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Chapter 1

DE STANCY AND PAULA.


Miss Power was reclining on a red velvet couch in the bedroom
of an old-fashioned red hotel at Strassburg, and her friend
Miss De Stancy was sitting by a window of the same apartment.
They were both rather wearied by a long journey of the
previous day. The hotel overlooked the large open Kleber
Platz, erect in the midst of which the bronze statue of
General Kleber received the rays of a warm sun that was
powerless to brighten him. The whole square, with its people
and vehicles going to and fro as if they had plenty of time,
was visible to Charlotte in her chair; but Paula from her
horizontal position could see nothing below the level of the
many dormered house-tops on the opposite side of the Platz.
After watching this upper storey of the city for some time in
silence, she asked Charlotte to hand her a binocular lying on
the table, through which instrument she quietly regarded the
distant roofs.

'What strange and philosophical creatures storks are,' she
said. 'They give a taciturn, ghostly character to the whole
town.'

The birds were crossing and recrossing the field of the glass
in their flight hither and thither between the Strassburg
chimneys, their sad grey forms sharply outlined against the
sky, and their skinny legs showing beneath like the limbs of
dead martyrs in Crivelli's emaciated imaginings. The
indifference of these birds to all that was going on beneath
them impressed her: to harmonize with their solemn and silent
movements the houses beneath should have been deserted, and
grass growing in the streets.

Behind the long roofs thus visible to Paula over the window-
sill, with their tiers of dormer-windows, rose the cathedral
spire in airy openwork, forming the highest object in the
scene; it suggested something which for a long time she
appeared unwilling to utter; but natural instinct had its way.

'A place like this,' she said, 'where he can study Gothic
architecture, would, I should have thought, be a spot more
congenial to him than Monaco.'

The person referred to was the misrepresented Somerset, whom
the two had been gingerly discussing from time to time,
allowing any casual subject, such as that of the storks, to
interrupt the personal one at every two or three sentences.

'It would be more like him to be here,' replied Miss De
Stancy, trusting her tongue with only the barest generalities
on this matter.

Somerset was again dismissed for the stork topic, but Paula
could not let him alone; and she presently resumed, as if an
irresistible fascination compelled what judgment had
forbidden: 'The strongest-minded persons are sometimes caught
unawares at that place, if they once think they will retrieve
their first losses; and I am not aware that he is particularly
strong-minded.'

For a moment Charlotte looked at her with a mixed expression,
in which there was deprecation that a woman with any feeling
should criticize Somerset so frigidly, and relief that it was
Paula who did so. For, notwithstanding her assumption that
Somerset could never be anything more to her than he was
already, Charlotte's heart would occasionally step down and
trouble her views so expressed.

Whether looking through a glass at distant objects enabled
Paula to bottle up her affection for the absent one, or
whether her friend Charlotte had so little personality in
Paula's regard that she could commune with her as with a lay
figure, it was certain that she evinced remarkable ease in
speaking of Somerset, resuming her words about him in the tone
of one to whom he was at most an ordinary professional
adviser. 'It would be very awkward for the works at the
castle if he has got into a scrape. I suppose the builders
were well posted with instructions before he left: but he
ought certainly to return soon. Why did he leave England at
all just now?'

'Perhaps it was to see you.'

'He should have waited; it would not have been so dreadfully
long to May or June. Charlotte, how can a man who does such a
hare-brained thing as this be deemed trustworthy in an
important work like that of rebuilding Stancy Castle?'

There was such stress in the inquiry that, whatever
factitiousness had gone before, Charlotte perceived Paula to
be at last speaking her mind; and it seemed as if Somerset
must have considerably lost ground in her opinion, or she
would not have criticized him thus.

'My brother will tell us full particulars when he comes:
perhaps it is not at all as we suppose,' said Charlotte. She
strained her eyes across the Platz and added, 'He ought to
have been here before this time.'

While they waited and talked, Paula still observing the
storks, the hotel omnibus came round the corner from the
station. 'I believe he has arrived,' resumed Miss De Stancy;
'I see something that looks like his portmanteau on the top of
the omnibus. . . . Yes; it is his baggage. I'll run down to
him.'

De Stancy had obtained six weeks' additional leave on account
of his health, which had somewhat suffered in India. The
first use he made of his extra time was in hastening back to
meet the travelling ladies here at Strassburg. Mr. Power and
Mrs. Goodman were also at the hotel, and when Charlotte got
downstairs, the former was welcoming De Stancy at the door.

Paula had not seen him since he set out from Genoa for Nice,
commissioned by her to deliver the hundred pounds to Somerset.
His note, stating that he had failed to meet Somerset,
contained no details, and she guessed that he would soon
appear before her now to answer any question about that
peculiar errand.

Her anticipations were justified by the event; she had no
sooner gone into the next sitting-room than Charlotte De
Stancy appeared and asked if her brother might come up. The
closest observer would have been in doubt whether Paula's
ready reply in the affirmative was prompted by personal
consideration for De Stancy, or by a hope to hear more of his
mission to Nice. As soon as she had welcomed him she reverted
at once to the subject.

'Yes, as I told you, he was not at the place of meeting,' De
Stancy replied. And taking from his pocket the bag of ready
money he placed it intact upon the table.

De Stancy did this with a hand that shook somewhat more than a
long railway journey was adequate to account for; and in truth
it was the vision of Dare's position which agitated the
unhappy captain: for had that young man, as De Stancy feared,
been tampering with Somerset's name, his fate now trembled in
the balance; Paula would unquestionably and naturally invoke
the aid of the law against him if she discovered such an
imposition.

'Were you punctual to the time mentioned?' she asked
curiously.

De Stancy replied in the affirmative.

'Did you wait long?' she continued.

'Not very long,' he answered, his instinct to screen the
possibly guilty one confining him to guarded statements, while
still adhering to the literal truth.

'Why was that?'

'Somebody came and told me that he would not appear.'

'Who?'

'A young man who has been acting as his clerk. His name is
Dare. He informed me that Mr. Somerset could not keep the
appointment.'

'Why?'

'He had gone on to San Remo.'

'Has he been travelling with Mr. Somerset?'

'He had been with him. They know each other very well. But
as you commissioned me to deliver the money into no hands but
Mr. Somerset's, I adhered strictly to your instructions.'

'But perhaps my instructions were not wise. Should it in your
opinion have been sent by this young man? Was he commissioned
to ask you for it?'

De Stancy murmured that Dare was not commissioned to ask for
it; that upon the whole he deemed her instructions wise; and
was still of opinion that the best thing had been done.

Although De Stancy was distracted between his desire to
preserve Dare from the consequences of folly, and a
gentlemanly wish to keep as close to the truth as was
compatible with that condition, his answers had not appeared
to Paula to be particularly evasive, the conjuncture being one
in which a handsome heiress's shrewdness was prone to overleap
itself by setting down embarrassment on the part of the man
she questioned to a mere lover's difficulty in steering
between honour and rivalry.

She put but one other question. 'Did it appear as if he, Mr.
Somerset, after telegraphing, had--had--regretted doing so,
and evaded the result by not keeping the appointment?'

'That's just how it appears.' The words, which saved Dare
from ignominy, cost De Stancy a good deal. He was sorry for
Somerset, sorry for himself, and very sorry for Paula. But
Dare was to De Stancy what Somerset could never be: and 'for
his kin that is near unto him shall a man be defiled.'

After that interview Charlotte saw with warring impulses that
Somerset slowly diminished in Paula's estimate; slowly as the
moon wanes, but as certainly. Charlotte's own love was of a
clinging, uncritical sort, and though the shadowy intelligence
of Somerset's doings weighed down her soul with regret, it
seemed to make not the least difference in her affection for
him.

In the afternoon the whole party, including De Stancy, drove
about the streets. Here they looked at the house in which
Goethe had lived, and afterwards entered the cathedral.
Observing in the south transept a crowd of people waiting
patiently, they were reminded that they unwittingly stood in
the presence of the popular clock-work of Schwilgue.

Mr. Power and Mrs. Goodman decided that they would wait with
the rest of the idlers and see the puppets perform at the
striking. Charlotte also waited with them; but as it wanted
eight minutes to the hour, and as Paula had seen the show
before, she moved on into the nave.

Presently she found that De Stancy had followed. He did not
come close till she, seeing him stand silent, said, 'If it
were not for this cathedral, I should not like the city at
all; and I have even seen cathedrals I like better. Luckily
we are going on to Baden to-morrow.'

'Your uncle has just told me. He has asked me to keep you
company.'

'Are you intending to?' said Paula, probing the base-moulding
of a pier with her parasol.

'I have nothing better to do, nor indeed half so good,' said
De Stancy. 'I am abroad for my health, you know, and what's
like the Rhine and its neighbourhood in early summer, before
the crowd comes? It is delightful to wander about there, or
anywhere, like a child, influenced by no fixed motive more
than that of keeping near some friend, or friends, including
the one we most admire in the world.'

'That sounds perilously like love-making.'

''Tis love indeed.'

'Well, love is natural to men, I suppose,' rejoined the young
lady. 'But you must love within bounds; or you will be
enervated, and cease to be useful as a heavy arm of the
service.'

'My dear Miss Power, your didactic and respectable rules won't
do for me. If you expect straws to stop currents, you are
sadly mistaken! But no--let matters be: I am a happy
contented mortal at present, say what you will. . . . You
don't ask why? Perhaps you know. It is because all I care
for in the world is near me, and that I shall never be more
than a hundred yards from her as long as the present
arrangement continues.'

'We are in a cathedral, remember, Captain De Stancy, and
should not keep up a secular conversation.'

'If I had never said worse in a cathedral than what I have
said here, I should be content to meet my eternal judge
without absolution. Your uncle asked me this morning how I
liked you.'

'Well, there was no harm in that.'

'How I like you! Harm, no; but you should have seen how silly
I looked. Fancy the inadequacy of the expression when my
whole sense is absorbed by you.'

'Men allow themselves to be made ridiculous by their own
feelings in an inconceivable way.'

'True, I am a fool; but forgive me,' he rejoined, observing
her gaze, which wandered critically from roof to clerestory,
and then to the pillars, without once lighting on him. 'Don't
mind saying Yes.--You look at this thing and that thing, but
you never look at me, though I stand here and see nothing but
you.'

'There, the clock is striking--and the cock crows. Please go
across to the transept and tell them to come out this way.'

De Stancy went. When he had gone a few steps he turned his
head. She had at last ceased to study the architecture, and
was looking at him. Perhaps his words had struck her, for it
seemed at that moment as if he read in her bright eyes a
genuine interest in him and his fortunes.

Thomas Hardy