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Chapter 8

It was quite true that De Stancy at the present period of his
existence wished only to escape from the hurly-burly of active
life, and to win the affection of Paula Power. There were,
however, occasions when a recollection of his old renunciatory
vows would obtrude itself upon him, and tinge his present with
wayward bitterness. So much was this the case that a day or
two after they had arrived at Mainz he could not refrain from
making remarks almost prejudicial to his cause, saying to her,
'I am unfortunate in my situation. There are, unhappily,
worldly reasons why I should pretend to love you, even if I do
not: they are so strong that, though really loving you,
perhaps they enter into my thoughts of you.'

'I don't want to know what such reasons are,' said Paula, with
promptness, for it required but little astuteness to discover
that he alluded to the alienated Wessex home and estates.
'You lack tone,' she gently added: 'that's why the situation
of affairs seems distasteful to you.'

'Yes, I suppose I am ill. And yet I am well enough.'

These remarks passed under a tree in the public gardens during
an odd minute of waiting for Charlotte and Mrs. Goodman; and
he said no more to her in private that day. Few as her words
had been he liked them better than any he had lately received.
The conversation was not resumed till they were gliding
'between the banks that bear the vine,' on board one of the
Rhine steamboats, which, like the hotels in this early summer
time, were comparatively free from other English travellers;
so that everywhere Paula and her party were received with open
arms and cheerful countenances, as among the first swallows of
the season.

The saloon of the steamboat was quite empty, the few
passengers being outside; and this paucity of voyagers
afforded De Stancy a roomy opportunity.

Paula saw him approach her, and there appearing in his face
signs that he would begin again on the eternal subject, she
seemed to be struck with a sense of the ludicrous.

De Stancy reddened. 'Something seems to amuse you,' he said.

'It is over,' she replied, becoming serious.

'Was it about me, and this unhappy fever in me?'

'If I speak the truth I must say it was.'

'You thought, "Here's that absurd man again, going to begin
his daily supplication."'

'Not "absurd,"' she said, with emphasis; 'because I don't
think it is absurd.'

She continued looking through the windows at the Lurlei
Heights under which they were now passing, and he remained
with his eyes on her.

'May I stay here with you?' he said at last. 'I have not had
a word with you alone for four-and-twenty hours.'

'You must be cheerful, then.'

'You have said such as that before. I wish you would say
"loving" instead of "cheerful."'

'Yes, I know, I know,' she responded, with impatient
perplexity. 'But why must you think of me--me only? Is there
no other woman in the world who has the power to make you
happy? I am sure there must be.'

'Perhaps there is; but I have never seen her.'

'Then look for her; and believe me when I say that you will
certainly find her.'

He shook his head.

'Captain De Stancy, I have long felt for you,' she continued,
with a frank glance into his face. 'You have deprived
yourself too long of other women's company. Why not go away
for a little time? and when you have found somebody else
likely to make you happy, you can meet me again. I will see
you at your father's house, and we will enjoy all the pleasure
of easy friendship.'

'Very correct; and very cold, O best of women!'

'You are too full of exclamations and transports, I think!'

They stood in silence, Paula apparently much interested in the
manoeuvring of a raft which was passing by. 'Dear Miss
Power,' he resumed, 'before I go and join your uncle above,
let me just ask, Do I stand any chance at all yet? Is it
possible you can never be more pliant than you have been?'

'You put me out of all patience!'

'But why did you raise my hopes? You should at least pity me
after doing that.'

'Yes; it's that again! I unfortunately raised your hopes
because I was a fool--was not myself that moment. Now
question me no more. As it is I think you presume too much
upon my becoming yours as the consequence of my having
dismissed another.'

'Not on becoming mine, but on listening to me.'

'Your argument would be reasonable enough had I led you to
believe I would listen to you--and ultimately accept you; but
that I have not done. I see now that a woman who gives a man
an answer one shade less peremptory than a harsh negative may
be carried beyond her intentions, and out of her own power
before she knows it.'

'Chide me if you will; I don't care!'

She looked steadfastly at him with a little mischief in her
eyes. 'You DO care,' she said.

'Then why don't you listen to me? I would not persevere for a
moment longer if it were against the wishes of your family.
Your uncle says it would give him pleasure to see you accept
me.'

'Does he say why?' she asked thoughtfully.

'Yes; he takes, of course, a practical view of the matter; he
thinks it commends itself so to reason and common sense that
the owner of Stancy Castle should become a member of the De
Stancy family.'

'Yes, that's the horrid plague of it,' she said, with a
nonchalance which seemed to contradict her words. 'It is so
dreadfully reasonable that we should marry. I wish it
wasn't!'

'Well, you are younger than I, and perhaps that's a natural
wish. But to me it seems a felicitous combination not often
met with. I confess that your interest in our family before
you knew me lent a stability to my hopes that otherwise they
would not have had.'

'My interest in the De Stancys has not been a personal
interest except in the case of your sister,' she returned.
'It has been an historical interest only; and is not at all
increased by your existence.'

'And perhaps it is not diminished?'

'No, I am not aware that it is diminished,' she murmured, as
she observed the gliding shore.

'Well, you will allow me to say this, since I say it without
reference to your personality or to mine--that the Power and
De Stancy families are the complements to each other; and
that, abstractedly, they call earnestly to one another: "How
neat and fit a thing for us to join hands!"'

Paula, who was not prudish when a direct appeal was made to
her common sense, answered with ready candour: 'Yes, from the
point of view of domestic politics, that undoubtedly is the
case. But I hope I am not so calculating as to risk happiness
in order to round off a social idea.'

'I hope not; or that I am either. Still the social idea
exists, and my increased years make its excellence more
obvious to me than to you.'

The ice once broken on this aspect of the question, the
subject seemed further to engross her, and she spoke on as if
daringly inclined to venture where she had never anticipated
going, deriving pleasure from the very strangeness of her
temerity: 'You mean that in the fitness of things I ought to
become a De Stancy to strengthen my social position?'

'And that I ought to strengthen mine by alliance with the
heiress of a name so dear to engineering science as Power.'

'Well, we are talking with unexpected frankness.'

'But you are not seriously displeased with me for saying what,
after all, one can't help feeling and thinking?'

'No. Only be so good as to leave off going further for the
present. Indeed, of the two, I would rather have the other
sort of address. I mean,' she hastily added, 'that what you
urge as the result of a real affection, however unsuitable, I
have some remote satisfaction in listening to--not the least
from any reciprocal love on my side, but from a woman's
gratification at being the object of anybody's devotion; for
that feeling towards her is always regarded as a merit in a
woman's eye, and taken as a kindness by her, even when it is
at the expense of her convenience.'

She had said, voluntarily or involuntarily, better things than
he expected, and perhaps too much in her own opinion, for she
hardly gave him an opportunity of replying.

They passed St. Goar and Boppard, and when steering round the
sharp bend of the river just beyond the latter place De Stancy
met her again, exclaiming, 'You left me very suddenly.'

'You must make allowances, please,' she said; 'I have always
stood in need of them.'

'Then you shall always have them.'

'I don't doubt it,' she said quickly; but Paula was not to be
caught again, and kept close to the side of her aunt while
they glided past Brauback and Oberlahnstein. Approaching
Coblenz her aunt said, 'Paula, let me suggest that you be not
so much alone with Captain De Stancy.'

'And why?' said Paula quietly.

'You'll have plenty of offers if you want them, without taking
trouble,' said the direct Mrs. Goodman. 'Your existence is
hardly known to the world yet, and Captain De Stancy is too
near middle-age for a girl like you.' Paula did not reply to
either of these remarks, being seemingly so interested in
Ehrenbreitstein's heights as not to hear them.

Thomas Hardy