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Chapter 4

He found them in their sitting-room with their bonnets on, as
if they had just come in. Mr. Power was also present, reading
a newspaper, but Mrs. Goodman had gone out to a neighbouring
shop, in the windows of which she had seen something which
attracted her fancy.

When De Stancy entered, Paula's thoughts seemed to revert to
Dare, for almost at once she asked him in what direction the
youth was travelling. With some hesitation De Stancy replied
that he believed Mr. Dare was returning to England after a
spring trip for the improvement of his mind.

'A very praiseworthy thing to do,' said Paula. 'What places
has he visited?'

'Those which afford opportunities for the study of the old
masters, I believe,' said De Stancy blandly. 'He has also
been to Turin, Genoa, Marseilles, and so on.' The captain
spoke the more readily to her questioning in that he divined
her words to be dictated, not by any suspicions of his
relations with Dare, but by her knowledge of Dare as the
draughtsman employed by Somerset.

'Has he been to Nice?' she next demanded. 'Did he go there in
company with my architect?'

'I think not.'

'Has he seen anything of him? My architect Somerset once
employed him. They know each other.'

'I think he saw Somerset for a short time.'

Paula was silent. 'Do you know where this young man Dare is
at the present moment?' she asked quickly.

De Stancy said that Dare was staying at the same hotel with
themselves, and that he believed he was downstairs.

'I think I can do no better than send for him,' said she. 'He
may be able to throw some light upon the matter of that
telegram.'

She rang and despatched the waiter for the young man in
question, De Stancy almost visibly trembling for the result.
But he opened the town directory which was lying on a table,
and affected to be engrossed in the names.

Before Dare was shown in she said to her uncle, 'Perhaps you
will speak to him for me?'

Mr. Power, looking up from the paper he was reading, assented
to her proposition. Dare appeared in the doorway, and the
waiter retired. Dare seemed a trifle startled out of his
usual coolness, the message having evidently been unexpected,
and he came forward somewhat uneasily.

'Mr. Dare, we are anxious to know something of Miss Power's
architect; and Captain De Stancy tells us you have seen him
lately,' said Mr. Power sonorously over the edge of his
newspaper.

Not knowing whether danger menaced or no, or, if it menaced,
from what quarter it was to be expected, Dare felt that
honesty was as good as anything else for him, and replied
boldly that he had seen Mr. Somerset, De Stancy continuing to
cream and mantle almost visibly, in anxiety at the situation
of the speaker.

'And where did you see him?' continued Mr. Power.

'In the Casino at Monte Carlo.'

'How long did you see him?'

'Only for half an hour. I left him there.'

Paula's interest got the better of her reserve, and she cut in
upon her uncle: 'Did he seem in any unusual state, or in
trouble?'

'He was rather excited,' said Dare.

'And can you remember when that was?'

Dare considered, looked at his pocket-book, and said that it
was on the evening of April the twenty-second.

The answer had a significance for Paula, De Stancy, and
Charlotte, to which Abner Power was a stranger. The
telegraphic request for money, which had been kept a secret
from him by his niece, because of his already unfriendly tone
towards Somerset, arrived on the morning of the twenty-third--
a date which neighboured with painfully suggestive nicety upon
that now given by Dare.

She seemed to be silenced, and asked no more questions. Dare
having furbished himself up to a gentlemanly appearance with
some of his recent winnings, was invited to stay on awhile by
Paula's uncle, who, as became a travelled man, was not
fastidious as to company. Being a youth of the world, Dare
made himself agreeable to that gentleman, and afterwards tried
to do the same with Miss De Stancy. At this the captain, to
whom the situation for some time had been amazingly
uncomfortable, pleaded some excuse for going out, and left the
room.

Dare continued his endeavours to say a few polite nothings to
Charlotte De Stancy, in the course of which he drew from his
pocket his new silk handkerchief. By some chance a card came
out with the handkerchief, and fluttered downwards. His
momentary instinct was to make a grasp at the card and conceal
it: but it had already tumbled to the floor, where it lay
face upward beside Charlotte De Stancy's chair.

It was neither a visiting nor a playing card, but one bearing
a photographic portrait of a peculiar nature. It was what
Dare had characterized as his best joke in speaking on the
subject to Captain De Stancy: he had in the morning put it
ready in his pocket to give to the captain, and had in fact
held it in waiting between his finger and thumb while talking
to him in the Platz, meaning that he should make use of it
against his rival whenever convenient. But his sharp
conversation with that soldier had dulled his zest for this
final joke at Somerset's expense, had at least shown him that
De Stancy would not adopt the joke by accepting the photograph
and using it himself, and determined him to lay it aside till
a more convenient time. So fully had he made up his mind on
this course, that when the photograph slipped out he did not
at first perceive the appositeness of the circumstance, in
putting into his own hands the role he had intended for De
Stancy; though it was asserted afterwards that the whole scene
was deliberately planned. However, once having seen the
accident, he resolved to take the current as it served.

The card having fallen beside her, Miss De Stancy glanced over
it, which indeed she could not help doing. The smile that had
previously hung upon her lips was arrested as if by frost and
she involuntarily uttered a little distressed cry of 'O!' like
one in bodily pain.

Paula, who had been talking to her uncle during this
interlude, started round, and wondering what had happened,
inquiringly crossed the room to poor Charlotte's side, asking
her what was the matter. Charlotte had regained self-
possession, though not enough to enable her to reply, and
Paula asked her a second time what had made her exclaim like
that. Miss De Stancy still seemed confused, whereupon Paula
noticed that her eyes were continually drawn as if by
fascination towards the photograph on the floor, which,
contrary to his first impulse, Dare, as has been said, now
seemed in no hurry to regain. Surmising at last that the
card, whatever it was, had something to do with the
exclamation, Paula picked it up.

It was a portrait of Somerset; but by a device known in
photography the operator, though contriving to produce what
seemed to be a perfect likeness, had given it the distorted
features and wild attitude of a man advanced in intoxication.
No woman, unless specially cognizant of such possibilities,
could have looked upon it and doubted that the photograph was
a genuine illustration of a customary phase in the young man's
private life.

Paula observed it, thoroughly took it in; but the effect upon
her was by no means clear. Charlotte's eyes at once forsook
the portrait to dwell on Paula's face. It paled a little, and
this was followed by a hot blush--perceptibly a blush of
shame. That was all. She flung the picture down on the
table, and moved away.

It was now Mr. Power's turn. Anticipating Dare, who was
advancing with a deprecatory look to seize the photograph, he
also grasped it. When he saw whom it represented he seemed
both amused and startled, and after scanning it a while handed
it to the young man with a queer smile.

'I am very sorry,' began Dare in a low voice to Mr. Power. 'I
fear I was to blame for thoughtlessness in not destroying it.
But I thought it was rather funny that a man should permit
such a thing to be done, and that the humour would redeem the
offence.'

'In you, for purchasing it,' said Paula with haughty quickness
from the other side of the room. 'Though probably his
friends, if he has any, would say not in him.'

There was silence in the room after this, and Dare, finding
himself rather in the way, took his leave as unostentatiously
as a cat that has upset the family china, though he continued
to say among his apologies that he was not aware Mr. Somerset
was a personal friend of the ladies.

Of all the thoughts which filled the minds of Paula and
Charlotte De Stancy, the thought that the photograph might
have been a fabrication was probably the last. To them that
picture of Somerset had all the cogency of direct vision.
Paula's experience, much less Charlotte's, had never lain in
the fields of heliographic science, and they would as soon
have thought that the sun could again stand still upon Gibeon,
as that it could be made to falsify men's characters in
delineating their features. What Abner Power thought he
himself best knew. He might have seen such pictures before;
or he might never have heard of them.

While pretending to resume his reading he closely observed
Paula, as did also Charlotte De Stancy; but thanks to the
self-management which was Miss Power's as much by nature as by
art, she dissembled whatever emotion was in her.

'It is a pity a professional man should make himself so
ludicrous,' she said with such careless intonation that it was
almost impossible, even for Charlotte, who knew her so well,
to believe her indifference feigned.

'Yes,' said Mr. Power, since Charlotte did not speak: 'it is
what I scarcely should have expected.'

'O, I am not surprised!' said Paula quickly. 'You don't know
all.' The inference was, indeed, inevitable that if her uncle
were made aware of the telegram he would see nothing unlikely
in the picture. 'Well, you are very silent!' continued Paula
petulantly, when she found that nobody went on talking. 'What
made you cry out "O," Charlotte, when Mr. Dare dropped that
horrid photograph?'

'I don't know; I suppose it frightened me,' stammered the
girl.

'It was a stupid fuss to make before such a person. One would
think you were in love with Mr. Somerset.'

'What did you say, Paula?' inquired her uncle, looking up from
the newspaper which he had again resumed.

'Nothing, Uncle Abner.' She walked to the window, and, as if
to tide over what was plainly passing in their minds about
her, she began to make remarks on objects in the street.
'What a quaint being--look, Charlotte!' It was an old woman
sitting by a stall on the opposite side of the way, which
seemed suddenly to hit Paula's sense of the humorous, though
beyond the fact that the dame was old and poor, and wore a
white handkerchief over her head, there was really nothing
noteworthy about her.

Paula seemed to be more hurt by what the silence of her
companions implied--a suspicion that the discovery of
Somerset's depravity was wounding her heart--than by the wound
itself. The ostensible ease with which she drew them into a
bye conversation had perhaps the defect of proving too much:
though her tacit contention that no love was in question was
not incredible on the supposition that affronted pride alone
caused her embarrassment. The chief symptom of her heart
being really tender towards Somerset consisted in her apparent
blindness to Charlotte's secret, so obviously suggested by her
momentary agitation.

Thomas Hardy