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Chapter 5

The next morning Somerset was again at the castle. He passed
some interval on the walls before encountering Miss De Stancy,
whom at last he observed going towards a pony-carriage that
waited near the door.

A smile gained strength upon her face at his approach, and she
was the first to speak. 'I am sorry Miss Power has not
returned,' she said, and accounted for that lady's absence by
her distress at the event of two evenings earlier.

'But I have driven over to my father's--Sir William De
Stancy's--house this morning,' she went on. 'And on
mentioning your name to him, I found he knew it quite well.
You will, will you not, forgive my ignorance in having no
better knowledge of the elder Mr. Somerset's works than a dim
sense of his fame as a painter? But I was going to say that
my father would much like to include you in his personal
acquaintance, and wishes me to ask if you will give him the
pleasure of lunching with him to-day. My cousin John, whom
you once knew, was a great favourite of his, and used to speak
of you sometimes. It will be so kind if you can come. My
father is an old man, out of society, and he would be glad to
hear the news of town.'

Somerset said he was glad to find himself among friends where
he had only expected strangers; and promised to come that day,
if she would tell him the way.

That she could easily do. The short way was across that glade
he saw there--then over the stile into the wood, following the
path till it came out upon the turnpike-road. He would then
be almost close to the house. The distance was about two
miles and a half. But if he thought it too far for a walk,
she would drive on to the town, where she had been going when
he came, and instead of returning straight to her father's
would come back and pick him up.

It was not at all necessary, he thought. He was a walker, and
could find the path.

At this moment a servant came to tell Miss De Stancy that the
telegraph was calling her.

'Ah--it is lucky that I was not gone again!' she exclaimed.
'John seldom reads it right if I am away.'

It now seemed quite in the ordinary course that, as a friend
of her father's, he should accompany her to the instrument.
So up they went together, and immediately on reaching it she
applied her ear to the instrument, and began to gather the
message. Somerset fancied himself like a person overlooking
another's letter, and moved aside.

'It is no secret,' she said, smiling. '"Paula to Charlotte,"
it begins.'

'That's very pretty.'

'O--and it is about--you,' murmured Miss De Stancy.

'Me?' The architect blushed a little.

She made no answer, and the machine went on with its story.
There was something curious in watching this utterance about
himself, under his very nose, in language unintelligible to
him. He conjectured whether it were inquiry, praise, or
blame, with a sense that it might reasonably be the latter, as
the result of his surreptitious look into that blue bedroom,
possibly observed and reported by some servant of the house.

'"Direct that every facility be given to Mr. Somerset to visit
any part of the castle he may wish to see. On my return I
shall be glad to welcome him as the acquaintance of your
relatives. I have two of his father's pictures."'

'Dear me, the plot thickens,' he said, as Miss De Stancy
announced the words. 'How could she know about me?'

'I sent a message to her this morning when I saw you crossing
the park on your way here--telling her that Mr. Somerset, son
of the Academician, was making sketches of the castle, and
that my father knew something of you. That's her answer.'

'Where are the pictures by my father that she has purchased?'

'O, not here--at least, not unpacked.'

Miss de Stancy then left him to proceed on her journey to
Markton (so the nearest little town was called), informing him
that she would be at her father's house to receive him at two
o'clock. Just about one he closed his sketch-book, and set
out in the direction she had indicated. At the entrance to
the wood a man was at work pulling down a rotten gate that
bore on its battered lock the initials 'W. De S.' and erecting
a new one whose ironmongery exhibited the letters 'P. P.'

The warmth of the summer noon did not inconveniently penetrate
the dense masses of foliage which now began to overhang the
path, except in spots where a ruthless timber-felling had
taken place in previous years for the purpose of sale. It was
that particular half-hour of the day in which the birds of the
forest prefer walking to flying; and there being no wind, the
hopping of the smallest songster over the dead leaves reached
his ear from behind the undergrowth. The track had originally
been a well-kept winding drive, but a deep carpet of moss and
leaves overlaid it now, though the general outline still
remained to show that its curves had been set out with as much
care as those of a lawn walk, and the gradient made easy for
carriages where the natural slopes were great. Felled trunks
occasionally lay across it, and alongside were the hollow and
fungous boles of trees sawn down in long past years.

After a walk of three-quarters of an hour he came to another
gate, where the letters 'P. P.' again supplanted the
historical 'W. De S.' Climbing over this, he found himself on
a highway which presently dipped down towards the town of
Markton, a place he had never yet seen. It appeared in the
distance as a quiet little borough of a few thousand
inhabitants; and, without the town boundary on the side he was
approaching, stood half-a-dozen genteel and modern houses, of
the detached kind usually found in such suburbs. On inquiry,
Sir William De Stancy's residence was indicated as one of
these.

It was almost new, of streaked brick, having a central door,
and a small bay window on each side to light the two front
parlours. A little lawn spread its green surface in front,
divided from the road by iron railings, the low line of shrubs
immediately within them being coated with pallid dust from the
highway. On the neat piers of the neat entrance gate were
chiselled the words 'Myrtle Villa.' Genuine roadside
respectability sat smiling on every brick of the eligible
dwelling.

Perhaps that which impressed Somerset more than the mushroom
modernism of Sir William De Stancy's house was the air of
healthful cheerfulness which pervaded it. He was shown in by
a neat maidservant in black gown and white apron, a canary
singing a welcome from a cage in the shadow of the window, the
voices of crowing cocks coming over the chimneys from
somewhere behind, and the sun and air riddling the house
everywhere.

A dwelling of those well-known and popular dimensions which
allow the proceedings in the kitchen to be distinctly heard in
the parlours, it was so planned that a raking view might be
obtained through it from the front door to the end of the back
garden. The drawing-room furniture was comfortable, in the
walnut-and-green-rep style of some years ago. Somerset had
expected to find his friends living in an old house with
remnants of their own antique furniture, and he hardly knew
whether he ought to meet them with a smile or a gaze of
condolence. His doubt was terminated, however, by the
cheerful and tripping entry of Miss De Stancy, who had
returned from her drive to Markton; and in a few more moments
Sir William came in from the garden.

He was an old man of tall and spare build, with a considerable
stoop, his glasses dangling against his waistcoat-buttons, and
the front corners of his coat-tails hanging lower than the
hinderparts, so that they swayed right and left as he walked.
He nervously apologized to his visitor for having kept him
waiting.

'I am so glad to see you,' he said, with a mild benevolence of
tone, as he retained Somerset's hand for a moment or two;
'partly for your father's sake, whom I met more than once in
my younger days, before he became so well-known; and also
because I learn that you were a friend of my poor nephew John
Ravensbury.' He looked over his shoulder to see if his
daughter were within hearing, and, with the impulse of the
solitary to make a confidence, continued in a low tone: 'She,
poor girl, was to have married John: his death was a sad blow
to her and to all of us.--Pray take a seat, Mr. Somerset.'

The reverses of fortune which had brought Sir William De
Stancy to this comfortable cottage awakened in Somerset a
warmer emotion than curiosity, and he sat down with a heart as
responsive to each speech uttered as if it had seriously
concerned himself, while his host gave some words of
information to his daughter on the trifling events that had
marked the morning just passed; such as that the cow had got
out of the paddock into Miss Power's field, that the smith who
had promised to come and look at the kitchen range had not
arrived, that two wasps' nests had been discovered in the
garden bank, and that Nick Jones's baby had fallen downstairs.
Sir William had large cavernous arches to his eye-sockets,
reminding the beholder of the vaults in the castle he once had
owned. His hands were long and almost fleshless, each knuckle
showing like a bamboo-joint from beneath his coat-sleeves,
which were small at the elbow and large at the wrist. All the
colour had gone from his beard and locks, except in the case
of a few isolated hairs of the former, which retained dashes
of their original shade at sudden points in their length,
revealing that all had once been raven black.

But to study a man to his face for long is a species of ill-
nature which requires a colder temperament, or at least an
older heart, than the architect's was at that time. Incurious
unobservance is the true attitude of cordiality, and Somerset
blamed himself for having fallen into an act of inspection
even briefly. He would wait for his host's conversation,
which would doubtless be of the essence of historical romance.

'The favourable Bank-returns have made the money-market much
easier to-day, as I learn?' said Sir William.

'O, have they?' said Somerset. 'Yes, I suppose they have.'

'And something is meant by this unusual quietness in Foreign
stocks since the late remarkable fluctuations,' insisted the
old man. 'Is the current of speculation quite arrested, or is
it but a temporary lull?'

Somerset said he was afraid he could not give an opinion, and
entered very lamely into the subject; but Sir William seemed
to find sufficient interest in his own thoughts to do away
with the necessity of acquiring fresh impressions from other
people's replies; for often after putting a question he looked
on the floor, as if the subject were at an end. Lunch was now
ready, and when they were in the dining-room Miss De Stancy,
to introduce a topic of more general interest, asked Somerset
if he had noticed the myrtle on the lawn?

Somerset had noticed it, and thought he had never seen such a
full-blown one in the open air before. His eyes were,
however, resting at the moment on the only objects at all out
of the common that the dining-room contained. One was a
singular glass case over the fireplace, within which were some
large mediaeval door-keys, black with rust and age; and the
others were two full-length oil portraits in the costume of
the end of the last century--so out of all proportion to the
size of the room they occupied that they almost reached to the
floor.

'Those originally belonged to the castle yonder,' said Miss De
Stancy, or Charlotte, as her father called her, noticing
Somerset's glance at the keys. 'They used to unlock the
principal entrance-doors, which were knocked to pieces in the
civil wars. New doors were placed afterwards, but the old
keys were never given up, and have been preserved by us ever
since.'

'They are quite useless--mere lumber--particularly to me,'
said Sir William.

'And those huge paintings were a present from Paula,' she
continued. 'They are portraits of my great-grandfather and
mother. Paula would give all the old family pictures back to
me if we had room for them; but they would fill the house to
the ceilings.'

Sir William was impatient of the subject. 'What is the
utility of such accumulations?' he asked. 'Their originals
are but clay now--mere forgotten dust, not worthy a moment's
inquiry or reflection at this distance of time. Nothing can
retain the spirit, and why should we preserve the shadow of
the form?--London has been very full this year, sir, I have
been told?'

'It has,' said Somerset, and he asked if they had been up that
season. It was plain that the matter with which Sir William
De Stancy least cared to occupy himself before visitors was
the history of his own family, in which he was followed with
more simplicity by his daughter Charlotte.

'No,' said the baronet. 'One might be led to think there is a
fatality which prevents it. We make arrangements to go to
town almost every year, to meet some old friend who combines
the rare conditions of being in London with being mindful of
me; but he has always died or gone elsewhere before the event
has taken place. . . . But with a disposition to be happy, it
is neither this place nor the other that can render us the
reverse. In short each man's happiness depends upon himself,
and his ability for doing with little.' He turned more
particularly to Somerset, and added with an impressive smile:
'I hope you cultivate the art of doing with little?'

Somerset said that he certainly did cultivate that art, partly
because he was obliged to.

'Ah--you don't mean to the extent that I mean. The world has
not yet learned the riches of frugality, says, I think,
Cicero, somewhere; and nobody can testify to the truth of that
remark better than I. If a man knows how to spend less than
his income, however small that may be, why--he has the
philosopher's stone.' And Sir William looked in Somerset's
face with frugality written in every pore of his own, as much
as to say, 'And here you see one who has been a living
instance of those principles from his youth up.'

Somerset soon found that whatever turn the conversation took,
Sir William invariably reverted to this topic of frugality.
When luncheon was over he asked his visitor to walk with him
into the garden, and no sooner were they alone than he
continued: 'Well, Mr. Somerset, you are down here sketching
architecture for professional purposes. Nothing can be
better: you are a young man, and your art is one in which
there are innumerable chances.'

'I had begun to think they were rather few,' said Somerset.

'No, they are numerous enough: the difficulty is to find out
where they lie. It is better to know where your luck lies than
where your talent lies: that's an old man's opinion.'

'I'll remember it,' said Somerset.

'And now give me some account of your new clubs, new hotels,
and new men. . . . What I was going to add, on the subject of
finding out where your luck lies, is that nobody is so
unfortunate as not to have a lucky star in some direction or
other. Perhaps yours is at the antipodes; if so, go there.
All I say is, discover your lucky star.'

'I am looking for it.'

'You may be able to do two things; one well, the other but
indifferently, and yet you may have more luck in the latter.
Then stick to that one, and never mind what you can do best.
Your star lies there.'

'There I am not quite at one with you, Sir William.'

'You should be. Not that I mean to say that luck lies in any
one place long, or at any one person's door. Fortune likes
new faces, and your wisdom lies in bringing your acquisitions
into safety while her favour lasts. To do that you must make
friends in her time of smiles--make friends with people,
wherever you find them. My daughter has unconsciously
followed that maxim. She has struck up a warm friendship with
our neighbour, Miss Power, at the castle. We are
diametrically different from her in associations, traditions,
ideas, religion--she comes of a violent dissenting family
among other things--but I say to Charlotte what I say to you:
win affection and regard wherever you can, and accommodate
yourself to the times. I put nothing in the way of their
intimacy, and wisely so, for by this so many pleasant hours
are added to the sum total vouchsafed to humanity.'

It was quite late in the afternoon when Somerset took his
leave. Miss De Stancy did not return to the castle that
night, and he walked through the wood as he had come, feeling
that he had been talking with a man of simple nature, who
flattered his own understanding by devising Machiavellian
theories after the event, to account for any spontaneous
action of himself or his daughter, which might otherwise seem
eccentric or irregular.

Before Somerset reached the inn he was overtaken by a slight
shower, and on entering the house he walked into the general
room, where there was a fire, and stood with one foot on the
fender. The landlord was talking to some guest who sat behind
a screen; and, probably because Somerset had been seen passing
the window, and was known to be sketching at the castle, the
conversation turned on Sir William De Stancy.

'I have often noticed,' observed the landlord, 'that volks who
have come to grief, and quite failed, have the rules how to
succeed in life more at their vingers' ends than volks who
have succeeded. I assure you that Sir William, so full as he
is of wise maxims, never acted upon a wise maxim in his life,
until he had lost everything, and it didn't matter whether he
was wise or no. You know what he was in his young days, of
course?'

'No, I don't,' said the invisible stranger.

'O, I thought everybody knew poor Sir William's history. He
was the star, as I may zay, of good company forty years ago.
I remember him in the height of his jinks, as I used to zee
him when I was a very little boy, and think how great and
wonderful he was. I can seem to zee now the exact style of
his clothes; white hat, white trousers, white silk
handkerchief; and his jonnick face, as white as his clothes
with keeping late hours. There was nothing black about him but
his hair and his eyes--he wore no beard at that time--and they
were black as slooes. The like of his coming on the race-
course was never seen there afore nor since. He drove his
ikkipage hisself; and it was always hauled by four beautiful
white horses, and two outriders rode in harness bridles.
There was a groom behind him, and another at the rubbing-post,
all in livery as glorious as New Jerusalem. What a
'stablishment he kept up at that time! I can mind him, sir,
with thirty race-horses in training at once, seventeen coach-
horses, twelve hunters at his box t'other side of London, four
chargers at Budmouth, and ever so many hacks.'

'And he lost all by his racing speculations?' the stranger
observed; and Somerset fancied that the voice had in it
something more than the languid carelessness of a casual
sojourner.

'Partly by that, partly in other ways. He spent a mint o'
money in a wild project of founding a watering-place; and sunk
thousands in a useless silver mine; so 'twas no wonder that
the castle named after him vell into other hands. . . . The
way it was done was curious. Mr. Wilkins, who was the first
owner after it went from Sir William, actually sat down as a
guest at his table, and got up as the owner. He took off, at
a round sum, everything saleable, furniture, plate, pictures,
even the milk and butter in the dairy. That's how the
pictures and furniture come to be in the castle still;
wormeaten rubbish zome o' it, and hardly worth moving.'

'And off went the baronet to Myrtle Villa?'

'O no! he went away for many years. 'Tis quite lately, since
his illness, that he came to that little place, in zight of
the stone walls that were the pride of his forefathers.'

'From what I hear, he has not the manner of a broken-hearted
man?'

'Not at all. Since that illness he has been happy, as you see
him: no pride, quite calm and mild; at new moon quite
childish. 'Tis that makes him able to live there; before he
was so ill he couldn't bear a zight of the place, but since
then he is happy nowhere else, and never leaves the parish
further than to drive once a week to Markton. His head won't
stand society nowadays, and he lives quite lonely as you zee,
only zeeing his daughter, or his son whenever he comes home,
which is not often. They say that if his brain hadn't
softened a little he would ha' died--'twas that saved his
life.'

'What's this I hear about his daughter? Is she really hired
companion to the new owner?'

'Now that's a curious thing again, these two girls being so
fond of one another; one of 'em a dissenter, and all that, and
t'other a De Stancy. O no, not hired exactly, but she mostly
lives with Miss Power, and goes about with her, and I dare say
Miss Power makes it wo'th her while. One can't move a step
without the other following; though judging by ordinary volks
you'd think 'twould be a cat-and-dog friendship rather.'

'But 'tis not?'

''Tis not; they be more like lovers than maid and maid. Miss
Power is looked up to by little De Stancy as if she were a
god-a'mighty, and Miss Power lets her love her to her heart's
content. But whether Miss Power loves back again I can't zay,
for she's as deep as the North Star.'

The landlord here left the stranger to go to some other part
of the house, and Somerset drew near to the glass partition to
gain a glimpse of a man whose interest in the neighbourhood
seemed to have arisen so simultaneously with his own. But the
inner room was empty: the man had apparently departed by
another door.

Thomas Hardy