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Chapter 7

The De Stancys and Powers remained in Heidelberg for some
days. All remarked that after Somerset's departure Paula was
frequently irritable, though at other times as serene as ever.
Yet even when in a blithe and saucy mood there was at bottom a
tinge of melancholy. Something did not lie easy in her
undemonstrative heart, and all her friends excused the
inequalities of a humour whose source, though not positively
known, could be fairly well guessed.

De Stancy had long since discovered that his chance lay
chiefly in her recently acquired and fanciful predilection
d'artiste for hoary mediaeval families with ancestors in
alabaster and primogenitive renown. Seeing this he dwelt on
those topics which brought out that aspect of himself more
clearly, talking feudalism and chivalry with a zest that he
had never hitherto shown. Yet it was not altogether
factitious. For, discovering how much this quondam Puritan
was interested in the attributes of long-chronicled houses, a
reflected interest in himself arose in his own soul, and he
began to wonder why he had not prized these things before.
Till now disgusted by the failure of his family to hold its
own in the turmoil between ancient and modern, he had grown to
undervalue its past prestige; and it was with corrective
ardour that he adopted while he ministered to her views.

Henceforward the wooing of De Stancy took the form of an
intermittent address, the incidents of their travel furnishing
pegs whereon to hang his subject; sometimes hindering it, but
seldom failing to produce in her a greater tolerance of his
presence. His next opportunity was the day after Somerset's
departure from Heidelberg. They stood on the great terrace of
the Schloss-Garten, looking across the intervening ravine to
the north-east front of the castle which rose before them in
all its customary warm tints and battered magnificence.

'This is a spot, if any, which should bring matters to a
crisis between you and me,' he asserted good-humouredly. 'But
you have been so silent to-day that I lose the spirit to take
advantage of my privilege.'

She inquired what privilege he spoke of, as if quite another
subject had been in her mind than De Stancy.

'The privilege of winning your heart if I can, which you gave
me at Carlsruhe.'

'O,' she said. 'Well, I've been thinking of that. But I do
not feel myself absolutely bound by the statement I made in
that room; and I shall expect, if I withdraw it, not to be
called to account by you.'

De Stancy looked rather blank.

'If you recede from your promise you will doubtless have good
reason. But I must solemnly beg you, after raising my hopes,
to keep as near as you can to your word, so as not to throw me
into utter despair.'

Paula dropped her glance into the Thier-Garten below them,
where gay promenaders were clambering up between the bushes
and flowers. At length she said, with evident embarrassment,
but with much distinctness: 'I deserve much more blame for
what I have done than you can express to me. I will confess
to you the whole truth. All that I told you in the hotel at
Carlsruhe was said in a moment of pique at what had happened
just before you came in. It was supposed I was much involved
with another man, and circumstances made the supposition
particularly objectionable. To escape it I jumped at the
alternative of yourself.'

'That's bad for me!' he murmured.

'If after this avowal you bind me to my words I shall say no
more: I do not wish to recede from them without your full
permission.'

'What a caprice! But I release you unconditionally,' he said.
'And I beg your pardon if I seemed to show too much assurance.
Please put it down to my gratified excitement. I entirely
acquiesce in your wish. I will go away to whatever place you
please, and not come near you but by your own permission, and
till you are quite satisfied that my presence and what it may
lead to is not undesirable. I entirely give way before you,
and will endeavour to make my future devotedness, if ever we
meet again, a new ground for expecting your favour.'

Paula seemed struck by the generous and cheerful fairness of
his remarks, and said gently, 'Perhaps your departure is not
absolutely necessary for my happiness; and I do not wish from
what you call caprice--'

'I retract that word.'

'Well, whatever it is, I don't wish you to do anything which
should cause you real pain, or trouble, or humiliation.'

'That's very good of you.'

'But I reserve to myself the right to accept or refuse your
addresses--just as if those rash words of mine had never been
spoken.'

'I must bear it all as best I can, I suppose,' said De Stancy,
with melancholy humorousness.

'And I shall treat you as your behaviour shall seem to
deserve,' she said playfully.

'Then I may stay?'

'Yes; I am willing to give you that pleasure, if it is one, in
return for the attentions you have shown, and the trouble you
have taken to make my journey pleasant.'

She walked on and discovered Mrs. Goodman near, and presently
the whole party met together. De Stancy did not find himself
again at her side till later in the afternoon, when they had
left the immediate precincts of the castle and decided on a
drive to the Konigsstuhl.

The carriage, containing only Mrs. Goodman, was driven a short
way up the winding incline, Paula, her uncle, and Miss De
Stancy walking behind under the shadow of the trees. Then
Mrs. Goodman called to them and asked when they were going to
join her.

'We are going to walk up,' said Mr. Power.

Paula seemed seized with a spirit of boisterousness quite
unlike her usual behaviour. 'My aunt may drive up, and you
may walk up; but I shall run up,' she said. 'See, here's a
way.' She tripped towards a path through the bushes which,
instead of winding like the regular track, made straight for
the summit.

Paula had not the remotest conception of the actual distance
to the top, imagining it to be but a couple of hundred yards
at the outside, whereas it was really nearer a mile, the
ascent being uniformly steep all the way. When her uncle and
De Stancy had seen her vanish they stood still, the former
evidently reluctant to forsake the easy ascent for a difficult
one, though he said, 'We can't let her go alone that way, I
suppose.'

'No, of course not,' said De Stancy.

They then followed in the direction taken by Paula, Charlotte
entering the carriage. When Power and De Stancy had ascended
about fifty yards the former looked back, and dropped off from
the pursuit, to return to the easy route, giving his companion
a parting hint concerning Paula. Whereupon De Stancy went on
alone. He soon saw Paula above him in the path, which
ascended skyward straight as Jacob's Ladder, but was so
overhung by the brushwood as to be quite shut out from the
sun. When he reached her side she was moving easily upward,
apparently enjoying the seclusion which the place afforded.

'Is not my uncle with you?' she said, on turning and seeing
him.

'He went back,' said De Stancy.

She replied that it was of no consequence; that she should
meet him at the top, she supposed.

Paula looked up amid the green light which filtered through
the leafage as far as her eyes could stretch. But the top did
not appear, and she allowed De Stancy to get in front. 'It
did not seem such a long way as this, to look at,' she
presently said.

He explained that the trees had deceived her as to the real
height, by reason of her seeing the slope foreshortened when
she looked up from the castle. 'Allow me to help you,' he
added.

'No, thank you,' said Paula lightly; 'we must be near the
top.'

They went on again; but no Konigsstuhl. When next De Stancy
turned he found that she was sitting down; immediately going
back he offered his arm. She took it in silence, declaring
that it was no wonder her uncle did not come that wearisome
way, if he had ever been there before.

De Stancy did not explain that Mr. Power had said to him at
parting, 'There's a chance for you, if you want one,' but at
once went on with the subject begun on the terrace. 'If my
behaviour is good, you will reaffirm the statement made at
Carlsruhe?'

'It is not fair to begin that now!' expostulated Paula; 'I can
only think of getting to the top.'

Her colour deepening by the exertion, he suggested that she
should sit down again on one of the mossy boulders by the
wayside. Nothing loth she did, De Stancy standing by, and
with his cane scratching the moss from the stone.

'This is rather awkward,' said Paula, in her usual circumspect
way. 'My relatives and your sister will be sure to suspect me
of having arranged this scramble with you.'

'But I know better,' sighed De Stancy. 'I wish to Heaven you
had arranged it!'

She was not at the top, but she took advantage of the halt to
answer his previous question. 'There are many points on which
I must be satisfied before I can reaffirm anything. Do you
not see that you are mistaken in clinging to this idea?--that
you are laying up mortification and disappointment for
yourself?'

'A negative reply from you would be disappointment, early or
late.'

'And you prefer having it late to accepting it now? If I were
a man, I should like to abandon a false scent as soon as
possible.'

'I suppose all that has but one meaning: that I am to go.'

'O no,' she magnanimously assured him, bounding up from her
seat; 'I adhere to my statement that you may stay; though it
is true something may possibly happen to make me alter my
mind.'

He again offered his arm, and from sheer necessity she leant
upon it as before.

'Grant me but a moment's patience,' he began.

'Captain De Stancy! Is this fair? I am physically obliged to
hold your arm, so that I MUST listen to what you say!'

'No, it is not fair; 'pon my soul it is not!' said De Stancy.
'I won't say another word.'

He did not; and they clambered on through the boughs, nothing
disturbing the solitude but the rustle of their own footsteps
and the singing of birds overhead. They occasionally got a
peep at the sky; and whenever a twig hung out in a position to
strike Paula's face the gallant captain bent it aside with his
stick. But she did not thank him. Perhaps he was just as
well satisfied as if she had done so.

Paula, panting, broke the silence: 'Will you go on, and
discover if the top is near?'

He went on. This time the top was near. When he returned she
was sitting where he had left her among the leaves. 'It is
quite near now,' he told her tenderly, and she took his arm
again without a word. Soon the path changed its nature from a
steep and rugged watercourse to a level green promenade.

'Thank you, Captain De Stancy,' she said, letting go his arm
as if relieved.

Before them rose the tower, and at the base they beheld two of
their friends, Mr. Power being seen above, looking over the
parapet through his glass.

'You will go to the top now?' said De Stancy.

'No, I take no interest in it. My interest has turned to
fatigue. I only want to go home.'

He took her on to where the carriage stood at the foot of the
tower, and leaving her with his sister ascended the turret to
the top. The landscape had quite changed from its afternoon
appearance, and had become rather marvellous than beautiful.
The air was charged with a lurid exhalation that blurred the
extensive view. He could see the distant Rhine at its
junction with the Neckar, shining like a thread of blood
through the mist which was gradually wrapping up the declining
sun. The scene had in it something that was more than
melancholy, and not much less than tragic; but for De Stancy
such evening effects possessed little meaning. He was engaged
in an enterprise that taxed all his resources, and had no
sentiments to spare for air, earth, or skies.

'Remarkable scene,' said Power, mildly, at his elbow.

'Yes; I dare say it is,' said De Stancy. 'Time has been when
I should have held forth upon such a prospect, and wondered if
its livid colours shadowed out my own life, et caetera, et
caetera. But, begad, I have almost forgotten there's such a
thing as Nature, and I care for nothing but a comfortable
life, and a certain woman who does not care for me! . . . Now
shall we go down?'


Thomas Hardy