A Laodicean : A Story of to Day

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Author: Thomas Hardy

I

There was no part of Paula’s journey in which Somerset did not think of her. He imagined her in the hotel at Havre, in her brief rest at Paris; her drive past the Place de la Bastille to the Boulevart Mazas to take the train for Lyons; her tedious progress through the dark of a winter night till she crossed the isothermal line which told of the beginning of a southern atmosphere, and onwards to the ancient blue sea.

Thus, between the hours devoted to architecture, he passed the next three days. One morning he set himself, by the help of John, to practise on the telegraph instrument, expecting a message. But though he watched the machine at every opportunity, or kept some other person on the alert in its neighbourhood, no message arrived to gratify him till after the lapse of nearly a fortnight. Then she spoke from her new habitation nine hundred miles away, in these meagre words:—

’Are settled at the address given. Can now attend to any inquiry about the building.’

The pointed implication that she could attend to inquiries about nothing else, breathed of the veritable Paula so distinctly that he could forgive its sauciness. His reply was soon despatched:—

’Will write particulars of our progress. Always the same.’

The last three words formed the sentimental appendage which she had assured him she could tolerate, and which he hoped she might desire.

He spent the remainder of the day in making a little sketch to show what had been done in the castle since her departure. This he despatched with a letter of explanation ending in a paragraph of a different tenor:—

’I have demonstrated our progress as well as I could; but another subject has been in my mind, even whilst writing the former. Ask yourself if you use me well in keeping me a fortnight before you so much as say that you have arrived? The one thing that reconciled me to your departure was the thought that I should hear early from you: my idea of being able to submit to your absence was based entirely upon that.

’But I have resolved not to be out of humour, and to believe that your scheme of reserve is not unreasonable; neither do I quarrel with your injunction to keep silence to all relatives. I do not know anything I can say to show you more plainly my acquiescence in your wish "not to go too far" (in short, to keep yourself dear—by dear I mean not cheap—you have been dear in the other sense a long time, as you know), than by not urging you to go a single degree further in warmth than you please.’

When this was posted he again turned his attention to her walls and towers, which indeed were a dumb consolation in many ways for the lack of herself. There was no nook in the castle to which he had not access or could not easily obtain access by applying for the keys, and this propinquity of things belonging to her served to keep her image before him even more constantly than his memories would have done.

Three days and a half after the despatch of his subdued effusion the telegraph called to tell him the good news that

’Your letter and drawing are just received. Thanks for the latter. Will reply to the former by post this afternoon.’

It was with cheerful patience that he attended to his three draughtsmen in the studio, or walked about the environs of the fortress during the fifty hours spent by her presumably tender missive on the road. A light fleece of snow fell during the second night of waiting, inverting the position of longestablished lights and shades, and lowering to a dingy grey the approximately white walls of other weathers; he could trace the postman’s footmarks as he entered over the bridge, knowing them by the dot of his walking-stick: on entering the expected letter was waiting upon his table. He looked at its direction with glad curiosity; it was the first letter he had ever received from her.

’HOTEL ---, NICE,Feb. 14.

’MY DEAR MR. SOMERSET’ (the ’George,’ then, to which she had so kindly treated him in her last conversation, was not to be continued in black and white),—

’Your letter explaining the progress of the work, aided by the sketch enclosed, gave me as clear an idea of the advance made since my departure as I could have gained by being present. I feel every confidence in you, and am quite sure the restoration is in good hands. In this opinion both my aunt and my uncle coincide. Please act entirely on your own judgment in everything, and as soon as you give a certificate to the builders for the first instalment of their money it will be promptly sent by my solicitors.

’You bid me ask myself if I have used you well in not sending intelligence of myself till a fortnight after I had left you. Now, George, don’t be unreasonable! Let me remind you that, as a certain apostle said, there are a thousand things lawful which are not expedient. I say this, not from pride in my own conduct, but to offer you a very fair explanation of it. Your resolve not to be out of humour with me suggests that you have been sorely tempted that way, else why should such a resolve have been necessary?

’If you only knew what passes in my mind sometimes you would perhaps not be so ready to blame. Shall I tell you? No. For, if it is a great emotion, it may afford you a cruel satisfaction at finding I suffer through separation; and if it be a growing indifference to you, it will be inflicting gratuitous unhappiness upon you to say so, if you care for me; as I SOMETIMES think you may do A LITTLE.’

(’O, Paula!’ said Somerset.)

’Please which way would you have it? But it is better that you should guess at what I feel than that you should distinctly know it. Notwithstanding this assertion you will, I know, adhere to your first prepossession in favour of prompt confessions. In spite of that, I fear that upon trial such promptness would not produce that happiness which your fancy leads you to expect. Your heart would weary in time, and when once that happens, good-bye to the emotion you have told me of. Imagine such a case clearly, and you will perceive the probability of what I say. At the same time I admit that a woman who is ONLY a creature of evasions and disguises is very disagreeable.

’Do not write VERY frequently, and never write at all unless you have some real information about the castle works to communicate. I will explain to you on another occasion why I make this request. You will possibly set it down as additional evidence of my cold-heartedness. If so you must. Would you also mind writing the business letter on an independent sheet, with a proper beginning and ending? Whether you inclose another sheet is of course optional.— Sincerely yours, PAULA POWER.’

Somerset had a suspicion that her order to him not to neglect the business letter was to escape any invidious remarks from her uncle. He wished she would be more explicit, so that he might know exactly how matters stood with them, and whether Abner Power had ever ventured to express disapproval of him as her lover.

But not knowing, he waited anxiously for a new architectural event on which he might legitimately send her another line. This occurred about a week later, when the men engaged in digging foundations discovered remains of old ones which warranted a modification of the original plan. He accordingly sent off his professional advice on the point, requesting her assent or otherwise to the amendment, winding up the inquiry with ’Yours faithfully.’ On another sheet he wrote:-

’Do you suffer from any unpleasantness in the manner of others on account of me? If so, inform me, Paula. I cannot otherwise interpret your request for the separate sheets. While on this point I will tell you what I have learnt relative to the authorship of that false paragraph about your engagement. It was communicated to the paper by your uncle. Was the wish father to the thought, or could he have been misled, as many were, by appearances at the theatricals?

’If I am not to write to you without a professional reason, surely you can write to me without such an excuse? When you write tell me of yourself. There is nothing I so much wish to hear of. Write a great deal about your daily doings, for my mind’s eye keeps those sweet operations more distinctly before me than my bodily sight does my own.

’You say nothing of having been to look at the chapel-of-ease I told you of, the plans of which I made when an architect’s pupil, working in metres instead of feet and inches, to my immense perplexity, that the drawings might be understood by the foreign workmen. Go there and tell me what you think of its design. I can assure you that every curve thereof is my own.

’How I wish you would invite me to run over and see you, if only for a day or two, for my heart runs after you in a most distracted manner. Dearest, you entirely fill my life! But I forget; we have resolved not to go VERY FAR. But the fact is I am half afraid lest, with such reticence, you should not remember how very much I am yours, and with what a dogged constancy I shall always remember you. Paula, sometimes I have horrible misgivings that something will divide us, especially if we do not make a more distinct show of our true relationship. True do I say? I mean the relationship which I think exists between us, but which you do not affirm too clearly.—Yours always.’

Away southward like the swallow went the tender lines. He wondered if she would notice his hint of being ready to pay her a flying visit, if permitted to do so. His fancy dwelt on that further side of France, the very contours of whose shore were now lines of beauty for him. He prowled in the library, and found interest in the mustiest facts relating to that place, learning with aesthetic pleasure that the number of its population was fifty thousand, that the mean temperature of its atmosphere was 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and that the peculiarities of a mistral were far from agreeable.

He waited overlong for her reply; but it ultimately came. After the usual business preliminary, she said:—

’As requested, I have visited the little church you designed. It gave me great pleasure to stand before a building whose outline and details had come from the brain of such a valued friend and adviser.’

(’Valued friend and adviser,’ repeated Somerset critically.)

’I like the style much, especially that of the windows—Early English are they not? I am going to attend service there next Sunday, BECAUSE YOU WERE THE ARCHITECT, AND FOR NO GODLY REASON AT ALL. Does that content you? Fie for your despondency! Remember M. Aurelius: "This is the chief thing: Be not perturbed; for all things are of the nature of the Universal." Indeed I am a little surprised at your having forebodings, after my assurance to you before I left. I have none. My opinion is that, to be happy, it is best to think that, as we are the product of events, events will continue to produce that which is in harmony with us. . . . You are too faint-hearted, and that’s the truth of it. I advise you not to abandon yourself to idolatry too readily; you know what I mean. It fills me with remorse when I think how very far below such a position my actual worth removes me.

’I should like to receive another letter from you as soon as you have got over the misgiving you speak of, but don’t write too soon. I wish I could write anything to raise your spirits, but you may be so perverse that if, in order to do this, I tell you of the races, routs, scenery, gaieties, and gambling going on in this place and neighbourhood (into which of course I cannot help being a little drawn), you may declare that my words make you worse than ever. Don’t pass the line I have set down in the way you were tempted to do in your last; and not too many Dearests—at least as yet. This is not a time for effusion. You have my very warm affection, and that’s enough for the present.’

As a love-letter this missive was tantalizing enough, but since its form was simply a continuation of what she had practised before she left, it produced no undue misgiving in him. Far more was he impressed by her omitting to answer the two important questions he had put to her. First, concerning her uncle’s attitude towards them, and his conduct in giving such strange information to the reporter. Second, on his, Somerset’s, paying her a flying visit some time during the spring. Since she had requested it, he made no haste in his reply. When penned, it ran in the words subjoined, which, in common with every line of their correspondence, acquired from the strangeness of subsequent circumstances an interest and a force that perhaps they did not intrinsically possess.

’People cannot’ (he wrote) ’be for ever in good spirits on this gloomy side of the Channel, even though you seem to be so on yours. However, that I can abstain from letting you know whether my spirits are good or otherwise, I will prove in our future correspondence. I admire you more and more, both for the warm feeling towards me which I firmly believe you have, and for your ability to maintain side by side with it so much dignity and resolution with regard to foolish sentiment. Sometimes I think I could have put up with a little more weakness if it had brought with it a little more tenderness, but I dismiss all that when I mentally survey your other qualities. I have thought of fifty things to say to you of the TOO FAR sort, not one of any other; so that your prohibition is very unfortunate, for by it I am doomed to say things that do not rise spontaneously to my lips. You say that our shut-up feelings are not to be mentioned yet. How long is the yet to last?

’But, to speak more solemnly, matters grow very serious with us, Paula—at least with me: and there are times when this restraint is really unbearable. It is possible to put up with reserve when the reserved being is by one’s side, for the eyes may reveal what the lips do not. But when she is absent, what was piquancy becomes harshness, tender railleries become cruel sarcasm, and tacit understandings misunderstandings. However that may be, you shall never be able to reproach me for touchiness. I still esteem you as a friend; I admire you and love you as a woman. This I shall always do, however unconfiding you prove.’

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Chicago: Thomas Hardy, "I," A Laodicean : A Story of to Day, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in A Laodicean : A Story of to Day Original Sources, accessed October 5, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LGTT9QXWFUMWL1.

MLA: Hardy, Thomas. "I." A Laodicean : A Story of to Day, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in A Laodicean : A Story of to Day, Original Sources. 5 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LGTT9QXWFUMWL1.

Harvard: Hardy, T, 'I' in A Laodicean : A Story of to Day, ed. and trans. . cited in , A Laodicean : A Story of to Day. Original Sources, retrieved 5 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LGTT9QXWFUMWL1.