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Chapter 11

On the evening of the fourth day after the parting between
Paula and De Stancy at Amiens, when it was quite dark in the
Markton highway, except in so far as the shades were broken by
the faint lights from the adjacent town, a young man knocked
softly at the door of Myrtle Villa, and asked if Captain De
Stancy had arrived from abroad. He was answered in the
affirmative, and in a few moments the captain himself came
from an adjoining room.

Seeing that his visitor was Dare, from whom, as will be
remembered, he had parted at Carlsruhe in no very satisfied
mood, De Stancy did not ask him into the house, but putting on
his hat went out with the youth into the public road. Here
they conversed as they walked up and down, Dare beginning by
alluding to the death of Sir William, the suddenness of which
he feared would delay Captain De Stancy's overtures for the
hand of Miss Power.

'No,' said De Stancy moodily. 'On the contrary, it has
precipitated matters.'

'She has accepted you, captain?'

'We are engaged to be married.'

'Well done. I congratulate you.' The speaker was about to
proceed to further triumphant notes on the intelligence, when
casting his eye upon the upper windows of the neighbouring
villa, he appeared to reflect on what was within them, and
checking himself, 'When is the funeral to be?'

'To-morrow,' De Stancy replied. 'It would be advisable for
you not to come near me during the day.'

'I will not. I will be a mere spectator. The old vault of
our ancestors will be opened, I presume, captain?'

'It is opened.'

'I must see it--and ruminate on what we once were: it is a
thing I like doing. The ghosts of our dead--Ah, what was
that?'

'I heard nothing.'

'I thought I heard a footstep behind us.'

They stood still; but the road appeared to be quite deserted,
and likely to continue so for the remainder of that evening.
They walked on again, speaking in somewhat lower tones than
before.

'Will the late Sir William's death delay the wedding much?'
asked the younger man curiously.

De Stancy languidly answered that he did not see why it should
do so. Some little time would of course intervene, but, since
there were several reasons for despatch, he should urge Miss
Power and her relatives to consent to a virtually private
wedding which might take place at a very early date; and he
thought there would be a general consent on that point.

'There are indeed reasons for despatch. Your title, Sir
William, is a new safeguard over her heart, certainly; but
there is many a slip, and you must not lose her now.'

'I don't mean to lose her!' said De Stancy. 'She is too good
to be lost. And yet--since she gave her promise I have felt
more than once that I would not engage in such a struggle
again. It was not a thing of my beginning, though I was
easily enough inflamed to follow. But I will not lose her
now.--For God's sake, keep that secret you have so foolishly
pricked on your breast. It fills me with remorse to think
what she with her scrupulous notions will feel, should she
ever know of you and your history, and your relation to me!'

Dare made no reply till after a silence, when he said, 'Of
course mum's the word till the wedding is over.'

'And afterwards--promise that for her sake?'

'And probably afterwards.'

Sir William De Stancy drew a dejected breath at the tone of
the answer. They conversed but a little while longer, the
captain hinting to Dare that it was time for them to part;
not, however, before he had uttered a hope that the young man
would turn over a new leaf and engage in some regular pursuit.
Promising to call upon him at his lodgings De Stancy went
indoors, and Dare briskly retraced his steps to Markton.

When his footfall had died away, and the door of the house
opposite had been closed, another man appeared upon the scene.
He came gently out of the hedge opposite Myrtle Villa, which
he paused to regard for a moment. But instead of going
townward, he turned his back upon the distant sprinkle of
lights, and did not check his walk till he reached the lodge
of Stancy Castle.

Here he pulled the wooden acorn beside the arch, and when the
porter appeared his light revealed the pedestrian's
countenance to be scathed, as by lightning.

'I beg your pardon, Mr. Power,' said the porter with sudden
deference as he opened the wicket. 'But we wasn't expecting
anybody to-night, as there is nobody at home, and the servants
on board wages; and that's why I was so long a-coming.'

'No matter, no matter,' said Abner Power. 'I have returned on
sudden business, and have not come to stay longer than to-
night. Your mistress is not with me. I meant to sleep in
Markton, but have changed my mind.'

Mr. Power had brought no luggage with him beyond a small hand-
bag, and as soon as a room could be got ready he retired to
bed.

The next morning he passed in idly walking about the grounds
and observing the progress which had been made in the works--
now temporarily suspended. But that inspection was less his
object in remaining there than meditation, was abundantly
evident. When the bell began to toll from the neighbouring
church to announce the burial of Sir William De Stancy, he
passed through the castle, and went on foot in the direction
indicated by the sound. Reaching the margin of the churchyard
he looked over the wall, his presence being masked by bushes
and a group of idlers from Markton who stood in front. Soon a
funeral procession of simple--almost meagre and threadbare--
character arrived, but Power did not join the people who
followed the deceased into the church. De Stancy was the
chief mourner and only relation present, the other followers
of the broken-down old man being an ancient lawyer, a couple
of faithful servants, and a bowed villager who had been page
to the late Sir William's father--the single living person
left in the parish who remembered the De Stancys as people of
wealth and influence, and who firmly believed that family
would come into its rights ere long, and oust the
uncircumcized Philistines who had taken possession of the old
lands.

The funeral was over, and the rusty carriages had gone,
together with many of the spectators; but Power lingered in
the churchyard as if he were looking for some one. At length
he entered the church, passing by the cavernous pitfall with
descending steps which stood open outside the wall of the De
Stancy aisle. Arrived within he scanned the few idlers of
antiquarian tastes who had remained after the service to
inspect the monuments; and beside a recumbent effigy--the
effigy in alabaster whose features Paula had wiped with her
handkerchief when there with Somerset--he beheld the man it
had been his business to find. Abner Power went up and
touched this person, who was Dare, on the shoulder.

'Mr. Power--so it is!' said the youth. 'I have not seen you
since we met in Carlsruhe.'

'You shall see all the more of me now to make up for it.
Shall we walk round the church?'

'With all my heart,' said Dare.

They walked round; and Abner Power began in a sardonic
recitative: 'I am a traveller, and it takes a good deal to
astonish me. So I neither swooned nor screamed when I learnt
a few hours ago what I had suspected for a week, that you are
of the house and lineage of Jacob.' He flung a nod towards
the canopied tombs as he spoke.--'In other words, that you are
of the same breed as the De Stancys.'

Dare cursorily glanced round. Nobody was near enough to hear
their words, the nearest persons being two workmen just
outside, who were bringing their tools up from the vault
preparatively to closing it.

Having observed this Dare replied, 'I, too, am a traveller;
and neither do I swoon nor scream at what you say. But I
assure you that if you busy yourself about me, you may truly
be said to busy yourself about nothing.'

'Well, that's a matter of opinion. Now, there's no scarlet
left in my face to blush for men's follies; but as an alliance
is afoot between my niece and the present Sir William, this
must be looked into.'

Dare reflectively said 'O,' as he observed through the window
one of the workmen bring up a candle from the vault and
extinguish it with his fingers.

'The marriage is desirable, and your relationship in itself is
of no consequence,' continued the elder, 'but just look at
this. You have forced on the marriage by unscrupulous means,
your object being only too clearly to live out of the proceeds
of that marriage.'

'Mr. Power, you mock me, because I labour under the misfortune
of having an illegitimate father to provide for. I really
deserve commiseration.'

'You might deserve it if that were all. But it looks bad for
my niece's happiness as Lady De Stancy, that she and her
husband are to be perpetually haunted by a young chevalier
d'industrie, who can forge a telegram on occasion, and libel
an innocent man by an ingenious device in photography. It
looks so bad, in short, that, advantageous as a title and old
family name would be to her and her children, I won't let my
brother's daughter run the risk of having them at the expense
of being in the grip of a man like you. There are other
suitors in the world, and other titles: and she is a
beautiful woman, who can well afford to be fastidious. I
shall let her know at once of these things, and break off the
business--unless you do ONE THING.'

A workman brought up another candle from the vault, and
prepared to let down the slab. 'Well, Mr. Power, and what is
that one thing?'

'Go to Peru as my agent in a business I have just undertaken
there.'

'And settle there?'

'Of course. I am soon going over myself, and will bring you
anything you require.'

'How long will you give me to consider?' said Dare.

Power looked at his watch. 'One, two, three, four hours,' he
said. 'I leave Markton by the seven o'clock train this
evening.'

'And if I meet your proposal with a negative?'

'I shall go at once to my niece and tell her the whole
circumstances--tell her that, by marrying Sir William, she
allies herself with an unhappy gentleman in the power of a
criminal son who makes his life a burden to him by perpetual
demands upon his purse; who will increase those demands with
his accession to wealth, threaten to degrade her by exposing
her husband's antecedents if she opposes his extortions, and
who will make her miserable by letting her know that her old
lover was shamefully victimized by a youth she is bound to
screen out of respect to her husband's feelings. Now a man
does not care to let his own flesh and blood incur the danger
of such anguish as that, and I shall do what I say to prevent
it. Knowing what a lukewarm sentiment hers is for Sir William
at best, I shall not have much difficulty.'

'Well, I don't feel inclined to go to Peru.'

'Neither do I want to break off the match, though I am ready
to do it. But you care about your personal freedom, and you
might be made to wear the broad arrow for your tricks on
Somerset.'

'Mr. Power, I see you are a hard man.'

'I am a hard man. You will find me one. Well, will you go to
Peru? Or I don't mind Australia or California as
alternatives. As long as you choose to remain in either of
those wealth-producing places, so long will Cunningham Haze go
uninformed.'

'Mr. Power, I am overcome. Will you allow me to sit down?
Suppose we go into the vestry. It is more comfortable.'

They entered the vestry, and seated themselves in two chairs,
one at each end of the table.

'In the meantime,' continued Dare, 'to lend a little romance
to stern realities, I'll tell you a singular dream I had just
before you returned to England.' Power looked contemptuous,
but Dare went on: 'I dreamt that once upon a time there were
two brothers, born of a Nonconformist family, one of whom
became a railway-contractor, and the other a mechanical
engineer.'

'A mechanical engineer--good,' said Power, beginning to
attend.

'When the first went abroad in his profession, and became
engaged on continental railways, the second, a younger man,
looking round for a start, also betook himself to the
continent. But though ingenious and scientific, he had not
the business capacity of the elder, whose rebukes led to a
sharp quarrel between them; and they parted in bitter
estrangement--never to meet again as it turned out, owing to
the dogged obstinacy and self-will of the younger man. He,
after this, seemed to lose his moral ballast altogether, and
after some eccentric doings he was reduced to a state of
poverty, and took lodgings in a court in a back street of a
town we will call Geneva, considerably in doubt as to what
steps he should take to keep body and soul together.'

Abner Power was shooting a narrow ray of eyesight at Dare from
the corner of his nearly closed lids. 'Your dream is so
interesting,' he said, with a hard smile, 'that I could listen
to it all day.'

'Excellent!' said Dare, and went on: 'Now it so happened that
the house opposite to the one taken by the mechanician was
peculiar. It was a tall narrow building, wholly unornamented,
the walls covered with a layer of white plaster cracked and
soiled by time. I seem to see that house now! Six stone
steps led up to the door, with a rusty iron railing on each
side, and under these steps were others which went down to a
cellar--in my dream of course.'

'Of course--in your dream,' said Power, nodding
comprehensively.

'Sitting lonely and apathetic without a light, at his own
chamber-window at night time, our mechanician frequently
observed dark figures descending these steps and ultimately
discovered that the house was the meeting-place of a
fraternity of political philosophers, whose object was the
extermination of tyrants and despots, and the overthrow of
established religions. The discovery was startling enough,
but our hero was not easily startled. He kept their secret
and lived on as before. At last the mechanician and his
affairs became known to the society, as the affairs of the
society had become known to the mechanician, and, instead of
shooting him as one who knew too much for their safety, they
were struck with his faculty for silence, and thought they
might be able to make use of him.'

'To be sure,' said Abner Power.

'Next, like friend Bunyan, I saw in my dream that denunciation
was the breath of life to this society. At an earlier date in
its history, objectionable persons in power had been from time
to time murdered, and curiously enough numbered; that is, upon
the body of each was set a mark or seal, announcing that he
was one of a series. But at this time the question before the
society related to the substitution for the dagger, which was
vetoed as obsolete, of some explosive machine that would be
both more effectual and less difficult to manage; and in
short, a large reward was offered to our needy Englishman if
he would put their ideas of such a machine into shape.'

Abner Power nodded again, his complexion being peculiar--which
might partly have been accounted for by the reflection of
window-light from the green-baize table-cloth.

'He agreed, though no politician whatever himself, to exercise
his wits on their account, and brought his machine to such a
pitch of perfection, that it was the identical one used in the
memorable attempt--' (Dare whispered the remainder of the
sentence in tones so low that not a mouse in the corner could
have heard.) 'Well, the inventor of that explosive has
naturally been wanted ever since by all the heads of police in
Europe. But the most curious--or perhaps the most natural
part of my story is, that our hero, after the catastrophe,
grew disgusted with himself and his comrades, acquired, in a
fit of revulsion, quite a conservative taste in politics,
which was strengthened greatly by the news he indirectly
received of the great wealth and respectability of his
brother, who had had no communion with him for years, and
supposed him dead. He abjured his employers and resolved to
abandon them; but before coming to England he decided to
destroy all trace of his combustible inventions by dropping
them into the neighbouring lake at night from a boat. You
feel the room close, Mr. Power?'

'No, I suffer from attacks of perspiration whenever I sit in a
consecrated edifice--that's all. Pray go on.'

'In carrying out this project, an explosion occurred, just as
he was throwing the stock overboard--it blew up into his face,
wounding him severely, and nearly depriving him of sight. The
boat was upset, but he swam ashore in the darkness, and
remained hidden till he recovered, though the scars produced
by the burns had been set on him for ever. This accident,
which was such a misfortune to him as a man, was an advantage
to him as a conspirators' engineer retiring from practice, and
afforded him a disguise both from his own brotherhood and from
the police, which he has considered impenetrable, but which is
getting seen through by one or two keen eyes as time goes on.
Instead of coming to England just then, he went to Peru,
connected himself with the guano trade, I believe, and after
his brother's death revisited England, his old life
obliterated as far as practicable by his new principles. He
is known only as a great traveller to his surviving relatives,
though he seldom says where he has travelled. Unluckily for
himself, he is WANTED by certain European governments as badly
as ever.'

Dare raised his eyes as he concluded his narration. As has
been remarked, he was sitting at one end of the vestry-table,
Power at the other, the green cloth stretching between them.
On the edge of the table adjoining Mr. Power a shining nozzle
of metal was quietly resting, like a dog's nose. It was
directed point-blank at the young man.

Dare started. 'Ah--a revolver?' he said.

Mr. Power nodded placidly, his hand still grasping the pistol
behind the edge of the table. 'As a traveller I always carry
one of 'em,' he returned; 'and for the last five minutes I
have been closely considering whether your numerous brains are
worth blowing out or no. The vault yonder has suggested
itself as convenient and snug for one of the same family; but
the mental problem that stays my hand is, how am I to despatch
and bury you there without the workmen seeing?'

''Tis a strange problem, certainly,' replied Dare, 'and one on
which I fear I could not give disinterested advice. Moreover,
while you, as a traveller, always carry a weapon of defence,
as a traveller so do I. And for the last three-quarters of an
hour I have been thinking concerning you, an intensified form
of what you have been thinking of me, but without any concern
as to your interment. See here for a proof of it.' And a
second steel nose rested on the edge of the table opposite to
the first, steadied by Dare's right hand.

They remained for some time motionless, the tick of the tower
clock distinctly audible.

Mr. Power spoke first.

'Well, 'twould be a pity to make a mess here under such
dubious circumstances. Mr. Dare, I perceive that a mean
vagabond can be as sharp as a political regenerator. I cry
quits, if you care to do the same?'

Dare assented, and the pistols were put away.

'Then we do nothing at all, either side; but let the course of
true love run on to marriage--that's the understanding, I
think?' said Dare as he rose.

'It is,' said Power; and turning on his heel, he left the
vestry.

Dare retired to the church and thence to the outside, where he
idled away a few minutes in looking at the workmen, who were
now lowering into its place a large stone slab, bearing the
words 'DE STANCY,' which covered the entrance to the vault.
When the footway of the churchyard was restored to its normal
condition Dare pursued his way to Markton.

Abner Power walked back to the castle at a slow and equal
pace, as though he carried an over-brimming vessel on his
head. He silently let himself in, entered the long gallery,
and sat down. The length of time that he sat there was so
remarkable as to raise that interval of inanition to the rank
of a feat.

Power's eyes glanced through one of the window-casements:
from a hole without he saw the head of a tomtit protruding.
He listlessly watched the bird during the successive epochs of
his thought, till night came, without any perceptible change
occurring in him. Such fixity would have meant nothing else
than sudden death in any other man, but in Mr. Power it merely
signified that he was engaged in ruminations which
necessitated a more extensive survey than usual. At last, at
half-past eight, after having sat for five hours with his eyes
on the residence of the tomtits, to whom night had brought
cessation of thought, if not to him who had observed them, he
rose amid the shades of the furniture, and rang the bell.
There were only a servant or two in the castle, one of whom
presently came with a light in her hand and a startled look
upon her face, which was not reduced when she recognized him;
for in the opinion of that household there was something
ghoul-like in Mr. Power, which made him no desirable guest.

He ate a late meal, and retired to bed, where he seemed to
sleep not unsoundly. The next morning he received a letter
which afforded him infinite satisfaction and gave his stagnant
impulses a new momentum. He entered the library, and amid
objects swathed in brown holland sat down and wrote a note to
his niece at Amiens. Therein he stated that, finding that the
Anglo-South-American house with which he had recently
connected himself required his presence in Peru, it obliged
him to leave without waiting for her return. He felt the less
uneasy at going, since he had learnt that Captain De Stancy
would return at once to Amiens to his sick sister, and see
them safely home when she improved. He afterwards left the
castle, disappearing towards a railway station some miles
above Markton, the road to which lay across an unfrequented
down.

Thomas Hardy