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Chapter 3

When she rose the next morning the bell was clanging for the
second breakfast, and people were pouring in from the beach in
every variety of attire. Paula, whom a restless night had
left with a headache, which, however, she said nothing about,
was reluctant to emerge from the seclusion of her chamber,
till her aunt, discovering what was the matter with her,
suggested that a few minutes in the open air would refresh
her; and they went downstairs into the hotel gardens.

The clatter of the big breakfast within was audible from this
spot, and the noise seemed suddenly to inspirit Paula, who
proposed to enter. Her aunt assented. In the verandah under
which they passed was a rustic hat-stand in the form of a
tree, upon which hats and other body-gear hung like bunches of
fruit. Paula's eye fell upon a felt hat to which a small
block-book was attached by a string. She knew that hat and
block-book well, and turning to Mrs. Goodman said, 'After all,
I don't want the breakfast they are having: let us order one
of our own as usual. And we'll have it here.'

She led on to where some little tables were placed under the
tall shrubs, followed by her aunt, who was in turn followed by
the proprietress of the hotel, that lady having discovered
from the French maid that there was good reason for paying
these ladies ample personal attention.

'Is the gentleman to whom that sketch-book belongs staying
here?' Paula carelessly inquired, as she indicated the object
on the hat-stand.

'Ah, no!' deplored the proprietress. 'The Hotel was full when
Mr. Somerset came. He stays at a cottage beyond the Rue
Anicet Bourgeois: he only has his meals here.'

Paula had taken her seat under the fuchsia-trees in such a
manner that she could observe all the exits from the salle a
manger; but for the present none of the breakfasters emerged,
the only moving objects on the scene being the waitresses who
ran hither and thither across the court, the cook's assistants
with baskets of long bread, and the laundresses with baskets
of sun-bleached linen. Further back towards the inn-yard,
stablemen were putting in the horses for starting the flys and
coaches to Les Ifs, the nearest railway-station.

'Suppose the Somersets should be going off by one of these
conveyances,' said Mrs. Goodman as she sipped her tea.

'Well, aunt, then they must,' replied the younger lady with
composure.

Nevertheless she looked with some misgiving at the nearest
stableman as he led out four white horses, harnessed them, and
leisurely brought a brush with which he began blacking their
yellow hoofs. All the vehicles were ready at the door by the
time breakfast was over, and the inmates soon turned out, some
to mount the omnibuses and carriages, some to ramble on the
adjacent beach, some to climb the verdant slopes, and some to
make for the cliffs that shut in the vale. The fuchsia-trees
which sheltered Paula's breakfast-table from the blaze of the
sun, also screened it from the eyes of the outpouring company,
and she sat on with her aunt in perfect comfort, till among
the last of the stream came Somerset and his father. Paula
reddened at being so near the former at last. It was with
sensible relief that she observed them turn towards the cliffs
and not to the carriages, and thus signify that they were not
going off that day.

Neither of the two saw the ladies, and when the latter had
finished their tea and coffee they followed to the shore,
where they sat for nearly an hour, reading and watching the
bathers. At length footsteps crunched among the pebbles in
their vicinity, and looking out from her sunshade Paula saw
the two Somersets close at hand.

The elder recognized her, and the younger, observing his
father's action of courtesy, turned his head. It was a
revelation to Paula, for she was shocked to see that he
appeared worn and ill. The expression of his face changed at
sight of her, increasing its shade of paleness; but he
immediately withdrew his eyes and passed by.

Somerset was as much surprised at encountering her thus as she
had been distressed to see him. As soon as they were out of
hearing, he asked his father quietly, 'What strange thing is
this, that Lady De Stancy should be here and her husband not
with her? Did she bow to me, or to you?'

'Lady De Stancy--that young lady?' asked the puzzled painter.
He proceeded to explain all he knew; that she was a young lady
he had met on his journey at two or three different times;
moreover, that if she were his son's client--the woman who was
to have become Lady De Stancy--she was Miss Power still; for
he had seen in some newspaper two days before leaving England
that the wedding had been postponed on account of her illness.

Somerset was so greatly moved that he could hardly speak
connectedly to his father as they paced on together. 'But she
is not ill, as far as I can see,' he said. 'The wedding
postponed?--You are sure the word was postponed?--Was it
broken off?'

'No, it was postponed. I meant to have told you before,
knowing you would be interested as the castle architect; but
it slipped my memory in the bustle of arriving.'

'I am not the castle architect.'

'The devil you are not--what are you then?'

'Well, I am not that.'

Somerset the elder, though not of penetrating nature, began to
see that here lay an emotional complication of some sort, and
reserved further inquiry till a more convenient occasion.
They had reached the end of the level beach where the cliff
began to rise, and as this impediment naturally stopped their
walk they retraced their steps. On again nearing the spot
where Paula and her aunt were sitting, the painter would have
deviated to the hotel; but as his son persisted in going
straight on, in due course they were opposite the ladies
again. By this time Miss Power, who had appeared anxious
during their absence, regained her self-control. Going
towards her old lover she said, with a smile, 'I have been
looking for you!'

'Why have you been doing that?' said Somerset, in a voice
which he failed to keep as steady as he could wish.

'Because--I want some architect to continue the restoration.
Do you withdraw your resignation?'

Somerset appeared unable to decide for a few instants. 'Yes,'
he then answered.

For the moment they had ignored the presence of the painter
and Mrs. Goodman, but Somerset now made them known to one
another, and there was friendly intercourse all round.

'When will you be able to resume operations at the castle?'
she asked, as soon as she could again speak directly to
Somerset.

'As soon as I can get back. Of course I only resume it at
your special request.'

'Of course.' To one who had known all the circumstances it
would have seemed a thousand pities that, after again getting
face to face with him, she did not explain, without delay, the
whole mischief that had separated them. But she did not do
it--perhaps from the inherent awkwardness of such a topic at
this idle time. She confined herself simply to the above-
mentioned business-like request, and when the party had walked
a few steps together they separated, with mutual promises to
meet again.

'I hope you have explained your mistake to him, and how it
arose, and everything?' said her aunt when they were alone.

'No, I did not.'

'What, not explain after all?' said her amazed relative.

'I decided to put it off.'

'Then I think you decided very wrongly. Poor young man, he
looked so ill!'

'Did you, too, think he looked ill? But he danced last night.
Why did he dance?' She turned and gazed regretfully at the
corner round which the Somersets had disappeared.

'I don't know why he danced; but if I had known you were going
to be so silent, I would have explained the mistake myself.'

'I wish you had. But no; I have said I would; and I must.'

Paula's avoidance of tables d'hote did not extend to the
present one. It was quite with alacrity that she went down;
and with her entry the antecedent hotel beauty who had reigned
for the last five days at that meal, was unceremoniously
deposed by the guests. Mr. Somerset the elder came in, but
nobody with him. His seat was on Paula's left hand, Mrs.
Goodman being on Paula's right, so that all the conversation
was between the Academician and the younger lady. When the
latter had again retired upstairs with her aunt, Mrs. Goodman
expressed regret that young Mr. Somerset was absent from the
table. 'Why has he kept away?' she asked.

'I don't know--I didn't ask,' said Paula sadly. 'Perhaps he
doesn't care to meet us again.'

'That's because you didn't explain.'

'Well--why didn't the old man give me an opportunity?'
exclaimed the niece with suppressed excitement. 'He would
scarcely say anything but yes and no, and gave me no chance at
all of introducing the subject. I wanted to explain--I came
all the way on purpose--I would have begged George's pardon on
my two knees if there had been any way of beginning; but there
was not, and I could not do it!'

Though she slept badly that night, Paula promptly appeared in
the public room to breakfast, and that not from motives of
vanity; for, while not unconscious of her accession to the
unstable throne of queen-beauty in the establishment, she
seemed too preoccupied to care for the honour just then, and
would readily have changed places with her unhappy
predecessor, who lingered on in the background like a candle
after sunrise.

Mrs. Goodman was determined to trust no longer to Paula for
putting an end to what made her so restless and self-
reproachful. Seeing old Mr. Somerset enter to a little side-
table behind for lack of room at the crowded centre tables,
again without his son, she turned her head and asked point-
blank where the young man was.

Mr. Somerset's face became a shade graver than before. 'My
son is unwell,' he replied; 'so unwell that he has been
advised to stay indoors and take perfect rest.'

'I do hope it is nothing serious.'

'I hope so too. The fact is, he has overdone himself a
little. He was not well when he came here; and to make
himself worse he must needs go dancing at the Casino with this
lady and that--among others with a young American lady who is
here with her family, and whom he met in London last year. I
advised him against it, but he seemed desperately determined
to shake off lethargy by any rash means, and wouldn't listen
to me. Luckily he is not in the hotel, but in a quiet cottage
a hundred yards up the hill.'

Paula, who had heard all, did not show or say what she felt at
the news: but after breakfast, on meeting the landlady in a
passage alone, she asked with some anxiety if there were a
really skilful medical man in Etretat; and on being told that
there was, and his name, she went back to look for Mr.
Somerset; but he had gone.

They heard nothing more of young Somerset all that morning,
but towards evening, while Paula sat at her window, looking
over the heads of fuchsias upon the promenade beyond, she saw
the painter walk by. She immediately went to her aunt and
begged her to go out and ask Mr. Somerset if his son had
improved.

'I will send Milly or Clementine,' said Mrs. Goodman.

'I wish you would see him yourself.'

'He has gone on. I shall never find him.'

'He has only gone round to the front,' persisted Paula. 'Do
walk that way, auntie, and ask him.'

Thus pressed, Mrs. Goodman acquiesced, and brought back
intelligence to Miss Power, who had watched them through the
window, that his son did not positively improve, but that his
American friends were very kind to him.

Having made use of her aunt, Paula seemed particularly anxious
to get rid of her again, and when that lady sat down to write
letters, Paula went to her own room, hastily dressed herself
without assistance, asked privately the way to the cottage,
and went off thitherward unobserved.

At the upper end of the lane she saw a little house answering
to the description, whose front garden, window-sills, palings,
and doorstep were literally ablaze with nasturtiums in bloom.

She entered this inhabited nosegay, quietly asked for the
invalid, and if he were well enough to see Miss Power. The
woman of the house soon returned, and she was conducted up a
crooked staircase to Somerset's modest apartments. It
appeared that some rooms in this dwelling had been furnished
by the landlady of the inn, who hired them of the tenant
during the summer season to use as an annexe to the hotel.

Admitted to the outer room she beheld her architect looking as
unarchitectural as possible; lying on a small couch which was
drawn up to the open casement, whence he had a back view of
the window flowers, and enjoyed a green transparency through
the undersides of the same nasturtium leaves that presented
their faces to the passers without.

When the latch had again clicked into the catch of the closed
door Paula went up to the invalid, upon whose pale and
interesting face a flush had arisen simultaneously with the
announcement of her name. He would have sprung up to receive
her, but she pressed him down, and throwing all reserve on one
side for the first time in their intercourse, she crouched
beside the sofa, whispering with roguish solicitude, her face
not too far from his own: 'How foolish you are, George, to
get ill just now when I have been wanting so much to see you
again!--I am so sorry to see you like this--what I said to you
when we met on the shore was not what I had come to say!'

Somerset took her by the hand. 'Then what did you come to
say, Paula?' he asked.

'I wanted to tell you that the mere wanton wandering of a
capricious mind was not the cause of my estrangement from you.
There has been a great deception practised--the exact nature
of it I cannot tell you plainly just at present; it is too
painful--but it is all over, and I can assure you of my sorrow
at having behaved as I did, and of my sincere friendship now
as ever.'

'There is nothing I shall value so much as that. It will make
my work at the castle very pleasant to feel that I can consult
you about it without fear of intruding on you against your
wishes.'

'Yes, perhaps it will. But--you do not comprehend me.'

'You have been an enigma always.'

'And you have been provoking; but never so provoking as now.
I wouldn't for the world tell you the whole of my fancies as I
came hither this evening: but I should think your natural
intuition would suggest what they were.'

'It does, Paula. But there are motives of delicacy which
prevent my acting on what is suggested to me.'

'Delicacy is a gift, and you should thank God for it; but in
some cases it is not so precious as we would persuade
ourselves.'

'Not when the woman is rich, and the man is poor?'

'O, George Somerset--be cold, or angry, or anything, but don't
be like this! It is never worth a woman's while to show
regret for her injustice; for all she gets by it is an
accusation of want of delicacy.'

'Indeed I don't accuse you of that--I warmly, tenderly thank
you for your kindness in coming here to see me.'

'Well, perhaps you do. But I am now in I cannot tell what
mood--I will not tell what mood, for it would be confessing
more than I ought. This finding you out is a piece of
weakness that I shall not repeat; and I have only one thing
more to say. I have served you badly, George, I know that;
but it is never too late to mend; and I have come back to you.
However, I shall never run after you again, trust me for that,
for it is not the woman's part. Still, before I go, that
there may be no mistake as to my meaning, and misery entailed
on us for want of a word, I'll add this: that if you want to
marry me, as you once did, you must say so; for I am here to
be asked.'

It would be superfluous to transcribe Somerset's reply, and
the remainder of the scene between the pair. Let it suffice
that half-an-hour afterwards, when the sun had almost gone
down, Paula walked briskly into the hotel, troubled herself
nothing about dinner, but went upstairs to their sitting-room,
where her aunt presently found her upon the couch looking up
at the ceiling through her fingers. They talked on different
subjects for some time till the old lady said 'Mr. Somerset's
cottage is the one covered with flowers up the lane, I hear.'

'Yes,' said Paula.

'How do you know?'

'I've been there. . . . We are going to be married, aunt.'

'Indeed!' replied Mrs. Goodman. 'Well, I thought this might
be the end of it: you were determined on the point; and I am
not much surprised at your news. Your father was very wise
after all in entailing everything so strictly upon your
offspring; for if he had not I should have been driven wild
with the responsibility!'

'And now that the murder is out,' continued Paula, passing
over that view of the case, 'I don't mind telling you that
somehow or other I have got to like George Somerset as
desperately as a woman can care for any man. I thought I
should have died when I saw him dancing, and feared I had lost
him! He seemed ten times nicer than ever then! So silly we
women are, that I wouldn't marry a duke in preference to him.
There, that's my honest feeling, and you must make what you
can of it; my conscience is clear, thank Heaven!'

'Have you fixed the day?'

'No,' continued the young lady, still watching the sleeping
flies on the ceiling. 'It is left unsettled between us, while
I come and ask you if there would be any harm--if it could
conveniently be before we return to England?'

'Paula, this is too precipitate!'

'On the contrary, aunt. In matrimony, as in some other
things, you should be slow to decide, but quick to execute.
Nothing on earth would make me marry another man; I know every
fibre of his character; and he knows a good many fibres of
mine; so as there is nothing more to be learnt, why shouldn't
we marry at once? On one point I am firm: I will never
return to that castle as Miss Power. A nameless dread comes
over me when I think of it--a fear that some uncanny influence
of the dead De Stancys would drive me again from him. O, if
it were to do that,' she murmured, burying her face in her
hands, 'I really think it would be more than I could bear!'

'Very well,' said Mrs. Goodman; 'we will see what can be done.
I will write to Mr. Wardlaw.'

Thomas Hardy