Thomas Hardy.

A Laodicean; or, The castle of the De Stancys. A story of to-day (Volume 2) online

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VOL. 2054.












The Right of Traits/atiou is reserved.









A quick arrested expression in her two sapphirine
eyes, accompanied by a little, a very little, blush which
loitered long, was all the outward disturbance that the
sight of her lover caused. The habit of self-repression
at any new emotional impact was instinctive with her
always. Somerset could not say more than a word;
he looked his intense solicitude, and Paula spoke.

She declared that this was an unexpected pleasure.
Had he arranged to come on the tenth as she wished?
How strange that they should meet thus ! — and yet not
strange — the world was so small.

Somerset said that he was coming on the very day
she mentioned — that the appointment gave him infinite
gratification, which was quite within the truth.

"Come into this shop with me," said Paula, with
good-humoured authoritativeness.

They entered the shop and talked on while she
made a small purchase. But not a word did Paula
say of her sudden errand to town.

"I am having an exciting morning," she said.
"I am going from here to catch the one-o'clock train
to Markton."

"It is important that you get there this afternoon,
I suppose?"


"Yes. You know why?"

"Not at- all."

"The Hunt Ball. It was fixed for the sixth, and
this is the sixth. I thought they might have asked you."

"No," said Somerset, a trifle gloomily. "No, I am
not asked. But it is a great task for you — .a long
journey and a ball all in one day."

"Yes: Charlotte said that. But I don't mind it."

"You are glad you are going. Are you glad?"
he said softly.

Her air confessed more than her words. "I am
not so very glad that I am going to the Hunt Ball,"
she replied confidentially.

"Thanks for that," said he.

She lifted her eyes to his for a moment. Her
manner had suddenly become so nearly the counter-
part of that in the tea-house that to suspect any de-
terioration of affection in her was no longer generous.
It was only as if a thin layer of recent events had
overlaid her memories of him, until his presence
swept them away.

Somerset looked up, and finding the shopman to
be still some way off, he added, "When will you
assure me of something in return for what I assured
you that evening in the rain?"

"Not before you have built the castle. My aunt
does not know about it yet, nor anybody."

"I ought to tell her."

"No, not yet. I don't wish it."

"Then eveiy thing stands as usual?"

She lightly nodded.

"That is, I may love you: but you still will not
say you love me."


She nodded again, and directing his attention
to the advancing shopman, said, "Please not a word


Soon after this, they left the jeweller's, and parted,
Paula driving straight off to the station and Somerset
going on his way uncertainly happy. His re-impression
after a few minutes was that a special journey to
town to fetch that magnificent necklace which she
had not once mentioned to him, but which was plainly
to be the medium of some proud purpose with her
this evening, was hardly in harmony with her asser-
tions of indifference to the attractions of the Hunt

He got into a cab and drove to his club, where he
lunched, and mopingly spent a great part of the after-
noon in making calculations for the foundations of the
castle works. Late in the afternoon he returned to his
chambers, wishing that he could annihilate the three
days remaining before the tenth, particularly this
coming evening. On his table was a letter in a strange
writing, and indifferently turning it over he found from
the superscription that it had been addressed to him
days before at the King's Arms Hotel, Markton, where
it had lain ever since, the landlord probably expecting
him to return. Opening the missive he found to his
surprise that it was, after all, an invitation to the
Hunt Ball.

"Too late!" said Somerset. "To think I should
be served this trick a second time!"

After a moment's pause, however, he looked to
see the time of day. It was five minutes past five —
just about the hour when Paula would be driving from
Markton Station to Stancy Castle to rest and prepare


herself for her evening triumph. There was a train
at six o'clock, timed to reach Markton between eleven
and twelve, which by great exertion he might save
even now, if it were worth while to undertake such a
scramble for the pleasure of dropping in to the ball at
a late hour. A moment's vision of Paula moving to
swift tunes on the arm of a person or persons un-
known was enough to impart the impetus required.
He jumped up, flung his dress suit into a portmanteau,
sent down to call a cab, and in a few minutes was
rattling off to the railway which had borne Paula
away from London just five hours earlier.

Once in the train, he began to consider where and
how he could most conveniently dress for the dance.
The train would certainly be half an hour late; half
an hour would be spent in getting to the town-hall,
and that was the utmost delay tolerable if he would
secure the hand of Paula for one spin, or be more
than a mere dummy behind the earlier arrivals. He
looked for an empty compartment at the next stop-
page, and finding the one next his own unoccupied,
he entered it and changed his raiment for that in
his portmanteau during the ensuing run of twenty

Thus prepared he awaited the Markton platform,
which was reached as the clock struck twelve. Somer-
set called a fly and drove at once to the town-hall.

The borough natives had ascended to their upper
floors, and were putting out their candles one by one
as he passed along the streets; but the lively strains
that proceeded from the central edifice revealed dis-
tinctly enough what was going on among the tem-
porary visitors from the neighbouring manors. The


doors were opened for him, and entering the vestibule
lined with flags, flowers, evergreens, and escutcheons,
he stood looking into the furnace of gaiety beyond.

It was some time before he could gather his
impressions of the scene, so perplexing were the lights,
the motions, the toilets, the full-dress uniforms of
officers and the harmonies of sound. Yet light, sound,
and movement were not so much the essence of that
giddy scene as an intense aim at obliviousness in the
beings composing it. For two or three hours at least
those whirling young people meant not to know that
they were mortal. The room was beating like a heart,
and the pulse was regulated by the trembling strings
of the most popular quadrille band in Wessex. But
at last his eyes grew settled enough to look critically

The room was crowded — too crowded. Every
variety of fair ones, beauties primary, secondary, and
tertiary, appeared among the personages composing the
throng. There were suns and moons; also pale planets
of little account. Broadly speaking, these daughters
of the county fell into two classes: one the pink- faced
unsophisticated girls from neighbouring rectories and
small country-houses , who knew not town except for
an occasional fortnight, and who spent their time from
Easter to Lammas Day much as they spent it during
the remaining nine months of the year: the other
class were the children of the wealthy landowners,
who migrated each season to the town- house; these
were pale and collected, showed less enjoyment in
their countenances, and wore in general an approxima-
tion to the languid manners of the capital.

A quadrille was in progress, and Somerset scanned


each set. His mind had run so long upon the neck-
lace, that his glance involuntarily sought out that
gleaming object rather than the personality of its
wearer. At the top of the room there he beheld it;
but it was on the neck of Charlotte De Stancy.

The whole lucid explanation broke across his
understanding in a second. His dear Paula had
fetched the necklace that Charlotte should not appear
to disadvantage among the county people by reason of
her poverty. It was generously done — a disinterested
act of sisterly kindness; theirs was the friendship of
Hermia and Helena. Before he had got further than
to realise this, there wheeled round amongst the
dancers a lady whose toumure he recognised well.
She was Paula; and to the young man's vision a
superlative something distinguished her from all the
rest. This was not dress or ornament, for she had
hardly a gem upon her, her attire being a model of
effective simplicity. Her partner was Captain De Stancy.

The discovery of this latter, fact slightly obscured
his appreciation of what he had discovered just be-
fore. It was with rather a louring brow that he asked
himself whether Paula's pridilection d' artiste, as she
called it, for the De Stancy line might not lead to a
predilection of a different sort for its last representative
which would be not at all satisfactory.

The architect remained in the background till the
dance drew to a conclusion, and then he went for-
ward. The circumstance of having met him by ac-
cident once already that day seemed to quench any
surprise in Miss Power's bosom at seeing him now.
There was nothing in her parting from Captain De
Stancy, when he led her to a seat, calculated to make


Somerset uneasy after his long absence. Though, for
that matter, this proved nothing; for, like all wise
maidens, Paula never ventured on the game of the
eyes with a lover in public; well knowing that every
moment of such indulgence overnight might mean an
hour's sneer at her expense by the indulged gentleman
next day, when weighing womankind by the aid of a
cold morning light and a bad headache.

Whilst Somerset was explaining to Paula and her
aunt the reason of his sudden appearance, their atten-
tion was drawn to a seat a short way off by a fluttering
of ladies round the spot. In a moment it was whis-
pered that somebody had fallen ill, and in another
that the sufferer was Miss De Stancy. Paula, Mrs.
Goodman, and Somerset at once joined the group of
friends who were assisting her. Neither of them
imagined for an instant that the unexpected advent of
Somerset on the scene had anything to do with the
poor girl's indisposition.

She was assisted out of the room, and her brother
who now came up prepared to take her home, Somer-
set exchanging a few civil words with him, which the
hurry of the moment prevented them from continuing;
though on taking his leave with Charlotte, who was
now better, De Stancy informed Somerset in answer to
a cursory inquiry that he hoped to be back again at
the ball in half-an-hour.

When they were gone Somerset, feeling that now
another dog might have his day, sounded Paula on the
delightful question of a dance.

Paula replied in the negative.

"How is that?" asked Somerset with reproachful


"I cannot dance again," she said in a somewhat
depressed tone; "I must be released from every en-
gagement to do so, on account of Charlotte's illness.
I should have gone home with her if I had not been
particularly requested to stay a little longer, since it
is as yet so early, and Charlotte's illness is not very

If Charlotte's illness was not very serious, Somerset
thought, Paula might have stretched a point; but not
wishing to hinder her in showing respect to a friend
so well liked by himself, he did not ask it. De Stancy
had promised to be back again in half-an-hour, and
Paula had heard the promise. But at the end of
twenty minutes, still seeming indifferent to what was
going on around her, she said she would stay no
longer, and reminding Somerset that they were soon
to meet and talk over the rebuilding, drove off with
her aunt to Stancy Castle.

Somerset stood looking at the retreating carriage
till it was enveloped in shades that the lamps could
not disperse. The ball-room was now virtually empty
for him, and feeling no great anxiety to return thither
he stood on the steps for some minutes longer, looking
into the calm mild night, and at the dark houses be-
hind whose blinds lay the burghers with their eyes
sealed up in sleep.

He could not but think that it was rather too bad
of Paula to spoil his evening for a sentimental devo-
tion to Charlotte which could do the latter no good,
and he would have been seriously hurt at her move if
it had not been equally severe upon Captain De Stancy,
who was doubtless hasting back full of belief that she
would still be found there.


The star of gas-jets over the entrance threw its
light upon the walls on the opposite side of the street,
where there were notice-boards of forthcoming events.
In glancing over these for the fifth time, his eye was
attracted by the first words of a placard in blue letters,
of a size larger than the rest, and moving onward a
few steps he read: —


By the kind permission of Miss Power,


Will shortly be performed at the above CASTLE,


By the Officers of the




The cast and other particulars will be duly announced in small
bills. Places will be reserved on application to Mr. Clangham,
High Street, Markton, where a plan of the room may be seen.

N.B. — The Castle is about fifteen minutes' drive from Markton
Station, to which there are numerous convenient trains from all
parts of the county.

In a profound study Somerset turned and re-entered
the ball-room, where he remained gloomily standing

l6 \ i A.ODICEAN.

here and there for about five minutes, at the end of
which he observed Captain De Stancy, who had re-
turned punctually to his word, crossing the hall in his

The gallant officer darted glances of lively search
over every group of dancers and sitters; and then with
rather a blank look in his face he came on to Somer-
set. Replying to the hitter's inquiry for his sister that
she had nearly recovered, he said, "I don't see my
father's neighbours anywhere."

"They have gone home," replied Somerset, a trifle
drily. "They asked me to make their apologies to
you for leading you to expect they would remain. Miss
Power was too anxious about Miss De Stancy to care
to stay longer."

The eyes of De Stancy and the speaker met for
an instant. That curious guarded understanding, or
inimical confederacy, which arises at moments between
two men in love with the same woman, was present
here; and in their mutual glances each said as plainly
as by words that her departure had mined his even-
ing's hope.

They were now about as much in one mood as it
was possible for two such differing natures to be.
Neither cared further for elaborating giddy curves on
that town-hall floor. They stood talking languidly
about this and that local topic, till De Stancy turned
aside for a short time to speak to a dapper little lady
who had beckoned to him. In a few minutes he came
back to Somerset.

"Mrs. Camperton, the wife of Major Camperton of
my battery, would very much like me to introduce you


to her. She is an old friend of your father's and has
wanted to know you for a long time."

De Stancy and Somerset crossed over to the lady,
and in a few minutes, thanks to her flow of spirits,
she and Somerset were chatting with remarkable

"It is a happy coincidence," continued Mrs. Cam-
perton, "that I should have met you here, immediately
after receiving a letter from your father: indeed it
reached me only this morning. He has been so kind !
We are getting up some theatricals, as you know, I
suppose, to help the funds of the County Hospital,
which is in debt."

"I have just seen the announcement — nothing

"Yes, such an estimable purpose; and as we wished
to do it thoroughly well, I asked Mr. Somerset to de-
sign us the costumes, and he has now sent me the
sketches. It is quite a secret at present, but we are
going to play Shakespeare's romantic drama, 'Love's
Labour's Lost,' and we hope to get Miss Power to take
the leading part. You see, being such a handsome
girl, and so wealthy, and rather an undiscovered no-
velty in the county as yet, she would draw a crowded
room, and greatly benefit the funds."

"Miss Power going to play herself? — I am rather
surprised," said Somerset. "Whose idea is all this?"

"Oh, Captain De Stancy's — he's the originator en-
tirely. You see he is so interested in the neighbour-
hood, his family having been connected with it for so
many centuries, that naturally a charitable object of
this local nature appeals to his feelings."

"Naturally!" her listener laconically repeated.

A Laodirca.11. II. 2


"And have you settled who is to play the junior gen-
tleman's part, leading lover, hero, or whatever he is

"Not absolutely; though I think Captain De Stancy
will not refuse it; and he is a very good figure. At
present it lies between him and Mr. Mild, one of our
young lieutenants. My husband, of course, takes the
heavy line; and I am to be the second lady, though I
am rather too old for the part really. If we can only
secure Miss Power for heroine the cast will be ex-

"Excellent!" said Somerset, with a spectral smile.



When he awoke the next morning at the King's
Arms Hotel, Somerset felt quite morbid on recalling
the intelligence he had received from Mrs. Camperton.
But as the day for serious practical consultation about
the castle works, to which Paula had playfully alluded,
was now close at hand, he determined to banish sen-
timental reflections on the frailties that were besieging
her nature, by active preparation for his professional
undertaking. To be her high-priest in art, to elaborate
a structure whose cunning workmanship would be
meeting her eye every day till the end of her natural
life, and saying to her, "He invented it," with all the
eloquence of an inanimate thing long regarded — this
was no mean satisfaction, come what else would.

He returned to town the next day to set matters
there in such trim that no inconvenience should result
from his prolonged absences at the castle; for having
no other commission he determined (with an eye rather
to heart-interests than to increasing his professional
practice) to make, as before, the castle itself his office,
studio, and chief abiding place till the works were
fairly in progress.

On the tenth he reappeared at Markton. Passing
through the town, on the road to Stancy Castle, his
eyes were again arrested by the notice-board which
had conveyed such startling information to him on the



night of the ball. The small bills now appeared
thereon; but when he anxiously looked them over to
learn how the parts were to be allotted, he found that
intelligence still withheld. Yet they told enough; the
list of lady-players was given, and Miss Power's name
was one.

That a young lady who, six months ago, would
scarcely join for conscientious reasons in a simple
dance on her own lawn, should now be willing to ex-
hibit herself on a public stage, simulating love-passages
with a stranger, argued a rate of development which
under any circumstances would have surprised him,
but which, with the particular addition, as leading
colleague, of Captain De Stancy, inflamed him almost
to anger. What clandestine arrangements had been
going on in his absence to produce such a full-blown
intention it were futile to guess. Paula's course was
a race rather than a march, and each successive heat
was startling in its eclipse of that which went before.

Somerset was, however, introspective enough to
know that his morals would have taken no such vir-
tuous alarm had he been the chief male player instead
of Captain De Stancy.

He passed under the castle-arch and entered.
There seemed a little turn in the tide of affairs when
it was announced to him that Miss Power expected
him, and was alone.

The well-known ante-chambers through which he
walked, filled with twilight, draughts, and thin echoes
that seemed to reverberate from two hundred years ago,
did not delay his eye as they had done when he had
been ignorant that his destiny lay beyond; and he.


followed on through all this ancientness to where the
modern Paula sat to receive him.

He forgot everything in the pleasure of being alone
in a room with her. She met his eye with that in her
own which cheered him. It was a light expressing
that something was understood between them. She
said quietly in two or three words that she had ex-
pected him in the forenoon.

Somerset explained that he had come only that
morning from London.

After a little more talk, in which she said that her
aunt would join them in a few minutes, and that Miss
De Stancy was still indisposed at her father's house,
she rang for tea and sat down beside a little table.
"Shall we proceed to business at once?" she asked him.

"I suppose so."

"First then, when will the working drawings be
ready, which I think you said must be made out before
the work could begin?"

While Somerset informed her on this and other
matters, Mrs. Goodman entered and joined in the dis-
cussion, after which they found it would be necessary
to adjourn to the studio where the plans were hanging.
On their walk thither Paula asked if he stayed late at
the ball.

"I left sooon after you."

"That was very early, seeing how late you arrived."

"Yes. ... I did not dance."

"What did you do, then?"

"I moped, and walked to the door; and saw an

"I know — the play that is to be performed."

"In which you are to be the Princess."


"That's not settled. — I have not agreed yet. I
shall not play the Princess of France unless Mr. Mild
plays the King of Navarre."

This sounded rather well. The Princess was the
lady beloved by the King; and Mr. Mild the young
lieutenant of artillery was a diffident, inexperienced,
rather plain-looking fellow, whose sole interest in
theatricals lay in the consideration of his costume and
the sound of his own voice in the ears of the audience.
With such an unobjectionable person to enact the part
of lover, the prominent character of leading young
lady or heroine, which Paula was to personate, was
really the most satisfactory in the whole list for her.
For although she was to be wooed hard, there was just
as much love-making among the remaining personages;
while, as Somerset had understood the play, there
could occur no flingings of her person upon her lover's
neck, or agonised downfalls upon the stage, in her
whole performance, as there were in the parts chosen
by Mrs. Camperton, the major's wife, and some of the
other ladies.

"Why do you play at all!" he murmured.

"What a question! How could I refuse for such
an excellent purpose? They say that my taking a part
will be worth a hundred pounds to the charity. My
father always supported the hospital, which is quite
undenominational; and he said I was to do the same."

"Do you think the peculiar means you have adopted
for supporting it entered into his view?" inquired
Somerset, regarding her with critical dryness. "For
my part I don't."

"It is an interesting way," she returned persuasively,
though apparently in a state of mental equipoise on


the point raised by his question. "And I shall not
play the Princess, as I said, to any other than that
quiet young man. Now I assure you of this, so don't
be angry and absurd ! Besides, the King doesn't marry
me at the end of the play, as in Shakespeare's other
comedies. And if Miss De Stancy continues seriously
unwell I shall not play at all."

The young man pressed her hand, but she gently
slipped it away.

"Are we not engaged, Paula?" he asked.

She evasively shook her head.

"Come — yes we are! Shall we tell your aunt?" he
continued. Unluckily at that moment Mrs. Goodman,
who had followed them to the studio at a slower pace,
appeared round the doorway.

"No, — to the last," replied Paula hastily. Then
her aunt entered, and the conversation was no longer

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Online LibraryThomas HardyA Laodicean; or, The castle of the De Stancys. A story of to-day (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 17)