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Chapter 9


Somerset returned to the top of the great tower with a vague
consciousness that he was going to do something up there--
perhaps sketch a general plan of the structure. But he began
to discern that this Stancy-Castle episode in his studies of
Gothic architecture might be less useful than ornamental to
him as a professional man, though it was too agreeable to be
abandoned. Finding after a while that his drawing progressed
but slowly, by reason of infinite joyful thoughts more allied
to his nature than to his art, he relinquished rule and
compass, and entered one of the two turrets opening on the
roof. It was not the staircase by which he had ascended, and
he proceeded to explore its lower part. Entering from the
blaze of light without, and imagining the stairs to descend as
usual, he became aware after a few steps that there was
suddenly nothing to tread on, and found himself precipitated
downwards to a distance of several feet.

Arrived at the bottom, he was conscious of the happy fact that
he had not seriously hurt himself, though his leg was twisted
awkwardly. Next he perceived that the stone steps had been
removed from the turret, so that he had dropped into it as
into a dry well; that, owing to its being walled up below,
there was no door of exit on either side of him; that he was,
in short, a prisoner.

Placing himself in a more comfortable position he calmly
considered the best means of getting out, or of making his
condition known. For a moment he tried to drag himself up by
his arm, but it was a hopeless attempt, the height to the
first step being far too great.

He next looked round at a lower level. Not far from his left
elbow, in the concave of the outer wall, was a slit for the
admission of light, and he perceived at once that through this
slit alone lay his chance of communicating with the outer
world. At first it seemed as if it were to be done by
shouting, but when he learnt what little effect was produced
by his voice in the midst of such a mass of masonry, his heart
failed him for a moment. Yet, as either Paula or Miss De
Stancy would probably guess his visit to the top of the tower,
there was no cause for terror, if some for alarm.

He put his handkerchief through the window-slit, so that it
fluttered outside, and, fixing it in its place by a large
stone drawn from the loose ones around him, awaited succour as
best he could. To begin this course of procedure was easy,
but to abide in patience till it should produce fruit was an
irksome task. As nearly as he could guess--for his watch had
been stopped by the fall--it was now about four o'clock, and
it would be scarcely possible for evening to approach without
some eye or other noticing the white signal. So Somerset
waited, his eyes lingering on the little world of objects
around him, till they all became quite familiar. Spiders'-
webs in plenty were there, and one in particular just before
him was in full use as a snare, stretching across the arch of
the window, with radiating threads as its ribs. Somerset had
plenty of time, and he counted their number--fifteen. He
remained so silent that the owner of this elaborate structure
soon forgot the disturbance which had resulted in the breaking
of his diagonal ties, and crept out from the corner to mend
them. In watching the process, Somerset noticed that on the
stonework behind the web sundry names and initials had been
cut by explorers in years gone by. Among these antique
inscriptions he observed two bright and clean ones, consisting
of the words 'De Stancy' and 'W. Dare,' crossing each other at
right angles. From the state of the stone they could not have
been cut more than a month before this date, and, musing on
the circumstance, Somerset passed the time until the sun
reached the slit in that side of the tower, where, beginning
by throwing in a streak of fire as narrow as a corn-stalk, it
enlarged its width till the dusty nook was flooded with
cheerful light. It disclosed something lying in the corner,
which on examination proved to be a dry bone. Whether it was
human, or had come from the castle larder in bygone times, he
could not tell. One bone was not a whole skeleton, but it
made him think of Ginevra of Modena, the heroine of the
Mistletoe Bough, and other cribbed and confined wretches, who
had fallen into such traps and been discovered after a cycle
of years.

The sun's rays had travelled some way round the interior when
Somerset's waiting ears were at last attracted by footsteps
above, each tread being brought down by the hollow turret with
great fidelity. He hoped that with these sounds would arise
that of a soft voice he had begun to like well. Indeed,
during the solitary hour or two of his waiting here he had
pictured Paula straying alone on the terrace of the castle,
looking up, noting his signal, and ascending to deliver him
from his painful position by her own exertions. It seemed
that at length his dream had been verified. The footsteps
approached the opening of the turret; and, attracted by the
call which Somerset now raised, began to descend towards him.
In a moment, not Paula's face, but that of a dreary footman of
her household, looked into the hole.

Somerset mastered his disappointment, and the man speedily
fetched a ladder, by which means the prisoner of two hours
ascended to the roof in safety. During the process he
ventured to ask for the ladies of the house, and learnt that
they had gone out for a drive together.

Before he left the castle, however, they had returned, a
circumstance unexpectedly made known to him by his receiving a
message from Miss Power, to the effect that she would be glad
to see him at his convenience. Wondering what it could
possibly mean, he followed the messenger to her room--a small
modern library in the Jacobean wing of the house, adjoining
that in which the telegraph stood. She was alone, sitting
behind a table littered with letters and sketches, and looking
fresh from her drive. Perhaps it was because he had been shut
up in that dismal dungeon all the afternoon that he felt
something in her presence which at the same time charmed and
refreshed him.

She signified that he was to sit down; but finding that he was
going to place himself on a straight-backed chair some
distance off she said, 'Will you sit nearer to me?' and then,
as if rather oppressed by her dignity, she left her own chair
of business and seated herself at ease on an ottoman which was
among the diversified furniture of the apartment.

'I want to consult you professionally,' she went on. 'I have
been much impressed by your great knowledge of castellated
architecture. Will you sit in that leather chair at the
table, as you may have to take notes?'

The young man assented, expressed his gratification, and went
to the chair she designated.

'But, Mr. Somerset,' she continued, from the ottoman--the
width of the table only dividing them--'I first should just
like to know, and I trust you will excuse my inquiry, if you
are an architect in practice, or only as yet studying for the
profession?'

'I am just going to practise. I open my office on the first
of January next,' he answered.

'You would not mind having me as a client--your first client?'
She looked curiously from her sideway face across the table as
she said this.

'Can you ask it!' said Somerset warmly. 'What are you going
to build?'

'I am going to restore the castle.'

'What, all of it?' said Somerset, astonished at the audacity
of such an undertaking.

'Not the parts that are absolutely ruinous: the walls
battered by the Parliament artillery had better remain as they
are, I suppose. But we have begun wrong; it is I who should
ask you, not you me . . . . I fear,' she went on, in that low
note which was somewhat difficult to catch at a distance, 'I
fear what the antiquarians will say if I am not very careful.
They come here a great deal in summer and if I were to do the
work wrong they would put my name in the papers as a dreadful
person. But I must live here, as I have no other house,
except the one in London, and hence I must make the place
habitable. I do hope I can trust to your judgment?'

'I hope so,' he said, with diffidence, for, far from having
much professional confidence, he often mistrusted himself. 'I
am a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and a Member of the
Institute of British Architects--not a Fellow of that body
yet, though I soon shall be.'

'Then I am sure you must be trustworthy,' she said, with
enthusiasm. 'Well, what am I to do?--How do we begin?'

Somerset began to feel more professional, what with the
business chair and the table, and the writing-paper,
notwithstanding that these articles, and the room they were
in, were hers instead of his; and an evenness of manner which
he had momentarily lost returned to him. 'The very first
step,' he said, 'is to decide upon the outlay--what is it to
cost?'

He faltered a little, for it seemed to disturb the softness of
their relationship to talk thus of hard cash. But her
sympathy with his feeling was apparently not great, and she
said, 'The expenditure shall be what you advise.'

'What a heavenly client!' he thought. 'But you must just give
some idea,' he said gently. 'For the fact is, any sum almost
may be spent on such a building: five thousand, ten thousand,
twenty thousand, fifty thousand, a hundred thousand.'

'I want it done well; so suppose we say a hundred thousand?
My father's solicitor--my solicitor now--says I may go to a
hundred thousand without extravagance, if the expenditure is
scattered over two or three years.'

Somerset looked round for a pen. With quickness of insight
she knew what he wanted, and signified where one could be
found. He wrote down in large figures--

100,000.

It was more than he had expected; and for a young man just
beginning practice, the opportunity of playing with another
person's money to that extent would afford an exceptionally
handsome opening, not so much from the commission it
represented, as from the attention that would be bestowed by
the art-world on such an undertaking.

Paula had sunk into a reverie. 'I was intending to intrust
the work to Mr. Havill, a local architect,' she said. 'But I
gathered from his conversation with you to-day that his
ignorance of styles might compromise me very seriously. In
short, though my father employed him in one or two little
matters, it would not be right--even a morally culpable thing-
-to place such an historically valuable building in his
hands.'

'Has Mr. Havill ever been led to expect the commission?' he
asked.

'He may have guessed that he would have it. I have spoken of
my intention to him more than once.'

Somerset thought over his conversation with Havill. Well, he
did not like Havill personally; and he had strong reasons for
suspecting that in the matter of architecture Havill was a
quack. But was it quite generous to step in thus, and take
away what would be a golden opportunity to such a man of
making both ends meet comfortably for some years to come,
without giving him at least one chance? He reflected a little
longer, and then spoke out his feeling.

'I venture to propose a slightly modified arrangement,' he
said. 'Instead of committing the whole undertaking to my
hands without better proof of my ability to carry it out than
you have at present, let there be a competition between Mr.
Havill and myself--let our rival plans for the restoration and
enlargement be submitted to a committee of the Royal Institute
of British Architects--and let the choice rest with them,
subject of course to your approval.'

'It is indeed generous of you to suggest it.' She looked
thoughtfully at him; he appeared to strike her in a new light.
'You really recommend it?' The fairness which had prompted
his words seemed to incline her still more than before to
resign herself entirely to him in the matter.

'I do,' said Somerset deliberately.

'I will think of it, since you wish it. And now, what general
idea have you of the plan to adopt? I do not positively agree
to your suggestion as yet, so I may perhaps ask the question.'

Somerset, being by this time familiar with the general plan of
the castle, took out his pencil and made a rough sketch.
While he was doing it she rose, and coming to the back of his
chair, bent over him in silence.

'Ah, I begin to see your conception,' she murmured; and the
breath of her words fanned his ear. He finished the sketch,
and held it up to her, saying--

'I would suggest that you walk over the building with Mr.
Havill and myself, and detail your ideas to us on each
portion.'

'Is it necessary?'

'Clients mostly do it.'

'I will, then. But it is too late for me this evening.
Please meet me to-morrow at ten.'

Thomas Hardy