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Chapter 4

He descended the stone stairs to a lower story of the castle,
in which was a crypt-like hall covered by vaulting of
exceptional and massive ingenuity:


'Built ere the art was known,
By pointed aisle and shafted stalk
The arcades of an alleyed walk
To emulate in stone.'

It happened that the central pillar whereon the vaults rested,
reputed to exhibit some of the most hideous grotesques in
England upon its capital, was within a locked door. Somerset
was tempted to ask a servant for permission to open it, till
he heard that the inner room was temporarily used for plate,
the key being kept by Miss De Stancy, at which he said no
more. But afterwards the active housemaid redescended the
stone steps; she entered the crypt with a bunch of keys in one
hand, and in the other a candle, followed by the young lady
whom Somerset had seen on the terrace.

'I shall be very glad to unlock anything you may want to see.
So few people take any real interest in what is here that we
do not leave it open.'

Somerset expressed his thanks.

Miss De Stancy, a little to his surprise, had a touch of
rusticity in her manner, and that forced absence of reserve
which seclusion from society lends to young women more
frequently than not. She seemed glad to have something to do;
the arrival of Somerset was plainly an event sufficient to set
some little mark upon her day. Deception had been written on
the faces of those frowning walls in their implying the
insignificance of Somerset, when he found them tenanted only
by this little woman whose life was narrower than his own.

'We have not been here long,' continued Miss De Stancy, 'and
that's why everything is in such a dilapidated and confused
condition.'

Somerset entered the dark store-closet, thinking less of the
ancient pillar revealed by the light of the candle than what a
singular remark the latter was to come from a member of the
family which appeared to have been there five centuries. He
held the candle above his head, and walked round, and
presently Miss De Stancy came back.

'There is another vault below,' she said, with the severe face
of a young woman who speaks only because it is absolutely
necessary. 'Perhaps you are not aware of it? It was the
dungeon: if you wish to go down there too, the servant will
show you the way. It is not at all ornamental: rough, unhewn
arches and clumsy piers.'

Somerset thanked her, and would perhaps take advantage of her
kind offer when he had examined the spot where he was, if it
were not causing inconvenience.

'No; I am sure Paula will be glad to know that anybody thinks
it interesting to go down there--which is more than she does
herself.'

Some obvious inquiries were suggested by this, but Somerset
said, 'I have seen the pictures, and have been much struck by
them; partly,' he added, with some hesitation, 'because one or
two of them reminded me of a schoolfellow--I think his name
was John Ravensbury?'

'Yes,' she said, almost eagerly. 'He was my cousin!'

'So that we are not quite strangers?'

'But he is dead now. . . . He was unfortunate: he was mostly
spoken of as "that unlucky boy." . . . You know, I suppose,
Mr. Somerset, why the paintings are in such a decaying state!-
-it is owing to the peculiar treatment of the castle during
Mr. Wilkins's time. He was blind; so one can imagine he did
not appreciate such things as there are here.'

'The castle has been shut up, you mean?'

'O yes, for many years. But it will not be so again. We are
going to have the pictures cleaned, and the frames mended, and
the old pieces of furniture put in their proper places. It
will be very nice then. Did you see those in the east
closet?'

'I have only seen those in the gallery.'

'I will just show you the way to the others, if you would like
to see them?'

They ascended to the room designated the east closet. The
paintings here, mostly of smaller size, were in a better
condition, owing to the fact that they were hung on an inner
wall, and had hence been kept free from damp. Somerset
inquired the names and histories of one or two.

'I really don't quite know,' Miss De Stancy replied after some
thought. 'But Paula knows, I am sure. I don't study them
much--I don't see the use of it.' She swung her sunshade, so
that it fell open, and turned it up till it fell shut. 'I
have never been able to give much attention to ancestors,' she
added, with her eyes on the parasol.

'These ARE your ancestors?' he asked, for her position and
tone were matters which perplexed him. In spite of the family
likeness and other details he could scarcely believe this
frank and communicative country maiden to be the modern
representative of the De Stancys.

'O yes, they certainly are,' she said, laughing. 'People say
I am like them: I don't know if I am--well, yes, I know I am:
I can see that, of course, any day. But they have gone from
my family, and perhaps it is just as well that they should
have gone. . . . They are useless,' she added, with serene
conclusiveness.

'Ah! they have gone, have they?'

'Yes, castle and furniture went together: it was long ago--
long before I was born. It doesn't seem to me as if the place
ever belonged to a relative of mine.'

Somerset corrected his smiling manner to one of solicitude.

'But you live here, Miss De Stancy?'

'Yes--a great deal now; though sometimes I go home to sleep.'

'This is home to you, and not home?'

'I live here with Paula--my friend: I have not been here
long, neither has she. For the first six months after her
father's death she did not come here at all.'

They walked on, gazing at the walls, till the young man said:
'I fear I may be making some mistake: but I am sure you will
pardon my inquisitiveness this once. WHO is Paula?'

'Ah, you don't know! Of course you don't--local changes don't
get talked of far away. She is the owner of this castle and
estate. My father sold it when he was quite a young man,
years before I was born, and not long after his father's
death. It was purchased by a man named Wilkins, a rich man
who became blind soon after he had bought it, and never lived
here; so it was left uncared for.'

She went out upon the terrace; and without exactly knowing
why, Somerset followed.

'Your friend--'

'Has only come here quite recently. She is away from home to-
day. . . . It was very sad,' murmured the young girl
thoughtfully. 'No sooner had Mr. Power bought it of the
representatives of Mr. Wilkins--almost immediately indeed--
than he died from a chill caught after a warm bath. On
account of that she did not take possession for several
months; and even now she has only had a few rooms prepared as
a temporary residence till she can think what to do. Poor
thing, it is sad to be left alone!'

Somerset heedfully remarked that he thought he recognized that
name Power, as one he had seen lately, somewhere or other.

'Perhaps you have been hearing of her father. Do you know
what he was?'

Somerset did not.

She looked across the distant country, where undulations of
dark-green foliage formed a prospect extending for miles. And
as she watched, and Somerset's eyes, led by hers, watched
also, a white streak of steam, thin as a cotton thread, could
be discerned ploughing that green expanse. 'Her father made
THAT,' Miss De Stancy said, directing her finger towards the
object.

'That what?'

'That railway. He was Mr. John Power, the great railway
contractor. And it was through making the railway that he
discovered this castle--the railway was diverted a little on
its account.'

'A clash between ancient and modern.'

'Yes, but he took an interest in the locality long before he
purchased the estate. And he built the people a chapel on a
bit of freehold he bought for them. He was a great
Nonconformist, a staunch Baptist up to the day of his death--a
much stauncher one,' she said significantly, 'than his
daughter is.'

'Ah, I begin to spot her!'

'You have heard about the baptism?'

'I know something of it.'

'Her conduct has given mortal offence to the scattered people
of the denomination that her father was at such pains to unite
into a body.'

Somerset could guess the remainder, and in thinking over the
circumstances did not state what he had seen. She added, as
if disappointed at his want of curiosity--

'She would not submit to the rite when it came to the point.
The water looked so cold and dark and fearful, she said, that
she could not do it to save her life.'

'Surely she should have known her mind before she had gone so
far?' Somerset's words had a condemnatory form, but perhaps
his actual feeling was that if Miss Power had known her own
mind, she would have not interested him half so much.

'Paula's own mind had nothing to do with it!' said Miss De
Stancy, warming up to staunch partizanship in a moment. 'It
was all undertaken by her from a mistaken sense of duty. It
was her father's dying wish that she should make public
profession of her--what do you call it--of the denomination
she belonged to, as soon as she felt herself fit to do it: so
when he was dead she tried and tried, and didn't get any more
fit; and at last she screwed herself up to the pitch, and
thought she must undergo the ceremony out of pure reverence
for his memory. It was very short-sighted of her father to
put her in such a position: because she is now very sad, as
she feels she can never try again after such a sermon as was
delivered against her.'

Somerset presumed that Miss Power need not have heard this
Knox or Bossuet of hers if she had chosen to go away?

'She did not hear it in the face of the congregation; but from
the vestry. She told me some of it when she reached home.
Would you believe it, the man who preached so bitterly is a
tenant of hers? I said, "Surely you will turn him out of his
house?"--But she answered, in her calm, deep, nice way, that
she supposed he had a perfect right to preach against her,
that she could not in justice molest him at all. I wouldn't
let him stay if the house were mine. But she has often before
allowed him to scold her from the pulpit in a smaller way--
once it was about an expensive dress she had worn--not
mentioning her by name, you know; but all the people are quite
aware that it is meant for her, because only one person of her
wealth or position belongs to the Baptist body in this
county.'

Somerset was looking at the homely affectionate face of the
little speaker. 'You are her good friend, I am sure,' he
remarked.

She looked into the distant air with tacit admission of the
impeachment. 'So would you be if you knew her,' she said; and
a blush slowly rose to her cheek, as if the person spoken of
had been a lover rather than a friend.

'But you are not a Baptist any more than I?' continued
Somerset.

'O no. And I never knew one till I knew Paula. I think they
are very nice; though I sometimes wish Paula was not one, but
the religion of reasonable persons.'

They walked on, and came opposite to where the telegraph
emerged from the trees, leapt over the parapet, and up through
the loophole into the interior.

'That looks strange in such a building,' said her companion.

'Miss Power had it put up to know the latest news from town.
It costs six pounds a mile. She can work it herself,
beautifully: and so can I, but not so well. It was a great
delight to learn. Miss Power was so interested at first that
she was sending messages from morning till night. And did you
hear the new clock?'

'Is it a new one?--Yes, I heard it.'

'The old one was quite worn out; so Paula has put it in the
cellar, and had this new one made, though it still strikes on
the old bell. It tells the seconds, but the old one, which my
very great grandfather erected in the eighteenth century, only
told the hours. Paula says that time, being so much more
valuable now, must of course be cut up into smaller pieces.'

'She does not appear to be much impressed by the spirit of
this ancient pile.'

Miss De Stancy shook her head too slightly to express absolute
negation.

'Do you wish to come through this door?' she asked. 'There is
a singular chimney-piece in the kitchen, which is considered a
unique example of its kind, though I myself don't know enough
about it to have an opinion on the subject.'

When they had looked at the corbelled chimney-piece they
returned to the hall, where his eye was caught anew by a large
map that he had conned for some time when alone, without being
able to divine the locality represented. It was called
'General Plan of the Town,' and showed streets and open spaces
corresponding with nothing he had seen in the county.

'Is that town here?' he asked.

'It is not anywhere but in Paula's brain; she has laid it out
from her own design. The site is supposed to be near our
railway station, just across there, where the land belongs to
her. She is going to grant cheap building leases, and develop
the manufacture of pottery.'

'Pottery--how very practical she must be!'

'O no! no!' replied Miss De Stancy, in tones showing how
supremely ignorant he must be of Miss Power's nature if he
characterized her in those terms. 'It is GREEK pottery she
means--Hellenic pottery she tells me to call it, only I
forget. There is beautiful clay at the place, her father told
her: he found it in making the railway tunnel. She has
visited the British Museum, continental museums, and Greece,
and Spain: and hopes to imitate the old fictile work in time,
especially the Greek of the best period, four hundred years
after Christ, or before Christ--I forget which it was Paula
said. . . . O no, she is not practical in the sense you mean,
at all.'

'A mixed young lady, rather.'

Miss De Stancy appeared unable to settle whether this new
definition of her dear friend should be accepted as kindly, or
disallowed as decidedly sarcastic. 'You would like her if you
knew her,' she insisted, in half tones of pique; after which
she walked on a few steps.

'I think very highly of her,' said Somerset.

'And I! And yet at one time I could never have believed that
I should have been her friend. One is prejudiced at first
against people who are reported to have such differences in
feeling, associations, and habit, as she seemed to have from
mine. But it has not stood in the least in the way of our
liking each other. I believe the difference makes us the more
united.'

'It says a great deal for the liberality of both,' answered
Somerset warmly. 'Heaven send us more of the same sort of
people! They are not too numerous at present.'

As this remark called for no reply from Miss De Stancy, she
took advantage of an opportunity to leave him alone, first
repeating her permission to him to wander where he would. He
walked about for some time, sketch-book in hand, but was
conscious that his interest did not lie much in the
architecture. In passing along the corridor of an upper floor
he observed an open door, through which was visible a room
containing one of the finest Renaissance cabinets he had ever
seen. It was impossible, on close examination, to do justice
to it in a hasty sketch; it would be necessary to measure
every line if he would bring away anything of utility to him
as a designer. Deciding to reserve this gem for another
opportunity he cast his eyes round the room and blushed a
little. Without knowing it he had intruded into the absent
Miss Paula's own particular set of chambers, including a
boudoir and sleeping apartment. On the tables of the sitting-
room were most of the popular papers and periodicals that he
knew, not only English, but from Paris, Italy, and America.
Satirical prints, though they did not unduly preponderate,
were not wanting. Besides these there were books from a
London circulating library, paper-covered light literature in
French and choice Italian, and the latest monthly reviews;
while between the two windows stood the telegraph apparatus
whose wire had been the means of bringing him hither.

These things, ensconced amid so much of the old and hoary,
were as if a stray hour from the nineteenth century had
wandered like a butterfly into the thirteenth, and lost itself
there.

The door between this ante-chamber and the sleeping-room stood
open. Without venturing to cross the threshold, for he felt
that he would be abusing hospitality to go so far, Somerset
looked in for a moment. It was a pretty place, and seemed to
have been hastily fitted up. In a corner, overhung by a blue
and white canopy of silk, was a little cot, hardly large
enough to impress the character of bedroom upon the old place.
Upon a counterpane lay a parasol and a silk neckerchief. On
the other side of the room was a tall mirror of startling
newness, draped like the bedstead, in blue and white. Thrown
at random upon the floor was a pair of satin slippers that
would have fitted Cinderella. A dressing-gown lay across a
settee; and opposite, upon a small easy-chair in the same blue
and white livery, were a Bible, the Baptist Magazine, Wardlaw
on Infant Baptism, Walford's County Families, and the Court
Journal. On and over the mantelpiece were nicknacks of
various descriptions, and photographic portraits of the
artistic, scientific, and literary celebrities of the day.

A dressing-room lay beyond; but, becoming conscious that his
study of ancient architecture would hardly bear stretching
further in that direction, Mr. Somerset retreated to the
outside, obliviously passing by the gem of Renaissance that
had led him in.

'She affects blue,' he was thinking. 'Then she is fair.'

On looking up, some time later, at the new clock that told the
seconds, he found that the hours at his disposal for work had
flown without his having transferred a single feature of the
building or furniture to his sketch-book. Before leaving he
sent in for permission to come again, and then walked across
the fields to the inn at Sleeping-Green, reflecting less upon
Miss De Stancy (so little force of presence had she possessed)
than upon the modern flower in a mediaeval flower-pot whom
Miss De Stancy's information had brought before him, and upon
the incongruities that were daily shaping themselves in the
world under the great modern fluctuations of classes and
creeds.

Somerset was still full of the subject when he arrived at the
end of his walk, and he fancied that some loungers at the bar
of the inn were discussing the heroine of the chapel-scene
just at the moment of his entry. On this account, when the
landlord came to clear away the dinner, Somerset was led to
inquire of him, by way of opening a conversation, if there
were many Baptists in the neighbourhood.

The landlord (who was a serious man on the surface, though he
occasionally smiled beneath) replied that there were a great
many--far more than the average in country parishes. 'Even
here, in my house, now,' he added, 'when volks get a drop of
drink into 'em, and their feelings rise to a zong, some man
will strike up a hymn by preference. But I find no fault with
that; for though 'tis hardly human nature to be so calculating
in yer cups, a feller may as well sing to gain something as
sing to waste.'

'How do you account for there being so many?'

'Well, you zee, sir, some says one thing, and some another; I
think they does it to save the expense of a Christian burial
for ther children. Now there's a poor family out in Long
Lane--the husband used to smite for Jimmy More the blacksmith
till 'a hurt his arm--they'd have no less than eleven children
if they'd not been lucky t'other way, and buried five when
they were three or four months old. Now every one of them
children was given to the sexton in a little box that any
journeyman could nail together in a quarter of an hour, and he
buried 'em at night for a shilling a head; whereas 'twould
have cost a couple of pounds each if they'd been christened at
church. . . . Of course there's the new lady at the castle,
she's a chapel member, and that may make a little difference;
but she's not been here long enough to show whether 'twill be
worth while to join 'em for the profit o't or whether 'twill
not. No doubt if it turns out that she's of a sort to relieve
volks in trouble, more will join her set than belongs to it
already. "Any port in a storm," of course, as the saying is.'

'As for yourself, you are a Churchman at present, I presume?'

'Yes; not but I was a Methodist once--ay, for a length of
time. 'Twas owing to my taking a house next door to a chapel;
so that what with hearing the organ bizz like a bee through
the wall, and what with finding it saved umbrellas on wet
Zundays, I went over to that faith for two years--though I
believe I dropped money by it--I wouldn't be the man to say so
if I hadn't. Howsomever, when I moved into this house I
turned back again to my old religion. Faith, I don't zee much
difference: be you one, or be you t'other, you've got to get
your living.'

'The De Stancys, of course, have not much influence here now,
for that, or any other thing?'

'O no, no; not any at all. They be very low upon ground, and
always will be now, I suppose. It was thoughted worthy of
being recorded in history--you've read it, sir, no doubt?'

'Not a word.'

'O, then, you shall. I've got the history zomewhere. 'Twas
gay manners that did it. The only bit of luck they have had
of late years is Miss Power's taking to little Miss De Stancy,
and making her her company-keeper. I hope 'twill continue.'

That the two daughters of these antipodean families should be
such intimate friends was a situation which pleased Somerset
as much as it did the landlord. It was an engaging instance
of that human progress on which he had expended many charming
dreams in the years when poetry, theology, and the
reorganization of society had seemed matters of more
importance to him than a profession which should help him to a
big house and income, a fair Deiopeia, and a lovely progeny.
When he was alone he poured out a glass of wine, and silently
drank the healths of the two generous-minded young women who,
in this lonely district, had found sweet communion a necessity
of life, and by pure and instinctive good sense had broken
down a barrier which men thrice their age and repute would
probably have felt it imperative to maintain. But perhaps
this was premature: the omnipotent Miss Power's character--
practical or ideal, politic or impulsive--he as yet knew
nothing of; and giving over reasoning from insufficient data
he lapsed into mere conjecture.

Thomas Hardy