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Chapter 1

SOMERSET, DARE AND DE STANCY.


There was no part of Paula's journey in which Somerset did not
think of her. He imagined her in the hotel at Havre, in her
brief rest at Paris; her drive past the Place de la Bastille
to the Boulevart Mazas to take the train for Lyons; her
tedious progress through the dark of a winter night till she
crossed the isothermal line which told of the beginning of a
southern atmosphere, and onwards to the ancient blue sea.

Thus, between the hours devoted to architecture, he passed the
next three days. One morning he set himself, by the help of
John, to practise on the telegraph instrument, expecting a
message. But though he watched the machine at every
opportunity, or kept some other person on the alert in its
neighbourhood, no message arrived to gratify him till after
the lapse of nearly a fortnight. Then she spoke from her new
habitation nine hundred miles away, in these meagre words:--

'Are settled at the address given. Can now attend to any
inquiry about the building.'

The pointed implication that she could attend to inquiries
about nothing else, breathed of the veritable Paula so
distinctly that he could forgive its sauciness. His reply was
soon despatched:--

'Will write particulars of our progress. Always the same.'

The last three words formed the sentimental appendage which
she had assured him she could tolerate, and which he hoped she
might desire.

He spent the remainder of the day in making a little sketch to
show what had been done in the castle since her departure.
This he despatched with a letter of explanation ending in a
paragraph of a different tenor:--

'I have demonstrated our progress as well as I could; but
another subject has been in my mind, even whilst writing the
former. Ask yourself if you use me well in keeping me a
fortnight before you so much as say that you have arrived?
The one thing that reconciled me to your departure was the
thought that I should hear early from you: my idea of being
able to submit to your absence was based entirely upon that.

'But I have resolved not to be out of humour, and to believe
that your scheme of reserve is not unreasonable; neither do I
quarrel with your injunction to keep silence to all relatives.
I do not know anything I can say to show you more plainly my
acquiescence in your wish "not to go too far" (in short, to
keep yourself dear--by dear I mean not cheap--you have been
dear in the other sense a long time, as you know), than by not
urging you to go a single degree further in warmth than you
please.'

When this was posted he again turned his attention to her
walls and towers, which indeed were a dumb consolation in many
ways for the lack of herself. There was no nook in the castle
to which he had not access or could not easily obtain access
by applying for the keys, and this propinquity of things
belonging to her served to keep her image before him even more
constantly than his memories would have done.

Three days and a half after the despatch of his subdued
effusion the telegraph called to tell him the good news that

'Your letter and drawing are just received. Thanks for the
latter. Will reply to the former by post this afternoon.'

It was with cheerful patience that he attended to his three
draughtsmen in the studio, or walked about the environs of the
fortress during the fifty hours spent by her presumably tender
missive on the road. A light fleece of snow fell during the
second night of waiting, inverting the position of long-
established lights and shades, and lowering to a dingy grey
the approximately white walls of other weathers; he could
trace the postman's footmarks as he entered over the bridge,
knowing them by the dot of his walking-stick: on entering the
expected letter was waiting upon his table. He looked at its
direction with glad curiosity; it was the first letter he had
ever received from her.

'HOTEL ---, NICE,
Feb. 14.

'MY DEAR MR. SOMERSET' (the 'George,' then, to which she had
so kindly treated him in her last conversation, was not to be
continued in black and white),--

'Your letter explaining the progress of the work, aided by the
sketch enclosed, gave me as clear an idea of the advance made
since my departure as I could have gained by being present. I
feel every confidence in you, and am quite sure the
restoration is in good hands. In this opinion both my aunt
and my uncle coincide. Please act entirely on your own
judgment in everything, and as soon as you give a certificate
to the builders for the first instalment of their money it
will be promptly sent by my solicitors.

'You bid me ask myself if I have used you well in not sending
intelligence of myself till a fortnight after I had left you.
Now, George, don't be unreasonable! Let me remind you that,
as a certain apostle said, there are a thousand things lawful
which are not expedient. I say this, not from pride in my own
conduct, but to offer you a very fair explanation of it. Your
resolve not to be out of humour with me suggests that you have
been sorely tempted that way, else why should such a resolve
have been necessary?

'If you only knew what passes in my mind sometimes you would
perhaps not be so ready to blame. Shall I tell you? No.
For, if it is a great emotion, it may afford you a cruel
satisfaction at finding I suffer through separation; and if it
be a growing indifference to you, it will be inflicting
gratuitous unhappiness upon you to say so, if you care for me;
as I SOMETIMES think you may do A LITTLE.'

('O, Paula!' said Somerset.)

'Please which way would you have it? But it is better that
you should guess at what I feel than that you should
distinctly know it. Notwithstanding this assertion you will,
I know, adhere to your first prepossession in favour of prompt
confessions. In spite of that, I fear that upon trial such
promptness would not produce that happiness which your fancy
leads you to expect. Your heart would weary in time, and when
once that happens, good-bye to the emotion you have told me
of. Imagine such a case clearly, and you will perceive the
probability of what I say. At the same time I admit that a
woman who is ONLY a creature of evasions and disguises is very
disagreeable.

'Do not write VERY frequently, and never write at all unless
you have some real information about the castle works to
communicate. I will explain to you on another occasion why I
make this request. You will possibly set it down as
additional evidence of my cold-heartedness. If so you must.
Would you also mind writing the business letter on an
independent sheet, with a proper beginning and ending?
Whether you inclose another sheet is of course optional.--
Sincerely yours, PAULA POWER.'

Somerset had a suspicion that her order to him not to neglect
the business letter was to escape any invidious remarks from
her uncle. He wished she would be more explicit, so that he
might know exactly how matters stood with them, and whether
Abner Power had ever ventured to express disapproval of him as
her lover.

But not knowing, he waited anxiously for a new architectural
event on which he might legitimately send her another line.
This occurred about a week later, when the men engaged in
digging foundations discovered remains of old ones which
warranted a modification of the original plan. He accordingly
sent off his professional advice on the point, requesting her
assent or otherwise to the amendment, winding up the inquiry
with 'Yours faithfully.' On another sheet he wrote:-

'Do you suffer from any unpleasantness in the manner of others
on account of me? If so, inform me, Paula. I cannot
otherwise interpret your request for the separate sheets.
While on this point I will tell you what I have learnt
relative to the authorship of that false paragraph about your
engagement. It was communicated to the paper by your uncle.
Was the wish father to the thought, or could he have been
misled, as many were, by appearances at the theatricals?

'If I am not to write to you without a professional reason,
surely you can write to me without such an excuse? When you
write tell me of yourself. There is nothing I so much wish to
hear of. Write a great deal about your daily doings, for my
mind's eye keeps those sweet operations more distinctly before
me than my bodily sight does my own.

'You say nothing of having been to look at the chapel-of-ease
I told you of, the plans of which I made when an architect's
pupil, working in metres instead of feet and inches, to my
immense perplexity, that the drawings might be understood by
the foreign workmen. Go there and tell me what you think of
its design. I can assure you that every curve thereof is my
own.

'How I wish you would invite me to run over and see you, if
only for a day or two, for my heart runs after you in a most
distracted manner. Dearest, you entirely fill my life! But I
forget; we have resolved not to go VERY FAR. But the fact is
I am half afraid lest, with such reticence, you should not
remember how very much I am yours, and with what a dogged
constancy I shall always remember you. Paula, sometimes I
have horrible misgivings that something will divide us,
especially if we do not make a more distinct show of our true
relationship. True do I say? I mean the relationship which I
think exists between us, but which you do not affirm too
clearly.--Yours always.'

Away southward like the swallow went the tender lines. He
wondered if she would notice his hint of being ready to pay
her a flying visit, if permitted to do so. His fancy dwelt on
that further side of France, the very contours of whose shore
were now lines of beauty for him. He prowled in the library,
and found interest in the mustiest facts relating to that
place, learning with aesthetic pleasure that the number of its
population was fifty thousand, that the mean temperature of
its atmosphere was 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and that the
peculiarities of a mistral were far from agreeable.

He waited overlong for her reply; but it ultimately came.
After the usual business preliminary, she said:--

'As requested, I have visited the little church you designed.
It gave me great pleasure to stand before a building whose
outline and details had come from the brain of such a valued
friend and adviser.'

('Valued friend and adviser,' repeated Somerset critically.)

'I like the style much, especially that of the windows--Early
English are they not? I am going to attend service there next
Sunday, BECAUSE YOU WERE THE ARCHITECT, AND FOR NO GODLY
REASON AT ALL. Does that content you? Fie for your
despondency! Remember M. Aurelius: "This is the chief thing:
Be not perturbed; for all things are of the nature of the
Universal." Indeed I am a little surprised at your having
forebodings, after my assurance to you before I left. I have
none. My opinion is that, to be happy, it is best to think
that, as we are the product of events, events will continue to
produce that which is in harmony with us. . . . You are too
faint-hearted, and that's the truth of it. I advise you not
to abandon yourself to idolatry too readily; you know what I
mean. It fills me with remorse when I think how very far
below such a position my actual worth removes me.

'I should like to receive another letter from you as soon as
you have got over the misgiving you speak of, but don't write
too soon. I wish I could write anything to raise your
spirits, but you may be so perverse that if, in order to do
this, I tell you of the races, routs, scenery, gaieties, and
gambling going on in this place and neighbourhood (into which
of course I cannot help being a little drawn), you may declare
that my words make you worse than ever. Don't pass the line I
have set down in the way you were tempted to do in your last;
and not too many Dearests--at least as yet. This is not a
time for effusion. You have my very warm affection, and
that's enough for the present.'

As a love-letter this missive was tantalizing enough, but
since its form was simply a continuation of what she had
practised before she left, it produced no undue misgiving in
him. Far more was he impressed by her omitting to answer the
two important questions he had put to her. First, concerning
her uncle's attitude towards them, and his conduct in giving
such strange information to the reporter. Second, on his,
Somerset's, paying her a flying visit some time during the
spring. Since she had requested it, he made no haste in his
reply. When penned, it ran in the words subjoined, which, in
common with every line of their correspondence, acquired from
the strangeness of subsequent circumstances an interest and a
force that perhaps they did not intrinsically possess.

'People cannot' (he wrote) 'be for ever in good spirits on
this gloomy side of the Channel, even though you seem to be so
on yours. However, that I can abstain from letting you know
whether my spirits are good or otherwise, I will prove in our
future correspondence. I admire you more and more, both for
the warm feeling towards me which I firmly believe you have,
and for your ability to maintain side by side with it so much
dignity and resolution with regard to foolish sentiment.
Sometimes I think I could have put up with a little more
weakness if it had brought with it a little more tenderness,
but I dismiss all that when I mentally survey your other
qualities. I have thought of fifty things to say to you of
the TOO FAR sort, not one of any other; so that your
prohibition is very unfortunate, for by it I am doomed to say
things that do not rise spontaneously to my lips. You say
that our shut-up feelings are not to be mentioned yet. How
long is the yet to last?

'But, to speak more solemnly, matters grow very serious with
us, Paula--at least with me: and there are times when this
restraint is really unbearable. It is possible to put up with
reserve when the reserved being is by one's side, for the eyes
may reveal what the lips do not. But when she is absent, what
was piquancy becomes harshness, tender railleries become cruel
sarcasm, and tacit understandings misunderstandings. However
that may be, you shall never be able to reproach me for
touchiness. I still esteem you as a friend; I admire you and
love you as a woman. This I shall always do, however
unconfiding you prove.'

Thomas Hardy