause to
complain.'

'Then you must not understand me so much as to make much
difference; for your conduct as my architect is perfect. But
I must not linger longer, though I wished you to know this
news from my very own lips.'

'Bless you for it! When do you leave?'

'The day after to-morrow.'

'So early? Does your uncle guess anything? Do you wish him
to be told just yet?'

'Yes, to the first; no, to the second.'

'I may write to you?'

'On business, yes. It will be necessary.'

'How can you speak so at a time of parting?'

'Now, George--you see I say George, and not Mr. Somerset, and
you may draw your own inference--don't be so morbid in your
reproaches! I have informed you that you may write, or still
better, telegraph, since the wire is so handy--on business.
Well, of course, it is for you to judge whether you will add
postscripts of another sort. There, you make me say more than
a woman ought, because you are so obtuse and literal. Good
afternoon--good-bye! This will be my address.'

She handed him a slip of paper, and flitted away.

Though he saw her again after this, it was during the bustle
of preparation, when there was always a third person present,
usually in the shape of that breathing refrigerator, her
uncle. Hence the few words that passed between them were of
the most formal description, and chiefly concerned the
restoration of the castle, and a church at Nice designed by
him, which he wanted her to inspect.

They were to leave by an early afternoon train, and Somerset
was invited to lunch on that day. The morning was occupied by
a long business consultation in the studio with Mr. Power and
Mrs. Goodman on what rooms were to be left locked up, what
left in charge of the servants, and what thrown open to the
builders and workmen under the surveillance of Somerset. At
present the work consisted mostly of repairs to existing
rooms, so as to render those habitable which had long been
used only as stores for lumber. Paula did not appear during
this discussion; but when they were all seated in the dining-
hall she came in dressed for the journey, and, to outward
appearance, with blithe anticipation at its prospect blooming
from every feature. Next to her came Charlotte De Stancy,
still with some of the pallor of an invalid, but wonderfully
brightened up, as Somerset thought, by the prospect of a visit
to a delightful shore. It might have been this; and it might
have been that Somerset's presence had a share in the change.

It was in the hall, when they were in the bustle of leave-
taking, that there occurred the only opportunity for the two
or three private words with Paula to which his star treated
him on that last day. His took the hasty form of, 'You will
write soon?'

'Telegraphing will be quicker,' she answered in the same low
tone; and whispering 'Be true to me!' turned away.

How unreasonable he was! In addition to those words, warm as
they were, he would have preferred a little paleness of cheek,
or trembling of lip, instead of the bloom and the beauty which
sat upon her undisturbed maidenhood, to tell him that in some
slight way she suffered at his loss.

Immediately after this they went to the carriages waiting at
the door. Somerset, who had in a measure taken charge of the
castle, accompanied them and saw them off, much as if they
were his visitors. She stepped in, a general adieu was
spoken, and she was gone.

While the carriages rolled away, he ascended to the top of the
tower, where he saw them lessen to spots on the road, and turn
the corner out of sight. The chances of a rival seemed to
grow in proportion as Paula receded from his side; but he
could not have answered why. He had bidden her and her
relatives adieu on her own doorstep, like a privileged friend
of the family, while De Stancy had scarcely seen her since the
play-night. That the silence into which the captain appeared
to have sunk was the placidity of conscious power, was
scarcely probable; yet that adventitious aids existed for De
Stancy he could not deny. The link formed by Charlotte
between De Stancy and Paula, much as he liked the ingenuous
girl, was one that he could have wished away. It constituted
a bridge of access to Paula's inner life and feelings which
nothing could rival; except that one fact which, as he firmly
believed, did actually rival it, giving him faith and hope;
his own primary occupation of Paula's heart. Moreover, Mrs.
Goodman would be an influence favourable to himself and his
cause during the journey; though, to be sure, to set against
her there was the phlegmatic and obstinate Abner Power, in
whom, apprised by those subtle media of intelligence which
lovers possess, he fancied he saw no friend.

Somerset remained but a short time at the castle that day.
The light of its chambers had fled, the gross grandeur of the
dictatorial towers oppressed him, and the studio was hateful.
He remembered a promise made long ago to Mr. Woodwell of
calling upon him some afternoon; and a visit which had not
much attractiveness in it at other times recommended itself
now, through being the one possible way open to him of hearing
Paula named and her doings talked of. Hence in walking back
to Markton, instead of going up the High Street, he turned
aside into the unfrequented footway that led to the minister's
cottage.

Mr. Woodwell was not indoors at the moment of his call, and
Somerset lingered at the doorway, and cast his eyes around.
It was a house which typified the drearier tenets of its
occupier with great exactness. It stood upon its spot of
earth without any natural union with it: no mosses disguised
the stiff straight line where wall met earth; not a creeper
softened the aspect of the bare front. The garden walk was
strewn with loose clinkers from the neighbouring foundry,
which rolled under the pedestrian's foot and jolted his soul
out of him before he reached the porchless door. But all was
clean, and clear, and dry.

Whether Mr. Woodwell was personally responsible for this
condition of things there was not time to closely consider,
for Somerset perceived the minister coming up the walk towards
him. Mr. Woodwell welcomed him heartily; and yet with the
mien of a man whose mind has scarcely dismissed some scene
which has preceded the one that confronts him. What that
scene was soon transpired.

'I have had a busy afternoon,' said the minister, as they
walked indoors; 'or rather an exciting afternoon. Your client
at Stancy Castle, whose uncle, as I imagine you know, has so
unexpectedly returned, has left with him to-day for the south
of France; and I wished to ask her before her departure some
questions as to how a charity organized by her father was to
be administered in her absence. But I have been very
unfortunate. She could not find time to see me at her own
house, and I awaited her at the station, all to no purpose,
owing to the presence of her friends. Well, well, I must see
if a letter will find her.'

Somerset asked if anybody of the neighbourhood was there to
see them off.

'Yes, that was the trouble of it. Captain De Stancy was
there, and quite monopolized her. I don't know what 'tis
coming to, and perhaps I have no business to inquire, since
she is scarcely a member of our church now. Who could have
anticipated the daughter of my old friend John Power
developing into the ordinary gay woman of the world as she has
done? Who could have expected her to associate with people
who show contempt for their Maker's intentions by flippantly
assuming other characters than those in which He created
them?'

'You mistake her,' murmured Somerset, in a voice which he
vainly endeavoured to attune to philosophy. 'Miss Power has
some very rare and beautiful qualities in her nature, though I
confess I tremble--fear lest the De Stancy influence should be
too strong.'

'Sir, it is already! Do you remember my telling you that I
thought the force of her surroundings would obscure the pure
daylight of her spirit, as a monkish window of coloured images
attenuates the rays of God's sun? I do not wish to indulge in
rash surmises, but her oscillation from her family creed of
Calvinistic truth towards the traditions of the De Stancys has
been so decided, though so gradual, that--well, I may be
wrong.'

'That what?' said the young man sharply.

'I sometimes think she will take to her as husband the present
representative of that impoverished line--Captain De Stancy--
which she may easily do, if she chooses, as his behaviour to-
day showed.'

'He was probably there on account of his sister,' said
Somerset, trying to escape the mental picture of farewell
gallantries bestowed on Paula.

'It was hinted at in the papers the other day.'

'And it was flatly contradicted.'

'Yes. Well, we shall see in the Lord's good time; I can do no
more for her. And now, Mr. Somerset, pray take a cup of tea.'

The revelations of the minister depressed Somerset a little,
and he did not stay long. As he went to the door Woodwell
said, 'There is a worthy man--the deacon of our chapel, Mr.
Havill--who would like to be friendly with you. Poor man,
since the death of his wife he seems to have something on his
mind--some trouble which my words will not reach. If ever you
are passing his door, please give him a look in. He fears
that calling on you might be an intrusion.'

Somerset did not clearly promise, and went his way. The
minister's allusion to the announcement of the marriage
reminded Somerset that she had expressed a wish to know how
the paragraph came to be inserted. The wish had been
carelessly spoken; but he went to the newspaper office to make
inquiries on the point.

The reply was unexpected. The reporter informed his
questioner that in returning from the theatricals, at which he
was present, he shared a fly with a gentleman who assured him
that such an alliance was certain, so obviously did it
recommend itself to all concerned, as a means of strengthening
both families. The gentleman's knowledge of the Powers was so
precise that the reporter did not hesitate to accept his
assertion. He was a man who had seen a great deal of the
world, and his face was noticeable for the seams and scars on
it.

Somerset recognized Paula's uncle in the portrait.

Hostilities, then, were beginning. The paragraph had been
meant as the first slap. Taking her abroad was the second.

Thomas Hardy