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Chapter 9

It was midnight at Coblenz, and the travellers had retired to
rest in their respective apartments, overlooking the river.
Finding that there was a moon shining, Paula leant out of her
window. The tall rock of Ehrenbreitstein on the opposite
shore was flooded with light, and a belated steamer was
drawing up to the landing-stage, where it presently deposited
its passengers.

'We should have come by the last boat, so as to have been
touched into romance by the rays of this moon, like those
happy people,' said a voice.

She looked towards the spot whence the voice proceeded, which
was a window quite near at hand. De Stancy was smoking
outside it, and she became aware that the words were addressed
to her.

'You left me very abruptly,' he continued.

Paula's instinct of caution impelled her to speak.

'The windows are all open,' she murmured. 'Please be
careful.'

'There are no English in this hotel except ourselves. I thank
you for what you said to-day.'

'Please be careful,' she repeated.

'My dear Miss P----'

'Don't mention names, and don't continue the subject!'

'Life and death perhaps depend upon my renewing it soon!'

She shut the window decisively, possibly wondering if De
Stancy had drunk a glass or two of Steinberg more than was
good for him, and saw no more of moonlit Ehrenbreitstein that
night, and heard no more of De Stancy. But it was some time
before he closed his window, and previous to doing so saw a
dark form at an adjoining one on the other side.

It was Mr. Power, also taking the air. 'Well, what luck to-
day?' said Power.

'A decided advance,' said De Stancy.

None of the speakers knew that a little person in the room
above heard all this out-of-window talk. Charlotte, though
not looking out, had left her casement open; and what reached
her ears set her wondering as to the result.

It is not necessary to detail in full De Stancy's
imperceptible advances with Paula during that northward
journey--so slowly performed that it seemed as if she must
perceive there was a special reason for delaying her return to
England. At Cologne one day he conveniently overtook her when
she was ascending the hotel staircase. Seeing him, she went
to the window of the entresol landing, which commanded a view
of the Rhine, meaning that he should pass by to his room.

'I have been very uneasy,' began the captain, drawing up to
her side; 'and I am obliged to trouble you sooner than I meant
to do.'

Paula turned her eyes upon him with some curiosity as to what
was coming of this respectful demeanour. 'Indeed!' she said,

He then informed her that he had been overhauling himself
since they last talked, and had some reason to blame himself
for bluntness and general want of euphemism; which, although
he had meant nothing by it, must have been very disagreeable
to her. But he had always aimed at sincerity, particularly as
he had to deal with a lady who despised hypocrisy and was
above flattery. However, he feared he might have carried his
disregard for conventionality too far. But from that time he
would promise that she should find an alteration by which he
hoped he might return the friendship at least of a young lady
he honoured more than any other in the world.

This retrograde movement was evidently unexpected by the
honoured young lady herself. After being so long accustomed
to rebuke him for his persistence there was novelty in finding
him do the work for her. The guess might even have been
hazarded that there was also disappointment.

Still looking across the river at the bridge of boats which
stretched to the opposite suburb of Deutz: 'You need not
blame yourself,' she said, with the mildest conceivable
manner, 'I can make allowances. All I wish is that you should
remain under no misapprehension.'

'I comprehend,' he said thoughtfully. 'But since, by a
perverse fate, I have been thrown into your company, you could
hardly expect me to feel and act otherwise.'

'Perhaps not.'

'Since I have so much reason to be dissatisfied with myself,'
he added, 'I cannot refrain from criticizing elsewhere to a
slight extent, and thinking I have to do with an ungenerous
person.'

'Why ungenerous?'

'In this way; that since you cannot love me, you see no reason
at all for trying to do so in the fact that I so deeply love
you; hence I say that you are rather to be distinguished by
your wisdom than by your humanity.'

'It comes to this, that if your words are all seriously meant
it is much to be regretted we ever met,' she murmured. 'Now
will you go on to where you were going, and leave me here?'

Without a remonstrance he went on, saying with dejected
whimsicality as he smiled back upon her, 'You show a wisdom
which for so young a lady is perfectly surprising.'

It was resolved to prolong the journey by a circuit through
Holland and Belgium; but nothing changed in the attitudes of
Paula and Captain De Stancy till one afternoon during their
stay at the Hague, when they had gone for a drive down to
Scheveningen by the long straight avenue of chestnuts and
limes, under whose boughs tufts of wild parsley waved their
flowers, except where the buitenplaatsen of retired merchants
blazed forth with new paint of every hue. On mounting the
dune which kept out the sea behind the village a brisk breeze
greeted their faces, and a fine sand blew up into their eyes.
De Stancy screened Paula with his umbrella as they stood with
their backs to the wind, looking down on the red roofs of the
village within the sea wall, and pulling at the long grass
which by some means found nourishment in the powdery soil of
the dune.

When they had discussed the scene he continued, 'It always
seems to me that this place reflects the average mood of human
life. I mean, if we strike the balance between our best moods
and our worst we shall find our average condition to stand at
about the same pitch in emotional colour as these sandy dunes
and this grey scene do in landscape.'

Paula contended that he ought not to measure everybody by
himself.

'I have no other standard,' said De Stancy; 'and if my own is
wrong, it is you who have made it so. Have you thought any
more of what I said at Cologne?'

'I don't quite remember what you did say at Cologne?'

'My dearest life!' Paula's eyes rounding somewhat, he
corrected the exclamation. 'My dear Miss Power, I will,
without reserve, tell it to you all over again.'

'Pray spare yourself the effort,' she said drily. 'What has
that one fatal step betrayed me into!. . . Do you seriously
mean to say that I am the cause of your life being coloured
like this scene of grass and sand? If so, I have committed a
very great fault!'

'It can be nullified by a word.'

'Such a word!'

'It is a very short one.'

'There's a still shorter one more to the purpose. Frankly, I
believe you suspect me to have some latent and unowned
inclination for you--that you think speaking is the only point
upon which I am backward. . . . There now, it is raining;
what shall we do? I thought this wind meant rain.'

'Do? Stand on here, as we are standing now.'

'Your sister and my aunt are gone under the wall. I think we
will walk towards them.'

'You had made me hope,' he continued (his thoughts apparently
far away from the rain and the wind and the possibility of
shelter), 'that you might change your mind, and give to your
original promise a liberal meaning in renewing it. In brief I
mean this, that you would allow it to merge into an
engagement. Don't think it presumptuous,' he went on, as he
held the umbrella over her; 'I am sure any man would speak as
I do. A distinct permission to be with you on probation--that
was what you gave me at Carlsruhe: and flinging casuistry on
one side, what does that mean?'

'That I am artistically interested in your family history.'
And she went out from the umbrella to the shelter of the hotel
where she found her aunt and friend.

De Stancy could not but feel that his persistence had made
some impression. It was hardly possible that a woman of
independent nature would have tolerated his dangling at her
side so long, if his presence were wholly distasteful to her.
That evening when driving back to the Hague by a devious route
through the dense avenues of the Bosch he conversed with her
again; also the next day when standing by the Vijver looking
at the swans; and in each case she seemed to have at least got
over her objection to being seen talking to him, apart from
the remainder of the travelling party.

Scenes very similar to those at Scheveningen and on the Rhine
were enacted at later stages of their desultory journey. Mr.
Power had proposed to cross from Rotterdam; but a stiff north-
westerly breeze prevailing Paula herself became reluctant to
hasten back to Stancy Castle. Turning abruptly they made for
Brussels.

It was here, while walking homeward from the Park one morning,
that her uncle for the first time alluded to the situation of
affairs between herself and her admirer. The captain had gone
up the Rue Royale with his sister and Mrs. Goodman, either to
show them the house in which the ball took place on the eve of
Quatre Bras or some other site of interest, and the two Powers
were thus left to themselves. To reach their hotel they
passed into a little street sloping steeply down from the Rue
Royale to the Place Ste. Gudule, where, at the moment of
nearing the cathedral, a wedding party emerged from the porch
and crossed in front of uncle and niece.

'I hope,' said the former, in his passionless way, 'we shall
see a performance of this sort between you and Captain De
Stancy, not so very long after our return to England.'

'Why?' asked Paula, following the bride with her eyes.

'It is diplomatically, as I may say, such a highly correct
thing--such an expedient thing--such an obvious thing to all
eyes.'

'Not altogether to mine, uncle,' she returned.

''Twould be a thousand pities to let slip such a neat offer of
adjusting difficulties as accident makes you in this. You
could marry more tin, that's true; but you don't want it,
Paula. You want a name, and historic what-do-they-call-it.
Now by coming to terms with the captain you'll be Lady De
Stancy in a few years: and a title which is useless to him,
and a fortune and castle which are in some degree useless to
you, will make a splendid whole useful to you both.'

'I've thought it over--quite,' she answered. 'And I quite see
what the advantages are. But how if I don't care one atom for
artistic completeness and a splendid whole; and do care very
much to do what my fancy inclines me to do?'

'Then I should say that, taking a comprehensive view of human
nature of all colours, your fancy is about the silliest fancy
existing on this earthly ball.'

Paula laughed indifferently, and her uncle felt that,
persistent as was his nature, he was the wrong man to
influence her by argument. Paula's blindness to the
advantages of the match, if she were blind, was that of a
woman who wouldn't see, and the best argument was silence.

This was in some measure proved the next morning. When Paula
made her appearance Mrs. Goodman said, holding up an envelope:
'Here's a letter from Mr. Somerset.'

'Dear me,' said she blandly, though a quick little flush
ascended her cheek. 'I had nearly forgotten him!'

The letter on being read contained a request as brief as it
was unexpected. Having prepared all the drawings necessary
for the rebuilding, Somerset begged leave to resign the
superintendence of the work into other hands.

'His letter caps your remarks very aptly,' said Mrs. Goodman,
with secret triumph. 'You are nearly forgetting him, and he
is quite forgetting you.'

'Yes,' said Paula, affecting carelessness. 'Well, I must get
somebody else, I suppose.'


Thomas Hardy