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Chapter 6

The telegraph had almost the attributes of a human being at
Stancy Castle. When its bell rang people rushed to the old
tapestried chamber allotted to it, and waited its pleasure
with all the deference due to such a novel inhabitant of that
ancestral pile. This happened on the following afternoon
about four o'clock, while Somerset was sketching in the room
adjoining that occupied by the instrument. Hearing its call,
he looked in to learn if anybody were attending, and found
Miss De Stancy bending over it.

She welcomed him without the least embarrassment. 'Another
message,' she said.--'"Paula to Charlotte.--Have returned to
Markton. Am starting for home. Will be at the gate between
four and five if possible."'

Miss De Stancy blushed with pleasure when she raised her eyes
from the machine. 'Is she not thoughtful to let me know
beforehand?'

Somerset said she certainly appeared to be, feeling at the
same time that he was not in possession of sufficient data to
make the opinion of great value.

'Now I must get everything ready, and order what she will
want, as Mrs. Goodman is away. What will she want? Dinner
would be best--she has had no lunch, I know; or tea perhaps,
and dinner at the usual time. Still, if she has had no lunch-
-Hark, what do I hear?'

She ran to an arrow-slit, and Somerset, who had also heard
something, looked out of an adjoining one. They could see
from their elevated position a great way along the white road,
stretching like a tape amid the green expanses on each side.
There had arisen a cloud of dust, accompanied by a noise of
wheels.

'It is she,' said Charlotte. 'O yes--it is past four--the
telegram has been delayed.'

'How would she be likely to come?'

'She has doubtless hired a carriage at the inn: she said it
would be useless to send to meet her, as she couldn't name a
time. . . . Where is she now?'

'Just where the boughs of those beeches overhang the road--
there she is again!'

Miss De Stancy went away to give directions, and Somerset
continued to watch. The vehicle, which was of no great
pretension, soon crossed the bridge and stopped: there was a
ring at the bell; and Miss De Stancy reappeared.

'Did you see her as she drove up--is she not interesting?'

'I could not see her.'

'Ah, no--of course you could not from this window because of
the trees. Mr. Somerset, will you come downstairs? You will
have to meet her, you know.'

Somerset felt an indescribable backwardness. 'I will go on
with my sketching,' he said. 'Perhaps she will not be--'

'O, but it would be quite natural, would it not? Our manners
are easier here, you know, than they are in town, and Miss
Power has adapted herself to them.'

A compromise was effected by Somerset declaring that he would
hold himself in readiness to be discovered on the landing at
any convenient time.

A servant entered. 'Miss Power?' said Miss De Stancy, before
he could speak.

The man advanced with a card: Miss De Stancy took it up, and
read thereon: 'Mr. William Dare.'

'It is not Miss Power who has come, then?' she asked, with a
disappointed face.

'No, ma'am.'

She looked again at the card. 'This is some man of business,
I suppose--does he want to see me?'

'Yes, miss. Leastwise, he would be glad to see you if Miss
Power is not at home.'

Miss De Stancy left the room, and soon returned, saying, 'Mr.
Somerset, can you give me your counsel in this matter? This
Mr. Dare says he is a photographic amateur, and it seems that
he wrote some time ago to Miss Power, who gave him permission
to take views of the castle, and promised to show him the best
points. But I have heard nothing of it, and scarcely know
whether I ought to take his word in her absence. Mrs.
Goodman, Miss Power's relative, who usually attends to these
things, is away.'

'I dare say it is all right,' said Somerset.

'Would you mind seeing him? If you think it quite in order,
perhaps you will instruct him where the best views are to be
obtained?'

Thereupon Somerset at once went down to Mr. Dare. His coming
as a sort of counterfeit of Miss Power disposed Somerset to
judge him with as much severity as justice would allow, and
his manner for the moment was not of a kind calculated to
dissipate antagonistic instincts. Mr. Dare was standing
before the fireplace with his feet wide apart, and his hands
in the pockets of his coat-tails, looking at a carving over
the mantelpiece. He turned quickly at the sound of Somerset's
footsteps, and revealed himself as a person quite out of the
common.

His age it was impossible to say. There was not a hair on his
face which could serve to hang a guess upon. In repose he
appeared a boy; but his actions were so completely those of a
man that the beholder's first estimate of sixteen as his age
was hastily corrected to six-and-twenty, and afterwards
shifted hither and thither along intervening years as the
tenor of his sentences sent him up or down. He had a broad
forehead, vertical as the face of a bastion, and his hair,
which was parted in the middle, hung as a fringe or valance
above, in the fashion sometimes affected by the other sex. He
wore a heavy ring, of which the gold seemed fair, the diamond
questionable, and the taste indifferent. There were the
remains of a swagger in his body and limbs as he came forward,
regarding Somerset with a confident smile, as if the wonder
were, not why Mr. Dare should be present, but why Somerset
should be present likewise; and the first tone that came from
Dare's lips wound up his listener's opinion that he did not
like him.

A latent power in the man, or boy, was revealed by the
circumstance that Somerset did not feel, as he would
ordinarily have done, that it was a matter of profound
indifference to him whether this gentleman-photographer were a
likeable person or no.

'I have called by appointment; or rather, I left a card
stating that to-day would suit me, and no objection was made.'
Somerset recognized the voice; it was that of the invisible
stranger who had talked with the landlord about the De
Stancys. Mr. Dare then proceeded to explain his business.

Somerset found from his inquiries that the man had
unquestionably been instructed by somebody to take the views
he spoke of; and concluded that Dare's curiosity at the inn
was, after all, naturally explained by his errand to this
place. Blaming himself for a too hasty condemnation of the
stranger, who though visually a little too assured was civil
enough verbally, Somerset proceeded with the young
photographer to sundry corners of the outer ward, and thence
across the moat to the field, suggesting advantageous points
of view. The office, being a shadow of his own pursuits, was
not uncongenial to Somerset, and he forgot other things in
attending to it.

'Now in our country we should stand further back than this,
and so get a more comprehensive coup d'oeil,' said Dare, as
Somerset selected a good situation.

'You are not an Englishman, then,' said Somerset.

'I have lived mostly in India, Malta, Gibraltar, the Ionian
Islands, and Canada. I there invented a new photographic
process, which I am bent upon making famous. Yet I am but a
dilettante, and do not follow this art at the base dictation
of what men call necessity.'

'O indeed,' Somerset replied.

As soon as this business was disposed of, and Mr. Dare had
brought up his van and assistant to begin operations, Somerset
returned to the castle entrance. While under the archway a
man with a professional look drove up in a dog-cart and
inquired if Miss Power were at home to-day.

'She has not yet returned, Mr. Havill,' was the reply.

Somerset, who had hoped to hear an affirmative by this time,
thought that Miss Power was bent on disappointing him in the
flesh, notwithstanding the interest she expressed in him by
telegraph; and as it was now drawing towards the end of the
afternoon, he walked off in the direction of his inn.

There were two or three ways to that spot, but the pleasantest
was by passing through a rambling shrubbery, between whose
bushes trickled a broad shallow brook, occasionally
intercepted in its course by a transverse chain of old stones,
evidently from the castle walls, which formed a miniature
waterfall. The walk lay along the river-brink. Soon Somerset
saw before him a circular summer-house formed of short sticks
nailed to ornamental patterns. Outside the structure, and
immediately in the path, stood a man with a book in his hand;
and it was presently apparent that this gentleman was holding
a conversation with some person inside the pavilion, but the
back of the building being towards Somerset, the second
individual could not be seen.

The speaker at one moment glanced into the interior, and at
another at the advancing form of the architect, whom, though
distinctly enough beheld, the other scarcely appeared to heed
in the absorbing interest of his own discourse. Somerset
became aware that it was the Baptist minister, whose rhetoric
he had heard in the chapel yonder.

'Now,' continued the Baptist minister, 'will you express to me
any reason or objection whatever which induces you to withdraw
from our communion? It was that of your father, and of his
father before him. Any difficulty you may have met with I
will honestly try to remove; for I need hardly say that in
losing you we lose one of the most valued members of the
Baptist church in this district. I speak with all the respect
due to your position, when I ask you to realize how
irreparable is the injury you inflict upon the cause here by
this lukewarm backwardness.'

'I don't withdraw,' said a woman's low voice within.

'What do you do?'

'I decline to attend for the present.'

'And you can give no reason for this?'

There was no reply.

'Or for your refusal to proceed with the baptism?'

'I have been christened.'

'My dear young lady, it is well known that your christening
was the work of your aunt, who did it unknown to your parents
when she had you in her power, out of pure obstinacy to a
church with which she was not in sympathy, taking you
surreptitiously, and indefensibly, to the font of the
Establishment; so that the rite meant and could mean nothing
at all. . . . But I fear that your new position has brought
you into contact with the Paedobaptists, that they have
disturbed your old principles, and so induced you to believe
in the validity of that trumpery ceremony!'

'It seems sufficient.'

'I will demolish the basis of that seeming in three minutes,
give me but that time as a listener.'

'I have no objection.'

'Very well. . . . First, then, I will assume that those who
have influenced you in the matter have not been able to make
any impression upon one so well grounded as yourself in our
distinctive doctrine, by the stale old argument drawn from
circumcision?'

'You may assume it.'

'Good--that clears the ground. And we now come to the New
Testament.'

The minister began to turn over the leaves of his little
Bible, which it impressed Somerset to observe was bound with a
flap, like a pocket book, the black surface of the leather
being worn brown at the corners by long usage. He turned on
till he came to the beginning of the New Testament, and then
commenced his discourse. After explaining his position, the
old man ran very ably through the arguments, citing well-known
writers on the point in dispute when he required more finished
sentences than his own.

The minister's earnestness and interest in his own case led
him unconsciously to include Somerset in his audience as the
young man drew nearer; till, instead of fixing his eyes
exclusively on the person within the summer-house, the
preacher began to direct a good proportion of his discourse
upon his new auditor, turning from one listener to the other
attentively, without seeming to feel Somerset's presence as
superfluous.

'And now,' he said in conclusion, 'I put it to you, sir, as to
her: do you find any flaw in my argument? Is there, madam, a
single text which, honestly interpreted, affords the least
foothold for the Paedobaptists; in other words, for your
opinion on the efficacy of the rite administered to you in
your unconscious infancy? I put it to you both as honest and
responsible beings.' He turned again to the young man.

It happened that Somerset had been over this ground long ago.
Born, so to speak, a High-Church infant, in his youth he had
been of a thoughtful turn, till at one time an idea of his
entering the Church had been entertained by his parents. He
had formed acquaintance with men of almost every variety of
doctrinal practice in this country; and, as the pleadings of
each assailed him before he had arrived at an age of
sufficient mental stability to resist new impressions, however
badly substantiated, he inclined to each denomination as it
presented itself, was


'Everything by starts, and nothing long,'

till he had travelled through a great many beliefs and
doctrines without feeling himself much better than when he set
out.

A study of fonts and their origin had qualified him in this
particular subject. Fully conscious of the inexpediency of
contests on minor ritual differences, he yet felt a sudden
impulse towards a mild intellectual tournament with the eager
old man--purely as an exercise of his wits in the defence of a
fair girl.

'Sir, I accept your challenge to us,' said Somerset, advancing
to the minister's side.

Thomas Hardy