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Chapter 12

It was a fine afternoon of late summer, nearly three months
subsequent to the death of Sir William De Stancy and Paula's
engagement to marry his successor in the title. George
Somerset had started on a professional journey that took him
through the charming district which lay around Stancy Castle.
Having resigned his appointment as architect to that important
structure--a resignation which had been accepted by Paula
through her solicitor--he had bidden farewell to the locality
after putting matters in such order that his successor,
whoever he might be, should have no difficulty in obtaining
the particulars necessary to the completion of the work in
hand. Hardly to his surprise this successor was Havill.

Somerset's resignation had been tendered in no hasty mood. On
returning to England, and in due course to the castle,
everything bore in upon his mind the exceeding sorrowfulness--
he would not say humiliation--of continuing to act in his
former capacity for a woman who, from seeming more than a dear
friend, had become less than an acquaintance.

So he resigned; but now, as the train drew on into that once
beloved tract of country, the images which met his eye threw
him back in point of emotion to very near where he had been
before making himself a stranger here. The train entered the
cutting on whose brink he had walked when the carriage
containing Paula and her friends surprised him the previous
summer. He looked out of the window: they were passing the
well-known curve that led up to the tunnel constructed by her
father, into which he had gone when the train came by and
Paula had been alarmed for his life. There was the path they
had both climbed afterwards, involuntarily seizing each
other's hand; the bushes, the grass, the flowers, everything
just the same:

'-----Here was the pleasant place,
And nothing wanting was, save She, alas!'

When they came out of the tunnel at the other end he caught a
glimpse of the distant castle-keep, and the well-remembered
walls beneath it. The experience so far transcended the
intensity of what is called mournful pleasure as to make him
wonder how he could have miscalculated himself to the extent
of supposing that he might pass the spot with controllable
emotion.

On entering Markton station he withdrew into a remote corner
of the carriage, and closed his eyes with a resolve not to
open them till the embittering scenes should be passed by. He
had not long to wait for this event. When again in motion his
eye fell upon the skirt of a lady's dress opposite, the owner
of which had entered and seated herself so softly as not to
attract his attention.

'Ah indeed!' he exclaimed as he looked up to her face. 'I had
not a notion that it was you!' He went over and shook hands
with Charlotte De Stancy.

'I am not going far,' she said; 'only to the next station. We
often run down in summer time. Are you going far?'

'I am going to a building further on; thence to Normandy by
way of Cherbourg, to finish out my holiday.'

Miss De Stancy thought that would be very nice.

'Well, I hope so. But I fear it won't.'

After saying that Somerset asked himself why he should mince
matters with so genuine and sympathetic a girl as Charlotte De
Stancy? She could tell him particulars which he burned to
know. He might never again have an opportunity of knowing
them, since she and he would probably not meet for years to
come, if at all.

'Have the castle works progressed pretty rapidly under the new
architect?' he accordingly asked.

'Yes,' said Charlotte in her haste--then adding that she was
not quite sure if they had progressed so rapidly as before;
blushingly correcting herself at this point and that, in the
tinkering manner of a nervous organization aiming at nicety
where it was not required.

'Well, I should have liked to carry out the undertaking to its
end,' said Somerset. 'But I felt I could not consistently do
so. Miss Power--' (here a lump came into Somerset's throat--
so responsive was he yet to her image)--'seemed to have lost
confidence in me, and--it was best that the connection should
be severed.'

There was a long pause. 'She was very sorry about it,' said
Charlotte gently.

'What made her alter so?--I never can think!'

Charlotte waited again as if to accumulate the necessary force
for honest speaking at the expense of pleasantness. 'It was
the telegram that began it of course,' she answered.

'Telegram?'

She looked up at him in quite a frightened way--little as
there was to be frightened at in a quiet fellow like him in
this sad time of his life--and said, 'Yes: some telegram--I
think--when you were in trouble? Forgive my alluding to it;
but you asked me the question.'

Somerset began reflecting on what messages he had sent Paula,
troublous or otherwise. All he had sent had been sent from
the castle, and were as gentle and mellifluous as sentences
well could be which had neither articles nor pronouns. 'I
don't understand,' he said. 'Will you explain a little more--
as plainly as you like--without minding my feelings?'

'A telegram from Nice, I think?'

'I never sent one.'

'O! The one I meant was about money.'

Somerset shook his head. 'No,' he murmured, with the
composure of a man who, knowing he had done nothing of the
sort himself, was blinded by his own honesty to the
possibility that another might have done it for him. 'That
must be some other affair with which I had nothing to do. O
no, it was nothing like that; the reason for her change of
manner was quite different!'

So timid was Charlotte in Somerset's presence, that her
timidity at this juncture amounted to blameworthiness. The
distressing scene which must have followed a clearing up there
and then of any possible misunderstanding, terrified her
imagination; and quite confounded by contradictions that she
could not reconcile, she held her tongue, and nervously looked
out of the window.

'I have heard that Miss Power is soon to be married,'
continued Somerset.

'Yes,' Charlotte murmured. 'It is sooner than it ought to be
by rights, considering how recently my dear father died; but
there are reasons in connection with my brother's position
against putting it off: and it is to be absolutely simple and
private.'

There was another interval. 'May I ask when it is to be?' he
said.

'Almost at once--this week.'

Somerset started back as if some stone had hit his face.

Still there was nothing wonderful in such promptitude:
engagements broken in upon by the death of a near relative of
one of the parties had been often carried out in a subdued
form with no longer delay.

Charlotte's station was now at hand. She bade him farewell;
and he rattled on to the building he had come to inspect, and
next to Budmouth, whence he intended to cross the Channel by
steamboat that night.

He hardly knew how the evening passed away. He had taken up
his quarters at an inn near the quay, and as the night drew on
he stood gazing from the coffee-room window at the steamer
outside, which nearly thrust its spars through the bedroom
casements, and at the goods that were being tumbled on board
as only shippers can tumble them. All the goods were laden, a
lamp was put on each side the gangway, the engines broke into
a crackling roar, and people began to enter. They were only
waiting for the last train: then they would be off. Still
Somerset did not move; he was thinking of that curious half-
told story of Charlotte's, about a telegram to Paula for money
from Nice. Not once till within the last half-hour had it
recurred to his mind that he had met Dare both at Nice and at
Monte Carlo; that at the latter place he had been absolutely
out of money and wished to borrow, showing considerable
sinister feeling when Somerset declined to lend: that on one
or two previous occasions he had reasons for doubting Dare's
probity; and that in spite of the young man's impoverishment
at Monte Carlo he had, a few days later, beheld him in shining
raiment at Carlsruhe. Somerset, though misty in his
conjectures, was seized with a growing conviction that there
was something in Miss De Stancy's allusion to the telegram
which ought to be explained.

He felt an insurmountable objection to cross the water that
night, or till he had been able to see Charlotte again, and
learn more of her meaning. He countermanded the order to put
his luggage on board, watched the steamer out of the harbour,
and went to bed. He might as well have gone to battle, for
any rest that he got. On rising the next morning he felt
rather blank, though none the less convinced that a matter
required investigation. He left Budmouth by a morning train,
and about eleven o'clock found himself in Markton.

The momentum of a practical inquiry took him through that
ancient borough without leaving him much leisure for those
reveries which had yesterday lent an unutterable sadness to
every object there. It was just before noon that he started
for the castle, intending to arrive at a time of the morning
when, as he knew from experience, he could speak to Charlotte
without difficulty. The rising ground soon revealed the old
towers to him, and, jutting out behind them, the scaffoldings
for the new wing.

While halting here on the knoll in some doubt about his
movements he beheld a man coming along the road, and was soon
confronted by his former competitor, Havill. The first
instinct of each was to pass with a nod, but a second instinct
for intercourse was sufficient to bring them to a halt. After
a few superficial words had been spoken Somerset said, 'You
have succeeded me.'

'I have,' said Havill; 'but little to my advantage. I have
just heard that my commission is to extend no further than
roofing in the wing that you began, and had I known that
before, I would have seen the castle fall flat as Jericho
before I would have accepted the superintendence. But I know
who I have to thank for that--De Stancy.'

Somerset still looked towards the distant battlements. On the
scaffolding, among the white-jacketed workmen, he could
discern one figure in a dark suit.

'You have a clerk of the works, I see,' he observed.

'Nominally I have, but practically I haven't.'

'Then why do you keep him?'

'I can't help myself. He is Mr. Dare; and having been
recommended by a higher power than I, there he must stay in
spite of me.'

'Who recommended him?'

'The same--De Stancy.'

'It is very odd,' murmured Somerset, 'but that young man is
the object of my visit.'

'You had better leave him alone,' said Havill drily.

Somerset asked why.

'Since I call no man master over that way I will inform you.'
Havill then related in splenetic tones, to which Somerset did
not care to listen till the story began to advance itself, how
he had passed the night with Dare at the inn, and the
incidents of that night, relating how he had seen some letters
on the young man's breast which long had puzzled him. 'They
were an E, a T, an N, and a C. I thought over them long, till
it eventually occurred to me that the word when filled out was
"De Stancy," and that kinship explains the offensive and
defensive alliance between them.'

'But, good heavens, man!' said Somerset, more and more
disturbed. 'Does she know of it?'

'You may depend she does not yet; but she will soon enough.
Hark--there it is!' The notes of the castle clock were heard
striking noon. 'Then it is all over.'

'What?--not their marriage!'

'Yes. Didn't you know it was the wedding day? They were to
be at the church at half-past eleven. I should have waited to
see her go, but it was no sight to hinder business for, as she
was only going to drive over in her brougham with Miss De
Stancy.'

'My errand has failed!' said Somerset, turning on his heel.
'I'll walk back to the town with you.'

However he did not walk far with Havill; society was too much
at that moment. As soon as opportunity offered he branched
from the road by a path, and avoiding the town went by railway
to Budmouth, whence he resumed, by the night steamer, his
journey to Normandy

Thomas Hardy