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Chapter 2

That evening when the sun was dropping out of sight they
started for the city of Somerset's pilgrimage. Paula seated
herself with her face toward the western sky, watching from
her window the broad red horizon, across which moved thin
poplars lopped to human shapes, like the walking forms in
Nebuchadnezzar's furnace. It was dark when the travellers
drove into Caen.

She still persisted in her wish to casually encounter Somerset
in some aisle, lady-chapel, or crypt to which he might have
betaken himself to copy and learn the secret of the great
artists who had erected those nooks. Mrs. Goodman was for
discovering his inn, and calling upon him in a straightforward
way; but Paula seemed afraid of it, and they went out in the
morning on foot. First they searched the church of St.
Sauveur; he was not there; next the church of St. Jean; then
the church of St. Pierre; but he did not reveal himself, nor
had any verger seen or heard of such a man. Outside the
latter church was a public flower-garden, and she sat down to
consider beside a round pool in which water-lilies grew and
gold-fish swam, near beds of fiery geraniums, dahlias, and
verbenas just past their bloom. Her enterprise had not been
justified by its results so far; but meditation still urged
her to listen to the little voice within and push on. She
accordingly rejoined her aunt, and they drove up the hill to
the Abbaye aux Dames, the day by this time having grown hot
and oppressive.

The church seemed absolutely empty, the void being emphasized
by its grateful coolness. But on going towards the east end
they perceived a bald gentleman close to the screen, looking
to the right and to the left as if much perplexed. Paula
merely glanced over him, his back being toward her, and
turning to her aunt said softly, 'I wonder how we get into the
choir?'

'That's just what I am wondering,' said the old gentleman,
abruptly facing round, and Paula discovered that the
countenance was not unfamiliar to her eye. Since knowing
Somerset she had added to her gallery of celebrities a
photograph of his father, the Academician, and he it was now
who confronted her.

For the moment embarrassment, due to complicated feelings,
brought a slight blush to her cheek, but being well aware that
he did not know her, she answered, coolly enough, 'I suppose
we must ask some one.'

'And we certainly would if there were any one to ask,' he
said, still looking eastward, and not much at her. 'I have
been here a long time, but nobody comes. Not that I want to
get in on my own account; for though it is thirty years since
I last set foot in this place, I remember it as if it were but
yesterday.'

'Indeed. I have never been here before,' said Paula.

'Naturally. But I am looking for a young man who is making
sketches in some of these buildings, and it is as likely as
not that he is in the crypt under this choir, for it is just
such out-of-the-way nooks that he prefers. It is very
provoking that he should not have told me more distinctly in
his letter where to find him.'

Mrs. Goodman, who had gone to make inquiries, now came back,
and informed them that she had learnt that it was necessary to
pass through the Hotel-Dieu to the choir, to do which they
must go outside. Thereupon they walked on together, and Mr.
Somerset, quite ignoring his troubles, made remarks upon the
beauty of the architecture; and in absence of mind, by reason
either of the subject, or of his listener, retained his hat in
his hand after emerging from the church, while they walked all
the way across the Place and into the Hospital gardens.

'A very civil man,' said Mrs. Goodman to Paula privately.

'Yes,' said Paula, who had not told her aunt that she
recognized him.

One of the Sisters now preceded them towards the choir and
crypt, Mr. Somerset asking her if a young Englishman was or
had been sketching there. On receiving a reply in the
negative, Paula nearly betrayed herself by turning, as if her
business there, too, ended with the information. However, she
went on again, and made a pretence of looking round, Mr.
Somerset also staying in a spirit of friendly attention to his
countrywomen. They did not part from him till they had come
out from the crypt, and again reached the west front, on their
way to which he additionally explained that it was his son he
was looking for, who had arranged to meet him here, but had
mentioned no inn at which he might be expected.

When he had left them, Paula informed her aunt whose company
they had been sharing. Her aunt began expostulating with
Paula for not telling Mr. Somerset what they had seen of his
son's movements. 'It would have eased his mind at least,' she
said.

'I was not bound to ease his mind at the expense of showing
what I would rather conceal. I am continually hampered in
such generosity as that by the circumstance of being a woman!'

'Well, it is getting too late to search further tonight.'

It was indeed almost evening twilight in the streets, though
the graceful freestone spires to a depth of about twenty feet
from their summits were still dyed with the orange tints of a
vanishing sun. The two relatives dined privately as usual,
after which Paula looked out of the window of her room, and
reflected upon the events of the day. A tower rising into the
sky quite near at hand showed her that some church or other
stood within a few steps of the hotel archway, and saying
nothing to Mrs. Goodman, she quietly cloaked herself, and went
out towards it, apparently with the view of disposing of a
portion of a dull dispiriting evening. The church was open,
and on entering she found that it was only lighted by seven
candles burning before the altar of a chapel on the south
side, the mass of the building being in deep shade.
Motionless outlines, which resolved themselves into the forms
of kneeling women, were darkly visible among the chairs, and
in the triforium above the arcades there was one hitherto
unnoticed radiance, dim as that of a glow-worm in the grass.
It was seemingly the effect of a solitary tallow-candle behind
the masonry.

A priest came in, unlocked the door of a confessional with a
click which sounded in the silence, and entered it; a woman
followed, disappeared within the curtain of the same, emerging
again in about five minutes, followed by the priest, who
locked up his door with another loud click, like a tradesman
full of business, and came down the aisle to go out. In the
lobby he spoke to another woman, who replied, 'Ah, oui,
Monsieur l'Abbe!'

Two women having spoken to him, there could be no harm in a
third doing likewise. 'Monsieur l'Abbe,' said Paula in
French, 'could you indicate to me the stairs of the
triforium?' and she signified her reason for wishing to know
by pointing to the glimmering light above.

'Ah, he is a friend of yours, the Englishman?' pleasantly said
the priest, recognizing her nationality; and taking her to a
little door he conducted her up a stone staircase, at the top
of which he showed her the long blind story over the aisle
arches which led round to where the light was. Cautioning her
not to stumble over the uneven floor, he left her and
descended. His words had signified that Somerset was here.

It was a gloomy place enough that she found herself in, but
the seven candles below on the opposite altar, and a faint sky
light from the clerestory, lent enough rays to guide her.
Paula walked on to the bend of the apse: here were a few
chairs, and the origin of the light.

This was a candle stuck at the end of a sharpened stick, the
latter entering a joint in the stones. A young man was
sketching by the glimmer. But there was no need for the blush
which had prepared itself beforehand; the young man was Mr.
Cockton, Somerset's youngest draughtsman.

Paula could have cried aloud with disappointment. Cockton
recognized Miss Power, and appearing much surprised, rose from
his seat with a bow, and said hastily, 'Mr. Somerset left to-
day.'

'I did not ask for him,' said Paula.

'No, Miss Power: but I thought--'

'Yes, yes--you know, of course, that he has been my architect.
Well, it happens that I should like to see him, if he can call
on me. Which way did he go?'

'He's gone to Etretat.'

'What for? There are no abbeys to sketch at Etretat.'

Cockton looked at the point of his pencil, and with a
hesitating motion of his lip answered, 'Mr. Somerset said he
was tired.'

'Of what?'

'He said he was sick and tired of holy places, and would go to
some wicked spot or other, to get that consolation which
holiness could not give. But he only said it casually to
Knowles, and perhaps he did not mean it.'

'Knowles is here too?'

'Yes, Miss Power, and Bowles. Mr. Somerset has been kind
enough to give us a chance of enlarging our knowledge of
French Early-pointed, and pays half the expenses.'

Paula said a few other things to the young man, walked slowly
round the triforium as if she had come to examine it, and
returned down the staircase. On getting back to the hotel she
told her aunt, who had just been having a nap, that next day
they would go to Etretat for a change.

'Why? There are no old churches at Etretat.'

'No. But I am sick and tired of holy places, and want to go
to some wicked spot or other to find that consolation which
holiness cannot give.'

'For shame, Paula! Now I know what it is; you have heard that
he's gone there! You needn't try to blind me.'

'I don't care where he's gone!' cried Paula petulantly. In a
moment, however, she smiled at herself, and added, 'You must
take that for what it is worth. I have made up my mind to let
him know from my own lips how the misunderstanding arose.
That done, I shall leave him, and probably never see him
again. My conscience will be clear.'

The next day they took the steamboat down the Orne, intending
to reach Etretat by way of Havre. Just as they were moving
off an elderly gentleman under a large white sunshade, and
carrying his hat in his hand, was seen leisurely walking down
the wharf at some distance, but obviously making for the boat.

'A gentleman!' said the mate.

'Who is he?' said the captain.

'An English,' said Clementine.

Nobody knew more, but as leisure was the order of the day the
engines were stopped, on the chance of his being a passenger,
and all eyes were bent upon him in conjecture. He disappeared
and reappeared from behind a pile of merchandise and
approached the boat at an easy pace, whereupon the gangway was
replaced, and he came on board, removing his hat to Paula,
quietly thanking the captain for stopping, and saying to Mrs.
Goodman, 'I am nicely in time.'

It was Mr. Somerset the elder, who by degrees informed our
travellers, as sitting on their camp-stools they advanced
between the green banks bordered by elms, that he was going to
Etretat; that the young man he had spoken of yesterday had
gone to that romantic watering-place instead of studying art
at Caen, and that he was going to join him there.

Paula preserved an entire silence as to her own intentions,
partly from natural reticence, and partly, as it appeared,
from the difficulty of explaining a complication which was not
very clear to herself. At Havre they parted from Mr.
Somerset, and did not see him again till they were driving
over the hills towards Etretat in a carriage and four, when
the white umbrella became visible far ahead among the outside
passengers of the coach to the same place. In a short time
they had passed and cut in before this vehicle, but soon
became aware that their carriage, like the coach, was one of a
straggling procession of conveyances, some mile and a half in
length, all bound for the village between the cliffs.

In descending the long hill shaded by lime-trees which
sheltered their place of destination, this procession closed
up, and they perceived that all the visitors and native
population had turned out to welcome them, the daily arrival
of new sojourners at this hour being the chief excitement of
Etretat. The coach which had preceded them all the way, at
more or less remoteness, was now quite close, and in passing
along the village street they saw Mr. Somerset wave his hand
to somebody in the crowd below. A felt hat was waved in the
air in response, the coach swept into the inn-yard, followed
by the idlers, and all disappeared. Paula's face was crimson
as their own carriage swept round in the opposite direction to
the rival inn.

Once in her room she breathed like a person who had finished a
long chase. They did not go down before dinner, but when it
was almost dark Paula begged her aunt to wrap herself up and
come with her to the shore hard by. The beach was deserted,
everybody being at the Casino; the gate stood invitingly open,
and they went in. Here the brilliantly lit terrace was
crowded with promenaders, and outside the yellow palings,
surmounted by its row of lamps, rose the voice of the
invisible sea. Groups of people were sitting under the
verandah, the women mostly in wraps, for the air was growing
chilly. Through the windows at their back an animated scene
disclosed itself in the shape of a room-full of waltzers, the
strains of the band striving in the ear for mastery over the
sounds of the sea. The dancers came round a couple at a time,
and were individually visible to those people without who
chose to look that way, which was what Paula did.

'Come away, come away!' she suddenly said. 'It is not right
for us to be here.'

Her exclamation had its origin in what she had at that moment
seen within, the spectacle of Mr. George Somerset whirling
round the room with a young lady of uncertain nationality but
pleasing figure. Paula was not accustomed to show the white
feather too clearly, but she soon had passed out through those
yellow gates and retreated, till the mixed music of sea and
band had resolved into that of the sea alone.

'Well!' said her aunt, half in soliloquy, 'do you know who I
saw dancing there, Paula? Our Mr. Somerset, if I don't make a
great mistake!'

'It was likely enough that you did,' sedately replied her
niece. 'He left Caen with the intention of seeking
distractions of a lighter kind than those furnished by art,
and he has merely succeeded in finding them. But he has made
my duty rather a difficult one. Still, it was my duty, for I
very greatly wronged him. Perhaps, however, I have done
enough for honour's sake. I would have humiliated myself by
an apology if I had found him in any other situation; but, of
course, one can't he expected to take MUCH trouble when he is
seen going on like that!'

The coolness with which she began her remarks had developed
into something like warmth as she concluded.

'He is only dancing with a lady he probably knows very well.'

'He doesn't know her! The idea of his dancing with a woman of
that description! We will go away tomorrow. This place has
been greatly over-praised.'

'The place is well enough, as far as I can see.'

'He is carrying out his programme to the letter. He plunges
into excitement in the most reckless manner, and I tremble for
the consequences! I can do no more: I have humiliated myself
into following him, believing that in giving too ready
credence to appearances I had been narrow and inhuman, and had
caused him much misery. But he does not mind, and he has no
misery; he seems just as well as ever. How much this finding
him has cost me! After all, I did not deceive him. He must
have acquired a natural aversion for me. I have allowed
myself to be interested in a man of very common qualities, and
am now bitterly alive to the shame of having sought him out.
I heartily detest him! I will go back--aunt, you are right--I
had no business to come. . . . His light conduct has rendered
him uninteresting to me!'


Thomas Hardy