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Chapter 5

And where was the subject of their condemnatory opinions all
this while? Having secured a room at his inn, he came forth
to complete the discovery of his dear mistress's halting-place
without delay. After one or two inquiries he ascertained
where such a party of English were staying; and arriving at
the hotel, knew at once that he had tracked them to earth by
seeing the heavier portion of the Power luggage confronting
him in the hall. He sent up intelligence of his presence, and
awaited her reply with a beating heart.

In the meanwhile Dare, descending from his pernicious
interview with Paula and the rest, had descried Captain De
Stancy in the public drawing-room, and entered to him
forthwith. It was while they were here together that Somerset
passed the door and sent up his name to Paula.

The incident at the railway station was now reversed, Somerset
being the observed of Dare, as Dare had then been the observed
of Somerset. Immediately on sight of him Dare showed real
alarm. He had imagined that Somerset would eventually impinge
on Paula's route, but he had scarcely expected it yet; and the
architect's sudden appearance led Dare to ask himself the
ominous question whether Somerset had discovered his
telegraphic trick, and was in the mood for prompt measures.

'There is no more for me to do here,' said the boy hastily to
De Stancy. 'Miss Power does not wish to ask me any more
questions. I may as well proceed on my way, as you advised.'

De Stancy, who had also gazed with dismay at Somerset's
passing figure, though with dismay of another sort, was
recalled from his vexation by Dare's remarks, and turning upon
him he said sharply, 'Well may you be in such a hurry all of a
sudden!'

'True, I am superfluous now.'

'You have been doing a foolish thing, and you must suffer its
inconveniences.--Will, I am sorry for one thing; I am sorry I
ever owned you; for you are not a lad to my heart. You have
disappointed me--disappointed me almost beyond endurance.'

'I have acted according to my illumination. What can you
expect of a man born to dishonour?'

'That's mere speciousness. Before you knew anything of me,
and while you thought you were the child of poverty on both
sides, you were well enough; but ever since you thought you
were more than that, you have led a life which is intolerable.
What has become of your plan of alliance between the De
Stancys and the Powers now? The man is gone upstairs who can
overthrow it all.'

'If the man had not gone upstairs, you wouldn't have
complained of my nature or my plans,' said Dare drily. 'If I
mistake not, he will come down again with the flea in his ear.
However, I have done; my play is played out. All the rest
remains with you. But, captain, grant me this! If when I am
gone this difficulty should vanish, and things should go well
with you, and your suit should prosper, will you think of him,
bad as he is, who first put you on the track of such
happiness, and let him know it was not done in vain?'

'I will,' said De Stancy. 'Promise me that you will be a
better boy?'

'Very well--as soon as ever I can afford it. Now I am up and
away, when I have explained to them that I shall not require
my room.'

Dare fetched his bag, touched his hat with his umbrella to the
captain and went out of the hotel archway. De Stancy sat down
in the stuffy drawing-room, and wondered what other ironies
time had in store for him.

A waiter in the interim had announced Somerset to the group
upstairs. Paula started as much as Charlotte at hearing the
name, and Abner Power stared at them both.

'If Mr. Somerset wishes to see me ON BUSINESS, show him in,'
said Paula.

In a few seconds the door was thrown open for Somerset. On
receipt of the pointed message he guessed that a change had
come. Time, absence, ambition, her uncle's influence, and a
new wooer, seemed to account sufficiently well for that
change, and he accepted his fate. But a stoical instinct to
show her that he could regard vicissitudes with the equanimity
that became a man; a desire to ease her mind of any fear she
might entertain that his connection with her past would render
him troublesome in future, induced him to accept her
permission, and see the act to the end.

'How do you do, Mr. Somerset?' said Abner Power, with sardonic
geniality: he had been far enough about the world not to be
greatly concerned at Somerset's apparent failing, particularly
when it helped to reduce him from the rank of lover to his
niece to that of professional adviser.

Miss De Stancy faltered a welcome as weak as that of the Maid
of Neidpath, and Paula said coldly, 'We are rather surprised
to see you. Perhaps there is something urgent at the castle
which makes it necessary for you to call?'

'There is something a little urgent,' said Somerset slowly, as
he approached her; 'and you have judged rightly that it is the
cause of my call.' He sat down near her chair as he spoke,
put down his hat, and drew a note-book from his pocket with a
despairing sang froid that was far more perfect than had been
Paula's demeanour just before.

'Perhaps you would like to talk over the business with Mr.
Somerset alone?' murmured Charlotte to Miss Power, hardly
knowing what she said.

'O no,' said Paula, 'I think not. Is it necessary?' she said,
turning to him.

'Not in the least,' replied he, bestowing a penetrating glance
upon his questioner's face, which seemed however to produce no
effect; and turning towards Charlotte, he added, 'You will
have the goodness, I am sure, Miss De Stancy, to excuse the
jargon of professional details.'

He spread some tracings on the table, and pointed out certain
modified features to Paula, commenting as he went on, and
exchanging occasionally a few words on the subject with Mr.
Abner Power by the distant window.

In this architectural dialogue over his sketches, Somerset's
head and Paula's became unavoidably very close. The
temptation was too much for the young man. Under cover of the
rustle of the tracings, he murmured, 'Paula, I could not get
here before!' in a low voice inaudible to the other two.

She did not reply, only busying herself the more with the
notes and sketches; and he said again, 'I stayed a couple of
days at Genoa, and some days at San Remo, and Mentone.'

'But it is not the least concern of mine where you stayed, is
it?' she said, with a cold yet disquieted look.

'Do you speak seriously?' Somerset brokenly whispered.

Paula concluded her examination of the drawings and turned
from him with sorrowful disregard. He tried no further, but,
when she had signified her pleasure on the points submitted,
packed up his papers, and rose with the bearing of a man
altogether superior to such a class of misfortune as this.
Before going he turned to speak a few words of a general kind
to Mr. Power and Charlotte.

'You will stay and dine with us?' said the former, rather with
the air of being unhappily able to do no less than ask the
question. 'My charges here won't go down to the table-d'hote,
I fear, but De Stancy and myself will be there.'

Somerset excused himself, and in a few minutes withdrew. At
the door he looked round for an instant, and his eyes met
Paula's. There was the same miles-off expression in hers that
they had worn when he entered; but there was also a look of
distressful inquiry, as if she were earnestly expecting him to
say something more. This of course Somerset did not
comprehend. Possibly she was clinging to a hope of some
excuse for the message he was supposed to have sent, or for
the other and more degrading matter. Anyhow, Somerset only
bowed and went away.

A moment after he had gone, Paula, impelled by something or
other, crossed the room to the window. In a short time she
saw his form in the broad street below, which he traversed
obliquely to an opposite corner, his head somewhat bent, and
his eyes on the ground. Before vanishing into the
Ritterstrasse he turned his head and glanced at the hotel
windows, as if he knew that she was watching him. Then he
disappeared; and the only real sign of emotion betrayed by
Paula during the whole episode escaped her at this moment. It
was a slight trembling of the lip and a sigh so slowly
breathed that scarce anybody could hear--scarcely even
Charlotte, who was reclining on a couch her face on her hand
and her eyes downcast.

Not more than two minutes had elapsed when Mrs. Goodman came
in with a manner of haste.

'You have returned,' said Mr. Power. 'Have you made your
purchases?'

Without answering, she asked, 'Whom, of all people on earth,
do you think I have met? Mr. Somerset! Has he been here?--he
passed me almost without speaking!'

'Yes, he has been here,' said Paula. 'He is on the way from
Genoa home, and called on business.'

'You will have him here to dinner, of course?'

'I asked him,' said Mr. Power, 'but he declined.'

'O, that's unfortunate! Surely we could get him to come. You
would like to have him here, would you not, Paula?'

'No, indeed. I don't want him here,' said she.

'You don't?'

'No!' she said sharply.

'You used to like him well enough, anyhow,' bluntly rejoined
Mrs. Goodman.

Paula sedately: 'It is a mistake to suppose that I ever
particularly liked the gentleman mentioned.'

'Then you are wrong, Mrs. Goodman, it seems,' said Mr. Power.

Mrs. Goodman, who had been growing quietly indignant,
notwithstanding a vigorous use of her fan, at this said.
'Fie, fie, Paula! you did like him. You said to me only a
week or two ago that you should not at all object to marry
him.'

'It is a mistake,' repeated Paula calmly. 'I meant the other
one of the two we were talking about.'

'What, Captain De Stancy?'

'Yes.'

Knowing this to be a fiction, Mrs. Goodman made no remark, and
hearing a slight noise behind, turned her head. Seeing her
aunt's action, Paula also looked round. The door had been
left ajar, and De Stancy was standing in the room. The last
words of Mrs. Goodman, and Paula's reply, must have been quite
audible to him.

They looked at each other much as if they had unexpectedly met
at the altar; but after a momentary start Paula did not flinch
from the position into which hurt pride had betrayed her. De
Stancy bowed gracefully, and she merely walked to the furthest
window, whither he followed her.

'I am eternally grateful to you for avowing that I have won
favour in your sight at last,' he whispered.

She acknowledged the remark with a somewhat reserved bearing.
'Really I don't deserve your gratitude,' she said. 'I did not
know you were there.'

'I know you did not--that's why the avowal is so sweet to me.
Can I take you at your word?'

'Yes, I suppose.'

'Then your preference is the greatest honour that has ever
fallen to my lot. It is enough: you accept me?'

'As a lover on probation--no more.'

The conversation being carried on in low tones, Paula's uncle
and aunt took it as a hint that their presence could be
spared, and severally left the room--the former gladly, the
latter with some vexation. Charlotte De Stancy followed.

'And to what am I indebted for this happy change?' inquired De
Stancy, as soon as they were alone.

'You shouldn't look a gift-horse in the mouth,' she replied
brusquely, and with tears in her eyes for one gone.

'You mistake my motive. I am like a reprieved criminal, and
can scarcely believe the news.'

'You shouldn't say that to me, or I shall begin to think I
have been too kind,' she answered, some of the archness of her
manner returning. 'Now, I know what you mean to say in
answer; but I don't want to hear more at present; and whatever
you do, don't fall into the mistake of supposing I have
accepted you in any other sense than the way I say. If you
don't like such a limitation you can go away. I dare say I
shall get over it.'

'Go away! Could I go away?--But you are beginning to tease,
and will soon punish me severely; so I will make my escape
while all is well. It would be presumptuous to expect more in
one day.'

'It would indeed,' said Paula, with her eyes on a bunch of
flowers.

Thomas Hardy