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Chapter 3

He despatched the letter, and half-an-hour afterwards felt
sure that it would mortally offend her. But he had now
reached a state of temporary indifference, and could
contemplate the loss of such a tantalizing property with
reasonable calm.

In the interim of waiting for a reply he was one day walking
to Markton, when, passing Myrtle Villa, he saw Sir William De
Stancy ambling about his garden-path and examining the
crocuses that palisaded its edge. Sir William saw him and
asked him to come in. Somerset was in the mood for any
diversion from his own affairs, and they seated themselves by
the drawing-room fire.

'I am much alone now,' said Sir William, 'and if the weather
were not very mild, so that I can get out into the garden
every day, I should feel it a great deal.'

'You allude to your daughter's absence?'

'And my son's. Strange to say, I do not miss her so much as I
miss him. She offers to return at any moment; but I do not
wish to deprive her of the advantages of a little foreign
travel with her friend. Always, Mr. Somerset, give your spare
time to foreign countries, especially those which contrast
with your own in topography, language, and art. That's my
advice to all young people of your age. Don't waste your
money on expensive amusements at home. Practise the strictest
economy at home, to have a margin for going abroad.'

Economy, which Sir William had never practised, but to which,
after exhausting all other practices, he now raised an altar,
as the Athenians did to the unknown God, was a topic likely to
prolong itself on the baronet's lips, and Somerset contrived
to interrupt him by asking--

'Captain De Stancy, too, has gone? Has the artillery, then,
left the barracks?'

'No,' said Sir William. 'But my son has made use of his leave
in running over to see his sister at Nice.'

The current of quiet meditation in Somerset changed to a busy
whirl at this reply. That Paula should become indifferent to
his existence from a sense of superiority, physical,
spiritual, or social, was a sufficiently ironical thing; but
that she should have relinquished him because of the presence
of a rival lent commonplace dreariness to her cruelty.

Sir William, noting nothing, continued in the tone of clever
childishness which characterized him: 'It is very singular
how the present situation has been led up to by me. Policy,
and policy alone, has been the rule of my conduct for many
years past; and when I say that I have saved my family by it,
I believe time will show that I am within the truth. I hope
you don't let your passions outrun your policy, as so many
young men are apt to do. Better be poor and politic, than
rich and headstrong: that's the opinion of an old man.
However, I was going to say that it was purely from policy
that I allowed a friendship to develop between my daughter and
Miss Power, and now events are proving the wisdom of my
course. Straws show how the wind blows, and there are little
signs that my son Captain De Stancy will return to Stancy
Castle by the fortunate step of marrying its owner. I say
nothing to either of them, and they say nothing to me; but my
wisdom lies in doing nothing to hinder such a consummation,
despite inherited prejudices.'

Somerset had quite time enough to rein himself in during the
old gentleman's locution, and the voice in which he answered
was so cold and reckless that it did not seem his own: 'But
how will they live happily together when she is a Dissenter,
and a Radical, and a New-light, and a Neo-Greek, and a person
of red blood; while Captain De Stancy is the reverse of them
all!'

'I anticipate no difficulty on that score,' said the baronet.
'My son's star lies in that direction, and, like the Magi, he
is following it without trifling with his opportunity. You
have skill in architecture, therefore you follow it. My son
has skill in gallantry, and now he is about to exercise it
profitably.'

'May nobody wish him more harm in that exercise than I do!'
said Somerset fervently.

A stagnant moodiness of several hours which followed his visit
to Myrtle Villa resulted in a resolve to journey over to Paula
the very next day. He now felt perfectly convinced that the
inviting of Captain De Stancy to visit them at Nice was a
second stage in the scheme of Paula's uncle, the premature
announcement of her marriage having been the first. The
roundness and neatness of the whole plan could not fail to
recommend it to the mind which delighted in putting involved
things straight, and such a mind Abner Power's seemed to be.
In fact, the felicity, in a politic sense, of pairing the
captain with the heiress furnished no little excuse for
manoeuvring to bring it about, so long as that manoeuvring
fell short of unfairness, which Mr. Power's could scarcely be
said to do.

The next day was spent in furnishing the builders with such
instructions as they might require for a coming week or ten
days, and in dropping a short note to Paula; ending as
follows:--

'I am coming to see you. Possibly you will refuse me an
interview. Never mind, I am coming--Yours, G.
SOMERSET.'

The morning after that he was up and away. Between him and
Paula stretched nine hundred miles by the line of journey that
he found it necessary to adopt, namely, the way of London, in
order to inform his father of his movements and to make one or
two business calls. The afternoon was passed in attending to
these matters, the night in speeding onward, and by the time
that nine o'clock sounded next morning through the sunless and
leaden air of the English Channel coasts, he had reduced the
number of miles on his list by two hundred, and cut off the
sea from the impediments between him and Paula.

On awakening from a fitful sleep in the grey dawn of the
morning following he looked out upon Lyons, quiet enough now,
the citizens unaroused to the daily round of bread-winning,
and enveloped in a haze of fog.

Six hundred and fifty miles of his journey had been got over;
there still intervened two hundred and fifty between him and
the end of suspense. When he thought of that he was
disinclined to pause; and pressed on by the same train, which
set him down at Marseilles at mid-day.

Here he considered. By going on to Nice that afternoon he
would arrive at too late an hour to call upon her the same
evening: it would therefore be advisable to sleep in
Marseilles and proceed the next morning to his journey's end,
so as to meet her in a brighter condition than he could boast
of to-day. This he accordingly did, and leaving Marseilles
the next morning about eight, found himself at Nice early in
the afternoon.

Now that he was actually at the centre of his gravitation he
seemed even further away from a feasible meeting with her than
in England. While afar off, his presence at Nice had appeared
to be the one thing needful for the solution of his trouble,
but the very house fronts seemed now to ask him what right he
had there. Unluckily, in writing from England, he had not
allowed her time to reply before his departure, so that he did
not know what difficulties might lie in the way of her seeing
him privately. Before deciding what to do, he walked down the
Avenue de la Gare to the promenade between the shore and the
Jardin Public, and sat down to think.

The hotel which she had given him as her address looked right
out upon him and the sea beyond, and he rested there with the
pleasing hope that her eyes might glance from a window and
discover his form. Everything in the scene was sunny and gay.
Behind him in the gardens a band was playing; before him was
the sea, the Great sea, the historical and original
Mediterranean; the sea of innumerable characters in history
and legend that arranged themselves before him in a long
frieze of memories so diverse as to include both AEneas and
St. Paul.

Northern eyes are not prepared on a sudden for the impact of
such images of warmth and colour as meet them southward, or
for the vigorous light that falls from the sky of this
favoured shore. In any other circumstances the transparency
and serenity of the air, the perfume of the sea, the radiant
houses, the palms and flowers, would have acted upon Somerset
as an enchantment, and wrapped him in a reverie; but at
present he only saw and felt these things as through a thick
glass which kept out half their atmosphere.

At last he made up his mind. He would take up his quarters at
her hotel, and catch echoes of her and her people, to learn
somehow if their attitude towards him as a lover were actually
hostile, before formally encountering them. Under this
crystalline light, full of gaieties, sentiment, languor,
seductiveness, and ready-made romance, the memory of a
solitary unimportant man in the lugubrious North might have
faded from her mind. He was only her hired designer. He was
an artist; but he had been engaged by her, and was not a
volunteer; and she did not as yet know that he meant to accept
no return for his labours but the pleasure of presenting them
to her as a love-offering.

So off he went at once towards the imposing building whither
his letters had preceded him. Owing to a press of visitors
there was a moment's delay before he could be attended to at
the bureau, and he turned to the large staircase that
confronted him, momentarily hoping that her figure might
descend. Her skirts must indeed have brushed the carpeting of
those steps scores of times. He engaged his room, ordered his
luggage to be sent for, and finally inquired for the party he
sought.

'They left Nice yesterday, monsieur,' replied madame.

Was she quite sure, Somerset asked her?

Yes, she was quite sure. Two of the hotel carriages had
driven them to the station.

Did she know where they had gone to?

This and other inquiries resulted in the information that they
had gone to the hotel at Monte Carlo; that how long they were
going to stay there, and whether they were coming back again,
was not known. His final question whether Miss Power had
received a letter from England which must have arrived the day
previous was answered in the affirmative.

Somerset's first and sudden resolve was to follow on after
them to the hotel named; but he finally decided to make his
immediate visit to Monte Carlo only a cautious reconnoitre,
returning to Nice to sleep.

Accordingly, after an early dinner, he again set forth through
the broad Avenue de la Gare, and an hour on the coast railway
brought him to the beautiful and sinister little spot to which
the Power and De Stancy party had strayed in common with the
rest of the frivolous throng.

He assumed that their visit thither would be chiefly one of
curiosity, and therefore not prolonged. This proved to be the
case in even greater measure than he had anticipated. On
inquiry at the hotel he learnt that they had stayed only one
night, leaving a short time before his arrival, though it was
believed that some of the party were still in the town.

In a state of indecision Somerset strolled into the gardens of
the Casino, and looked out upon the sea. There it still lay,
calm yet lively; of an unmixed blue, yet variegated; hushed,
but articulate even to melodiousness. Everything about and
around this coast appeared indeed jaunty, tuneful, and at
ease, reciprocating with heartiness the rays of the splendid
sun; everything, except himself. The palms and flowers on the
terraces before him were undisturbed by a single cold breath.
The marble work of parapets and steps was unsplintered by
frosts. The whole was like a conservatory with the sky for
its dome.

For want of other occupation he went round towards the public
entrance to the Casino, and ascended the great staircase into
the pillared hall. It was possible, after all, that upon
leaving the hotel and sending on their luggage they had taken
another turn through the rooms, to follow by a later train.
With more than curiosity he scanned first the reading-rooms,
only however to see not a face that he knew. He then crossed
the vestibule to the gaming-tables.

Thomas Hardy