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Chapter 13


To return to Charlotte De Stancy. When the train had borne
Somerset from her side, and she had regained her self-
possession, she became conscious of the true proportions of
the fact he had asserted. And, further, if the telegram had
not been his, why should the photographic distortion be
trusted as a phase of his existence? But after a while it
seemed so improbable to her that God's sun should bear false
witness, that instead of doubting both evidences she was
inclined to readmit the first. Still, upon the whole, she
could not question for long the honesty of Somerset's denial
and if that message had indeed been sent by him, it must have
been done while he was in another such an unhappy state as
that exemplified by the portrait. The supposition reconciled
all differences; and yet she could not but fight against it
with all the strength of a generous affection.

All the afternoon her poor little head was busy on this
perturbing question, till she inquired of herself whether
after all it might not be possible for photographs to
represent people as they had never been. Before rejecting the
hypothesis she determined to have the word of a professor on
the point, which would be better than all her surmises.
Returning to Markton early, she told the coachman whom Paula
had sent, to drive her to the shop of Mr. Ray, an obscure
photographic artist in that town, instead of straight home.

Ray's establishment consisted of two divisions, the
respectable and the shabby. If, on entering the door, the
visitor turned to the left, he found himself in a magazine of
old clothes, old furniture, china, umbrellas, guns, fishing-
rods, dirty fiddles, and split flutes. Entering the right-
hand room, which had originally been that of an independent
house, he was in an ordinary photographer's and print-
collector's depository, to which a certain artistic solidity
was imparted by a few oil paintings in the background.
Charlotte made for the latter department, and when she was
inside Mr. Ray appeared in person from the lumber-shop
adjoining, which, despite its manginess, contributed by far
the greater share to his income.

Charlotte put her question simply enough. The man did not
answer her directly, but soon found that she meant no harm to
him. He told her that such misrepresentations were quite
possible, and that they embodied a form of humour which was
getting more and more into vogue among certain facetious
persons of society.

Charlotte was coming away when she asked, as on second
thoughts, if he had any specimens of such work to show her.

'None of my own preparation,' said Mr. Ray, with unimpeachable
probity of tone. 'I consider them libellous myself. Still, I
have one or two samples by me, which I keep merely as
curiosities.--There's one,' he said, throwing out a portrait
card from a drawer. 'That represents the German Emperor in a
violent passion: this one shows the Prime Minister out of his
mind; this the Pope of Rome the worse for liquor.'

She inquired if he had any local specimens.

'Yes,' he said, 'but I prefer not to exhibit them unless you
really ask for a particular one that you mean to buy.'

'I don't want any.'

'O, I beg pardon, miss. Well, I shouldn't myself own such
things were produced, if there had not been a young man here
at one time who was very ingenious in these matters--a Mr.
Dare. He was quite a gent, and only did it as an amusement,
and not for the sake of getting a living.'

Charlotte had no wish to hear more. On her way home she burst
into tears: the entanglement was altogether too much for her
to tear asunder, even had not her own instincts been urging
her two ways, as they were.

To immediately right Somerset's wrong was her impetuous desire
as an honest woman who loved him; but such rectification would
be the jeopardizing of all else that gratified her--the
marriage of her brother with her dearest friend--now on the
very point of accomplishment. It was a marriage which seemed
to promise happiness, or at least comfort, if the old flutter
that had transiently disturbed Paula's bosom could be kept
from reviving, to which end it became imperative to hide from
her the discovery of injustice to Somerset. It involved the
advantage of leaving Somerset free; and though her own tender
interest in him had been too well schooled by habitual self-
denial to run ahead on vain personal hopes, there was nothing
more than human in her feeling pleasure in prolonging
Somerset's singleness. Paula might even be allowed to
discover his wrongs when her marriage had put him out of her
power. But to let her discover his ill-treatment now might
upset the impending union of the families, and wring her own
heart with the sight of Somerset married in her brother's
place.

Why Dare, or any other person, should have set himself to
advance her brother's cause by such unscrupulous blackening of
Somerset's character was more than her sagacity could fathom.
Her brother was, as far as she could see, the only man who
could directly profit by the machination, and was therefore
the natural one to suspect of having set it going. But she
would not be so disloyal as to entertain the thought long; and
who or what had instigated Dare, who was undoubtedly the
proximate cause of the mischief, remained to her an
inscrutable mystery.

The contention of interests and desires with honour in her
heart shook Charlotte all that night; but good principle
prevailed. The wedding was to be solemnized the very next
morning, though for before-mentioned reasons this was hardly
known outside the two houses interested; and there were no
visible preparations either at villa or castle. De Stancy and
his groomsman--a brother officer--slept at the former
residence.

De Stancy was a sorry specimen of a bridegroom when he met his
sister in the morning. Thick-coming fancies, for which there
was more than good reason, had disturbed him only too
successfully, and he was as full of apprehension as one who
has a league with Mephistopheles. Charlotte told him nothing
of what made her likewise so wan and anxious, but drove off to
the castle, as had been planned, about nine o'clock, leaving
her brother and his friend at the breakfast-table.

That clearing Somerset's reputation from the stain which had
been thrown on it would cause a sufficient reaction in Paula's
mind to dislocate present arrangements she did not so
seriously anticipate, now that morning had a little calmed
her. Since the rupture with her former architect Paula had
sedulously kept her own counsel, but Charlotte assumed from
the ease with which she seemed to do it that her feelings
towards him had never been inconveniently warm; and she hoped
that Paula would learn of Somerset's purity with merely the
generous pleasure of a friend, coupled with a friend's
indignation against his traducer.

Still, the possibility existed of stronger emotions, and it
was only too evident to poor Charlotte that, knowing this, she
had still less excuse for delaying the intelligence till the
strongest emotion would be purposeless.

On approaching the castle the first object that caught her eye
was Dare, standing beside Havill on the scaffolding of the new
wing. He was looking down upon the drive and court, as if in
anticipation of the event. His contiguity flurried her, and
instead of going straight to Paula she sought out Mrs.
Goodman.

'You are come early; that's right!' said the latter. 'You
might as well have slept here last night. We have only Mr.
Wardlaw, the London lawyer you have heard of, in the house.
Your brother's solicitor was here yesterday; but he returned
to Markton for the night. We miss Mr. Power so much--it is so
unfortunate that he should have been obliged to go abroad, and
leave us unprotected women with so much responsibility.'

'Yes, I know,' said Charlotte quickly, having a shy distaste
for the details of what troubled her so much in the gross.

'Paula has inquired for you.'

'What is she doing?'

'She is in her room: she has not begun to dress yet. Will
you go to her?'

Charlotte assented. 'I have to tell her something,' she said,
'which will make no difference, but which I should like her to
know this morning--at once. I have discovered that we have
been entirely mistaken about Mr. Somerset.' She nerved
herself to relate succinctly what had come to her knowledge
the day before.

Mrs. Goodman was much impressed. She had never clearly heard
before what circumstances had attended the resignation of
Paula's architect. 'We had better not tell her till the
wedding is over,' she presently said; 'it would only disturb
her, and do no good.'

'But will it be right?' asked Miss De Stancy.

'Yes, it will be right if we tell her afterwards. O yes--it
must be right,' she repeated in a tone which showed that her
opinion was unstable enough to require a little fortification
by the voice. 'She loves your brother; she must, since she is
going to marry him; and it can make little difference whether
we rehabilitate the character of a friend now, or some few
hours hence. The author of those wicked tricks on Mr.
Somerset ought not to go a moment unpunished.'

'That's what I think; and what right have we to hold our
tongues even for a few hours?'

Charlotte found that by telling Mrs. Goodman she had simply
made two irresolute people out of one, and as Paula was now
inquiring for her, she went upstairs without having come to
any decision.

Thomas Hardy