Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 2

Without knowing it, Somerset was drawing near to a crisis in
this soft correspondence which would speedily put his
assertions to the test; but the knowledge came upon him soon
enough for his peace.

Her next letter, dated March 9th, was the shortest of all he
had received, and beyond the portion devoted to the building-
works it contained only the following sentences:--

'I am almost angry with you, George, for being vexed because I
am not more effusive. Why should the verbal I LOVE YOU be
ever uttered between two beings of opposite sex who have eyes
to see signs? During the seven or eight months that we have
known each other, you have discovered my regard for you, and
what more can you desire? Would a reiterated assertion of
passion really do any good? Remember it is a natural instinct
with us women to retain the power of obliging a man to hope,
fear, pray, and beseech as long as we think fit, before we
confess to a reciprocal affection.

'I am now going to own to a weakness about which I had
intended to keep silent. It will not perhaps add to your
respect for me. My uncle, whom in many ways I like, is
displeased with me for keeping up this correspondence so
regularly. I am quite perverse enough to venture to disregard
his feelings; but considering the relationship, and his
kindness in other respects, I should prefer not to do so at
present. Honestly speaking, I want the courage to resist him
in some things. He said to me the other day that he was very
much surprised that I did not depend upon his judgment for my
future happiness. Whether that meant much or little, I have
resolved to communicate with you only by telegrams for the
remainder of the time we are here. Please reply by the same
means only. There, now, don't flush and call me names! It is
for the best, and we want no nonsense, you and I. Dear
George, I feel more than I say, and if I do not speak more
plainly, you will understand what is behind after all I have
hinted. I can promise you that you will not like me less upon
knowing me better. Hope ever. I would give up a good deal
for you. Good-bye!'

This brought Somerset some cheerfulness and a good deal of
gloom. He silently reproached her, who was apparently so
independent, for lacking independence in such a vital matter.
Perhaps it was mere sex, perhaps it was peculiar to a few,
that her independence and courage, like Cleopatra's, failed
her occasionally at the last moment.

One curious impression which had often haunted him now
returned with redoubled force. He could not see himself as
the husband of Paula Power in any likely future. He could not
imagine her his wife. People were apt to run into mistakes in
their presentiments; but though he could picture her as
queening it over him, as avowing her love for him
unreservedly, even as compromising herself for him, he could
not see her in a state of domesticity with him.

Telegrams being commanded, to the telegraph he repaired, when,
after two days, an immediate wish to communicate with her led
him to dismiss vague conjecture on the future situation. His
first telegram took the following form:--

'I give up the letter writing. I will part with anything to
please you but yourself. Your comfort with your relative is
the first thing to be considered: not for the world do I wish
you to make divisions within doors. Yours.'

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday passed, and on Saturday a
telegram came in reply:--

'I can fear, grieve at, and complain of nothing, having your
nice promise to consider my comfort always.'

This was very pretty; but it admitted little. Such short
messages were in themselves poor substitutes for letters, but
their speed and easy frequency were good qualities which the
letters did not possess. Three days later he replied:--

'You do not once say to me "Come." Would such a strange
accident as my arrival disturb you much?'

She replied rather quickly:--

'I am indisposed to answer you too clearly. Keep your heart
strong: 'tis a censorious world.'

The vagueness there shown made Somerset peremptory, and he
could not help replying somewhat more impetuously than usual:-

'Why do you give me so much cause for anxiety! Why treat me
to so much mystification! Say once, distinctly, that what I
have asked is given.'

He awaited for the answer, one day, two days, a week; but none
came. It was now the end of March, and when Somerset walked
of an afternoon by the river and pool in the lower part of the
grounds, his ear newly greeted by the small voices of frogs
and toads and other creatures who had been torpid through the
winter, he became doubtful and uneasy that she alone should be
silent in the awakening year.

He waited through a second week, and there was still no reply.
It was possible that the urgency of his request had tempted
her to punish him, and he continued his walks, to, fro, and
around, with as close an ear to the undertones of nature, and
as attentive an eye to the charms of his own art, as the grand
passion would allow. Now came the days of battle between
winter and spring. On these excursions, though spring was to
the forward during the daylight, winter would reassert itself
at night, and not unfrequently at other moments. Tepid airs
and nipping breezes met on the confines of sunshine and shade;
trembling raindrops that were still akin to frost crystals
dashed themselves from the bushes as he pursued his way from
town to castle; the birds were like an orchestra waiting for
the signal to strike up, and colour began to enter into the
country round.

But he gave only a modicum of thought to these proceedings.
He rather thought such things as, 'She can afford to be saucy,
and to find a source of blitheness in my love, considering the
power that wealth gives her to pick and choose almost where
she will.' He was bound to own, however, that one of the
charms of her conversation was the complete absence of the
note of the heiress from its accents. That, other things
equal, her interest would naturally incline to a person
bearing the name of De Stancy, was evident from her avowed
predilections. His original assumption, that she was a
personification of the modern spirit, who had been dropped,
like a seed from the bill of a bird, into a chink of
mediaevalism, required some qualification. Romanticism, which
will exist in every human breast as long as human nature
itself exists, had asserted itself in her. Veneration for
things old, not because of any merit in them, but because of
their long continuance, had developed in her; and her modern
spirit was taking to itself wings and flying away. Whether
his image was flying with the other was a question which moved
him all the more deeply now that her silence gave him dread of
an affirmative answer.

For another seven days he stoically left in suspension all
forecasts of his possibly grim fate in being the employed and
not the beloved. The week passed: he telegraphed: there was
no reply: he had sudden fears for her personal safety and
resolved to break her command by writing.


'DEAR PAULA,--Are you ill or in trouble? It is impossible in
the very unquiet state you have put me into by your silence
that I should abstain from writing. Without affectation, you
sorely distress me, and I think you would hardly have done it
could you know what a degree of anxiety you cause. Why,
Paula, do you not write or send to me? What have I done that
you should treat me like this? Do write, if it is only to
reproach me. I am compelled to pass the greater part of the
day in this castle, which reminds me constantly of you, and
yet eternally lacks your presence. I am unfortunate indeed
that you have not been able to find half-an-hour during the
last month to tell me at least that you are alive.

'You have always been ambiguous, it is true; but I thought I
saw encouragement in your eyes; encouragement certainly was in
your eyes, and who would not have been deluded by them and
have believed them sincere? Yet what tenderness can there be
in a heart that can cause me pain so wilfully!

'There may, of course, be some deliberate scheming on the part
of your relations to intercept our letters; but I cannot think
it. I know that the housekeeper has received a letter from
your aunt this very week, in which she incidentally mentions
that all are well, and in the same place as before. How then
can I excuse you?

'Then write, Paula, or at least telegraph, as you proposed.
Otherwise I am resolved to take your silence as a signal to
treat your fair words as wind, and to write to you no more.'

Thomas Hardy