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Chapter 10

They next deviated to Amiens, intending to stay there only one
night; but their schemes were deranged by the sudden illness
of Charlotte. She had been looking unwell for a fortnight
past, though, with her usual self-abnegation, she had made
light of her ailment. Even now she declared she could go on;
but this was said over-night, and in the morning it was
abundantly evident that to move her was highly unadvisable.
Still she was not in serious danger, and having called in a
physician, who pronounced rest indispensable, they prepared to
remain in the old Picard capital two or three additional days.
Mr. Power thought he would take advantage of the halt to run
up to Paris, leaving De Stancy in charge of the ladies.

In more ways than in the illness of Charlotte this day was the
harbinger of a crisis.

It was a summer evening without a cloud. Charlotte had fallen
asleep in her bed, and Paula, who had been sitting by her,
looked out into the Place St. Denis, which the hotel
commanded. The lawn of the square was all ablaze with red and
yellow clumps of flowers, the acacia trees were brightly
green, the sun was soft and low. Tempted by the prospect
Paula went and put on her hat; and arousing her aunt, who was
nodding in the next room, to request her to keep an ear on
Charlotte's bedroom, Paula descended into the Rue de Noyon
alone, and entered the green enclosure.

While she walked round, two or three little children in charge
of a nurse trundled a large variegated ball along the grass,
and it rolled to Paula's feet. She smiled at them, and
endeavoured to return it by a slight kick. The ball rose in
the air, and passing over the back of a seat which stood under
one of the trees, alighted in the lap of a gentleman hitherto
screened by its boughs. The back and shoulders proved to be
those of De Stancy. He turned his head, jumped up, and was at
her side in an instant, a nettled flush having meanwhile
crossed Paula's face.

'I thought you had gone to the Hotoie Promenade,' she said
hastily. 'I am going to the cathedral;' (obviously uttered
lest it should seem that she had seen him from the hotel
windows, and entered the square for his company).

'Of course: there is nothing else to go to here--even for
Roundheads.'

'If you mean ME by that, you are very much mistaken,' said she
testily.

'The Roundheads were your ancestors, and they knocked down my
ancestors' castle, and broke the stained glass and statuary of
the cathedral,' said De Stancy slily; 'and now you go not only
to a cathedral, but to a service of the unreformed Church in
it.'

'In a foreign country it is different from home,' said Paula
in extenuation; 'and you of all men should not reproach me for
tergiversation--when it has been brought about by--by my
sympathies with--'

'With the troubles of the De Stancys.'

'Well, you know what I mean,' she answered, with considerable
anxiety not to be misunderstood; 'my liking for the old
castle, and what it contains, and what it suggests. I declare
I will not explain to you further--why should I? I am not
answerable to you!'

Paula's show of petulance was perhaps not wholly because she
had appeared to seek him, but also from being reminded by his
criticism that Mr. Woodwell's prophecy on her weakly
succumbing to surroundings was slowly working out its
fulfilment.

She moved forward towards the gate at the further end of the
square, beyond which the cathedral lay at a very short
distance. Paula did not turn her head, and De Stancy strolled
slowly after her down the Rue du College. The day happened to
be one of the church festivals, and people were a second time
flocking into the lofty monument of Catholicism at its
meridian. Paula vanished into the porch with the rest; and,
almost catching the wicket as it flew back from her hand, he
too entered the high-shouldered edifice--an edifice doomed to
labour under the melancholy misfortune of seeming only half as
vast as it really is, and as truly as whimsically described by
Heine as a monument built with the strength of Titans, and
decorated with the patience of dwarfs.

De Stancy walked up the nave, so close beside her as to touch
her dress; but she would not recognize his presence; the
darkness that evening had thrown over the interior, which was
scarcely broken by the few candles dotted about, being a
sufficient excuse if she required one.

'Miss Power,' De Stancy said at last, 'I am coming to the
service with you.'

She received the intelligence without surprise, and he knew
she had been conscious of him all the way.

Paula went no further than the middle of the nave, where there
was hardly a soul, and took a chair beside a solitary
rushlight which looked amid the vague gloom of the
inaccessible architecture like a lighthouse at the foot of
tall cliffs.

He put his hand on the next chair, saying, 'Do you object?'

'Not at all,' she replied; and he sat down.

'Suppose we go into the choir,' said De Stancy presently.
'Nobody sits out here in the shadows.'

'This is sufficiently near, and we have a candle,' Paula
murmured.

Before another minute had passed the candle flame began to
drown in its own grease, slowly dwindled, and went out.

'I suppose that means I am to go into the choir in spite of
myself. Heaven is on your side,' said Paula. And rising they
left their now totally dark corner, and joined the noiseless
shadowy figures who in twos and threes kept passing up the
nave.

Within the choir there was a blaze of light, partly from the
altar, and more particularly from the image of the saint whom
they had assembled to honour, which stood, surrounded by
candles and a thicket of flowering plants, some way in advance
of the foot-pace. A secondary radiance from the same source
was reflected upward into their faces by the polished marble
pavement, except when interrupted by the shady forms of the
officiating priests.

When it was over and the people were moving off, De Stancy and
his companion went towards the saint, now besieged by numbers
of women anxious to claim the respective flower-pots they had
lent for the decoration. As each struggled for her own,
seized and marched off with it, Paula remarked--'This rather
spoils the solemn effect of what has gone before.'

'I perceive you are a harsh Puritan.'

'No, Captain De Stancy! Why will you speak so? I am far too
much otherwise. I have grown to be so much of your way of
thinking, that I accuse myself, and am accused by others, of
being worldly, and half-and-half, and other dreadful things--
though it isn't that at all.'

They were now walking down the nave, preceded by the sombre
figures with the pot flowers, who were just visible in the
rays that reached them through the distant choir screen at
their back; while above the grey night sky and stars looked in
upon them through the high clerestory windows.

'Do be a little MORE of my way of thinking!' rejoined De
Stancy passionately.

'Don't, don't speak,' she said rapidly. 'There are Milly and
Champreau!'

Milly was one of the maids, and Champreau the courier and
valet who had been engaged by Abner Power. They had been
sitting behind the other pair throughout the service, and
indeed knew rather more of the relations between Paula and De
Stancy than Paula knew herself.

Hastening on the two latter went out, and walked together
silently up the short street. The Place St. Denis was now lit
up, lights shone from the hotel windows, and the world without
the cathedral had so far advanced in nocturnal change that it
seemed as if they had been gone from it for hours. Within the
hotel they found the change even greater than without. Mrs.
Goodman met them half-way on the stairs.

'Poor Charlotte is worse,' she said. 'Quite feverish, and
almost delirious.'

Paula reproached herself with 'Why did I go away!'

The common interest of De Stancy and Paula in the sufferer at
once reproduced an ease between them as nothing else could
have done. The physician was again called in, who prescribed
certain draughts, and recommended that some one should sit up
with her that night. If Paula allowed demonstrations of love
to escape her towards anybody it was towards Charlotte, and
her instinct was at once to watch by the invalid's couch
herself, at least for some hours, it being deemed unnecessary
to call in a regular nurse unless she should sicken further.

'But I will sit with her,' said De Stancy. 'Surely you had
better go to bed?' Paula would not be persuaded; and
thereupon De Stancy, saying he was going into the town for a
short time before retiring, left the room.

The last omnibus returned from the last train, and the inmates
of the hotel retired to rest. Meanwhile a telegram had
arrived for Captain De Stancy; but as he had not yet returned
it was put in his bedroom, with directions to the night-porter
to remind him of its arrival.

Paula sat on with the sleeping Charlotte. Presently she
retired into the adjacent sitting-room with a book, and flung
herself on a couch, leaving the door open between her and her
charge, in case the latter should awake. While she sat a new
breathing seemed to mingle with the regular sound of
Charlotte's that reached her through the doorway: she turned
quickly, and saw her uncle standing behind her.

'O--I thought you were in Paris!' said Paula.

'I have just come from there--I could not stay. Something has
occurred to my mind about this affair.' His strangely marked
visage, now more noticeable from being worn with fatigue, had
a spectral effect by the night-light.

'What affair?'

'This marriage. . . . Paula, De Stancy is a good fellow
enough, but you must not accept him just yet.'

Paula did not answer.

'Do you hear? You must not accept him,' repeated her uncle,
'till I have been to England and examined into matters. I
start in an hour's time--by the ten-minutes-past-two train.'

'This is something very new!'

'Yes--'tis new,' he murmured, relapsing into his Dutch manner.
'You must not accept him till something is made clear to me--
something about a queer relationship. I have come from Paris
to say so.'

'Uncle, I don't understand this. I am my own mistress in all
matters, and though I don't mind telling you I have by no
means resolved to accept him, the question of her marriage is
especially a woman's own affair.'

Her uncle stood irresolute for a moment, as if his convictions
were more than his proofs. 'I say no more at present,' he
murmured. 'Can I do anything for you about a new architect?'

'Appoint Havill.'

'Very well. Good night.' And then he left her. In a short
time she heard him go down and out of the house to cross to
England by the morning steamboat.

With a little shrug, as if she resented his interference in so
delicate a point, she settled herself down anew to her book.

One, two, three hours passed, when Charlotte awoke, but soon
slumbered sweetly again. Milly had stayed up for some time
lest her mistress should require anything; but the girl being
sleepy Paula sent her to bed.

It was a lovely night of early summer, and drawing aside the
window curtains she looked out upon the flowers and trees of
the Place, now quite visible, for it was nearly three o'clock,
and the morning light was growing strong. She turned her face
upwards. Except in the case of one bedroom all the windows on
that side of the hotel were in darkness. The room being
rather close she left the casement ajar, and opening the door
walked out upon the staircase landing. A number of caged
canaries were kept here, and she observed in the dim light of
the landing lamp how snugly their heads were all tucked in.
On returning to the sitting-room again she could hear that
Charlotte was still slumbering, and this encouraging
circumstance disposed her to go to bed herself. Before,
however, she had made a move a gentle tap came to the door.

Paula opened it. There, in the faint light by the sleeping
canaries, stood Charlotte's brother.

'How is she now?' he whispered.

'Sleeping soundly,' said Paula.

'That's a blessing. I have not been to bed. I came in late,
and have now come down to know if I had not better take your
place?'

'Nobody is required, I think. But you can judge for
yourself.'

Up to this point they had conversed in the doorway of the
sitting-room, which De Stancy now entered, crossing it to
Charlotte's apartment. He came out from the latter at a
pensive pace.

'She is doing well,' he said gently. 'You have been very good
to her. Was the chair I saw by her bed the one you have been
sitting in all night?'

'I sometimes sat there; sometimes here.'

'I wish I could have sat beside you, and held your hand--I
speak frankly.'

'To excess.'

'And why not? I do not wish to hide from you any corner of my
breast, futile as candour may be. Just Heaven! for what
reason is it ordered that courtship, in which soldiers are
usually so successful, should be a failure with me?'

'Your lack of foresight chiefly in indulging feelings that
were not encouraged. That, and my uncle's indiscreet
permission to you to travel with us, have precipitated our
relations in a way that I could neither foresee nor avoid,
though of late I have had apprehensions that it might come to
this. You vex and disturb me by such words of regret.'

'Not more than you vex and disturb me. But you cannot hate
the man who loves you so devotedly?'

'I have said before I don't hate you. I repeat that I am
interested in your family and its associations because of its
complete contrast with my own.' She might have added, 'And I
am additionally interested just now because my uncle has
forbidden me to be.'

'But you don't care enough for me personally to save my
happiness.'

Paula hesitated; from the moment De Stancy confronted her she
had felt that this nocturnal conversation was to be a grave
business. The cathedral clock struck three. 'I have thought
once or twice,' she said with a naivete unusual in her, 'that
if I could be sure of giving peace and joy to your mind by
becoming your wife, I ought to endeavour to do so and make the
best of it--merely as a charity. But I believe that feeling
is a mistake: your discontent is constitutional, and would go
on just the same whether I accepted you or no. My refusal of
you is purely an imaginary grievance.'

'Not if I think otherwise.'

'O no,' she murmured, with a sense that the place was very
lonely and silent. 'If you think it otherwise, I suppose it
is otherwise.'

'My darling; my Paula!' he said, seizing her hand. 'Do
promise me something. You must indeed!'

'Captain De Stancy!' she said, trembling and turning away.
'Captain De Stancy!' She tried to withdraw her fingers, then
faced him, exclaiming in a firm voice a third time, 'Captain
De Stancy! let go my hand; for I tell you I will not marry
you!'

'Good God!' he cried, dropping her hand. 'What have I driven
you to say in your anger! Retract it--O, retract it!'

'Don't urge me further, as you value my good opinion!'

'To lose you now, is to lose you for ever. Come, please
answer!'

'I won't be compelled!' she interrupted with vehemence. 'I am
resolved not to be yours--not to give you an answer to-night!
Never, never will I be reasoned out of my intention; and I say
I won't answer you to-night! I should never have let you be
so much with me but for pity of you; and now it is come to
this!'

She had sunk into a chair, and now leaned upon her hand, and
buried her face in her handkerchief. He had never caused her
any such agitation as this before.

'You stab me with your words,' continued De Stancy. 'The
experience I have had with you is without parallel, Paula. It
seems like a distracting dream.'

'I won't be hurried by anybody!'

'That may mean anything,' he said, with a perplexed,
passionate air. 'Well, mine is a fallen family, and we must
abide caprices. Would to Heaven it were extinguished!'

'What was extinguished?' she murmured.

'The De Stancys. Here am I, a homeless wanderer, living on my
pay; in the next room lies she, my sister, a poor little
fragile feverish invalid with no social position--and hardly a
friend. We two represent the De Stancy line; and I wish we
were behind the iron door of our old vault at Sleeping-Green.
It can be seen by looking at us and our circumstances that we
cry for the earth and oblivion!'

'Captain De Stancy, it is not like that, I assure you,'
sympathized Paula with damp eyelashes. 'I love Charlotte too
dearly for you to talk like that, indeed. I don't want to
marry you exactly: and yet I cannot bring myself to say I
permanently reject you, because I remember you are Charlotte's
brother, and do not wish to be the cause of any morbid
feelings in you which would ruin your future prospects.'

'My dear life, what is it you doubt in me? Your earnestness
not to do me harm makes it all the harder for me to think of
never being more than a friend.'

'Well, I have not positively refused!' she exclaimed, in mixed
tones of pity and distress. 'Let me think it over a little
while. It is not generous to urge so strongly before I can
collect my thoughts, and at this midnight time!'

'Darling, forgive it!--There, I'll say no more.'

He then offered to sit up in her place for the remainder of
the night; but Paula declined, assuring him that she meant to
stay only another half-hour, after which nobody would be
necessary.

He had already crossed the landing to ascend to his room, when
she stepped after him, and asked if he had received his
telegram.

'No,' said De Stancy. 'Nor have I heard of one.'

Paula explained that it was put in his room, that he might see
it the moment he came in.

'It matters very little,' he replied, 'since I shall see it
now. Good-night, dearest: good-night!' he added tenderly.

She gravely shook her head. 'It is not for you to express
yourself like that,' she answered. 'Good-night, Captain De
Stancy.'

He went up the stairs to the second floor, and Paula returned
to the sitting-room. Having left a light burning De Stancy
proceeded to look for the telegram, and found it on the
carpet, where it had been swept from the table. When he had
opened the sheet a sudden solemnity overspread his face. He
sat down, rested his elbow on the table, and his forehead on
his hands.

Captain De Stancy did not remain thus long. Rising he went
softly downstairs. The grey morning had by this time crept
into the hotel, rendering a light no longer necessary. The
old clock on the landing was within a few minutes of four, and
the birds were hopping up and down their cages, and whetting
their bills. He tapped at the sitting-room, and she came
instantly.

'But I told you it was not necessary--' she began.

'Yes, but the telegram,' he said hurriedly. 'I wanted to let
you know first that--it is very serious. Paula--my father is
dead! He died suddenly yesterday, and I must go at once. . .
. About Charlotte--and how to let her know--'

'She must not be told yet,' said Paula. . . . 'Sir William
dead!'

'You think we had better not tell her just yet?' said De
Stancy anxiously. 'That's what I want to consult you about,
if you--don't mind my intruding.'

'Certainly I don't,' she said.

They continued the discussion for some time; and it was
decided that Charlotte should not be informed of what had
happened till the doctor had been consulted, Paula promising
to account for her brother's departure.

De Stancy then prepared to leave for England by the first
morning train, and roused the night-porter, which functionary,
having packed off Abner Power, was discovered asleep on the
sofa of the landlord's parlour. At half-past five Paula, who
in the interim had been pensively sitting with her hand to her
chin, quite forgetting that she had meant to go to bed, heard
wheels without, and looked from the window. A fly had been
brought round, and one of the hotel servants was in the act of
putting up a portmanteau with De Stancy's initials upon it. A
minute afterwards the captain came to her door.

'I thought you had not gone to bed, after all.'

'I was anxious to see you off,' said she, 'since neither of
the others is awake; and you wished me not to rouse them.'

'Quite right, you are very good;' and lowering his voice:
'Paula, it is a sad and solemn time with me. Will you grant
me one word--not on our last sad subject, but on the previous
one--before I part with you to go and bury my father?'

'Certainly,' she said, in gentle accents.

'Then have you thought over my position? Will you at last
have pity upon my loneliness by becoming my wife?'

Paula sighed deeply; and said, 'Yes.'

'Your hand upon it.'

She gave him her hand: he held it a few moments, then raised
it to his lips, and was gone.

When Mrs. Goodman rose she was informed of Sir William's
death, and of his son's departure.

'Then the captain is now Sir William De Stancy!' she
exclaimed. 'Really, Paula, since you would be Lady De Stancy
by marrying him, I almost think--'

'Hush, aunt!'

'Well; what are you writing there?'

'Only entering in my diary that I accepted him this morning
for pity's sake, in spite of Uncle Abner. They'll say it was
for the title, but knowing it was not I don't care.'


Thomas Hardy