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Chapter 5

The castle to-night was as gloomy as the meads. As Havill had
explained, the habitable rooms were just now undergoing a
scour, and the main block of buildings was empty even of the
few servants who had been retained, they having for comfort's
sake taken up their quarters in the detached rooms adjoining
the entrance archway. Hence not a single light shone from the
lonely windows, at which ivy leaves tapped like woodpeckers,
moved by gusts that were numerous and contrary rather than
violent. Within the walls all was silence, chaos, and
obscurity, till towards eleven o'clock, when the thick
immovable cloud that had dulled the daytime broke into a
scudding fleece, through which the moon forded her way as a
nebulous spot of watery white, sending light enough, though of
a rayless kind, into the castle chambers to show the confusion
that reigned there.

At this time an eye might have noticed a figure flitting in
and about those draughty apartments, and making no more noise
in so doing than a puff of wind. Its motion hither and
thither was rapid, but methodical, its bearing absorbed, yet
cautious. Though it ran more or less through all the
principal rooms, the chief scene of its operations was the
Long Gallery overlooking the Pleasance, which was covered by
an ornamental wood-and-plaster roof, and contained a whole
throng of family portraits, besides heavy old cabinets and the
like. The portraits which were of value as works of art were
smaller than these, and hung in adjoining rooms.

The manifest occupation of the figure was that of removing
these small and valuable pictures from other chambers to the
gallery in which the rest were hung, and piling them in a heap
in the midst. Included in the group were nine by Sir Peter
Lely, five by Vandyck, four by Cornelius Jansen, one by
Salvator Rosa (remarkable as being among the few English
portraits ever painted by that master), many by Kneller, and
two by Romney. Apparently by accident, the light being
insufficient to distinguish them from portraits, the figure
also brought a Raffaelle Virgin-and-Child, a magnificent
Tintoretto, a Titian, and a Giorgione.

On these was laid a large collection of enamelled miniature
portraits of the same illustrious line; afterwards tapestries
and cushions embroidered with the initials 'De S.'; and next
the cradle presented by Charles the First to the contemporary
De Stancy mother, till at length there arose in the middle of
the floor a huge heap containing most of what had been
personal and peculiar to members of the De Stancy family as
distinct from general furniture.

Then the figure went from door to door, and threw open each
that was unfastened. It next proceeded to a room on the
ground floor, at present fitted up as a carpenter's shop, and
knee-deep in shavings. An armful of these was added to the
pile of objects in the gallery; a window at each end of the
gallery was opened, causing a brisk draught along the walls;
and then the activity of the figure ceased, and it was seen no
more.

Five minutes afterwards a light shone upon the lawn from the
windows of the Long Gallery, which glowed with more brilliancy
than it had known in the meridian of its Caroline splendours.
Thereupon the framed gentleman in the lace collar seemed to
open his eyes more widely; he with the flowing locks and turn-
up mustachios to part his lips; he in the armour, who was so
much like Captain De Stancy, to shake the plates of his mail
with suppressed laughter; the lady with the three-stringed
pearl necklace, and vast expanse of neck, to nod with
satisfaction and triumphantly signify to her adjoining husband
that this was a meet and glorious end.

The flame increased, and blown upon by the wind roared round
the pictures, the tapestries, and the cradle, up to the
plaster ceiling and through it into the forest of oak timbers
above.

The best sitting-room at the Lord-Quantock-Arms in Markton was
as cosy this evening as a room can be that lacks the minuter
furniture on which cosiness so largely depends. By the fire
sat Paula and Somerset, the former with a shawl round her
shoulders to keep off the draught which, despite the curtains,
forced its way in on this gusty night through the windows
opening upon the balcony. Paula held a letter in her hand,
the contents of which formed the subject of their
conversation. Happy as she was in her general situation,
there was for the nonce a tear in her eye.


'MY EVER DEAR PAULA (ran the letter),--Your last letter has
just reached me, and I have followed your account of your
travels and intentions with more interest than I can tell.
You, who know me, need no assurance of this. At the present
moment, however, I am in the whirl of a change that has
resulted from a resolution taken some time ago, but concealed
from almost everybody till now. Why? Well, I will own--from
cowardice--fear lest I should be reasoned out of my plan. I
am going to steal from the world, Paula, from the social
world, for whose gaieties and ambitions I never had much
liking, and whose circles I have not the ability to grace. My
home, and resting-place till the great rest comes, is with the
Protestant Sisterhood at -----. Whatever shortcomings may be
found in such a community, I believe that I shall be happier
there than in any other place.

'Whatever you may think of my judgment in taking this step, I
can assure you that I have not done it without consideration.
My reasons are good, and my determination is unalterable.
But, my own very best friend, and more than sister, don't
think that I mean to leave my love and friendship for you
behind me. No, Paula, you will ALWAYS be with me, and I
believe that if an increase in what I already feel for you be
possible, it will be furthered by the retirement and
meditation I shall enjoy in my secluded home. My heart is
very full, dear--too full to write more. God bless you, and
your husband. You must come and see me there; I have not so
many friends that I can afford to lose you who have been so
kind. I write this with the fellow-pen to yours, that you
gave me when we went to Budmouth together. Good-bye!--Ever
your own sister, CHARLOTTE.'


Paula had first read this through silently, and now in reading
it a second time aloud to Somerset her voice faltered, and she
wept outright. 'I had been expecting her to live with us
always,' she said through her tears, 'and to think she should
have decided to do this!'

'It is a pity certainly,' said Somerset gently. 'She was
genuine, if anybody ever was; and simple as she was true.'

'I am the more sorry,' Paula presently resumed, 'because of a
little plan I had been thinking of with regard to her. You
know that the pictures and curiosities of the castle are not
included in the things I cannot touch, or impeach, or whatever
it is. They are our own to do what we like with. My father
felt in devising the estate that, however interesting to the
De Stancys those objects might be, they did not concern us--
were indeed rather in the way, having been come by so
strangely, through Mr. Wilkins, though too valuable to be
treated lightly. Now I was going to suggest that we would not
sell them--indeed I could not bear to do such a thing with
what had belonged to Charlotte's forefathers--but to hand them
over to her as a gift, either to keep for herself, or to pass
on to her brother, as she should choose. Now I fear there is
no hope of it: and yet I shall never like to see them in the
house.'

'It can be done still, I should think. She can accept them
for her brother when he settles, without absolutely taking
them into her own possession.'

'It would be a kind of generosity which hardly amounts to more
than justice (although they were purchased) from a recusant
usurper to a dear friend--not that I am a usurper exactly;
well, from a representative of the new aristocracy of
internationality to a representative of the old aristocracy of
exclusiveness.'

'What do you call yourself, Paula, since you are not of your
father's creed?'

'I suppose I am what poor Mr. Woodwell said--by the way, we
must call and see him--something or other that's in
Revelation, neither cold nor hot. But of course that's a sub-
species--I may be a lukewarm anything. What I really am, as
far as I know, is one of that body to whom lukewarmth is not
an accident but a provisional necessity, till they see a
little more clearly.' She had crossed over to his side, and
pulling his head towards her whispered a name in his ear.

'Why, Mr. Woodwell said you were that too! You carry your
beliefs very comfortably. I shall be glad when enthusiasm is
come again.'

'I am going to revise and correct my beliefs one of these days
when I have thought a little further.' She suddenly breathed
a sigh and added, 'How transitory our best emotions are! In
talking of myself I am heartlessly forgetting Charlotte, and
becoming happy again. I won't be happy to-night for her
sake!'

A few minutes after this their attention was attracted by a
noise of footsteps running along the street; then a heavy
tramp of horses, and lumbering of wheels. Other feet were
heard scampering at intervals, and soon somebody ascended the
staircase and approached their door. The head waiter
appeared.

'Ma'am, Stancy Castle is all afire!' said the waiter
breathlessly.

Somerset jumped up, drew aside the curtains, and stepped into
the bow-window. Right before him rose a blaze. The window
looked upon the street and along the turnpike road to the very
hill on which the castle stood, the keep being visible in the
daytime above the trees. Here rose the light, which appeared
little further off than a stone's throw instead of nearly
three miles. Every curl of the smoke and every wave of the
flame was distinct, and Somerset fancied he could hear the
crackling.

Paula had risen from her seat and joined him in the window,
where she heard some people in the street saying that the
servants were all safe; after which she gave her mind more
fully to the material aspects of the catastrophe.

The whole town was now rushing off to the scene of the
conflagration, which, shining straight along the street,
showed the burgesses' running figures distinctly upon the
illumined road. Paula was quite ready to act upon Somerset's
suggestion that they too should hasten to the spot, and a fly
was got ready in a few minutes. With lapse of time Paula
evinced more anxiety as to the fate of her castle, and when
they had driven as near as it was prudent to do, they
dismounted, and went on foot into the throng of people which
was rapidly gathering from the town and surrounding villages.
Among the faces they recognized Mr. Woodwell, Havill the
architect, the rector of the parish, the curate, and many
others known to them by sight. These, as soon as they saw the
young couple, came forward with words of condolence, imagining
them to have been burnt out of bed, and vied with each other
in offering them a lodging. Somerset explained where they
were staying and that they required no accommodation, Paula
interrupting with 'O my poor horses, what has become of them?'

'The fire is not near the stables,' said Mr. Woodwell. 'It
broke out in the body of the building. The horses, however,
are driven into the field.'

'I can assure you, you need not be alarmed, madam,' said
Havill. 'The chief constable is here, and the two town
engines, and I am doing all I can. The castle engine
unfortunately is out of repair.'

Somerset and Paula then went on to another point of view near
the gymnasium, where they could not be seen by the crowd.
Three-quarters of a mile off, on their left hand, the powerful
irradiation fell upon the brick chapel in which Somerset had
first seen the woman who now stood beside him as his wife. It
was the only object visible in that direction, the dull hills
and trees behind failing to catch the light. She
significantly pointed it out to Somerset, who knew her
meaning, and they turned again to the more serious matter.

It had long been apparent that in the face of such a wind all
the pigmy appliances that the populace could bring to act upon
such a mass of combustion would be unavailing. As much as
could burn that night was burnt, while some of that which
would not burn crumbled and fell as a formless heap, whence
new flames towered up, and inclined to the north-east so far
as to singe the trees of the park. The thicker walls of
Norman date remained unmoved, partly because of their
thickness, and partly because in them stone vaults took the
place of wood floors.

The tower clock kept manfully going till it had struck one,
its face smiling out from the smoke as if nothing were the
matter, after which hour something fell down inside, and it
went no more.

Cunningham Haze, with his body of men, was devoted in his
attention, and came up to say a word to our two spectators
from time to time. Towards four o'clock the flames
diminished, and feeling thoroughly weary, Somerset and Paula
remained no longer, returning to Markton as they had come.

On their journey they pondered and discussed what course it
would be best to pursue in the circumstances, gradually
deciding not to attempt rebuilding the castle unless they were
absolutely compelled. True, the main walls were still
standing as firmly as ever; but there was a feeling common to
both of them that it would be well to make an opportunity of a
misfortune, and leaving the edifice in ruins start their
married life in a mansion of independent construction hard by
the old one, unencumbered with the ghosts of an unfortunate
line.

'We will build a new house from the ground, eclectic in style.
We will remove the ashes, charred wood, and so on from the
ruin, and plant more ivy. The winter rains will soon wash the
unsightly smoke from the walls, and Stancy Castle will be
beautiful in its decay. You, Paula, will be yourself again,
and recover, if you have not already, from the warp given to
your mind (according to Woodwell) by the mediaevalism of that
place.'

'And be a perfect representative of "the modern spirit"?' she
inquired; 'representing neither the senses and understanding,
nor the heart and imagination; but what a finished writer
calls "the imaginative reason"?'

'Yes; for since it is rather in your line you may as well keep
straight on.'

'Very well, I'll keep straight on; and we'll build a new house
beside the ruin, and show the modern spirit for evermore. . .
. But, George, I wish--' And Paula repressed a sigh.

'Well?'

'I wish my castle wasn't burnt; and I wish you were a De
Stancy!'

THE END.

Thomas Hardy