Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Night and Day
Author: Woolf, Virginia
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Night and Day" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



NIGHT AND DAY

By Virginia Woolf



               TO
               VANESSA BELL
               BUT, LOOKING FOR A PHRASE,
               I FOUND NONE TO STAND
               BESIDE YOUR NAME



NIGHT AND DAY



CHAPTER I

It was a Sunday evening in October, and in common with many other young
ladies of her class, Katharine Hilbery was pouring out tea. Perhaps a
fifth part of her mind was thus occupied, and the remaining parts leapt
over the little barrier of day which interposed between Monday morning
and this rather subdued moment, and played with the things one does
voluntarily and normally in the daylight. But although she was silent,
she was evidently mistress of a situation which was familiar enough to
her, and inclined to let it take its way for the six hundredth time,
perhaps, without bringing into play any of her unoccupied faculties. A
single glance was enough to show that Mrs. Hilbery was so rich in the
gifts which make tea-parties of elderly distinguished people successful,
that she scarcely needed any help from her daughter, provided that the
tiresome business of teacups and bread and butter was discharged for
her.

Considering that the little party had been seated round the tea-table
for less than twenty minutes, the animation observable on their faces,
and the amount of sound they were producing collectively, were very
creditable to the hostess. It suddenly came into Katharine’s mind that
if some one opened the door at this moment he would think that they were
enjoying themselves; he would think, “What an extremely nice house
to come into!” and instinctively she laughed, and said something to
increase the noise, for the credit of the house presumably, since she
herself had not been feeling exhilarated. At the very same moment,
rather to her amusement, the door was flung open, and a young man
entered the room. Katharine, as she shook hands with him, asked him,
in her own mind, “Now, do you think we’re enjoying ourselves
enormously?”... “Mr. Denham, mother,” she said aloud, for she saw that
her mother had forgotten his name.

That fact was perceptible to Mr. Denham also, and increased the
awkwardness which inevitably attends the entrance of a stranger into a
room full of people much at their ease, and all launched upon sentences.
At the same time, it seemed to Mr. Denham as if a thousand softly padded
doors had closed between him and the street outside. A fine mist, the
etherealized essence of the fog, hung visibly in the wide and rather
empty space of the drawing-room, all silver where the candles were
grouped on the tea-table, and ruddy again in the firelight. With
the omnibuses and cabs still running in his head, and his body still
tingling with his quick walk along the streets and in and out of traffic
and foot-passengers, this drawing-room seemed very remote and still;
and the faces of the elderly people were mellowed, at some distance from
each other, and had a bloom on them owing to the fact that the air in
the drawing-room was thickened by blue grains of mist. Mr. Denham had
come in as Mr. Fortescue, the eminent novelist, reached the middle of a
very long sentence. He kept this suspended while the newcomer sat down,
and Mrs. Hilbery deftly joined the severed parts by leaning towards him
and remarking:

“Now, what would you do if you were married to an engineer, and had to
live in Manchester, Mr. Denham?”

“Surely she could learn Persian,” broke in a thin, elderly gentleman.
“Is there no retired schoolmaster or man of letters in Manchester with
whom she could read Persian?”

“A cousin of ours has married and gone to live in Manchester,” Katharine
explained. Mr. Denham muttered something, which was indeed all that
was required of him, and the novelist went on where he had left off.
Privately, Mr. Denham cursed himself very sharply for having exchanged
the freedom of the street for this sophisticated drawing-room, where,
among other disagreeables, he certainly would not appear at his best. He
glanced round him, and saw that, save for Katharine, they were all over
forty, the only consolation being that Mr. Fortescue was a considerable
celebrity, so that to-morrow one might be glad to have met him.

“Have you ever been to Manchester?” he asked Katharine.

“Never,” she replied.

“Why do you object to it, then?”

Katharine stirred her tea, and seemed to speculate, so Denham thought,
upon the duty of filling somebody else’s cup, but she was really
wondering how she was going to keep this strange young man in harmony
with the rest. She observed that he was compressing his teacup, so that
there was danger lest the thin china might cave inwards. She could see
that he was nervous; one would expect a bony young man with his face
slightly reddened by the wind, and his hair not altogether smooth, to
be nervous in such a party. Further, he probably disliked this kind of
thing, and had come out of curiosity, or because her father had invited
him--anyhow, he would not be easily combined with the rest.

“I should think there would be no one to talk to in Manchester,” she
replied at random. Mr. Fortescue had been observing her for a moment or
two, as novelists are inclined to observe, and at this remark he smiled,
and made it the text for a little further speculation.

“In spite of a slight tendency to exaggeration, Katharine decidedly
hits the mark,” he said, and lying back in his chair, with his opaque
contemplative eyes fixed on the ceiling, and the tips of his fingers
pressed together, he depicted, first the horrors of the streets of
Manchester, and then the bare, immense moors on the outskirts of the
town, and then the scrubby little house in which the girl would live,
and then the professors and the miserable young students devoted to the
more strenuous works of our younger dramatists, who would visit her,
and how her appearance would change by degrees, and how she would fly to
London, and how Katharine would have to lead her about, as one leads an
eager dog on a chain, past rows of clamorous butchers’ shops, poor dear
creature.

“Oh, Mr. Fortescue,” exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery, as he finished, “I had just
written to say how I envied her! I was thinking of the big gardens and
the dear old ladies in mittens, who read nothing but the “Spectator,”
 and snuff the candles. Have they ALL disappeared? I told her she would
find the nice things of London without the horrid streets that depress
one so.”

“There is the University,” said the thin gentleman, who had previously
insisted upon the existence of people knowing Persian.

“I know there are moors there, because I read about them in a book the
other day,” said Katharine.

“I am grieved and amazed at the ignorance of my family,” Mr. Hilbery
remarked. He was an elderly man, with a pair of oval, hazel eyes which
were rather bright for his time of life, and relieved the heaviness of
his face. He played constantly with a little green stone attached to his
watch-chain, thus displaying long and very sensitive fingers, and had
a habit of moving his head hither and thither very quickly without
altering the position of his large and rather corpulent body, so that he
seemed to be providing himself incessantly with food for amusement and
reflection with the least possible expenditure of energy. One might
suppose that he had passed the time of life when his ambitions were
personal, or that he had gratified them as far as he was likely to
do, and now employed his considerable acuteness rather to observe and
reflect than to attain any result.

Katharine, so Denham decided, while Mr. Fortescue built up another
rounded structure of words, had a likeness to each of her parents, but
these elements were rather oddly blended. She had the quick, impulsive
movements of her mother, the lips parting often to speak, and closing
again; and the dark oval eyes of her father brimming with light upon
a basis of sadness, or, since she was too young to have acquired a
sorrowful point of view, one might say that the basis was not sadness so
much as a spirit given to contemplation and self-control. Judging by her
hair, her coloring, and the shape of her features, she was striking,
if not actually beautiful. Decision and composure stamped her, a
combination of qualities that produced a very marked character, and one
that was not calculated to put a young man, who scarcely knew her, at
his ease. For the rest, she was tall; her dress was of some quiet color,
with old yellow-tinted lace for ornament, to which the spark of an
ancient jewel gave its one red gleam. Denham noticed that, although
silent, she kept sufficient control of the situation to answer
immediately her mother appealed to her for help, and yet it was obvious
to him that she attended only with the surface skin of her mind. It
struck him that her position at the tea-table, among all these elderly
people, was not without its difficulties, and he checked his inclination
to find her, or her attitude, generally antipathetic to him. The talk
had passed over Manchester, after dealing with it very generously.

“Would it be the Battle of Trafalgar or the Spanish Armada, Katharine?”
 her mother demanded.

“Trafalgar, mother.”

“Trafalgar, of course! How stupid of me! Another cup of tea, with a thin
slice of lemon in it, and then, dear Mr. Fortescue, please explain my
absurd little puzzle. One can’t help believing gentlemen with Roman
noses, even if one meets them in omnibuses.”

Mr. Hilbery here interposed so far as Denham was concerned, and talked
a great deal of sense about the solicitors’ profession, and the changes
which he had seen in his lifetime. Indeed, Denham properly fell to his
lot, owing to the fact that an article by Denham upon some legal matter,
published by Mr. Hilbery in his Review, had brought them acquainted. But
when a moment later Mrs. Sutton Bailey was announced, he turned to her,
and Mr. Denham found himself sitting silent, rejecting possible things
to say, beside Katharine, who was silent too. Being much about the same
age and both under thirty, they were prohibited from the use of a great
many convenient phrases which launch conversation into smooth waters.
They were further silenced by Katharine’s rather malicious determination
not to help this young man, in whose upright and resolute bearing she
detected something hostile to her surroundings, by any of the usual
feminine amenities. They therefore sat silent, Denham controlling his
desire to say something abrupt and explosive, which should shock her
into life. But Mrs. Hilbery was immediately sensitive to any silence
in the drawing-room, as of a dumb note in a sonorous scale, and leaning
across the table she observed, in the curiously tentative detached
manner which always gave her phrases the likeness of butterflies
flaunting from one sunny spot to another, “D’you know, Mr. Denham, you
remind me so much of dear Mr. Ruskin.... Is it his tie, Katharine, or
his hair, or the way he sits in his chair? Do tell me, Mr. Denham, are
you an admirer of Ruskin? Some one, the other day, said to me, ‘Oh, no,
we don’t read Ruskin, Mrs. Hilbery.’ What DO you read, I wonder?--for
you can’t spend all your time going up in aeroplanes and burrowing into
the bowels of the earth.”

She looked benevolently at Denham, who said nothing articulate, and
then at Katharine, who smiled but said nothing either, upon which Mrs.
Hilbery seemed possessed by a brilliant idea, and exclaimed:

“I’m sure Mr. Denham would like to see our things, Katharine. I’m sure
he’s not like that dreadful young man, Mr. Ponting, who told me that he
considered it our duty to live exclusively in the present. After all,
what IS the present? Half of it’s the past, and the better half, too, I
should say,” she added, turning to Mr. Fortescue.

Denham rose, half meaning to go, and thinking that he had seen all that
there was to see, but Katharine rose at the same moment, and saying,
“Perhaps you would like to see the pictures,” led the way across the
drawing-room to a smaller room opening out of it.

The smaller room was something like a chapel in a cathedral, or a
grotto in a cave, for the booming sound of the traffic in the distance
suggested the soft surge of waters, and the oval mirrors, with their
silver surface, were like deep pools trembling beneath starlight. But
the comparison to a religious temple of some kind was the more apt of
the two, for the little room was crowded with relics.

As Katharine touched different spots, lights sprang here and there, and
revealed a square mass of red-and-gold books, and then a long skirt
in blue-and-white paint lustrous behind glass, and then a mahogany
writing-table, with its orderly equipment, and, finally, a picture above
the table, to which special illumination was accorded. When Katharine
had touched these last lights, she stood back, as much as to say,
“There!” Denham found himself looked down upon by the eyes of the great
poet, Richard Alardyce, and suffered a little shock which would have led
him, had he been wearing a hat, to remove it. The eyes looked at him out
of the mellow pinks and yellows of the paint with divine friendliness,
which embraced him, and passed on to contemplate the entire world. The
paint had so faded that very little but the beautiful large eyes were
left, dark in the surrounding dimness.

Katharine waited as though for him to receive a full impression, and
then she said:

“This is his writing-table. He used this pen,” and she lifted a quill
pen and laid it down again. The writing-table was splashed with old ink,
and the pen disheveled in service. There lay the gigantic gold-rimmed
spectacles, ready to his hand, and beneath the table was a pair of
large, worn slippers, one of which Katharine picked up, remarking:

“I think my grandfather must have been at least twice as large as any
one is nowadays. This,” she went on, as if she knew what she had to say
by heart, “is the original manuscript of the ‘Ode to Winter.’ The early
poems are far less corrected than the later. Would you like to look at
it?”

While Mr. Denham examined the manuscript, she glanced up at her
grandfather, and, for the thousandth time, fell into a pleasant dreamy
state in which she seemed to be the companion of those giant men, of
their own lineage, at any rate, and the insignificant present moment was
put to shame. That magnificent ghostly head on the canvas, surely, never
beheld all the trivialities of a Sunday afternoon, and it did not seem
to matter what she and this young man said to each other, for they were
only small people.

“This is a copy of the first edition of the poems,” she continued,
without considering the fact that Mr. Denham was still occupied with the
manuscript, “which contains several poems that have not been reprinted,
as well as corrections.” She paused for a minute, and then went on, as
if these spaces had all been calculated.

“That lady in blue is my great-grandmother, by Millington. Here is my
uncle’s walking-stick--he was Sir Richard Warburton, you know, and rode
with Havelock to the Relief of Lucknow. And then, let me see--oh, that’s
the original Alardyce, 1697, the founder of the family fortunes, with
his wife. Some one gave us this bowl the other day because it has their
crest and initials. We think it must have been given them to celebrate
their silver wedding-day.”

Here she stopped for a moment, wondering why it was that Mr. Denham said
nothing. Her feeling that he was antagonistic to her, which had lapsed
while she thought of her family possessions, returned so keenly that
she stopped in the middle of her catalog and looked at him. Her mother,
wishing to connect him reputably with the great dead, had compared him
with Mr. Ruskin; and the comparison was in Katharine’s mind, and led
her to be more critical of the young man than was fair, for a young man
paying a call in a tail-coat is in a different element altogether from
a head seized at its climax of expressiveness, gazing immutably from
behind a sheet of glass, which was all that remained to her of Mr.
Ruskin. He had a singular face--a face built for swiftness and decision
rather than for massive contemplation; the forehead broad, the nose long
and formidable, the lips clean-shaven and at once dogged and sensitive,
the cheeks lean, with a deeply running tide of red blood in them. His
eyes, expressive now of the usual masculine impersonality and authority,
might reveal more subtle emotions under favorable circumstances, for
they were large, and of a clear, brown color; they seemed unexpectedly
to hesitate and speculate; but Katharine only looked at him to wonder
whether his face would not have come nearer the standard of her dead
heroes if it had been adorned with side-whiskers. In his spare build
and thin, though healthy, cheeks, she saw tokens of an angular and acrid
soul. His voice, she noticed, had a slight vibrating or creaking sound
in it, as he laid down the manuscript and said:

“You must be very proud of your family, Miss Hilbery.”

“Yes, I am,” Katharine answered, and she added, “Do you think there’s
anything wrong in that?”

“Wrong? How should it be wrong? It must be a bore, though, showing your
things to visitors,” he added reflectively.

“Not if the visitors like them.”

“Isn’t it difficult to live up to your ancestors?” he proceeded.

“I dare say I shouldn’t try to write poetry,” Katharine replied.

“No. And that’s what I should hate. I couldn’t bear my grandfather
to cut me out. And, after all,” Denham went on, glancing round him
satirically, as Katharine thought, “it’s not your grandfather only.
You’re cut out all the way round. I suppose you come of one of the most
distinguished families in England. There are the Warburtons and the
Mannings--and you’re related to the Otways, aren’t you? I read it all in
some magazine,” he added.

“The Otways are my cousins,” Katharine replied.

“Well,” said Denham, in a final tone of voice, as if his argument were
proved.

“Well,” said Katharine, “I don’t see that you’ve proved anything.”

Denham smiled, in a peculiarly provoking way. He was amused and
gratified to find that he had the power to annoy his oblivious,
supercilious hostess, if he could not impress her; though he would have
preferred to impress her.

He sat silent, holding the precious little book of poems unopened in
his hands, and Katharine watched him, the melancholy or contemplative
expression deepening in her eyes as her annoyance faded. She appeared to
be considering many things. She had forgotten her duties.

“Well,” said Denham again, suddenly opening the little book of poems,
as though he had said all that he meant to say or could, with propriety,
say. He turned over the pages with great decision, as if he were judging
the book in its entirety, the printing and paper and binding, as well
as the poetry, and then, having satisfied himself of its good or bad
quality, he placed it on the writing-table, and examined the malacca
cane with the gold knob which had belonged to the soldier.

“But aren’t you proud of your family?” Katharine demanded.

“No,” said Denham. “We’ve never done anything to be proud of--unless you
count paying one’s bills a matter for pride.”

“That sounds rather dull,” Katharine remarked.

“You would think us horribly dull,” Denham agreed.

“Yes, I might find you dull, but I don’t think I should find you
ridiculous,” Katharine added, as if Denham had actually brought that
charge against her family.

“No--because we’re not in the least ridiculous. We’re a respectable
middle-class family, living at Highgate.”

“We don’t live at Highgate, but we’re middle class too, I suppose.”

Denham merely smiled, and replacing the malacca cane on the rack, he
drew a sword from its ornamental sheath.

“That belonged to Clive, so we say,” said Katharine, taking up her
duties as hostess again automatically.

“Is it a lie?” Denham inquired.

“It’s a family tradition. I don’t know that we can prove it.”

“You see, we don’t have traditions in our family,” said Denham.

“You sound very dull,” Katharine remarked, for the second time.

“Merely middle class,” Denham replied.

“You pay your bills, and you speak the truth. I don’t see why you should
despise us.”

Mr. Denham carefully sheathed the sword which the Hilberys said belonged
to Clive.

“I shouldn’t like to be you; that’s all I said,” he replied, as if he
were saying what he thought as accurately as he could.

“No, but one never would like to be any one else.”

“I should. I should like to be lots of other people.”

“Then why not us?” Katharine asked.

Denham looked at her as she sat in her grandfather’s arm-chair, drawing
her great-uncle’s malacca cane smoothly through her fingers, while her
background was made up equally of lustrous blue-and-white paint, and
crimson books with gilt lines on them. The vitality and composure of
her attitude, as of a bright-plumed bird poised easily before further
flights, roused him to show her the limitations of her lot. So soon, so
easily, would he be forgotten.

“You’ll never know anything at first hand,” he began, almost savagely.
“It’s all been done for you. You’ll never know the pleasure of buying
things after saving up for them, or reading books for the first time, or
making discoveries.”

“Go on,” Katharine observed, as he paused, suddenly doubtful, when he
heard his voice proclaiming aloud these facts, whether there was any
truth in them.

“Of course, I don’t know how you spend your time,” he continued, a
little stiffly, “but I suppose you have to show people round. You
are writing a life of your grandfather, aren’t you? And this kind of
thing”--he nodded towards the other room, where they could hear bursts
of cultivated laughter--“must take up a lot of time.”

She looked at him expectantly, as if between them they were decorating
a small figure of herself, and she saw him hesitating in the disposition
of some bow or sash.

“You’ve got it very nearly right,” she said, “but I only help my mother.
I don’t write myself.”

“Do you do anything yourself?” he demanded.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “I don’t leave the house at ten and come
back at six.”

“I don’t mean that.”

Mr. Denham had recovered his self-control; he spoke with a quietness
which made Katharine rather anxious that he should explain himself, but
at the same time she wished to annoy him, to waft him away from her on
some light current of ridicule or satire, as she was wont to do with
these intermittent young men of her father’s.

“Nobody ever does do anything worth doing nowadays,” she remarked. “You
see”--she tapped the volume of her grandfather’s poems--“we don’t
even print as well as they did, and as for poets or painters or
novelists--there are none; so, at any rate, I’m not singular.”

“No, we haven’t any great men,” Denham replied. “I’m very glad that we
haven’t. I hate great men. The worship of greatness in the nineteenth
century seems to me to explain the worthlessness of that generation.”

Katharine opened her lips and drew in her breath, as if to reply with
equal vigor, when the shutting of a door in the next room withdrew her
attention, and they both became conscious that the voices, which had
been rising and falling round the tea-table, had fallen silent; the
light, even, seemed to have sunk lower. A moment later Mrs. Hilbery
appeared in the doorway of the ante-room. She stood looking at them with
a smile of expectancy on her face, as if a scene from the drama of
the younger generation were being played for her benefit. She was a
remarkable-looking woman, well advanced in the sixties, but owing to the
lightness of her frame and the brightness of her eyes she seemed to have
been wafted over the surface of the years without taking much harm
in the passage. Her face was shrunken and aquiline, but any hint of
sharpness was dispelled by the large blue eyes, at once sagacious and
innocent, which seemed to regard the world with an enormous desire that
it should behave itself nobly, and an entire confidence that it could do
so, if it would only take the pains.

Certain lines on the broad forehead and about the lips might be taken to
suggest that she had known moments of some difficulty and perplexity in
the course of her career, but these had not destroyed her trustfulness,
and she was clearly still prepared to give every one any number of fresh
chances and the whole system the benefit of the doubt. She wore a great
resemblance to her father, and suggested, as he did, the fresh airs and
open spaces of a younger world.

“Well,” she said, “how do you like our things, Mr. Denham?”

Mr. Denham rose, put his book down, opened his mouth, but said nothing,
as Katharine observed, with some amusement.

Mrs. Hilbery handled the book he had laid down.

“There are some books that LIVE,” she mused. “They are young with us,
and they grow old with us. Are you fond of poetry, Mr. Denham? But what
an absurd question to ask! The truth is, dear Mr. Fortescue has almost
tired me out. He is so eloquent and so witty, so searching and so
profound that, after half an hour or so, I feel inclined to turn out all
the lights. But perhaps he’d be more wonderful than ever in the dark.
What d’you think, Katharine? Shall we give a little party in complete
darkness? There’d have to be bright rooms for the bores....”

Here Mr. Denham held out his hand.

“But we’ve any number of things to show you!” Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed,
taking no notice of it. “Books, pictures, china, manuscripts, and the
very chair that Mary Queen of Scots sat in when she heard of Darnley’s
murder. I must lie down for a little, and Katharine must change her
dress (though she’s wearing a very pretty one), but if you don’t mind
being left alone, supper will be at eight. I dare say you’ll write a
poem of your own while you’re waiting. Ah, how I love the firelight!
Doesn’t our room look charming?”

She stepped back and bade them contemplate the empty drawing-room, with
its rich, irregular lights, as the flames leapt and wavered.

“Dear things!” she exclaimed. “Dear chairs and tables! How like old
friends they are--faithful, silent friends. Which reminds me, Katharine,
little Mr. Anning is coming to-night, and Tite Street, and Cadogan
Square.... Do remember to get that drawing of your great-uncle glazed.
Aunt Millicent remarked it last time she was here, and I know how it
would hurt me to see MY father in a broken glass.”

It was like tearing through a maze of diamond-glittering spiders’ webs
to say good-bye and escape, for at each movement Mrs. Hilbery remembered
something further about the villainies of picture-framers or the
delights of poetry, and at one time it seemed to the young man that he
would be hypnotized into doing what she pretended to want him to do,
for he could not suppose that she attached any value whatever to his
presence. Katharine, however, made an opportunity for him to leave, and
for that he was grateful to her, as one young person is grateful for the
understanding of another.



CHAPTER II

The young man shut the door with a sharper slam than any visitor had
used that afternoon, and walked up the street at a great pace, cutting
the air with his walking-stick. He was glad to find himself outside that
drawing-room, breathing raw fog, and in contact with unpolished people
who only wanted their share of the pavement allowed them. He thought
that if he had had Mr. or Mrs. or Miss Hilbery out here he would have
made them, somehow, feel his superiority, for he was chafed by the
memory of halting awkward sentences which had failed to give even the
young woman with the sad, but inwardly ironical eyes a hint of his
force. He tried to recall the actual words of his little outburst,
and unconsciously supplemented them by so many words of greater
expressiveness that the irritation of his failure was somewhat assuaged.
Sudden stabs of the unmitigated truth assailed him now and then, for he
was not inclined by nature to take a rosy view of his conduct, but
what with the beat of his foot upon the pavement, and the glimpse
which half-drawn curtains offered him of kitchens, dining-rooms, and
drawing-rooms, illustrating with mute power different scenes from
different lives, his own experience lost its sharpness.

His own experience underwent a curious change. His speed slackened, his
head sank a little towards his breast, and the lamplight shone now and
again upon a face grown strangely tranquil. His thought was so absorbing
that when it became necessary to verify the name of a street, he looked
at it for a time before he read it; when he came to a crossing, he
seemed to have to reassure himself by two or three taps, such as a blind
man gives, upon the curb; and, reaching the Underground station, he
blinked in the bright circle of light, glanced at his watch, decided
that he might still indulge himself in darkness, and walked straight on.

And yet the thought was the thought with which he had started. He was
still thinking about the people in the house which he had left; but
instead of remembering, with whatever accuracy he could, their looks and
sayings, he had consciously taken leave of the literal truth. A turn of
the street, a firelit room, something monumental in the procession
of the lamp-posts, who shall say what accident of light or shape had
suddenly changed the prospect within his mind, and led him to murmur
aloud:

“She’ll do.... Yes, Katharine Hilbery’ll do.... I’ll take Katharine
Hilbery.”

As soon as he had said this, his pace slackened, his head fell, his eyes
became fixed. The desire to justify himself, which had been so urgent,
ceased to torment him, and, as if released from constraint, so that
they worked without friction or bidding, his faculties leapt forward and
fixed, as a matter of course, upon the form of Katharine Hilbery. It was
marvellous how much they found to feed upon, considering the destructive
nature of Denham’s criticism in her presence. The charm, which he had
tried to disown, when under the effect of it, the beauty, the character,
the aloofness, which he had been determined not to feel, now possessed
him wholly; and when, as happened by the nature of things, he had
exhausted his memory, he went on with his imagination. He was conscious
of what he was about, for in thus dwelling upon Miss Hilbery’s
qualities, he showed a kind of method, as if he required this vision of
her for a particular purpose. He increased her height, he darkened
her hair; but physically there was not much to change in her. His most
daring liberty was taken with her mind, which, for reasons of his own,
he desired to be exalted and infallible, and of such independence that
it was only in the case of Ralph Denham that it swerved from its high,
swift flight, but where he was concerned, though fastidious at first,
she finally swooped from her eminence to crown him with her approval.
These delicious details, however, were to be worked out in all their
ramifications at his leisure; the main point was that Katharine Hilbery
would do; she would do for weeks, perhaps for months. In taking her he
had provided himself with something the lack of which had left a
bare place in his mind for a considerable time. He gave a sigh of
satisfaction; his consciousness of his actual position somewhere in the
neighborhood of Knightsbridge returned to him, and he was soon speeding
in the train towards Highgate.

Although thus supported by the knowledge of his new possession of
considerable value, he was not proof against the familiar thoughts which
the suburban streets and the damp shrubs growing in front gardens
and the absurd names painted in white upon the gates of those gardens
suggested to him. His walk was uphill, and his mind dwelt gloomily upon
the house which he approached, where he would find six or seven brothers
and sisters, a widowed mother, and, probably, some aunt or uncle sitting
down to an unpleasant meal under a very bright light. Should he put in
force the threat which, two weeks ago, some such gathering had wrung
from him--the terrible threat that if visitors came on Sunday he should
dine alone in his room? A glance in the direction of Miss Hilbery
determined him to make his stand this very night, and accordingly,
having let himself in, having verified the presence of Uncle Joseph by
means of a bowler hat and a very large umbrella, he gave his orders to
the maid, and went upstairs to his room.

He went up a great many flights of stairs, and he noticed, as he had
very seldom noticed, how the carpet became steadily shabbier, until it
ceased altogether, how the walls were discolored, sometimes by cascades
of damp, and sometimes by the outlines of picture-frames since removed,
how the paper flapped loose at the corners, and a great flake of plaster
had fallen from the ceiling. The room itself was a cheerless one to
return to at this inauspicious hour. A flattened sofa would, later
in the evening, become a bed; one of the tables concealed a washing
apparatus; his clothes and boots were disagreeably mixed with books
which bore the gilt of college arms; and, for decoration, there
hung upon the wall photographs of bridges and cathedrals and large,
unprepossessing groups of insufficiently clothed young men, sitting in
rows one above another upon stone steps. There was a look of meanness
and shabbiness in the furniture and curtains, and nowhere any sign of
luxury or even of a cultivated taste, unless the cheap classics in the
book-case were a sign of an effort in that direction. The only object
that threw any light upon the character of the room’s owner was a large
perch, placed in the window to catch the air and sun, upon which a tame
and, apparently, decrepit rook hopped dryly from side to side. The bird,
encouraged by a scratch behind the ear, settled upon Denham’s shoulder.
He lit his gas-fire and settled down in gloomy patience to await his
dinner. After sitting thus for some minutes a small girl popped her head
in to say,

“Mother says, aren’t you coming down, Ralph? Uncle Joseph--”

“They’re to bring my dinner up here,” said Ralph, peremptorily;
whereupon she vanished, leaving the door ajar in her haste to be gone.
After Denham had waited some minutes, in the course of which neither
he nor the rook took their eyes off the fire, he muttered a curse, ran
downstairs, intercepted the parlor-maid, and cut himself a slice of
bread and cold meat. As he did so, the dining-room door sprang open, a
voice exclaimed “Ralph!” but Ralph paid no attention to the voice, and
made off upstairs with his plate. He set it down in a chair opposite
him, and ate with a ferocity that was due partly to anger and partly to
hunger. His mother, then, was determined not to respect his wishes; he
was a person of no importance in his own family; he was sent for and
treated as a child. He reflected, with a growing sense of injury, that
almost every one of his actions since opening the door of his room had
been won from the grasp of the family system. By rights, he should have
been sitting downstairs in the drawing-room describing his afternoon’s
adventures, or listening to the afternoon’s adventures of other people;
the room itself, the gas-fire, the arm-chair--all had been fought for;
the wretched bird, with half its feathers out and one leg lamed by a
cat, had been rescued under protest; but what his family most resented,
he reflected, was his wish for privacy. To dine alone, or to sit alone
after dinner, was flat rebellion, to be fought with every weapon
of underhand stealth or of open appeal. Which did he dislike
most--deception or tears? But, at any rate, they could not rob him of
his thoughts; they could not make him say where he had been or whom he
had seen. That was his own affair; that, indeed, was a step entirely in
the right direction, and, lighting his pipe, and cutting up the remains
of his meal for the benefit of the rook, Ralph calmed his rather
excessive irritation and settled down to think over his prospects.

This particular afternoon was a step in the right direction, because it
was part of his plan to get to know people beyond the family circuit,
just as it was part of his plan to learn German this autumn, and to
review legal books for Mr. Hilbery’s “Critical Review.” He had always
made plans since he was a small boy; for poverty, and the fact that
he was the eldest son of a large family, had given him the habit of
thinking of spring and summer, autumn and winter, as so many stages in a
prolonged campaign. Although he was still under thirty, this forecasting
habit had marked two semicircular lines above his eyebrows, which
threatened, at this moment, to crease into their wonted shapes. But
instead of settling down to think, he rose, took a small piece of
cardboard marked in large letters with the word OUT, and hung it
upon the handle of his door. This done, he sharpened a pencil, lit a
reading-lamp and opened his book. But still he hesitated to take his
seat. He scratched the rook, he walked to the window; he parted the
curtains, and looked down upon the city which lay, hazily luminous,
beneath him. He looked across the vapors in the direction of Chelsea;
looked fixedly for a moment, and then returned to his chair. But the
whole thickness of some learned counsel’s treatise upon Torts did not
screen him satisfactorily. Through the pages he saw a drawing-room,
very empty and spacious; he heard low voices, he saw women’s figures, he
could even smell the scent of the cedar log which flamed in the grate.
His mind relaxed its tension, and seemed to be giving out now what
it had taken in unconsciously at the time. He could remember Mr.
Fortescue’s exact words, and the rolling emphasis with which he
delivered them, and he began to repeat what Mr. Fortescue had said, in
Mr. Fortescue’s own manner, about Manchester. His mind then began to
wander about the house, and he wondered whether there were other rooms
like the drawing-room, and he thought, inconsequently, how beautiful the
bathroom must be, and how leisurely it was--the life of these well-kept
people, who were, no doubt, still sitting in the same room, only they
had changed their clothes, and little Mr. Anning was there, and the aunt
who would mind if the glass of her father’s picture was broken. Miss
Hilbery had changed her dress (“although she’s wearing such a pretty
one,” he heard her mother say), and she was talking to Mr. Anning,
who was well over forty, and bald into the bargain, about books. How
peaceful and spacious it was; and the peace possessed him so completely
that his muscles slackened, his book drooped from his hand, and he
forgot that the hour of work was wasting minute by minute.

He was roused by a creak upon the stair. With a guilty start he composed
himself, frowned and looked intently at the fifty-sixth page of his
volume. A step paused outside his door, and he knew that the person,
whoever it might be, was considering the placard, and debating whether
to honor its decree or not. Certainly, policy advised him to sit still
in autocratic silence, for no custom can take root in a family unless
every breach of it is punished severely for the first six months or so.
But Ralph was conscious of a distinct wish to be interrupted, and his
disappointment was perceptible when he heard the creaking sound rather
farther down the stairs, as if his visitor had decided to withdraw. He
rose, opened the door with unnecessary abruptness, and waited on the
landing. The person stopped simultaneously half a flight downstairs.

“Ralph?” said a voice, inquiringly.

“Joan?”

“I was coming up, but I saw your notice.”

“Well, come along in, then.” He concealed his desire beneath a tone as
grudging as he could make it.

Joan came in, but she was careful to show, by standing upright with
one hand upon the mantelpiece, that she was only there for a definite
purpose, which discharged, she would go.

She was older than Ralph by some three or four years. Her face was round
but worn, and expressed that tolerant but anxious good humor which is
the special attribute of elder sisters in large families. Her pleasant
brown eyes resembled Ralph’s, save in expression, for whereas he seemed
to look straightly and keenly at one object, she appeared to be in the
habit of considering everything from many different points of view. This
made her appear his elder by more years than existed in fact between
them. Her gaze rested for a moment or two upon the rook. She then said,
without any preface:

“It’s about Charles and Uncle John’s offer.... Mother’s been talking to
me. She says she can’t afford to pay for him after this term. She says
she’ll have to ask for an overdraft as it is.”

“That’s simply not true,” said Ralph.

“No. I thought not. But she won’t believe me when I say it.”

Ralph, as if he could foresee the length of this familiar argument, drew
up a chair for his sister and sat down himself.

“I’m not interrupting?” she inquired.

Ralph shook his head, and for a time they sat silent. The lines curved
themselves in semicircles above their eyes.

“She doesn’t understand that one’s got to take risks,” he observed,
finally.

“I believe mother would take risks if she knew that Charles was the sort
of boy to profit by it.”

“He’s got brains, hasn’t he?” said Ralph. His tone had taken on that
shade of pugnacity which suggested to his sister that some personal
grievance drove him to take the line he did. She wondered what it might
be, but at once recalled her mind, and assented.

“In some ways he’s fearfully backward, though, compared with what you
were at his age. And he’s difficult at home, too. He makes Molly slave
for him.”

Ralph made a sound which belittled this particular argument. It was
plain to Joan that she had struck one of her brother’s perverse moods,
and he was going to oppose whatever his mother said. He called her
“she,” which was a proof of it. She sighed involuntarily, and the sigh
annoyed Ralph, and he exclaimed with irritation:

“It’s pretty hard lines to stick a boy into an office at seventeen!”

“Nobody WANTS to stick him into an office,” she said.

She, too, was becoming annoyed. She had spent the whole of the afternoon
discussing wearisome details of education and expense with her
mother, and she had come to her brother for help, encouraged, rather
irrationally, to expect help by the fact that he had been out somewhere,
she didn’t know and didn’t mean to ask where, all the afternoon.

Ralph was fond of his sister, and her irritation made him think how
unfair it was that all these burdens should be laid on her shoulders.

“The truth is,” he observed gloomily, “that I ought to have accepted
Uncle John’s offer. I should have been making six hundred a year by this
time.”

“I don’t think that for a moment,” Joan replied quickly, repenting of
her annoyance. “The question, to my mind, is, whether we couldn’t cut
down our expenses in some way.”

“A smaller house?”

“Fewer servants, perhaps.”

Neither brother nor sister spoke with much conviction, and after
reflecting for a moment what these proposed reforms in a strictly
economical household meant, Ralph announced very decidedly:

“It’s out of the question.”

It was out of the question that she should put any more household work
upon herself. No, the hardship must fall on him, for he was determined
that his family should have as many chances of distinguishing themselves
as other families had--as the Hilberys had, for example. He believed
secretly and rather defiantly, for it was a fact not capable of proof,
that there was something very remarkable about his family.

“If mother won’t run risks--”

“You really can’t expect her to sell out again.”

“She ought to look upon it as an investment; but if she won’t, we must
find some other way, that’s all.”

A threat was contained in this sentence, and Joan knew, without asking,
what the threat was. In the course of his professional life, which now
extended over six or seven years, Ralph had saved, perhaps, three or
four hundred pounds. Considering the sacrifices he had made in order to
put by this sum it always amazed Joan to find that he used it to gamble
with, buying shares and selling them again, increasing it sometimes,
sometimes diminishing it, and always running the risk of losing every
penny of it in a day’s disaster. But although she wondered, she could
not help loving him the better for his odd combination of Spartan
self-control and what appeared to her romantic and childish folly. Ralph
interested her more than any one else in the world, and she often broke
off in the middle of one of these economic discussions, in spite of
their gravity, to consider some fresh aspect of his character.

“I think you’d be foolish to risk your money on poor old Charles,”
 she observed. “Fond as I am of him, he doesn’t seem to me exactly
brilliant.... Besides, why should you be sacrificed?”

“My dear Joan,” Ralph exclaimed, stretching himself out with a gesture
of impatience, “don’t you see that we’ve all got to be sacrificed?
What’s the use of denying it? What’s the use of struggling against it?
So it always has been, so it always will be. We’ve got no money and we
never shall have any money. We shall just turn round in the mill every
day of our lives until we drop and die, worn out, as most people do,
when one comes to think of it.”

Joan looked at him, opened her lips as if to speak, and closed them
again. Then she said, very tentatively:

“Aren’t you happy, Ralph?”

“No. Are you? Perhaps I’m as happy as most people, though. God knows
whether I’m happy or not. What is happiness?”

He glanced with half a smile, in spite of his gloomy irritation, at his
sister. She looked, as usual, as if she were weighing one thing with
another, and balancing them together before she made up her mind.

“Happiness,” she remarked at length enigmatically, rather as if she were
sampling the word, and then she paused. She paused for a considerable
space, as if she were considering happiness in all its bearings. “Hilda
was here to-day,” she suddenly resumed, as if they had never mentioned
happiness. “She brought Bobbie--he’s a fine boy now.” Ralph observed,
with an amusement that had a tinge of irony in it, that she was now
going to sidle away quickly from this dangerous approach to intimacy on
to topics of general and family interest. Nevertheless, he reflected,
she was the only one of his family with whom he found it possible to
discuss happiness, although he might very well have discussed happiness
with Miss Hilbery at their first meeting. He looked critically at Joan,
and wished that she did not look so provincial or suburban in her high
green dress with the faded trimming, so patient, and almost resigned. He
began to wish to tell her about the Hilberys in order to abuse them,
for in the miniature battle which so often rages between two quickly
following impressions of life, the life of the Hilberys was getting the
better of the life of the Denhams in his mind, and he wanted to assure
himself that there was some quality in which Joan infinitely surpassed
Miss Hilbery. He should have felt that his own sister was more original,
and had greater vitality than Miss Hilbery had; but his main impression
of Katharine now was of a person of great vitality and composure; and at
the moment he could not perceive what poor dear Joan had gained from
the fact that she was the granddaughter of a man who kept a shop, and
herself earned her own living. The infinite dreariness and sordidness of
their life oppressed him in spite of his fundamental belief that, as a
family, they were somehow remarkable.

“Shall you talk to mother?” Joan inquired. “Because, you see, the
thing’s got to be settled, one way or another. Charles must write to
Uncle John if he’s going there.”

Ralph sighed impatiently.

“I suppose it doesn’t much matter either way,” he exclaimed. “He’s
doomed to misery in the long run.”

A slight flush came into Joan’s cheek.

“You know you’re talking nonsense,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt any one
to have to earn their own living. I’m very glad I have to earn mine.”

Ralph was pleased that she should feel this, and wished her to continue,
but he went on, perversely enough.

“Isn’t that only because you’ve forgotten how to enjoy yourself? You
never have time for anything decent--”

“As for instance?”

“Well, going for walks, or music, or books, or seeing interesting
people. You never do anything that’s really worth doing any more than I
do.”

“I always think you could make this room much nicer, if you liked,” she
observed.

“What does it matter what sort of room I have when I’m forced to spend
all the best years of my life drawing up deeds in an office?”

“You said two days ago that you found the law so interesting.”

“So it is if one could afford to know anything about it.”

(“That’s Herbert only just going to bed now,” Joan interposed, as a
door on the landing slammed vigorously. “And then he won’t get up in the
morning.”)

Ralph looked at the ceiling, and shut his lips closely together. Why,
he wondered, could Joan never for one moment detach her mind from the
details of domestic life? It seemed to him that she was getting more and
more enmeshed in them, and capable of shorter and less frequent flights
into the outer world, and yet she was only thirty-three.

“D’you ever pay calls now?” he asked abruptly.

“I don’t often have the time. Why do you ask?”

“It might be a good thing, to get to know new people, that’s all.”

“Poor Ralph!” said Joan suddenly, with a smile. “You think your sister’s
getting very old and very dull--that’s it, isn’t it?”

“I don’t think anything of the kind,” he said stoutly, but he flushed.
“But you lead a dog’s life, Joan. When you’re not working in an office,
you’re worrying over the rest of us. And I’m not much good to you, I’m
afraid.”

Joan rose, and stood for a moment warming her hands, and, apparently,
meditating as to whether she should say anything more or not. A feeling
of great intimacy united the brother and sister, and the semicircular
lines above their eyebrows disappeared. No, there was nothing more to
be said on either side. Joan brushed her brother’s head with her hand as
she passed him, murmured good night, and left the room. For some minutes
after she had gone Ralph lay quiescent, resting his head on his hand,
but gradually his eyes filled with thought, and the line reappeared
on his brow, as the pleasant impression of companionship and ancient
sympathy waned, and he was left to think on alone.

After a time he opened his book, and read on steadily, glancing once or
twice at his watch, as if he had set himself a task to be accomplished
in a certain measure of time. Now and then he heard voices in the house,
and the closing of bedroom doors, which showed that the building, at
the top of which he sat, was inhabited in every one of its cells. When
midnight struck, Ralph shut his book, and with a candle in his hand,
descended to the ground floor, to ascertain that all lights were extinct
and all doors locked. It was a threadbare, well-worn house that he thus
examined, as if the inmates had grazed down all luxuriance and plenty to
the verge of decency; and in the night, bereft of life, bare places
and ancient blemishes were unpleasantly visible. Katharine Hilbery, he
thought, would condemn it off-hand.



CHAPTER III

Denham had accused Katharine Hilbery of belonging to one of the most
distinguished families in England, and if any one will take the trouble
to consult Mr. Galton’s “Hereditary Genius,” he will find that this
assertion is not far from the truth. The Alardyces, the Hilberys, the
Millingtons, and the Otways seem to prove that intellect is a possession
which can be tossed from one member of a certain group to another almost
indefinitely, and with apparent certainty that the brilliant gift will
be safely caught and held by nine out of ten of the privileged race.
They had been conspicuous judges and admirals, lawyers and servants of
the State for some years before the richness of the soil culminated
in the rarest flower that any family can boast, a great writer, a poet
eminent among the poets of England, a Richard Alardyce; and having
produced him, they proved once more the amazing virtues of their race
by proceeding unconcernedly again with their usual task of breeding
distinguished men. They had sailed with Sir John Franklin to the North
Pole, and ridden with Havelock to the Relief of Lucknow, and when they
were not lighthouses firmly based on rock for the guidance of their
generation, they were steady, serviceable candles, illuminating the
ordinary chambers of daily life. Whatever profession you looked
at, there was a Warburton or an Alardyce, a Millington or a Hilbery
somewhere in authority and prominence.

It may be said, indeed, that English society being what it is, no very
great merit is required, once you bear a well-known name, to put you
into a position where it is easier on the whole to be eminent than
obscure. And if this is true of the sons, even the daughters,
even in the nineteenth century, are apt to become people of
importance--philanthropists and educationalists if they are spinsters,
and the wives of distinguished men if they marry. It is true that there
were several lamentable exceptions to this rule in the Alardyce group,
which seems to indicate that the cadets of such houses go more rapidly
to the bad than the children of ordinary fathers and mothers, as if it
were somehow a relief to them. But, on the whole, in these first years
of the twentieth century, the Alardyces and their relations were keeping
their heads well above water. One finds them at the tops of professions,
with letters after their names; they sit in luxurious public offices,
with private secretaries attached to them; they write solid books in
dark covers, issued by the presses of the two great universities, and
when one of them dies the chances are that another of them writes his
biography.

Now the source of this nobility was, of course, the poet, and his
immediate descendants, therefore, were invested with greater luster than
the collateral branches. Mrs. Hilbery, in virtue of her position as
the only child of the poet, was spiritually the head of the family, and
Katharine, her daughter, had some superior rank among all the cousins
and connections, the more so because she was an only child. The
Alardyces had married and intermarried, and their offspring were
generally profuse, and had a way of meeting regularly in each
other’s houses for meals and family celebrations which had acquired
a semi-sacred character, and were as regularly observed as days of
feasting and fasting in the Church.

In times gone by, Mrs. Hilbery had known all the poets, all the
novelists, all the beautiful women and distinguished men of her time.
These being now either dead or secluded in their infirm glory, she
made her house a meeting-place for her own relations, to whom she would
lament the passing of the great days of the nineteenth century, when
every department of letters and art was represented in England by two or
three illustrious names. Where are their successors? she would ask, and
the absence of any poet or painter or novelist of the true caliber at
the present day was a text upon which she liked to ruminate, in a sunset
mood of benignant reminiscence, which it would have been hard to disturb
had there been need. But she was far from visiting their inferiority
upon the younger generation. She welcomed them very heartily to her
house, told them her stories, gave them sovereigns and ices and good
advice, and weaved round them romances which had generally no likeness
to the truth.

The quality of her birth oozed into Katharine’s consciousness from a
dozen different sources as soon as she was able to perceive anything.
Above her nursery fireplace hung a photograph of her grandfather’s tomb
in Poets’ Corner, and she was told in one of those moments of grown-up
confidence which are so tremendously impressive to the child’s mind,
that he was buried there because he was a “good and great man.” Later,
on an anniversary, she was taken by her mother through the fog in a
hansom cab, and given a large bunch of bright, sweet-scented flowers
to lay upon his tomb. The candles in the church, the singing and the
booming of the organ, were all, she thought, in his honor. Again and
again she was brought down into the drawing-room to receive the blessing
of some awful distinguished old man, who sat, even to her childish eye,
somewhat apart, all gathered together and clutching a stick, unlike an
ordinary visitor in her father’s own arm-chair, and her father himself
was there, unlike himself, too, a little excited and very polite. These
formidable old creatures used to take her in their arms, look very
keenly in her eyes, and then to bless her, and tell her that she must
mind and be a good girl, or detect a look in her face something like
Richard’s as a small boy. That drew down upon her her mother’s fervent
embrace, and she was sent back to the nursery very proud, and with a
mysterious sense of an important and unexplained state of things, which
time, by degrees, unveiled to her.

There were always visitors--uncles and aunts and cousins “from India,”
 to be reverenced for their relationship alone, and others of the
solitary and formidable class, whom she was enjoined by her parents to
“remember all your life.” By these means, and from hearing constant
talk of great men and their works, her earliest conceptions of the
world included an august circle of beings to whom she gave the names of
Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley, and so on, who were, for some
reason, much more nearly akin to the Hilberys than to other people. They
made a kind of boundary to her vision of life, and played a considerable
part in determining her scale of good and bad in her own small affairs.
Her descent from one of these gods was no surprise to her, but matter
for satisfaction, until, as the years wore on, the privileges of her
lot were taken for granted, and certain drawbacks made themselves very
manifest. Perhaps it is a little depressing to inherit not lands but an
example of intellectual and spiritual virtue; perhaps the conclusiveness
of a great ancestor is a little discouraging to those who run the risk
of comparison with him. It seems as if, having flowered so splendidly,
nothing now remained possible but a steady growth of good, green stalk
and leaf. For these reasons, and for others, Katharine had her moments
of despondency. The glorious past, in which men and women grew to
unexampled size, intruded too much upon the present, and dwarfed it too
consistently, to be altogether encouraging to one forced to make her
experiment in living when the great age was dead.

She was drawn to dwell upon these matters more than was natural, in the
first place owing to her mother’s absorption in them, and in the second
because a great part of her time was spent in imagination with the dead,
since she was helping her mother to produce a life of the great poet.
When Katharine was seventeen or eighteen--that is to say, some ten years
ago--her mother had enthusiastically announced that now, with a daughter
to help her, the biography would soon be published. Notices to this
effect found their way into the literary papers, and for some time
Katharine worked with a sense of great pride and achievement.

Lately, however, it had seemed to her that they were making no way at
all, and this was the more tantalizing because no one with the ghost of
a literary temperament could doubt but that they had materials for one
of the greatest biographies that has ever been written. Shelves and
boxes bulged with the precious stuff. The most private lives of the
most interesting people lay furled in yellow bundles of close-written
manuscript. In addition to this Mrs. Hilbery had in her own head as
bright a vision of that time as now remained to the living, and could
give those flashes and thrills to the old words which gave them almost
the substance of flesh. She had no difficulty in writing, and covered a
page every morning as instinctively as a thrush sings, but nevertheless,
with all this to urge and inspire, and the most devout intention
to accomplish the work, the book still remained unwritten. Papers
accumulated without much furthering their task, and in dull moments
Katharine had her doubts whether they would ever produce anything at all
fit to lay before the public. Where did the difficulty lie? Not in their
materials, alas! nor in their ambitions, but in something more profound,
in her own inaptitude, and above all, in her mother’s temperament.
Katharine would calculate that she had never known her write for more
than ten minutes at a time. Ideas came to her chiefly when she was in
motion. She liked to perambulate the room with a duster in her hand,
with which she stopped to polish the backs of already lustrous books,
musing and romancing as she did so. Suddenly the right phrase or the
penetrating point of view would suggest itself, and she would drop her
duster and write ecstatically for a few breathless moments; and then the
mood would pass away, and the duster would be sought for, and the old
books polished again. These spells of inspiration never burnt steadily,
but flickered over the gigantic mass of the subject as capriciously as
a will-o’-the-wisp, lighting now on this point, now on that. It was as
much as Katharine could do to keep the pages of her mother’s manuscript
in order, but to sort them so that the sixteenth year of Richard
Alardyce’s life succeeded the fifteenth was beyond her skill. And
yet they were so brilliant, these paragraphs, so nobly phrased, so
lightning-like in their illumination, that the dead seemed to crowd the
very room. Read continuously, they produced a sort of vertigo, and set
her asking herself in despair what on earth she was to do with them? Her
mother refused, also, to face the radical questions of what to leave in
and what to leave out. She could not decide how far the public was to
be told the truth about the poet’s separation from his wife. She drafted
passages to suit either case, and then liked each so well that she could
not decide upon the rejection of either.

But the book must be written. It was a duty that they owed the world,
and to Katharine, at least, it meant more than that, for if they could
not between them get this one book accomplished they had no right to
their privileged position. Their increment became yearly more and
more unearned. Besides, it must be established indisputably that her
grandfather was a very great man.

By the time she was twenty-seven, these thoughts had become very
familiar to her. They trod their way through her mind as she sat
opposite her mother of a morning at a table heaped with bundles of
old letters and well supplied with pencils, scissors, bottles of gum,
india-rubber bands, large envelopes, and other appliances for the
manufacture of books. Shortly before Ralph Denham’s visit, Katharine had
resolved to try the effect of strict rules upon her mother’s habits
of literary composition. They were to be seated at their tables every
morning at ten o’clock, with a clean-swept morning of empty, secluded
hours before them. They were to keep their eyes fast upon the paper, and
nothing was to tempt them to speech, save at the stroke of the hour when
ten minutes for relaxation were to be allowed them. If these rules
were observed for a year, she made out on a sheet of paper that the
completion of the book was certain, and she laid her scheme before her
mother with a feeling that much of the task was already accomplished.
Mrs. Hilbery examined the sheet of paper very carefully. Then she
clapped her hands and exclaimed enthusiastically:

“Well done, Katharine! What a wonderful head for business you’ve got!
Now I shall keep this before me, and every day I shall make a little
mark in my pocketbook, and on the last day of all--let me think, what
shall we do to celebrate the last day of all? If it weren’t the winter
we could take a jaunt to Italy. They say Switzerland’s very lovely in
the snow, except for the cold. But, as you say, the great thing is to
finish the book. Now let me see--”

When they inspected her manuscripts, which Katharine had put in order,
they found a state of things well calculated to dash their spirits, if
they had not just resolved on reform. They found, to begin with, a great
variety of very imposing paragraphs with which the biography was
to open; many of these, it is true, were unfinished, and resembled
triumphal arches standing upon one leg, but, as Mrs. Hilbery observed,
they could be patched up in ten minutes, if she gave her mind to it.
Next, there was an account of the ancient home of the Alardyces, or
rather, of spring in Suffolk, which was very beautifully written,
although not essential to the story. However, Katharine had put together
a string of names and dates, so that the poet was capably brought into
the world, and his ninth year was reached without further mishap. After
that, Mrs. Hilbery wished, for sentimental reasons, to introduce the
recollections of a very fluent old lady, who had been brought up in the
same village, but these Katharine decided must go. It might be advisable
to introduce here a sketch of contemporary poetry contributed by Mr.
Hilbery, and thus terse and learned and altogether out of keeping with
the rest, but Mrs. Hilbery was of opinion that it was too bare, and made
one feel altogether like a good little girl in a lecture-room, which was
not at all in keeping with her father. It was put on one side. Now came
the period of his early manhood, when various affairs of the heart must
either be concealed or revealed; here again Mrs. Hilbery was of
two minds, and a thick packet of manuscript was shelved for further
consideration.

Several years were now altogether omitted, because Mrs. Hilbery had
found something distasteful to her in that period, and had preferred to
dwell upon her own recollections as a child. After this, it seemed
to Katharine that the book became a wild dance of will-o’-the-wisps,
without form or continuity, without coherence even, or any attempt to
make a narrative. Here were twenty pages upon her grandfather’s taste in
hats, an essay upon contemporary china, a long account of a summer day’s
expedition into the country, when they had missed their train, together
with fragmentary visions of all sorts of famous men and women, which
seemed to be partly imaginary and partly authentic. There were,
moreover, thousands of letters, and a mass of faithful recollections
contributed by old friends, which had grown yellow now in their
envelopes, but must be placed somewhere, or their feelings would be
hurt. So many volumes had been written about the poet since his death
that she had also to dispose of a great number of misstatements, which
involved minute researches and much correspondence. Sometimes Katharine
brooded, half crushed, among her papers; sometimes she felt that it was
necessary for her very existence that she should free herself from the
past; at others, that the past had completely displaced the present,
which, when one resumed life after a morning among the dead, proved to
be of an utterly thin and inferior composition.

The worst of it was that she had no aptitude for literature. She did
not like phrases. She had even some natural antipathy to that process of
self-examination, that perpetual effort to understand one’s own feeling,
and express it beautifully, fitly, or energetically in language, which
constituted so great a part of her mother’s existence. She was, on the
contrary, inclined to be silent; she shrank from expressing herself even
in talk, let alone in writing. As this disposition was highly convenient
in a family much given to the manufacture of phrases, and seemed to
argue a corresponding capacity for action, she was, from her childhood
even, put in charge of household affairs. She had the reputation, which
nothing in her manner contradicted, of being the most practical of
people. Ordering meals, directing servants, paying bills, and so
contriving that every clock ticked more or less accurately in time, and
a number of vases were always full of fresh flowers was supposed to be a
natural endowment of hers, and, indeed, Mrs. Hilbery often observed that
it was poetry the wrong side out. From a very early age, too, she had
to exert herself in another capacity; she had to counsel and help and
generally sustain her mother. Mrs. Hilbery would have been perfectly
well able to sustain herself if the world had been what the world is
not. She was beautifully adapted for life in another planet. But the
natural genius she had for conducting affairs there was of no real use
to her here. Her watch, for example, was a constant source of surprise
to her, and at the age of sixty-five she was still amazed at the
ascendancy which rules and reasons exerted over the lives of other
people. She had never learnt her lesson, and had constantly to be
punished for her ignorance. But as that ignorance was combined with a
fine natural insight which saw deep whenever it saw at all, it was not
possible to write Mrs. Hilbery off among the dunces; on the contrary,
she had a way of seeming the wisest person in the room. But, on the
whole, she found it very necessary to seek support in her daughter.

Katharine, thus, was a member of a very great profession which has, as
yet, no title and very little recognition, although the labor of mill
and factory is, perhaps, no more severe and the results of less benefit
to the world. She lived at home. She did it very well, too. Any one
coming to the house in Cheyne Walk felt that here was an orderly place,
shapely, controlled--a place where life had been trained to show to
the best advantage, and, though composed of different elements, made to
appear harmonious and with a character of its own. Perhaps it was
the chief triumph of Katharine’s art that Mrs. Hilbery’s character
predominated. She and Mr. Hilbery appeared to be a rich background for
her mother’s more striking qualities.

Silence being, thus, both natural to her and imposed upon her, the only
other remark that her mother’s friends were in the habit of making about
it was that it was neither a stupid silence nor an indifferent silence.
But to what quality it owed its character, since character of some sort
it had, no one troubled themselves to inquire. It was understood that
she was helping her mother to produce a great book. She was known to
manage the household. She was certainly beautiful. That accounted for
her satisfactorily. But it would have been a surprise, not only to other
people but to Katharine herself, if some magic watch could have taken
count of the moments spent in an entirely different occupation from her
ostensible one. Sitting with faded papers before her, she took part in
a series of scenes such as the taming of wild ponies upon the American
prairies, or the conduct of a vast ship in a hurricane round a black
promontory of rock, or in others more peaceful, but marked by her
complete emancipation from her present surroundings and, needless to
say, by her surpassing ability in her new vocation. When she was rid of
the pretense of paper and pen, phrase-making and biography, she turned
her attention in a more legitimate direction, though, strangely enough,
she would rather have confessed her wildest dreams of hurricane and
prairie than the fact that, upstairs, alone in her room, she rose early
in the morning or sat up late at night to... work at mathematics. No
force on earth would have made her confess that. Her actions when thus
engaged were furtive and secretive, like those of some nocturnal animal.
Steps had only to sound on the staircase, and she slipped her paper
between the leaves of a great Greek dictionary which she had purloined
from her father’s room for this purpose. It was only at night, indeed,
that she felt secure enough from surprise to concentrate her mind to the
utmost.

Perhaps the unwomanly nature of the science made her instinctively wish
to conceal her love of it. But the more profound reason was that in her
mind mathematics were directly opposed to literature. She would not
have cared to confess how infinitely she preferred the exactitude, the
star-like impersonality, of figures to the confusion, agitation, and
vagueness of the finest prose. There was something a little unseemly in
thus opposing the tradition of her family; something that made her feel
wrong-headed, and thus more than ever disposed to shut her desires away
from view and cherish them with extraordinary fondness. Again and again
she was thinking of some problem when she should have been thinking
of her grandfather. Waking from these trances, she would see that her
mother, too, had lapsed into some dream almost as visionary as her own,
for the people who played their parts in it had long been numbered
among the dead. But, seeing her own state mirrored in her mother’s face,
Katharine would shake herself awake with a sense of irritation. Her
mother was the last person she wished to resemble, much though she
admired her. Her common sense would assert itself almost brutally, and
Mrs. Hilbery, looking at her with her odd sidelong glance, that was half
malicious and half tender, would liken her to “your wicked old Uncle
Judge Peter, who used to be heard delivering sentence of death in the
bathroom. Thank Heaven, Katharine, I’ve not a drop of HIM in me!”



CHAPTER IV

At about nine o’clock at night, on every alternate Wednesday, Miss Mary
Datchet made the same resolve, that she would never again lend her
rooms for any purposes whatsoever. Being, as they were, rather large and
conveniently situated in a street mostly dedicated to offices off the
Strand, people who wished to meet, either for purposes of enjoyment,
or to discuss art, or to reform the State, had a way of suggesting that
Mary had better be asked to lend them her rooms. She always met the
request with the same frown of well-simulated annoyance, which presently
dissolved in a kind of half-humorous, half-surly shrug, as of a large
dog tormented by children who shakes his ears. She would lend her room,
but only on condition that all the arrangements were made by her. This
fortnightly meeting of a society for the free discussion of everything
entailed a great deal of moving, and pulling, and ranging of furniture
against the wall, and placing of breakable and precious things in safe
places. Miss Datchet was quite capable of lifting a kitchen table on
her back, if need were, for although well-proportioned and
dressed becomingly, she had the appearance of unusual strength and
determination.

She was some twenty-five years of age, but looked older because she
earned, or intended to earn, her own living, and had already lost the
look of the irresponsible spectator, and taken on that of the private in
the army of workers. Her gestures seemed to have a certain purpose, the
muscles round eyes and lips were set rather firmly, as though the senses
had undergone some discipline, and were held ready for a call on them.
She had contracted two faint lines between her eyebrows, not from
anxiety but from thought, and it was quite evident that all the feminine
instincts of pleasing, soothing, and charming were crossed by others in
no way peculiar to her sex. For the rest she was brown-eyed, a little
clumsy in movement, and suggested country birth and a descent from
respectable hard-working ancestors, who had been men of faith and
integrity rather than doubters or fanatics.

At the end of a fairly hard day’s work it was certainly something of an
effort to clear one’s room, to pull the mattress off one’s bed, and lay
it on the floor, to fill a pitcher with cold coffee, and to sweep a long
table clear for plates and cups and saucers, with pyramids of little
pink biscuits between them; but when these alterations were effected,
Mary felt a lightness of spirit come to her, as if she had put off the
stout stuff of her working hours and slipped over her entire being some
vesture of thin, bright silk. She knelt before the fire and looked out
into the room. The light fell softly, but with clear radiance, through
shades of yellow and blue paper, and the room, which was set with one
or two sofas resembling grassy mounds in their lack of shape, looked
unusually large and quiet. Mary was led to think of the heights of
a Sussex down, and the swelling green circle of some camp of ancient
warriors. The moonlight would be falling there so peacefully now, and
she could fancy the rough pathway of silver upon the wrinkled skin of
the sea.

“And here we are,” she said, half aloud, half satirically, yet with
evident pride, “talking about art.”

She pulled a basket containing balls of differently colored wools and a
pair of stockings which needed darning towards her, and began to set her
fingers to work; while her mind, reflecting the lassitude of her body,
went on perversely, conjuring up visions of solitude and quiet, and she
pictured herself laying aside her knitting and walking out on to the
down, and hearing nothing but the sheep cropping the grass close to the
roots, while the shadows of the little trees moved very slightly this
way and that in the moonlight, as the breeze went through them. But
she was perfectly conscious of her present situation, and derived some
pleasure from the reflection that she could rejoice equally in solitude,
and in the presence of the many very different people who were now
making their way, by divers paths, across London to the spot where she
was sitting.

As she ran her needle in and out of the wool, she thought of the
various stages in her own life which made her present position seem the
culmination of successive miracles. She thought of her clerical father
in his country parsonage, and of her mother’s death, and of her own
determination to obtain education, and of her college life, which had
merged, not so very long ago, in the wonderful maze of London, which
still seemed to her, in spite of her constitutional level-headedness,
like a vast electric light, casting radiance upon the myriads of men and
women who crowded round it. And here she was at the very center of it
all, that center which was constantly in the minds of people in remote
Canadian forests and on the plains of India, when their thoughts turned
to England. The nine mellow strokes, by which she was now apprised of
the hour, were a message from the great clock at Westminster itself. As
the last of them died away, there was a firm knocking on her own door,
and she rose and opened it. She returned to the room, with a look of
steady pleasure in her eyes, and she was talking to Ralph Denham, who
followed her.

“Alone?” he said, as if he were pleasantly surprised by that fact.

“I am sometimes alone,” she replied.

“But you expect a great many people,” he added, looking round him. “It’s
like a room on the stage. Who is it to-night?”

“William Rodney, upon the Elizabethan use of metaphor. I expect a good
solid paper, with plenty of quotations from the classics.”

Ralph warmed his hands at the fire, which was flapping bravely in the
grate, while Mary took up her stocking again.

“I suppose you are the only woman in London who darns her own
stockings,” he observed.

“I’m only one of a great many thousands really,” she replied, “though I
must admit that I was thinking myself very remarkable when you came in.
And now that you’re here I don’t think myself remarkable at all. How
horrid of you! But I’m afraid you’re much more remarkable than I am.
You’ve done much more than I’ve done.”

“If that’s your standard, you’ve nothing to be proud of,” said Ralph
grimly.

“Well, I must reflect with Emerson that it’s being and not doing that
matters,” she continued.

“Emerson?” Ralph exclaimed, with derision. “You don’t mean to say you
read Emerson?”

“Perhaps it wasn’t Emerson; but why shouldn’t I read Emerson?” she
asked, with a tinge of anxiety.

“There’s no reason that I know of. It’s the combination that’s
odd--books and stockings. The combination is very odd.” But it seemed
to recommend itself to him. Mary gave a little laugh, expressive of
happiness, and the particular stitches that she was now putting into her
work appeared to her to be done with singular grace and felicity. She
held out the stocking and looked at it approvingly.

“You always say that,” she said. “I assure you it’s a common
‘combination,’ as you call it, in the houses of the clergy. The only
thing that’s odd about me is that I enjoy them both--Emerson and the
stocking.”

A knock was heard, and Ralph exclaimed:

“Damn those people! I wish they weren’t coming!”

“It’s only Mr. Turner, on the floor below,” said Mary, and she felt
grateful to Mr. Turner for having alarmed Ralph, and for having given a
false alarm.

“Will there be a crowd?” Ralph asked, after a pause.

“There’ll be the Morrises and the Crashaws, and Dick Osborne, and
Septimus, and all that set. Katharine Hilbery is coming, by the way, so
William Rodney told me.”

“Katharine Hilbery!” Ralph exclaimed.

“You know her?” Mary asked, with some surprise.

“I went to a tea-party at her house.”

Mary pressed him to tell her all about it, and Ralph was not at all
unwilling to exhibit proofs of the extent of his knowledge. He described
the scene with certain additions and exaggerations which interested Mary
very much.

“But, in spite of what you say, I do admire her,” she said. “I’ve only
seen her once or twice, but she seems to me to be what one calls a
‘personality.’”

“I didn’t mean to abuse her. I only felt that she wasn’t very
sympathetic to me.”

“They say she’s going to marry that queer creature Rodney.”

“Marry Rodney? Then she must be more deluded than I thought her.”

“Now that’s my door, all right,” Mary exclaimed, carefully putting
her wools away, as a succession of knocks reverberated unnecessarily,
accompanied by a sound of people stamping their feet and laughing. A
moment later the room was full of young men and women, who came in with
a peculiar look of expectation, exclaimed “Oh!” when they saw Denham,
and then stood still, gaping rather foolishly.

The room very soon contained between twenty and thirty people, who found
seats for the most part upon the floor, occupying the mattresses, and
hunching themselves together into triangular shapes. They were all young
and some of them seemed to make a protest by their hair and dress, and
something somber and truculent in the expression of their faces, against
the more normal type, who would have passed unnoticed in an omnibus or
an underground railway. It was notable that the talk was confined to
groups, and was, at first, entirely spasmodic in character, and muttered
in undertones as if the speakers were suspicious of their fellow-guests.

Katharine Hilbery came in rather late, and took up a position on
the floor, with her back against the wall. She looked round quickly,
recognized about half a dozen people, to whom she nodded, but failed to
see Ralph, or, if so, had already forgotten to attach any name to him.
But in a second these heterogeneous elements were all united by the
voice of Mr. Rodney, who suddenly strode up to the table, and began very
rapidly in high-strained tones:

“In undertaking to speak of the Elizabethan use of metaphor in poetry--”

All the different heads swung slightly or steadied themselves into a
position in which they could gaze straight at the speaker’s face, and
the same rather solemn expression was visible on all of them. But,
at the same time, even the faces that were most exposed to view, and
therefore most tautly under control, disclosed a sudden impulsive tremor
which, unless directly checked, would have developed into an outburst of
laughter. The first sight of Mr. Rodney was irresistibly ludicrous.
He was very red in the face, whether from the cool November night or
nervousness, and every movement, from the way he wrung his hands to the
way he jerked his head to right and left, as though a vision drew him
now to the door, now to the window, bespoke his horrible discomfort
under the stare of so many eyes. He was scrupulously well dressed, and
a pearl in the center of his tie seemed to give him a touch of
aristocratic opulence. But the rather prominent eyes and the impulsive
stammering manner, which seemed to indicate a torrent of ideas
intermittently pressing for utterance and always checked in their course
by a clutch of nervousness, drew no pity, as in the case of a more
imposing personage, but a desire to laugh, which was, however, entirely
lacking in malice. Mr. Rodney was evidently so painfully conscious of
the oddity of his appearance, and his very redness and the starts to
which his body was liable gave such proof of his own discomfort,
that there was something endearing in this ridiculous susceptibility,
although most people would probably have echoed Denham’s private
exclamation, “Fancy marrying a creature like that!”

His paper was carefully written out, but in spite of this precaution
Mr. Rodney managed to turn over two sheets instead of one, to choose the
wrong sentence where two were written together, and to discover his own
handwriting suddenly illegible. When he found himself possessed of a
coherent passage, he shook it at his audience almost aggressively, and
then fumbled for another. After a distressing search a fresh discovery
would be made, and produced in the same way, until, by means of repeated
attacks, he had stirred his audience to a degree of animation quite
remarkable in these gatherings. Whether they were stirred by his
enthusiasm for poetry or by the contortions which a human being was
going through for their benefit, it would be hard to say. At length Mr.
Rodney sat down impulsively in the middle of a sentence, and, after a
pause of bewilderment, the audience expressed its relief at being able
to laugh aloud in a decided outburst of applause.

Mr. Rodney acknowledged this with a wild glance round him, and, instead
of waiting to answer questions, he jumped up, thrust himself through
the seated bodies into the corner where Katharine was sitting, and
exclaimed, very audibly:

“Well, Katharine, I hope I’ve made a big enough fool of myself even for
you! It was terrible! terrible! terrible!”

“Hush! You must answer their questions,” Katharine whispered, desiring,
at all costs, to keep him quiet. Oddly enough, when the speaker was no
longer in front of them, there seemed to be much that was suggestive in
what he had said. At any rate, a pale-faced young man with sad eyes was
already on his feet, delivering an accurately worded speech with perfect
composure. William Rodney listened with a curious lifting of his upper
lip, although his face was still quivering slightly with emotion.

“Idiot!” he whispered. “He’s misunderstood every word I said!”

“Well then, answer him,” Katharine whispered back.

“No, I shan’t! They’d only laugh at me. Why did I let you persuade me
that these sort of people care for literature?” he continued.

There was much to be said both for and against Mr. Rodney’s paper. It
had been crammed with assertions that such-and-such passages, taken
liberally from English, French, and Italian, are the supreme pearls of
literature. Further, he was fond of using metaphors which, compounded
in the study, were apt to sound either cramped or out of place as he
delivered them in fragments. Literature was a fresh garland of spring
flowers, he said, in which yew-berries and the purple nightshade mingled
with the various tints of the anemone; and somehow or other this garland
encircled marble brows. He had read very badly some very beautiful
quotations. But through his manner and his confusion of language there
had emerged some passion of feeling which, as he spoke, formed in the
majority of the audience a little picture or an idea which each now was
eager to give expression to. Most of the people there proposed to spend
their lives in the practice either of writing or painting, and merely
by looking at them it could be seen that, as they listened to Mr. Purvis
first, and then to Mr. Greenhalgh, they were seeing something done by
these gentlemen to a possession which they thought to be their own. One
person after another rose, and, as with an ill-balanced axe, attempted
to hew out his conception of art a little more clearly, and sat down
with the feeling that, for some reason which he could not grasp, his
strokes had gone awry. As they sat down they turned almost invariably to
the person sitting next them, and rectified and continued what they
had just said in public. Before long, therefore, the groups on the
mattresses and the groups on the chairs were all in communication with
each other, and Mary Datchet, who had begun to darn stockings again,
stooped down and remarked to Ralph:

“That was what I call a first-rate paper.”

Both of them instinctively turned their eyes in the direction of the
reader of the paper. He was lying back against the wall, with his
eyes apparently shut, and his chin sunk upon his collar. Katharine was
turning over the pages of his manuscript as if she were looking for
some passage that had particularly struck her, and had a difficulty in
finding it.

“Let’s go and tell him how much we liked it,” said Mary, thus suggesting
an action which Ralph was anxious to take, though without her he would
have been too proud to do it, for he suspected that he had more interest
in Katharine than she had in him.

“That was a very interesting paper,” Mary began, without any shyness,
seating herself on the floor opposite to Rodney and Katharine. “Will you
lend me the manuscript to read in peace?”

Rodney, who had opened his eyes on their approach, regarded her for a
moment in suspicious silence.

“Do you say that merely to disguise the fact of my ridiculous failure?”
 he asked.

Katharine looked up from her reading with a smile.

“He says he doesn’t mind what we think of him,” she remarked. “He says
we don’t care a rap for art of any kind.”

“I asked her to pity me, and she teases me!” Rodney exclaimed.

“I don’t intend to pity you, Mr. Rodney,” Mary remarked, kindly, but
firmly. “When a paper’s a failure, nobody says anything, whereas now,
just listen to them!”

The sound, which filled the room, with its hurry of short syllables, its
sudden pauses, and its sudden attacks, might be compared to some animal
hubbub, frantic and inarticulate.

“D’you think that’s all about my paper?” Rodney inquired, after a
moment’s attention, with a distinct brightening of expression.

“Of course it is,” said Mary. “It was a very suggestive paper.”

She turned to Denham for confirmation, and he corroborated her.

“It’s the ten minutes after a paper is read that proves whether it’s
been a success or not,” he said. “If I were you, Rodney, I should be
very pleased with myself.”

This commendation seemed to comfort Mr. Rodney completely, and he began
to bethink him of all the passages in his paper which deserved to be
called “suggestive.”

“Did you agree at all, Denham, with what I said about Shakespeare’s
later use of imagery? I’m afraid I didn’t altogether make my meaning
plain.”

Here he gathered himself together, and by means of a series of frog-like
jerks, succeeded in bringing himself close to Denham.

Denham answered him with the brevity which is the result of having
another sentence in the mind to be addressed to another person. He
wished to say to Katharine: “Did you remember to get that picture glazed
before your aunt came to dinner?” but, besides having to answer Rodney,
he was not sure that the remark, with its assertion of intimacy, would
not strike Katharine as impertinent. She was listening to what some one
in another group was saying. Rodney, meanwhile, was talking about the
Elizabethan dramatists.

He was a curious-looking man since, upon first sight, especially if
he chanced to be talking with animation, he appeared, in some way,
ridiculous; but, next moment, in repose, his face, with its large nose,
thin cheeks and lips expressing the utmost sensibility, somehow recalled
a Roman head bound with laurel, cut upon a circle of semi-transparent
reddish stone. It had dignity and character. By profession a clerk in
a Government office, he was one of those martyred spirits to whom
literature is at once a source of divine joy and of almost intolerable
irritation. Not content to rest in their love of it, they must attempt
to practise it themselves, and they are generally endowed with very
little facility in composition. They condemn whatever they produce.
Moreover, the violence of their feelings is such that they seldom meet
with adequate sympathy, and being rendered very sensitive by their
cultivated perceptions, suffer constant slights both to their own
persons and to the thing they worship. But Rodney could never resist
making trial of the sympathies of any one who seemed favorably disposed,
and Denham’s praise had stimulated his very susceptible vanity.

“You remember the passage just before the death of the Duchess?” he
continued, edging still closer to Denham, and adjusting his elbow and
knee in an incredibly angular combination. Here, Katharine, who had been
cut off by these maneuvers from all communication with the outer world,
rose, and seated herself upon the window-sill, where she was joined by
Mary Datchet. The two young women could thus survey the whole party.
Denham looked after them, and made as if he were tearing handfuls of
grass up by the roots from the carpet. But as it fell in accurately
with his conception of life that all one’s desires were bound to be
frustrated, he concentrated his mind upon literature, and determined,
philosophically, to get what he could out of that.

Katharine was pleasantly excited. A variety of courses was open to her.
She knew several people slightly, and at any moment one of them might
rise from the floor and come and speak to her; on the other hand, she
might select somebody for herself, or she might strike into Rodney’s
discourse, to which she was intermittently attentive. She was conscious
of Mary’s body beside her, but, at the same time, the consciousness of
being both of them women made it unnecessary to speak to her. But Mary,
feeling, as she had said, that Katharine was a “personality,” wished so
much to speak to her that in a few moments she did.

“They’re exactly like a flock of sheep, aren’t they?” she said,
referring to the noise that rose from the scattered bodies beneath her.

Katharine turned and smiled.

“I wonder what they’re making such a noise about?” she said.

“The Elizabethans, I suppose.”

“No, I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the Elizabethans. There!
Didn’t you hear them say, ‘Insurance Bill’?”

“I wonder why men always talk about politics?” Mary speculated. “I
suppose, if we had votes, we should, too.”

“I dare say we should. And you spend your life in getting us votes,
don’t you?”

“I do,” said Mary, stoutly. “From ten to six every day I’m at it.”

Katharine looked at Ralph Denham, who was now pounding his way through
the metaphysics of metaphor with Rodney, and was reminded of his talk
that Sunday afternoon. She connected him vaguely with Mary.

“I suppose you’re one of the people who think we should all have
professions,” she said, rather distantly, as if feeling her way among
the phantoms of an unknown world.

“Oh dear no,” said Mary at once.

“Well, I think I do,” Katharine continued, with half a sigh. “You will
always be able to say that you’ve done something, whereas, in a crowd
like this, I feel rather melancholy.”

“In a crowd? Why in a crowd?” Mary asked, deepening the two lines
between her eyes, and hoisting herself nearer to Katharine upon the
window-sill.

“Don’t you see how many different things these people care about? And
I want to beat them down--I only mean,” she corrected herself, “that I
want to assert myself, and it’s difficult, if one hasn’t a profession.”

Mary smiled, thinking that to beat people down was a process that should
present no difficulty to Miss Katharine Hilbery. They knew each other
so slightly that the beginning of intimacy, which Katharine seemed to
initiate by talking about herself, had something solemn in it, and they
were silent, as if to decide whether to proceed or not. They tested the
ground.

“Ah, but I want to trample upon their prostrate bodies!” Katharine
announced, a moment later, with a laugh, as if at the train of thought
which had led her to this conclusion.

“One doesn’t necessarily trample upon people’s bodies because one runs
an office,” Mary remarked.

“No. Perhaps not,” Katharine replied. The conversation lapsed, and Mary
saw Katharine looking out into the room rather moodily with closed lips,
the desire to talk about herself or to initiate a friendship having,
apparently, left her. Mary was struck by her capacity for being thus
easily silent, and occupied with her own thoughts. It was a habit that
spoke of loneliness and a mind thinking for itself. When Katharine
remained silent Mary was slightly embarrassed.

“Yes, they’re very like sheep,” she repeated, foolishly.

“And yet they are very clever--at least,” Katharine added, “I suppose
they have all read Webster.”

“Surely you don’t think that a proof of cleverness? I’ve read Webster,
I’ve read Ben Jonson, but I don’t think myself clever--not exactly, at
least.”

“I think you must be very clever,” Katharine observed.

“Why? Because I run an office?”

“I wasn’t thinking of that. I was thinking how you live alone in this
room, and have parties.”

Mary reflected for a second.

“It means, chiefly, a power of being disagreeable to one’s own family,
I think. I have that, perhaps. I didn’t want to live at home, and I
told my father. He didn’t like it.... But then I have a sister, and you
haven’t, have you?”

“No, I haven’t any sisters.”

“You are writing a life of your grandfather?” Mary pursued.

Katharine seemed instantly to be confronted by some familiar thought
from which she wished to escape. She replied, “Yes, I am helping my
mother,” in such a way that Mary felt herself baffled, and put back
again into the position in which she had been at the beginning of their
talk. It seemed to her that Katharine possessed a curious power of
drawing near and receding, which sent alternate emotions through her
far more quickly than was usual, and kept her in a condition of
curious alertness. Desiring to classify her, Mary bethought her of the
convenient term “egoist.”

“She’s an egoist,” she said to herself, and stored that word up to
give to Ralph one day when, as it would certainly fall out, they were
discussing Miss Hilbery.

“Heavens, what a mess there’ll be to-morrow morning!” Katharine
exclaimed. “I hope you don’t sleep in this room, Miss Datchet?”

Mary laughed.

“What are you laughing at?” Katharine demanded.

“I won’t tell you.”

“Let me guess. You were laughing because you thought I’d changed the
conversation?”

“No.”

“Because you think--” She paused.

“If you want to know, I was laughing at the way you said Miss Datchet.”

“Mary, then. Mary, Mary, Mary.”

So saying, Katharine drew back the curtain in order, perhaps, to conceal
the momentary flush of pleasure which is caused by coming perceptibly
nearer to another person.

“Mary Datchet,” said Mary. “It’s not such an imposing name as Katharine
Hilbery, I’m afraid.”

They both looked out of the window, first up at the hard silver moon,
stationary among a hurry of little grey-blue clouds, and then down upon
the roofs of London, with all their upright chimneys, and then below
them at the empty moonlit pavement of the street, upon which the joint
of each paving-stone was clearly marked out. Mary then saw Katharine
raise her eyes again to the moon, with a contemplative look in them, as
though she were setting that moon against the moon of other nights,
held in memory. Some one in the room behind them made a joke about
star-gazing, which destroyed their pleasure in it, and they looked back
into the room again.

Ralph had been watching for this moment, and he instantly produced his
sentence.

“I wonder, Miss Hilbery, whether you remembered to get that picture
glazed?” His voice showed that the question was one that had been
prepared.

“Oh, you idiot!” Mary exclaimed, very nearly aloud, with a sense that
Ralph had said something very stupid. So, after three lessons in Latin
grammar, one might correct a fellow student, whose knowledge did not
embrace the ablative of “mensa.”

“Picture--what picture?” Katharine asked. “Oh, at home, you mean--that
Sunday afternoon. Was it the day Mr. Fortescue came? Yes, I think I
remembered it.”

The three of them stood for a moment awkwardly silent, and then Mary
left them in order to see that the great pitcher of coffee was properly
handled, for beneath all her education she preserved the anxieties of
one who owns china.

Ralph could think of nothing further to say; but could one have stripped
off his mask of flesh, one would have seen that his will-power was
rigidly set upon a single object--that Miss Hilbery should obey him.
He wished her to stay there until, by some measures not yet apparent
to him, he had conquered her interest. These states of mind transmit
themselves very often without the use of language, and it was evident to
Katharine that this young man had fixed his mind upon her. She instantly
recalled her first impressions of him, and saw herself again proffering
family relics. She reverted to the state of mind in which he had
left her that Sunday afternoon. She supposed that he judged her very
severely. She argued naturally that, if this were the case, the burden
of the conversation should rest with him. But she submitted so far as
to stand perfectly still, her eyes upon the opposite wall, and her lips
very nearly closed, though the desire to laugh stirred them slightly.

“You know the names of the stars, I suppose?” Denham remarked, and from
the tone of his voice one might have thought that he grudged Katharine
the knowledge he attributed to her.

She kept her voice steady with some difficulty.

“I know how to find the Pole star if I’m lost.”

“I don’t suppose that often happens to you.”

“No. Nothing interesting ever happens to me,” she said.

“I think you make a system of saying disagreeable things, Miss Hilbery,”
 he broke out, again going further than he meant to. “I suppose it’s one
of the characteristics of your class. They never talk seriously to their
inferiors.”

Whether it was that they were meeting on neutral ground to-night, or
whether the carelessness of an old grey coat that Denham wore gave an
ease to his bearing that he lacked in conventional dress, Katharine
certainly felt no impulse to consider him outside the particular set in
which she lived.

“In what sense are you my inferior?” she asked, looking at him gravely,
as though honestly searching for his meaning. The look gave him great
pleasure. For the first time he felt himself on perfectly equal terms
with a woman whom he wished to think well of him, although he could
not have explained why her opinion of him mattered one way or another.
Perhaps, after all, he only wanted to have something of her to take home
to think about. But he was not destined to profit by his advantage.

“I don’t think I understand what you mean,” Katharine repeated, and then
she was obliged to stop and answer some one who wished to know whether
she would buy a ticket for an opera from them, at a reduction. Indeed,
the temper of the meeting was now unfavorable to separate conversation;
it had become rather debauched and hilarious, and people who scarcely
knew each other were making use of Christian names with apparent
cordiality, and had reached that kind of gay tolerance and general
friendliness which human beings in England only attain after sitting
together for three hours or so, and the first cold blast in the air
of the street freezes them into isolation once more. Cloaks were being
flung round the shoulders, hats swiftly pinned to the head; and Denham
had the mortification of seeing Katharine helped to prepare herself by
the ridiculous Rodney. It was not the convention of the meeting to say
good-bye, or necessarily even to nod to the person with whom one was
talking; but, nevertheless, Denham was disappointed by the completeness
with which Katharine parted from him, without any attempt to finish her
sentence. She left with Rodney.



CHAPTER V

Denham had no conscious intention of following Katharine, but, seeing
her depart, he took his hat and ran rather more quickly down the stairs
than he would have done if Katharine had not been in front of him. He
overtook a friend of his, by name Harry Sandys, who was going the same
way, and they walked together a few paces behind Katharine and Rodney.

The night was very still, and on such nights, when the traffic thins
away, the walker becomes conscious of the moon in the street, as if the
curtains of the sky had been drawn apart, and the heaven lay bare, as
it does in the country. The air was softly cool, so that people who
had been sitting talking in a crowd found it pleasant to walk a little
before deciding to stop an omnibus or encounter light again in an
underground railway. Sandys, who was a barrister with a philosophic
tendency, took out his pipe, lit it, murmured “hum” and “ha,” and was
silent. The couple in front of them kept their distance accurately, and
appeared, so far as Denham could judge by the way they turned towards
each other, to be talking very constantly. He observed that when a
pedestrian going the opposite way forced them to part they came together
again directly afterwards. Without intending to watch them he never
quite lost sight of the yellow scarf twisted round Katharine’s head, or
the light overcoat which made Rodney look fashionable among the crowd.
At the Strand he supposed that they would separate, but instead they
crossed the road, and took their way down one of the narrow passages
which lead through ancient courts to the river. Among the crowd of
people in the big thoroughfares Rodney seemed merely to be lending
Katharine his escort, but now, when passengers were rare and the
footsteps of the couple were distinctly heard in the silence, Denham
could not help picturing to himself some change in their conversation.
The effect of the light and shadow, which seemed to increase their
height, was to make them mysterious and significant, so that Denham
had no feeling of irritation with Katharine, but rather a half-dreamy
acquiescence in the course of the world. Yes, she did very well to dream
about--but Sandys had suddenly begun to talk. He was a solitary man who
had made his friends at college and always addressed them as if they
were still undergraduates arguing in his room, though many months or
even years had passed in some cases between the last sentence and the
present one. The method was a little singular, but very restful, for
it seemed to ignore completely all accidents of human life, and to span
very deep abysses with a few simple words.

On this occasion he began, while they waited for a minute on the edge of
the Strand:

“I hear that Bennett has given up his theory of truth.”

Denham returned a suitable answer, and he proceeded to explain how
this decision had been arrived at, and what changes it involved in the
philosophy which they both accepted. Meanwhile Katharine and Rodney drew
further ahead, and Denham kept, if that is the right expression for an
involuntary action, one filament of his mind upon them, while with the
rest of his intelligence he sought to understand what Sandys was saying.

As they passed through the courts thus talking, Sandys laid the tip of
his stick upon one of the stones forming a time-worn arch, and struck
it meditatively two or three times in order to illustrate something very
obscure about the complex nature of one’s apprehension of facts. During
the pause which this necessitated, Katharine and Rodney turned the
corner and disappeared. For a moment Denham stopped involuntarily in his
sentence, and continued it with a sense of having lost something.

Unconscious that they were observed, Katharine and Rodney had come out
on the Embankment. When they had crossed the road, Rodney slapped his
hand upon the stone parapet above the river and exclaimed:

“I promise I won’t say another word about it, Katharine! But do stop a
minute and look at the moon upon the water.”

Katharine paused, looked up and down the river, and snuffed the air.

“I’m sure one can smell the sea, with the wind blowing this way,” she
said.

They stood silent for a few moments while the river shifted in its bed,
and the silver and red lights which were laid upon it were torn by the
current and joined together again. Very far off up the river a steamer
hooted with its hollow voice of unspeakable melancholy, as if from the
heart of lonely mist-shrouded voyagings.

“Ah!” Rodney cried, striking his hand once more upon the balustrade,
“why can’t one say how beautiful it all is? Why am I condemned for
ever, Katharine, to feel what I can’t express? And the things I can give
there’s no use in my giving. Trust me, Katharine,” he added hastily,
“I won’t speak of it again. But in the presence of beauty--look at
the iridescence round the moon!--one feels--one feels--Perhaps if you
married me--I’m half a poet, you see, and I can’t pretend not to feel
what I do feel. If I could write--ah, that would be another matter. I
shouldn’t bother you to marry me then, Katharine.”

He spoke these disconnected sentences rather abruptly, with his eyes
alternately upon the moon and upon the stream.

“But for me I suppose you would recommend marriage?” said Katharine,
with her eyes fixed on the moon.

“Certainly I should. Not for you only, but for all women. Why, you’re
nothing at all without it; you’re only half alive; using only half
your faculties; you must feel that for yourself. That is why--” Here he
stopped himself, and they began to walk slowly along the Embankment, the
moon fronting them.

    “With how sad steps she climbs the sky,
    How silently and with how wan a face,”

Rodney quoted.

“I’ve been told a great many unpleasant things about myself to-night,”
 Katharine stated, without attending to him. “Mr. Denham seems to think
it his mission to lecture me, though I hardly know him. By the way,
William, you know him; tell me, what is he like?”

William drew a deep sigh.

“We may lecture you till we’re blue in the face--”

“Yes--but what’s he like?”

“And we write sonnets to your eyebrows, you cruel practical creature.
Denham?” he added, as Katharine remained silent. “A good fellow, I
should think. He cares, naturally, for the right sort of things, I
expect. But you mustn’t marry him, though. He scolded you, did he--what
did he say?”

“What happens with Mr. Denham is this: He comes to tea. I do all I can
to put him at his ease. He merely sits and scowls at me. Then I show him
our manuscripts. At this he becomes really angry, and tells me I’ve no
business to call myself a middle-class woman. So we part in a huff; and
next time we meet, which was to-night, he walks straight up to me, and
says, ‘Go to the Devil!’ That’s the sort of behavior my mother complains
of. I want to know, what does it mean?”

She paused and, slackening her steps, looked at the lighted train
drawing itself smoothly over Hungerford Bridge.

“It means, I should say, that he finds you chilly and unsympathetic.”

Katharine laughed with round, separate notes of genuine amusement.

“It’s time I jumped into a cab and hid myself in my own house,” she
exclaimed.

“Would your mother object to my being seen with you? No one could
possibly recognize us, could they?” Rodney inquired, with some
solicitude.

Katharine looked at him, and perceiving that his solicitude was genuine,
she laughed again, but with an ironical note in her laughter.

“You may laugh, Katharine, but I can tell you that if any of your
friends saw us together at this time of night they would talk about it,
and I should find that very disagreeable. But why do you laugh?”

“I don’t know. Because you’re such a queer mixture, I think. You’re half
poet and half old maid.”

“I know I always seem to you highly ridiculous. But I can’t help having
inherited certain traditions and trying to put them into practice.”

“Nonsense, William. You may come of the oldest family in Devonshire,
but that’s no reason why you should mind being seen alone with me on the
Embankment.”

“I’m ten years older than you are, Katharine, and I know more of the
world than you do.”

“Very well. Leave me and go home.”

Rodney looked back over his shoulder and perceived that they were being
followed at a short distance by a taxicab, which evidently awaited his
summons. Katharine saw it, too, and exclaimed:

“Don’t call that cab for me, William. I shall walk.”

“Nonsense, Katharine; you’ll do nothing of the kind. It’s nearly twelve
o’clock, and we’ve walked too far as it is.”

Katharine laughed and walked on so quickly that both Rodney and the
taxicab had to increase their pace to keep up with her.

“Now, William,” she said, “if people see me racing along the Embankment
like this they WILL talk. You had far better say good-night, if you
don’t want people to talk.”

At this William beckoned, with a despotic gesture, to the cab with one
hand, and with the other he brought Katharine to a standstill.

“Don’t let the man see us struggling, for God’s sake!” he murmured.
Katharine stood for a moment quite still.

“There’s more of the old maid in you than the poet,” she observed
briefly.

William shut the door sharply, gave the address to the driver, and
turned away, lifting his hat punctiliously high in farewell to the
invisible lady.

He looked back after the cab twice, suspiciously, half expecting that
she would stop it and dismount; but it bore her swiftly on, and was
soon out of sight. William felt in the mood for a short soliloquy of
indignation, for Katharine had contrived to exasperate him in more ways
than one.

“Of all the unreasonable, inconsiderate creatures I’ve ever known, she’s
the worst!” he exclaimed to himself, striding back along the Embankment.
“Heaven forbid that I should ever make a fool of myself with her
again. Why, I’d sooner marry the daughter of my landlady than Katharine
Hilbery! She’d leave me not a moment’s peace--and she’d never understand
me--never, never, never!”

Uttered aloud and with vehemence so that the stars of Heaven might
hear, for there was no human being at hand, these sentiments sounded
satisfactorily irrefutable. Rodney quieted down, and walked on in
silence, until he perceived some one approaching him, who had something,
either in his walk or his dress, which proclaimed that he was one of
William’s acquaintances before it was possible to tell which of them he
was. It was Denham who, having parted from Sandys at the bottom of his
staircase, was now walking to the Tube at Charing Cross, deep in the
thoughts which his talk with Sandys had suggested. He had forgotten the
meeting at Mary Datchet’s rooms, he had forgotten Rodney, and metaphors
and Elizabethan drama, and could have sworn that he had forgotten
Katharine Hilbery, too, although that was more disputable. His mind
was scaling the highest pinnacles of its alps, where there was only
starlight and the untrodden snow. He cast strange eyes upon Rodney, as
they encountered each other beneath a lamp-post.

“Ha!” Rodney exclaimed.

If he had been in full possession of his mind, Denham would probably
have passed on with a salutation. But the shock of the interruption made
him stand still, and before he knew what he was doing, he had turned and
was walking with Rodney in obedience to Rodney’s invitation to come to
his rooms and have something to drink. Denham had no wish to drink with
Rodney, but he followed him passively enough. Rodney was gratified by
this obedience. He felt inclined to be communicative with this silent
man, who possessed so obviously all the good masculine qualities in
which Katharine now seemed lamentably deficient.

“You do well, Denham,” he began impulsively, “to have nothing to do
with young women. I offer you my experience--if one trusts them one
invariably has cause to repent. Not that I have any reason at this
moment,” he added hastily, “to complain of them. It’s a subject that
crops up now and again for no particular reason. Miss Datchet, I dare
say, is one of the exceptions. Do you like Miss Datchet?”

These remarks indicated clearly enough that Rodney’s nerves were in a
state of irritation, and Denham speedily woke to the situation of the
world as it had been one hour ago. He had last seen Rodney walking with
Katharine. He could not help regretting the eagerness with which his
mind returned to these interests, and fretted him with the old trivial
anxieties. He sank in his own esteem. Reason bade him break from Rodney,
who clearly tended to become confidential, before he had utterly lost
touch with the problems of high philosophy. He looked along the road,
and marked a lamp-post at a distance of some hundred yards, and decided
that he would part from Rodney when they reached this point.

“Yes, I like Mary; I don’t see how one could help liking her,” he
remarked cautiously, with his eye on the lamp-post.

“Ah, Denham, you’re so different from me. You never give yourself away.
I watched you this evening with Katharine Hilbery. My instinct is to
trust the person I’m talking to. That’s why I’m always being taken in, I
suppose.”

Denham seemed to be pondering this statement of Rodney’s, but, as a
matter of fact, he was hardly conscious of Rodney and his revelations,
and was only concerned to make him mention Katharine again before they
reached the lamp-post.

“Who’s taken you in now?” he asked. “Katharine Hilbery?”

Rodney stopped and once more began beating a kind of rhythm, as if he
were marking a phrase in a symphony, upon the smooth stone balustrade of
the Embankment.

“Katharine Hilbery,” he repeated, with a curious little chuckle. “No,
Denham, I have no illusions about that young woman. I think I made that
plain to her to-night. But don’t run away with a false impression,”
 he continued eagerly, turning and linking his arm through Denham’s, as
though to prevent him from escaping; and, thus compelled, Denham passed
the monitory lamp-post, to which, in passing, he breathed an excuse, for
how could he break away when Rodney’s arm was actually linked in his?
“You must not think that I have any bitterness against her--far from it.
It’s not altogether her fault, poor girl. She lives, you know, one of
those odious, self-centered lives--at least, I think them odious for a
woman--feeding her wits upon everything, having control of everything,
getting far too much her own way at home--spoilt, in a sense, feeling
that every one is at her feet, and so not realizing how she hurts--that
is, how rudely she behaves to people who haven’t all her advantages.
Still, to do her justice, she’s no fool,” he added, as if to warn
Denham not to take any liberties. “She has taste. She has sense. She can
understand you when you talk to her. But she’s a woman, and there’s an
end of it,” he added, with another little chuckle, and dropped Denham’s
arm.

“And did you tell her all this to-night?” Denham asked.

“Oh dear me, no. I should never think of telling Katharine the truth
about herself. That wouldn’t do at all. One has to be in an attitude of
adoration in order to get on with Katharine.

“Now I’ve learnt that she’s refused to marry him why don’t I go home?”
 Denham thought to himself. But he went on walking beside Rodney, and for
a time they did not speak, though Rodney hummed snatches of a tune out
of an opera by Mozart. A feeling of contempt and liking combine
very naturally in the mind of one to whom another has just spoken
unpremeditatedly, revealing rather more of his private feelings than he
intended to reveal. Denham began to wonder what sort of person Rodney
was, and at the same time Rodney began to think about Denham.

“You’re a slave like me, I suppose?” he asked.

“A solicitor, yes.”

“I sometimes wonder why we don’t chuck it. Why don’t you emigrate,
Denham? I should have thought that would suit you.”

“I’ve a family.”

“I’m often on the point of going myself. And then I know I couldn’t live
without this”--and he waved his hand towards the City of London, which
wore, at this moment, the appearance of a town cut out of gray-blue
cardboard, and pasted flat against the sky, which was of a deeper blue.

“There are one or two people I’m fond of, and there’s a little good
music, and a few pictures, now and then--just enough to keep one
dangling about here. Ah, but I couldn’t live with savages! Are you fond
of books? Music? Pictures? D’you care at all for first editions? I’ve
got a few nice things up here, things I pick up cheap, for I can’t
afford to give what they ask.”

They had reached a small court of high eighteenth-century houses, in
one of which Rodney had his rooms. They climbed a very steep staircase,
through whose uncurtained windows the moonlight fell, illuminating the
banisters with their twisted pillars, and the piles of plates set on the
window-sills, and jars half-full of milk. Rodney’s rooms were small, but
the sitting-room window looked out into a courtyard, with its flagged
pavement, and its single tree, and across to the flat red-brick fronts
of the opposite houses, which would not have surprised Dr. Johnson, if
he had come out of his grave for a turn in the moonlight. Rodney lit
his lamp, pulled his curtains, offered Denham a chair, and, flinging
the manuscript of his paper on the Elizabethan use of Metaphor on to the
table, exclaimed:

“Oh dear me, what a waste of time! But it’s over now, and so we may
think no more about it.”

He then busied himself very dexterously in lighting a fire, producing
glasses, whisky, a cake, and cups and saucers. He put on a faded crimson
dressing-gown, and a pair of red slippers, and advanced to Denham with a
tumbler in one hand and a well-burnished book in the other.

“The Baskerville Congreve,” said Rodney, offering it to his guest. “I
couldn’t read him in a cheap edition.”

When he was seen thus among his books and his valuables, amiably anxious
to make his visitor comfortable, and moving about with something of
the dexterity and grace of a Persian cat, Denham relaxed his critical
attitude, and felt more at home with Rodney than he would have done with
many men better known to him. Rodney’s room was the room of a person
who cherishes a great many personal tastes, guarding them from the rough
blasts of the public with scrupulous attention. His papers and his books
rose in jagged mounds on table and floor, round which he skirted with
nervous care lest his dressing-gown might disarrange them ever so
slightly. On a chair stood a stack of photographs of statues and
pictures, which it was his habit to exhibit, one by one, for the space
of a day or two. The books on his shelves were as orderly as
regiments of soldiers, and the backs of them shone like so many bronze
beetle-wings; though, if you took one from its place you saw a shabbier
volume behind it, since space was limited. An oval Venetian mirror stood
above the fireplace, and reflected duskily in its spotted depths the
faint yellow and crimson of a jarful of tulips which stood among the
letters and pipes and cigarettes upon the mantelpiece. A small piano
occupied a corner of the room, with the score of “Don Giovanni” open
upon the bracket.

“Well, Rodney,” said Denham, as he filled his pipe and looked about him,
“this is all very nice and comfortable.”

Rodney turned his head half round and smiled, with the pride of a
proprietor, and then prevented himself from smiling.

“Tolerable,” he muttered.

“But I dare say it’s just as well that you have to earn your own
living.”

“If you mean that I shouldn’t do anything good with leisure if I had
it, I dare say you’re right. But I should be ten times as happy with my
whole day to spend as I liked.”

“I doubt that,” Denham replied.

They sat silent, and the smoke from their pipes joined amicably in a
blue vapor above their heads.

“I could spend three hours every day reading Shakespeare,” Rodney
remarked. “And there’s music and pictures, let alone the society of the
people one likes.”

“You’d be bored to death in a year’s time.”

“Oh, I grant you I should be bored if I did nothing. But I should write
plays.”

“H’m!”

“I should write plays,” he repeated. “I’ve written three-quarters of one
already, and I’m only waiting for a holiday to finish it. And it’s not
bad--no, some of it’s really rather nice.”

The question arose in Denham’s mind whether he should ask to see this
play, as, no doubt, he was expected to do. He looked rather stealthily
at Rodney, who was tapping the coal nervously with a poker, and
quivering almost physically, so Denham thought, with desire to talk
about this play of his, and vanity unrequited and urgent. He seemed very
much at Denham’s mercy, and Denham could not help liking him, partly on
that account.

“Well,... will you let me see the play?” Denham asked, and Rodney looked
immediately appeased, but, nevertheless, he sat silent for a moment,
holding the poker perfectly upright in the air, regarding it with his
rather prominent eyes, and opening his lips and shutting them again.

“Do you really care for this kind of thing?” he asked at length, in a
different tone of voice from that in which he had been speaking. And,
without waiting for an answer, he went on, rather querulously: “Very few
people care for poetry. I dare say it bores you.”

“Perhaps,” Denham remarked.

“Well, I’ll lend it you,” Rodney announced, putting down the poker.

As he moved to fetch the play, Denham stretched a hand to the bookcase
beside him, and took down the first volume which his fingers touched.
It happened to be a small and very lovely edition of Sir Thomas Browne,
containing the “Urn Burial,” the “Hydriotaphia,” and the “Garden of
Cyrus,” and, opening it at a passage which he knew very nearly by heart,
Denham began to read and, for some time, continued to read.

Rodney resumed his seat, with his manuscript on his knee, and from
time to time he glanced at Denham, and then joined his finger-tips and
crossed his thin legs over the fender, as if he experienced a good deal
of pleasure. At length Denham shut the book, and stood, with his back to
the fireplace, occasionally making an inarticulate humming sound which
seemed to refer to Sir Thomas Browne. He put his hat on his head, and
stood over Rodney, who still lay stretched back in his chair, with his
toes within the fender.

“I shall look in again some time,” Denham remarked, upon which Rodney
held up his hand, containing his manuscript, without saying anything
except--“If you like.”

Denham took the manuscript and went. Two days later he was much
surprised to find a thin parcel on his breakfast-plate, which, on being
opened, revealed the very copy of Sir Thomas Browne which he had studied
so intently in Rodney’s rooms. From sheer laziness he returned no
thanks, but he thought of Rodney from time to time with interest,
disconnecting him from Katharine, and meant to go round one evening and
smoke a pipe with him. It pleased Rodney thus to give away whatever his
friends genuinely admired. His library was constantly being diminished.



CHAPTER VI

Of all the hours of an ordinary working week-day, which are the
pleasantest to look forward to and to look back upon? If a single
instance is of use in framing a theory, it may be said that the minutes
between nine-twenty-five and nine-thirty in the morning had a singular
charm for Mary Datchet. She spent them in a very enviable frame of mind;
her contentment was almost unalloyed. High in the air as her flat was,
some beams from the morning sun reached her even in November, striking
straight at curtain, chair, and carpet, and painting there three bright,
true spaces of green, blue, and purple, upon which the eye rested with a
pleasure which gave physical warmth to the body.

There were few mornings when Mary did not look up, as she bent to
lace her boots, and as she followed the yellow rod from curtain to
breakfast-table she usually breathed some sigh of thankfulness that her
life provided her with such moments of pure enjoyment. She was robbing
no one of anything, and yet, to get so much pleasure from simple things,
such as eating one’s breakfast alone in a room which had nice colors in
it, clean from the skirting of the boards to the corners of the ceiling,
seemed to suit her so thoroughly that she used at first to hunt about
for some one to apologize to, or for some flaw in the situation. She had
now been six months in London, and she could find no flaw, but that, as
she invariably concluded by the time her boots were laced, was solely
and entirely due to the fact that she had her work. Every day, as she
stood with her dispatch-box in her hand at the door of her flat, and
gave one look back into the room to see that everything was straight
before she left, she said to herself that she was very glad that she
was going to leave it all, that to have sat there all day long, in the
enjoyment of leisure, would have been intolerable.

Out in the street she liked to think herself one of the workers who,
at this hour, take their way in rapid single file along all the broad
pavements of the city, with their heads slightly lowered, as if all
their effort were to follow each other as closely as might be; so that
Mary used to figure to herself a straight rabbit-run worn by their
unswerving feet upon the pavement. But she liked to pretend that she was
indistinguishable from the rest, and that when a wet day drove her to
the Underground or omnibus, she gave and took her share of crowd and
wet with clerks and typists and commercial men, and shared with them
the serious business of winding-up the world to tick for another
four-and-twenty hours.

Thus thinking, on the particular morning in question, she made her away
across Lincoln’s Inn Fields and up Kingsway, and so through Southampton
Row until she reached her office in Russell Square. Now and then she
would pause and look into the window of some bookseller or flower shop,
where, at this early hour, the goods were being arranged, and empty gaps
behind the plate glass revealed a state of undress. Mary felt kindly
disposed towards the shopkeepers, and hoped that they would trick the
midday public into purchasing, for at this hour of the morning she
ranged herself entirely on the side of the shopkeepers and bank clerks,
and regarded all who slept late and had money to spend as her enemy
and natural prey. And directly she had crossed the road at Holborn, her
thoughts all came naturally and regularly to roost upon her work, and
she forgot that she was, properly speaking, an amateur worker, whose
services were unpaid, and could hardly be said to wind the world up for
its daily task, since the world, so far, had shown very little desire to
take the boons which Mary’s society for woman’s suffrage had offered it.

She was thinking all the way up Southampton Row of notepaper and
foolscap, and how an economy in the use of paper might be effected
(without, of course, hurting Mrs. Seal’s feelings), for she was certain
that the great organizers always pounce, to begin with, upon trifles
like these, and build up their triumphant reforms upon a basis of
absolute solidity; and, without acknowledging it for a moment, Mary
Datchet was determined to be a great organizer, and had already doomed
her society to reconstruction of the most radical kind. Once or twice
lately, it is true, she had started, broad awake, before turning into
Russell Square, and denounced herself rather sharply for being already
in a groove, capable, that is, of thinking the same thoughts every
morning at the same hour, so that the chestnut-colored brick of the
Russell Square houses had some curious connection with her thoughts
about office economy, and served also as a sign that she should get
into trim for meeting Mr. Clacton, or Mrs. Seal, or whoever might be
beforehand with her at the office. Having no religious belief, she was
the more conscientious about her life, examining her position from time
to time very seriously, and nothing annoyed her more than to find one of
these bad habits nibbling away unheeded at the precious substance. What
was the good, after all, of being a woman if one didn’t keep fresh, and
cram one’s life with all sorts of views and experiments? Thus she always
gave herself a little shake, as she turned the corner, and, as often as
not, reached her own door whistling a snatch of a Somersetshire ballad.

The suffrage office was at the top of one of the large Russell Square
houses, which had once been lived in by a great city merchant and his
family, and was now let out in slices to a number of societies which
displayed assorted initials upon doors of ground glass, and kept, each
of them, a typewriter which clicked busily all day long. The old
house, with its great stone staircase, echoed hollowly to the sound of
typewriters and of errand-boys from ten to six. The noise of different
typewriters already at work, disseminating their views upon the
protection of native races, or the value of cereals as foodstuffs,
quickened Mary’s steps, and she always ran up the last flight of steps
which led to her own landing, at whatever hour she came, so as to get
her typewriter to take its place in competition with the rest.

She sat herself down to her letters, and very soon all these
speculations were forgotten, and the two lines drew themselves between
her eyebrows, as the contents of the letters, the office furniture, and
the sounds of activity in the next room gradually asserted their sway
upon her. By eleven o’clock the atmosphere of concentration was running
so strongly in one direction that any thought of a different order could
hardly have survived its birth more than a moment or so. The task which
lay before her was to organize a series of entertainments, the profits
of which were to benefit the society, which drooped for want of funds.
It was her first attempt at organization on a large scale, and she meant
to achieve something remarkable. She meant to use the cumbrous machine
to pick out this, that, and the other interesting person from the muddle
of the world, and to set them for a week in a pattern which must
catch the eyes of Cabinet Ministers, and the eyes once caught, the old
arguments were to be delivered with unexampled originality. Such was
the scheme as a whole; and in contemplation of it she would become quite
flushed and excited, and have to remind herself of all the details that
intervened between her and success.

The door would open, and Mr. Clacton would come in to search for a
certain leaflet buried beneath a pyramid of leaflets. He was a thin,
sandy-haired man of about thirty-five, spoke with a Cockney accent, and
had about him a frugal look, as if nature had not dealt generously with
him in any way, which, naturally, prevented him from dealing generously
with other people. When he had found his leaflet, and offered a few
jocular hints upon keeping papers in order, the typewriting would stop
abruptly, and Mrs. Seal would burst into the room with a letter which
needed explanation in her hand. This was a more serious interruption
than the other, because she never knew exactly what she wanted, and
half a dozen requests would bolt from her, no one of which was clearly
stated. Dressed in plum-colored velveteen, with short, gray hair, and a
face that seemed permanently flushed with philanthropic enthusiasm,
she was always in a hurry, and always in some disorder. She wore two
crucifixes, which got themselves entangled in a heavy gold chain upon
her breast, and seemed to Mary expressive of her mental ambiguity. Only
her vast enthusiasm and her worship of Miss Markham, one of the pioneers
of the society, kept her in her place, for which she had no sound
qualification.

So the morning wore on, and the pile of letters grew, and Mary felt, at
last, that she was the center ganglion of a very fine network of nerves
which fell over England, and one of these days, when she touched the
heart of the system, would begin feeling and rushing together and
emitting their splendid blaze of revolutionary fireworks--for some such
metaphor represents what she felt about her work, when her brain had
been heated by three hours of application.

Shortly before one o’clock Mr. Clacton and Mrs. Seal desisted from their
labors, and the old joke about luncheon, which came out regularly
at this hour, was repeated with scarcely any variation of words.
Mr. Clacton patronized a vegetarian restaurant; Mrs. Seal brought
sandwiches, which she ate beneath the plane-trees in Russell Square;
while Mary generally went to a gaudy establishment, upholstered in red
plush, near by, where, much to the vegetarian’s disapproval, you could
buy steak, two inches thick, or a roast section of fowl, swimming in a
pewter dish.

“The bare branches against the sky do one so much GOOD,” Mrs. Seal
asserted, looking out into the Square.

“But one can’t lunch off trees, Sally,” said Mary.

“I confess I don’t know how you manage it, Miss Datchet,” Mr. Clacton
remarked. “I should sleep all the afternoon, I know, if I took a heavy
meal in the middle of the day.”

“What’s the very latest thing in literature?” Mary asked, good-humoredly
pointing to the yellow-covered volume beneath Mr. Clacton’s arm, for he
invariably read some new French author at lunch-time, or squeezed in
a visit to a picture gallery, balancing his social work with an ardent
culture of which he was secretly proud, as Mary had very soon divined.

So they parted and Mary walked away, wondering if they guessed that she
really wanted to get away from them, and supposing that they had not
quite reached that degree of subtlety. She bought herself an evening
paper, which she read as she ate, looking over the top of it again
and again at the queer people who were buying cakes or imparting their
secrets, until some young woman whom she knew came in, and she called
out, “Eleanor, come and sit by me,” and they finished their lunch
together, parting on the strip of pavement among the different lines of
traffic with a pleasant feeling that they were stepping once more into
their separate places in the great and eternally moving pattern of human
life.

But, instead of going straight back to the office to-day, Mary turned
into the British Museum, and strolled down the gallery with the shapes
of stone until she found an empty seat directly beneath the gaze of the
Elgin marbles. She looked at them, and seemed, as usual, borne up on
some wave of exaltation and emotion, by which her life at once became
solemn and beautiful--an impression which was due as much, perhaps,
to the solitude and chill and silence of the gallery as to the actual
beauty of the statues. One must suppose, at least, that her emotions
were not purely esthetic, because, after she had gazed at the Ulysses
for a minute or two, she began to think about Ralph Denham. So secure
did she feel with these silent shapes that she almost yielded to an
impulse to say “I am in love with you” aloud. The presence of this
immense and enduring beauty made her almost alarmingly conscious of her
desire, and at the same time proud of a feeling which did not display
anything like the same proportions when she was going about her daily
work.

She repressed her impulse to speak aloud, and rose and wandered about
rather aimlessly among the statues until she found herself in another
gallery devoted to engraved obelisks and winged Assyrian bulls, and her
emotion took another turn. She began to picture herself traveling with
Ralph in a land where these monsters were couchant in the sand. “For,”
 she thought to herself, as she gazed fixedly at some information printed
behind a piece of glass, “the wonderful thing about you is that you’re
ready for anything; you’re not in the least conventional, like most
clever men.”

And she conjured up a scene of herself on a camel’s back, in the desert,
while Ralph commanded a whole tribe of natives.

“That is what you can do,” she went on, moving on to the next statue.
“You always make people do what you want.”

A glow spread over her spirit, and filled her eyes with brightness.
Nevertheless, before she left the Museum she was very far from saying,
even in the privacy of her own mind, “I am in love with you,” and that
sentence might very well never have framed itself. She was, indeed,
rather annoyed with herself for having allowed such an ill-considered
breach of her reserve, weakening her powers of resistance, she felt,
should this impulse return again. For, as she walked along the street to
her office, the force of all her customary objections to being in love
with any one overcame her. She did not want to marry at all. It seemed
to her that there was something amateurish in bringing love into touch
with a perfectly straightforward friendship, such as hers was with
Ralph, which, for two years now, had based itself upon common interests
in impersonal topics, such as the housing of the poor, or the taxation
of land values.

But the afternoon spirit differed intrinsically from the morning spirit.
Mary found herself watching the flight of a bird, or making drawings of
the branches of the plane-trees upon her blotting-paper. People came in
to see Mr. Clacton on business, and a seductive smell of cigarette smoke
issued from his room. Mrs. Seal wandered about with newspaper cuttings,
which seemed to her either “quite splendid” or “really too bad for
words.” She used to paste these into books, or send them to her friends,
having first drawn a broad bar in blue pencil down the margin, a
proceeding which signified equally and indistinguishably the depths of
her reprobation or the heights of her approval.

About four o’clock on that same afternoon Katharine Hilbery was walking
up Kingsway. The question of tea presented itself. The street lamps were
being lit already, and as she stood still for a moment beneath one of
them, she tried to think of some neighboring drawing-room where there
would be firelight and talk congenial to her mood. That mood, owing to
the spinning traffic and the evening veil of unreality, was ill-adapted
to her home surroundings. Perhaps, on the whole, a shop was the best
place in which to preserve this queer sense of heightened existence.
At the same time she wished to talk. Remembering Mary Datchet and her
repeated invitations, she crossed the road, turned into Russell Square,
and peered about, seeking for numbers with a sense of adventure that was
out of all proportion to the deed itself. She found herself in a dimly
lighted hall, unguarded by a porter, and pushed open the first swing
door. But the office-boy had never heard of Miss Datchet. Did she belong
to the S.R.F.R.? Katharine shook her head with a smile of dismay. A
voice from within shouted, “No. The S.G.S.--top floor.”

Katharine mounted past innumerable glass doors, with initials on them,
and became steadily more and more doubtful of the wisdom of her venture.
At the top she paused for a moment to breathe and collect herself.
She heard the typewriter and formal professional voices inside, not
belonging, she thought, to any one she had ever spoken to. She touched
the bell, and the door was opened almost immediately by Mary herself.
Her face had to change its expression entirely when she saw Katharine.

“You!” she exclaimed. “We thought you were the printer.” Still holding
the door open, she called back, “No, Mr. Clacton, it’s not Penningtons.
I should ring them up again--double three double eight, Central. Well,
this is a surprise. Come in,” she added. “You’re just in time for tea.”

The light of relief shone in Mary’s eyes. The boredom of the afternoon
was dissipated at once, and she was glad that Katharine had found them
in a momentary press of activity, owing to the failure of the printer to
send back certain proofs.

The unshaded electric light shining upon the table covered with papers
dazed Katharine for a moment. After the confusion of her twilight walk,
and her random thoughts, life in this small room appeared extremely
concentrated and bright. She turned instinctively to look out of the
window, which was uncurtained, but Mary immediately recalled her.

“It was very clever of you to find your way,” she said, and Katharine
wondered, as she stood there, feeling, for the moment, entirely detached
and unabsorbed, why she had come. She looked, indeed, to Mary’s eyes
strangely out of place in the office. Her figure in the long cloak,
which took deep folds, and her face, which was composed into a mask of
sensitive apprehension, disturbed Mary for a moment with a sense of
the presence of some one who was of another world, and, therefore,
subversive of her world. She became immediately anxious that Katharine
should be impressed by the importance of her world, and hoped that
neither Mrs. Seal nor Mr. Clacton would appear until the impression of
importance had been received. But in this she was disappointed. Mrs.
Seal burst into the room holding a kettle in her hand, which she set
upon the stove, and then, with inefficient haste, she set light to the
gas, which flared up, exploded, and went out.

“Always the way, always the way,” she muttered. “Kit Markham is the only
person who knows how to deal with the thing.”

Mary had to go to her help, and together they spread the table, and
apologized for the disparity between the cups and the plainness of the
food.

“If we had known Miss Hilbery was coming, we should have bought a cake,”
 said Mary, upon which Mrs. Seal looked at Katharine for the first time,
suspiciously, because she was a person who needed cake.

Here Mr. Clacton opened the door, and came in, holding a typewritten
letter in his hand, which he was reading aloud.

“Salford’s affiliated,” he said.

“Well done, Salford!” Mrs. Seal exclaimed enthusiastically, thumping the
teapot which she held upon the table, in token of applause.

“Yes, these provincial centers seem to be coming into line at last,”
 said Mr. Clacton, and then Mary introduced him to Miss Hilbery, and
he asked her, in a very formal manner, if she were interested “in our
work.”

“And the proofs still not come?” said Mrs. Seal, putting both her elbows
on the table, and propping her chin on her hands, as Mary began to pour
out tea. “It’s too bad--too bad. At this rate we shall miss the
country post. Which reminds me, Mr. Clacton, don’t you think we should
circularize the provinces with Partridge’s last speech? What? You’ve not
read it? Oh, it’s the best thing they’ve had in the House this Session.
Even the Prime Minister--”

But Mary cut her short.

“We don’t allow shop at tea, Sally,” she said firmly. “We fine her a
penny each time she forgets, and the fines go to buying a plum cake,”
 she explained, seeking to draw Katharine into the community. She had
given up all hope of impressing her.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Mrs. Seal apologized. “It’s my misfortune to be
an enthusiast,” she said, turning to Katharine. “My father’s daughter
could hardly be anything else. I think I’ve been on as many committees
as most people. Waifs and Strays, Rescue Work, Church Work, C. O.
S.--local branch--besides the usual civic duties which fall to one as a
householder. But I’ve given them all up for our work here, and I don’t
regret it for a second,” she added. “This is the root question, I feel;
until women have votes--”

“It’ll be sixpence, at least, Sally,” said Mary, bringing her fist down
on the table. “And we’re all sick to death of women and their votes.”

Mrs. Seal looked for a moment as though she could hardly believe her
ears, and made a deprecating “tut-tut-tut” in her throat, looking
alternately at Katharine and Mary, and shaking her head as she did so.
Then she remarked, rather confidentially to Katharine, with a little nod
in Mary’s direction:

“She’s doing more for the cause than any of us. She’s giving her
youth--for, alas! when I was young there were domestic circumstances--”
 she sighed, and stopped short.

Mr. Clacton hastily reverted to the joke about luncheon, and explained
how Mrs. Seal fed on a bag of biscuits under the trees, whatever the
weather might be, rather, Katharine thought, as though Mrs. Seal were a
pet dog who had convenient tricks.

“Yes, I took my little bag into the square,” said Mrs. Seal, with the
self-conscious guilt of a child owning some fault to its elders. “It was
really very sustaining, and the bare boughs against the sky do one
so much GOOD. But I shall have to give up going into the square,” she
proceeded, wrinkling her forehead. “The injustice of it! Why should I
have a beautiful square all to myself, when poor women who need rest
have nowhere at all to sit?” She looked fiercely at Katharine, giving
her short locks a little shake. “It’s dreadful what a tyrant one still
is, in spite of all one’s efforts. One tries to lead a decent life,
but one can’t. Of course, directly one thinks of it, one sees that ALL
squares should be open to EVERY ONE. Is there any society with that
object, Mr. Clacton? If not, there should be, surely.”

“A most excellent object,” said Mr. Clacton in his professional manner.
“At the same time, one must deplore the ramification of organizations,
Mrs. Seal. So much excellent effort thrown away, not to speak of pounds,
shillings, and pence. Now how many organizations of a philanthropic
nature do you suppose there are in the City of London itself, Miss
Hilbery?” he added, screwing his mouth into a queer little smile, as if
to show that the question had its frivolous side.

Katharine smiled, too. Her unlikeness to the rest of them had, by this
time, penetrated to Mr. Clacton, who was not naturally observant, and
he was wondering who she was; this same unlikeness had subtly stimulated
Mrs. Seal to try and make a convert of her. Mary, too, looked at her
almost as if she begged her to make things easy. For Katharine had shown
no disposition to make things easy. She had scarcely spoken, and her
silence, though grave and even thoughtful, seemed to Mary the silence of
one who criticizes.

“Well, there are more in this house than I’d any notion of,” she said.
“On the ground floor you protect natives, on the next you emigrate women
and tell people to eat nuts--”

“Why do you say that ‘we’ do these things?” Mary interposed, rather
sharply. “We’re not responsible for all the cranks who choose to lodge
in the same house with us.”

Mr. Clacton cleared his throat and looked at each of the young ladies
in turn. He was a good deal struck by the appearance and manner of Miss
Hilbery, which seemed to him to place her among those cultivated and
luxurious people of whom he used to dream. Mary, on the other hand, was
more of his own sort, and a little too much inclined to order him about.
He picked up crumbs of dry biscuit and put them into his mouth with
incredible rapidity.

“You don’t belong to our society, then?” said Mrs. Seal.

“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” said Katharine, with such ready candor that
Mrs. Seal was nonplussed, and stared at her with a puzzled expression,
as if she could not classify her among the varieties of human beings
known to her.

“But surely,” she began.

“Mrs. Seal is an enthusiast in these matters,” said Mr. Clacton, almost
apologetically. “We have to remind her sometimes that others have a
right to their views even if they differ from our own.... “Punch” has
a very funny picture this week, about a Suffragist and an agricultural
laborer. Have you seen this week’s “Punch,” Miss Datchet?”

Mary laughed, and said “No.”

Mr. Clacton then told them the substance of the joke, which, however,
depended a good deal for its success upon the expression which the
artist had put into the people’s faces. Mrs. Seal sat all the time
perfectly grave. Directly he had done speaking she burst out:

“But surely, if you care about the welfare of your sex at all, you must
wish them to have the vote?”

“I never said I didn’t wish them to have the vote,” Katharine protested.

“Then why aren’t you a member of our society?” Mrs. Seal demanded.

Katharine stirred her spoon round and round, stared into the swirl of
the tea, and remained silent. Mr. Clacton, meanwhile, framed a question
which, after a moment’s hesitation, he put to Katharine.

“Are you in any way related, I wonder, to the poet Alardyce? His
daughter, I believe, married a Mr. Hilbery.”

“Yes; I’m the poet’s granddaughter,” said Katharine, with a little sigh,
after a pause; and for a moment they were all silent.

“The poet’s granddaughter!” Mrs. Seal repeated, half to herself, with a
shake of her head, as if that explained what was otherwise inexplicable.

The light kindled in Mr. Clacton’s eye.

“Ah, indeed. That interests me very much,” he said. “I owe a great debt
to your grandfather, Miss Hilbery. At one time I could have repeated
the greater part of him by heart. But one gets out of the way of reading
poetry, unfortunately. You don’t remember him, I suppose?”

A sharp rap at the door made Katharine’s answer inaudible. Mrs. Seal
looked up with renewed hope in her eyes, and exclaiming:

“The proofs at last!” ran to open the door. “Oh, it’s only Mr. Denham!”
 she cried, without any attempt to conceal her disappointment. Ralph,
Katharine supposed, was a frequent visitor, for the only person he
thought it necessary to greet was herself, and Mary at once explained
the strange fact of her being there by saying:

“Katharine has come to see how one runs an office.”

Ralph felt himself stiffen uncomfortably, as he said:

“I hope Mary hasn’t persuaded you that she knows how to run an office?”

“What, doesn’t she?” said Katharine, looking from one to the other.

At these remarks Mrs. Seal began to exhibit signs of discomposure, which
displayed themselves by a tossing movement of her head, and, as Ralph
took a letter from his pocket, and placed his finger upon a certain
sentence, she forestalled him by exclaiming in confusion:

“Now, I know what you’re going to say, Mr. Denham! But it was the
day Kit Markham was here, and she upsets one so--with her wonderful
vitality, always thinking of something new that we ought to be doing and
aren’t--and I was conscious at the time that my dates were mixed. It had
nothing to do with Mary at all, I assure you.”

“My dear Sally, don’t apologize,” said Mary, laughing. “Men are such
pedants--they don’t know what things matter, and what things don’t.”

“Now, Denham, speak up for our sex,” said Mr. Clacton in a jocular
manner, indeed, but like most insignificant men he was very quick to
resent being found fault with by a woman, in argument with whom he was
fond of calling himself “a mere man.” He wished, however, to enter into
a literary conservation with Miss Hilbery, and thus let the matter drop.

“Doesn’t it seem strange to you, Miss Hilbery,” he said, “that the
French, with all their wealth of illustrious names, have no poet who can
compare with your grandfather? Let me see. There’s Chenier and Hugo
and Alfred de Musset--wonderful men, but, at the same time, there’s a
richness, a freshness about Alardyce--”

Here the telephone bell rang, and he had to absent himself with a smile
and a bow which signified that, although literature is delightful, it
is not work. Mrs. Seal rose at the same time, but remained hovering over
the table, delivering herself of a tirade against party government. “For
if I were to tell you what I know of back-stairs intrigue, and what can
be done by the power of the purse, you wouldn’t credit me, Mr. Denham,
you wouldn’t, indeed. Which is why I feel that the only work for my
father’s daughter--for he was one of the pioneers, Mr. Denham, and on
his tombstone I had that verse from the Psalms put, about the sowers
and the seed.... And what wouldn’t I give that he should be alive now,
seeing what we’re going to see--” but reflecting that the glories of the
future depended in part upon the activity of her typewriter, she bobbed
her head, and hurried back to the seclusion of her little room, from
which immediately issued sounds of enthusiastic, but obviously erratic,
composition.

Mary made it clear at once, by starting a fresh topic of general
interest, that though she saw the humor of her colleague, she did not
intend to have her laughed at.

“The standard of morality seems to me frightfully low,” she observed
reflectively, pouring out a second cup of tea, “especially among women
who aren’t well educated. They don’t see that small things matter,
and that’s where the leakage begins, and then we find ourselves in
difficulties--I very nearly lost my temper yesterday,” she went on,
looking at Ralph with a little smile, as though he knew what happened
when she lost her temper. “It makes me very angry when people tell me
lies--doesn’t it make you angry?” she asked Katharine.

“But considering that every one tells lies,” Katharine remarked, looking
about the room to see where she had put down her umbrella and her
parcel, for there was an intimacy in the way in which Mary and Ralph
addressed each other which made her wish to leave them. Mary, on the
other hand, was anxious, superficially at least, that Katharine should
stay and so fortify her in her determination not to be in love with
Ralph.

Ralph, while lifting his cup from his lips to the table, had made up his
mind that if Miss Hilbery left, he would go with her.

“I don’t think that I tell lies, and I don’t think that Ralph tells
lies, do you, Ralph?” Mary continued.

Katharine laughed, with more gayety, as it seemed to Mary, than
she could properly account for. What was she laughing at? At them,
presumably. Katharine had risen, and was glancing hither and thither, at
the presses and the cupboards, and all the machinery of the office, as
if she included them all in her rather malicious amusement, which caused
Mary to keep her eyes on her straightly and rather fiercely, as if she
were a gay-plumed, mischievous bird, who might light on the topmost
bough and pick off the ruddiest cherry, without any warning. Two women
less like each other could scarcely be imagined, Ralph thought, looking
from one to the other. Next moment, he too, rose, and nodding to Mary,
as Katharine said good-bye, opened the door for her, and followed her
out.

Mary sat still and made no attempt to prevent them from going. For a
second or two after the door had shut on them her eyes rested on the
door with a straightforward fierceness in which, for a moment, a certain
degree of bewilderment seemed to enter; but, after a brief hesitation,
she put down her cup and proceeded to clear away the tea-things.

The impulse which had driven Ralph to take this action was the result of
a very swift little piece of reasoning, and thus, perhaps, was not quite
so much of an impulse as it seemed. It passed through his mind that if
he missed this chance of talking to Katharine, he would have to face
an enraged ghost, when he was alone in his room again, demanding an
explanation of his cowardly indecision. It was better, on the whole, to
risk present discomfiture than to waste an evening bandying excuses
and constructing impossible scenes with this uncompromising section of
himself. For ever since he had visited the Hilberys he had been much at
the mercy of a phantom Katharine, who came to him when he sat alone, and
answered him as he would have her answer, and was always beside him to
crown those varying triumphs which were transacted almost every night,
in imaginary scenes, as he walked through the lamplit streets home from
the office. To walk with Katharine in the flesh would either feed that
phantom with fresh food, which, as all who nourish dreams are aware, is
a process that becomes necessary from time to time, or refine it to such
a degree of thinness that it was scarcely serviceable any longer; and
that, too, is sometimes a welcome change to a dreamer. And all the time
Ralph was well aware that the bulk of Katharine was not represented in
his dreams at all, so that when he met her he was bewildered by the fact
that she had nothing to do with his dream of her.

When, on reaching the street, Katharine found that Mr. Denham proceeded
to keep pace by her side, she was surprised and, perhaps, a little
annoyed. She, too, had her margin of imagination, and to-night her
activity in this obscure region of the mind required solitude. If she
had had her way, she would have walked very fast down the Tottenham
Court Road, and then sprung into a cab and raced swiftly home. The view
she had had of the inside of an office was of the nature of a dream to
her. Shut off up there, she compared Mrs. Seal, and Mary Datchet, and
Mr. Clacton to enchanted people in a bewitched tower, with the spiders’
webs looping across the corners of the room, and all the tools of the
necromancer’s craft at hand; for so aloof and unreal and apart from
the normal world did they seem to her, in the house of innumerable
typewriters, murmuring their incantations and concocting their drugs,
and flinging their frail spiders’ webs over the torrent of life which
rushed down the streets outside.

She may have been conscious that there was some exaggeration in this
fancy of hers, for she certainly did not wish to share it with Ralph.
To him, she supposed, Mary Datchet, composing leaflets for Cabinet
Ministers among her typewriters, represented all that was interesting
and genuine; and, accordingly, she shut them both out from all share
in the crowded street, with its pendant necklace of lamps, its lighted
windows, and its throng of men and women, which exhilarated her to such
an extent that she very nearly forgot her companion. She walked very
fast, and the effect of people passing in the opposite direction was
to produce a queer dizziness both in her head and in Ralph’s, which set
their bodies far apart. But she did her duty by her companion almost
unconsciously.

“Mary Datchet does that sort of work very well.... She’s responsible for
it, I suppose?”

“Yes. The others don’t help at all.... Has she made a convert of you?”

“Oh no. That is, I’m a convert already.”

“But she hasn’t persuaded you to work for them?”

“Oh dear no--that wouldn’t do at all.”

So they walked on down the Tottenham Court Road, parting and coming
together again, and Ralph felt much as though he were addressing the
summit of a poplar in a high gale of wind.

“Suppose we get on to that omnibus?” he suggested.

Katharine acquiesced, and they climbed up, and found themselves alone on
top of it.

“But which way are you going?” Katharine asked, waking a little from the
trance into which movement among moving things had thrown her.

“I’m going to the Temple,” Ralph replied, inventing a destination on the
spur of the moment. He felt the change come over her as they sat down
and the omnibus began to move forward. He imagined her contemplating the
avenue in front of them with those honest sad eyes which seemed to set
him at such a distance from them. But the breeze was blowing in their
faces; it lifted her hat for a second, and she drew out a pin and stuck
it in again,--a little action which seemed, for some reason, to make her
rather more fallible. Ah, if only her hat would blow off, and leave her
altogether disheveled, accepting it from his hands!

“This is like Venice,” she observed, raising her hand. “The motor-cars,
I mean, shooting about so quickly, with their lights.”

“I’ve never seen Venice,” he replied. “I keep that and some other things
for my old age.”

“What are the other things?” she asked.

“There’s Venice and India and, I think, Dante, too.”

She laughed.

“Think of providing for one’s old age! And would you refuse to see
Venice if you had the chance?”

Instead of answering her, he wondered whether he should tell her
something that was quite true about himself; and as he wondered, he told
her.

“I’ve planned out my life in sections ever since I was a child, to make
it last longer. You see, I’m always afraid that I’m missing something--”

“And so am I!” Katharine exclaimed. “But, after all,” she added, “why
should you miss anything?”

“Why? Because I’m poor, for one thing,” Ralph rejoined. “You, I suppose,
can have Venice and India and Dante every day of your life.”

She said nothing for a moment, but rested one hand, which was bare
of glove, upon the rail in front of her, meditating upon a variety of
things, of which one was that this strange young man pronounced Dante
as she was used to hearing it pronounced, and another, that he had, most
unexpectedly, a feeling about life that was familiar to her. Perhaps,
then, he was the sort of person she might take an interest in, if she
came to know him better, and as she had placed him among those whom she
would never want to know better, this was enough to make her silent.
She hastily recalled her first view of him, in the little room where
the relics were kept, and ran a bar through half her impressions, as one
cancels a badly written sentence, having found the right one.

“But to know that one might have things doesn’t alter the fact that one
hasn’t got them,” she said, in some confusion. “How could I go to India,
for example? Besides,” she began impulsively, and stopped herself. Here
the conductor came round, and interrupted them. Ralph waited for her to
resume her sentence, but she said no more.

“I have a message to give your father,” he remarked. “Perhaps you would
give it him, or I could come--”

“Yes, do come,” Katharine replied.

“Still, I don’t see why you shouldn’t go to India,” Ralph began, in
order to keep her from rising, as she threatened to do.

But she got up in spite of him, and said good-bye with her usual air of
decision, and left him with a quickness which Ralph connected now with
all her movements. He looked down and saw her standing on the pavement
edge, an alert, commanding figure, which waited its season to cross,
and then walked boldly and swiftly to the other side. That gesture and
action would be added to the picture he had of her, but at present the
real woman completely routed the phantom one.



CHAPTER VII

“And little Augustus Pelham said to me, ‘It’s the younger generation
knocking at the door,’ and I said to him, ‘Oh, but the younger
generation comes in without knocking, Mr. Pelham.’ Such a feeble little
joke, wasn’t it, but down it went into his notebook all the same.”

“Let us congratulate ourselves that we shall be in the grave before that
work is published,” said Mr. Hilbery.

The elderly couple were waiting for the dinner-bell to ring and for
their daughter to come into the room. Their arm-chairs were drawn up
on either side of the fire, and each sat in the same slightly crouched
position, looking into the coals, with the expressions of people who
have had their share of experiences and wait, rather passively, for
something to happen. Mr. Hilbery now gave all his attention to a piece
of coal which had fallen out of the grate, and to selecting a favorable
position for it among the lumps that were burning already. Mrs. Hilbery
watched him in silence, and the smile changed on her lips as if her mind
still played with the events of the afternoon.

When Mr. Hilbery had accomplished his task, he resumed his crouching
position again, and began to toy with the little green stone attached to
his watch-chain. His deep, oval-shaped eyes were fixed upon the flames,
but behind the superficial glaze seemed to brood an observant and
whimsical spirit, which kept the brown of the eye still unusually vivid.
But a look of indolence, the result of skepticism or of a taste too
fastidious to be satisfied by the prizes and conclusions so easily
within his grasp, lent him an expression almost of melancholy. After
sitting thus for a time, he seemed to reach some point in his thinking
which demonstrated its futility, upon which he sighed and stretched his
hand for a book lying on the table by his side.

Directly the door opened he closed the book, and the eyes of father
and mother both rested on Katharine as she came towards them. The sight
seemed at once to give them a motive which they had not had before.
To them she appeared, as she walked towards them in her light evening
dress, extremely young, and the sight of her refreshed them, were it
only because her youth and ignorance made their knowledge of the world
of some value.

“The only excuse for you, Katharine, is that dinner is still later than
you are,” said Mr. Hilbery, putting down his spectacles.

“I don’t mind her being late when the result is so charming,” said Mrs.
Hilbery, looking with pride at her daughter. “Still, I don’t know that I
LIKE your being out so late, Katharine,” she continued. “You took a cab,
I hope?”

Here dinner was announced, and Mr. Hilbery formally led his wife
downstairs on his arm. They were all dressed for dinner, and, indeed,
the prettiness of the dinner-table merited that compliment. There was
no cloth upon the table, and the china made regular circles of deep blue
upon the shining brown wood. In the middle there was a bowl of tawny
red and yellow chrysanthemums, and one of pure white, so fresh that the
narrow petals were curved backwards into a firm white ball. From the
surrounding walls the heads of three famous Victorian writers surveyed
this entertainment, and slips of paper pasted beneath them testified
in the great man’s own handwriting that he was yours sincerely or
affectionately or for ever. The father and daughter would have been
quite content, apparently, to eat their dinner in silence, or with a few
cryptic remarks expressed in a shorthand which could not be understood
by the servants. But silence depressed Mrs. Hilbery, and far from
minding the presence of maids, she would often address herself to them,
and was never altogether unconscious of their approval or disapproval of
her remarks. In the first place she called them to witness that the room
was darker than usual, and had all the lights turned on.

“That’s more cheerful,” she exclaimed. “D’you know, Katharine, that
ridiculous goose came to tea with me? Oh, how I wanted you! He tried to
make epigrams all the time, and I got so nervous, expecting them, you
know, that I spilt the tea--and he made an epigram about that!”

“Which ridiculous goose?” Katharine asked her father.

“Only one of my geese, happily, makes epigrams--Augustus Pelham, of
course,” said Mrs. Hilbery.

“I’m not sorry that I was out,” said Katharine.

“Poor Augustus!” Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed. “But we’re all too hard on him.
Remember how devoted he is to his tiresome old mother.”

“That’s only because she is his mother. Any one connected with
himself--”

“No, no, Katharine--that’s too bad. That’s--what’s the word I mean,
Trevor, something long and Latin--the sort of word you and Katharine
know--”

Mr. Hilbery suggested “cynical.”

“Well, that’ll do. I don’t believe in sending girls to college, but I
should teach them that sort of thing. It makes one feel so dignified,
bringing out these little allusions, and passing on gracefully to the
next topic. But I don’t know what’s come over me--I actually had to ask
Augustus the name of the lady Hamlet was in love with, as you were out,
Katharine, and Heaven knows what he mayn’t put down about me in his
diary.”

“I wish,” Katharine started, with great impetuosity, and checked
herself. Her mother always stirred her to feel and think quickly, and
then she remembered that her father was there, listening with attention.

“What is it you wish?” he asked, as she paused.

He often surprised her, thus, into telling him what she had not meant to
tell him; and then they argued, while Mrs. Hilbery went on with her own
thoughts.

“I wish mother wasn’t famous. I was out at tea, and they would talk to
me about poetry.”

“Thinking you must be poetical, I see--and aren’t you?”

“Who’s been talking to you about poetry, Katharine?” Mrs. Hilbery
demanded, and Katharine was committed to giving her parents an account
of her visit to the Suffrage office.

“They have an office at the top of one of the old houses in Russell
Square. I never saw such queer-looking people. And the man discovered
I was related to the poet, and talked to me about poetry. Even Mary
Datchet seems different in that atmosphere.”

“Yes, the office atmosphere is very bad for the soul,” said Mr. Hilbery.

“I don’t remember any offices in Russell Square in the old days, when
Mamma lived there,” Mrs. Hilbery mused, “and I can’t fancy turning one
of those noble great rooms into a stuffy little Suffrage office. Still,
if the clerks read poetry there must be something nice about them.”

“No, because they don’t read it as we read it,” Katharine insisted.

“But it’s nice to think of them reading your grandfather, and not
filling up those dreadful little forms all day long,” Mrs. Hilbery
persisted, her notion of office life being derived from some chance view
of a scene behind the counter at her bank, as she slipped the sovereigns
into her purse.

“At any rate, they haven’t made a convert of Katharine, which was what I
was afraid of,” Mr. Hilbery remarked.

“Oh no,” said Katharine very decidedly, “I wouldn’t work with them for
anything.”

“It’s curious,” Mr. Hilbery continued, agreeing with his daughter, “how
the sight of one’s fellow-enthusiasts always chokes one off. They
show up the faults of one’s cause so much more plainly than one’s
antagonists. One can be enthusiastic in one’s study, but directly one
comes into touch with the people who agree with one, all the glamor
goes. So I’ve always found,” and he proceeded to tell them, as he peeled
his apple, how he committed himself once, in his youthful days, to make
a speech at a political meeting, and went there ablaze with enthusiasm
for the ideals of his own side; but while his leaders spoke, he became
gradually converted to the other way of thinking, if thinking it could
be called, and had to feign illness in order to avoid making a fool of
himself--an experience which had sickened him of public meetings.

Katharine listened and felt as she generally did when her father, and
to some extent her mother, described their feelings, that she quite
understood and agreed with them, but, at the same time, saw something
which they did not see, and always felt some disappointment when they
fell short of her vision, as they always did. The plates succeeded each
other swiftly and noiselessly in front of her, and the table was decked
for dessert, and as the talk murmured on in familiar grooves, she sat
there, rather like a judge, listening to her parents, who did, indeed,
feel it very pleasant when they made her laugh.

Daily life in a house where there are young and old is full of curious
little ceremonies and pieties, which are discharged quite punctually,
though the meaning of them is obscure, and a mystery has come to brood
over them which lends even a superstitious charm to their performance.
Such was the nightly ceremony of the cigar and the glass of port, which
were placed on the right hand and on the left hand of Mr. Hilbery, and
simultaneously Mrs. Hilbery and Katharine left the room. All the years
they had lived together they had never seen Mr. Hilbery smoke his cigar
or drink his port, and they would have felt it unseemly if, by chance,
they had surprised him as he sat there. These short, but clearly marked,
periods of separation between the sexes were always used for an intimate
postscript to what had been said at dinner, the sense of being women
together coming out most strongly when the male sex was, as if by some
religious rite, secluded from the female. Katharine knew by heart
the sort of mood that possessed her as she walked upstairs to the
drawing-room, her mother’s arm in hers; and she could anticipate the
pleasure with which, when she had turned on the lights, they both
regarded the drawing-room, fresh swept and set in order for the
last section of the day, with the red parrots swinging on the chintz
curtains, and the arm-chairs warming in the blaze. Mrs. Hilbery stood
over the fire, with one foot on the fender, and her skirts slightly
raised.

“Oh, Katharine,” she exclaimed, “how you’ve made me think of Mamma and
the old days in Russell Square! I can see the chandeliers, and the
green silk of the piano, and Mamma sitting in her cashmere shawl by
the window, singing till the little ragamuffin boys outside stopped to
listen. Papa sent me in with a bunch of violets while he waited round
the corner. It must have been a summer evening. That was before things
were hopeless....”

As she spoke an expression of regret, which must have come frequently to
cause the lines which now grew deep round the lips and eyes, settled on
her face. The poet’s marriage had not been a happy one. He had left his
wife, and after some years of a rather reckless existence, she had
died, before her time. This disaster had led to great irregularities
of education, and, indeed, Mrs. Hilbery might be said to have escaped
education altogether. But she had been her father’s companion at the
season when he wrote the finest of his poems. She had sat on his knee in
taverns and other haunts of drunken poets, and it was for her sake, so
people said, that he had cured himself of his dissipation, and become
the irreproachable literary character that the world knows, whose
inspiration had deserted him. As Mrs. Hilbery grew old she thought more
and more of the past, and this ancient disaster seemed at times almost
to prey upon her mind, as if she could not pass out of life herself
without laying the ghost of her parent’s sorrow to rest.

Katharine wished to comfort her mother, but it was difficult to do this
satisfactorily when the facts themselves were so much of a legend. The
house in Russell Square, for example, with its noble rooms, and the
magnolia-tree in the garden, and the sweet-voiced piano, and the sound
of feet coming down the corridors, and other properties of size and
romance--had they any existence? Yet why should Mrs. Alardyce live all
alone in this gigantic mansion, and, if she did not live alone, with
whom did she live? For its own sake, Katharine rather liked this tragic
story, and would have been glad to hear the details of it, and to have
been able to discuss them frankly. But this it became less and less
possible to do, for though Mrs. Hilbery was constantly reverting to the
story, it was always in this tentative and restless fashion, as though
by a touch here and there she could set things straight which had been
crooked these sixty years. Perhaps, indeed, she no longer knew what the
truth was.

“If they’d lived now,” she concluded, “I feel it wouldn’t have happened.
People aren’t so set upon tragedy as they were then. If my father had
been able to go round the world, or if she’d had a rest cure, everything
would have come right. But what could I do? And then they had bad
friends, both of them, who made mischief. Ah, Katharine, when you marry,
be quite, quite sure that you love your husband!”

The tears stood in Mrs. Hilbery’s eyes.

While comforting her, Katharine thought to herself, “Now this is what
Mary Datchet and Mr. Denham don’t understand. This is the sort of
position I’m always getting into. How simple it must be to live as they
do!” for all the evening she had been comparing her home and her father
and mother with the Suffrage office and the people there.

“But, Katharine,” Mrs. Hilbery continued, with one of her sudden changes
of mood, “though, Heaven knows, I don’t want to see you married,
surely if ever a man loved a woman, William loves you. And it’s a nice,
rich-sounding name too--Katharine Rodney, which, unfortunately, doesn’t
mean that he’s got any money, because he hasn’t.”

The alteration of her name annoyed Katharine, and she observed, rather
sharply, that she didn’t want to marry any one.

“It’s very dull that you can only marry one husband, certainly,” Mrs.
Hilbery reflected. “I always wish that you could marry everybody who
wants to marry you. Perhaps they’ll come to that in time, but meanwhile
I confess that dear William--” But here Mr. Hilbery came in, and the
more solid part of the evening began. This consisted in the reading
aloud by Katharine from some prose work or other, while her mother
knitted scarves intermittently on a little circular frame, and her
father read the newspaper, not so attentively but that he could comment
humorously now and again upon the fortunes of the hero and the heroine.
The Hilberys subscribed to a library, which delivered books on Tuesdays
and Fridays, and Katharine did her best to interest her parents in the
works of living and highly respectable authors; but Mrs. Hilbery was
perturbed by the very look of the light, gold-wreathed volumes, and
would make little faces as if she tasted something bitter as the reading
went on; while Mr. Hilbery would treat the moderns with a curious
elaborate banter such as one might apply to the antics of a promising
child. So this evening, after five pages or so of one of these masters,
Mrs. Hilbery protested that it was all too clever and cheap and nasty
for words.

“Please, Katharine, read us something REAL.”

Katharine had to go to the bookcase and choose a portly volume in sleek,
yellow calf, which had directly a sedative effect upon both her parents.
But the delivery of the evening post broke in upon the periods of Henry
Fielding, and Katharine found that her letters needed all her attention.



CHAPTER VIII

She took her letters up to her room with her, having persuaded her
mother to go to bed directly Mr. Hilbery left them, for so long as she
sat in the same room as her mother, Mrs. Hilbery might, at any moment,
ask for a sight of the post. A very hasty glance through many sheets
had shown Katharine that, by some coincidence, her attention had to be
directed to many different anxieties simultaneously. In the first place,
Rodney had written a very full account of his state of mind, which was
illustrated by a sonnet, and he demanded a reconsideration of their
position, which agitated Katharine more than she liked. Then there were
two letters which had to be laid side by side and compared before she
could make out the truth of their story, and even when she knew the
facts she could not decide what to make of them; and finally she had
to reflect upon a great many pages from a cousin who found himself in
financial difficulties, which forced him to the uncongenial occupation
of teaching the young ladies of Bungay to play upon the violin.

But the two letters which each told the same story differently were the
chief source of her perplexity. She was really rather shocked to find it
definitely established that her own second cousin, Cyril Alardyce, had
lived for the last four years with a woman who was not his wife, who
had borne him two children, and was now about to bear him another. This
state of things had been discovered by Mrs. Milvain, her aunt Celia,
a zealous inquirer into such matters, whose letter was also under
consideration. Cyril, she said, must be made to marry the woman at once;
and Cyril, rightly or wrongly, was indignant with such interference with
his affairs, and would not own that he had any cause to be ashamed of
himself. Had he any cause to be ashamed of himself, Katharine wondered;
and she turned to her aunt again.

“Remember,” she wrote, in her profuse, emphatic statement, “that he
bears your grandfather’s name, and so will the child that is to be
born. The poor boy is not so much to blame as the woman who deluded him,
thinking him a gentleman, which he IS, and having money, which he has
NOT.”

“What would Ralph Denham say to this?” thought Katharine, beginning to
pace up and down her bedroom. She twitched aside the curtains, so that,
on turning, she was faced by darkness, and looking out, could just
distinguish the branches of a plane-tree and the yellow lights of some
one else’s windows.

“What would Mary Datchet and Ralph Denham say?” she reflected, pausing
by the window, which, as the night was warm, she raised, in order to
feel the air upon her face, and to lose herself in the nothingness of
night. But with the air the distant humming sound of far-off crowded
thoroughfares was admitted to the room. The incessant and tumultuous
hum of the distant traffic seemed, as she stood there, to represent
the thick texture of her life, for her life was so hemmed in with the
progress of other lives that the sound of its own advance was inaudible.
People like Ralph and Mary, she thought, had it all their own way, and
an empty space before them, and, as she envied them, she cast her mind
out to imagine an empty land where all this petty intercourse of men and
women, this life made up of the dense crossings and entanglements of men
and women, had no existence whatever. Even now, alone, at night, looking
out into the shapeless mass of London, she was forced to remember that
there was one point and here another with which she had some connection.
William Rodney, at this very moment, was seated in a minute speck of
light somewhere to the east of her, and his mind was occupied, not with
his book, but with her. She wished that no one in the whole world
would think of her. However, there was no way of escaping from one’s
fellow-beings, she concluded, and shut the window with a sigh, and
returned once more to her letters.

She could not doubt but that William’s letter was the most genuine she
had yet received from him. He had come to the conclusion that he could
not live without her, he wrote. He believed that he knew her, and
could give her happiness, and that their marriage would be unlike other
marriages. Nor was the sonnet, in spite of its accomplishment, lacking
in passion, and Katharine, as she read the pages through again, could
see in what direction her feelings ought to flow, supposing they
revealed themselves. She would come to feel a humorous sort of
tenderness for him, a zealous care for his susceptibilities, and, after
all, she considered, thinking of her father and mother, what is love?

Naturally, with her face, position, and background, she had experience
of young men who wished to marry her, and made protestations of love,
but, perhaps because she did not return the feeling, it remained
something of a pageant to her. Not having experience of it herself, her
mind had unconsciously occupied itself for some years in dressing up an
image of love, and the marriage that was the outcome of love, and the
man who inspired love, which naturally dwarfed any examples that came
her way. Easily, and without correction by reason, her imagination made
pictures, superb backgrounds casting a rich though phantom light upon
the facts in the foreground. Splendid as the waters that drop with
resounding thunder from high ledges of rock, and plunge downwards into
the blue depths of night, was the presence of love she dreamt, drawing
into it every drop of the force of life, and dashing them all asunder in
the superb catastrophe in which everything was surrendered, and nothing
might be reclaimed. The man, too, was some magnanimous hero, riding a
great horse by the shore of the sea. They rode through forests together,
they galloped by the rim of the sea. But waking, she was able to
contemplate a perfectly loveless marriage, as the thing one did actually
in real life, for possibly the people who dream thus are those who do
the most prosaic things.

At this moment she was much inclined to sit on into the night, spinning
her light fabric of thoughts until she tired of their futility, and went
to her mathematics; but, as she knew very well, it was necessary that
she should see her father before he went to bed. The case of Cyril
Alardyce must be discussed, her mother’s illusions and the rights of the
family attended to. Being vague herself as to what all this amounted
to, she had to take counsel with her father. She took her letters in her
hand and went downstairs. It was past eleven, and the clocks had
come into their reign, the grandfather’s clock in the hall ticking in
competition with the small clock on the landing. Mr. Hilbery’s study ran
out behind the rest of the house, on the ground floor, and was a very
silent, subterranean place, the sun in daytime casting a mere abstract
of light through a skylight upon his books and the large table, with its
spread of white papers, now illumined by a green reading-lamp. Here Mr.
Hilbery sat editing his review, or placing together documents by means
of which it could be proved that Shelley had written “of” instead of
“and,” or that the inn in which Byron had slept was called the “Nag’s
Head” and not the “Turkish Knight,” or that the Christian name of
Keats’s uncle had been John rather than Richard, for he knew more minute
details about these poets than any man in England, probably, and was
preparing an edition of Shelley which scrupulously observed the poet’s
system of punctuation. He saw the humor of these researches, but that
did not prevent him from carrying them out with the utmost scrupulosity.

He was lying back comfortably in a deep arm-chair smoking a cigar, and
ruminating the fruitful question as to whether Coleridge had wished to
marry Dorothy Wordsworth, and what, if he had done so, would have been
the consequences to him in particular, and to literature in general.
When Katharine came in he reflected that he knew what she had come for,
and he made a pencil note before he spoke to her. Having done this, he
saw that she was reading, and he watched her for a moment without saying
anything. She was reading “Isabella and the Pot of Basil,” and her mind
was full of the Italian hills and the blue daylight, and the hedges set
with little rosettes of red and white roses. Feeling that her father
waited for her, she sighed and said, shutting her book:

“I’ve had a letter from Aunt Celia about Cyril, father.... It seems to
be true--about his marriage. What are we to do?”

“Cyril seems to have been behaving in a very foolish manner,” said Mr.
Hilbery, in his pleasant and deliberate tones.

Katharine found some difficulty in carrying on the conversation, while
her father balanced his finger-tips so judiciously, and seemed to
reserve so many of his thoughts for himself.

“He’s about done for himself, I should say,” he continued. Without
saying anything, he took Katharine’s letters out of her hand, adjusted
his eyeglasses, and read them through.

At length he said “Humph!” and gave the letters back to her.

“Mother knows nothing about it,” Katharine remarked. “Will you tell
her?”

“I shall tell your mother. But I shall tell her that there is nothing
whatever for us to do.”

“But the marriage?” Katharine asked, with some diffidence.

Mr. Hilbery said nothing, and stared into the fire.

“What in the name of conscience did he do it for?” he speculated at
last, rather to himself than to her.

Katharine had begun to read her aunt’s letter over again, and she now
quoted a sentence. “Ibsen and Butler.... He has sent me a letter full of
quotations--nonsense, though clever nonsense.”

“Well, if the younger generation want to carry on its life on those
lines, it’s none of our affair,” he remarked.

“But isn’t it our affair, perhaps, to make them get married?” Katharine
asked rather wearily.

“Why the dickens should they apply to me?” her father demanded with
sudden irritation.

“Only as the head of the family--”

“But I’m not the head of the family. Alfred’s the head of the family.
Let them apply to Alfred,” said Mr. Hilbery, relapsing again into his
arm-chair. Katharine was aware that she had touched a sensitive spot,
however, in mentioning the family.

“I think, perhaps, the best thing would be for me to go and see them,”
 she observed.

“I won’t have you going anywhere near them,” Mr. Hilbery replied with
unwonted decision and authority. “Indeed, I don’t understand why they’ve
dragged you into the business at all--I don’t see that it’s got anything
to do with you.”

“I’ve always been friends with Cyril,” Katharine observed.

“But did he ever tell you anything about this?” Mr. Hilbery asked rather
sharply.

Katharine shook her head. She was, indeed, a good deal hurt that Cyril
had not confided in her--did he think, as Ralph Denham or Mary Datchet
might think, that she was, for some reason, unsympathetic--hostile even?

“As to your mother,” said Mr. Hilbery, after a pause, in which he seemed
to be considering the color of the flames, “you had better tell her the
facts. She’d better know the facts before every one begins to talk about
it, though why Aunt Celia thinks it necessary to come, I’m sure I don’t
know. And the less talk there is the better.”

Granting the assumption that gentlemen of sixty who are highly
cultivated, and have had much experience of life, probably think of many
things which they do not say, Katharine could not help feeling rather
puzzled by her father’s attitude, as she went back to her room. What a
distance he was from it all! How superficially he smoothed these events
into a semblance of decency which harmonized with his own view of life!
He never wondered what Cyril had felt, nor did the hidden aspects of the
case tempt him to examine into them. He merely seemed to realize, rather
languidly, that Cyril had behaved in a way which was foolish, because
other people did not behave in that way. He seemed to be looking through
a telescope at little figures hundreds of miles in the distance.

Her selfish anxiety not to have to tell Mrs. Hilbery what had happened
made her follow her father into the hall after breakfast the next
morning in order to question him.

“Have you told mother?” she asked. Her manner to her father was almost
stern, and she seemed to hold endless depths of reflection in the dark
of her eyes.

Mr. Hilbery sighed.

“My dear child, it went out of my head.” He smoothed his silk hat
energetically, and at once affected an air of hurry. “I’ll send a note
round from the office.... I’m late this morning, and I’ve any amount of
proofs to get through.”

“That wouldn’t do at all,” Katharine said decidedly. “She must be
told--you or I must tell her. We ought to have told her at first.”

Mr. Hilbery had now placed his hat on his head, and his hand was on the
door-knob. An expression which Katharine knew well from her childhood,
when he asked her to shield him in some neglect of duty, came into his
eyes; malice, humor, and irresponsibility were blended in it. He nodded
his head to and fro significantly, opened the door with an adroit
movement, and stepped out with a lightness unexpected at his age. He
waved his hand once to his daughter, and was gone. Left alone, Katharine
could not help laughing to find herself cheated as usual in domestic
bargainings with her father, and left to do the disagreeable work which
belonged, by rights, to him.



CHAPTER IX

Katharine disliked telling her mother about Cyril’s misbehavior quite as
much as her father did, and for much the same reasons. They both shrank,
nervously, as people fear the report of a gun on the stage, from all
that would have to be said on this occasion. Katharine, moreover, was
unable to decide what she thought of Cyril’s misbehavior. As usual, she
saw something which her father and mother did not see, and the effect of
that something was to suspend Cyril’s behavior in her mind without any
qualification at all. They would think whether it was good or bad; to
her it was merely a thing that had happened.

When Katharine reached the study, Mrs. Hilbery had already dipped her
pen in the ink.

“Katharine,” she said, lifting it in the air, “I’ve just made out such
a queer, strange thing about your grandfather. I’m three years and six
months older than he was when he died. I couldn’t very well have been
his mother, but I might have been his elder sister, and that seems to me
such a pleasant fancy. I’m going to start quite fresh this morning, and
get a lot done.”

She began her sentence, at any rate, and Katharine sat down at her own
table, untied the bundle of old letters upon which she was working,
smoothed them out absent-mindedly, and began to decipher the faded
script. In a minute she looked across at her mother, to judge her mood.
Peace and happiness had relaxed every muscle in her face; her lips
were parted very slightly, and her breath came in smooth, controlled
inspirations like those of a child who is surrounding itself with a
building of bricks, and increasing in ecstasy as each brick is placed in
position. So Mrs. Hilbery was raising round her the skies and trees of
the past with every stroke of her pen, and recalling the voices of
the dead. Quiet as the room was, and undisturbed by the sounds of the
present moment, Katharine could fancy that here was a deep pool of past
time, and that she and her mother were bathed in the light of sixty
years ago. What could the present give, she wondered, to compare with
the rich crowd of gifts bestowed by the past? Here was a Thursday
morning in process of manufacture; each second was minted fresh by the
clock upon the mantelpiece. She strained her ears and could just hear,
far off, the hoot of a motor-car and the rush of wheels coming nearer
and dying away again, and the voices of men crying old iron and
vegetables in one of the poorer streets at the back of the house. Rooms,
of course, accumulate their suggestions, and any room in which one has
been used to carry on any particular occupation gives off memories
of moods, of ideas, of postures that have been seen in it; so that to
attempt any different kind of work there is almost impossible.

Katharine was unconsciously affected, each time she entered her mother’s
room, by all these influences, which had had their birth years ago,
when she was a child, and had something sweet and solemn about them,
and connected themselves with early memories of the cavernous glooms and
sonorous echoes of the Abbey where her grandfather lay buried. All the
books and pictures, even the chairs and tables, had belonged to him,
or had reference to him; even the china dogs on the mantelpiece and the
little shepherdesses with their sheep had been bought by him for a penny
a piece from a man who used to stand with a tray of toys in Kensington
High Street, as Katharine had often heard her mother tell. Often she
had sat in this room, with her mind fixed so firmly on those vanished
figures that she could almost see the muscles round their eyes and lips,
and had given to each his own voice, with its tricks of accent, and his
coat and his cravat. Often she had seemed to herself to be moving among
them, an invisible ghost among the living, better acquainted with them
than with her own friends, because she knew their secrets and possessed
a divine foreknowledge of their destiny. They had been so unhappy, such
muddlers, so wrong-headed, it seemed to her. She could have told them
what to do, and what not to do. It was a melancholy fact that they
would pay no heed to her, and were bound to come to grief in their own
antiquated way. Their behavior was often grotesquely irrational; their
conventions monstrously absurd; and yet, as she brooded upon them, she
felt so closely attached to them that it was useless to try to pass
judgment upon them. She very nearly lost consciousness that she was
a separate being, with a future of her own. On a morning of slight
depression, such as this, she would try to find some sort of clue to the
muddle which their old letters presented; some reason which seemed
to make it worth while to them; some aim which they kept steadily in
view--but she was interrupted.

Mrs. Hilbery had risen from her table, and was standing looking out of
the window at a string of barges swimming up the river.

Katharine watched her. Suddenly Mrs. Hilbery turned abruptly, and
exclaimed:

“I really believe I’m bewitched! I only want three sentences, you see,
something quite straightforward and commonplace, and I can’t find ‘em.”

She began to pace up and down the room, snatching up her duster; but she
was too much annoyed to find any relief, as yet, in polishing the backs
of books.

“Besides,” she said, giving the sheet she had written to Katharine, “I
don’t believe this’ll do. Did your grandfather ever visit the Hebrides,
Katharine?” She looked in a strangely beseeching way at her daughter.
“My mind got running on the Hebrides, and I couldn’t help writing a
little description of them. Perhaps it would do at the beginning of a
chapter. Chapters often begin quite differently from the way they go on,
you know.” Katharine read what her mother had written. She might have
been a schoolmaster criticizing a child’s essay. Her face gave Mrs.
Hilbery, who watched it anxiously, no ground for hope.

“It’s very beautiful,” she stated, “but, you see, mother, we ought to go
from point to point--”

“Oh, I know,” Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed. “And that’s just what I can’t do.
Things keep coming into my head. It isn’t that I don’t know everything
and feel everything (who did know him, if I didn’t?), but I can’t put
it down, you see. There’s a kind of blind spot,” she said, touching her
forehead, “there. And when I can’t sleep o’ nights, I fancy I shall die
without having done it.”

From exultation she had passed to the depths of depression which the
imagination of her death aroused. The depression communicated itself
to Katharine. How impotent they were, fiddling about all day long with
papers! And the clock was striking eleven and nothing done! She watched
her mother, now rummaging in a great brass-bound box which stood by her
table, but she did not go to her help. Of course, Katharine reflected,
her mother had now lost some paper, and they would waste the rest of the
morning looking for it. She cast her eyes down in irritation, and read
again her mother’s musical sentences about the silver gulls, and the
roots of little pink flowers washed by pellucid streams, and the blue
mists of hyacinths, until she was struck by her mother’s silence. She
raised her eyes. Mrs. Hilbery had emptied a portfolio containing old
photographs over her table, and was looking from one to another.

“Surely, Katharine,” she said, “the men were far handsomer in those days
than they are now, in spite of their odious whiskers? Look at old John
Graham, in his white waistcoat--look at Uncle Harley. That’s Peter the
manservant, I suppose. Uncle John brought him back from India.”

Katharine looked at her mother, but did not stir or answer. She had
suddenly become very angry, with a rage which their relationship made
silent, and therefore doubly powerful and critical. She felt all the
unfairness of the claim which her mother tacitly made to her time and
sympathy, and what Mrs. Hilbery took, Katharine thought bitterly, she
wasted. Then, in a flash, she remembered that she had still to tell her
about Cyril’s misbehavior. Her anger immediately dissipated itself; it
broke like some wave that has gathered itself high above the rest; the
waters were resumed into the sea again, and Katharine felt once more
full of peace and solicitude, and anxious only that her mother should be
protected from pain. She crossed the room instinctively, and sat on
the arm of her mother’s chair. Mrs. Hilbery leant her head against her
daughter’s body.

“What is nobler,” she mused, turning over the photographs, “than to be
a woman to whom every one turns, in sorrow or difficulty? How have the
young women of your generation improved upon that, Katharine? I can see
them now, sweeping over the lawns at Melbury House, in their flounces
and furbelows, so calm and stately and imperial (and the monkey and
the little black dwarf following behind), as if nothing mattered in
the world but to be beautiful and kind. But they did more than we do, I
sometimes think. They WERE, and that’s better than doing. They seem to
me like ships, like majestic ships, holding on their way, not shoving or
pushing, not fretted by little things, as we are, but taking their way,
like ships with white sails.”

Katharine tried to interrupt this discourse, but the opportunity did not
come, and she could not forbear to turn over the pages of the album in
which the old photographs were stored. The faces of these men and women
shone forth wonderfully after the hubbub of living faces, and seemed,
as her mother had said, to wear a marvelous dignity and calm, as if they
had ruled their kingdoms justly and deserved great love. Some were of
almost incredible beauty, others were ugly enough in a forcible way, but
none were dull or bored or insignificant. The superb stiff folds of the
crinolines suited the women; the cloaks and hats of the gentlemen seemed
full of character. Once more Katharine felt the serene air all round
her, and seemed far off to hear the solemn beating of the sea upon the
shore. But she knew that she must join the present on to this past.

Mrs. Hilbery was rambling on, from story to story.

“That’s Janie Mannering,” she said, pointing to a superb, white-haired
dame, whose satin robes seemed strung with pearls. “I must have told you
how she found her cook drunk under the kitchen table when the Empress
was coming to dinner, and tucked up her velvet sleeves (she always
dressed like an Empress herself), cooked the whole meal, and appeared in
the drawing-room as if she’d been sleeping on a bank of roses all day.
She could do anything with her hands--they all could--make a cottage or
embroider a petticoat.

“And that’s Queenie Colquhoun,” she went on, turning the pages, “who
took her coffin out with her to Jamaica, packed with lovely shawls and
bonnets, because you couldn’t get coffins in Jamaica, and she had a
horror of dying there (as she did), and being devoured by the white
ants. And there’s Sabine, the loveliest of them all; ah! it was like
a star rising when she came into the room. And that’s Miriam, in her
coachman’s cloak, with all the little capes on, and she wore great
top-boots underneath. You young people may say you’re unconventional,
but you’re nothing compared with her.”

Turning the page, she came upon the picture of a very masculine,
handsome lady, whose head the photographer had adorned with an imperial
crown.

“Ah, you wretch!” Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed, “what a wicked old despot you
were, in your day! How we all bowed down before you! ‘Maggie,’ she used
to say, ‘if it hadn’t been for me, where would you be now?’ And it was
true; she brought them together, you know. She said to my father, ‘Marry
her,’ and he did; and she said to poor little Clara, ‘Fall down and
worship him,’ and she did; but she got up again, of course. What else
could one expect? She was a mere child--eighteen--and half dead with
fright, too. But that old tyrant never repented. She used to say that
she had given them three perfect months, and no one had a right to more;
and I sometimes think, Katharine, that’s true, you know. It’s more than
most of us have, only we have to pretend, which was a thing neither of
them could ever do. I fancy,” Mrs. Hilbery mused, “that there was a kind
of sincerity in those days between men and women which, with all your
outspokenness, you haven’t got.”

Katharine again tried to interrupt. But Mrs. Hilbery had been gathering
impetus from her recollections, and was now in high spirits.

“They must have been good friends at heart,” she resumed, “because she
used to sing his songs. Ah, how did it go?” and Mrs. Hilbery, who had a
very sweet voice, trolled out a famous lyric of her father’s which had
been set to an absurdly and charmingly sentimental air by some early
Victorian composer.

“It’s the vitality of them!” she concluded, striking her fist against
the table. “That’s what we haven’t got! We’re virtuous, we’re earnest,
we go to meetings, we pay the poor their wages, but we don’t live as
they lived. As often as not, my father wasn’t in bed three nights out
of the seven, but always fresh as paint in the morning. I hear him now,
come singing up the stairs to the nursery, and tossing the loaf
for breakfast on his sword-stick, and then off we went for a day’s
pleasuring--Richmond, Hampton Court, the Surrey Hills. Why shouldn’t we
go, Katharine? It’s going to be a fine day.”

At this moment, just as Mrs. Hilbery was examining the weather from the
window, there was a knock at the door. A slight, elderly lady came in,
and was saluted by Katharine, with very evident dismay, as “Aunt Celia!”
 She was dismayed because she guessed why Aunt Celia had come. It was
certainly in order to discuss the case of Cyril and the woman who was
not his wife, and owing to her procrastination Mrs. Hilbery was quite
unprepared. Who could be more unprepared? Here she was, suggesting that
all three of them should go on a jaunt to Blackfriars to inspect the
site of Shakespeare’s theater, for the weather was hardly settled enough
for the country.

To this proposal Mrs. Milvain listened with a patient smile, which
indicated that for many years she had accepted such eccentricities in
her sister-in-law with bland philosophy. Katharine took up her position
at some distance, standing with her foot on the fender, as though by so
doing she could get a better view of the matter. But, in spite of her
aunt’s presence, how unreal the whole question of Cyril and his morality
appeared! The difficulty, it now seemed, was not to break the news
gently to Mrs. Hilbery, but to make her understand it. How was one
to lasso her mind, and tether it to this minute, unimportant spot? A
matter-of-fact statement seemed best.

“I think Aunt Celia has come to talk about Cyril, mother,” she said
rather brutally. “Aunt Celia has discovered that Cyril is married. He
has a wife and children.”

“No, he is NOT married,” Mrs. Milvain interposed, in low tones,
addressing herself to Mrs. Hilbery. “He has two children, and another on
the way.”

Mrs. Hilbery looked from one to the other in bewilderment.

“We thought it better to wait until it was proved before we told you,”
 Katharine added.

“But I met Cyril only a fortnight ago at the National Gallery!” Mrs.
Hilbery exclaimed. “I don’t believe a word of it,” and she tossed her
head with a smile on her lips at Mrs. Milvain, as though she could quite
understand her mistake, which was a very natural mistake, in the case of
a childless woman, whose husband was something very dull in the Board of
Trade.

“I didn’t WISH to believe it, Maggie,” said Mrs. Milvain. “For a long
time I COULDN’T believe it. But now I’ve seen, and I HAVE to believe
it.”

“Katharine,” Mrs. Hilbery demanded, “does your father know of this?”

Katharine nodded.

“Cyril married!” Mrs. Hilbery repeated. “And never telling us a word,
though we’ve had him in our house since he was a child--noble William’s
son! I can’t believe my ears!”

Feeling that the burden of proof was laid upon her, Mrs. Milvain
now proceeded with her story. She was elderly and fragile, but her
childlessness seemed always to impose these painful duties on her, and
to revere the family, and to keep it in repair, had now become the chief
object of her life. She told her story in a low, spasmodic, and somewhat
broken voice.

“I have suspected for some time that he was not happy. There were new
lines on his face. So I went to his rooms, when I knew he was engaged
at the poor men’s college. He lectures there--Roman law, you know, or it
may be Greek. The landlady said Mr. Alardyce only slept there about once
a fortnight now. He looked so ill, she said. She had seen him with a
young person. I suspected something directly. I went to his room, and
there was an envelope on the mantelpiece, and a letter with an address
in Seton Street, off the Kennington Road.”

Mrs. Hilbery fidgeted rather restlessly, and hummed fragments of her
tune, as if to interrupt.

“I went to Seton Street,” Aunt Celia continued firmly. “A very low
place--lodging-houses, you know, with canaries in the window. Number
seven just like all the others. I rang, I knocked; no one came. I went
down the area. I am certain I saw some one inside--children--a cradle.
But no reply--no reply.” She sighed, and looked straight in front of her
with a glazed expression in her half-veiled blue eyes.

“I stood in the street,” she resumed, “in case I could catch a sight of
one of them. It seemed a very long time. There were rough men singing
in the public-house round the corner. At last the door opened, and some
one--it must have been the woman herself--came right past me. There was
only the pillar-box between us.”

“And what did she look like?” Mrs. Hilbery demanded.

“One could see how the poor boy had been deluded,” was all that Mrs.
Milvain vouchsafed by way of description.

“Poor thing!” Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed.

“Poor Cyril!” Mrs. Milvain said, laying a slight emphasis upon Cyril.

“But they’ve got nothing to live upon,” Mrs. Hilbery continued. “If he’d
come to us like a man,” she went on, “and said, ‘I’ve been a fool,’ one
would have pitied him; one would have tried to help him. There’s nothing
so disgraceful after all--But he’s been going about all these years,
pretending, letting one take it for granted, that he was single. And the
poor deserted little wife--”

“She is NOT his wife,” Aunt Celia interrupted.

“I’ve never heard anything so detestable!” Mrs. Hilbery wound up,
striking her fist on the arm of her chair. As she realized the facts she
became thoroughly disgusted, although, perhaps, she was more hurt by
the concealment of the sin than by the sin itself. She looked splendidly
roused and indignant; and Katharine felt an immense relief and pride in
her mother. It was plain that her indignation was very genuine, and
that her mind was as perfectly focused upon the facts as any one could
wish--more so, by a long way, than Aunt Celia’s mind, which seemed to
be timidly circling, with a morbid pleasure, in these unpleasant shades.
She and her mother together would take the situation in hand, visit
Cyril, and see the whole thing through.

“We must realize Cyril’s point of view first,” she said, speaking
directly to her mother, as if to a contemporary, but before the words
were out of her mouth, there was more confusion outside, and Cousin
Caroline, Mrs. Hilbery’s maiden cousin, entered the room. Although she
was by birth an Alardyce, and Aunt Celia a Hilbery, the complexities of
the family relationship were such that each was at once first and second
cousin to the other, and thus aunt and cousin to the culprit Cyril, so
that his misbehavior was almost as much Cousin Caroline’s affair as
Aunt Celia’s. Cousin Caroline was a lady of very imposing height and
circumference, but in spite of her size and her handsome trappings,
there was something exposed and unsheltered in her expression, as if
for many summers her thin red skin and hooked nose and reduplication of
chins, so much resembling the profile of a cockatoo, had been bared to
the weather; she was, indeed, a single lady; but she had, it was the
habit to say, “made a life for herself,” and was thus entitled to be
heard with respect.

“This unhappy business,” she began, out of breath as she was. “If the
train had not gone out of the station just as I arrived, I should have
been with you before. Celia has doubtless told you. You will agree with
me, Maggie. He must be made to marry her at once for the sake of the
children--”

“But does he refuse to marry her?” Mrs. Hilbery inquired, with a return
of her bewilderment.

“He has written an absurd perverted letter, all quotations,” Cousin
Caroline puffed. “He thinks he’s doing a very fine thing, where we only
see the folly of it.... The girl’s every bit as infatuated as he is--for
which I blame him.”

“She entangled him,” Aunt Celia intervened, with a very curious
smoothness of intonation, which seemed to convey a vision of threads
weaving and interweaving a close, white mesh round their victim.

“It’s no use going into the rights and wrongs of the affair now, Celia,”
 said Cousin Caroline with some acerbity, for she believed herself the
only practical one of the family, and regretted that, owing to the
slowness of the kitchen clock, Mrs. Milvain had already confused
poor dear Maggie with her own incomplete version of the facts. “The
mischief’s done, and very ugly mischief too. Are we to allow the third
child to be born out of wedlock? (I am sorry to have to say these things
before you, Katharine.) He will bear your name, Maggie--your father’s
name, remember.”

“But let us hope it will be a girl,” said Mrs. Hilbery.

Katharine, who had been looking at her mother constantly, while the
chatter of tongues held sway, perceived that the look of straightforward
indignation had already vanished; her mother was evidently casting
about in her mind for some method of escape, or bright spot, or sudden
illumination which should show to the satisfaction of everybody that all
had happened, miraculously but incontestably, for the best.

“It’s detestable--quite detestable!” she repeated, but in tones of no
great assurance; and then her face lit up with a smile which, tentative
at first, soon became almost assured. “Nowadays, people don’t think
so badly of these things as they used to do,” she began. “It will be
horribly uncomfortable for them sometimes, but if they are brave, clever
children, as they will be, I dare say it’ll make remarkable people of
them in the end. Robert Browning used to say that every great man has
Jewish blood in him, and we must try to look at it in that light. And,
after all, Cyril has acted on principle. One may disagree with
his principle, but, at least, one can respect it--like the French
Revolution, or Cromwell cutting the King’s head off. Some of the most
terrible things in history have been done on principle,” she concluded.

“I’m afraid I take a very different view of principle,” Cousin Caroline
remarked tartly.

“Principle!” Aunt Celia repeated, with an air of deprecating such a word
in such a connection. “I will go to-morrow and see him,” she added.

“But why should you take these disagreeable things upon yourself,
Celia?” Mrs. Hilbery interposed, and Cousin Caroline thereupon protested
with some further plan involving sacrifice of herself.

Growing weary of it all, Katharine turned to the window, and stood among
the folds of the curtain, pressing close to the window-pane, and gazing
disconsolately at the river much in the attitude of a child depressed
by the meaningless talk of its elders. She was much disappointed in her
mother--and in herself too. The little tug which she gave to the blind,
letting it fly up to the top with a snap, signified her annoyance. She
was very angry, and yet impotent to give expression to her anger, or
know with whom she was angry. How they talked and moralized and made up
stories to suit their own version of the becoming, and secretly praised
their own devotion and tact! No; they had their dwelling in a mist, she
decided; hundreds of miles away--away from what? “Perhaps it would be
better if I married William,” she thought suddenly, and the thought
appeared to loom through the mist like solid ground. She stood there,
thinking of her own destiny, and the elder ladies talked on, until
they had talked themselves into a decision to ask the young woman to
luncheon, and tell her, very friendlily, how such behavior appeared to
women like themselves, who knew the world. And then Mrs. Hilbery was
struck by a better idea.



CHAPTER X

Messrs. Grateley and Hooper, the solicitors in whose firm Ralph Denham
was clerk, had their office in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and there Ralph
Denham appeared every morning very punctually at ten o’clock. His
punctuality, together with other qualities, marked him out among the
clerks for success, and indeed it would have been safe to wager that in
ten years’ time or so one would find him at the head of his profession,
had it not been for a peculiarity which sometimes seemed to make
everything about him uncertain and perilous. His sister Joan had already
been disturbed by his love of gambling with his savings. Scrutinizing
him constantly with the eye of affection, she had become aware of a
curious perversity in his temperament which caused her much anxiety, and
would have caused her still more if she had not recognized the germs
of it in her own nature. She could fancy Ralph suddenly sacrificing his
entire career for some fantastic imagination; some cause or idea or even
(so her fancy ran) for some woman seen from a railway train, hanging up
clothes in a back yard. When he had found this beauty or this cause,
no force, she knew, would avail to restrain him from pursuit of it. She
suspected the East also, and always fidgeted herself when she saw him
with a book of Indian travels in his hand, as though he were sucking
contagion from the page. On the other hand, no common love affair, had
there been such a thing, would have caused her a moment’s uneasiness
where Ralph was concerned. He was destined in her fancy for something
splendid in the way of success or failure, she knew not which.

And yet nobody could have worked harder or done better in all the
recognized stages of a young man’s life than Ralph had done, and Joan
had to gather materials for her fears from trifles in her brother’s
behavior which would have escaped any other eye. It was natural that
she should be anxious. Life had been so arduous for all of them from
the start that she could not help dreading any sudden relaxation of his
grasp upon what he held, though, as she knew from inspection of her own
life, such sudden impulse to let go and make away from the discipline
and the drudgery was sometimes almost irresistible. But with Ralph,
if he broke away, she knew that it would be only to put himself under
harsher constraint; she figured him toiling through sandy deserts under
a tropical sun to find the source of some river or the haunt of some
fly; she figured him living by the labor of his hands in some city slum,
the victim of one of those terrible theories of right and wrong which
were current at the time; she figured him prisoner for life in the house
of a woman who had seduced him by her misfortunes. Half proudly, and
wholly anxiously, she framed such thoughts, as they sat, late at night,
talking together over the gas-stove in Ralph’s bedroom.

It is likely that Ralph would not have recognized his own dream of a
future in the forecasts which disturbed his sister’s peace of mind.
Certainly, if any one of them had been put before him he would have
rejected it with a laugh, as the sort of life that held no attractions
for him. He could not have said how it was that he had put these absurd
notions into his sister’s head. Indeed, he prided himself upon being
well broken into a life of hard work, about which he had no sort of
illusions. His vision of his own future, unlike many such forecasts,
could have been made public at any moment without a blush; he attributed
to himself a strong brain, and conferred on himself a seat in the House
of Commons at the age of fifty, a moderate fortune, and, with luck,
an unimportant office in a Liberal Government. There was nothing
extravagant in a forecast of that kind, and certainly nothing
dishonorable. Nevertheless, as his sister guessed, it needed all Ralph’s
strength of will, together with the pressure of circumstances, to
keep his feet moving in the path which led that way. It needed, in
particular, a constant repetition of a phrase to the effect that he
shared the common fate, found it best of all, and wished for no other;
and by repeating such phrases he acquired punctuality and habits of
work, and could very plausibly demonstrate that to be a clerk in a
solicitor’s office was the best of all possible lives, and that other
ambitions were vain.

But, like all beliefs not genuinely held, this one depended very much
upon the amount of acceptance it received from other people, and in
private, when the pressure of public opinion was removed, Ralph let
himself swing very rapidly away from his actual circumstances upon
strange voyages which, indeed, he would have been ashamed to describe.
In these dreams, of course, he figured in noble and romantic parts, but
self-glorification was not the only motive of them. They gave outlet
to some spirit which found no work to do in real life, for, with the
pessimism which his lot forced upon him, Ralph had made up his mind that
there was no use for what, contemptuously enough, he called dreams, in
the world which we inhabit. It sometimes seemed to him that this spirit
was the most valuable possession he had; he thought that by means of
it he could set flowering waste tracts of the earth, cure many ills, or
raise up beauty where none now existed; it was, too, a fierce and potent
spirit which would devour the dusty books and parchments on the office
wall with one lick of its tongue, and leave him in a minute standing in
nakedness, if he gave way to it. His endeavor, for many years, had been
to control the spirit, and at the age of twenty-nine he thought he could
pride himself upon a life rigidly divided into the hours of work and
those of dreams; the two lived side by side without harming each other.
As a matter of fact, this effort at discipline had been helped by the
interests of a difficult profession, but the old conclusion to which
Ralph had come when he left college still held sway in his mind, and
tinged his views with the melancholy belief that life for most people
compels the exercise of the lower gifts and wastes the precious ones,
until it forces us to agree that there is little virtue, as well
as little profit, in what once seemed to us the noblest part of our
inheritance.

Denham was not altogether popular either in his office or among his
family. He was too positive, at this stage of his career, as to what was
right and what wrong, too proud of his self-control, and, as is natural
in the case of persons not altogether happy or well suited in their
conditions, too apt to prove the folly of contentment, if he found
any one who confessed to that weakness. In the office his rather
ostentatious efficiency annoyed those who took their own work more
lightly, and, if they foretold his advancement, it was not altogether
sympathetically. Indeed, he appeared to be rather a hard and
self-sufficient young man, with a queer temper, and manners that were
uncompromisingly abrupt, who was consumed with a desire to get on in the
world, which was natural, these critics thought, in a man of no means,
but not engaging.

The young men in the office had a perfect right to these opinions,
because Denham showed no particular desire for their friendship. He
liked them well enough, but shut them up in that compartment of life
which was devoted to work. Hitherto, indeed, he had found little
difficulty in arranging his life as methodically as he arranged his
expenditure, but about this time he began to encounter experiences which
were not so easy to classify. Mary Datchet had begun this confusion two
years ago by bursting into laughter at some remark of his, almost the
first time they met. She could not explain why it was. She thought him
quite astonishingly odd. When he knew her well enough to tell her how he
spent Monday and Wednesday and Saturday, she was still more amused; she
laughed till he laughed, too, without knowing why. It seemed to her very
odd that he should know as much about breeding bulldogs as any man in
England; that he had a collection of wild flowers found near London;
and his weekly visit to old Miss Trotter at Ealing, who was an authority
upon the science of Heraldry, never failed to excite her laughter. She
wanted to know everything, even the kind of cake which the old lady
supplied on these occasions; and their summer excursions to churches
in the neighborhood of London for the purpose of taking rubbings of the
brasses became most important festivals, from the interest she took in
them. In six months she knew more about his odd friends and hobbies than
his own brothers and sisters knew, after living with him all his life;
and Ralph found this very pleasant, though disordering, for his own view
of himself had always been profoundly serious.

Certainly it was very pleasant to be with Mary Datchet and to become,
directly the door was shut, quite a different sort of person, eccentric
and lovable, with scarcely any likeness to the self most people knew. He
became less serious, and rather less dictatorial at home, for he was apt
to hear Mary laughing at him, and telling him, as she was fond of doing,
that he knew nothing at all about anything. She made him, also, take an
interest in public questions, for which she had a natural liking; and
was in process of turning him from Tory to Radical, after a course
of public meetings, which began by boring him acutely, and ended by
exciting him even more than they excited her.

But he was reserved; when ideas started up in his mind, he divided them
automatically into those he could discuss with Mary, and those he must
keep for himself. She knew this and it interested her, for she was
accustomed to find young men very ready to talk about themselves, and
had come to listen to them as one listens to children, without any
thought of herself. But with Ralph, she had very little of this
maternal feeling, and, in consequence, a much keener sense of her own
individuality.

Late one afternoon Ralph stepped along the Strand to an interview with
a lawyer upon business. The afternoon light was almost over, and already
streams of greenish and yellowish artificial light were being poured
into an atmosphere which, in country lanes, would now have been soft
with the smoke of wood fires; and on both sides of the road the shop
windows were full of sparkling chains and highly polished leather
cases, which stood upon shelves made of thick plate-glass. None of these
different objects was seen separately by Denham, but from all of them he
drew an impression of stir and cheerfulness. Thus it came about that he
saw Katharine Hilbery coming towards him, and looked straight at her, as
if she were only an illustration of the argument that was going forward
in his mind. In this spirit he noticed the rather set expression in
her eyes, and the slight, half-conscious movement of her lips, which,
together with her height and the distinction of her dress, made her look
as if the scurrying crowd impeded her, and her direction were different
from theirs. He noticed this calmly; but suddenly, as he passed her, his
hands and knees began to tremble, and his heart beat painfully. She did
not see him, and went on repeating to herself some lines which had stuck
to her memory: “It’s life that matters, nothing but life--the process
of discovering--the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery
itself at all.” Thus occupied, she did not see Denham, and he had not
the courage to stop her. But immediately the whole scene in the Strand
wore that curious look of order and purpose which is imparted to the
most heterogeneous things when music sounds; and so pleasant was this
impression that he was very glad that he had not stopped her, after
all. It grew slowly fainter, but lasted until he stood outside the
barrister’s chambers.

When his interview with the barrister was over, it was too late to go
back to the office. His sight of Katharine had put him queerly out of
tune for a domestic evening. Where should he go? To walk through the
streets of London until he came to Katharine’s house, to look up at the
windows and fancy her within, seemed to him possible for a moment;
and then he rejected the plan almost with a blush as, with a curious
division of consciousness, one plucks a flower sentimentally and throws
it away, with a blush, when it is actually picked. No, he would go and
see Mary Datchet. By this time she would be back from her work.

To see Ralph appear unexpectedly in her room threw Mary for a second off
her balance. She had been cleaning knives in her little scullery,
and when she had let him in she went back again, and turned on the
cold-water tap to its fullest volume, and then turned it off again.
“Now,” she thought to herself, as she screwed it tight, “I’m not going
to let these silly ideas come into my head.... Don’t you think Mr.
Asquith deserves to be hanged?” she called back into the sitting-room,
and when she joined him, drying her hands, she began to tell him about
the latest evasion on the part of the Government with respect to the
Women’s Suffrage Bill. Ralph did not want to talk about politics, but
he could not help respecting Mary for taking such an interest in public
questions. He looked at her as she leant forward, poking the fire, and
expressing herself very clearly in phrases which bore distantly the
taint of the platform, and he thought, “How absurd Mary would think me
if she knew that I almost made up my mind to walk all the way to Chelsea
in order to look at Katharine’s windows. She wouldn’t understand it, but
I like her very much as she is.”

For some time they discussed what the women had better do; and as Ralph
became genuinely interested in the question, Mary unconsciously let
her attention wander, and a great desire came over her to talk to Ralph
about her own feelings; or, at any rate, about something personal, so
that she might see what he felt for her; but she resisted this wish. But
she could not prevent him from feeling her lack of interest in what he
was saying, and gradually they both became silent. One thought after
another came up in Ralph’s mind, but they were all, in some way,
connected with Katharine, or with vague feelings of romance and
adventure such as she inspired. But he could not talk to Mary about such
thoughts; and he pitied her for knowing nothing of what he was feeling.
“Here,” he thought, “is where we differ from women; they have no sense
of romance.”

“Well, Mary,” he said at length, “why don’t you say something amusing?”

His tone was certainly provoking, but, as a general rule, Mary was not
easily provoked. This evening, however, she replied rather sharply:

“Because I’ve got nothing amusing to say, I suppose.”

Ralph thought for a moment, and then remarked:

“You work too hard. I don’t mean your health,” he added, as she laughed
scornfully, “I mean that you seem to me to be getting wrapped up in your
work.”

“And is that a bad thing?” she asked, shading her eyes with her hand.

“I think it is,” he returned abruptly.

“But only a week ago you were saying the opposite.” Her tone was
defiant, but she became curiously depressed. Ralph did not perceive it,
and took this opportunity of lecturing her, and expressing his latest
views upon the proper conduct of life. She listened, but her main
impression was that he had been meeting some one who had influenced him.
He was telling her that she ought to read more, and to see that
there were other points of view as deserving of attention as her own.
Naturally, having last seen him as he left the office in company
with Katharine, she attributed the change to her; it was likely that
Katharine, on leaving the scene which she had so clearly despised, had
pronounced some such criticism, or suggested it by her own attitude.
But she knew that Ralph would never admit that he had been influenced by
anybody.

“You don’t read enough, Mary,” he was saying. “You ought to read more
poetry.”

It was true that Mary’s reading had been rather limited to such works
as she needed to know for the sake of examinations; and her time for
reading in London was very little. For some reason, no one likes to be
told that they do not read enough poetry, but her resentment was only
visible in the way she changed the position of her hands, and in the
fixed look in her eyes. And then she thought to herself, “I’m behaving
exactly as I said I wouldn’t behave,” whereupon she relaxed all her
muscles and said, in her reasonable way:

“Tell me what I ought to read, then.”

Ralph had unconsciously been irritated by Mary, and he now delivered
himself of a few names of great poets which were the text for a
discourse upon the imperfection of Mary’s character and way of life.

“You live with your inferiors,” he said, warming unreasonably, as he
knew, to his text. “And you get into a groove because, on the whole,
it’s rather a pleasant groove. And you tend to forget what you’re there
for. You’ve the feminine habit of making much of details. You don’t see
when things matter and when they don’t. And that’s what’s the ruin of
all these organizations. That’s why the Suffragists have never done
anything all these years. What’s the point of drawing-room meetings and
bazaars? You want to have ideas, Mary; get hold of something big; never
mind making mistakes, but don’t niggle. Why don’t you throw it all up
for a year, and travel?--see something of the world. Don’t be content
to live with half a dozen people in a backwater all your life. But you
won’t,” he concluded.

“I’ve rather come to that way of thinking myself--about myself, I mean,”
 said Mary, surprising him by her acquiescence. “I should like to go
somewhere far away.”

For a moment they were both silent. Ralph then said:

“But look here, Mary, you haven’t been taking this seriously, have you?”
 His irritation was spent, and the depression, which she could not keep
out of her voice, made him feel suddenly with remorse that he had been
hurting her.

“You won’t go away, will you?” he asked. And as she said nothing, he
added, “Oh no, don’t go away.”

“I don’t know exactly what I mean to do,” she replied. She hovered
on the verge of some discussion of her plans, but she received no
encouragement. He fell into one of his queer silences, which seemed to
Mary, in spite of all her precautions, to have reference to what she
also could not prevent herself from thinking about--their feeling
for each other and their relationship. She felt that the two lines of
thought bored their way in long, parallel tunnels which came very close
indeed, but never ran into each other.

When he had gone, and he left her without breaking his silence more than
was needed to wish her good night, she sat on for a time, reviewing what
he had said. If love is a devastating fire which melts the whole being
into one mountain torrent, Mary was no more in love with Denham than
she was in love with her poker or her tongs. But probably these extreme
passions are very rare, and the state of mind thus depicted belongs to
the very last stages of love, when the power to resist has been eaten
away, week by week or day by day. Like most intelligent people, Mary
was something of an egoist, to the extent, that is, of attaching great
importance to what she felt, and she was by nature enough of a moralist
to like to make certain, from time to time, that her feelings were
creditable to her. When Ralph left her she thought over her state of
mind, and came to the conclusion that it would be a good thing to learn
a language--say Italian or German. She then went to a drawer, which she
had to unlock, and took from it certain deeply scored manuscript pages.
She read them through, looking up from her reading every now and then
and thinking very intently for a few seconds about Ralph. She did her
best to verify all the qualities in him which gave rise to emotions in
her; and persuaded herself that she accounted reasonably for them all.
Then she looked back again at her manuscript, and decided that to write
grammatical English prose is the hardest thing in the world. But
she thought about herself a great deal more than she thought about
grammatical English prose or about Ralph Denham, and it may therefore
be disputed whether she was in love, or, if so, to which branch of the
family her passion belonged.



CHAPTER XI

“It’s life that matters, nothing but life--the process of discovering,
the everlasting and perpetual process,” said Katharine, as she passed
under the archway, and so into the wide space of King’s Bench Walk, “not
the discovery itself at all.” She spoke the last words looking up at
Rodney’s windows, which were a semilucent red color, in her honor, as
she knew. He had asked her to tea with him. But she was in a mood when
it is almost physically disagreeable to interrupt the stride of one’s
thought, and she walked up and down two or three times under the trees
before approaching his staircase. She liked getting hold of some book
which neither her father or mother had read, and keeping it to herself,
and gnawing its contents in privacy, and pondering the meaning without
sharing her thoughts with any one, or having to decide whether the book
was a good one or a bad one. This evening she had twisted the words of
Dostoevsky to suit her mood--a fatalistic mood--to proclaim that the
process of discovery was life, and that, presumably, the nature of one’s
goal mattered not at all. She sat down for a moment upon one of the
seats; felt herself carried along in the swirl of many things;
decided, in her sudden way, that it was time to heave all this thinking
overboard, and rose, leaving a fishmonger’s basket on the seat behind
her. Two minutes later her rap sounded with authority upon Rodney’s
door.

“Well, William,” she said, “I’m afraid I’m late.”

It was true, but he was so glad to see her that he forgot his annoyance.
He had been occupied for over an hour in making things ready for her,
and he now had his reward in seeing her look right and left, as she
slipped her cloak from her shoulders, with evident satisfaction,
although she said nothing. He had seen that the fire burnt well;
jam-pots were on the table, tin covers shone in the fender, and the
shabby comfort of the room was extreme. He was dressed in his old
crimson dressing-gown, which was faded irregularly, and had bright new
patches on it, like the paler grass which one finds on lifting a stone.
He made the tea, and Katharine drew off her gloves, and crossed her legs
with a gesture that was rather masculine in its ease. Nor did they talk
much until they were smoking cigarettes over the fire, having placed
their teacups upon the floor between them.

They had not met since they had exchanged letters about their
relationship. Katharine’s answer to his protestation had been short and
sensible. Half a sheet of notepaper contained the whole of it, for she
merely had to say that she was not in love with him, and so could not
marry him, but their friendship would continue, she hoped, unchanged.
She had added a postscript in which she stated, “I like your sonnet very
much.”

So far as William was concerned, this appearance of ease was assumed.
Three times that afternoon he had dressed himself in a tail-coat, and
three times he had discarded it for an old dressing-gown; three times he
had placed his pearl tie-pin in position, and three times he had removed
it again, the little looking-glass in his room being the witness of
these changes of mind. The question was, which would Katharine prefer on
this particular afternoon in December? He read her note once more,
and the postscript about the sonnet settled the matter. Evidently she
admired most the poet in him; and as this, on the whole, agreed with his
own opinion, he decided to err, if anything, on the side of shabbiness.
His demeanor was also regulated with premeditation; he spoke little, and
only on impersonal matters; he wished her to realize that in visiting
him for the first time alone she was doing nothing remarkable, although,
in fact, that was a point about which he was not at all sure.

Certainly Katharine seemed quite unmoved by any disturbing thoughts;
and if he had been completely master of himself, he might, indeed,
have complained that she was a trifle absent-minded. The ease, the
familiarity of the situation alone with Rodney, among teacups and
candles, had more effect upon her than was apparent. She asked to look
at his books, and then at his pictures. It was while she held photograph
from the Greek in her hands that she exclaimed, impulsively, if
incongruously:

“My oysters! I had a basket,” she explained, “and I’ve left it
somewhere. Uncle Dudley dines with us to-night. What in the world have I
done with them?”

She rose and began to wander about the room. William rose also, and
stood in front of the fire, muttering, “Oysters, oysters--your basket of
oysters!” but though he looked vaguely here and there, as if the oysters
might be on the top of the bookshelf, his eyes returned always to
Katharine. She drew the curtain and looked out among the scanty leaves
of the plane-trees.

“I had them,” she calculated, “in the Strand; I sat on a seat. Well,
never mind,” she concluded, turning back into the room abruptly, “I dare
say some old creature is enjoying them by this time.”

“I should have thought that you never forgot anything,” William
remarked, as they settled down again.

“That’s part of the myth about me, I know,” Katharine replied.

“And I wonder,” William proceeded, with some caution, “what the truth
about you is? But I know this sort of thing doesn’t interest you,” he
added hastily, with a touch of peevishness.

“No; it doesn’t interest me very much,” she replied candidly.

“What shall we talk about then?” he asked.

She looked rather whimsically round the walls of the room.

“However we start, we end by talking about the same thing--about poetry,
I mean. I wonder if you realize, William, that I’ve never read even
Shakespeare? It’s rather wonderful how I’ve kept it up all these years.”

“You’ve kept it up for ten years very beautifully, as far as I’m
concerned,” he said.

“Ten years? So long as that?”

“And I don’t think it’s always bored you,” he added.

She looked into the fire silently. She could not deny that the surface
of her feeling was absolutely unruffled by anything in William’s
character; on the contrary, she felt certain that she could deal with
whatever turned up. He gave her peace, in which she could think of
things that were far removed from what they talked about. Even now,
when he sat within a yard of her, how easily her mind ranged hither and
thither! Suddenly a picture presented itself before her, without any
effort on her part as pictures will, of herself in these very rooms; she
had come in from a lecture, and she held a pile of books in her hand,
scientific books, and books about mathematics and astronomy which
she had mastered. She put them down on the table over there. It was a
picture plucked from her life two or three years hence, when she was
married to William; but here she checked herself abruptly.

She could not entirely forget William’s presence, because, in spite of
his efforts to control himself, his nervousness was apparent. On such
occasions his eyes protruded more than ever, and his face had more than
ever the appearance of being covered with a thin crackling skin, through
which every flush of his volatile blood showed itself instantly. By this
time he had shaped so many sentences and rejected them, felt so many
impulses and subdued them, that he was a uniform scarlet.

“You may say you don’t read books,” he remarked, “but, all the same, you
know about them. Besides, who wants you to be learned? Leave that to the
poor devils who’ve got nothing better to do. You--you--ahem!--”

“Well, then, why don’t you read me something before I go?” said
Katharine, looking at her watch.

“Katharine, you’ve only just come! Let me see now, what have I got to
show you?” He rose, and stirred about the papers on his table, as if in
doubt; he then picked up a manuscript, and after spreading it smoothly
upon his knee, he looked up at Katharine suspiciously. He caught her
smiling.

“I believe you only ask me to read out of kindness,” he burst out.
“Let’s find something else to talk about. Who have you been seeing?”

“I don’t generally ask things out of kindness,” Katharine observed;
“however, if you don’t want to read, you needn’t.”

William gave a queer snort of exasperation, and opened his manuscript
once more, though he kept his eyes upon her face as he did so. No face
could have been graver or more judicial.

“One can trust you, certainly, to say unpleasant things,” he said,
smoothing out the page, clearing his throat, and reading half a stanza
to himself. “Ahem! The Princess is lost in the wood, and she hears the
sound of a horn. (This would all be very pretty on the stage, but I
can’t get the effect here.) Anyhow, Sylvano enters, accompanied by
the rest of the gentlemen of Gratian’s court. I begin where he
soliloquizes.” He jerked his head and began to read.

Although Katharine had just disclaimed any knowledge of literature, she
listened attentively. At least, she listened to the first twenty-five
lines attentively, and then she frowned. Her attention was only aroused
again when Rodney raised his finger--a sign, she knew, that the meter
was about to change.

His theory was that every mood has its meter. His mastery of meters was
very great; and, if the beauty of a drama depended upon the variety
of measures in which the personages speak, Rodney’s plays must
have challenged the works of Shakespeare. Katharine’s ignorance of
Shakespeare did not prevent her from feeling fairly certain that plays
should not produce a sense of chill stupor in the audience, such as
overcame her as the lines flowed on, sometimes long and sometimes short,
but always delivered with the same lilt of voice, which seemed to nail
each line firmly on to the same spot in the hearer’s brain. Still, she
reflected, these sorts of skill are almost exclusively masculine; women
neither practice them nor know how to value them; and one’s husband’s
proficiency in this direction might legitimately increase one’s respect
for him, since mystification is no bad basis for respect. No one could
doubt that William was a scholar. The reading ended with the finish of
the Act; Katharine had prepared a little speech.

“That seems to me extremely well written, William; although, of course,
I don’t know enough to criticize in detail.”

“But it’s the skill that strikes you--not the emotion?”

“In a fragment like that, of course, the skill strikes one most.”

“But perhaps--have you time to listen to one more short piece? the scene
between the lovers? There’s some real feeling in that, I think. Denham
agrees that it’s the best thing I’ve done.”

“You’ve read it to Ralph Denham?” Katharine inquired, with surprise.
“He’s a better judge than I am. What did he say?”

“My dear Katharine,” Rodney exclaimed, “I don’t ask you for criticism,
as I should ask a scholar. I dare say there are only five men in England
whose opinion of my work matters a straw to me. But I trust you where
feeling is concerned. I had you in my mind often when I was writing
those scenes. I kept asking myself, ‘Now is this the sort of thing
Katharine would like?’ I always think of you when I’m writing,
Katharine, even when it’s the sort of thing you wouldn’t know about.
And I’d rather--yes, I really believe I’d rather--you thought well of my
writing than any one in the world.”

This was so genuine a tribute to his trust in her that Katharine was
touched.

“You think too much of me altogether, William,” she said, forgetting
that she had not meant to speak in this way.

“No, Katharine, I don’t,” he replied, replacing his manuscript in the
drawer. “It does me good to think of you.”

So quiet an answer, followed as it was by no expression of love, but
merely by the statement that if she must go he would take her to the
Strand, and would, if she could wait a moment, change his dressing-gown
for a coat, moved her to the warmest feeling of affection for him that
she had yet experienced. While he changed in the next room, she stood by
the bookcase, taking down books and opening them, but reading nothing on
their pages.

She felt certain that she would marry Rodney. How could one avoid it?
How could one find fault with it? Here she sighed, and, putting the
thought of marriage away, fell into a dream state, in which she became
another person, and the whole world seemed changed. Being a frequent
visitor to that world, she could find her way there unhesitatingly. If
she had tried to analyze her impressions, she would have said that there
dwelt the realities of the appearances which figure in our world; so
direct, powerful, and unimpeded were her sensations there, compared with
those called forth in actual life. There dwelt the things one might have
felt, had there been cause; the perfect happiness of which here we taste
the fragment; the beauty seen here in flying glimpses only. No doubt
much of the furniture of this world was drawn directly from the
past, and even from the England of the Elizabethan age. However the
embellishment of this imaginary world might change, two qualities were
constant in it. It was a place where feelings were liberated from the
constraint which the real world puts upon them; and the process of
awakenment was always marked by resignation and a kind of stoical
acceptance of facts. She met no acquaintance there, as Denham did,
miraculously transfigured; she played no heroic part. But there
certainly she loved some magnanimous hero, and as they swept together
among the leaf-hung trees of an unknown world, they shared the feelings
which came fresh and fast as the waves on the shore. But the sands of
her liberation were running fast; even through the forest branches came
sounds of Rodney moving things on his dressing-table; and Katharine woke
herself from this excursion by shutting the cover of the book she was
holding, and replacing it in the bookshelf.

“William,” she said, speaking rather faintly at first, like one sending
a voice from sleep to reach the living. “William,” she repeated firmly,
“if you still want me to marry you, I will.”

Perhaps it was that no man could expect to have the most momentous
question of his life settled in a voice so level, so toneless, so
devoid of joy or energy. At any rate William made no answer. She waited
stoically. A moment later he stepped briskly from his dressing-room, and
observed that if she wanted to buy more oysters he thought he knew where
they could find a fishmonger’s shop still open. She breathed deeply a
sigh of relief.


Extract from a letter sent a few days later by Mrs. Hilbery to her
sister-in-law, Mrs. Milvain:


“... How stupid of me to forget the name in my telegram. Such a nice,
rich, English name, too, and, in addition, he has all the graces of
intellect; he has read literally EVERYTHING. I tell Katharine, I shall
always put him on my right side at dinner, so as to have him by me when
people begin talking about characters in Shakespeare. They won’t be
rich, but they’ll be very, very happy. I was sitting in my room late one
night, feeling that nothing nice would ever happen to me again, when I
heard Katharine outside in the passage, and I thought to myself, ‘Shall
I call her in?’ and then I thought (in that hopeless, dreary way one
does think, with the fire going out and one’s birthday just over), ‘Why
should I lay my troubles on HER?’ But my little self-control had its
reward, for next moment she tapped at the door and came in, and sat on
the rug, and though we neither of us said anything, I felt so happy all
of a second that I couldn’t help crying, ‘Oh, Katharine, when you come
to my age, how I hope you’ll have a daughter, too!’ You know how silent
Katharine is. She was so silent, for such a long time, that in my
foolish, nervous state I dreaded something, I don’t quite know what.
And then she told me how, after all, she had made up her mind. She had
written. She expected him to-morrow. At first I wasn’t glad at all. I
didn’t want her to marry any one; but when she said, ‘It will make no
difference. I shall always care for you and father most,’ then I saw how
selfish I was, and I told her she must give him everything, everything,
everything! I told her I should be thankful to come second. But why,
when everything’s turned out just as one always hoped it would turn out,
why then can one do nothing but cry, nothing but feel a desolate old
woman whose life’s been a failure, and now is nearly over, and age is so
cruel? But Katharine said to me, ‘I am happy. I’m very happy.’ And
then I thought, though it all seemed so desperately dismal at the time,
Katharine had said she was happy, and I should have a son, and it would
all turn out so much more wonderfully than I could possibly imagine, for
though the sermons don’t say so, I do believe the world is meant for us
to be happy in. She told me that they would live quite near us, and see
us every day; and she would go on with the Life, and we should finish it
as we had meant to. And, after all, it would be far more horrid if
she didn’t marry--or suppose she married some one we couldn’t endure?
Suppose she had fallen in love with some one who was married already?

“And though one never thinks any one good enough for the people one’s
fond of, he has the kindest, truest instincts, I’m sure, and though
he seems nervous and his manner is not commanding, I only think these
things because it’s Katharine. And now I’ve written this, it comes over
me that, of course, all the time, Katharine has what he hasn’t. She
does command, she isn’t nervous; it comes naturally to her to rule and
control. It’s time that she should give all this to some one who will
need her when we aren’t there, save in our spirits, for whatever people
say, I’m sure I shall come back to this wonderful world where one’s
been so happy and so miserable, where, even now, I seem to see myself
stretching out my hands for another present from the great Fairy Tree
whose boughs are still hung with enchanting toys, though they are rarer
now, perhaps, and between the branches one sees no longer the blue sky,
but the stars and the tops of the mountains.

“One doesn’t know any more, does one? One hasn’t any advice to give
one’s children. One can only hope that they will have the same
vision and the same power to believe, without which life would be so
meaningless. That is what I ask for Katharine and her husband.”



CHAPTER XII

“Is Mr. Hilbery at home, or Mrs. Hilbery?” Denham asked, of the
parlor-maid in Chelsea, a week later.

“No, sir. But Miss Hilbery is at home,” the girl answered.

Ralph had anticipated many answers, but not this one, and now it
was unexpectedly made plain to him that it was the chance of seeing
Katharine that had brought him all the way to Chelsea on pretence of
seeing her father.

He made some show of considering the matter, and was taken upstairs to
the drawing-room. As upon that first occasion, some weeks ago, the door
closed as if it were a thousand doors softly excluding the world; and
once more Ralph received an impression of a room full of deep shadows,
firelight, unwavering silver candle flames, and empty spaces to be
crossed before reaching the round table in the middle of the room,
with its frail burden of silver trays and china teacups. But this time
Katharine was there by herself; the volume in her hand showed that she
expected no visitors.

Ralph said something about hoping to find her father.

“My father is out,” she replied. “But if you can wait, I expect him
soon.”

It might have been due merely to politeness, but Ralph felt that she
received him almost with cordiality. Perhaps she was bored by drinking
tea and reading a book all alone; at any rate, she tossed the book on to
a sofa with a gesture of relief.

“Is that one of the moderns whom you despise?” he asked, smiling at the
carelessness of her gesture.

“Yes,” she replied. “I think even you would despise him.”

“Even I?” he repeated. “Why even I?”

“You said you liked modern things; I said I hated them.”

This was not a very accurate report of their conversation among the
relics, perhaps, but Ralph was flattered to think that she remembered
anything about it.

“Or did I confess that I hated all books?” she went on, seeing him look
up with an air of inquiry. “I forget--”

“Do you hate all books?” he asked.

“It would be absurd to say that I hate all books when I’ve only read
ten, perhaps; but--’ Here she pulled herself up short.

“Well?”

“Yes, I do hate books,” she continued. “Why do you want to be for ever
talking about your feelings? That’s what I can’t make out. And poetry’s
all about feelings--novels are all about feelings.”

She cut a cake vigorously into slices, and providing a tray with bread
and butter for Mrs. Hilbery, who was in her room with a cold, she rose
to go upstairs.

Ralph held the door open for her, and then stood with clasped hands in
the middle of the room. His eyes were bright, and, indeed, he scarcely
knew whether they beheld dreams or realities. All down the street and
on the doorstep, and while he mounted the stairs, his dream of Katharine
possessed him; on the threshold of the room he had dismissed it, in
order to prevent too painful a collision between what he dreamt of her
and what she was. And in five minutes she had filled the shell of the
old dream with the flesh of life; looked with fire out of phantom eyes.
He glanced about him with bewilderment at finding himself among her
chairs and tables; they were solid, for he grasped the back of the chair
in which Katharine had sat; and yet they were unreal; the atmosphere was
that of a dream. He summoned all the faculties of his spirit to seize
what the minutes had to give him; and from the depths of his mind there
rose unchecked a joyful recognition of the truth that human nature
surpasses, in its beauty, all that our wildest dreams bring us hints of.

Katharine came into the room a moment later. He stood watching her come
towards him, and thought her more beautiful and strange than his dream
of her; for the real Katharine could speak the words which seemed
to crowd behind the forehead and in the depths of the eyes, and the
commonest sentence would be flashed on by this immortal light. And she
overflowed the edges of the dream; he remarked that her softness was
like that of some vast snowy owl; she wore a ruby on her finger.

“My mother wants me to tell you,” she said, “that she hopes you have
begun your poem. She says every one ought to write poetry.... All my
relations write poetry,” she went on. “I can’t bear to think of it
sometimes--because, of course, it’s none of it any good. But then one
needn’t read it--”

“You don’t encourage me to write a poem,” said Ralph.

“But you’re not a poet, too, are you?” she inquired, turning upon him
with a laugh.

“Should I tell you if I were?”

“Yes. Because I think you speak the truth,” she said, searching him for
proof of this apparently, with eyes now almost impersonally direct. It
would be easy, Ralph thought, to worship one so far removed, and yet of
so straight a nature; easy to submit recklessly to her, without thought
of future pain.

“Are you a poet?” she demanded. He felt that her question had an
unexplained weight of meaning behind it, as if she sought an answer to a
question that she did not ask.

“No. I haven’t written any poetry for years,” he replied. “But all the
same, I don’t agree with you. I think it’s the only thing worth doing.”

“Why do you say that?” she asked, almost with impatience, tapping her
spoon two or three times against the side of her cup.

“Why?” Ralph laid hands on the first words that came to mind. “Because,
I suppose, it keeps an ideal alive which might die otherwise.”

A curious change came over her face, as if the flame of her mind were
subdued; and she looked at him ironically and with the expression which
he had called sad before, for want of a better name for it.

“I don’t know that there’s much sense in having ideals,” she said.

“But you have them,” he replied energetically. “Why do we call them
ideals? It’s a stupid word. Dreams, I mean--”

She followed his words with parted lips, as though to answer eagerly
when he had done; but as he said, “Dreams, I mean,” the door of the
drawing-room swung open, and so remained for a perceptible instant. They
both held themselves silent, her lips still parted.

Far off, they heard the rustle of skirts. Then the owner of the skirts
appeared in the doorway, which she almost filled, nearly concealing the
figure of a very much smaller lady who accompanied her.

“My aunts!” Katharine murmured, under her breath. Her tone had a hint of
tragedy in it, but no less, Ralph thought, than the situation required.
She addressed the larger lady as Aunt Millicent; the smaller was Aunt
Celia, Mrs. Milvain, who had lately undertaken the task of marrying
Cyril to his wife. Both ladies, but Mrs. Cosham (Aunt Millicent)
in particular, had that look of heightened, smoothed, incarnadined
existence which is proper to elderly ladies paying calls in London about
five o’clock in the afternoon. Portraits by Romney, seen through glass,
have something of their pink, mellow look, their blooming softness, as
of apricots hanging upon a red wall in the afternoon sun. Mrs. Cosham
was so appareled with hanging muffs, chains, and swinging draperies that
it was impossible to detect the shape of a human being in the mass of
brown and black which filled the arm-chair. Mrs. Milvain was a much
slighter figure; but the same doubt as to the precise lines of her
contour filled Ralph, as he regarded them, with dismal foreboding.
What remark of his would ever reach these fabulous and fantastic
characters?--for there was something fantastically unreal in the curious
swayings and noddings of Mrs. Cosham, as if her equipment included a
large wire spring. Her voice had a high-pitched, cooing note, which
prolonged words and cut them short until the English language seemed
no longer fit for common purposes. In a moment of nervousness, so Ralph
thought, Katharine had turned on innumerable electric lights. But Mrs.
Cosham had gained impetus (perhaps her swaying movements had that end in
view) for sustained speech; and she now addressed Ralph deliberately and
elaborately.

“I come from Woking, Mr. Popham. You may well ask me, why Woking? and to
that I answer, for perhaps the hundredth time, because of the sunsets.
We went there for the sunsets, but that was five-and-twenty years ago.
Where are the sunsets now? Alas! There is no sunset now nearer than the
South Coast.” Her rich and romantic notes were accompanied by a wave
of a long white hand, which, when waved, gave off a flash of diamonds,
rubies, and emeralds. Ralph wondered whether she more resembled an
elephant, with a jeweled head-dress, or a superb cockatoo, balanced
insecurely upon its perch, and pecking capriciously at a lump of sugar.

“Where are the sunsets now?” she repeated. “Do you find sunsets now, Mr.
Popham?”

“I live at Highgate,” he replied.

“At Highgate? Yes, Highgate has its charms; your Uncle John lived at
Highgate,” she jerked in the direction of Katharine. She sank her head
upon her breast, as if for a moment’s meditation, which past, she looked
up and observed: “I dare say there are very pretty lanes in Highgate.
I can recollect walking with your mother, Katharine, through lanes
blossoming with wild hawthorn. But where is the hawthorn now? You
remember that exquisite description in De Quincey, Mr. Popham?--but
I forget, you, in your generation, with all your activity and
enlightenment, at which I can only marvel”--here she displayed both her
beautiful white hands--“do not read De Quincey. You have your Belloc,
your Chesterton, your Bernard Shaw--why should you read De Quincey?”

“But I do read De Quincey,” Ralph protested, “more than Belloc and
Chesterton, anyhow.”

“Indeed!” exclaimed Mrs. Cosham, with a gesture of surprise and
relief mingled. “You are, then, a ‘rara avis’ in your generation. I am
delighted to meet anyone who reads De Quincey.”

Here she hollowed her hand into a screen, and, leaning towards
Katharine, inquired, in a very audible whisper, “Does your friend
WRITE?”

“Mr. Denham,” said Katharine, with more than her usual clearness and
firmness, “writes for the Review. He is a lawyer.”

“The clean-shaven lips, showing the expression of the mouth! I recognize
them at once. I always feel at home with lawyers, Mr. Denham--”

“They used to come about so much in the old days,” Mrs. Milvain
interposed, the frail, silvery notes of her voice falling with the sweet
tone of an old bell.

“You say you live at Highgate,” she continued. “I wonder whether you
happen to know if there is an old house called Tempest Lodge still in
existence--an old white house in a garden?”

Ralph shook his head, and she sighed.

“Ah, no; it must have been pulled down by this time, with all the other
old houses. There were such pretty lanes in those days. That was how
your uncle met your Aunt Emily, you know,” she addressed Katharine.
“They walked home through the lanes.”

“A sprig of May in her bonnet,” Mrs. Cosham ejaculated, reminiscently.

“And next Sunday he had violets in his buttonhole. And that was how we
guessed.”

Katharine laughed. She looked at Ralph. His eyes were meditative, and
she wondered what he found in this old gossip to make him ponder so
contentedly. She felt, she hardly knew why, a curious pity for him.

“Uncle John--yes, ‘poor John,’ you always called him. Why was that?”
 she asked, to make them go on talking, which, indeed, they needed little
invitation to do.

“That was what his father, old Sir Richard, always called him. Poor
John, or the fool of the family,” Mrs. Milvain hastened to inform
them. “The other boys were so brilliant, and he could never pass his
examinations, so they sent him to India--a long voyage in those days,
poor fellow. You had your own room, you know, and you did it up. But he
will get his knighthood and a pension, I believe,” she said, turning to
Ralph, “only it is not England.”

“No,” Mrs. Cosham confirmed her, “it is not England. In those days we
thought an Indian Judgeship about equal to a county-court judgeship at
home. His Honor--a pretty title, but still, not at the top of the tree.
However,” she sighed, “if you have a wife and seven children, and people
nowadays very quickly forget your father’s name--well, you have to take
what you can get,” she concluded.

“And I fancy,” Mrs. Milvain resumed, lowering her voice rather
confidentially, “that John would have done more if it hadn’t been for
his wife, your Aunt Emily. She was a very good woman, devoted to him, of
course, but she was not ambitious for him, and if a wife isn’t ambitious
for her husband, especially in a profession like the law, clients soon
get to know of it. In our young days, Mr. Denham, we used to say that we
knew which of our friends would become judges, by looking at the girls
they married. And so it was, and so, I fancy, it always will be. I don’t
think,” she added, summing up these scattered remarks, “that any man is
really happy unless he succeeds in his profession.”

Mrs. Cosham approved of this sentiment with more ponderous sagacity from
her side of the tea-table, in the first place by swaying her head, and
in the second by remarking:

“No, men are not the same as women. I fancy Alfred Tennyson spoke the
truth about that as about many other things. How I wish he’d lived to
write ‘The Prince’--a sequel to ‘The Princess’! I confess I’m almost
tired of Princesses. We want some one to show us what a good man can be.
We have Laura and Beatrice, Antigone and Cordelia, but we have no heroic
man. How do you, as a poet, account for that, Mr. Denham?”

“I’m not a poet,” said Ralph good-humoredly. “I’m only a solicitor.”

“But you write, too?” Mrs. Cosham demanded, afraid lest she should
be balked of her priceless discovery, a young man truly devoted to
literature.

“In my spare time,” Denham reassured her.

“In your spare time!” Mrs. Cosham echoed. “That is a proof of devotion,
indeed.” She half closed her eyes, and indulged herself in a fascinating
picture of a briefless barrister lodged in a garret, writing immortal
novels by the light of a farthing dip. But the romance which fell upon
the figures of great writers and illumined their pages was no false
radiance in her case. She carried her pocket Shakespeare about with
her, and met life fortified by the words of the poets. How far she saw
Denham, and how far she confused him with some hero of fiction, it would
be hard to say. Literature had taken possession even of her memories.
She was matching him, presumably, with certain characters in the old
novels, for she came out, after a pause, with:

“Um--um--Pendennis--Warrington--I could never forgive Laura,” she
pronounced energetically, “for not marrying George, in spite of
everything. George Eliot did the very same thing; and Lewes was a little
frog-faced man, with the manner of a dancing master. But Warrington,
now, had everything in his favor; intellect, passion, romance,
distinction, and the connection was a mere piece of undergraduate folly.
Arthur, I confess, has always seemed to me a bit of a fop; I can’t
imagine how Laura married him. But you say you’re a solicitor, Mr.
Denham. Now there are one or two things I should like to ask you--about
Shakespeare--” She drew out her small, worn volume with some difficulty,
opened it, and shook it in the air. “They say, nowadays, that
Shakespeare was a lawyer. They say, that accounts for his knowledge of
human nature. There’s a fine example for you, Mr. Denham. Study your
clients, young man, and the world will be the richer one of these days,
I have no doubt. Tell me, how do we come out of it, now; better or worse
than you expected?”

Thus called upon to sum up the worth of human nature in a few words,
Ralph answered unhesitatingly:

“Worse, Mrs. Cosham, a good deal worse. I’m afraid the ordinary man is a
bit of a rascal--”

“And the ordinary woman?”

“No, I don’t like the ordinary woman either--”

“Ah, dear me, I’ve no doubt that’s very true, very true.” Mrs. Cosham
sighed. “Swift would have agreed with you, anyhow--” She looked at him,
and thought that there were signs of distinct power in his brow. He
would do well, she thought, to devote himself to satire.

“Charles Lavington, you remember, was a solicitor,” Mrs. Milvain
interposed, rather resenting the waste of time involved in talking about
fictitious people when you might be talking about real people. “But you
wouldn’t remember him, Katharine.”

“Mr. Lavington? Oh, yes, I do,” said Katharine, waking from other
thoughts with her little start. “The summer we had a house near Tenby. I
remember the field and the pond with the tadpoles, and making haystacks
with Mr. Lavington.”

“She is right. There WAS a pond with tadpoles,” Mrs. Cosham
corroborated. “Millais made studies of it for ‘Ophelia.’ Some say that
is the best picture he ever painted--”

“And I remember the dog chained up in the yard, and the dead snakes
hanging in the toolhouse.”

“It was at Tenby that you were chased by the bull,” Mrs. Milvain
continued. “But that you couldn’t remember, though it’s true you were
a wonderful child. Such eyes she had, Mr. Denham! I used to say to her
father, ‘She’s watching us, and summing us all up in her little mind.’
And they had a nurse in those days,” she went on, telling her story with
charming solemnity to Ralph, “who was a good woman, but engaged to a
sailor. When she ought to have been attending to the baby, her eyes were
on the sea. And Mrs. Hilbery allowed this girl--Susan her name was--to
have him to stay in the village. They abused her goodness, I’m sorry
to say, and while they walked in the lanes, they stood the perambulator
alone in a field where there was a bull. The animal became enraged by
the red blanket in the perambulator, and Heaven knows what might have
happened if a gentleman had not been walking by in the nick of time, and
rescued Katharine in his arms!”

“I think the bull was only a cow, Aunt Celia,” said Katharine.

“My darling, it was a great red Devonshire bull, and not long after it
gored a man to death and had to be destroyed. And your mother forgave
Susan--a thing I could never have done.”

“Maggie’s sympathies were entirely with Susan and the sailor, I
am sure,” said Mrs. Cosham, rather tartly. “My sister-in-law,” she
continued, “has laid her burdens upon Providence at every crisis in her
life, and Providence, I must confess, has responded nobly, so far--”

“Yes,” said Katharine, with a laugh, for she liked the rashness which
irritated the rest of the family. “My mother’s bulls always turn into
cows at the critical moment.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Milvain, “I’m glad you have some one to protect you
from bulls now.”

“I can’t imagine William protecting any one from bulls,” said Katharine.

It happened that Mrs. Cosham had once more produced her pocket volume
of Shakespeare, and was consulting Ralph upon an obscure passage in
“Measure for Measure.” He did not at once seize the meaning of what
Katharine and her aunt were saying; William, he supposed, referred to
some small cousin, for he now saw Katharine as a child in a pinafore;
but, nevertheless, he was so much distracted that his eye could hardly
follow the words on the paper. A moment later he heard them speak
distinctly of an engagement ring.

“I like rubies,” he heard Katharine say.

    “To be imprison’d in the viewless winds,
    And blown with restless violence round about
    The pendant world....”

Mrs. Cosham intoned; at the same instant “Rodney” fitted itself to
“William” in Ralph’s mind. He felt convinced that Katharine was engaged
to Rodney. His first sensation was one of violent rage with her for
having deceived him throughout the visit, fed him with pleasant old
wives’ tales, let him see her as a child playing in a meadow, shared
her youth with him, while all the time she was a stranger entirely, and
engaged to marry Rodney.

But was it possible? Surely it was not possible. For in his eyes she was
still a child. He paused so long over the book that Mrs. Cosham had time
to look over his shoulder and ask her niece:

“And have you settled upon a house yet, Katharine?”

This convinced him of the truth of the monstrous idea. He looked up at
once and said:

“Yes, it’s a difficult passage.”

His voice had changed so much, he spoke with such curtness and even with
such contempt, that Mrs. Cosham looked at him fairly puzzled. Happily
she belonged to a generation which expected uncouthness in its men, and
she merely felt convinced that this Mr. Denham was very, very clever.
She took back her Shakespeare, as Denham seemed to have no more to say,
and secreted it once more about her person with the infinitely pathetic
resignation of the old.

“Katharine’s engaged to William Rodney,” she said, by way of filling in
the pause; “a very old friend of ours. He has a wonderful knowledge of
literature, too--wonderful.” She nodded her head rather vaguely. “You
should meet each other.”

Denham’s one wish was to leave the house as soon as he could; but the
elderly ladies had risen, and were proposing to visit Mrs. Hilbery in
her bedroom, so that any move on his part was impossible. At the same
time, he wished to say something, but he knew not what, to Katharine
alone. She took her aunts upstairs, and returned, coming towards him
once more with an air of innocence and friendliness that amazed him.

“My father will be back,” she said. “Won’t you sit down?” and she
laughed, as if now they might share a perfectly friendly laugh at the
tea-party.

But Ralph made no attempt to seat himself.

“I must congratulate you,” he said. “It was news to me.” He saw her face
change, but only to become graver than before.

“My engagement?” she asked. “Yes, I am going to marry William Rodney.”

Ralph remained standing with his hand on the back of a chair in absolute
silence. Abysses seemed to plunge into darkness between them. He looked
at her, but her face showed that she was not thinking of him. No regret
or consciousness of wrong disturbed her.

“Well, I must go,” he said at length.

She seemed about to say something, then changed her mind and said
merely:

“You will come again, I hope. We always seem”--she hesitated--“to be
interrupted.”

He bowed and left the room.

Ralph strode with extreme swiftness along the Embankment. Every muscle
was taut and braced as if to resist some sudden attack from outside. For
the moment it seemed as if the attack were about to be directed
against his body, and his brain thus was on the alert, but without
understanding. Finding himself, after a few minutes, no longer under
observation, and no attack delivered, he slackened his pace, the pain
spread all through him, took possession of every governing seat, and met
with scarcely any resistance from powers exhausted by their first effort
at defence. He took his way languidly along the river embankment, away
from home rather than towards it. The world had him at its mercy. He
made no pattern out of the sights he saw. He felt himself now, as he had
often fancied other people, adrift on the stream, and far removed from
control of it, a man with no grasp upon circumstances any longer. Old
battered men loafing at the doors of public-houses now seemed to be his
fellows, and he felt, as he supposed them to feel, a mingling of envy
and hatred towards those who passed quickly and certainly to a goal of
their own. They, too, saw things very thin and shadowy, and were wafted
about by the lightest breath of wind. For the substantial world, with
its prospect of avenues leading on and on to the invisible distance,
had slipped from him, since Katharine was engaged. Now all his life
was visible, and the straight, meager path had its ending soon enough.
Katharine was engaged, and she had deceived him, too. He felt for
corners of his being untouched by his disaster; but there was no
limit to the flood of damage; not one of his possessions was safe now.
Katharine had deceived him; she had mixed herself with every thought of
his, and reft of her they seemed false thoughts which he would blush to
think again. His life seemed immeasurably impoverished.

He sat himself down, in spite of the chilly fog which obscured the
farther bank and left its lights suspended upon a blank surface, upon
one of the riverside seats, and let the tide of disillusionment sweep
through him. For the time being all bright points in his life were
blotted out; all prominences leveled. At first he made himself believe
that Katharine had treated him badly, and drew comfort from the thought
that, left alone, she would recollect this, and think of him and tender
him, in silence, at any rate, an apology. But this grain of comfort
failed him after a second or two, for, upon reflection, he had to admit
that Katharine owed him nothing. Katharine had promised nothing, taken
nothing; to her his dreams had meant nothing. This, indeed, was the
lowest pitch of his despair. If the best of one’s feelings means nothing
to the person most concerned in those feelings, what reality is left
us? The old romance which had warmed his days for him, the thoughts of
Katharine which had painted every hour, were now made to appear foolish
and enfeebled. He rose, and looked into the river, whose swift race of
dun-colored waters seemed the very spirit of futility and oblivion.

“In what can one trust, then?” he thought, as he leant there. So feeble
and insubstantial did he feel himself that he repeated the word aloud.

“In what can one trust? Not in men and women. Not in one’s dreams about
them. There’s nothing--nothing, nothing left at all.”

Now Denham had reason to know that he could bring to birth and keep
alive a fine anger when he chose. Rodney provided a good target for
that emotion. And yet at the moment, Rodney and Katharine herself seemed
disembodied ghosts. He could scarcely remember the look of them. His
mind plunged lower and lower. Their marriage seemed of no importance to
him. All things had turned to ghosts; the whole mass of the world was
insubstantial vapor, surrounding the solitary spark in his mind, whose
burning point he could remember, for it burnt no more. He had once
cherished a belief, and Katharine had embodied this belief, and she did
so no longer. He did not blame her; he blamed nothing, nobody; he saw
the truth. He saw the dun-colored race of waters and the blank shore.
But life is vigorous; the body lives, and the body, no doubt, dictated
the reflection, which now urged him to movement, that one may cast
away the forms of human beings, and yet retain the passion which seemed
inseparable from their existence in the flesh. Now this passion burnt on
his horizon, as the winter sun makes a greenish pane in the west through
thinning clouds. His eyes were set on something infinitely far and
remote; by that light he felt he could walk, and would, in future, have
to find his way. But that was all there was left to him of a populous
and teeming world.



CHAPTER XIII

The lunch hour in the office was only partly spent by Denham in the
consumption of food. Whether fine or wet, he passed most of it pacing
the gravel paths in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The children got to know
his figure, and the sparrows expected their daily scattering of
bread-crumbs. No doubt, since he often gave a copper and almost always a
handful of bread, he was not as blind to his surroundings as he thought
himself.

He thought that these winter days were spent in long hours before
white papers radiant in electric light; and in short passages through
fog-dimmed streets. When he came back to his work after lunch he carried
in his head a picture of the Strand, scattered with omnibuses, and of
the purple shapes of leaves pressed flat upon the gravel, as if his eyes
had always been bent upon the ground. His brain worked incessantly, but
his thought was attended with so little joy that he did not willingly
recall it; but drove ahead, now in this direction, now in that; and came
home laden with dark books borrowed from a library.

Mary Datchet, coming from the Strand at lunch-time, saw him one day
taking his turn, closely buttoned in an overcoat, and so lost in thought
that he might have been sitting in his own room.

She was overcome by something very like awe by the sight of him; then
she felt much inclined to laugh, although her pulse beat faster. She
passed him, and he never saw her. She came back and touched him on the
shoulder.

“Gracious, Mary!” he exclaimed. “How you startled me!”

“Yes. You looked as if you were walking in your sleep,” she said. “Are
you arranging some terrible love affair? Have you got to reconcile a
desperate couple?”

“I wasn’t thinking about my work,” Ralph replied, rather hastily. “And,
besides, that sort of thing’s not in my line,” he added, rather grimly.

The morning was fine, and they had still some minutes of leisure to
spend. They had not met for two or three weeks, and Mary had much to
say to Ralph; but she was not certain how far he wished for her company.
However, after a turn or two, in which a few facts were communicated, he
suggested sitting down, and she took the seat beside him. The sparrows
came fluttering about them, and Ralph produced from his pocket the half
of a roll saved from his luncheon. He threw a few crumbs among them.

“I’ve never seen sparrows so tame,” Mary observed, by way of saying
something.

“No,” said Ralph. “The sparrows in Hyde Park aren’t as tame as this. If
we keep perfectly still, I’ll get one to settle on my arm.”

Mary felt that she could have forgone this display of animal good
temper, but seeing that Ralph, for some curious reason, took a pride in
the sparrows, she bet him sixpence that he would not succeed.

“Done!” he said; and his eye, which had been gloomy, showed a spark
of light. His conversation was now addressed entirely to a bald
cock-sparrow, who seemed bolder than the rest; and Mary took the
opportunity of looking at him. She was not satisfied; his face was worn,
and his expression stern. A child came bowling its hoop through the
concourse of birds, and Ralph threw his last crumbs of bread into the
bushes with a snort of impatience.

“That’s what always happens--just as I’ve almost got him,” he said.
“Here’s your sixpence, Mary. But you’ve only got it thanks to that brute
of a boy. They oughtn’t to be allowed to bowl hoops here--”

“Oughtn’t to be allowed to bowl hoops! My dear Ralph, what nonsense!”

“You always say that,” he complained; “and it isn’t nonsense. What’s the
point of having a garden if one can’t watch birds in it? The street does
all right for hoops. And if children can’t be trusted in the streets,
their mothers should keep them at home.”

Mary made no answer to this remark, but frowned.

She leant back on the seat and looked about her at the great houses
breaking the soft gray-blue sky with their chimneys.

“Ah, well,” she said, “London’s a fine place to live in. I believe I
could sit and watch people all day long. I like my fellow-creatures....”

Ralph sighed impatiently.

“Yes, I think so, when you come to know them,” she added, as if his
disagreement had been spoken.

“That’s just when I don’t like them,” he replied. “Still, I don’t see
why you shouldn’t cherish that illusion, if it pleases you.” He spoke
without much vehemence of agreement or disagreement. He seemed chilled.

“Wake up, Ralph! You’re half asleep!” Mary cried, turning and pinching
his sleeve. “What have you been doing with yourself? Moping? Working?
Despising the world, as usual?”

As he merely shook his head, and filled his pipe, she went on:

“It’s a bit of a pose, isn’t it?”

“Not more than most things,” he said.

“Well,” Mary remarked, “I’ve a great deal to say to you, but I must go
on--we have a committee.” She rose, but hesitated, looking down upon
him rather gravely. “You don’t look happy, Ralph,” she said. “Is it
anything, or is it nothing?”

He did not immediately answer her, but rose, too, and walked with her
towards the gate. As usual, he did not speak to her without considering
whether what he was about to say was the sort of thing that he could say
to her.

“I’ve been bothered,” he said at length. “Partly by work, and partly by
family troubles. Charles has been behaving like a fool. He wants to go
out to Canada as a farmer--”

“Well, there’s something to be said for that,” said Mary; and they
passed the gate, and walked slowly round the Fields again, discussing
difficulties which, as a matter of fact, were more or less chronic
in the Denham family, and only now brought forward to appease Mary’s
sympathy, which, however, soothed Ralph more than he was aware of. She
made him at least dwell upon problems which were real in the sense that
they were capable of solution; and the true cause of his melancholy,
which was not susceptible to such treatment, sank rather more deeply
into the shades of his mind.

Mary was attentive; she was helpful. Ralph could not help feeling
grateful to her, the more so, perhaps, because he had not told her the
truth about his state; and when they reached the gate again he wished to
make some affectionate objection to her leaving him. But his affection
took the rather uncouth form of expostulating with her about her work.

“What d’you want to sit on a committee for?” he asked. “It’s waste of
your time, Mary.”

“I agree with you that a country walk would benefit the world more,”
 she said. “Look here,” she added suddenly, “why don’t you come to us at
Christmas? It’s almost the best time of year.”

“Come to you at Disham?” Ralph repeated.

“Yes. We won’t interfere with you. But you can tell me later,” she said,
rather hastily, and then started off in the direction of Russell Square.
She had invited him on the impulse of the moment, as a vision of the
country came before her; and now she was annoyed with herself for having
done so, and then she was annoyed at being annoyed.

“If I can’t face a walk in a field alone with Ralph,” she reasoned, “I’d
better buy a cat and live in a lodging at Ealing, like Sally Seal--and
he won’t come. Or did he mean that he WOULD come?”

She shook her head. She really did not know what he had meant. She never
felt quite certain; but now she was more than usually baffled. Was
he concealing something from her? His manner had been odd; his deep
absorption had impressed her; there was something in him that she had
not fathomed, and the mystery of his nature laid more of a spell upon
her than she liked. Moreover, she could not prevent herself from doing
now what she had often blamed others of her sex for doing--from endowing
her friend with a kind of heavenly fire, and passing her life before it
for his sanction.

Under this process, the committee rather dwindled in importance;
the Suffrage shrank; she vowed she would work harder at the Italian
language; she thought she would take up the study of birds. But this
program for a perfect life threatened to become so absurd that she very
soon caught herself out in the evil habit, and was rehearsing her speech
to the committee by the time the chestnut-colored bricks of Russell
Square came in sight. Indeed, she never noticed them. She ran upstairs
as usual, and was completely awakened to reality by the sight of Mrs.
Seal, on the landing outside the office, inducing a very large dog to
drink water out of a tumbler.

“Miss Markham has already arrived,” Mrs. Seal remarked, with due
solemnity, “and this is her dog.”

“A very fine dog, too,” said Mary, patting him on the head.

“Yes. A magnificent fellow,” Mrs. Seal agreed. “A kind of St. Bernard,
she tells me--so like Kit to have a St. Bernard. And you guard your
mistress well, don’t you, Sailor? You see that wicked men don’t break
into her larder when she’s out at HER work--helping poor souls who have
lost their way.... But we’re late--we must begin!” and scattering the
rest of the water indiscriminately over the floor, she hurried Mary into
the committee-room.



CHAPTER XIV

Mr. Clacton was in his glory. The machinery which he had perfected and
controlled was now about to turn out its bi-monthly product, a committee
meeting; and his pride in the perfect structure of these assemblies was
great. He loved the jargon of committee-rooms; he loved the way in which
the door kept opening as the clock struck the hour, in obedience to
a few strokes of his pen on a piece of paper; and when it had opened
sufficiently often, he loved to issue from his inner chamber with
documents in his hands, visibly important, with a preoccupied expression
on his face that might have suited a Prime Minister advancing to meet
his Cabinet. By his orders the table had been decorated beforehand with
six sheets of blotting-paper, with six pens, six ink-pots, a tumbler
and a jug of water, a bell, and, in deference to the taste of the lady
members, a vase of hardy chrysanthemums. He had already surreptitiously
straightened the sheets of blotting-paper in relation to the ink-pots,
and now stood in front of the fire engaged in conversation with Miss
Markham. But his eye was on the door, and when Mary and Mrs. Seal
entered, he gave a little laugh and observed to the assembly which was
scattered about the room:

“I fancy, ladies and gentlemen, that we are ready to commence.”

So speaking, he took his seat at the head of the table, and arranging
one bundle of papers upon his right and another upon his left, called
upon Miss Datchet to read the minutes of the previous meeting. Mary
obeyed. A keen observer might have wondered why it was necessary for the
secretary to knit her brows so closely over the tolerably matter-of-fact
statement before her. Could there be any doubt in her mind that it had
been resolved to circularize the provinces with Leaflet No. 3, or to
issue a statistical diagram showing the proportion of married women
to spinsters in New Zealand; or that the net profits of Mrs. Hipsley’s
Bazaar had reached a total of five pounds eight shillings and twopence
half-penny?

Could any doubt as to the perfect sense and propriety of these
statements be disturbing her? No one could have guessed, from the look
of her, that she was disturbed at all. A pleasanter and saner woman
than Mary Datchet was never seen within a committee-room. She seemed a
compound of the autumn leaves and the winter sunshine; less poetically
speaking, she showed both gentleness and strength, an indefinable
promise of soft maternity blending with her evident fitness for honest
labor. Nevertheless, she had great difficulty in reducing her mind to
obedience; and her reading lacked conviction, as if, as was indeed the
case, she had lost the power of visualizing what she read. And directly
the list was completed, her mind floated to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the
fluttering wings of innumerable sparrows. Was Ralph still enticing the
bald-headed cock-sparrow to sit upon his hand? Had he succeeded? Would
he ever succeed? She had meant to ask him why it is that the sparrows in
Lincoln’s Inn Fields are tamer than the sparrows in Hyde Park--perhaps
it is that the passers-by are rarer, and they come to recognize their
benefactors. For the first half-hour of the committee meeting, Mary
had thus to do battle with the skeptical presence of Ralph Denham, who
threatened to have it all his own way. Mary tried half a dozen methods
of ousting him. She raised her voice, she articulated distinctly, she
looked firmly at Mr. Clacton’s bald head, she began to write a note.
To her annoyance, her pencil drew a little round figure on the
blotting-paper, which, she could not deny, was really a bald-headed
cock-sparrow. She looked again at Mr. Clacton; yes, he was bald, and so
are cock-sparrows. Never was a secretary tormented by so many unsuitable
suggestions, and they all came, alas! with something ludicrously
grotesque about them, which might, at any moment, provoke her to such
flippancy as would shock her colleagues for ever. The thought of what
she might say made her bite her lips, as if her lips would protect her.

But all these suggestions were but flotsam and jetsam cast to the
surface by a more profound disturbance, which, as she could not consider
it at present, manifested its existence by these grotesque nods
and beckonings. Consider it, she must, when the committee was over.
Meanwhile, she was behaving scandalously; she was looking out of the
window, and thinking of the color of the sky, and of the decorations
on the Imperial Hotel, when she ought to have been shepherding her
colleagues, and pinning them down to the matter in hand. She could not
bring herself to attach more weight to one project than to another.
Ralph had said--she could not stop to consider what he had said, but he
had somehow divested the proceedings of all reality. And then, without
conscious effort, by some trick of the brain, she found herself becoming
interested in some scheme for organizing a newspaper campaign. Certain
articles were to be written; certain editors approached. What line was
it advisable to take? She found herself strongly disapproving of what
Mr. Clacton was saying. She committed herself to the opinion that now
was the time to strike hard. Directly she had said this, she felt that
she had turned upon Ralph’s ghost; and she became more and more in
earnest, and anxious to bring the others round to her point of view.
Once more, she knew exactly and indisputably what is right and what
is wrong. As if emerging from a mist, the old foes of the public
good loomed ahead of her--capitalists, newspaper proprietors,
anti-suffragists, and, in some ways most pernicious of all, the masses
who take no interest one way or another--among whom, for the time being,
she certainly discerned the features of Ralph Denham. Indeed, when Miss
Markham asked her to suggest the names of a few friends of hers, she
expressed herself with unusual bitterness:

“My friends think all this kind of thing useless.” She felt that she was
really saying that to Ralph himself.

“Oh, they’re that sort, are they?” said Miss Markham, with a little
laugh; and with renewed vigor their legions charged the foe.

Mary’s spirits had been low when she entered the committee-room; but now
they were considerably improved. She knew the ways of this world; it was
a shapely, orderly place; she felt convinced of its right and its
wrong; and the feeling that she was fit to deal a heavy blow against her
enemies warmed her heart and kindled her eye. In one of those flights of
fancy, not characteristic of her but tiresomely frequent this afternoon,
she envisaged herself battered with rotten eggs upon a platform, from
which Ralph vainly begged her to descend. But--

“What do I matter compared with the cause?” she said, and so on. Much to
her credit, however teased by foolish fancies, she kept the surface of
her brain moderate and vigilant, and subdued Mrs. Seal very tactfully
more than once when she demanded, “Action!--everywhere!--at once!” as
became her father’s daughter.

The other members of the committee, who were all rather elderly people,
were a good deal impressed by Mary, and inclined to side with her and
against each other, partly, perhaps, because of her youth. The feeling
that she controlled them all filled Mary with a sense of power; and she
felt that no work can equal in importance, or be so exciting as, the
work of making other people do what you want them to do. Indeed, when
she had won her point she felt a slight degree of contempt for the
people who had yielded to her.

The committee now rose, gathered together their papers, shook them
straight, placed them in their attache-cases, snapped the locks firmly
together, and hurried away, having, for the most part, to catch trains,
in order to keep other appointments with other committees, for they were
all busy people. Mary, Mrs. Seal, and Mr. Clacton were left alone; the
room was hot and untidy, the pieces of pink blotting-paper were lying at
different angles upon the table, and the tumbler was half full of water,
which some one had poured out and forgotten to drink.

Mrs. Seal began preparing the tea, while Mr. Clacton retired to his room
to file the fresh accumulation of documents. Mary was too much excited
even to help Mrs. Seal with the cups and saucers. She flung up the
window and stood by it, looking out. The street lamps were already lit;
and through the mist in the square one could see little figures hurrying
across the road and along the pavement, on the farther side. In her
absurd mood of lustful arrogance, Mary looked at the little figures and
thought, “If I liked I could make you go in there or stop short; I could
make you walk in single file or in double file; I could do what I liked
with you.” Then Mrs. Seal came and stood by her.

“Oughtn’t you to put something round your shoulders, Sally?” Mary asked,
in rather a condescending tone of voice, feeling a sort of pity for the
enthusiastic ineffective little woman. But Mrs. Seal paid no attention
to the suggestion.

“Well, did you enjoy yourself?” Mary asked, with a little laugh.

Mrs. Seal drew a deep breath, restrained herself, and then burst out,
looking out, too, upon Russell Square and Southampton Row, and at the
passers-by, “Ah, if only one could get every one of those people into
this room, and make them understand for five minutes! But they MUST see
the truth some day.... If only one could MAKE them see it....”

Mary knew herself to be very much wiser than Mrs. Seal, and when Mrs.
Seal said anything, even if it was what Mary herself was feeling, she
automatically thought of all that there was to be said against it.
On this occasion her arrogant feeling that she could direct everybody
dwindled away.

“Let’s have our tea,” she said, turning back from the window and pulling
down the blind. “It was a good meeting--didn’t you think so, Sally?” she
let fall, casually, as she sat down at the table. Surely Mrs. Seal must
realize that Mary had been extraordinarily efficient?

“But we go at such a snail’s pace,” said Sally, shaking her head
impatiently.

At this Mary burst out laughing, and all her arrogance was dissipated.

“You can afford to laugh,” said Sally, with another shake of her head,
“but I can’t. I’m fifty-five, and I dare say I shall be in my grave by
the time we get it--if we ever do.”

“Oh, no, you won’t be in your grave,” said Mary, kindly.

“It’ll be such a great day,” said Mrs. Seal, with a toss of her locks.
“A great day, not only for us, but for civilization. That’s what I feel,
you know, about these meetings. Each one of them is a step onwards in
the great march--humanity, you know. We do want the people after us to
have a better time of it--and so many don’t see it. I wonder how it is
that they don’t see it?”

She was carrying plates and cups from the cupboard as she spoke, so that
her sentences were more than usually broken apart. Mary could not help
looking at the odd little priestess of humanity with something like
admiration. While she had been thinking about herself, Mrs. Seal had
thought of nothing but her vision.

“You mustn’t wear yourself out, Sally, if you want to see the great
day,” she said, rising and trying to take a plate of biscuits from Mrs.
Seal’s hands.

“My dear child, what else is my old body good for?” she exclaimed,
clinging more tightly than before to her plate of biscuits. “Shouldn’t
I be proud to give everything I have to the cause?--for I’m not an
intelligence like you. There were domestic circumstances--I’d like to
tell you one of these days--so I say foolish things. I lose my head,
you know. You don’t. Mr. Clacton doesn’t. It’s a great mistake, to lose
one’s head. But my heart’s in the right place. And I’m so glad Kit has a
big dog, for I didn’t think her looking well.”

They had their tea, and went over many of the points that had been
raised in the committee rather more intimately than had been possible
then; and they all felt an agreeable sense of being in some way behind
the scenes; of having their hands upon strings which, when pulled, would
completely change the pageant exhibited daily to those who read the
newspapers. Although their views were very different, this sense united
them and made them almost cordial in their manners to each other.

Mary, however, left the tea-party rather early, desiring both to be
alone, and then to hear some music at the Queen’s Hall. She fully
intended to use her loneliness to think out her position with regard to
Ralph; but although she walked back to the Strand with this end in view,
she found her mind uncomfortably full of different trains of thought.
She started one and then another. They seemed even to take their color
from the street she happened to be in. Thus the vision of humanity
appeared to be in some way connected with Bloomsbury, and faded
distinctly by the time she crossed the main road; then a belated
organ-grinder in Holborn set her thoughts dancing incongruously; and
by the time she was crossing the great misty square of Lincoln’s Inn
Fields, she was cold and depressed again, and horribly clear-sighted.
The dark removed the stimulus of human companionship, and a tear
actually slid down her cheek, accompanying a sudden conviction within
her that she loved Ralph, and that he didn’t love her. All dark and
empty now was the path where they had walked that morning, and the
sparrows silent in the bare trees. But the lights in her own building
soon cheered her; all these different states of mind were submerged in
the deep flood of desires, thoughts, perceptions, antagonisms, which
washed perpetually at the base of her being, to rise into prominence in
turn when the conditions of the upper world were favorable. She put off
the hour of clear thought until Christmas, saying to herself, as she lit
her fire, that it is impossible to think anything out in London; and, no
doubt, Ralph wouldn’t come at Christmas, and she would take long walks
into the heart of the country, and decide this question and all the
others that puzzled her. Meanwhile, she thought, drawing her feet up on
to the fender, life was full of complexity; life was a thing one must
love to the last fiber of it.

She had sat there for five minutes or so, and her thoughts had had time
to grow dim, when there came a ring at her bell. Her eye brightened;
she felt immediately convinced that Ralph had come to visit her.
Accordingly, she waited a moment before opening the door; she wanted
to feel her hands secure upon the reins of all the troublesome emotions
which the sight of Ralph would certainly arouse. She composed herself
unnecessarily, however, for she had to admit, not Ralph, but Katharine
and William Rodney. Her first impression was that they were both
extremely well dressed. She felt herself shabby and slovenly beside
them, and did not know how she should entertain them, nor could she
guess why they had come. She had heard nothing of their engagement. But
after the first disappointment, she was pleased, for she felt instantly
that Katharine was a personality, and, moreover, she need not now
exercise her self-control.

“We were passing and saw a light in your window, so we came up,”
 Katharine explained, standing and looking very tall and distinguished
and rather absent-minded.

“We have been to see some pictures,” said William. “Oh, dear,” he
exclaimed, looking about him, “this room reminds me of one of the worst
hours in my existence--when I read a paper, and you all sat round and
jeered at me. Katharine was the worst. I could feel her gloating over
every mistake I made. Miss Datchet was kind. Miss Datchet just made it
possible for me to get through, I remember.”

Sitting down, he drew off his light yellow gloves, and began slapping
his knees with them. His vitality was pleasant, Mary thought, although
he made her laugh. The very look of him was inclined to make her laugh.
His rather prominent eyes passed from one young woman to the other, and
his lips perpetually formed words which remained unspoken.

“We have been seeing old masters at the Grafton Gallery,” said
Katharine, apparently paying no attention to William, and accepting a
cigarette which Mary offered her. She leant back in her chair, and the
smoke which hung about her face seemed to withdraw her still further
from the others.

“Would you believe it, Miss Datchet,” William continued, “Katharine
doesn’t like Titian. She doesn’t like apricots, she doesn’t like
peaches, she doesn’t like green peas. She likes the Elgin marbles, and
gray days without any sun. She’s a typical example of the cold northern
nature. I come from Devonshire--”

Had they been quarreling, Mary wondered, and had they, for that reason,
sought refuge in her room, or were they engaged, or had Katharine just
refused him? She was completely baffled.

Katharine now reappeared from her veil of smoke, knocked the ash from
her cigarette into the fireplace, and looked, with an odd expression of
solicitude, at the irritable man.

“Perhaps, Mary,” she said tentatively, “you wouldn’t mind giving us some
tea? We did try to get some, but the shop was so crowded, and in the
next one there was a band playing; and most of the pictures, at any
rate, were very dull, whatever you may say, William.” She spoke with a
kind of guarded gentleness.

Mary, accordingly, retired to make preparations in the pantry.

“What in the world are they after?” she asked of her own reflection in
the little looking-glass which hung there. She was not left to doubt
much longer, for, on coming back into the sitting-room with the
tea-things, Katharine informed her, apparently having been instructed so
to do by William, of their engagement.

“William,” she said, “thinks that perhaps you don’t know. We are going
to be married.”

Mary found herself shaking William’s hand, and addressing her
congratulations to him, as if Katharine were inaccessible; she had,
indeed, taken hold of the tea-kettle.

“Let me see,” Katharine said, “one puts hot water into the cups first,
doesn’t one? You have some dodge of your own, haven’t you, William,
about making tea?”

Mary was half inclined to suspect that this was said in order to conceal
nervousness, but if so, the concealment was unusually perfect. Talk
of marriage was dismissed. Katharine might have been seated in her
own drawing-room, controlling a situation which presented no sort of
difficulty to her trained mind. Rather to her surprise, Mary found
herself making conversation with William about old Italian pictures,
while Katharine poured out tea, cut cake, kept William’s plate supplied,
without joining more than was necessary in the conversation. She seemed
to have taken possession of Mary’s room, and to handle the cups as
if they belonged to her. But it was done so naturally that it bred no
resentment in Mary; on the contrary, she found herself putting her hand
on Katharine’s knee, affectionately, for an instant. Was there something
maternal in this assumption of control? And thinking of Katharine as one
who would soon be married, these maternal airs filled Mary’s mind with a
new tenderness, and even with awe. Katharine seemed very much older and
more experienced than she was.

Meanwhile Rodney talked. If his appearance was superficially against
him, it had the advantage of making his solid merits something of a
surprise. He had kept notebooks; he knew a great deal about pictures.
He could compare different examples in different galleries, and his
authoritative answers to intelligent questions gained not a little, Mary
felt, from the smart taps which he dealt, as he delivered them, upon the
lumps of coal. She was impressed.

“Your tea, William,” said Katharine gently.

He paused, gulped it down, obediently, and continued.

And then it struck Mary that Katharine, in the shade of her
broad-brimmed hat, and in the midst of the smoke, and in the obscurity
of her character, was, perhaps, smiling to herself, not altogether in
the maternal spirit. What she said was very simple, but her words, even
“Your tea, William,” were set down as gently and cautiously and exactly
as the feet of a Persian cat stepping among China ornaments. For the
second time that day Mary felt herself baffled by something inscrutable
in the character of a person to whom she felt herself much attracted.
She thought that if she were engaged to Katharine, she, too, would
find herself very soon using those fretful questions with which William
evidently teased his bride. And yet Katharine’s voice was humble.

“I wonder how you find the time to know all about pictures as well as
books?” she asked.

“How do I find the time?” William answered, delighted, Mary guessed, at
this little compliment. “Why, I always travel with a notebook. And I ask
my way to the picture gallery the very first thing in the morning. And
then I meet men, and talk to them. There’s a man in my office who knows
all about the Flemish school. I was telling Miss Datchet about the
Flemish school. I picked up a lot of it from him--it’s a way men
have--Gibbons, his name is. You must meet him. We’ll ask him to lunch.
And this not caring about art,” he explained, turning to Mary, “it’s one
of Katharine’s poses, Miss Datchet. Did you know she posed? She pretends
that she’s never read Shakespeare. And why should she read Shakespeare,
since she IS Shakespeare--Rosalind, you know,” and he gave his queer
little chuckle. Somehow this compliment appeared very old-fashioned and
almost in bad taste. Mary actually felt herself blush, as if he had said
“the sex” or “the ladies.” Constrained, perhaps, by nervousness, Rodney
continued in the same vein.

“She knows enough--enough for all decent purposes. What do you women
want with learning, when you have so much else--everything, I should
say--everything. Leave us something, eh, Katharine?”

“Leave you something?” said Katharine, apparently waking from a brown
study. “I was thinking we must be going--”

“Is it to-night that Lady Ferrilby dines with us? No, we mustn’t be
late,” said Rodney, rising. “D’you know the Ferrilbys, Miss Datchet?
They own Trantem Abbey,” he added, for her information, as she looked
doubtful. “And if Katharine makes herself very charming to-night,
perhaps’ll lend it to us for the honeymoon.”

“I agree that may be a reason. Otherwise she’s a dull woman,” said
Katharine. “At least,” she added, as if to qualify her abruptness, “I
find it difficult to talk to her.”

“Because you expect every one else to take all the trouble. I’ve seen
her sit silent a whole evening,” he said, turning to Mary, as he had
frequently done already. “Don’t you find that, too? Sometimes when we’re
alone, I’ve counted the time on my watch”--here he took out a large gold
watch, and tapped the glass--“the time between one remark and the next.
And once I counted ten minutes and twenty seconds, and then, if you’ll
believe me, she only said ‘Um!’”

“I’m sure I’m sorry,” Katharine apologized. “I know it’s a bad habit,
but then, you see, at home--”

The rest of her excuse was cut short, so far as Mary was concerned,
by the closing of the door. She fancied she could hear William finding
fresh fault on the stairs. A moment later, the door-bell rang again, and
Katharine reappeared, having left her purse on a chair. She soon found
it, and said, pausing for a moment at the door, and speaking differently
as they were alone:

“I think being engaged is very bad for the character.” She shook her
purse in her hand until the coins jingled, as if she alluded merely
to this example of her forgetfulness. But the remark puzzled Mary;
it seemed to refer to something else; and her manner had changed so
strangely, now that William was out of hearing, that she could not help
looking at her for an explanation. She looked almost stern, so that
Mary, trying to smile at her, only succeeded in producing a silent stare
of interrogation.

As the door shut for the second time, she sank on to the floor in front
of the fire, trying, now that their bodies were not there to distract
her, to piece together her impressions of them as a whole. And, though
priding herself, with all other men and women, upon an infallible eye
for character, she could not feel at all certain that she knew what
motives inspired Katharine Hilbery in life. There was something
that carried her on smoothly, out of reach--something, yes, but
what?--something that reminded Mary of Ralph. Oddly enough, he gave
her the same feeling, too, and with him, too, she felt baffled. Oddly
enough, for no two people, she hastily concluded, were more unlike. And
yet both had this hidden impulse, this incalculable force--this thing
they cared for and didn’t talk about--oh, what was it?



CHAPTER XV

The village of Disham lies somewhere on the rolling piece of cultivated
ground in the neighborhood of Lincoln, not so far inland but that a
sound, bringing rumors of the sea, can be heard on summer nights or when
the winter storms fling the waves upon the long beach. So large is
the church, and in particular the church tower, in comparison with the
little street of cottages which compose the village, that the traveler
is apt to cast his mind back to the Middle Ages, as the only time when
so much piety could have been kept alive. So great a trust in the Church
can surely not belong to our day, and he goes on to conjecture that
every one of the villagers has reached the extreme limit of human life.
Such are the reflections of the superficial stranger, and his sight of
the population, as it is represented by two or three men hoeing in a
turnip-field, a small child carrying a jug, and a young woman shaking
a piece of carpet outside her cottage door, will not lead him to see
anything very much out of keeping with the Middle Ages in the village
of Disham as it is to-day. These people, though they seem young enough,
look so angular and so crude that they remind him of the little pictures
painted by monks in the capital letters of their manuscripts. He only
half understands what they say, and speaks very loud and clearly, as
though, indeed, his voice had to carry through a hundred years or
more before it reached them. He would have a far better chance of
understanding some dweller in Paris or Rome, Berlin or Madrid, than
these countrymen of his who have lived for the last two thousand years
not two hundred miles from the City of London.

The Rectory stands about half a mile beyond the village. It is a large
house, and has been growing steadily for some centuries round the great
kitchen, with its narrow red tiles, as the Rector would point out to
his guests on the first night of their arrival, taking his brass
candlestick, and bidding them mind the steps up and the steps down,
and notice the immense thickness of the walls, the old beams across the
ceiling, the staircases as steep as ladders, and the attics, with their
deep, tent-like roofs, in which swallows bred, and once a white owl.
But nothing very interesting or very beautiful had resulted from the
different additions made by the different rectors.

The house, however, was surrounded by a garden, in which the Rector took
considerable pride. The lawn, which fronted the drawing-room windows,
was a rich and uniform green, unspotted by a single daisy, and on the
other side of it two straight paths led past beds of tall, standing
flowers to a charming grassy walk, where the Rev. Wyndham Datchet would
pace up and down at the same hour every morning, with a sundial to
measure the time for him. As often as not, he carried a book in his
hand, into which he would glance, then shut it up, and repeat the rest
of the ode from memory. He had most of Horace by heart, and had got into
the habit of connecting this particular walk with certain odes which he
repeated duly, at the same time noting the condition of his flowers, and
stooping now and again to pick any that were withered or overblown. On
wet days, such was the power of habit over him, he rose from his chair
at the same hour, and paced his study for the same length of time,
pausing now and then to straighten some book in the bookcase, or
alter the position of the two brass crucifixes standing upon cairns of
serpentine stone upon the mantelpiece. His children had a great respect
for him, credited him with far more learning than he actually possessed,
and saw that his habits were not interfered with, if possible. Like most
people who do things methodically, the Rector himself had more
strength of purpose and power of self-sacrifice than of intellect or of
originality. On cold and windy nights he rode off to visit sick people,
who might need him, without a murmur; and by virtue of doing dull duties
punctually, he was much employed upon committees and local Boards and
Councils; and at this period of his life (he was sixty-eight) he was
beginning to be commiserated by tender old ladies for the extreme
leanness of his person, which, they said, was worn out upon the roads
when it should have been resting before a comfortable fire. His elder
daughter, Elizabeth, lived with him and managed the house, and already
much resembled him in dry sincerity and methodical habit of mind; of the
two sons one, Richard, was an estate agent, the other, Christopher, was
reading for the Bar. At Christmas, naturally, they met together; and for
a month past the arrangement of the Christmas week had been much in
the mind of mistress and maid, who prided themselves every year more
confidently upon the excellence of their equipment. The late Mrs.
Datchet had left an excellent cupboard of linen, to which Elizabeth had
succeeded at the age of nineteen, when her mother died, and the charge
of the family rested upon the shoulders of the eldest daughter. She kept
a fine flock of yellow chickens, sketched a little, certain rose-trees
in the garden were committed specially to her care; and what with the
care of the house, the care of the chickens, and the care of the
poor, she scarcely knew what it was to have an idle minute. An extreme
rectitude of mind, rather than any gift, gave her weight in the family.
When Mary wrote to say that she had asked Ralph Denham to stay with
them, she added, out of deference to Elizabeth’s character, that he
was very nice, though rather queer, and had been overworking himself in
London. No doubt Elizabeth would conclude that Ralph was in love with
her, but there could be no doubt either that not a word of this would be
spoken by either of them, unless, indeed, some catastrophe made mention
of it unavoidable.

Mary went down to Disham without knowing whether Ralph intended to come;
but two or three days before Christmas she received a telegram from
Ralph, asking her to take a room for him in the village. This was
followed by a letter explaining that he hoped he might have his meals
with them; but quiet, essential for his work, made it necessary to sleep
out.

Mary was walking in the garden with Elizabeth, and inspecting the roses,
when the letter arrived.

“But that’s absurd,” said Elizabeth decidedly, when the plan was
explained to her. “There are five spare rooms, even when the boys are
here. Besides, he wouldn’t get a room in the village. And he oughtn’t to
work if he’s overworked.”

“But perhaps he doesn’t want to see so much of us,” Mary thought to
herself, although outwardly she assented, and felt grateful to Elizabeth
for supporting her in what was, of course, her desire. They were cutting
roses at the time, and laying them, head by head, in a shallow basket.

“If Ralph were here, he’d find this very dull,” Mary thought, with a
little shiver of irritation, which led her to place her rose the wrong
way in the basket. Meanwhile, they had come to the end of the path, and
while Elizabeth straightened some flowers, and made them stand upright
within their fence of string, Mary looked at her father, who was
pacing up and down, with his hand behind his back and his head bowed
in meditation. Obeying an impulse which sprang from some desire to
interrupt this methodical marching, Mary stepped on to the grass walk
and put her hand on his arm.

“A flower for your buttonhole, father,” she said, presenting a rose.

“Eh, dear?” said Mr. Datchet, taking the flower, and holding it at an
angle which suited his bad eyesight, without pausing in his walk.

“Where does this fellow come from? One of Elizabeth’s roses--I hope you
asked her leave. Elizabeth doesn’t like having her roses picked without
her leave, and quite right, too.”

He had a habit, Mary remarked, and she had never noticed it so clearly
before, of letting his sentences tail away in a continuous murmur,
whereupon he passed into a state of abstraction, presumed by his
children to indicate some train of thought too profound for utterance.

“What?” said Mary, interrupting, for the first time in her life,
perhaps, when the murmur ceased. He made no reply. She knew very well
that he wished to be left alone, but she stuck to his side much as
she might have stuck to some sleep-walker, whom she thought it right
gradually to awaken. She could think of nothing to rouse him with
except:

“The garden’s looking very nice, father.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said Mr. Datchet, running his words together in the
same abstracted manner, and sinking his head yet lower upon his breast.
And suddenly, as they turned their steps to retrace their way, he jerked
out:

“The traffic’s very much increased, you know. More rolling-stock needed
already. Forty trucks went down yesterday by the 12.15--counted them
myself. They’ve taken off the 9.3, and given us an 8.30 instead--suits
the business men, you know. You came by the old 3.10 yesterday, I
suppose?”

She said “Yes,” as he seemed to wish for a reply, and then he looked
at his watch, and made off down the path towards the house, holding the
rose at the same angle in front of him. Elizabeth had gone round to the
side of the house, where the chickens lived, so that Mary found herself
alone, holding Ralph’s letter in her hand. She was uneasy. She had put
off the season for thinking things out very successfully, and now that
Ralph was actually coming, the next day, she could only wonder how her
family would impress him. She thought it likely that her father would
discuss the train service with him; Elizabeth would be bright and
sensible, and always leaving the room to give messages to the servants.
Her brothers had already said that they would give him a day’s shooting.
She was content to leave the problem of Ralph’s relations to the
young men obscure, trusting that they would find some common ground of
masculine agreement. But what would he think of HER? Would he see that
she was different from the rest of the family? She devised a plan for
taking him to her sitting-room, and artfully leading the talk towards
the English poets, who now occupied prominent places in her little
bookcase. Moreover, she might give him to understand, privately, that
she, too, thought her family a queer one--queer, yes, but not dull. That
was the rock past which she was bent on steering him. And she thought
how she would draw his attention to Edward’s passion for Jorrocks, and
the enthusiasm which led Christopher to collect moths and butterflies
though he was now twenty-two. Perhaps Elizabeth’s sketching, if the
fruits were invisible, might lend color to the general effect which she
wished to produce of a family, eccentric and limited, perhaps, but
not dull. Edward, she perceived, was rolling the lawn, for the sake of
exercise; and the sight of him, with pink cheeks, bright little brown
eyes, and a general resemblance to a clumsy young cart-horse in its
winter coat of dusty brown hair, made Mary violently ashamed of her
ambitious scheming. She loved him precisely as he was; she loved them
all; and as she walked by his side, up and down, and down and up,
her strong moral sense administered a sound drubbing to the vain and
romantic element aroused in her by the mere thought of Ralph. She felt
quite certain that, for good or for bad, she was very like the rest of
her family.

Sitting in the corner of a third-class railway carriage, on the
afternoon of the following day, Ralph made several inquiries of a
commercial traveler in the opposite corner. They centered round a
village called Lampsher, not three miles, he understood, from Lincoln;
was there a big house in Lampsher, he asked, inhabited by a gentleman of
the name of Otway?

The traveler knew nothing, but rolled the name of Otway on his tongue,
reflectively, and the sound of it gratified Ralph amazingly. It gave
him an excuse to take a letter from his pocket in order to verify the
address.

“Stogdon House, Lampsher, Lincoln,” he read out.

“You’ll find somebody to direct you at Lincoln,” said the man; and Ralph
had to confess that he was not bound there this very evening.

“I’ve got to walk over from Disham,” he said, and in the heart of him
could not help marveling at the pleasure which he derived from making
a bagman in a train believe what he himself did not believe. For the
letter, though signed by Katharine’s father, contained no invitation or
warrant for thinking that Katharine herself was there; the only fact it
disclosed was that for a fortnight this address would be Mr. Hilbery’s
address. But when he looked out of the window, it was of her he thought;
she, too, had seen these gray fields, and, perhaps, she was there where
the trees ran up a slope, and one yellow light shone now, and then went
out again, at the foot of the hill. The light shone in the windows of
an old gray house, he thought. He lay back in his corner and forgot the
commercial traveler altogether. The process of visualizing Katharine
stopped short at the old gray manor-house; instinct warned him that if
he went much further with this process reality would soon force itself
in; he could not altogether neglect the figure of William Rodney. Since
the day when he had heard from Katharine’s lips of her engagement, he
had refrained from investing his dream of her with the details of
real life. But the light of the late afternoon glowed green behind the
straight trees, and became a symbol of her. The light seemed to expand
his heart. She brooded over the gray fields, and was with him now in
the railway carriage, thoughtful, silent, and infinitely tender; but
the vision pressed too close, and must be dismissed, for the train
was slackening. Its abrupt jerks shook him wide awake, and he saw Mary
Datchet, a sturdy russet figure, with a dash of scarlet about it, as the
carriage slid down the platform. A tall youth who accompanied her shook
him by the hand, took his bag, and led the way without uttering one
articulate word.

Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter’s evening, when dusk almost
hides the body, and they seem to issue from nothingness with a note of
intimacy seldom heard by day. Such an edge was there in Mary’s voice
when she greeted him. About her seemed to hang the mist of the winter
hedges, and the clear red of the bramble leaves. He felt himself at once
stepping on to the firm ground of an entirely different world, but he
did not allow himself to yield to the pleasure of it directly. They
gave him his choice of driving with Edward or of walking home across the
fields with Mary--not a shorter way, they explained, but Mary thought it
a nicer way. He decided to walk with her, being conscious, indeed,
that he got comfort from her presence. What could be the cause of her
cheerfulness, he wondered, half ironically, and half enviously, as the
pony-cart started briskly away, and the dusk swam between their eyes
and the tall form of Edward, standing up to drive, with the reins in one
hand and the whip in the other. People from the village, who had been to
the market town, were climbing into their gigs, or setting off home down
the road together in little parties. Many salutations were addressed
to Mary, who shouted back, with the addition of the speaker’s name. But
soon she led the way over a stile, and along a path worn slightly darker
than the dim green surrounding it. In front of them the sky now showed
itself of a reddish-yellow, like a slice of some semilucent stone behind
which a lamp burnt, while a fringe of black trees with distinct branches
stood against the light, which was obscured in one direction by a hump
of earth, in all other directions the land lying flat to the very verge
of the sky. One of the swift and noiseless birds of the winter’s night
seemed to follow them across the field, circling a few feet in front of
them, disappearing and returning again and again.

Mary had gone this walk many hundred times in the course of her life,
generally alone, and at different stages the ghosts of past moods would
flood her mind with a whole scene or train of thought merely at the
sight of three trees from a particular angle, or at the sound of the
pheasant clucking in the ditch. But to-night the circumstances were
strong enough to oust all other scenes; and she looked at the field
and the trees with an involuntary intensity as if they had no such
associations for her.

“Well, Ralph,” she said, “this is better than Lincoln’s Inn Fields,
isn’t it? Look, there’s a bird for you! Oh, you’ve brought glasses, have
you? Edward and Christopher mean to make you shoot. Can you shoot? I
shouldn’t think so--”

“Look here, you must explain,” said Ralph. “Who are these young men?
Where am I staying?”

“You are staying with us, of course,” she said boldly. “Of course,
you’re staying with us--you don’t mind coming, do you?”

“If I had, I shouldn’t have come,” he said sturdily. They walked on in
silence; Mary took care not to break it for a time. She wished Ralph to
feel, as she thought he would, all the fresh delights of the earth and
air. She was right. In a moment he expressed his pleasure, much to her
comfort.

“This is the sort of country I thought you’d live in, Mary,” he said,
pushing his hat back on his head, and looking about him. “Real country.
No gentlemen’s seats.”

He snuffed the air, and felt more keenly than he had done for many weeks
the pleasure of owning a body.

“Now we have to find our way through a hedge,” said Mary. In the gap of
the hedge Ralph tore up a poacher’s wire, set across a hole to trap a
rabbit.

“It’s quite right that they should poach,” said Mary, watching him
tugging at the wire. “I wonder whether it was Alfred Duggins or Sid
Rankin? How can one expect them not to, when they only make fifteen
shillings a week? Fifteen shillings a week,” she repeated, coming out on
the other side of the hedge, and running her fingers through her hair to
rid herself of a bramble which had attached itself to her. “I could live
on fifteen shillings a week--easily.”

“Could you?” said Ralph. “I don’t believe you could,” he added.

“Oh yes. They have a cottage thrown in, and a garden where one can grow
vegetables. It wouldn’t be half bad,” said Mary, with a soberness which
impressed Ralph very much.

“But you’d get tired of it,” he urged.

“I sometimes think it’s the only thing one would never get tired of,”
 she replied.

The idea of a cottage where one grew one’s own vegetables and lived on
fifteen shillings a week, filled Ralph with an extraordinary sense of
rest and satisfaction.

“But wouldn’t it be on the main road, or next door to a woman with
six squalling children, who’d always be hanging her washing out to dry
across your garden?”

“The cottage I’m thinking of stands by itself in a little orchard.”

“And what about the Suffrage?” he asked, attempting sarcasm.

“Oh, there are other things in the world besides the Suffrage,” she
replied, in an off-hand manner which was slightly mysterious.

Ralph fell silent. It annoyed him that she should have plans of which he
knew nothing; but he felt that he had no right to press her further. His
mind settled upon the idea of life in a country cottage. Conceivably,
for he could not examine into it now, here lay a tremendous possibility;
a solution of many problems. He struck his stick upon the earth, and
stared through the dusk at the shape of the country.

“D’you know the points of the compass?” he asked.

“Well, of course,” said Mary. “What d’you take me for?--a Cockney like
you?” She then told him exactly where the north lay, and where the
south.

“It’s my native land, this,” she said. “I could smell my way about it
blindfold.”

As if to prove this boast, she walked a little quicker, so that Ralph
found it difficult to keep pace with her. At the same time, he felt
drawn to her as he had never been before; partly, no doubt, because she
was more independent of him than in London, and seemed to be attached
firmly to a world where he had no place at all. Now the dusk had fallen
to such an extent that he had to follow her implicitly, and even lean
his hand on her shoulder when they jumped a bank into a very narrow
lane. And he felt curiously shy of her when she began to shout through
her hands at a spot of light which swung upon the mist in a neighboring
field. He shouted, too, and the light stood still.

“That’s Christopher, come in already, and gone to feed his chickens,”
 she said.

She introduced him to Ralph, who could see only a tall figure in
gaiters, rising from a fluttering circle of soft feathery bodies, upon
whom the light fell in wavering discs, calling out now a bright spot of
yellow, now one of greenish-black and scarlet. Mary dipped her hand in
the bucket he carried, and was at once the center of a circle also; and
as she cast her grain she talked alternately to the birds and to her
brother, in the same clucking, half-inarticulate voice, as it sounded to
Ralph, standing on the outskirts of the fluttering feathers in his black
overcoat.

He had removed his overcoat by the time they sat round the dinner-table,
but nevertheless he looked very strange among the others. A country life
and breeding had preserved in them all a look which Mary hesitated to
call either innocent or youthful, as she compared them, now sitting
round in an oval, softly illuminated by candlelight; and yet it was
something of the kind, yes, even in the case of the Rector himself.
Though superficially marked with lines, his face was a clear pink, and
his blue eyes had the long-sighted, peaceful expression of eyes seeking
the turn of the road, or a distant light through rain, or the darkness
of winter. She looked at Ralph. He had never appeared to her more
concentrated and full of purpose; as if behind his forehead were massed
so much experience that he could choose for himself which part of it
he would display and which part he would keep to himself. Compared with
that dark and stern countenance, her brothers’ faces, bending low over
their soup-plates, were mere circles of pink, unmolded flesh.

“You came by the 3.10, Mr. Denham?” said the Reverend Wyndham Datchet,
tucking his napkin into his collar, so that almost the whole of his body
was concealed by a large white diamond. “They treat us very well, on
the whole. Considering the increase of traffic, they treat us very well
indeed. I have the curiosity sometimes to count the trucks on the goods’
trains, and they’re well over fifty--well over fifty, at this season of
the year.”

The old gentleman had been roused agreeably by the presence of this
attentive and well-informed young man, as was evident by the care
with which he finished the last words in his sentences, and his slight
exaggeration in the number of trucks on the trains. Indeed, the chief
burden of the talk fell upon him, and he sustained it to-night in a
manner which caused his sons to look at him admiringly now and then; for
they felt shy of Denham, and were glad not to have to talk themselves.
The store of information about the present and past of this particular
corner of Lincolnshire which old Mr. Datchet produced really surprised
his children, for though they knew of its existence, they had forgotten
its extent, as they might have forgotten the amount of family plate
stored in the plate-chest, until some rare celebration brought it forth.

After dinner, parish business took the Rector to his study, and Mary
proposed that they should sit in the kitchen.

“It’s not the kitchen really,” Elizabeth hastened to explain to her
guest, “but we call it so--”

“It’s the nicest room in the house,” said Edward.

“It’s got the old rests by the side of the fireplace, where the men
hung their guns,” said Elizabeth, leading the way, with a tall brass
candlestick in her hand, down a passage. “Show Mr. Denham the steps,
Christopher.... When the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were here two
years ago they said this was the most interesting part of the house.
These narrow bricks prove that it is five hundred years old--five
hundred years, I think--they may have said six.” She, too, felt
an impulse to exaggerate the age of the bricks, as her father had
exaggerated the number of trucks. A big lamp hung down from the center
of the ceiling and, together with a fine log fire, illuminated a large
and lofty room, with rafters running from wall to wall, a floor of red
tiles, and a substantial fireplace built up of those narrow red
bricks which were said to be five hundred years old. A few rugs and
a sprinkling of arm-chairs had made this ancient kitchen into a
sitting-room. Elizabeth, after pointing out the gun-racks, and the
hooks for smoking hams, and other evidence of incontestable age,
and explaining that Mary had had the idea of turning the room into a
sitting-room--otherwise it was used for hanging out the wash and for the
men to change in after shooting--considered that she had done her duty
as hostess, and sat down in an upright chair directly beneath the lamp,
beside a very long and narrow oak table. She placed a pair of horn
spectacles upon her nose, and drew towards her a basketful of threads
and wools. In a few minutes a smile came to her face, and remained there
for the rest of the evening.

“Will you come out shooting with us to-morrow?” said Christopher, who
had, on the whole, formed a favorable impression of his sister’s friend.

“I won’t shoot, but I’ll come with you,” said Ralph.

“Don’t you care about shooting?” asked Edward, whose suspicions were not
yet laid to rest.

“I’ve never shot in my life,” said Ralph, turning and looking him in the
face, because he was not sure how this confession would be received.

“You wouldn’t have much chance in London, I suppose,” said Christopher.
“But won’t you find it rather dull--just watching us?”

“I shall watch birds,” Ralph replied, with a smile.

“I can show you the place for watching birds,” said Edward, “if that’s
what you like doing. I know a fellow who comes down from London about
this time every year to watch them. It’s a great place for the wild
geese and the ducks. I’ve heard this man say that it’s one of the best
places for birds in the country.”

“It’s about the best place in England,” Ralph replied. They were all
gratified by this praise of their native county; and Mary now had
the pleasure of hearing these short questions and answers lose their
undertone of suspicious inspection, so far as her brothers were
concerned, and develop into a genuine conversation about the habits
of birds which afterwards turned to a discussion as to the habits of
solicitors, in which it was scarcely necessary for her to take part. She
was pleased to see that her brothers liked Ralph, to the extent, that
is, of wishing to secure his good opinion. Whether or not he liked them
it was impossible to tell from his kind but experienced manner. Now and
then she fed the fire with a fresh log, and as the room filled with
the fine, dry heat of burning wood, they all, with the exception of
Elizabeth, who was outside the range of the fire, felt less and less
anxious about the effect they were making, and more and more inclined
for sleep. At this moment a vehement scratching was heard on the door.

“Piper!--oh, damn!--I shall have to get up,” murmured Christopher.

“It’s not Piper, it’s Pitch,” Edward grunted.

“All the same, I shall have to get up,” Christopher grumbled. He let
in the dog, and stood for a moment by the door, which opened into the
garden, to revive himself with a draught of the black, starlit air.

“Do come in and shut the door!” Mary cried, half turning in her chair.

“We shall have a fine day to-morrow,” said Christopher with complacency,
and he sat himself on the floor at her feet, and leant his back against
her knees, and stretched out his long stockinged legs to the fire--all
signs that he felt no longer any restraint at the presence of the
stranger. He was the youngest of the family, and Mary’s favorite, partly
because his character resembled hers, as Edward’s character resembled
Elizabeth’s. She made her knees a comfortable rest for his head, and ran
her fingers through his hair.

“I should like Mary to stroke my head like that,” Ralph thought to
himself suddenly, and he looked at Christopher, almost affectionately,
for calling forth his sister’s caresses. Instantly he thought of
Katharine, the thought of her being surrounded by the spaces of night
and the open air; and Mary, watching him, saw the lines upon his
forehead suddenly deepen. He stretched out an arm and placed a log upon
the fire, constraining himself to fit it carefully into the frail red
scaffolding, and also to limit his thoughts to this one room.

Mary had ceased to stroke her brother’s head; he moved it impatiently
between her knees, and, much as though he were a child, she began once
more to part the thick, reddish-colored locks this way and that. But
a far stronger passion had taken possession of her soul than any her
brother could inspire in her, and, seeing Ralph’s change of expression,
her hand almost automatically continued its movements, while her mind
plunged desperately for some hold upon slippery banks.



CHAPTER XVI

Into that same black night, almost, indeed, into the very same layer of
starlit air, Katharine Hilbery was now gazing, although not with a view
to the prospects of a fine day for duck shooting on the morrow. She was
walking up and down a gravel path in the garden of Stogdon House, her
sight of the heavens being partially intercepted by the light leafless
hoops of a pergola. Thus a spray of clematis would completely obscure
Cassiopeia, or blot out with its black pattern myriads of miles of the
Milky Way. At the end of the pergola, however, there was a stone seat,
from which the sky could be seen completely swept clear of any earthly
interruption, save to the right, indeed, where a line of elm-trees was
beautifully sprinkled with stars, and a low stable building had a full
drop of quivering silver just issuing from the mouth of the chimney. It
was a moonless night, but the light of the stars was sufficient to show
the outline of the young woman’s form, and the shape of her face gazing
gravely, indeed almost sternly, into the sky. She had come out into
the winter’s night, which was mild enough, not so much to look with
scientific eyes upon the stars, as to shake herself free from certain
purely terrestrial discontents. Much as a literary person in like
circumstances would begin, absent-mindedly, pulling out volume after
volume, so she stepped into the garden in order to have the stars at
hand, even though she did not look at them. Not to be happy, when she
was supposed to be happier than she would ever be again--that, as far as
she could see, was the origin of a discontent which had begun almost as
soon as she arrived, two days before, and seemed now so intolerable
that she had left the family party, and come out here to consider it by
herself. It was not she who thought herself unhappy, but her cousins,
who thought it for her. The house was full of cousins, much of her age,
or even younger, and among them they had some terribly bright eyes. They
seemed always on the search for something between her and Rodney, which
they expected to find, and yet did not find; and when they searched,
Katharine became aware of wanting what she had not been conscious of
wanting in London, alone with William and her parents. Or, if she
did not want it, she missed it. And this state of mind depressed her,
because she had been accustomed always to give complete satisfaction,
and her self-love was now a little ruffled. She would have liked to
break through the reserve habitual to her in order to justify her
engagement to some one whose opinion she valued. No one had spoken a
word of criticism, but they left her alone with William; not that that
would have mattered, if they had not left her alone so politely; and,
perhaps, that would not have mattered if they had not seemed so queerly
silent, almost respectful, in her presence, which gave way to criticism,
she felt, out of it.

Looking now and then at the sky, she went through the list of her
cousins’ names: Eleanor, Humphrey, Marmaduke, Silvia, Henry, Cassandra,
Gilbert, and Mostyn--Henry, the cousin who taught the young ladies
of Bungay to play upon the violin, was the only one in whom she could
confide, and as she walked up and down beneath the hoops of the pergola,
she did begin a little speech to him, which ran something like this:

“To begin with, I’m very fond of William. You can’t deny that. I know
him better than any one, almost. But why I’m marrying him is, partly,
I admit--I’m being quite honest with you, and you mustn’t tell any
one--partly because I want to get married. I want to have a house of my
own. It isn’t possible at home. It’s all very well for you, Henry; you
can go your own way. I have to be there always. Besides, you know what
our house is. You wouldn’t be happy either, if you didn’t do something.
It isn’t that I haven’t the time at home--it’s the atmosphere.” Here,
presumably, she imagined that her cousin, who had listened with
his usual intelligent sympathy, raised his eyebrows a little, and
interposed:

“Well, but what do you want to do?”

Even in this purely imaginary dialogue, Katharine found it difficult to
confide her ambition to an imaginary companion.

“I should like,” she began, and hesitated quite a long time before she
forced herself to add, with a change of voice, “to study mathematics--to
know about the stars.”

Henry was clearly amazed, but too kind to express all his doubts; he
only said something about the difficulties of mathematics, and remarked
that very little was known about the stars.

Katharine thereupon went on with the statement of her case.

“I don’t care much whether I ever get to know anything--but I want to
work out something in figures--something that hasn’t got to do with
human beings. I don’t want people particularly. In some ways, Henry, I’m
a humbug--I mean, I’m not what you all take me for. I’m not domestic, or
very practical or sensible, really. And if I could calculate things, and
use a telescope, and have to work out figures, and know to a fraction
where I was wrong, I should be perfectly happy, and I believe I should
give William all he wants.”

Having reached this point, instinct told her that she had passed beyond
the region in which Henry’s advice could be of any good; and, having rid
her mind of its superficial annoyance, she sat herself upon the stone
seat, raised her eyes unconsciously and thought about the deeper
questions which she had to decide, she knew, for herself. Would she,
indeed, give William all he wanted? In order to decide the question, she
ran her mind rapidly over her little collection of significant sayings,
looks, compliments, gestures, which had marked their intercourse during
the last day or two. He had been annoyed because a box, containing some
clothes specially chosen by him for her to wear, had been taken to the
wrong station, owing to her neglect in the matter of labels. The box had
arrived in the nick of time, and he had remarked, as she came downstairs
on the first night, that he had never seen her look more beautiful. She
outshone all her cousins. He had discovered that she never made an ugly
movement; he also said that the shape of her head made it possible for
her, unlike most women, to wear her hair low. He had twice reproved
her for being silent at dinner; and once for never attending to what he
said. He had been surprised at the excellence of her French accent, but
he thought it was selfish of her not to go with her mother to call
upon the Middletons, because they were old family friends and very nice
people. On the whole, the balance was nearly even; and, writing down a
kind of conclusion in her mind which finished the sum for the present,
at least, she changed the focus of her eyes, and saw nothing but the
stars.

To-night they seemed fixed with unusual firmness in the blue, and
flashed back such a ripple of light into her eyes that she found herself
thinking that to-night the stars were happy. Without knowing or caring
more for Church practices than most people of her age, Katharine could
not look into the sky at Christmas time without feeling that, at this
one season, the Heavens bend over the earth with sympathy, and signal
with immortal radiance that they, too, take part in her festival.
Somehow, it seemed to her that they were even now beholding the
procession of kings and wise men upon some road on a distant part of
the earth. And yet, after gazing for another second, the stars did their
usual work upon the mind, froze to cinders the whole of our short
human history, and reduced the human body to an ape-like, furry form,
crouching amid the brushwood of a barbarous clod of mud. This stage was
soon succeeded by another, in which there was nothing in the universe
save stars and the light of stars; as she looked up the pupils of her
eyes so dilated with starlight that the whole of her seemed dissolved
in silver and spilt over the ledges of the stars for ever and
ever indefinitely through space. Somehow simultaneously, though
incongruously, she was riding with the magnanimous hero upon the shore
or under forest trees, and so might have continued were it not for the
rebuke forcibly administered by the body, which, content with the normal
conditions of life, in no way furthers any attempt on the part of the
mind to alter them. She grew cold, shook herself, rose, and walked
towards the house.

By the light of the stars, Stogdon House looked pale and romantic, and
about twice its natural size. Built by a retired admiral in the early
years of the nineteenth century, the curving bow windows of the front,
now filled with reddish-yellow light, suggested a portly three-decker,
sailing seas where those dolphins and narwhals who disport themselves
upon the edges of old maps were scattered with an impartial hand. A
semicircular flight of shallow steps led to a very large door, which
Katharine had left ajar. She hesitated, cast her eyes over the front of
the house, marked that a light burnt in one small window upon an upper
floor, and pushed the door open. For a moment she stood in the square
hall, among many horned skulls, sallow globes, cracked oil-paintings,
and stuffed owls, hesitating, it seemed, whether she should open the
door on her right, through which the stir of life reached her ears.
Listening for a moment, she heard a sound which decided her, apparently,
not to enter; her uncle, Sir Francis, was playing his nightly game of
whist; it appeared probable that he was losing.

She went up the curving stairway, which represented the one attempt at
ceremony in the otherwise rather dilapidated mansion, and down a narrow
passage until she came to the room whose light she had seen from the
garden. Knocking, she was told to come in. A young man, Henry Otway,
was reading, with his feet on the fender. He had a fine head, the brow
arched in the Elizabethan manner, but the gentle, honest eyes were
rather skeptical than glowing with the Elizabethan vigor. He gave
the impression that he had not yet found the cause which suited his
temperament.

He turned, put down his book, and looked at her. He noticed her rather
pale, dew-drenched look, as of one whose mind is not altogether settled
in the body. He had often laid his difficulties before her, and guessed,
in some ways hoped, that perhaps she now had need of him. At the same
time, she carried on her life with such independence that he scarcely
expected any confidence to be expressed in words.

“You have fled, too, then?” he said, looking at her cloak. Katharine had
forgotten to remove this token of her star-gazing.

“Fled?” she asked. “From whom d’you mean? Oh, the family party. Yes, it
was hot down there, so I went into the garden.”

“And aren’t you very cold?” Henry inquired, placing coal on the fire,
drawing a chair up to the grate, and laying aside her cloak. Her
indifference to such details often forced Henry to act the part
generally taken by women in such dealings. It was one of the ties
between them.

“Thank you, Henry,” she said. “I’m not disturbing you?”

“I’m not here. I’m at Bungay,” he replied. “I’m giving a music lesson
to Harold and Julia. That was why I had to leave the table with the
ladies--I’m spending the night there, and I shan’t be back till late on
Christmas Eve.”

“How I wish--” Katharine began, and stopped short. “I think these
parties are a great mistake,” she added briefly, and sighed.

“Oh, horrible!” he agreed; and they both fell silent.

Her sigh made him look at her. Should he venture to ask her why she
sighed? Was her reticence about her own affairs as inviolable as it had
often been convenient for rather an egoistical young man to think it?
But since her engagement to Rodney, Henry’s feeling towards her had
become rather complex; equally divided between an impulse to hurt her
and an impulse to be tender to her; and all the time he suffered a
curious irritation from the sense that she was drifting away from him
for ever upon unknown seas. On her side, directly Katharine got into his
presence, and the sense of the stars dropped from her, she knew that any
intercourse between people is extremely partial; from the whole mass of
her feelings, only one or two could be selected for Henry’s inspection,
and therefore she sighed. Then she looked at him, and their eyes
meeting, much more seemed to be in common between them than had appeared
possible. At any rate they had a grandfather in common; at any rate
there was a kind of loyalty between them sometimes found between
relations who have no other cause to like each other, as these two had.

“Well, what’s the date of the wedding?” said Henry, the malicious mood
now predominating.

“I think some time in March,” she replied.

“And afterwards?” he asked.

“We take a house, I suppose, somewhere in Chelsea.”

“It’s very interesting,” he observed, stealing another look at her.

She lay back in her arm-chair, her feet high upon the side of the grate,
and in front of her, presumably to screen her eyes, she held a newspaper
from which she picked up a sentence or two now and again. Observing
this, Henry remarked:

“Perhaps marriage will make you more human.”

At this she lowered the newspaper an inch or two, but said nothing.
Indeed, she sat quite silent for over a minute.

“When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don’t seem to
matter very much, do they?” she said suddenly.

“I don’t think I ever do consider things like the stars,” Henry replied.
“I’m not sure that that’s not the explanation, though,” he added, now
observing her steadily.

“I doubt whether there is an explanation,” she replied rather hurriedly,
not clearly understanding what he meant.

“What? No explanation of anything?” he inquired, with a smile.

“Oh, things happen. That’s about all,” she let drop in her casual,
decided way.

“That certainly seems to explain some of your actions,” Henry thought to
himself.

“One thing’s about as good as another, and one’s got to do something,”
 he said aloud, expressing what he supposed to be her attitude, much in
her accent. Perhaps she detected the imitation, for looking gently at
him, she said, with ironical composure:

“Well, if you believe that your life must be simple, Henry.”

“But I don’t believe it,” he said shortly.

“No more do I,” she replied.

“What about the stars?” he asked a moment later. “I understand that you
rule your life by the stars?”

She let this pass, either because she did not attend to it, or because
the tone was not to her liking.

Once more she paused, and then she inquired:

“But do you always understand why you do everything? Ought one to
understand? People like my mother understand,” she reflected. “Now I
must go down to them, I suppose, and see what’s happening.”

“What could be happening?” Henry protested.

“Oh, they may want to settle something,” she replied vaguely, putting
her feet on the ground, resting her chin on her hands, and looking out
of her large dark eyes contemplatively at the fire.

“And then there’s William,” she added, as if by an afterthought.

Henry very nearly laughed, but restrained himself.

“Do they know what coals are made of, Henry?” she asked, a moment later.

“Mares’ tails, I believe,” he hazarded.

“Have you ever been down a coal-mine?” she went on.

“Don’t let’s talk about coal-mines, Katharine,” he protested. “We shall
probably never see each other again. When you’re married--”

Tremendously to his surprise, he saw the tears stand in her eyes.

“Why do you all tease me?” she said. “It isn’t kind.”

Henry could not pretend that he was altogether ignorant of her meaning,
though, certainly, he had never guessed that she minded the teasing. But
before he knew what to say, her eyes were clear again, and the sudden
crack in the surface was almost filled up.

“Things aren’t easy, anyhow,” she stated.

Obeying an impulse of genuine affection, Henry spoke.

“Promise me, Katharine, that if I can ever help you, you will let me.”

She seemed to consider, looking once more into the red of the fire, and
decided to refrain from any explanation.

“Yes, I promise that,” she said at length, and Henry felt himself
gratified by her complete sincerity, and began to tell her now about the
coal-mine, in obedience to her love of facts.

They were, indeed, descending the shaft in a small cage, and could hear
the picks of the miners, something like the gnawing of rats, in the
earth beneath them, when the door was burst open, without any knocking.

“Well, here you are!” Rodney exclaimed. Both Katharine and Henry turned
round very quickly and rather guiltily. Rodney was in evening dress. It
was clear that his temper was ruffled.

“That’s where you’ve been all the time,” he repeated, looking at
Katharine.

“I’ve only been here about ten minutes,” she replied.

“My dear Katharine, you left the drawing-room over an hour ago.”

She said nothing.

“Does it very much matter?” Henry asked.

Rodney found it hard to be unreasonable in the presence of another man,
and did not answer him.

“They don’t like it,” he said. “It isn’t kind to old people to leave
them alone--although I’ve no doubt it’s much more amusing to sit up here
and talk to Henry.”

“We were discussing coal-mines,” said Henry urbanely.

“Yes. But we were talking about much more interesting things before
that,” said Katharine.

From the apparent determination to hurt him with which she spoke, Henry
thought that some sort of explosion on Rodney’s part was about to take
place.

“I can quite understand that,” said Rodney, with his little chuckle,
leaning over the back of his chair and tapping the woodwork lightly
with his fingers. They were all silent, and the silence was acutely
uncomfortable to Henry, at least.

“Was it very dull, William?” Katharine suddenly asked, with a complete
change of tone and a little gesture of her hand.

“Of course it was dull,” William said sulkily.

“Well, you stay and talk to Henry, and I’ll go down,” she replied.

She rose as she spoke, and as she turned to leave the room, she laid
her hand, with a curiously caressing gesture, upon Rodney’s shoulder.
Instantly Rodney clasped her hand in his, with such an impulse of
emotion that Henry was annoyed, and rather ostentatiously opened a book.

“I shall come down with you,” said William, as she drew back her hand,
and made as if to pass him.

“Oh no,” she said hastily. “You stay here and talk to Henry.”

“Yes, do,” said Henry, shutting up his book again. His invitation was
polite, without being precisely cordial. Rodney evidently hesitated as
to the course he should pursue, but seeing Katharine at the door, he
exclaimed:

“No. I want to come with you.”

She looked back, and said in a very commanding tone, and with an
expression of authority upon her face:

“It’s useless for you to come. I shall go to bed in ten minutes. Good
night.”

She nodded to them both, but Henry could not help noticing that her last
nod was in his direction. Rodney sat down rather heavily.

His mortification was so obvious that Henry scarcely liked to open the
conversation with some remark of a literary character. On the other
hand, unless he checked him, Rodney might begin to talk about his
feelings, and irreticence is apt to be extremely painful, at any rate in
prospect. He therefore adopted a middle course; that is to say, he
wrote a note upon the fly-leaf of his book, which ran, “The situation
is becoming most uncomfortable.” This he decorated with those flourishes
and decorative borders which grow of themselves upon these occasions;
and as he did so, he thought to himself that whatever Katharine’s
difficulties might be, they did not justify her behavior. She had spoken
with a kind of brutality which suggested that, whether it is natural or
assumed, women have a peculiar blindness to the feelings of men.

The penciling of this note gave Rodney time to recover himself. Perhaps,
for he was a very vain man, he was more hurt that Henry had seen him
rebuffed than by the rebuff itself. He was in love with Katharine,
and vanity is not decreased but increased by love; especially, one may
hazard, in the presence of one’s own sex. But Rodney enjoyed the courage
which springs from that laughable and lovable defect, and when he had
mastered his first impulse, in some way to make a fool of himself, he
drew inspiration from the perfect fit of his evening dress. He chose a
cigarette, tapped it on the back of his hand, displayed his exquisite
pumps on the edge of the fender, and summoned his self-respect.

“You’ve several big estates round here, Otway,” he began. “Any good
hunting? Let me see, what pack would it be? Who’s your great man?”

“Sir William Budge, the sugar king, has the biggest estate. He bought
out poor Stanham, who went bankrupt.”

“Which Stanham would that be? Verney or Alfred?”

“Alfred.... I don’t hunt myself. You’re a great huntsman, aren’t you?
You have a great reputation as a horseman, anyhow,” he added, desiring
to help Rodney in his effort to recover his complacency.

“Oh, I love riding,” Rodney replied. “Could I get a horse down here?
Stupid of me! I forgot to bring any clothes. I can’t imagine, though,
who told you I was anything of a rider?”

To tell the truth, Henry labored under the same difficulty; he did not
wish to introduce Katharine’s name, and, therefore, he replied vaguely
that he had always heard that Rodney was a great rider. In truth, he
had heard very little about him, one way or another, accepting him as
a figure often to be found in the background at his aunt’s house, and
inevitably, though inexplicably, engaged to his cousin.

“I don’t care much for shooting,” Rodney continued; “but one has to do
it, unless one wants to be altogether out of things. I dare say there’s
some very pretty country round here. I stayed once at Bolham Hall. Young
Cranthorpe was up with you, wasn’t he? He married old Lord Bolham’s
daughter. Very nice people--in their way.”

“I don’t mix in that society,” Henry remarked, rather shortly. But
Rodney, now started on an agreeable current of reflection, could not
resist the temptation of pursuing it a little further. He appeared to
himself as a man who moved easily in very good society, and knew enough
about the true values of life to be himself above it.

“Oh, but you should,” he went on. “It’s well worth staying there,
anyhow, once a year. They make one very comfortable, and the women are
ravishing.”

“The women?” Henry thought to himself, with disgust. “What could any
woman see in you?” His tolerance was rapidly becoming exhausted, but
he could not help liking Rodney nevertheless, and this appeared to him
strange, for he was fastidious, and such words in another mouth would
have condemned the speaker irreparably. He began, in short, to wonder
what kind of creature this man who was to marry his cousin might be.
Could any one, except a rather singular character, afford to be so
ridiculously vain?

“I don’t think I should get on in that society,” he replied. “I don’t
think I should know what to say to Lady Rose if I met her.”

“I don’t find any difficulty,” Rodney chuckled. “You talk to them about
their children, if they have any, or their accomplishments--painting,
gardening, poetry--they’re so delightfully sympathetic. Seriously, you
know I think a woman’s opinion of one’s poetry is always worth having.
Don’t ask them for their reasons. Just ask them for their feelings.
Katharine, for example--”

“Katharine,” said Henry, with an emphasis upon the name, almost as if he
resented Rodney’s use of it, “Katharine is very unlike most women.”

“Quite,” Rodney agreed. “She is--” He seemed about to describe her, and
he hesitated for a long time. “She’s looking very well,” he stated, or
rather almost inquired, in a different tone from that in which he had
been speaking. Henry bent his head.

“But, as a family, you’re given to moods, eh?”

“Not Katharine,” said Henry, with decision.

“Not Katharine,” Rodney repeated, as if he weighed the meaning of the
words. “No, perhaps you’re right. But her engagement has changed her.
Naturally,” he added, “one would expect that to be so.” He waited for
Henry to confirm this statement, but Henry remained silent.

“Katharine has had a difficult life, in some ways,” he continued. “I
expect that marriage will be good for her. She has great powers.”

“Great,” said Henry, with decision.

“Yes--but now what direction d’you think they take?”

Rodney had completely dropped his pose as a man of the world, and seemed
to be asking Henry to help him in a difficulty.

“I don’t know,” Henry hesitated cautiously.

“D’you think children--a household--that sort of thing--d’you think
that’ll satisfy her? Mind, I’m out all day.”

“She would certainly be very competent,” Henry stated.

“Oh, she’s wonderfully competent,” said Rodney. “But--I get absorbed in
my poetry. Well, Katharine hasn’t got that. She admires my poetry, you
know, but that wouldn’t be enough for her?”

“No,” said Henry. He paused. “I think you’re right,” he added, as if he
were summing up his thoughts. “Katharine hasn’t found herself yet. Life
isn’t altogether real to her yet--I sometimes think--”

“Yes?” Rodney inquired, as if he were eager for Henry to continue. “That
is what I--” he was going on, as Henry remained silent, but the sentence
was not finished, for the door opened, and they were interrupted by
Henry’s younger brother Gilbert, much to Henry’s relief, for he had
already said more than he liked.



CHAPTER XVII

When the sun shone, as it did with unusual brightness that Christmas
week, it revealed much that was faded and not altogether well-kept-up
in Stogdon House and its grounds. In truth, Sir Francis had retired
from service under the Government of India with a pension that was
not adequate, in his opinion, to his services, as it certainly was
not adequate to his ambitions. His career had not come up to his
expectations, and although he was a very fine, white-whiskered,
mahogany-colored old man to look at, and had laid down a very choice
cellar of good reading and good stories, you could not long remain
ignorant of the fact that some thunder-storm had soured them; he had
a grievance. This grievance dated back to the middle years of the last
century, when, owing to some official intrigue, his merits had been
passed over in a disgraceful manner in favor of another, his junior.

The rights and wrongs of the story, presuming that they had some
existence in fact, were no longer clearly known to his wife and
children; but this disappointment had played a very large part in their
lives, and had poisoned the life of Sir Francis much as a disappointment
in love is said to poison the whole life of a woman. Long brooding on
his failure, continual arrangement and rearrangement of his deserts and
rebuffs, had made Sir Francis much of an egoist, and in his retirement
his temper became increasingly difficult and exacting.

His wife now offered so little resistance to his moods that she was
practically useless to him. He made his daughter Eleanor into his chief
confidante, and the prime of her life was being rapidly consumed by her
father. To her he dictated the memoirs which were to avenge his memory,
and she had to assure him constantly that his treatment had been a
disgrace. Already, at the age of thirty-five, her cheeks were whitening
as her mother’s had whitened, but for her there would be no memories of
Indian suns and Indian rivers, and clamor of children in a nursery; she
would have very little of substance to think about when she sat, as
Lady Otway now sat, knitting white wool, with her eyes fixed almost
perpetually upon the same embroidered bird upon the same fire-screen.
But then Lady Otway was one of the people for whom the great
make-believe game of English social life has been invented; she spent
most of her time in pretending to herself and her neighbors that she
was a dignified, important, much-occupied person, of considerable social
standing and sufficient wealth. In view of the actual state of things
this game needed a great deal of skill; and, perhaps, at the age she had
reached--she was over sixty--she played far more to deceive herself
than to deceive any one else. Moreover, the armor was wearing thin; she
forgot to keep up appearances more and more.

The worn patches in the carpets, and the pallor of the drawing-room,
where no chair or cover had been renewed for some years, were due
not only to the miserable pension, but to the wear and tear of twelve
children, eight of whom were sons. As often happens in these large
families, a distinct dividing-line could be traced, about half-way in
the succession, where the money for educational purposes had run short,
and the six younger children had grown up far more economically than
the elder. If the boys were clever, they won scholarships, and went to
school; if they were not clever, they took what the family connection
had to offer them. The girls accepted situations occasionally, but there
were always one or two at home, nursing sick animals, tending silkworms,
or playing the flute in their bedrooms. The distinction between the
elder children and the younger corresponded almost to the distinction
between a higher class and a lower one, for with only a haphazard
education and insufficient allowances, the younger children had picked
up accomplishments, friends, and points of view which were not to be
found within the walls of a public school or of a Government office.
Between the two divisions there was considerable hostility, the elder
trying to patronize the younger, the younger refusing to respect the
elder; but one feeling united them and instantly closed any risk of a
breach--their common belief in the superiority of their own family to
all others. Henry was the eldest of the younger group, and their leader;
he bought strange books and joined odd societies; he went without a tie
for a whole year, and had six shirts made of black flannel. He had
long refused to take a seat either in a shipping office or in a
tea-merchant’s warehouse; and persisted, in spite of the disapproval of
uncles and aunts, in practicing both violin and piano, with the result
that he could not perform professionally upon either. Indeed, for
thirty-two years of life he had nothing more substantial to show than a
manuscript book containing the score of half an opera. In this protest
of his, Katharine had always given him her support, and as she was
generally held to be an extremely sensible person, who dressed too well
to be eccentric, he had found her support of some use. Indeed, when she
came down at Christmas she usually spent a great part of her time in
private conferences with Henry and with Cassandra, the youngest girl,
to whom the silkworms belonged. With the younger section she had a great
reputation for common sense, and for something that they despised but
inwardly respected and called knowledge of the world--that is to say,
of the way in which respectable elderly people, going to their clubs
and dining out with ministers, think and behave. She had more than once
played the part of ambassador between Lady Otway and her children. That
poor lady, for instance, consulted her for advice when, one day, she
opened Cassandra’s bedroom door on a mission of discovery, and found the
ceiling hung with mulberry-leaves, the windows blocked with cages, and
the tables stacked with home-made machines for the manufacture of silk
dresses.

“I wish you could help her to take an interest in something that other
people are interested in, Katharine,” she observed, rather plaintively,
detailing her grievances. “It’s all Henry’s doing, you know, giving up
her parties and taking to these nasty insects. It doesn’t follow that if
a man can do a thing a woman may too.”

The morning was sufficiently bright to make the chairs and sofas in Lady
Otway’s private sitting-room appear more than usually shabby, and the
gallant gentlemen, her brothers and cousins, who had defended the Empire
and left their bones on many frontiers, looked at the world through a
film of yellow which the morning light seemed to have drawn across
their photographs. Lady Otway sighed, it may be at the faded relics,
and turned, with resignation, to her balls of wool, which, curiously
and characteristically, were not an ivory-white, but rather a tarnished
yellow-white. She had called her niece in for a little chat. She had
always trusted her, and now more than ever, since her engagement to
Rodney, which seemed to Lady Otway extremely suitable, and just what one
would wish for one’s own daughter. Katharine unwittingly increased her
reputation for wisdom by asking to be given knitting-needles too.

“It’s so very pleasant,” said Lady Otway, “to knit while one’s talking.
And now, my dear Katharine, tell me about your plans.”

The emotions of the night before, which she had suppressed in such a way
as to keep her awake till dawn, had left Katharine a little jaded, and
thus more matter-of-fact than usual. She was quite ready to discuss her
plans--houses and rents, servants and economy--without feeling that they
concerned her very much. As she spoke, knitting methodically meanwhile,
Lady Otway noted, with approval, the upright, responsible bearing of her
niece, to whom the prospect of marriage had brought some gravity most
becoming in a bride, and yet, in these days, most rare. Yes, Katharine’s
engagement had changed her a little.

“What a perfect daughter, or daughter-in-law!” she thought to herself,
and could not help contrasting her with Cassandra, surrounded by
innumerable silkworms in her bedroom.

“Yes,” she continued, glancing at Katharine, with the round, greenish
eyes which were as inexpressive as moist marbles, “Katharine is like the
girls of my youth. We took the serious things of life seriously.”
 But just as she was deriving satisfaction from this thought, and was
producing some of the hoarded wisdom which none of her own daughters,
alas! seemed now to need, the door opened, and Mrs. Hilbery came in,
or rather, did not come in, but stood in the doorway and smiled, having
evidently mistaken the room.

“I never SHALL know my way about this house!” she exclaimed. “I’m on
my way to the library, and I don’t want to interrupt. You and Katharine
were having a little chat?”

The presence of her sister-in-law made Lady Otway slightly uneasy. How
could she go on with what she was saying in Maggie’s presence? for she
was saying something that she had never said, all these years, to Maggie
herself.

“I was telling Katharine a few little commonplaces about marriage,” she
said, with a little laugh. “Are none of my children looking after you,
Maggie?”

“Marriage,” said Mrs. Hilbery, coming into the room, and nodding her
head once or twice, “I always say marriage is a school. And you don’t
get the prizes unless you go to school. Charlotte has won all the
prizes,” she added, giving her sister-in-law a little pat, which
made Lady Otway more uncomfortable still. She half laughed, muttered
something, and ended on a sigh.

“Aunt Charlotte was saying that it’s no good being married unless you
submit to your husband,” said Katharine, framing her aunt’s words into
a far more definite shape than they had really worn; and when she spoke
thus she did not appear at all old-fashioned. Lady Otway looked at her
and paused for a moment.

“Well, I really don’t advise a woman who wants to have things her own
way to get married,” she said, beginning a fresh row rather elaborately.

Mrs. Hilbery knew something of the circumstances which, as she thought,
had inspired this remark. In a moment her face was clouded with sympathy
which she did not quite know how to express.

“What a shame it was!” she exclaimed, forgetting that her train of
thought might not be obvious to her listeners. “But, Charlotte, it would
have been much worse if Frank had disgraced himself in any way. And it
isn’t what our husbands GET, but what they ARE. I used to dream of white
horses and palanquins, too; but still, I like the ink-pots best. And who
knows?” she concluded, looking at Katharine, “your father may be made a
baronet to-morrow.”

Lady Otway, who was Mr. Hilbery’s sister, knew quite well that, in
private, the Hilberys called Sir Francis “that old Turk,” and though
she did not follow the drift of Mrs. Hilbery’s remarks, she knew what
prompted them.

“But if you can give way to your husband,” she said, speaking to
Katharine, as if there were a separate understanding between them, “a
happy marriage is the happiest thing in the world.”

“Yes,” said Katharine, “but--” She did not mean to finish her sentence,
she merely wished to induce her mother and her aunt to go on talking
about marriage, for she was in the mood to feel that other people could
help her if they would. She went on knitting, but her fingers worked
with a decision that was oddly unlike the smooth and contemplative
sweep of Lady Otway’s plump hand. Now and then she looked swiftly at her
mother, then at her aunt. Mrs. Hilbery held a book in her hand, and
was on her way, as Katharine guessed, to the library, where another
paragraph was to be added to that varied assortment of paragraphs, the
Life of Richard Alardyce. Normally, Katharine would have hurried her
mother downstairs, and seen that no excuse for distraction came her way.
Her attitude towards the poet’s life, however, had changed with other
changes; and she was content to forget all about her scheme of hours.
Mrs. Hilbery was secretly delighted. Her relief at finding herself
excused manifested itself in a series of sidelong glances of sly humor
in her daughter’s direction, and the indulgence put her in the best of
spirits. Was she to be allowed merely to sit and talk? It was so much
pleasanter to sit in a nice room filled with all sorts of interesting
odds and ends which she hadn’t looked at for a year, at least, than to
seek out one date which contradicted another in a dictionary.

“We’ve all had perfect husbands,” she concluded, generously forgiving
Sir Francis all his faults in a lump. “Not that I think a bad temper
is really a fault in a man. I don’t mean a bad temper,” she corrected
herself, with a glance obviously in the direction of Sir Francis. “I
should say a quick, impatient temper. Most, in fact ALL great men have
had bad tempers--except your grandfather, Katharine,” and here she
sighed, and suggested that, perhaps, she ought to go down to the
library.

“But in the ordinary marriage, is it necessary to give way to one’s
husband?” said Katharine, taking no notice of her mother’s suggestion,
blind even to the depression which had now taken possession of her at
the thought of her own inevitable death.

“I should say yes, certainly,” said Lady Otway, with a decision most
unusual for her.

“Then one ought to make up one’s mind to that before one is married,”
 Katharine mused, seeming to address herself.

Mrs. Hilbery was not much interested in these remarks, which seemed to
have a melancholy tendency, and to revive her spirits she had recourse
to an infallible remedy--she looked out of the window.

“Do look at that lovely little blue bird!” she exclaimed, and her eye
looked with extreme pleasure at the soft sky. at the trees, at the green
fields visible behind those trees, and at the leafless branches which
surrounded the body of the small blue tit. Her sympathy with nature was
exquisite.

“Most women know by instinct whether they can give it or not,” Lady
Otway slipped in quickly, in rather a low voice, as if she wanted to
get this said while her sister-in-law’s attention was diverted. “And if
not--well then, my advice would be--don’t marry.”

“Oh, but marriage is the happiest life for a woman,” said Mrs. Hilbery,
catching the word marriage, as she brought her eyes back to the room
again. Then she turned her mind to what she had said.

“It’s the most INTERESTING life,” she corrected herself. She looked at
her daughter with a look of vague alarm. It was the kind of maternal
scrutiny which suggests that, in looking at her daughter a mother is
really looking at herself. She was not altogether satisfied; but she
purposely made no attempt to break down the reserve which, as a matter
of fact, was a quality she particularly admired and depended upon in
her daughter. But when her mother said that marriage was the most
interesting life, Katharine felt, as she was apt to do suddenly, for no
definite reason, that they understood each other, in spite of differing
in every possible way. Yet the wisdom of the old seems to apply more to
feelings which we have in common with the rest of the human race than
to our feelings as individuals, and Katharine knew that only some one of
her own age could follow her meaning. Both these elderly women seemed to
her to have been content with so little happiness, and at the moment she
had not sufficient force to feel certain that their version of marriage
was the wrong one. In London, certainly, this temperate attitude toward
her own marriage had seemed to her just. Why had she now changed? Why
did it now depress her? It never occurred to her that her own conduct
could be anything of a puzzle to her mother, or that elder people are as
much affected by the young as the young are by them. And yet it was true
that love--passion--whatever one chose to call it, had played far less
part in Mrs. Hilbery’s life than might have seemed likely, judging from
her enthusiastic and imaginative temperament. She had always been
more interested by other things. Lady Otway, strange though it seemed,
guessed more accurately at Katharine’s state of mind than her mother
did.

“Why don’t we all live in the country?” exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery, once
more looking out of the window. “I’m sure one would think such beautiful
things if one lived in the country. No horrid slum houses to depress
one, no trams or motor-cars; and the people all looking so plump and
cheerful. Isn’t there some little cottage near you, Charlotte, which
would do for us, with a spare room, perhaps, in case we asked a friend
down? And we should save so much money that we should be able to
travel--”

“Yes. You would find it very nice for a week or two, no doubt,” said
Lady Otway. “But what hour would you like the carriage this morning?”
 she continued, touching the bell.

“Katharine shall decide,” said Mrs. Hilbery, feeling herself unable
to prefer one hour to another. “And I was just going to tell you,
Katharine, how, when I woke this morning, everything seemed so clear in
my head that if I’d had a pencil I believe I could have written quite a
long chapter. When we’re out on our drive I shall find us a house. A few
trees round it, and a little garden, a pond with a Chinese duck, a
study for your father, a study for me, and a sitting room for Katharine,
because then she’ll be a married lady.”

At this Katharine shivered a little, drew up to the fire, and warmed her
hands by spreading them over the topmost peak of the coal. She wished to
bring the talk back to marriage again, in order to hear Aunt Charlotte’s
views, but she did not know how to do this.

“Let me look at your engagement-ring, Aunt Charlotte,” she said,
noticing her own.

She took the cluster of green stones and turned it round and round, but
she did not know what to say next.

“That poor old ring was a sad disappointment to me when I first had it,”
 Lady Otway mused. “I’d set my heart on a diamond ring, but I never liked
to tell Frank, naturally. He bought it at Simla.”

Katharine turned the ring round once more, and gave it back to her aunt
without speaking. And while she turned it round her lips set themselves
firmly together, and it seemed to her that she could satisfy William
as these women had satisfied their husbands; she could pretend to like
emeralds when she preferred diamonds. Having replaced her ring, Lady
Otway remarked that it was chilly, though not more so than one must
expect at this time of year. Indeed, one ought to be thankful to see the
sun at all, and she advised them both to dress warmly for their drive.
Her aunt’s stock of commonplaces, Katharine sometimes suspected, had
been laid in on purpose to fill silences with, and had little to do with
her private thoughts. But at this moment they seemed terribly in keeping
with her own conclusions, so that she took up her knitting again and
listened, chiefly with a view to confirming herself in the belief that
to be engaged to marry some one with whom you are not in love is an
inevitable step in a world where the existence of passion is only a
traveller’s story brought from the heart of deep forests and told so
rarely that wise people doubt whether the story can be true. She did her
best to listen to her mother asking for news of John, and to her aunt
replying with the authentic history of Hilda’s engagement to an officer
in the Indian Army, but she cast her mind alternately towards forest
paths and starry blossoms, and towards pages of neatly written
mathematical signs. When her mind took this turn her marriage seemed no
more than an archway through which it was necessary to pass in order to
have her desire. At such times the current of her nature ran in its
deep narrow channel with great force and with an alarming lack of
consideration for the feelings of others. Just as the two elder ladies
had finished their survey of the family prospects, and Lady Otway was
nervously anticipating some general statement as to life and death from
her sister-in-law, Cassandra burst into the room with the news that the
carriage was at the door.

“Why didn’t Andrews tell me himself?” said Lady Otway, peevishly,
blaming her servants for not living up to her ideals.

When Mrs. Hilbery and Katharine arrived in the hall, ready dressed for
their drive, they found that the usual discussion was going forward as
to the plans of the rest of the family. In token of this, a great many
doors were opening and shutting, two or three people stood irresolutely
on the stairs, now going a few steps up, and now a few steps down, and
Sir Francis himself had come out from his study, with the “Times” under
his arm, and a complaint about noise and draughts from the open door
which, at least, had the effect of bundling the people who did not want
to go into the carriage, and sending those who did not want to stay back
to their rooms. It was decided that Mrs. Hilbery, Katharine, Rodney, and
Henry should drive to Lincoln, and any one else who wished to go should
follow on bicycles or in the pony-cart. Every one who stayed at Stogdon
House had to make this expedition to Lincoln in obedience to Lady
Otway’s conception of the right way to entertain her guests, which
she had imbibed from reading in fashionable papers of the behavior of
Christmas parties in ducal houses. The carriage horses were both fat and
aged, still they matched; the carriage was shaky and uncomfortable,
but the Otway arms were visible on the panels. Lady Otway stood on
the topmost step, wrapped in a white shawl, and waved her hand almost
mechanically until they had turned the corner under the laurel-bushes,
when she retired indoors with a sense that she had played her part, and
a sigh at the thought that none of her children felt it necessary to
play theirs.

The carriage bowled along smoothly over the gently curving road. Mrs.
Hilbery dropped into a pleasant, inattentive state of mind, in which she
was conscious of the running green lines of the hedges, of the swelling
ploughland, and of the mild blue sky, which served her, after the first
five minutes, for a pastoral background to the drama of human life; and
then she thought of a cottage garden, with the flash of yellow daffodils
against blue water; and what with the arrangement of these different
prospects, and the shaping of two or three lovely phrases, she did not
notice that the young people in the carriage were almost silent. Henry,
indeed, had been included against his wish, and revenged himself by
observing Katharine and Rodney with disillusioned eyes; while Katharine
was in a state of gloomy self-suppression which resulted in complete
apathy. When Rodney spoke to her she either said “Hum!” or assented
so listlessly that he addressed his next remark to her mother. His
deference was agreeable to her, his manners were exemplary; and when
the church towers and factory chimneys of the town came into sight, she
roused herself, and recalled memories of the fair summer of 1853, which
fitted in harmoniously with what she was dreaming of the future.



CHAPTER XVIII

But other passengers were approaching Lincoln meanwhile by other roads
on foot. A county town draws the inhabitants of all vicarages, farms,
country houses, and wayside cottages, within a radius of ten miles at
least, once or twice a week to its streets; and among them, on this
occasion, were Ralph Denham and Mary Datchet. They despised the roads,
and took their way across the fields; and yet, from their appearance, it
did not seem as if they cared much where they walked so long as the way
did not actually trip them up. When they left the Vicarage, they had
begun an argument which swung their feet along so rhythmically in time
with it that they covered the ground at over four miles an hour, and saw
nothing of the hedgerows, the swelling plowland, or the mild blue sky.
What they saw were the Houses of Parliament and the Government Offices
in Whitehall. They both belonged to the class which is conscious of
having lost its birthright in these great structures and is seeking to
build another kind of lodging for its own notion of law and government.
Purposely, perhaps, Mary did not agree with Ralph; she loved to feel her
mind in conflict with his, and to be certain that he spared her female
judgment no ounce of his male muscularity. He seemed to argue as
fiercely with her as if she were his brother. They were alike, however,
in believing that it behooved them to take in hand the repair and
reconstruction of the fabric of England. They agreed in thinking that
nature has not been generous in the endowment of our councilors. They
agreed, unconsciously, in a mute love for the muddy field through which
they tramped, with eyes narrowed close by the concentration of their
minds. At length they drew breath, let the argument fly away into the
limbo of other good arguments, and, leaning over a gate, opened their
eyes for the first time and looked about them. Their feet tingled
with warm blood and their breath rose in steam around them. The bodily
exercise made them both feel more direct and less self-conscious than
usual, and Mary, indeed, was overcome by a sort of light-headedness
which made it seem to her that it mattered very little what happened
next. It mattered so little, indeed, that she felt herself on the point
of saying to Ralph:

“I love you; I shall never love anybody else. Marry me or leave me;
think what you like of me--I don’t care a straw.” At the moment,
however, speech or silence seemed immaterial, and she merely clapped her
hands together, and looked at the distant woods with the rust-like bloom
on their brown, and the green and blue landscape through the steam of
her own breath. It seemed a mere toss-up whether she said, “I love you,”
 or whether she said, “I love the beech-trees,” or only “I love--I love.”

“Do you know, Mary,” Ralph suddenly interrupted her, “I’ve made up my
mind.”

Her indifference must have been superficial, for it disappeared at
once. Indeed, she lost sight of the trees, and saw her own hand upon the
topmost bar of the gate with extreme distinctness, while he went on:

“I’ve made up my mind to chuck my work and live down here. I want you to
tell me about that cottage you spoke of. However, I suppose there’ll
be no difficulty about getting a cottage, will there?” He spoke with an
assumption of carelessness as if expecting her to dissuade him.

She still waited, as if for him to continue; she was convinced that in
some roundabout way he approached the subject of their marriage.

“I can’t stand the office any longer,” he proceeded. “I don’t know what
my family will say; but I’m sure I’m right. Don’t you think so?”

“Live down here by yourself?” she asked.

“Some old woman would do for me, I suppose,” he replied. “I’m sick of
the whole thing,” he went on, and opened the gate with a jerk. They
began to cross the next field walking side by side.

“I tell you, Mary, it’s utter destruction, working away, day after day,
at stuff that doesn’t matter a damn to any one. I’ve stood eight years
of it, and I’m not going to stand it any longer. I suppose this all
seems to you mad, though?”

By this time Mary had recovered her self-control.

“No. I thought you weren’t happy,” she said.

“Why did you think that?” he asked, with some surprise.

“Don’t you remember that morning in Lincoln’s Inn Fields?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Ralph, slackening his pace and remembering Katharine and
her engagement, the purple leaves stamped into the path, the white paper
radiant under the electric light, and the hopelessness which seemed to
surround all these things.

“You’re right, Mary,” he said, with something of an effort, “though I
don’t know how you guessed it.”

She was silent, hoping that he might tell her the reason of his
unhappiness, for his excuses had not deceived her.

“I was unhappy--very unhappy,” he repeated. Some six weeks separated
him from that afternoon when he had sat upon the Embankment watching his
visions dissolve in mist as the waters swam past and the sense of his
desolation still made him shiver. He had not recovered in the least from
that depression. Here was an opportunity for making himself face it,
as he felt that he ought to; for, by this time, no doubt, it was only a
sentimental ghost, better exorcised by ruthless exposure to such an eye
as Mary’s, than allowed to underlie all his actions and thoughts as had
been the case ever since he first saw Katharine Hilbery pouring out tea.
He must begin, however, by mentioning her name, and this he found it
impossible to do. He persuaded himself that he could make an honest
statement without speaking her name; he persuaded himself that his
feeling had very little to do with her.

“Unhappiness is a state of mind,” he said, “by which I mean that it is
not necessarily the result of any particular cause.”

This rather stilted beginning did not please him, and it became more
and more obvious to him that, whatever he might say, his unhappiness had
been directly caused by Katharine.

“I began to find my life unsatisfactory,” he started afresh. “It seemed
to me meaningless.” He paused again, but felt that this, at any rate,
was true, and that on these lines he could go on.

“All this money-making and working ten hours a day in an office, what’s
it FOR? When one’s a boy, you see, one’s head is so full of dreams that
it doesn’t seem to matter what one does. And if you’re ambitious, you’re
all right; you’ve got a reason for going on. Now my reasons ceased to
satisfy me. Perhaps I never had any. That’s very likely now I come to
think of it. (What reason is there for anything, though?) Still, it’s
impossible, after a certain age, to take oneself in satisfactorily. And
I know what carried me on”--for a good reason now occurred to him--“I
wanted to be the savior of my family and all that kind of thing. I
wanted them to get on in the world. That was a lie, of course--a kind of
self-glorification, too. Like most people, I suppose, I’ve lived almost
entirely among delusions, and now I’m at the awkward stage of finding it
out. I want another delusion to go on with. That’s what my unhappiness
amounts to, Mary.”

There were two reasons that kept Mary very silent during this speech,
and drew curiously straight lines upon her face. In the first place,
Ralph made no mention of marriage; in the second, he was not speaking
the truth.

“I don’t think it will be difficult to find a cottage,” she said, with
cheerful hardness, ignoring the whole of this statement. “You’ve got
a little money, haven’t you? Yes,” she concluded, “I don’t see why it
shouldn’t be a very good plan.”

They crossed the field in complete silence. Ralph was surprised by her
remark and a little hurt, and yet, on the whole, rather pleased. He
had convinced himself that it was impossible to lay his case truthfully
before Mary, and, secretly, he was relieved to find that he had not
parted with his dream to her. She was, as he had always found her, the
sensible, loyal friend, the woman he trusted; whose sympathy he
could count upon, provided he kept within certain limits. He was not
displeased to find that those limits were very clearly marked. When they
had crossed the next hedge she said to him:

“Yes, Ralph, it’s time you made a break. I’ve come to the same
conclusion myself. Only it won’t be a country cottage in my case; it’ll
be America. America!” she cried. “That’s the place for me! They’ll teach
me something about organizing a movement there, and I’ll come back and
show you how to do it.”

If she meant consciously or unconsciously to belittle the seclusion
and security of a country cottage, she did not succeed; for Ralph’s
determination was genuine. But she made him visualize her in her own
character, so that he looked quickly at her, as she walked a little in
front of him across the plowed field; for the first time that morning he
saw her independently of him or of his preoccupation with Katharine.
He seemed to see her marching ahead, a rather clumsy but powerful and
independent figure, for whose courage he felt the greatest respect.

“Don’t go away, Mary!” he exclaimed, and stopped.

“That’s what you said before, Ralph,” she returned, without looking at
him. “You want to go away yourself and you don’t want me to go away.
That’s not very sensible, is it?”

“Mary,” he cried, stung by the remembrance of his exacting and
dictatorial ways with her, “what a brute I’ve been to you!”

It took all her strength to keep the tears from springing, and to thrust
back her assurance that she would forgive him till Doomsday if he chose.
She was preserved from doing so only by a stubborn kind of respect for
herself which lay at the root of her nature and forbade surrender, even
in moments of almost overwhelming passion. Now, when all was tempest and
high-running waves, she knew of a land where the sun shone clear upon
Italian grammars and files of docketed papers. Nevertheless, from the
skeleton pallor of that land and the rocks that broke its surface,
she knew that her life there would be harsh and lonely almost beyond
endurance. She walked steadily a little in front of him across the
plowed field. Their way took them round the verge of a wood of thin
trees standing at the edge of a steep fold in the land. Looking between
the tree-trunks, Ralph saw laid out on the perfectly flat and richly
green meadow at the bottom of the hill a small gray manor-house, with
ponds, terraces, and clipped hedges in front of it, a farm building or
so at the side, and a screen of fir-trees rising behind, all perfectly
sheltered and self-sufficient. Behind the house the hill rose again,
and the trees on the farther summit stood upright against the sky, which
appeared of a more intense blue between their trunks. His mind at once
was filled with a sense of the actual presence of Katharine; the gray
house and the intense blue sky gave him the feeling of her presence
close by. He leant against a tree, forming her name beneath his breath:

“Katharine, Katharine,” he said aloud, and then, looking round, saw Mary
walking slowly away from him, tearing a long spray of ivy from the trees
as she passed them. She seemed so definitely opposed to the vision he
held in his mind that he returned to it with a gesture of impatience.

“Katharine, Katharine,” he repeated, and seemed to himself to be with
her. He lost his sense of all that surrounded him; all substantial
things--the hour of the day, what we have done and are about to do, the
presence of other people and the support we derive from seeing their
belief in a common reality--all this slipped from him. So he might have
felt if the earth had dropped from his feet, and the empty blue had
hung all round him, and the air had been steeped in the presence of one
woman. The chirp of a robin on the bough above his head awakened him,
and his awakenment was accompanied by a sigh. Here was the world in
which he had lived; here the plowed field, the high road yonder, and
Mary, stripping ivy from the trees. When he came up with her he linked
his arm through hers and said:

“Now, Mary, what’s all this about America?”

There was a brotherly kindness in his voice which seemed to her
magnanimous, when she reflected that she had cut short his explanations
and shown little interest in his change of plan. She gave him her
reasons for thinking that she might profit by such a journey, omitting
the one reason which had set all the rest in motion. He listened
attentively, and made no attempt to dissuade her. In truth, he found
himself curiously eager to make certain of her good sense, and accepted
each fresh proof of it with satisfaction, as though it helped him to
make up his mind about something. She forgot the pain he had caused her,
and in place of it she became conscious of a steady tide of well-being
which harmonized very aptly with the tramp of their feet upon the dry
road and the support of his arm. The comfort was the more glowing in
that it seemed to be the reward of her determination to behave to him
simply and without attempting to be other than she was. Instead of
making out an interest in the poets, she avoided them instinctively, and
dwelt rather insistently upon the practical nature of her gifts.

In a practical way she asked for particulars of his cottage, which
hardly existed in his mind, and corrected his vagueness.

“You must see that there’s water,” she insisted, with an exaggeration
of interest. She avoided asking him what he meant to do in this cottage,
and, at last, when all the practical details had been thrashed out as
much as possible, he rewarded her by a more intimate statement.

“One of the rooms,” he said, “must be my study, for, you see, Mary,
I’m going to write a book.” Here he withdrew his arm from hers, lit his
pipe, and they tramped on in a sagacious kind of comradeship, the most
complete they had attained in all their friendship.

“And what’s your book to be about?” she said, as boldly as if she had
never come to grief with Ralph in talking about books. He told her
unhesitatingly that he meant to write the history of the English village
from Saxon days to the present time. Some such plan had lain as a seed
in his mind for many years; and now that he had decided, in a flash,
to give up his profession, the seed grew in the space of twenty minutes
both tall and lusty. He was surprised himself at the positive way in
which he spoke. It was the same with the question of his cottage. That
had come into existence, too, in an unromantic shape--a square white
house standing just off the high road, no doubt, with a neighbor who
kept a pig and a dozen squalling children; for these plans were shorn
of all romance in his mind, and the pleasure he derived from thinking
of them was checked directly it passed a very sober limit. So a sensible
man who has lost his chance of some beautiful inheritance might tread
out the narrow bounds of his actual dwelling-place, and assure himself
that life is supportable within its demesne, only one must grow turnips
and cabbages, not melons and pomegranates. Certainly Ralph took some
pride in the resources of his mind, and was insensibly helped to right
himself by Mary’s trust in him. She wound her ivy spray round her
ash-plant, and for the first time for many days, when alone with Ralph,
set no spies upon her motives, sayings, and feelings, but surrendered
herself to complete happiness.

Thus talking, with easy silences and some pauses to look at the view
over the hedge and to decide upon the species of a little gray-brown
bird slipping among the twigs, they walked into Lincoln, and after
strolling up and down the main street, decided upon an inn where the
rounded window suggested substantial fare, nor were they mistaken. For
over a hundred and fifty years hot joints, potatoes, greens, and apple
puddings had been served to generations of country gentlemen, and now,
sitting at a table in the hollow of the bow window, Ralph and Mary took
their share of this perennial feast. Looking across the joint, half-way
through the meal, Mary wondered whether Ralph would ever come to look
quite like the other people in the room. Would he be absorbed among the
round pink faces, pricked with little white bristles, the calves fitted
in shiny brown leather, the black-and-white check suits, which were
sprinkled about in the same room with them? She half hoped so; she
thought that it was only in his mind that he was different. She did not
wish him to be too different from other people. The walk had given him
a ruddy color, too, and his eyes were lit up by a steady, honest light,
which could not make the simplest farmer feel ill at ease, or suggest
to the most devout of clergymen a disposition to sneer at his faith. She
loved the steep cliff of his forehead, and compared it to the brow of a
young Greek horseman, who reins his horse back so sharply that it
half falls on its haunches. He always seemed to her like a rider on a
spirited horse. And there was an exaltation to her in being with him,
because there was a risk that he would not be able to keep to the right
pace among other people. Sitting opposite him at the little table in
the window, she came back to that state of careless exaltation which had
overcome her when they halted by the gate, but now it was accompanied by
a sense of sanity and security, for she felt that they had a feeling
in common which scarcely needed embodiment in words. How silent he
was! leaning his forehead on his hand, now and then, and again looking
steadily and gravely at the backs of the two men at the next table,
with so little self-consciousness that she could almost watch his mind
placing one thought solidly upon the top of another; she thought that
she could feel him thinking, through the shade of her fingers, and
she could anticipate the exact moment when he would put an end to his
thought and turn a little in his chair and say:

“Well, Mary--?” inviting her to take up the thread of thought where he
had dropped it.

And at that very moment he turned just so, and said:

“Well, Mary?” with the curious touch of diffidence which she loved in
him.

She laughed, and she explained her laugh on the spur of the moment by
the look of the people in the street below. There was a motor-car
with an old lady swathed in blue veils, and a lady’s maid on the seat
opposite, holding a King Charles’s spaniel; there was a country-woman
wheeling a perambulator full of sticks down the middle of the road;
there was a bailiff in gaiters discussing the state of the cattle market
with a dissenting minister--so she defined them.

She ran over this list without any fear that her companion would think
her trivial. Indeed, whether it was due to the warmth of the room or to
the good roast beef, or whether Ralph had achieved the process which is
called making up one’s mind, certainly he had given up testing the good
sense, the independent character, the intelligence shown in her remarks.
He had been building one of those piles of thought, as ramshackle and
fantastic as a Chinese pagoda, half from words let fall by gentlemen in
gaiters, half from the litter in his own mind, about duck shooting and
legal history, about the Roman occupation of Lincoln and the relations
of country gentlemen with their wives, when, from all this disconnected
rambling, there suddenly formed itself in his mind the idea that he
would ask Mary to marry him. The idea was so spontaneous that it seemed
to shape itself of its own accord before his eyes. It was then that he
turned round and made use of his old, instinctive phrase:

“Well, Mary--?”

As it presented itself to him at first, the idea was so new and
interesting that he was half inclined to address it, without more ado,
to Mary herself. His natural instinct to divide his thoughts carefully
into two different classes before he expressed them to her prevailed.
But as he watched her looking out of the window and describing the old
lady, the woman with the perambulator, the bailiff and the dissenting
minister, his eyes filled involuntarily with tears. He would have liked
to lay his head on her shoulder and sob, while she parted his hair with
her fingers and soothed him and said:

“There, there. Don’t cry! Tell me why you’re crying--“; and they would
clasp each other tight, and her arms would hold him like his mother’s.
He felt that he was very lonely, and that he was afraid of the other
people in the room.

“How damnable this all is!” he exclaimed abruptly.

“What are you talking about?” she replied, rather vaguely, still looking
out of the window.

He resented this divided attention more than, perhaps, he knew, and he
thought how Mary would soon be on her way to America.

“Mary,” he said, “I want to talk to you. Haven’t we nearly done? Why
don’t they take away these plates?”

Mary felt his agitation without looking at him; she felt convinced that
she knew what it was that he wished to say to her.

“They’ll come all in good time,” she said; and felt it necessary to
display her extreme calmness by lifting a salt-cellar and sweeping up a
little heap of bread-crumbs.

“I want to apologize,” Ralph continued, not quite knowing what he was
about to say, but feeling some curious instinct which urged him to
commit himself irrevocably, and to prevent the moment of intimacy from
passing.

“I think I’ve treated you very badly. That is, I’ve told you lies. Did
you guess that I was lying to you? Once in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and
again to-day on our walk. I am a liar, Mary. Did you know that? Do you
think you do know me?”

“I think I do,” she said.

At this point the waiter changed their plates.

“It’s true I don’t want you to go to America,” he said, looking fixedly
at the table-cloth. “In fact, my feelings towards you seem to be utterly
and damnably bad,” he said energetically, although forced to keep his
voice low.

“If I weren’t a selfish beast I should tell you to have nothing more to
do with me. And yet, Mary, in spite of the fact that I believe what I’m
saying, I also believe that it’s good we should know each other--the
world being what it is, you see--” and by a nod of his head he indicated
the other occupants of the room, “for, of course, in an ideal state of
things, in a decent community even, there’s no doubt you shouldn’t have
anything to do with me--seriously, that is.”

“You forget that I’m not an ideal character, either,” said Mary, in
the same low and very earnest tones, which, in spite of being almost
inaudible, surrounded their table with an atmosphere of concentration
which was quite perceptible to the other diners, who glanced at them now
and then with a queer mixture of kindness, amusement, and curiosity.

“I’m much more selfish than I let on, and I’m worldly a little--more
than you think, anyhow. I like bossing things--perhaps that’s my
greatest fault. I’ve none of your passion for--” here she hesitated, and
glanced at him, as if to ascertain what his passion was for--“for the
truth,” she added, as if she had found what she sought indisputably.

“I’ve told you I’m a liar,” Ralph repeated obstinately.

“Oh, in little things, I dare say,” she said impatiently. “But not in
real ones, and that’s what matters. I dare say I’m more truthful than
you are in small ways. But I could never care”--she was surprised to
find herself speaking the word, and had to force herself to speak it
out--“for any one who was a liar in that way. I love the truth a certain
amount--a considerable amount--but not in the way you love it.” Her
voice sank, became inaudible, and wavered as if she could scarcely keep
herself from tears.

“Good heavens!” Ralph exclaimed to himself. “She loves me! Why did I
never see it before? She’s going to cry; no, but she can’t speak.”

The certainty overwhelmed him so that he scarcely knew what he was
doing; the blood rushed to his cheeks, and although he had quite made
up his mind to ask her to marry him, the certainty that she loved him
seemed to change the situation so completely that he could not do it.
He did not dare to look at her. If she cried, he did not know what he
should do. It seemed to him that something of a terrible and devastating
nature had happened. The waiter changed their plates once more.

In his agitation Ralph rose, turned his back upon Mary, and looked out
of the window. The people in the street seemed to him only a dissolving
and combining pattern of black particles; which, for the moment,
represented very well the involuntary procession of feelings and
thoughts which formed and dissolved in rapid succession in his own mind.
At one moment he exulted in the thought that Mary loved him; at the
next, it seemed that he was without feeling for her; her love was
repulsive to him. Now he felt urged to marry her at once; now to
disappear and never see her again. In order to control this disorderly
race of thought he forced himself to read the name on the chemist’s shop
directly opposite him; then to examine the objects in the shop windows,
and then to focus his eyes exactly upon a little group of women looking
in at the great windows of a large draper’s shop. This discipline having
given him at least a superficial control of himself, he was about to
turn and ask the waiter to bring the bill, when his eye was caught by a
tall figure walking quickly along the opposite pavement--a tall figure,
upright, dark, and commanding, much detached from her surroundings. She
held her gloves in her left hand, and the left hand was bare. All this
Ralph noticed and enumerated and recognized before he put a name to the
whole--Katharine Hilbery. She seemed to be looking for somebody. Her
eyes, in fact, scanned both sides of the street, and for one second were
raised directly to the bow window in which Ralph stood; but she looked
away again instantly without giving any sign that she had seen him. This
sudden apparition had an extraordinary effect upon him. It was as if he
had thought of her so intensely that his mind had formed the shape
of her, rather than that he had seen her in the flesh outside in the
street. And yet he had not been thinking of her at all. The impression
was so intense that he could not dismiss it, nor even think whether
he had seen her or merely imagined her. He sat down at once, and said,
briefly and strangely, rather to himself than to Mary:

“That was Katharine Hilbery.”

“Katharine Hilbery? What do you mean?” she asked, hardly understanding
from his manner whether he had seen her or not.

“Katharine Hilbery,” he repeated. “But she’s gone now.”

“Katharine Hilbery!” Mary thought, in an instant of blinding revelation;
“I’ve always known it was Katharine Hilbery!” She knew it all now.

After a moment of downcast stupor, she raised her eyes, looked steadily
at Ralph, and caught his fixed and dreamy gaze leveled at a point far
beyond their surroundings, a point that she had never reached in all
the time that she had known him. She noticed the lips just parted, the
fingers loosely clenched, the whole attitude of rapt contemplation,
which fell like a veil between them. She noticed everything about him;
if there had been other signs of his utter alienation she would have
sought them out, too, for she felt that it was only by heaping one truth
upon another that she could keep herself sitting there, upright. The
truth seemed to support her; it struck her, even as she looked at his
face, that the light of truth was shining far away beyond him; the light
of truth, she seemed to frame the words as she rose to go, shines on a
world not to be shaken by our personal calamities.

Ralph handed her her coat and her stick. She took them, fastened the
coat securely, grasped the stick firmly. The ivy spray was still twisted
about the handle; this one sacrifice, she thought, she might make to
sentimentality and personality, and she picked two leaves from the ivy
and put them in her pocket before she disencumbered her stick of the
rest of it. She grasped the stick in the middle, and settled her fur cap
closely upon her head, as if she must be in trim for a long and stormy
walk. Next, standing in the middle of the road, she took a slip of paper
from her purse, and read out loud a list of commissions entrusted to
her--fruit, butter, string, and so on; and all the time she never spoke
directly to Ralph or looked at him.

Ralph heard her giving orders to attentive, rosy-checked men in white
aprons, and in spite of his own preoccupation, he commented upon the
determination with which she made her wishes known. Once more he began,
automatically, to take stock of her characteristics. Standing
thus, superficially observant and stirring the sawdust on the floor
meditatively with the toe of his boot, he was roused by a musical
and familiar voice behind him, accompanied by a light touch upon his
shoulder.

“I’m not mistaken? Surely Mr. Denham? I caught a glimpse of your coat
through the window, and I felt sure that I knew your coat. Have you
seen Katharine or William? I’m wandering about Lincoln looking for the
ruins.”

It was Mrs. Hilbery; her entrance created some stir in the shop; many
people looked at her.

“First of all, tell me where I am,” she demanded, but, catching sight
of the attentive shopman, she appealed to him. “The ruins--my party is
waiting for me at the ruins. The Roman ruins--or Greek, Mr. Denham? Your
town has a great many beautiful things in it, but I wish it hadn’t
so many ruins. I never saw such delightful little pots of honey in my
life--are they made by your own bees? Please give me one of those little
pots, and tell me how I shall find my way to the ruins.”

“And now,” she continued, having received the information and the pot
of honey, having been introduced to Mary, and having insisted that they
should accompany her back to the ruins, since in a town with so many
turnings, such prospects, such delightful little half-naked boys
dabbling in pools, such Venetian canals, such old blue china in the
curiosity shops, it was impossible for one person all alone to find
her way to the ruins. “Now,” she exclaimed, “please tell me what
you’re doing here, Mr. Denham--for you ARE Mr. Denham, aren’t you?” she
inquired, gazing at him with a sudden suspicion of her own accuracy.
“The brilliant young man who writes for the Review, I mean? Only
yesterday my husband was telling me he thought you one of the cleverest
young men he knew. Certainly, you’ve been the messenger of Providence to
me, for unless I’d seen you I’m sure I should never have found the ruins
at all.”

They had reached the Roman arch when Mrs. Hilbery caught sight of her
own party, standing like sentinels facing up and down the road so as to
intercept her if, as they expected, she had got lodged in some shop.

“I’ve found something much better than ruins!” she exclaimed. “I’ve
found two friends who told me how to find you, which I could never have
done without them. They must come and have tea with us. What a pity that
we’ve just had luncheon.” Could they not somehow revoke that meal?

Katharine, who had gone a few steps by herself down the road, and was
investigating the window of an ironmonger, as if her mother might have
got herself concealed among mowing-machines and garden-shears, turned
sharply on hearing her voice, and came towards them. She was a great
deal surprised to see Denham and Mary Datchet. Whether the cordiality
with which she greeted them was merely that which is natural to a
surprise meeting in the country, or whether she was really glad to see
them both, at any rate she exclaimed with unusual pleasure as she shook
hands:

“I never knew you lived here. Why didn’t you say so, and we could have
met? And are you staying with Mary?” she continued, turning to Ralph.
“What a pity we didn’t meet before.”

Thus confronted at a distance of only a few feet by the real body of the
woman about whom he had dreamt so many million dreams, Ralph stammered;
he made a clutch at his self-control; the color either came to his
cheeks or left them, he knew not which; but he was determined to face
her and track down in the cold light of day whatever vestige of truth
there might be in his persistent imaginations. He did not succeed in
saying anything. It was Mary who spoke for both of them. He was struck
dumb by finding that Katharine was quite different, in some strange
way, from his memory, so that he had to dismiss his old view in order
to accept the new one. The wind was blowing her crimson scarf across her
face; the wind had already loosened her hair, which looped across the
corner of one of the large, dark eyes which, so he used to think, looked
sad; now they looked bright with the brightness of the sea struck by an
unclouded ray; everything about her seemed rapid, fragmentary, and full
of a kind of racing speed. He realized suddenly that he had never seen
her in the daylight before.

Meanwhile, it was decided that it was too late to go in search of ruins
as they had intended; and the whole party began to walk towards the
stables where the carriage had been put up.

“Do you know,” said Katharine, keeping slightly in advance of the rest
with Ralph, “I thought I saw you this morning, standing at a window.
But I decided that it couldn’t be you. And it must have been you all the
same.”

“Yes, I thought I saw you--but it wasn’t you,” he replied.

This remark, and the rough strain in his voice, recalled to her memory
so many difficult speeches and abortive meetings that she was jerked
directly back to the London drawing-room, the family relics, and
the tea-table; and at the same time recalled some half-finished or
interrupted remark which she had wanted to make herself or to hear from
him--she could not remember what it was.

“I expect it was me,” she said. “I was looking for my mother. It happens
every time we come to Lincoln. In fact, there never was a family so
unable to take care of itself as ours is. Not that it very much matters,
because some one always turns up in the nick of time to help us out
of our scrapes. Once I was left in a field with a bull when I was a
baby--but where did we leave the carriage? Down that street or the
next? The next, I think.” She glanced back and saw that the others were
following obediently, listening to certain memories of Lincoln upon
which Mrs. Hilbery had started. “But what are you doing here?” she
asked.

“I’m buying a cottage. I’m going to live here--as soon as I can find a
cottage, and Mary tells me there’ll be no difficulty about that.”

“But,” she exclaimed, almost standing still in her surprise, “you will
give up the Bar, then?” It flashed across her mind that he must already
be engaged to Mary.

“The solicitor’s office? Yes. I’m giving that up.”

“But why?” she asked. She answered herself at once, with a curious
change from rapid speech to an almost melancholy tone. “I think you’re
very wise to give it up. You will be much happier.”

At this very moment, when her words seemed to be striking a path into
the future for him, they stepped into the yard of an inn, and there
beheld the family coach of the Otways, to which one sleek horse was
already attached, while the second was being led out of the stable door
by the hostler.

“I don’t know what one means by happiness,” he said briefly, having to
step aside in order to avoid a groom with a bucket. “Why do you think I
shall be happy? I don’t expect to be anything of the kind. I expect to
be rather less unhappy. I shall write a book and curse my charwoman--if
happiness consists in that. What do you think?”

She could not answer because they were immediately surrounded by other
members of the party--by Mrs. Hilbery, and Mary, Henry Otway, and
William.

Rodney went up to Katharine immediately and said to her:

“Henry is going to drive home with your mother, and I suggest that they
should put us down half-way and let us walk back.”

Katharine nodded her head. She glanced at him with an oddly furtive
expression.

“Unfortunately we go in opposite directions, or we might have given you
a lift,” he continued to Denham. His manner was unusually peremptory; he
seemed anxious to hasten the departure, and Katharine looked at him from
time to time, as Denham noticed, with an expression half of inquiry,
half of annoyance. She at once helped her mother into her cloak, and
said to Mary:

“I want to see you. Are you going back to London at once? I will
write.” She half smiled at Ralph, but her look was a little overcast by
something she was thinking, and in a very few minutes the Otway carriage
rolled out of the stable yard and turned down the high road leading to
the village of Lampsher.

The return drive was almost as silent as the drive from home had been
in the morning; indeed, Mrs. Hilbery leant back with closed eyes in
her corner, and either slept or feigned sleep, as her habit was in the
intervals between the seasons of active exertion, or continued the story
which she had begun to tell herself that morning.

About two miles from Lampsher the road ran over the rounded summit of
the heath, a lonely spot marked by an obelisk of granite, setting forth
the gratitude of some great lady of the eighteenth century who had been
set upon by highwaymen at this spot and delivered from death just as
hope seemed lost. In summer it was a pleasant place, for the deep woods
on either side murmured, and the heather, which grew thick round the
granite pedestal, made the light breeze taste sweetly; in winter the
sighing of the trees was deepened to a hollow sound, and the heath was
as gray and almost as solitary as the empty sweep of the clouds above
it.

Here Rodney stopped the carriage and helped Katharine to alight. Henry,
too, gave her his hand, and fancied that she pressed it very slightly
in parting as if she sent him a message. But the carriage rolled on
immediately, without wakening Mrs. Hilbery, and left the couple standing
by the obelisk. That Rodney was angry with her and had made this
opportunity for speaking to her, Katharine knew very well; she was
neither glad nor sorry that the time had come, nor, indeed, knew what to
expect, and thus remained silent. The carriage grew smaller and smaller
upon the dusky road, and still Rodney did not speak. Perhaps, she
thought, he waited until the last sign of the carriage had disappeared
beneath the curve of the road and they were left entirely alone. To
cloak their silence she read the writing on the obelisk, to do which she
had to walk completely round it. She was murmuring a word to two of the
pious lady’s thanks above her breath when Rodney joined her. In silence
they set out along the cart-track which skirted the verge of the trees.

To break the silence was exactly what Rodney wished to do, and yet could
not do to his own satisfaction. In company it was far easier to approach
Katharine; alone with her, the aloofness and force of her character
checked all his natural methods of attack. He believed that she had
behaved very badly to him, but each separate instance of unkindness
seemed too petty to be advanced when they were alone together.

“There’s no need for us to race,” he complained at last; upon which she
immediately slackened her pace, and walked too slowly to suit him. In
desperation he said the first thing he thought of, very peevishly and
without the dignified prelude which he had intended.

“I’ve not enjoyed my holiday.”

“No?”

“No. I shall be glad to get back to work again.”

“Saturday, Sunday, Monday--there are only three days more,” she counted.

“No one enjoys being made a fool of before other people,” he blurted
out, for his irritation rose as she spoke, and got the better of his awe
of her, and was inflamed by that awe.

“That refers to me, I suppose,” she said calmly.

“Every day since we’ve been here you’ve done something to make me appear
ridiculous,” he went on. “Of course, so long as it amuses you, you’re
welcome; but we have to remember that we are going to spend our lives
together. I asked you, only this morning, for example, to come out and
take a turn with me in the garden. I was waiting for you ten minutes,
and you never came. Every one saw me waiting. The stable-boys saw me.
I was so ashamed that I went in. Then, on the drive you hardly spoke to
me. Henry noticed it. Every one notices it.... You find no difficulty in
talking to Henry, though.”

She noted these various complaints and determined philosophically
to answer none of them, although the last stung her to considerable
irritation. She wished to find out how deep his grievance lay.

“None of these things seem to me to matter,” she said.

“Very well, then. I may as well hold my tongue,” he replied.

“In themselves they don’t seem to me to matter; if they hurt you, of
course they matter,” she corrected herself scrupulously. Her tone of
consideration touched him, and he walked on in silence for a space.

“And we might be so happy, Katharine!” he exclaimed impulsively, and
drew her arm through his. She withdrew it directly.

“As long as you let yourself feel like this we shall never be happy,”
 she said.

The harshness, which Henry had noticed, was again unmistakable in her
manner. William flinched and was silent. Such severity, accompanied
by something indescribably cold and impersonal in her manner, had
constantly been meted out to him during the last few days, always in the
company of others. He had recouped himself by some ridiculous display of
vanity which, as he knew, put him still more at her mercy. Now that
he was alone with her there was no stimulus from outside to draw his
attention from his injury. By a considerable effort of self-control he
forced himself to remain silent, and to make himself distinguish what
part of his pain was due to vanity, what part to the certainty that no
woman really loving him could speak thus.

“What do I feel about Katharine?” he thought to himself. It was clear
that she had been a very desirable and distinguished figure, the
mistress of her little section of the world; but more than that, she was
the person of all others who seemed to him the arbitress of life, the
woman whose judgment was naturally right and steady, as his had never
been in spite of all his culture. And then he could not see her come
into a room without a sense of the flowing of robes, of the flowering of
blossoms, of the purple waves of the sea, of all things that are lovely
and mutable on the surface but still and passionate in their heart.

“If she were callous all the time and had only led me on to laugh at me
I couldn’t have felt that about her,” he thought. “I’m not a fool, after
all. I can’t have been utterly mistaken all these years. And yet, when
she speaks to me like that! The truth of it is,” he thought, “that I’ve
got such despicable faults that no one could help speaking to me
like that. Katharine is quite right. And yet those are not my serious
feelings, as she knows quite well. How can I change myself? What would
make her care for me?” He was terribly tempted here to break the silence
by asking Katharine in what respects he could change himself to suit
her; but he sought consolation instead by running over the list of his
gifts and acquirements, his knowledge of Greek and Latin, his knowledge
of art and literature, his skill in the management of meters, and his
ancient west-country blood. But the feeling that underlay all these
feelings and puzzled him profoundly and kept him silent was the
certainty that he loved Katharine as sincerely as he had it in him to
love any one. And yet she could speak to him like that! In a sort of
bewilderment he lost all desire to speak, and would quite readily have
taken up some different topic of conversation if Katharine had started
one. This, however, she did not do.

He glanced at her, in case her expression might help him to understand
her behavior. As usual, she had quickened her pace unconsciously, and
was now walking a little in front of him; but he could gain little
information from her eyes, which looked steadily at the brown heather,
or from the lines drawn seriously upon her forehead. Thus to lose touch
with her, for he had no idea what she was thinking, was so unpleasant to
him that he began to talk about his grievances again, without, however,
much conviction in his voice.

“If you have no feeling for me, wouldn’t it be kinder to say so to me in
private?”

“Oh, William,” she burst out, as if he had interrupted some absorbing
train of thought, “how you go on about feelings! Isn’t it better not to
talk so much, not to be worrying always about small things that don’t
really matter?”

“That’s the question precisely,” he exclaimed. “I only want you to tell
me that they don’t matter. There are times when you seem indifferent to
everything. I’m vain, I’ve a thousand faults; but you know they’re not
everything; you know I care for you.”

“And if I say that I care for you, don’t you believe me?”

“Say it, Katharine! Say it as if you meant it! Make me feel that you
care for me!”

She could not force herself to speak a word. The heather was growing dim
around them, and the horizon was blotted out by white mist. To ask her
for passion or for certainty seemed like asking that damp prospect for
fierce blades of fire, or the faded sky for the intense blue vault of
June.

He went on now to tell her of his love for her, in words which bore,
even to her critical senses, the stamp of truth; but none of this
touched her, until, coming to a gate whose hinge was rusty, he heaved
it open with his shoulder, still talking and taking no account of his
effort. The virility of this deed impressed her; and yet, normally, she
attached no value to the power of opening gates. The strength of muscles
has nothing to do on the face of it with the strength of affections;
nevertheless, she felt a sudden concern for this power running to waste
on her account, which, combined with a desire to keep possession of that
strangely attractive masculine power, made her rouse herself from her
torpor.

Why should she not simply tell him the truth--which was that she had
accepted him in a misty state of mind when nothing had its right shape
or size? that it was deplorable, but that with clearer eyesight marriage
was out of the question? She did not want to marry any one. She wanted
to go away by herself, preferably to some bleak northern moor, and
there study mathematics and the science of astronomy. Twenty words would
explain the whole situation to him. He had ceased to speak; he had told
her once more how he loved her and why. She summoned her courage, fixed
her eyes upon a lightning-splintered ash-tree, and, almost as if she
were reading a writing fixed to the trunk, began:

“I was wrong to get engaged to you. I shall never make you happy. I have
never loved you.”

“Katharine!” he protested.

“No, never,” she repeated obstinately. “Not rightly. Don’t you see, I
didn’t know what I was doing?”

“You love some one else?” he cut her short.

“Absolutely no one.”

“Henry?” he demanded.

“Henry? I should have thought, William, even you--”

“There is some one,” he persisted. “There has been a change in the last
few weeks. You owe it to me to be honest, Katharine.”

“If I could, I would,” she replied.

“Why did you tell me you would marry me, then?” he demanded.

Why, indeed? A moment of pessimism, a sudden conviction of the
undeniable prose of life, a lapse of the illusion which sustains youth
midway between heaven and earth, a desperate attempt to reconcile
herself with facts--she could only recall a moment, as of waking from a
dream, which now seemed to her a moment of surrender. But who could give
reasons such as these for doing what she had done? She shook her head
very sadly.

“But you’re not a child--you’re not a woman of moods,” Rodney persisted.
“You couldn’t have accepted me if you hadn’t loved me!” he cried.

A sense of her own misbehavior, which she had succeeded in keeping from
her by sharpening her consciousness of Rodney’s faults, now swept over
her and almost overwhelmed her. What were his faults in comparison with
the fact that he cared for her? What were her virtues in comparison with
the fact that she did not care for him? In a flash the conviction that
not to care is the uttermost sin of all stamped itself upon her inmost
thought; and she felt herself branded for ever.

He had taken her arm, and held her hand firmly in his, nor had she the
force to resist what now seemed to her his enormously superior strength.
Very well; she would submit, as her mother and her aunt and most women,
perhaps, had submitted; and yet she knew that every second of such
submission to his strength was a second of treachery to him.

“I did say I would marry you, but it was wrong,” she forced herself
to say, and she stiffened her arm as if to annul even the seeming
submission of that separate part of her; “for I don’t love you,
William; you’ve noticed it, every one’s noticed it; why should we go on
pretending? When I told you I loved you, I was wrong. I said what I knew
to be untrue.”

As none of her words seemed to her at all adequate to represent what
she felt, she repeated them, and emphasized them without realizing
the effect that they might have upon a man who cared for her. She was
completely taken aback by finding her arm suddenly dropped; then she saw
his face most strangely contorted; was he laughing, it flashed across
her? In another moment she saw that he was in tears. In her bewilderment
at this apparition she stood aghast for a second. With a desperate sense
that this horror must, at all costs, be stopped, she then put her arms
about him, drew his head for a moment upon her shoulder, and led him on,
murmuring words of consolation, until he heaved a great sigh. They held
fast to each other; her tears, too, ran down her cheeks; and were both
quite silent. Noticing the difficulty with which he walked, and feeling
the same extreme lassitude in her own limbs, she proposed that they
should rest for a moment where the bracken was brown and shriveled
beneath an oak-tree. He assented. Once more he gave a great sigh, and
wiped his eyes with a childlike unconsciousness, and began to speak
without a trace of his previous anger. The idea came to her that they
were like the children in the fairy tale who were lost in a wood, and
with this in her mind she noticed the scattering of dead leaves all
round them which had been blown by the wind into heaps, a foot or two
deep, here and there.

“When did you begin to feel this, Katharine?” he said; “for it isn’t
true to say that you’ve always felt it. I admit I was unreasonable
the first night when you found that your clothes had been left behind.
Still, where’s the fault in that? I could promise you never to interfere
with your clothes again. I admit I was cross when I found you upstairs
with Henry. Perhaps I showed it too openly. But that’s not unreasonable
either when one’s engaged. Ask your mother. And now this terrible
thing--” He broke off, unable for the moment to proceed any further.
“This decision you say you’ve come to--have you discussed it with any
one? Your mother, for example, or Henry?”

“No, no, of course not,” she said, stirring the leaves with her hand.
“But you don’t understand me, William--”

“Help me to understand you--”

“You don’t understand, I mean, my real feelings; how could you? I’ve
only now faced them myself. But I haven’t got the sort of feeling--love,
I mean--I don’t know what to call it”--she looked vaguely towards the
horizon sunk under mist--“but, anyhow, without it our marriage would be
a farce--”

“How a farce?” he asked. “But this kind of analysis is disastrous!” he
exclaimed.

“I should have done it before,” she said gloomily.

“You make yourself think things you don’t think,” he continued, becoming
demonstrative with his hands, as his manner was. “Believe me, Katharine,
before we came here we were perfectly happy. You were full of plans for
our house--the chair-covers, don’t you remember?--like any other woman
who is about to be married. Now, for no reason whatever, you begin to
fret about your feeling and about my feeling, with the usual result. I
assure you, Katharine, I’ve been through it all myself. At one time I
was always asking myself absurd questions which came to nothing either.
What you want, if I may say so, is some occupation to take you out
of yourself when this morbid mood comes on. If it hadn’t been for my
poetry, I assure you, I should often have been very much in the same
state myself. To let you into a secret,” he continued, with his little
chuckle, which now sounded almost assured, “I’ve often gone home from
seeing you in such a state of nerves that I had to force myself to write
a page or two before I could get you out of my head. Ask Denham; he’ll
tell you how he met me one night; he’ll tell you what a state he found
me in.”

Katharine started with displeasure at the mention of Ralph’s name. The
thought of the conversation in which her conduct had been made a subject
for discussion with Denham roused her anger; but, as she instantly felt,
she had scarcely the right to grudge William any use of her name, seeing
what her fault against him had been from first to last. And yet Denham!
She had a view of him as a judge. She figured him sternly weighing
instances of her levity in this masculine court of inquiry into feminine
morality and gruffly dismissing both her and her family with some
half-sarcastic, half-tolerant phrase which sealed her doom, as far as
he was concerned, for ever. Having met him so lately, the sense of his
character was strong in her. The thought was not a pleasant one for
a proud woman, but she had yet to learn the art of subduing her
expression. Her eyes fixed upon the ground, her brows drawn together,
gave William a very fair picture of the resentment that she was forcing
herself to control. A certain degree of apprehension, occasionally
culminating in a kind of fear, had always entered into his love for her,
and had increased, rather to his surprise, in the greater intimacy of
their engagement. Beneath her steady, exemplary surface ran a vein of
passion which seemed to him now perverse, now completely irrational, for
it never took the normal channel of glorification of him and his doings;
and, indeed, he almost preferred the steady good sense, which had always
marked their relationship, to a more romantic bond. But passion she had,
he could not deny it, and hitherto he had tried to see it employed in
his thoughts upon the lives of the children who were to be born to them.

“She will make a perfect mother--a mother of sons,” he thought; but
seeing her sitting there, gloomy and silent, he began to have his doubts
on this point. “A farce, a farce,” he thought to himself. “She said that
our marriage would be a farce,” and he became suddenly aware of their
situation, sitting upon the ground, among the dead leaves, not fifty
yards from the main road, so that it was quite possible for some one
passing to see and recognize them. He brushed off his face any trace
that might remain of that unseemly exhibition of emotion. But he was
more troubled by Katharine’s appearance, as she sat rapt in thought upon
the ground, than by his own; there was something improper to him in her
self-forgetfulness. A man naturally alive to the conventions of society,
he was strictly conventional where women were concerned, and especially
if the women happened to be in any way connected with him. He noticed
with distress the long strand of dark hair touching her shoulder and two
or three dead beech-leaves attached to her dress; but to recall her
mind in their present circumstances to a sense of these details was
impossible. She sat there, seeming unconscious of everything. He
suspected that in her silence she was reproaching herself; but he wished
that she would think of her hair and of the dead beech-leaves, which
were of more immediate importance to him than anything else. Indeed,
these trifles drew his attention strangely from his own doubtful and
uneasy state of mind; for relief, mixing itself with pain, stirred up a
most curious hurry and tumult in his breast, almost concealing his
first sharp sense of bleak and overwhelming disappointment. In order to
relieve this restlessness and close a distressingly ill-ordered scene,
he rose abruptly and helped Katharine to her feet. She smiled a little
at the minute care with which he tidied her and yet, when he brushed the
dead leaves from his own coat, she flinched, seeing in that action the
gesture of a lonely man.

“William,” she said, “I will marry you. I will try to make you happy.”



CHAPTER XIX

The afternoon was already growing dark when the two other wayfarers,
Mary and Ralph Denham, came out on the high road beyond the outskirts
of Lincoln. The high road, as they both felt, was better suited to this
return journey than the open country, and for the first mile or so
of the way they spoke little. In his own mind Ralph was following the
passage of the Otway carriage over the heath; he then went back to the
five or ten minutes that he had spent with Katharine, and examined each
word with the care that a scholar displays upon the irregularities of
an ancient text. He was determined that the glow, the romance, the
atmosphere of this meeting should not paint what he must in future
regard as sober facts. On her side Mary was silent, not because her
thoughts took much handling, but because her mind seemed empty of
thought as her heart of feeling. Only Ralph’s presence, as she knew,
preserved this numbness, for she could foresee a time of loneliness when
many varieties of pain would beset her. At the present moment her effort
was to preserve what she could of the wreck of her self-respect, for
such she deemed that momentary glimpse of her love so involuntarily
revealed to Ralph. In the light of reason it did not much matter,
perhaps, but it was her instinct to be careful of that vision of herself
which keeps pace so evenly beside every one of us, and had been damaged
by her confession. The gray night coming down over the country was kind
to her; and she thought that one of these days she would find comfort
in sitting upon the earth, alone, beneath a tree. Looking through the
darkness, she marked the swelling ground and the tree. Ralph made her
start by saying abruptly;

“What I was going to say when we were interrupted at lunch was that if
you go to America I shall come, too. It can’t be harder to earn a living
there than it is here. However, that’s not the point. The point is,
Mary, that I want to marry you. Well, what do you say?” He spoke firmly,
waited for no answer, and took her arm in his. “You know me by this
time, the good and the bad,” he went on. “You know my tempers. I’ve
tried to let you know my faults. Well, what do you say, Mary?”

She said nothing, but this did not seem to strike him.

“In most ways, at least in the important ways, as you said, we know each
other and we think alike. I believe you are the only person in the world
I could live with happily. And if you feel the same about me--as you do,
don’t you, Mary?--we should make each other happy.” Here he paused,
and seemed to be in no hurry for an answer; he seemed, indeed, to be
continuing his own thoughts.

“Yes, but I’m afraid I couldn’t do it,” Mary said at last. The casual
and rather hurried way in which she spoke, together with the fact
that she was saying the exact opposite of what he expected her to say,
baffled him so much that he instinctively loosened his clasp upon her
arm and she withdrew it quietly.

“You couldn’t do it?” he asked.

“No, I couldn’t marry you,” she replied.

“You don’t care for me?”

She made no answer.

“Well, Mary,” he said, with a curious laugh, “I must be an arrant fool,
for I thought you did.” They walked for a minute or two in silence,
and suddenly he turned to her, looked at her, and exclaimed: “I don’t
believe you, Mary. You’re not telling me the truth.”

“I’m too tired to argue, Ralph,” she replied, turning her head away from
him. “I ask you to believe what I say. I can’t marry you; I don’t want
to marry you.”

The voice in which she stated this was so evidently the voice of one in
some extremity of anguish that Ralph had no course but to obey her. And
as soon as the tone of her voice had died out, and the surprise faded
from his mind, he found himself believing that she had spoken the truth,
for he had but little vanity, and soon her refusal seemed a natural
thing to him. He slipped through all the grades of despondency until he
reached a bottom of absolute gloom. Failure seemed to mark the whole of
his life; he had failed with Katharine, and now he had failed with
Mary. Up at once sprang the thought of Katharine, and with it a sense of
exulting freedom, but this he checked instantly. No good had ever come
to him from Katharine; his whole relationship with her had been made up
of dreams; and as he thought of the little substance there had been in
his dreams he began to lay the blame of the present catastrophe upon his
dreams.

“Haven’t I always been thinking of Katharine while I was with Mary? I
might have loved Mary if it hadn’t been for that idiocy of mine. She
cared for me once, I’m certain of that, but I tormented her so with my
humors that I let my chances slip, and now she won’t risk marrying me.
And this is what I’ve made of my life--nothing, nothing, nothing.”

The tramp of their boots upon the dry road seemed to asseverate nothing,
nothing, nothing. Mary thought that this silence was the silence
of relief; his depression she ascribed to the fact that he had seen
Katharine and parted from her, leaving her in the company of William
Rodney. She could not blame him for loving Katharine, but that, when he
loved another, he should ask her to marry him--that seemed to her
the cruellest treachery. Their old friendship and its firm base upon
indestructible qualities of character crumbled, and her whole past
seemed foolish, herself weak and credulous, and Ralph merely the shell
of an honest man. Oh, the past--so much made up of Ralph; and now, as
she saw, made up of something strange and false and other than she had
thought it. She tried to recapture a saying she had made to help herself
that morning, as Ralph paid the bill for luncheon; but she could see
him paying the bill more vividly than she could remember the phrase.
Something about truth was in it; how to see the truth is our great
chance in this world.

“If you don’t want to marry me,” Ralph now began again, without
abruptness, with diffidence rather, “there is no need why we should
cease to see each other, is there? Or would you rather that we should
keep apart for the present?”

“Keep apart? I don’t know--I must think about it.”

“Tell me one thing, Mary,” he resumed; “have I done anything to make you
change your mind about me?”

She was immensely tempted to give way to her natural trust in him,
revived by the deep and now melancholy tones of his voice, and to tell
him of her love, and of what had changed it. But although it seemed
likely that she would soon control her anger with him, the certainty
that he did not love her, confirmed by every word of his proposal,
forbade any freedom of speech. To hear him speak and to feel herself
unable to reply, or constrained in her replies, was so painful that she
longed for the time when she should be alone. A more pliant woman would
have taken this chance of an explanation, whatever risks attached to it;
but to one of Mary’s firm and resolute temperament there was degradation
in the idea of self-abandonment; let the waves of emotion rise ever so
high, she could not shut her eyes to what she conceived to be the truth.
Her silence puzzled Ralph. He searched his memory for words or deeds
that might have made her think badly of him. In his present mood
instances came but too quickly, and on top of them this culminating
proof of his baseness--that he had asked her to marry him when his
reasons for such a proposal were selfish and half-hearted.

“You needn’t answer,” he said grimly. “There are reasons enough, I know.
But must they kill our friendship, Mary? Let me keep that, at least.”

“Oh,” she thought to herself, with a sudden rush of anguish which
threatened disaster to her self-respect, “it has come to this--to
this--when I could have given him everything!”

“Yes, we can still be friends,” she said, with what firmness she could
muster.

“I shall want your friendship,” he said. He added, “If you find it
possible, let me see you as often as you can. The oftener the better. I
shall want your help.”

She promised this, and they went on to talk calmly of things that had
no reference to their feelings--a talk which, in its constraint, was
infinitely sad to both of them.

One more reference was made to the state of things between them late
that night, when Elizabeth had gone to her room, and the two young men
had stumbled off to bed in such a state of sleep that they hardly felt
the floor beneath their feet after a day’s shooting.

Mary drew her chair a little nearer to the fire, for the logs were
burning low, and at this time of night it was hardly worth while to
replenish them. Ralph was reading, but she had noticed for some time
that his eyes instead of following the print were fixed rather above the
page with an intensity of gloom that came to weigh upon her mind. She
had not weakened in her resolve not to give way, for reflection had only
made her more bitterly certain that, if she gave way, it would be to her
own wish and not to his. But she had determined that there was no reason
why he should suffer if her reticence were the cause of his suffering.
Therefore, although she found it painful, she spoke:

“You asked me if I had changed my mind about you, Ralph,” she said. “I
think there’s only one thing. When you asked me to marry you, I don’t
think you meant it. That made me angry--for the moment. Before, you’d
always spoken the truth.”

Ralph’s book slid down upon his knee and fell upon the floor. He rested
his forehead on his hand and looked into the fire. He was trying to
recall the exact words in which he had made his proposal to Mary.

“I never said I loved you,” he said at last.

She winced; but she respected him for saying what he did, for this,
after all, was a fragment of the truth which she had vowed to live by.

“And to me marriage without love doesn’t seem worth while,” she said.

“Well, Mary, I’m not going to press you,” he said. “I see you don’t want
to marry me. But love--don’t we all talk a great deal of nonsense about
it? What does one mean? I believe I care for you more genuinely than
nine men out of ten care for the women they’re in love with. It’s only a
story one makes up in one’s mind about another person, and one knows all
the time it isn’t true. Of course one knows; why, one’s always taking
care not to destroy the illusion. One takes care not to see them too
often, or to be alone with them for too long together. It’s a pleasant
illusion, but if you’re thinking of the risks of marriage, it seems to
me that the risk of marrying a person you’re in love with is something
colossal.”

“I don’t believe a word of that, and what’s more you don’t, either,”
 she replied with anger. “However, we don’t agree; I only wanted you to
understand.” She shifted her position, as if she were about to go. An
instinctive desire to prevent her from leaving the room made Ralph rise
at this point and begin pacing up and down the nearly empty kitchen,
checking his desire, each time he reached the door, to open it and step
out into the garden. A moralist might have said that at this point his
mind should have been full of self-reproach for the suffering he had
caused. On the contrary, he was extremely angry, with the confused
impotent anger of one who finds himself unreasonably but efficiently
frustrated. He was trapped by the illogicality of human life. The
obstacles in the way of his desire seemed to him purely artificial, and
yet he could see no way of removing them. Mary’s words, the tone of her
voice even, angered him, for she would not help him. She was part of the
insanely jumbled muddle of a world which impedes the sensible life. He
would have liked to slam the door or break the hind legs of a chair,
for the obstacles had taken some such curiously substantial shape in his
mind.

“I doubt that one human being ever understands another,” he said,
stopping in his march and confronting Mary at a distance of a few feet.

“Such damned liars as we all are, how can we? But we can try. If you
don’t want to marry me, don’t; but the position you take up about love,
and not seeing each other--isn’t that mere sentimentality? You think
I’ve behaved very badly,” he continued, as she did not speak. “Of course
I behave badly; but you can’t judge people by what they do. You can’t
go through life measuring right and wrong with a foot-rule. That’s what
you’re always doing, Mary; that’s what you’re doing now.”

She saw herself in the Suffrage Office, delivering judgment, meting
out right and wrong, and there seemed to her to be some justice in the
charge, although it did not affect her main position.

“I’m not angry with you,” she said slowly. “I will go on seeing you, as
I said I would.”

It was true that she had promised that much already, and it was
difficult for him to say what more it was that he wanted--some intimacy,
some help against the ghost of Katharine, perhaps, something that he
knew he had no right to ask; and yet, as he sank into his chair and
looked once more at the dying fire it seemed to him that he had been
defeated, not so much by Mary as by life itself. He felt himself thrown
back to the beginning of life again, where everything has yet to be won;
but in extreme youth one has an ignorant hope. He was no longer certain
that he would triumph.



CHAPTER XX

Happily for Mary Datchet she returned to the office to find that by some
obscure Parliamentary maneuver the vote had once more slipped beyond the
attainment of women. Mrs. Seal was in a condition bordering upon frenzy.
The duplicity of Ministers, the treachery of mankind, the insult to
womanhood, the setback to civilization, the ruin of her life’s work, the
feelings of her father’s daughter--all these topics were discussed in
turn, and the office was littered with newspaper cuttings branded with
the blue, if ambiguous, marks of her displeasure. She confessed herself
at fault in her estimate of human nature.

“The simple elementary acts of justice,” she said, waving her hand
towards the window, and indicating the foot-passengers and omnibuses
then passing down the far side of Russell Square, “are as far beyond
them as they ever were. We can only look upon ourselves, Mary, as
pioneers in a wilderness. We can only go on patiently putting the truth
before them. It isn’t THEM,” she continued, taking heart from her sight
of the traffic, “it’s their leaders. It’s those gentlemen sitting in
Parliament and drawing four hundred a year of the people’s money. If we
had to put our case to the people, we should soon have justice done to
us. I have always believed in the people, and I do so still. But--” She
shook her head and implied that she would give them one more chance,
and if they didn’t take advantage of that she couldn’t answer for the
consequences.

Mr. Clacton’s attitude was more philosophical and better supported by
statistics. He came into the room after Mrs. Seal’s outburst and pointed
out, with historical illustrations, that such reverses had happened in
every political campaign of any importance. If anything, his spirits
were improved by the disaster. The enemy, he said, had taken the
offensive; and it was now up to the Society to outwit the enemy. He gave
Mary to understand that he had taken the measure of their cunning, and
had already bent his mind to the task which, so far as she could make
out, depended solely upon him. It depended, so she came to think,
when invited into his room for a private conference, upon a systematic
revision of the card-index, upon the issue of certain new lemon-colored
leaflets, in which the facts were marshaled once more in a very striking
way, and upon a large scale map of England dotted with little pins
tufted with differently colored plumes of hair according to their
geographical position. Each district, under the new system, had its
flag, its bottle of ink, its sheaf of documents tabulated and filed
for reference in a drawer, so that by looking under M or S, as the
case might be, you had all the facts with respect to the Suffrage
organizations of that county at your fingers’ ends. This would require a
great deal of work, of course.

“We must try to consider ourselves rather in the light of a telephone
exchange--for the exchange of ideas, Miss Datchet,” he said; and taking
pleasure in his image, he continued it. “We should consider ourselves
the center of an enormous system of wires, connecting us up with every
district of the country. We must have our fingers upon the pulse of the
community; we want to know what people all over England are thinking; we
want to put them in the way of thinking rightly.” The system, of course,
was only roughly sketched so far--jotted down, in fact, during the
Christmas holidays.

“When you ought to have been taking a rest, Mr. Clacton,” said Mary
dutifully, but her tone was flat and tired.

“We learn to do without holidays, Miss Datchet,” said Mr. Clacton, with
a spark of satisfaction in his eye.

He wished particularly to have her opinion of the lemon-colored leaflet.
According to his plan, it was to be distributed in immense quantities
immediately, in order to stimulate and generate, “to generate and
stimulate,” he repeated, “right thoughts in the country before the
meeting of Parliament.”

“We have to take the enemy by surprise,” he said. “They don’t let the
grass grow under their feet. Have you seen Bingham’s address to his
constituents? That’s a hint of the sort of thing we’ve got to meet, Miss
Datchet.”

He handed her a great bundle of newspaper cuttings, and, begging her to
give him her views upon the yellow leaflet before lunch-time, he turned
with alacrity to his different sheets of paper and his different bottles
of ink.

Mary shut the door, laid the documents upon her table, and sank her
head on her hands. Her brain was curiously empty of any thought. She
listened, as if, perhaps, by listening she would become merged again
in the atmosphere of the office. From the next room came the rapid
spasmodic sounds of Mrs. Seal’s erratic typewriting; she, doubtless, was
already hard at work helping the people of England, as Mr. Clacton
put it, to think rightly; “generating and stimulating,” those were his
words. She was striking a blow against the enemy, no doubt, who didn’t
let the grass grow beneath their feet. Mr. Clacton’s words repeated
themselves accurately in her brain. She pushed the papers wearily over
to the farther side of the table. It was no use, though; something or
other had happened to her brain--a change of focus so that near things
were indistinct again. The same thing had happened to her once before,
she remembered, after she had met Ralph in the gardens of Lincoln’s Inn
Fields; she had spent the whole of a committee meeting in thinking about
sparrows and colors, until, almost at the end of the meeting, her old
convictions had all come back to her. But they had only come back, she
thought with scorn at her feebleness, because she wanted to use them to
fight against Ralph. They weren’t, rightly speaking, convictions at all.
She could not see the world divided into separate compartments of good
people and bad people, any more than she could believe so implicitly in
the rightness of her own thought as to wish to bring the population
of the British Isles into agreement with it. She looked at the
lemon-colored leaflet, and thought almost enviously of the faith which
could find comfort in the issue of such documents; for herself she would
be content to remain silent for ever if a share of personal happiness
were granted her. She read Mr. Clacton’s statement with a curious
division of judgment, noting its weak and pompous verbosity on the one
hand, and, at the same time, feeling that faith, faith in an illusion,
perhaps, but, at any rate, faith in something, was of all gifts the most
to be envied. An illusion it was, no doubt. She looked curiously round
her at the furniture of the office, at the machinery in which she
had taken so much pride, and marveled to think that once the
copying-presses, the card-index, the files of documents, had all been
shrouded, wrapped in some mist which gave them a unity and a general
dignity and purpose independently of their separate significance.
The ugly cumbersomeness of the furniture alone impressed her now. Her
attitude had become very lax and despondent when the typewriter stopped
in the next room. Mary immediately drew up to the table, laid hands on
an unopened envelope, and adopted an expression which might hide her
state of mind from Mrs. Seal. Some instinct of decency required that she
should not allow Mrs. Seal to see her face. Shading her eyes with her
fingers, she watched Mrs. Seal pull out one drawer after another in her
search for some envelope or leaflet. She was tempted to drop her fingers
and exclaim:

“Do sit down, Sally, and tell me how you manage it--how you manage, that
is, to bustle about with perfect confidence in the necessity of your
own activities, which to me seem as futile as the buzzing of a belated
blue-bottle.” She said nothing of the kind, however, and the presence of
industry which she preserved so long as Mrs. Seal was in the room served
to set her brain in motion, so that she dispatched her morning’s work
much as usual. At one o’clock she was surprised to find how efficiently
she had dealt with the morning. As she put her hat on she determined
to lunch at a shop in the Strand, so as to set that other piece of
mechanism, her body, into action. With a brain working and a body
working one could keep step with the crowd and never be found out for
the hollow machine, lacking the essential thing, that one was conscious
of being.

She considered her case as she walked down the Charing Cross Road. She
put to herself a series of questions. Would she mind, for example, if
the wheels of that motor-omnibus passed over her and crushed her
to death? No, not in the least; or an adventure with that
disagreeable-looking man hanging about the entrance of the Tube station?
No; she could not conceive fear or excitement. Did suffering in any form
appall her? No, suffering was neither good nor bad. And this essential
thing? In the eyes of every single person she detected a flame; as if a
spark in the brain ignited spontaneously at contact with the things
they met and drove them on. The young women looking into the milliners’
windows had that look in their eyes; and elderly men turning over books
in the second-hand book-shops, and eagerly waiting to hear what the
price was--the very lowest price--they had it, too. But she cared
nothing at all for clothes or for money either. Books she shrank from,
for they were connected too closely with Ralph. She kept on her way
resolutely through the crowd of people, among whom she was so much of an
alien, feeling them cleave and give way before her.

Strange thoughts are bred in passing through crowded streets should the
passenger, by chance, have no exact destination in front of him, much
as the mind shapes all kinds of forms, solutions, images when listening
inattentively to music. From an acute consciousness of herself as an
individual, Mary passed to a conception of the scheme of things in
which, as a human being, she must have her share. She half held a
vision; the vision shaped and dwindled. She wished she had a pencil and
a piece of paper to help her to give a form to this conception which
composed itself as she walked down the Charing Cross Road. But if she
talked to any one, the conception might escape her. Her vision seemed to
lay out the lines of her life until death in a way which satisfied
her sense of harmony. It only needed a persistent effort of thought,
stimulated in this strange way by the crowd and the noise, to climb the
crest of existence and see it all laid out once and for ever. Already
her suffering as an individual was left behind her. Of this process,
which was to her so full of effort, which comprised infinitely swift
and full passages of thought, leading from one crest to another, as she
shaped her conception of life in this world, only two articulate
words escaped her, muttered beneath her breath--“Not happiness--not
happiness.”

She sat down on a seat opposite the statue of one of London’s heroes
upon the Embankment, and spoke the words aloud. To her they represented
the rare flower or splinter of rock brought down by a climber in proof
that he has stood for a moment, at least, upon the highest peak of
the mountain. She had been up there and seen the world spread to the
horizon. It was now necessary to alter her course to some extent,
according to her new resolve. Her post should be in one of those exposed
and desolate stations which are shunned naturally by happy people. She
arranged the details of the new plan in her mind, not without a grim
satisfaction.

“Now,” she said to herself, rising from her seat, “I’ll think of Ralph.”

Where was he to be placed in the new scale of life? Her exalted mood
seemed to make it safe to handle the question. But she was dismayed to
find how quickly her passions leapt forward the moment she sanctioned
this line of thought. Now she was identified with him and rethought his
thoughts with complete self-surrender; now, with a sudden cleavage of
spirit, she turned upon him and denounced him for his cruelty.

“But I refuse--I refuse to hate any one,” she said aloud; chose the
moment to cross the road with circumspection, and ten minutes later
lunched in the Strand, cutting her meat firmly into small pieces, but
giving her fellow-diners no further cause to judge her eccentric. Her
soliloquy crystallized itself into little fragmentary phrases emerging
suddenly from the turbulence of her thought, particularly when she
had to exert herself in any way, either to move, to count money, or
to choose a turning. “To know the truth--to accept without
bitterness”--those, perhaps, were the most articulate of her utterances,
for no one could have made head or tail of the queer gibberish murmured
in front of the statue of Francis, Duke of Bedford, save that the name
of Ralph occurred frequently in very strange connections, as if, having
spoken it, she wished, superstitiously, to cancel it by adding some
other word that robbed the sentence with his name in it of any meaning.

Those champions of the cause of women, Mr. Clacton and Mrs. Seal, did
not perceive anything strange in Mary’s behavior, save that she was
almost half an hour later than usual in coming back to the office.
Happily, their own affairs kept them busy, and she was free from their
inspection. If they had surprised her they would have found her lost,
apparently, in admiration of the large hotel across the square, for,
after writing a few words, her pen rested upon the paper, and her mind
pursued its own journey among the sun-blazoned windows and the drifts of
purplish smoke which formed her view. And, indeed, this background was
by no means out of keeping with her thoughts. She saw to the remote
spaces behind the strife of the foreground, enabled now to gaze there,
since she had renounced her own demands, privileged to see the larger
view, to share the vast desires and sufferings of the mass of mankind.
She had been too lately and too roughly mastered by facts to take an
easy pleasure in the relief of renunciation; such satisfaction as she
felt came only from the discovery that, having renounced everything
that made life happy, easy, splendid, individual, there remained a hard
reality, unimpaired by one’s personal adventures, remote as the stars,
unquenchable as they are.

While Mary Datchet was undergoing this curious transformation from the
particular to the universal, Mrs. Seal remembered her duties with regard
to the kettle and the gas-fire. She was a little surprised to find that
Mary had drawn her chair to the window, and, having lit the gas, she
raised herself from a stooping posture and looked at her. The most
obvious reason for such an attitude in a secretary was some kind of
indisposition. But Mary, rousing herself with an effort, denied that she
was indisposed.

“I’m frightfully lazy this afternoon,” she added, with a glance at her
table. “You must really get another secretary, Sally.”

The words were meant to be taken lightly, but something in the tone
of them roused a jealous fear which was always dormant in Mrs. Seal’s
breast. She was terribly afraid that one of these days Mary, the young
woman who typified so many rather sentimental and enthusiastic ideas,
who had some sort of visionary existence in white with a sheaf of lilies
in her hand, would announce, in a jaunty way, that she was about to be
married.

“You don’t mean that you’re going to leave us?” she said.

“I’ve not made up my mind about anything,” said Mary--a remark which
could be taken as a generalization.

Mrs. Seal got the teacups out of the cupboard and set them on the table.

“You’re not going to be married, are you?” she asked, pronouncing the
words with nervous speed.

“Why are you asking such absurd questions this afternoon, Sally?” Mary
asked, not very steadily. “Must we all get married?”

Mrs. Seal emitted a most peculiar chuckle. She seemed for one moment
to acknowledge the terrible side of life which is concerned with the
emotions, the private lives, of the sexes, and then to sheer off from it
with all possible speed into the shades of her own shivering virginity.
She was made so uncomfortable by the turn the conversation had taken,
that she plunged her head into the cupboard, and endeavored to abstract
some very obscure piece of china.

“We have our work,” she said, withdrawing her head, displaying cheeks
more than usually crimson, and placing a jam-pot emphatically upon the
table. But, for the moment, she was unable to launch herself upon one of
those enthusiastic, but inconsequent, tirades upon liberty, democracy,
the rights of the people, and the iniquities of the Government, in which
she delighted. Some memory from her own past or from the past of her sex
rose to her mind and kept her abashed. She glanced furtively at Mary,
who still sat by the window with her arm upon the sill. She noticed how
young she was and full of the promise of womanhood. The sight made her
so uneasy that she fidgeted the cups upon their saucers.

“Yes--enough work to last a lifetime,” said Mary, as if concluding some
passage of thought.

Mrs. Seal brightened at once. She lamented her lack of scientific
training, and her deficiency in the processes of logic, but she set
her mind to work at once to make the prospects of the cause appear
as alluring and important as she could. She delivered herself of an
harangue in which she asked a great many rhetorical questions and
answered them with a little bang of one fist upon another.

“To last a lifetime? My dear child, it will last all our lifetimes. As
one falls another steps into the breach. My father, in his generation, a
pioneer--I, coming after him, do my little best. What, alas! can one do
more? And now it’s you young women--we look to you--the future looks
to you. Ah, my dear, if I’d a thousand lives, I’d give them all to our
cause. The cause of women, d’you say? I say the cause of humanity. And
there are some”--she glanced fiercely at the window--“who don’t see it!
There are some who are satisfied to go on, year after year, refusing to
admit the truth. And we who have the vision--the kettle boiling over?
No, no, let me see to it--we who know the truth,” she continued,
gesticulating with the kettle and the teapot. Owing to these
encumbrances, perhaps, she lost the thread of her discourse, and
concluded, rather wistfully, “It’s all so SIMPLE.” She referred to
a matter that was a perpetual source of bewilderment to her--the
extraordinary incapacity of the human race, in a world where the good
is so unmistakably divided from the bad, of distinguishing one from the
other, and embodying what ought to be done in a few large, simple Acts
of Parliament, which would, in a very short time, completely change the
lot of humanity.

“One would have thought,” she said, “that men of University training,
like Mr. Asquith--one would have thought that an appeal to reason would
not be unheard by them. But reason,” she reflected, “what is reason
without Reality?”

Doing homage to the phrase, she repeated it once more, and caught the
ear of Mr. Clacton, as he issued from his room; and he repeated it a
third time, giving it, as he was in the habit of doing with Mrs. Seal’s
phrases, a dryly humorous intonation. He was well pleased with the
world, however, and he remarked, in a flattering manner, that he would
like to see that phrase in large letters at the head of a leaflet.

“But, Mrs. Seal, we have to aim at a judicious combination of the two,”
 he added in his magisterial way to check the unbalanced enthusiasm of
the women. “Reality has to be voiced by reason before it can make
itself felt. The weak point of all these movements, Miss Datchet,” he
continued, taking his place at the table and turning to Mary as usual
when about to deliver his more profound cogitations, “is that they
are not based upon sufficiently intellectual grounds. A mistake, in
my opinion. The British public likes a pellet of reason in its jam
of eloquence--a pill of reason in its pudding of sentiment,” he said,
sharpening the phrase to a satisfactory degree of literary precision.

His eyes rested, with something of the vanity of an author, upon the
yellow leaflet which Mary held in her hand. She rose, took her seat at
the head of the table, poured out tea for her colleagues, and gave
her opinion upon the leaflet. So she had poured out tea, so she had
criticized Mr. Clacton’s leaflets a hundred times already; but now
it seemed to her that she was doing it in a different spirit; she had
enlisted in the army, and was a volunteer no longer. She had renounced
something and was now--how could she express it?--not quite “in the
running” for life. She had always known that Mr. Clacton and Mrs. Seal
were not in the running, and across the gulf that separated them she
had seen them in the guise of shadow people, flitting in and out of the
ranks of the living--eccentrics, undeveloped human beings, from whose
substance some essential part had been cut away. All this had never
struck her so clearly as it did this afternoon, when she felt that
her lot was cast with them for ever. One view of the world plunged
in darkness, so a more volatile temperament might have argued after
a season of despair, let the world turn again and show another, more
splendid, perhaps. No, Mary thought, with unflinching loyalty to what
appeared to her to be the true view, having lost what is best, I do not
mean to pretend that any other view does instead. Whatever happens,
I mean to have no presences in my life. Her very words had a sort of
distinctness which is sometimes produced by sharp, bodily pain. To Mrs.
Seal’s secret jubilation the rule which forbade discussion of shop at
tea-time was overlooked. Mary and Mr. Clacton argued with a cogency
and a ferocity which made the little woman feel that something very
important--she hardly knew what--was taking place. She became much
excited; one crucifix became entangled with another, and she dug a
considerable hole in the table with the point of her pencil in order
to emphasize the most striking heads of the discourse; and how any
combination of Cabinet Ministers could resist such discourse she really
did not know.

She could hardly bring herself to remember her own private instrument of
justice--the typewriter. The telephone-bell rang, and as she hurried off
to answer a voice which always seemed a proof of importance by itself,
she felt that it was at this exact spot on the surface of the globe that
all the subterranean wires of thought and progress came together. When
she returned, with a message from the printer, she found that Mary was
putting on her hat firmly; there was something imperious and dominating
in her attitude altogether.

“Look, Sally,” she said, “these letters want copying. These I’ve not
looked at. The question of the new census will have to be gone into
carefully. But I’m going home now. Good night, Mr. Clacton; good night,
Sally.”

“We are very fortunate in our secretary, Mr. Clacton,” said Mrs. Seal,
pausing with her hand on the papers, as the door shut behind Mary.
Mr. Clacton himself had been vaguely impressed by something in Mary’s
behavior towards him. He envisaged a time even when it would become
necessary to tell her that there could not be two masters in one
office--but she was certainly able, very able, and in touch with a group
of very clever young men. No doubt they had suggested to her some of her
new ideas.

He signified his assent to Mrs. Seal’s remark, but observed, with a
glance at the clock, which showed only half an hour past five:

“If she takes the work seriously, Mrs. Seal--but that’s just what some
of your clever young ladies don’t do.” So saying he returned to his
room, and Mrs. Seal, after a moment’s hesitation, hurried back to her
labors.



CHAPTER XXI

Mary walked to the nearest station and reached home in an incredibly
short space of time, just so much, indeed, as was needed for the
intelligent understanding of the news of the world as the “Westminster
Gazette” reported it. Within a few minutes of opening her door, she was
in trim for a hard evening’s work. She unlocked a drawer and took out a
manuscript, which consisted of a very few pages, entitled, in a forcible
hand, “Some Aspects of the Democratic State.” The aspects dwindled out
in a cries-cross of blotted lines in the very middle of a sentence,
and suggested that the author had been interrupted, or convinced of the
futility of proceeding, with her pen in the air.... Oh, yes, Ralph had
come in at that point. She scored that sheet very effectively, and,
choosing a fresh one, began at a great rate with a generalization upon
the structure of human society, which was a good deal bolder than her
custom. Ralph had told her once that she couldn’t write English, which
accounted for those frequent blots and insertions; but she put all that
behind her, and drove ahead with such words as came her way, until she
had accomplished half a page of generalization and might legitimately
draw breath. Directly her hand stopped her brain stopped too, and she
began to listen. A paper-boy shouted down the street; an omnibus ceased
and lurched on again with the heave of duty once more shouldered; the
dullness of the sounds suggested that a fog had risen since her return,
if, indeed, a fog has power to deaden sound, of which fact, she could
not be sure at the present moment. It was the sort of fact Ralph Denham
knew. At any rate, it was no concern of hers, and she was about to dip
a pen when her ear was caught by the sound of a step upon the stone
staircase. She followed it past Mr. Chippen’s chambers; past Mr.
Gibson’s; past Mr. Turner’s; after which it became her sound. A postman,
a washerwoman, a circular, a bill--she presented herself with each of
these perfectly natural possibilities; but, to her surprise, her mind
rejected each one of them impatiently, even apprehensively. The step
became slow, as it was apt to do at the end of the steep climb, and
Mary, listening for the regular sound, was filled with an intolerable
nervousness. Leaning against the table, she felt the knock of her heart
push her body perceptibly backwards and forwards--a state of nerves
astonishing and reprehensible in a stable woman. Grotesque fancies took
shape. Alone, at the top of the house, an unknown person approaching
nearer and nearer--how could she escape? There was no way of escape.
She did not even know whether that oblong mark on the ceiling was a
trap-door to the roof or not. And if she got on to the roof--well, there
was a drop of sixty feet or so on to the pavement. But she sat perfectly
still, and when the knock sounded, she got up directly and opened the
door without hesitation. She saw a tall figure outside, with something
ominous to her eyes in the look of it.

“What do you want?” she said, not recognizing the face in the fitful
light of the staircase.

“Mary? I’m Katharine Hilbery!”

Mary’s self-possession returned almost excessively, and her welcome was
decidedly cold, as if she must recoup herself for this ridiculous
waste of emotion. She moved her green-shaded lamp to another table,
and covered “Some Aspects of the Democratic State” with a sheet of
blotting-paper.

“Why can’t they leave me alone?” she thought bitterly, connecting
Katharine and Ralph in a conspiracy to take from her even this hour of
solitary study, even this poor little defence against the world. And, as
she smoothed down the sheet of blotting-paper over the manuscript,
she braced herself to resist Katharine, whose presence struck her,
not merely by its force, as usual, but as something in the nature of a
menace.

“You’re working?” said Katharine, with hesitation, perceiving that she
was not welcome.

“Nothing that matters,” Mary replied, drawing forward the best of the
chairs and poking the fire.

“I didn’t know you had to work after you had left the office,” said
Katharine, in a tone which gave the impression that she was thinking of
something else, as was, indeed, the case.

She had been paying calls with her mother, and in between the calls Mrs.
Hilbery had rushed into shops and bought pillow-cases and blotting-books
on no perceptible method for the furnishing of Katharine’s house.
Katharine had a sense of impedimenta accumulating on all sides of her.
She had left her at length, and had come on to keep an engagement to
dine with Rodney at his rooms. But she did not mean to get to him before
seven o’clock, and so had plenty of time to walk all the way from Bond
Street to the Temple if she wished it. The flow of faces streaming
on either side of her had hypnotized her into a mood of profound
despondency, to which her expectation of an evening alone with Rodney
contributed. They were very good friends again, better friends, they
both said, than ever before. So far as she was concerned this was true.
There were many more things in him than she had guessed until emotion
brought them forth--strength, affection, sympathy. And she thought of
them and looked at the faces passing, and thought how much alike they
were, and how distant, nobody feeling anything as she felt nothing, and
distance, she thought, lay inevitably between the closest, and their
intimacy was the worst presence of all. For, “Oh dear,” she thought,
looking into a tobacconist’s window, “I don’t care for any of them, and
I don’t care for William, and people say this is the thing that matters
most, and I can’t see what they mean by it.”

She looked desperately at the smooth-bowled pipes, and wondered--should
she walk on by the Strand or by the Embankment? It was not a simple
question, for it concerned not different streets so much as different
streams of thought. If she went by the Strand she would force herself
to think out the problem of the future, or some mathematical problem;
if she went by the river she would certainly begin to think about things
that didn’t exist--the forest, the ocean beach, the leafy solitudes,
the magnanimous hero. No, no, no! A thousand times no!--it wouldn’t do;
there was something repulsive in such thoughts at present; she must
take something else; she was out of that mood at present. And then she
thought of Mary; the thought gave her confidence, even pleasure of a sad
sort, as if the triumph of Ralph and Mary proved that the fault of her
failure lay with herself and not with life. An indistinct idea that the
sight of Mary might be of help, combined with her natural trust in her,
suggested a visit; for, surely, her liking was of a kind that implied
liking upon Mary’s side also. After a moment’s hesitation she decided,
although she seldom acted upon impulse, to act upon this one, and turned
down a side street and found Mary’s door. But her reception was not
encouraging; clearly Mary didn’t want to see her, had no help to impart,
and the half-formed desire to confide in her was quenched immediately.
She was slightly amused at her own delusion, looked rather
absent-minded, and swung her gloves to and fro, as if doling out the few
minutes accurately before she could say good-by.

Those few minutes might very well be spent in asking for information
as to the exact position of the Suffrage Bill, or in expounding her own
very sensible view of the situation. But there was a tone in her voice,
or a shade in her opinions, or a swing of her gloves which served to
irritate Mary Datchet, whose manner became increasingly direct, abrupt,
and even antagonistic. She became conscious of a wish to make Katharine
realize the importance of this work, which she discussed so coolly, as
though she, too, had sacrificed what Mary herself had sacrificed. The
swinging of the gloves ceased, and Katharine, after ten minutes, began
to make movements preliminary to departure. At the sight of this, Mary
was aware--she was abnormally aware of things to-night--of another very
strong desire; Katharine was not to be allowed to go, to disappear into
the free, happy world of irresponsible individuals. She must be made to
realize--to feel.

“I don’t quite see,” she said, as if Katharine had challenged her
explicitly, “how, things being as they are, any one can help trying, at
least, to do something.”

“No. But how ARE things?”

Mary pressed her lips, and smiled ironically; she had Katharine at her
mercy; she could, if she liked, discharge upon her head wagon-loads
of revolting proof of the state of things ignored by the casual, the
amateur, the looker-on, the cynical observer of life at a distance.
And yet she hesitated. As usual, when she found herself in talk with
Katharine, she began to feel rapid alternations of opinion about
her, arrows of sensation striking strangely through the envelope of
personality, which shelters us so conveniently from our fellows. What
an egoist, how aloof she was! And yet, not in her words, perhaps, but
in her voice, in her face, in her attitude, there were signs of a soft
brooding spirit, of a sensibility unblunted and profound, playing
over her thoughts and deeds, and investing her manner with an habitual
gentleness. The arguments and phrases of Mr. Clacton fell flat against
such armor.

“You’ll be married, and you’ll have other things to think of,” she said
inconsequently, and with an accent of condescension. She was not going
to make Katharine understand in a second, as she would, all she herself
had learnt at the cost of such pain. No. Katharine was to be happy;
Katharine was to be ignorant; Mary was to keep this knowledge of the
impersonal life for herself. The thought of her morning’s renunciation
stung her conscience, and she tried to expand once more into that
impersonal condition which was so lofty and so painless. She must check
this desire to be an individual again, whose wishes were in conflict
with those of other people. She repented of her bitterness.

Katharine now renewed her signs of leave-taking; she had drawn on one of
her gloves, and looked about her as if in search of some trivial saying
to end with. Wasn’t there some picture, or clock, or chest of drawers
which might be singled out for notice? something peaceable and friendly
to end the uncomfortable interview? The green-shaded lamp burnt in
the corner, and illumined books and pens and blotting-paper. The whole
aspect of the place started another train of thought and struck her as
enviably free; in such a room one could work--one could have a life of
one’s own.

“I think you’re very lucky,” she observed. “I envy you, living alone and
having your own things”--and engaged in this exalted way, which had no
recognition or engagement-ring, she added in her own mind.

Mary’s lips parted slightly. She could not conceive in what respects
Katharine, who spoke sincerely, could envy her.

“I don’t think you’ve got any reason to envy me,” she said.

“Perhaps one always envies other people,” Katharine observed vaguely.

“Well, but you’ve got everything that any one can want.”

Katharine remained silent. She gazed into the fire quietly, and without
a trace of self-consciousness. The hostility which she had divined in
Mary’s tone had completely disappeared, and she forgot that she had been
upon the point of going.

“Well, I suppose I have,” she said at length. “And yet I sometimes
think--” She paused; she did not know how to express what she meant.

“It came over me in the Tube the other day,” she resumed, with a smile;
“what is it that makes these people go one way rather than the other?
It’s not love; it’s not reason; I think it must be some idea. Perhaps,
Mary, our affections are the shadow of an idea. Perhaps there isn’t any
such thing as affection in itself....” She spoke half-mockingly, asking
her question, which she scarcely troubled to frame, not of Mary, or of
any one in particular.

But the words seemed to Mary Datchet shallow, supercilious,
cold-blooded, and cynical all in one. All her natural instincts were
roused in revolt against them.

“I’m the opposite way of thinking, you see,” she said.

“Yes; I know you are,” Katharine replied, looking at her as if now she
were about, perhaps, to explain something very important.

Mary could not help feeling the simplicity and good faith that lay
behind Katharine’s words.

“I think affection is the only reality,” she said.

“Yes,” said Katharine, almost sadly. She understood that Mary was
thinking of Ralph, and she felt it impossible to press her to reveal
more of this exalted condition; she could only respect the fact that,
in some few cases, life arranged itself thus satisfactorily and pass on.
She rose to her feet accordingly. But Mary exclaimed, with unmistakable
earnestness, that she must not go; that they met so seldom; that
she wanted to talk to her so much.... Katharine was surprised at the
earnestness with which she spoke. It seemed to her that there could be
no indiscretion in mentioning Ralph by name.

Seating herself “for ten minutes,” she said: “By the way, Mr. Denham
told me he was going to give up the Bar and live in the country. Has he
gone? He was beginning to tell me about it, when we were interrupted.”

“He thinks of it,” said Mary briefly. The color at once came to her
face.

“It would be a very good plan,” said Katharine in her decided way.

“You think so?”

“Yes, because he would do something worth while; he would write a book.
My father always says that he’s the most remarkable of the young men who
write for him.”

Mary bent low over the fire and stirred the coal between the bars with
a poker. Katharine’s mention of Ralph had roused within her an almost
irresistible desire to explain to her the true state of the case
between herself and Ralph. She knew, from the tone of her voice, that
in speaking of Ralph she had no desire to probe Mary’s secrets, or to
insinuate any of her own. Moreover, she liked Katharine; she trusted
her; she felt a respect for her. The first step of confidence was
comparatively simple; but a further confidence had revealed itself, as
Katharine spoke, which was not so simple, and yet it impressed itself
upon her as a necessity; she must tell Katharine what it was clear that
she had no conception of--she must tell Katharine that Ralph was in love
with her.

“I don’t know what he means to do,” she said hurriedly, seeking time
against the pressure of her own conviction. “I’ve not seen him since
Christmas.”

Katharine reflected that this was odd; perhaps, after all, she had
misunderstood the position. She was in the habit of assuming, however,
that she was rather unobservant of the finer shades of feeling, and she
noted her present failure as another proof that she was a practical,
abstract-minded person, better fitted to deal with figures than with the
feelings of men and women. Anyhow, William Rodney would say so.

“And now--” she said.

“Oh, please stay!” Mary exclaimed, putting out her hand to stop her.
Directly Katharine moved she felt, inarticulately and violently, that
she could not bear to let her go. If Katharine went, her only chance
of speaking was lost; her only chance of saying something tremendously
important was lost. Half a dozen words were sufficient to wake
Katharine’s attention, and put flight and further silence beyond her
power. But although the words came to her lips, her throat closed upon
them and drove them back. After all, she considered, why should she
speak? Because it is right, her instinct told her; right to expose
oneself without reservations to other human beings. She flinched from
the thought. It asked too much of one already stripped bare. Something
she must keep of her own. But if she did keep something of her own?
Immediately she figured an immured life, continuing for an immense
period, the same feelings living for ever, neither dwindling nor
changing within the ring of a thick stone wall. The imagination of this
loneliness frightened her, and yet to speak--to lose her loneliness, for
it had already become dear to her, was beyond her power.

Her hand went down to the hem of Katharine’s skirt, and, fingering a
line of fur, she bent her head as if to examine it.

“I like this fur,” she said, “I like your clothes. And you mustn’t
think that I’m going to marry Ralph,” she continued, in the same tone,
“because he doesn’t care for me at all. He cares for some one else.” Her
head remained bent, and her hand still rested upon the skirt.

“It’s a shabby old dress,” said Katharine, and the only sign that Mary’s
words had reached her was that she spoke with a little jerk.

“You don’t mind my telling you that?” said Mary, raising herself.

“No, no,” said Katharine; “but you’re mistaken, aren’t you?” She was,
in truth, horribly uncomfortable, dismayed, indeed, disillusioned. She
disliked the turn things had taken quite intensely. The indecency of
it afflicted her. The suffering implied by the tone appalled her. She
looked at Mary furtively, with eyes that were full of apprehension.
But if she had hoped to find that these words had been spoken without
understanding of their meaning, she was at once disappointed. Mary lay
back in her chair, frowning slightly, and looking, Katharine thought, as
if she had lived fifteen years or so in the space of a few minutes.

“There are some things, don’t you think, that one can’t be mistaken
about?” Mary said, quietly and almost coldly. “That is what puzzles me
about this question of being in love. I’ve always prided myself upon
being reasonable,” she added. “I didn’t think I could have felt this--I
mean if the other person didn’t. I was foolish. I let myself pretend.”
 Here she paused. “For, you see, Katharine,” she proceeded, rousing
herself and speaking with greater energy, “I AM in love. There’s no
doubt about that.... I’m tremendously in love... with Ralph.” The little
forward shake of her head, which shook a lock of hair, together with her
brighter color, gave her an appearance at once proud and defiant.

Katharine thought to herself, “That’s how it feels then.” She hesitated,
with a feeling that it was not for her to speak; and then said, in a low
tone, “You’ve got that.”

“Yes,” said Mary; “I’ve got that. One wouldn’t NOT be in love.... But
I didn’t mean to talk about that; I only wanted you to know. There’s
another thing I want to tell you...” She paused. “I haven’t any
authority from Ralph to say it; but I’m sure of this--he’s in love with
you.”

Katharine looked at her again, as if her first glance must have been
deluded, for, surely, there must be some outward sign that Mary was
talking in an excited, or bewildered, or fantastic manner. No; she still
frowned, as if she sought her way through the clauses of a difficult
argument, but she still looked more like one who reasons than one who
feels.

“That proves that you’re mistaken--utterly mistaken,” said Katharine,
speaking reasonably, too. She had no need to verify the mistake by a
glance at her own recollections, when the fact was so clearly stamped
upon her mind that if Ralph had any feeling towards her it was one of
critical hostility. She did not give the matter another thought, and
Mary, now that she had stated the fact, did not seek to prove it, but
tried to explain to herself, rather than to Katharine, her motives in
making the statement.

She had nerved herself to do what some large and imperious instinct
demanded her doing; she had been swept on the breast of a wave beyond
her reckoning.

“I’ve told you,” she said, “because I want you to help me. I don’t want
to be jealous of you. And I am--I’m fearfully jealous. The only way, I
thought, was to tell you.”

She hesitated, and groped in her endeavor to make her feelings clear to
herself.

“If I tell you, then we can talk; and when I’m jealous, I can tell you.
And if I’m tempted to do something frightfully mean, I can tell you;
you could make me tell you. I find talking so difficult; but loneliness
frightens me. I should shut it up in my mind. Yes, that’s what I’m
afraid of. Going about with something in my mind all my life that never
changes. I find it so difficult to change. When I think a thing’s wrong
I never stop thinking it wrong, and Ralph was quite right, I see, when
he said that there’s no such thing as right and wrong; no such thing, I
mean, as judging people--”

“Ralph Denham said that?” said Katharine, with considerable indignation.
In order to have produced such suffering in Mary, it seemed to her that
he must have behaved with extreme callousness. It seemed to her that he
had discarded the friendship, when it suited his convenience to do so,
with some falsely philosophical theory which made his conduct all the
worse. She was going on to express herself thus, had not Mary at once
interrupted her.

“No, no,” she said; “you don’t understand. If there’s any fault it’s
mine entirely; after all, if one chooses to run risks--”

Her voice faltered into silence. It was borne in upon her how completely
in running her risk she had lost her prize, lost it so entirely that
she had no longer the right, in talking of Ralph, to presume that
her knowledge of him supplanted all other knowledge. She no longer
completely possessed her love, since his share in it was doubtful; and
now, to make things yet more bitter, her clear vision of the way to face
life was rendered tremulous and uncertain, because another was witness
of it. Feeling her desire for the old unshared intimacy too great to be
borne without tears, she rose, walked to the farther end of the room,
held the curtains apart, and stood there mastered for a moment. The
grief itself was not ignoble; the sting of it lay in the fact that she
had been led to this act of treachery against herself. Trapped, cheated,
robbed, first by Ralph and then by Katharine, she seemed all dissolved
in humiliation, and bereft of anything she could call her own. Tears of
weakness welled up and rolled down her cheeks. But tears, at least, she
could control, and would this instant, and then, turning, she would face
Katharine, and retrieve what could be retrieved of the collapse of her
courage.

She turned. Katharine had not moved; she was leaning a little forward in
her chair and looking into the fire. Something in the attitude reminded
Mary of Ralph. So he would sit, leaning forward, looking rather fixedly
in front of him, while his mind went far away, exploring, speculating,
until he broke off with his, “Well, Mary?”--and the silence, that had
been so full of romance to her, gave way to the most delightful talk
that she had ever known.

Something unfamiliar in the pose of the silent figure, something still,
solemn, significant about it, made her hold her breath. She paused. Her
thoughts were without bitterness. She was surprised by her own quiet
and confidence. She came back silently, and sat once more by Katharine’s
side. Mary had no wish to speak. In the silence she seemed to have lost
her isolation; she was at once the sufferer and the pitiful spectator of
suffering; she was happier than she had ever been; she was more bereft;
she was rejected, and she was immensely beloved. Attempt to express
these sensations was vain, and, moreover, she could not help believing
that, without any words on her side, they were shared. Thus for some
time longer they sat silent, side by side, while Mary fingered the fur
on the skirt of the old dress.



CHAPTER XXII

The fact that she would be late in keeping her engagement with William
was not the only reason which sent Katharine almost at racing speed
along the Strand in the direction of his rooms. Punctuality might have
been achieved by taking a cab, had she not wished the open air to
fan into flame the glow kindled by Mary’s words. For among all the
impressions of the evening’s talk one was of the nature of a revelation
and subdued the rest to insignificance. Thus one looked; thus one spoke;
such was love.

“She sat up straight and looked at me, and then she said, ‘I’m in
love,’” Katharine mused, trying to set the whole scene in motion. It
was a scene to dwell on with so much wonder that not a grain of pity
occurred to her; it was a flame blazing suddenly in the dark; by
its light Katharine perceived far too vividly for her comfort the
mediocrity, indeed the entirely fictitious character of her own feelings
so far as they pretended to correspond with Mary’s feelings. She made up
her mind to act instantly upon the knowledge thus gained, and cast
her mind in amazement back to the scene upon the heath, when she had
yielded, heaven knows why, for reasons which seemed now imperceptible.
So in broad daylight one might revisit the place where one has groped
and turned and succumbed to utter bewilderment in a fog.

“It’s all so simple,” she said to herself. “There can’t be any doubt.
I’ve only got to speak now. I’ve only got to speak,” she went on saying,
in time to her own footsteps, and completely forgot Mary Datchet.

William Rodney, having come back earlier from the office than he
expected, sat down to pick out the melodies in “The Magic Flute” upon
the piano. Katharine was late, but that was nothing new, and, as she had
no particular liking for music, and he felt in the mood for it, perhaps
it was as well. This defect in Katharine was the more strange, William
reflected, because, as a rule, the women of her family were unusually
musical. Her cousin, Cassandra Otway, for example, had a very fine taste
in music, and he had charming recollections of her in a light fantastic
attitude, playing the flute in the morning-room at Stogdon House. He
recalled with pleasure the amusing way in which her nose, long like all
the Otway noses, seemed to extend itself into the flute, as if she were
some inimitably graceful species of musical mole. The little picture
suggested very happily her melodious and whimsical temperament. The
enthusiasms of a young girl of distinguished upbringing appealed to
William, and suggested a thousand ways in which, with his training and
accomplishments, he could be of service to her. She ought to be given
the chance of hearing good music, as it is played by those who have
inherited the great tradition. Moreover, from one or two remarks let
fall in the course of conversation, he thought it possible that she
had what Katharine professed to lack, a passionate, if untaught,
appreciation of literature. He had lent her his play. Meanwhile, as
Katharine was certain to be late, and “The Magic Flute” is nothing
without a voice, he felt inclined to spend the time of waiting in
writing a letter to Cassandra, exhorting her to read Pope in preference
to Dostoevsky, until her feeling for form was more highly developed. He
set himself down to compose this piece of advice in a shape which was
light and playful, and yet did no injury to a cause which he had near
at heart, when he heard Katharine upon the stairs. A moment later it was
plain that he had been mistaken, it was not Katharine; but he could not
settle himself to his letter. His temper had changed from one of urbane
contentment--indeed of delicious expansion--to one of uneasiness and
expectation. The dinner was brought in, and had to be set by the fire to
keep hot. It was now a quarter of an hour beyond the specified time. He
bethought him of a piece of news which had depressed him in the earlier
part of the day. Owing to the illness of one of his fellow-clerks, it
was likely that he would get no holiday until later in the year, which
would mean the postponement of their marriage. But this possibility,
after all, was not so disagreeable as the probability which forced
itself upon him with every tick of the clock that Katharine had
completely forgotten her engagement. Such things had happened less
frequently since Christmas, but what if they were going to begin to
happen again? What if their marriage should turn out, as she had said, a
farce? He acquitted her of any wish to hurt him wantonly, but there
was something in her character which made it impossible for her to help
hurting people. Was she cold? Was she self-absorbed? He tried to fit her
with each of these descriptions, but he had to own that she puzzled him.

“There are so many things that she doesn’t understand,” he reflected,
glancing at the letter to Cassandra which he had begun and laid aside.
What prevented him from finishing the letter which he had so much
enjoyed beginning? The reason was that Katharine might, at any moment,
enter the room. The thought, implying his bondage to her, irritated him
acutely. It occurred to him that he would leave the letter lying open
for her to see, and he would take the opportunity of telling her that he
had sent his play to Cassandra for her to criticize. Possibly, but not
by any means certainly, this would annoy her--and as he reached the
doubtful comfort of this conclusion, there was a knock on the door and
Katharine came in. They kissed each other coldly and she made no apology
for being late. Nevertheless, her mere presence moved him strangely;
but he was determined that this should not weaken his resolution to make
some kind of stand against her; to get at the truth about her. He let
her make her own disposition of clothes and busied himself with the
plates.

“I’ve got a piece of news for you, Katharine,” he said directly they sat
down to table; “I shan’t get my holiday in April. We shall have to put
off our marriage.”

He rapped the words out with a certain degree of briskness. Katharine
started a little, as if the announcement disturbed her thoughts.

“That won’t make any difference, will it? I mean the lease isn’t
signed,” she replied. “But why? What has happened?”

He told her, in an off-hand way, how one of his fellow-clerks had broken
down, and might have to be away for months, six months even, in which
case they would have to think over their position. He said it in a way
which struck her, at last, as oddly casual. She looked at him. There was
no outward sign that he was annoyed with her. Was she well dressed? She
thought sufficiently so. Perhaps she was late? She looked for a clock.

“It’s a good thing we didn’t take the house then,” she repeated
thoughtfully.

“It’ll mean, too, I’m afraid, that I shan’t be as free for a
considerable time as I have been,” he continued. She had time to
reflect that she gained something by all this, though it was too soon to
determine what. But the light which had been burning with such intensity
as she came along was suddenly overclouded, as much by his manner as by
his news. She had been prepared to meet opposition, which is simple to
encounter compared with--she did not know what it was that she had
to encounter. The meal passed in quiet, well-controlled talk about
indifferent things. Music was not a subject about which she knew
anything, but she liked him to tell her things; and could, she mused, as
he talked, fancy the evenings of married life spent thus, over the fire;
spent thus, or with a book, perhaps, for then she would have time to
read her books, and to grasp firmly with every muscle of her unused mind
what she longed to know. The atmosphere was very free. Suddenly William
broke off. She looked up apprehensively, brushing aside these thoughts
with annoyance.

“Where should I address a letter to Cassandra?” he asked her. It was
obvious again that William had some meaning or other to-night, or was in
some mood. “We’ve struck up a friendship,” he added.

“She’s at home, I think,” Katharine replied.

“They keep her too much at home,” said William. “Why don’t you ask her
to stay with you, and let her hear a little good music? I’ll just finish
what I was saying, if you don’t mind, because I’m particularly anxious
that she should hear to-morrow.”

Katharine sank back in her chair, and Rodney took the paper on his
knees, and went on with his sentence. “Style, you know, is what we tend
to neglect--“; but he was far more conscious of Katharine’s eye upon him
than of what he was saying about style. He knew that she was looking at
him, but whether with irritation or indifference he could not guess.

In truth, she had fallen sufficiently into his trap to feel
uncomfortably roused and disturbed and unable to proceed on the lines
laid down for herself. This indifferent, if not hostile, attitude
on William’s part made it impossible to break off without animosity,
largely and completely. Infinitely preferable was Mary’s state, she
thought, where there was a simple thing to do and one did it. In fact,
she could not help supposing that some littleness of nature had a part
in all the refinements, reserves, and subtleties of feeling for which
her friends and family were so distinguished. For example, although she
liked Cassandra well enough, her fantastic method of life struck her as
purely frivolous; now it was socialism, now it was silkworms, now it
was music--which last she supposed was the cause of William’s sudden
interest in her. Never before had William wasted the minutes of her
presence in writing his letters. With a curious sense of light opening
where all, hitherto, had been opaque, it dawned upon her that, after
all, possibly, yes, probably, nay, certainly, the devotion which she had
almost wearily taken for granted existed in a much slighter degree than
she had suspected, or existed no longer. She looked at him attentively
as if this discovery of hers must show traces in his face. Never had she
seen so much to respect in his appearance, so much that attracted her by
its sensitiveness and intelligence, although she saw these qualities as
if they were those one responds to, dumbly, in the face of a stranger.
The head bent over the paper, thoughtful as usual, had now a composure
which seemed somehow to place it at a distance, like a face seen talking
to some one else behind glass.

He wrote on, without raising his eyes. She would have spoken, but could
not bring herself to ask him for signs of affection which she had no
right to claim. The conviction that he was thus strange to her filled
her with despondency, and illustrated quite beyond doubt the infinite
loneliness of human beings. She had never felt the truth of this so
strongly before. She looked away into the fire; it seemed to her that
even physically they were now scarcely within speaking distance; and
spiritually there was certainly no human being with whom she could
claim comradeship; no dream that satisfied her as she was used to be
satisfied; nothing remained in whose reality she could believe, save
those abstract ideas--figures, laws, stars, facts, which she could
hardly hold to for lack of knowledge and a kind of shame.

When Rodney owned to himself the folly of this prolonged silence, and
the meanness of such devices, and looked up ready to seek some excuse
for a good laugh, or opening for a confession, he was disconcerted by
what he saw. Katharine seemed equally oblivious of what was bad or
of what was good in him. Her expression suggested concentration upon
something entirely remote from her surroundings. The carelessness of her
attitude seemed to him rather masculine than feminine. His impulse to
break up the constraint was chilled, and once more the exasperating
sense of his own impotency returned to him. He could not help
contrasting Katharine with his vision of the engaging, whimsical
Cassandra; Katharine undemonstrative, inconsiderate, silent, and yet so
notable that he could never do without her good opinion.

She veered round upon him a moment later, as if, when her train of
thought was ended, she became aware of his presence.

“Have you finished your letter?” she asked. He thought he heard faint
amusement in her tone, but not a trace of jealousy.

“No, I’m not going to write any more to-night,” he said. “I’m not in the
mood for it for some reason. I can’t say what I want to say.”

“Cassandra won’t know if it’s well written or badly written,” Katharine
remarked.

“I’m not so sure about that. I should say she has a good deal of
literary feeling.”

“Perhaps,” said Katharine indifferently. “You’ve been neglecting my
education lately, by the way. I wish you’d read something. Let me choose
a book.” So speaking, she went across to his bookshelves and began
looking in a desultory way among his books. Anything, she thought, was
better than bickering or the strange silence which drove home to her the
distance between them. As she pulled one book forward and then another
she thought ironically of her own certainty not an hour ago; how it had
vanished in a moment, how she was merely marking time as best she could,
not knowing in the least where they stood, what they felt, or whether
William loved her or not. More and more the condition of Mary’s mind
seemed to her wonderful and enviable--if, indeed, it could be quite
as she figured it--if, indeed, simplicity existed for any one of the
daughters of women.

“Swift,” she said, at last, taking out a volume at haphazard to settle
this question at least. “Let us have some Swift.”

Rodney took the book, held it in front of him, inserted one finger
between the pages, but said nothing. His face wore a queer expression of
deliberation, as if he were weighing one thing with another, and would
not say anything until his mind were made up.

Katharine, taking her chair beside him, noted his silence and looked at
him with sudden apprehension. What she hoped or feared, she could not
have said; a most irrational and indefensible desire for some assurance
of his affection was, perhaps, uppermost in her mind. Peevishness,
complaints, exacting cross-examination she was used to, but this
attitude of composed quiet, which seemed to come from the consciousness
of power within, puzzled her. She did not know what was going to happen
next.

At last William spoke.

“I think it’s a little odd, don’t you?” he said, in a voice of detached
reflection. “Most people, I mean, would be seriously upset if their
marriage was put off for six months or so. But we aren’t; now how do you
account for that?”

She looked at him and observed his judicial attitude as of one holding
far aloof from emotion.

“I attribute it,” he went on, without waiting for her to answer, “to the
fact that neither of us is in the least romantic about the other. That
may be partly, no doubt, because we’ve known each other so long; but
I’m inclined to think there’s more in it than that. There’s something
temperamental. I think you’re a trifle cold, and I suspect I’m a trifle
self-absorbed. If that were so it goes a long way to explaining our
odd lack of illusion about each other. I’m not saying that the most
satisfactory marriages aren’t founded upon this sort of understanding.
But certainly it struck me as odd this morning, when Wilson told me,
how little upset I felt. By the way, you’re sure we haven’t committed
ourselves to that house?”

“I’ve kept the letters, and I’ll go through them to-morrow; but I’m
certain we’re on the safe side.”

“Thanks. As to the psychological problem,” he continued, as if the
question interested him in a detached way, “there’s no doubt, I think,
that either of us is capable of feeling what, for reasons of simplicity,
I call romance for a third person--at least, I’ve little doubt in my own
case.”

It was, perhaps, the first time in all her knowledge of him that
Katharine had known William enter thus deliberately and without sign of
emotion upon a statement of his own feelings. He was wont to discourage
such intimate discussions by a little laugh or turn of the conversation,
as much as to say that men, or men of the world, find such topics
a little silly, or in doubtful taste. His obvious wish to explain
something puzzled her, interested her, and neutralized the wound to her
vanity. For some reason, too, she felt more at ease with him than usual;
or her ease was more the ease of equality--she could not stop to think
of that at the moment though. His remarks interested her too much for
the light that they threw upon certain problems of her own.

“What is this romance?” she mused.

“Ah, that’s the question. I’ve never come across a definition that
satisfied me, though there are some very good ones”--he glanced in the
direction of his books.

“It’s not altogether knowing the other person, perhaps--it’s ignorance,”
 she hazarded.

“Some authorities say it’s a question of distance--romance in
literature, that is--”

“Possibly, in the case of art. But in the case of people it may be--”
 she hesitated.

“Have you no personal experience of it?” he asked, letting his eyes rest
upon her swiftly for a moment.

“I believe it’s influenced me enormously,” she said, in the tone of one
absorbed by the possibilities of some view just presented to them; “but
in my life there’s so little scope for it,” she added. She reviewed her
daily task, the perpetual demands upon her for good sense, self-control,
and accuracy in a house containing a romantic mother. Ah, but her
romance wasn’t THAT romance. It was a desire, an echo, a sound; she
could drape it in color, see it in form, hear it in music, but not in
words; no, never in words. She sighed, teased by desires so incoherent,
so incommunicable.

“But isn’t it curious,” William resumed, “that you should neither feel
it for me, nor I for you?”

Katharine agreed that it was curious--very; but even more curious to
her was the fact that she was discussing the question with William. It
revealed possibilities which opened a prospect of a new relationship
altogether. Somehow it seemed to her that he was helping her to
understand what she had never understood; and in her gratitude she was
conscious of a most sisterly desire to help him, too--sisterly, save for
one pang, not quite to be subdued, that for him she was without romance.

“I think you might be very happy with some one you loved in that way,”
 she said.

“You assume that romance survives a closer knowledge of the person one
loves?”

He asked the question formally, to protect himself from the sort of
personality which he dreaded. The whole situation needed the most
careful management lest it should degenerate into some degrading and
disturbing exhibition such as the scene, which he could never think
of without shame, upon the heath among the dead leaves. And yet each
sentence brought him relief. He was coming to understand something or
other about his own desires hitherto undefined by him, the source of his
difficulty with Katharine. The wish to hurt her, which had urged him to
begin, had completely left him, and he felt that it was only Katharine
now who could help him to be sure. He must take his time. There were so
many things that he could not say without the greatest difficulty--that
name, for example, Cassandra. Nor could he move his eyes from a certain
spot, a fiery glen surrounded by high mountains, in the heart of the
coals. He waited in suspense for Katharine to continue. She had said
that he might be very happy with some one he loved in that way.

“I don’t see why it shouldn’t last with you,” she resumed. “I can
imagine a certain sort of person--” she paused; she was aware that he
was listening with the greatest intentness, and that his formality was
merely the cover for an extreme anxiety of some sort. There was some
person then--some woman--who could it be? Cassandra? Ah, possibly--

“A person,” she added, speaking in the most matter-of-fact tone she
could command, “like Cassandra Otway, for instance. Cassandra is the
most interesting of the Otways--with the exception of Henry. Even so,
I like Cassandra better. She has more than mere cleverness. She is a
character--a person by herself.”

“Those dreadful insects!” burst from William, with a nervous laugh, and
a little spasm went through him as Katharine noticed. It WAS Cassandra
then. Automatically and dully she replied, “You could insist that she
confined herself to--to--something else.... But she cares for music;
I believe she writes poetry; and there can be no doubt that she has a
peculiar charm--”

She ceased, as if defining to herself this peculiar charm. After a
moment’s silence William jerked out:

“I thought her affectionate?”

“Extremely affectionate. She worships Henry. When you think what a house
that is--Uncle Francis always in one mood or another--”

“Dear, dear, dear,” William muttered.

“And you have so much in common.”

“My dear Katharine!” William exclaimed, flinging himself back in his
chair, and uprooting his eyes from the spot in the fire. “I really don’t
know what we’re talking about.... I assure you....”

He was covered with an extreme confusion.

He withdrew the finger that was still thrust between the pages of
Gulliver, opened the book, and ran his eye down the list of chapters, as
though he were about to select the one most suitable for reading aloud.
As Katharine watched him, she was seized with preliminary symptoms of
his own panic. At the same time she was convinced that, should he find
the right page, take out his spectacles, clear his throat, and open his
lips, a chance that would never come again in all their lives would be
lost to them both.

“We’re talking about things that interest us both very much,” she said.
“Shan’t we go on talking, and leave Swift for another time? I don’t feel
in the mood for Swift, and it’s a pity to read any one when that’s the
case--particularly Swift.”

The presence of wise literary speculation, as she calculated, restored
William’s confidence in his security, and he replaced the book in
the bookcase, keeping his back turned to her as he did so, and taking
advantage of this circumstance to summon his thoughts together.

But a second of introspection had the alarming result of showing him
that his mind, when looked at from within, was no longer familiar
ground. He felt, that is to say, what he had never consciously felt
before; he was revealed to himself as other than he was wont to think
him; he was afloat upon a sea of unknown and tumultuous possibilities.
He paced once up and down the room, and then flung himself impetuously
into the chair by Katharine’s side. He had never felt anything like
this before; he put himself entirely into her hands; he cast off all
responsibility. He very nearly exclaimed aloud:

“You’ve stirred up all these odious and violent emotions, and now you
must do the best you can with them.”

Her near presence, however, had a calming and reassuring effect upon his
agitation, and he was conscious only of an implicit trust that, somehow,
he was safe with her, that she would see him through, find out what it
was that he wanted, and procure it for him.

“I wish to do whatever you tell me to do,” he said. “I put myself
entirely in your hands, Katharine.”

“You must try to tell me what you feel,” she said.

“My dear, I feel a thousand things every second. I don’t know, I’m sure,
what I feel. That afternoon on the heath--it was then--then--” He broke
off; he did not tell her what had happened then. “Your ghastly good
sense, as usual, has convinced me--for the moment--but what the truth
is, Heaven only knows!” he exclaimed.

“Isn’t it the truth that you are, or might be, in love with Cassandra?”
 she said gently.

William bowed his head. After a moment’s silence he murmured:

“I believe you’re right, Katharine.”

She sighed, involuntarily. She had been hoping all this time, with an
intensity that increased second by second against the current of her
words, that it would not in the end come to this. After a moment of
surprising anguish, she summoned her courage to tell him how she wished
only that she might help him, and had framed the first words of
her speech when a knock, terrific and startling to people in their
overwrought condition, sounded upon the door.

“Katharine, I worship you,” he urged, half in a whisper.

“Yes,” she replied, withdrawing with a little shiver, “but you must open
the door.”



CHAPTER XXIII

When Ralph Denham entered the room and saw Katharine seated with her
back to him, he was conscious of a change in the grade of the atmosphere
such as a traveler meets with sometimes upon the roads, particularly
after sunset, when, without warning, he runs from clammy chill to a
hoard of unspent warmth in which the sweetness of hay and beanfield
is cherished, as if the sun still shone although the moon is up. He
hesitated; he shuddered; he walked elaborately to the window and laid
aside his coat. He balanced his stick most carefully against the folds
of the curtain. Thus occupied with his own sensations and preparations,
he had little time to observe what either of the other two was feeling.
Such symptoms of agitation as he might perceive (and they had left their
tokens in brightness of eye and pallor of cheeks) seemed to him well
befitting the actors in so great a drama as that of Katharine Hilbery’s
daily life. Beauty and passion were the breath of her being, he thought.

She scarcely noticed his presence, or only as it forced her to adopt a
manner of composure, which she was certainly far from feeling. William,
however, was even more agitated than she was, and her first instalment
of promised help took the form of some commonplace upon the age of the
building or the architect’s name, which gave him an excuse to fumble in
a drawer for certain designs, which he laid upon the table between the
three of them.

Which of the three followed the designs most carefully it would be
difficult to tell, but it is certain that not one of the three found for
the moment anything to say. Years of training in a drawing-room came at
length to Katharine’s help, and she said something suitable, at the same
moment withdrawing her hand from the table because she perceived that it
trembled. William agreed effusively; Denham corroborated him, speaking
in rather high-pitched tones; they thrust aside the plans, and drew
nearer to the fireplace.

“I’d rather live here than anywhere in the whole of London,” said
Denham.

(“And I’ve got nowhere to live”) Katharine thought, as she agreed aloud.

“You could get rooms here, no doubt, if you wanted to,” Rodney replied.

“But I’m just leaving London for good--I’ve taken that cottage I was
telling you about.” The announcement seemed to convey very little to
either of his hearers.

“Indeed?--that’s sad.... You must give me your address. But you won’t
cut yourself off altogether, surely--”

“You’ll be moving, too, I suppose,” Denham remarked.

William showed such visible signs of floundering that Katharine
collected herself and asked:

“Where is the cottage you’ve taken?”

In answering her, Denham turned and looked at her. As their eyes met,
she realized for the first time that she was talking to Ralph Denham,
and she remembered, without recalling any details, that she had been
speaking of him quite lately, and that she had reason to think ill of
him. What Mary had said she could not remember, but she felt that
there was a mass of knowledge in her mind which she had not had time
to examine--knowledge now lying on the far side of a gulf. But her
agitation flashed the queerest lights upon her past. She must get
through the matter in hand, and then think it out in quiet. She bent
her mind to follow what Ralph was saying. He was telling her that he had
taken a cottage in Norfolk, and she was saying that she knew, or did not
know, that particular neighborhood. But after a moment’s attention her
mind flew to Rodney, and she had an unusual, indeed unprecedented, sense
that they were in touch and shared each other’s thoughts. If only
Ralph were not there, she would at once give way to her desire to take
William’s hand, then to bend his head upon her shoulder, for this was
what she wanted to do more than anything at the moment, unless, indeed,
she wished more than anything to be alone--yes, that was what she
wanted. She was sick to death of these discussions; she shivered at the
effort to reveal her feelings. She had forgotten to answer. William was
speaking now.

“But what will you find to do in the country?” she asked at random,
striking into a conversation which she had only half heard, in such
a way as to make both Rodney and Denham look at her with a little
surprise. But directly she took up the conversation, it was William’s
turn to fall silent. He at once forgot to listen to what they were
saying, although he interposed nervously at intervals, “Yes, yes, yes.”
 As the minutes passed, Ralph’s presence became more and more intolerable
to him, since there was so much that he must say to Katharine; the
moment he could not talk to her, terrible doubts, unanswerable questions
accumulated, which he must lay before Katharine, for she alone could
help him now. Unless he could see her alone, it would be impossible for
him ever to sleep, or to know what he had said in a moment of madness,
which was not altogether mad, or was it mad? He nodded his head, and
said, nervously, “Yes, yes,” and looked at Katharine, and thought how
beautiful she looked; there was no one in the world that he admired
more. There was an emotion in her face which lent it an expression he
had never seen there. Then, as he was turning over means by which he
could speak to her alone, she rose, and he was taken by surprise, for he
had counted on the fact that she would outstay Denham. His only chance,
then, of saying something to her in private, was to take her downstairs
and walk with her to the street. While he hesitated, however, overcome
with the difficulty of putting one simple thought into words when
all his thoughts were scattered about, and all were too strong for
utterance, he was struck silent by something that was still more
unexpected. Denham got up from his chair, looked at Katharine, and said:

“I’m going, too. Shall we go together?”

And before William could see any way of detaining him--or would it
be better to detain Katharine?--he had taken his hat, stick, and was
holding the door open for Katharine to pass out. The most that William
could do was to stand at the head of the stairs and say good-night. He
could not offer to go with them. He could not insist that she should
stay. He watched her descend, rather slowly, owing to the dusk of the
staircase, and he had a last sight of Denham’s head and of Katharine’s
head near together, against the panels, when suddenly a pang of acute
jealousy overcame him, and had he not remained conscious of the slippers
upon his feet, he would have run after them or cried out. As it was he
could not move from the spot. At the turn of the staircase Katharine
turned to look back, trusting to this last glance to seal their compact
of good friendship. Instead of returning her silent greeting, William
grinned back at her a cold stare of sarcasm or of rage.

She stopped dead for a moment, and then descended slowly into the court.
She looked to the right and to the left, and once up into the sky. She
was only conscious of Denham as a block upon her thoughts. She measured
the distance that must be traversed before she would be alone. But when
they came to the Strand no cabs were to be seen, and Denham broke the
silence by saying:

“There seem to be no cabs. Shall we walk on a little?”

“Very well,” she agreed, paying no attention to him.

Aware of her preoccupation, or absorbed in his own thoughts, Ralph said
nothing further; and in silence they walked some distance along the
Strand. Ralph was doing his best to put his thoughts into such order
that one came before the rest, and the determination that when he spoke
he should speak worthily, made him put off the moment of speaking till
he had found the exact words and even the place that best suited him.
The Strand was too busy. There was too much risk, also, of finding an
empty cab. Without a word of explanation he turned to the left, down one
of the side streets leading to the river. On no account must they part
until something of the very greatest importance had happened. He knew
perfectly well what he wished to say, and had arranged not only the
substance, but the order in which he was to say it. Now, however, that
he was alone with her, not only did he find the difficulty of speaking
almost insurmountable, but he was aware that he was angry with her for
thus disturbing him, and casting, as it was so easy for a person of her
advantages to do, these phantoms and pitfalls across his path. He was
determined that he would question her as severely as he would question
himself; and make them both, once and for all, either justify her
dominance or renounce it. But the longer they walked thus alone, the
more he was disturbed by the sense of her actual presence. Her skirt
blew; the feathers in her hat waved; sometimes he saw her a step or two
ahead of him, or had to wait for her to catch him up.

The silence was prolonged, and at length drew her attention to him.
First she was annoyed that there was no cab to free her from his
company; then she recalled vaguely something that Mary had said to make
her think ill of him; she could not remember what, but the recollection,
combined with his masterful ways--why did he walk so fast down this side
street?--made her more and more conscious of a person of marked, though
disagreeable, force by her side. She stopped and, looking round her
for a cab, sighted one in the distance. He was thus precipitated into
speech.

“Should you mind if we walked a little farther?” he asked. “There’s
something I want to say to you.”

“Very well,” she replied, guessing that his request had something to do
with Mary Datchet.

“It’s quieter by the river,” he said, and instantly he crossed over. “I
want to ask you merely this,” he began. But he paused so long that she
could see his head against the sky; the slope of his thin cheek and
his large, strong nose were clearly marked against it. While he paused,
words that were quite different from those he intended to use presented
themselves.

“I’ve made you my standard ever since I saw you. I’ve dreamt about you;
I’ve thought of nothing but you; you represent to me the only reality in
the world.”

His words, and the queer strained voice in which he spoke them, made it
appear as if he addressed some person who was not the woman beside him,
but some one far away.

“And now things have come to such a pass that, unless I can speak to you
openly, I believe I shall go mad. I think of you as the most beautiful,
the truest thing in the world,” he continued, filled with a sense of
exaltation, and feeling that he had no need now to choose his words with
pedantic accuracy, for what he wanted to say was suddenly become plain
to him.

“I see you everywhere, in the stars, in the river; to me you’re
everything that exists; the reality of everything. Life, I tell you,
would be impossible without you. And now I want--”

She had heard him so far with a feeling that she had dropped some
material word which made sense of the rest. She could hear no more of
this unintelligible rambling without checking him. She felt that she was
overhearing what was meant for another.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “You’re saying things that you don’t
mean.”

“I mean every word I say,” he replied, emphatically. He turned his head
towards her. She recovered the words she was searching for while he
spoke. “Ralph Denham is in love with you.” They came back to her in Mary
Datchet’s voice. Her anger blazed up in her.

“I saw Mary Datchet this afternoon,” she exclaimed.

He made a movement as if he were surprised or taken aback, but answered
in a moment:

“She told you that I had asked her to marry me, I suppose?”

“No!” Katharine exclaimed, in surprise.

“I did though. It was the day I saw you at Lincoln,” he continued. “I
had meant to ask her to marry me, and then I looked out of the window
and saw you. After that I didn’t want to ask any one to marry me. But
I did it; and she knew I was lying, and refused me. I thought then, and
still think, that she cares for me. I behaved very badly. I don’t defend
myself.”

“No,” said Katharine, “I should hope not. There’s no defence that I can
think of. If any conduct is wrong, that is.” She spoke with an energy
that was directed even more against herself than against him. “It seems
to me,” she continued, with the same energy, “that people are bound
to be honest. There’s no excuse for such behavior.” She could now see
plainly before her eyes the expression on Mary Datchet’s face.

After a short pause, he said:

“I am not telling you that I am in love with you. I am not in love with
you.”

“I didn’t think that,” she replied, conscious of some bewilderment.

“I have not spoken a word to you that I do not mean,” he added.

“Tell me then what it is that you mean,” she said at length.

As if obeying a common instinct, they both stopped and, bending slightly
over the balustrade of the river, looked into the flowing water.

“You say that we’ve got to be honest,” Ralph began. “Very well. I will
try to tell you the facts; but I warn you, you’ll think me mad. It’s a
fact, though, that since I first saw you four or five months ago I
have made you, in an utterly absurd way, I expect, my ideal. I’m almost
ashamed to tell you what lengths I’ve gone to. It’s become the thing
that matters most in my life.” He checked himself. “Without knowing you,
except that you’re beautiful, and all that, I’ve come to believe that
we’re in some sort of agreement; that we’re after something together;
that we see something.... I’ve got into the habit of imagining you; I’m
always thinking what you’d say or do; I walk along the street talking
to you; I dream of you. It’s merely a bad habit, a schoolboy habit,
day-dreaming; it’s a common experience; half one’s friends do the same;
well, those are the facts.”

Simultaneously, they both walked on very slowly.

“If you were to know me you would feel none of this,” she said. “We
don’t know each other--we’ve always been--interrupted.... Were you going
to tell me this that day my aunts came?” she asked, recollecting the
whole scene.

He bowed his head.

“The day you told me of your engagement,” he said.

She thought, with a start, that she was no longer engaged.

“I deny that I should cease to feel this if I knew you,” he went on. “I
should feel it more reasonably--that’s all. I shouldn’t talk the kind
of nonsense I’ve talked to-night.... But it wasn’t nonsense. It was the
truth,” he said doggedly. “It’s the important thing. You can force me
to talk as if this feeling for you were an hallucination, but all our
feelings are that. The best of them are half illusions. Still,” he
added, as if arguing to himself, “if it weren’t as real a feeling as I’m
capable of, I shouldn’t be changing my life on your account.”

“What do you mean?” she inquired.

“I told you. I’m taking a cottage. I’m giving up my profession.”

“On my account?” she asked, in amazement.

“Yes, on your account,” he replied. He explained his meaning no further.

“But I don’t know you or your circumstances,” she said at last, as he
remained silent.

“You have no opinion about me one way or the other?”

“Yes, I suppose I have an opinion--” she hesitated.

He controlled his wish to ask her to explain herself, and much to his
pleasure she went on, appearing to search her mind.

“I thought that you criticized me--perhaps disliked me. I thought of you
as a person who judges--”

“No; I’m a person who feels,” he said, in a low voice.

“Tell me, then, what has made you do this?” she asked, after a break.

He told her in an orderly way, betokening careful preparation, all that
he had meant to say at first; how he stood with regard to his brothers
and sisters; what his mother had said, and his sister Joan had refrained
from saying; exactly how many pounds stood in his name at the bank; what
prospect his brother had of earning a livelihood in America; how much of
their income went on rent, and other details known to him by heart. She
listened to all this, so that she could have passed an examination in
it by the time Waterloo Bridge was in sight; and yet she was no more
listening to it than she was counting the paving-stones at her feet. She
was feeling happier than she had felt in her life. If Denham could have
seen how visibly books of algebraic symbols, pages all speckled with
dots and dashes and twisted bars, came before her eyes as they trod the
Embankment, his secret joy in her attention might have been dispersed.
She went on, saying, “Yes, I see.... But how would that help you?...
Your brother has passed his examination?” so sensibly, that he had
constantly to keep his brain in check; and all the time she was in fancy
looking up through a telescope at white shadow-cleft disks which were
other worlds, until she felt herself possessed of two bodies, one
walking by the river with Denham, the other concentrated to a silver
globe aloft in the fine blue space above the scum of vapors that was
covering the visible world. She looked at the sky once, and saw that no
star was keen enough to pierce the flight of watery clouds now coursing
rapidly before the west wind. She looked down hurriedly again. There was
no reason, she assured herself, for this feeling of happiness; she was
not free; she was not alone; she was still bound to earth by a million
fibres; every step took her nearer home. Nevertheless, she exulted
as she had never exulted before. The air was fresher, the lights more
distinct, the cold stone of the balustrade colder and harder, when
by chance or purpose she struck her hand against it. No feeling of
annoyance with Denham remained; he certainly did not hinder any flight
she might choose to make, whether in the direction of the sky or of her
home; but that her condition was due to him, or to anything that he had
said, she had no consciousness at all.

They were now within sight of the stream of cabs and omnibuses crossing
to and from the Surrey side of the river; the sound of the traffic, the
hooting of motor-horns, and the light chime of tram-bells sounded more
and more distinctly, and, with the increase of noise, they both became
silent. With a common instinct they slackened their pace, as if to
lengthen the time of semi-privacy allowed them. To Ralph, the pleasure
of these last yards of the walk with Katharine was so great that he
could not look beyond the present moment to the time when she should
have left him. He had no wish to use the last moments of their
companionship in adding fresh words to what he had already said. Since
they had stopped talking, she had become to him not so much a real
person, as the very woman he dreamt of; but his solitary dreams had
never produced any such keenness of sensation as that which he felt
in her presence. He himself was also strangely transfigured. He had
complete mastery of all his faculties. For the first time he was in
possession of his full powers. The vistas which opened before him seemed
to have no perceptible end. But the mood had none of the restlessness or
feverish desire to add one delight to another which had hitherto marked,
and somewhat spoilt, the most rapturous of his imaginings. It was a mood
that took such clear-eyed account of the conditions of human life that
he was not disturbed in the least by the gliding presence of a taxicab,
and without agitation he perceived that Katharine was conscious of
it also, and turned her head in that direction. Their halting steps
acknowledged the desirability of engaging the cab; and they stopped
simultaneously, and signed to it.

“Then you will let me know your decision as soon as you can?” he asked,
with his hand on the door.

She hesitated for a moment. She could not immediately recall what the
question was that she had to decide.

“I will write,” she said vaguely. “No,” she added, in a second,
bethinking her of the difficulties of writing anything decided upon a
question to which she had paid no attention, “I don’t see how to manage
it.”

She stood looking at Denham, considering and hesitating, with her foot
upon the step. He guessed her difficulties; he knew in a second that she
had heard nothing; he knew everything that she felt.

“There’s only one place to discuss things satisfactorily that I know
of,” he said quickly; “that’s Kew.”

“Kew?”

“Kew,” he repeated, with immense decision. He shut the door and gave her
address to the driver. She instantly was conveyed away from him, and her
cab joined the knotted stream of vehicles, each marked by a light, and
indistinguishable one from the other. He stood watching for a moment,
and then, as if swept by some fierce impulse, from the spot where they
had stood, he turned, crossed the road at a rapid pace, and disappeared.

He walked on upon the impetus of this last mood of almost supernatural
exaltation until he reached a narrow street, at this hour empty of
traffic and passengers. Here, whether it was the shops with their
shuttered windows, the smooth and silvered curve of the wood pavement,
or a natural ebb of feeling, his exaltation slowly oozed and deserted
him. He was now conscious of the loss that follows any revelation; he
had lost something in speaking to Katharine, for, after all, was
the Katharine whom he loved the same as the real Katharine? She had
transcended her entirely at moments; her skirt had blown, her feather
waved, her voice spoken; yes, but how terrible sometimes the pause
between the voice of one’s dreams and the voice that comes from the
object of one’s dreams! He felt a mixture of disgust and pity at the
figure cut by human beings when they try to carry out, in practice, what
they have the power to conceive. How small both he and Katharine had
appeared when they issued from the cloud of thought that enveloped them!
He recalled the small, inexpressive, commonplace words in which they had
tried to communicate with each other; he repeated them over to himself.
By repeating Katharine’s words, he came in a few moments to such a
sense of her presence that he worshipped her more than ever. But she was
engaged to be married, he remembered with a start. The strength of his
feeling was revealed to him instantly, and he gave himself up to an
irresistible rage and sense of frustration. The image of Rodney came
before him with every circumstance of folly and indignity. That little
pink-cheeked dancing-master to marry Katharine? that gibbering ass with
the face of a monkey on an organ? that posing, vain, fantastical fop?
with his tragedies and his comedies, his innumerable spites and prides
and pettinesses? Lord! marry Rodney! She must be as great a fool as he
was. His bitterness took possession of him, and as he sat in the
corner of the underground carriage, he looked as stark an image of
unapproachable severity as could be imagined. Directly he reached home
he sat down at his table, and began to write Katharine a long, wild, mad
letter, begging her for both their sakes to break with Rodney, imploring
her not to do what would destroy for ever the one beauty, the one truth,
the one hope; not to be a traitor, not to be a deserter, for if she
were--and he wound up with a quiet and brief assertion that, whatever
she did or left undone, he would believe to be the best, and accept from
her with gratitude. He covered sheet after sheet, and heard the early
carts starting for London before he went to bed.



CHAPTER XXIV

The first signs of spring, even such as make themselves felt towards the
middle of February, not only produce little white and violet flowers
in the more sheltered corners of woods and gardens, but bring to birth
thoughts and desires comparable to those faintly colored and sweetly
scented petals in the minds of men and women. Lives frozen by age,
so far as the present is concerned, to a hard surface, which neither
reflects nor yields, at this season become soft and fluid, reflecting
the shapes and colors of the present, as well as the shapes and colors
of the past. In the case of Mrs. Hilbery, these early spring days were
chiefly upsetting inasmuch as they caused a general quickening of her
emotional powers, which, as far as the past was concerned, had never
suffered much diminution. But in the spring her desire for expression
invariably increased. She was haunted by the ghosts of phrases. She gave
herself up to a sensual delight in the combinations of words. She sought
them in the pages of her favorite authors. She made them for herself
on scraps of paper, and rolled them on her tongue when there seemed no
occasion for such eloquence. She was upheld in these excursions by the
certainty that no language could outdo the splendor of her father’s
memory, and although her efforts did not notably further the end of his
biography, she was under the impression of living more in his shade at
such times than at others. No one can escape the power of language, let
alone those of English birth brought up from childhood, as Mrs. Hilbery
had been, to disport themselves now in the Saxon plainness, now in the
Latin splendor of the tongue, and stored with memories, as she was, of
old poets exuberating in an infinity of vocables. Even Katharine
was slightly affected against her better judgment by her mother’s
enthusiasm. Not that her judgment could altogether acquiesce in the
necessity for a study of Shakespeare’s sonnets as a preliminary to the
fifth chapter of her grandfather’s biography. Beginning with a perfectly
frivolous jest, Mrs. Hilbery had evolved a theory that Anne Hathaway had
a way, among other things, of writing Shakespeare’s sonnets; the idea,
struck out to enliven a party of professors, who forwarded a number of
privately printed manuals within the next few days for her instruction,
had submerged her in a flood of Elizabethan literature; she had come
half to believe in her joke, which was, she said, at least as good as
other people’s facts, and all her fancy for the time being centered
upon Stratford-on-Avon. She had a plan, she told Katharine, when, rather
later than usual, Katharine came into the room the morning after her
walk by the river, for visiting Shakespeare’s tomb. Any fact about the
poet had become, for the moment, of far greater interest to her than the
immediate present, and the certainty that there was existing in England
a spot of ground where Shakespeare had undoubtedly stood, where his very
bones lay directly beneath one’s feet, was so absorbing to her on this
particular occasion that she greeted her daughter with the exclamation:

“D’you think he ever passed this house?”

The question, for the moment, seemed to Katharine to have reference to
Ralph Denham.

“On his way to Blackfriars, I mean,” Mrs. Hilbery continued, “for you
know the latest discovery is that he owned a house there.”

Katharine still looked about her in perplexity, and Mrs. Hilbery added:

“Which is a proof that he wasn’t as poor as they’ve sometimes said. I
should like to think that he had enough, though I don’t in the least
want him to be rich.”

Then, perceiving her daughter’s expression of perplexity, Mrs. Hilbery
burst out laughing.

“My dear, I’m not talking about YOUR William, though that’s another
reason for liking him. I’m talking, I’m thinking, I’m dreaming of MY
William--William Shakespeare, of course. Isn’t it odd,” she mused,
standing at the window and tapping gently upon the pane, “that for all
one can see, that dear old thing in the blue bonnet, crossing the
road with her basket on her arm, has never heard that there was such
a person? Yet it all goes on: lawyers hurrying to their work, cabmen
squabbling for their fares, little boys rolling their hoops, little
girls throwing bread to the gulls, as if there weren’t a Shakespeare in
the world. I should like to stand at that crossing all day long and say:
‘People, read Shakespeare!’”

Katharine sat down at her table and opened a long dusty envelope. As
Shelley was mentioned in the course of the letter as if he were alive,
it had, of course, considerable value. Her immediate task was to decide
whether the whole letter should be printed, or only the paragraph which
mentioned Shelley’s name, and she reached out for a pen and held it in
readiness to do justice upon the sheet. Her pen, however, remained in
the air. Almost surreptitiously she slipped a clean sheet in front of
her, and her hand, descending, began drawing square boxes halved and
quartered by straight lines, and then circles which underwent the same
process of dissection.

“Katharine! I’ve hit upon a brilliant idea!” Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed--“to
lay out, say, a hundred pounds or so on copies of Shakespeare, and give
them to working men. Some of your clever friends who get up meetings
might help us, Katharine. And that might lead to a playhouse, where we
could all take parts. You’d be Rosalind--but you’ve a dash of the old
nurse in you. Your father’s Hamlet, come to years of discretion; and
I’m--well, I’m a bit of them all; I’m quite a large bit of the fool,
but the fools in Shakespeare say all the clever things. Now who shall
William be? A hero? Hotspur? Henry the Fifth? No, William’s got a touch
of Hamlet in him, too. I can fancy that William talks to himself when
he’s alone. Ah, Katharine, you must say very beautiful things when
you’re together!” she added wistfully, with a glance at her daughter,
who had told her nothing about the dinner the night before.

“Oh, we talk a lot of nonsense,” said Katharine, hiding her slip of
paper as her mother stood by her, and spreading the old letter about
Shelley in front of her.

“It won’t seem to you nonsense in ten years’ time,” said Mrs. Hilbery.
“Believe me, Katharine, you’ll look back on these days afterwards;
you’ll remember all the silly things you’ve said; and you’ll find that
your life has been built on them. The best of life is built on what we
say when we’re in love. It isn’t nonsense, Katharine,” she urged, “it’s
the truth, it’s the only truth.”

Katharine was on the point of interrupting her mother, and then she was
on the point of confiding in her. They came strangely close together
sometimes. But, while she hesitated and sought for words not too direct,
her mother had recourse to Shakespeare, and turned page after page,
set upon finding some quotation which said all this about love far, far
better than she could. Accordingly, Katharine did nothing but scrub one
of her circles an intense black with her pencil, in the midst of which
process the telephone-bell rang, and she left the room to answer it.

When she returned, Mrs. Hilbery had found not the passage she wanted,
but another of exquisite beauty as she justly observed, looking up for a
second to ask Katharine who that was?

“Mary Datchet,” Katharine replied briefly.

“Ah--I half wish I’d called you Mary, but it wouldn’t have gone with
Hilbery, and it wouldn’t have gone with Rodney. Now this isn’t the
passage I wanted. (I never can find what I want.) But it’s spring; it’s
the daffodils; it’s the green fields; it’s the birds.”

She was cut short in her quotation by another imperative telephone-bell.
Once more Katharine left the room.

“My dear child, how odious the triumphs of science are!” Mrs. Hilbery
exclaimed on her return. “They’ll be linking us with the moon next--but
who was that?”

“William,” Katharine replied yet more briefly.

“I’ll forgive William anything, for I’m certain that there aren’t any
Williams in the moon. I hope he’s coming to luncheon?”

“He’s coming to tea.”

“Well, that’s better than nothing, and I promise to leave you alone.”

“There’s no need for you to do that,” said Katharine.

She swept her hand over the faded sheet, and drew herself up squarely
to the table as if she refused to waste time any longer. The gesture was
not lost upon her mother. It hinted at the existence of something stern
and unapproachable in her daughter’s character, which struck chill upon
her, as the sight of poverty, or drunkenness, or the logic with which
Mr. Hilbery sometimes thought good to demolish her certainty of an
approaching millennium struck chill upon her. She went back to her own
table, and putting on her spectacles with a curious expression of quiet
humility, addressed herself for the first time that morning to the task
before her. The shock with an unsympathetic world had a sobering effect
on her. For once, her industry surpassed her daughter’s. Katharine could
not reduce the world to that particular perspective in which Harriet
Martineau, for instance, was a figure of solid importance, and possessed
of a genuine relationship to this figure or to that date. Singularly
enough, the sharp call of the telephone-bell still echoed in her ear,
and her body and mind were in a state of tension, as if, at any moment,
she might hear another summons of greater interest to her than the whole
of the nineteenth century. She did not clearly realize what this call
was to be; but when the ears have got into the habit of listening, they
go on listening involuntarily, and thus Katharine spent the greater part
of the morning in listening to a variety of sounds in the back streets
of Chelsea. For the first time in her life, probably, she wished that
Mrs. Hilbery would not keep so closely to her work. A quotation from
Shakespeare would not have come amiss. Now and again she heard a sigh
from her mother’s table, but that was the only proof she gave of her
existence, and Katharine did not think of connecting it with the square
aspect of her own position at the table, or, perhaps, she would have
thrown her pen down and told her mother the reason of her restlessness.
The only writing she managed to accomplish in the course of the morning
was one letter, addressed to her cousin, Cassandra Otway--a rambling
letter, long, affectionate, playful and commanding all at once. She bade
Cassandra put her creatures in the charge of a groom, and come to
them for a week or so. They would go and hear some music together.
Cassandra’s dislike of rational society, she said, was an affectation
fast hardening into a prejudice, which would, in the long run, isolate
her from all interesting people and pursuits. She was finishing the
sheet when the sound she was anticipating all the time actually struck
upon her ears. She jumped up hastily, and slammed the door with a
sharpness which made Mrs. Hilbery start. Where was Katharine off to? In
her preoccupied state she had not heard the bell.

The alcove on the stairs, in which the telephone was placed, was
screened for privacy by a curtain of purple velvet. It was a pocket for
superfluous possessions, such as exist in most houses which harbor the
wreckage of three generations. Prints of great-uncles, famed for their
prowess in the East, hung above Chinese teapots, whose sides were
riveted by little gold stitches, and the precious teapots, again, stood
upon bookcases containing the complete works of William Cowper and
Sir Walter Scott. The thread of sound, issuing from the telephone, was
always colored by the surroundings which received it, so it seemed to
Katharine. Whose voice was now going to combine with them, or to strike
a discord?

“Whose voice?” she asked herself, hearing a man inquire, with great
determination, for her number. The unfamiliar voice now asked for Miss
Hilbery. Out of all the welter of voices which crowd round the far end
of the telephone, out of the enormous range of possibilities, whose
voice, what possibility, was this? A pause gave her time to ask herself
this question. It was solved next moment.

“I’ve looked out the train.... Early on Saturday afternoon would suit me
best.... I’m Ralph Denham.... But I’ll write it down....”

With more than the usual sense of being impinged upon the point of a
bayonet, Katharine replied:

“I think I could come. I’ll look at my engagements.... Hold on.”

She dropped the machine, and looked fixedly at the print of the
great-uncle who had not ceased to gaze, with an air of amiable
authority, into a world which, as yet, beheld no symptoms of the Indian
Mutiny. And yet, gently swinging against the wall, within the black
tube, was a voice which recked nothing of Uncle James, of China teapots,
or of red velvet curtains. She watched the oscillation of the tube, and
at the same moment became conscious of the individuality of the house in
which she stood; she heard the soft domestic sounds of regular existence
upon staircases and floors above her head, and movements through the
wall in the house next door. She had no very clear vision of Denham
himself, when she lifted the telephone to her lips and replied that
she thought Saturday would suit her. She hoped that he would not say
good-bye at once, although she felt no particular anxiety to attend to
what he was saying, and began, even while he spoke, to think of her own
upper room, with its books, its papers pressed between the leaves of
dictionaries, and the table that could be cleared for work. She replaced
the instrument, thoughtfully; her restlessness was assuaged; she
finished her letter to Cassandra without difficulty, addressed the
envelope, and fixed the stamp with her usual quick decision.

A bunch of anemones caught Mrs. Hilbery’s eye when they had finished
luncheon. The blue and purple and white of the bowl, standing in a pool
of variegated light on a polished Chippendale table in the drawing-room
window, made her stop dead with an exclamation of pleasure.

“Who is lying ill in bed, Katharine?” she demanded. “Which of our
friends wants cheering up? Who feels that they’ve been forgotten and
passed over, and that nobody wants them? Whose water rates are overdue,
and the cook leaving in a temper without waiting for her wages? There
was somebody I know--” she concluded, but for the moment the name of
this desirable acquaintance escaped her. The best representative of the
forlorn company whose day would be brightened by a bunch of anemones
was, in Katharine’s opinion, the widow of a general living in the
Cromwell Road. In default of the actually destitute and starving, whom
she would much have preferred, Mrs. Hilbery was forced to acknowledge
her claims, for though in comfortable circumstances, she was extremely
dull, unattractive, connected in some oblique fashion with literature,
and had been touched to the verge of tears, on one occasion, by an
afternoon call.

It happened that Mrs. Hilbery had an engagement elsewhere, so that the
task of taking the flowers to the Cromwell Road fell upon Katharine. She
took her letter to Cassandra with her, meaning to post it in the first
pillar-box she came to. When, however, she was fairly out of doors, and
constantly invited by pillar-boxes and post-offices to slip her envelope
down their scarlet throats, she forbore. She made absurd excuses, as
that she did not wish to cross the road, or that she was certain to pass
another post-office in a more central position a little farther on. The
longer she held the letter in her hand, however, the more persistently
certain questions pressed upon her, as if from a collection of voices
in the air. These invisible people wished to be informed whether she
was engaged to William Rodney, or was the engagement broken off? Was
it right, they asked, to invite Cassandra for a visit, and was William
Rodney in love with her, or likely to fall in love? Then the questioners
paused for a moment, and resumed as if another side of the problem had
just come to their notice. What did Ralph Denham mean by what he said to
you last night? Do you consider that he is in love with you? Is it right
to consent to a solitary walk with him, and what advice are you going
to give him about his future? Has William Rodney cause to be jealous of
your conduct, and what do you propose to do about Mary Datchet? What are
you going to do? What does honor require you to do? they repeated.

“Good Heavens!” Katharine exclaimed, after listening to all these
remarks, “I suppose I ought to make up my mind.”

But the debate was a formal skirmishing, a pastime to gain
breathing-space. Like all people brought up in a tradition, Katharine
was able, within ten minutes or so, to reduce any moral difficulty to
its traditional shape and solve it by the traditional answers. The book
of wisdom lay open, if not upon her mother’s knee, upon the knees of
many uncles and aunts. She had only to consult them, and they would at
once turn to the right page and read out an answer exactly suited to
one in her position. The rules which should govern the behavior of an
unmarried woman are written in red ink, graved upon marble, if, by some
freak of nature, it should fall out that the unmarried woman has not the
same writing scored upon her heart. She was ready to believe that some
people are fortunate enough to reject, accept, resign, or lay down their
lives at the bidding of traditional authority; she could envy them; but
in her case the questions became phantoms directly she tried seriously
to find an answer, which proved that the traditional answer would be
of no use to her individually. Yet it had served so many people, she
thought, glancing at the rows of houses on either side of her, where
families, whose incomes must be between a thousand and fifteen-hundred a
year lived, and kept, perhaps, three servants, and draped their windows
with curtains which were always thick and generally dirty, and must,
she thought, since you could only see a looking-glass gleaming above a
sideboard on which a dish of apples was set, keep the room inside very
dark. But she turned her head away, observing that this was not a method
of thinking the matter out.

The only truth which she could discover was the truth of what she
herself felt--a frail beam when compared with the broad illumination
shed by the eyes of all the people who are in agreement to see together;
but having rejected the visionary voices, she had no choice but to make
this her guide through the dark masses which confronted her. She tried
to follow her beam, with an expression upon her face which would have
made any passer-by think her reprehensibly and almost ridiculously
detached from the surrounding scene. One would have felt alarmed lest
this young and striking woman were about to do something eccentric. But
her beauty saved her from the worst fate that can befall a pedestrian;
people looked at her, but they did not laugh. To seek a true feeling
among the chaos of the unfeelings or half-feelings of life, to recognize
it when found, and to accept the consequences of the discovery, draws
lines upon the smoothest brow, while it quickens the light of the
eyes; it is a pursuit which is alternately bewildering, debasing, and
exalting, and, as Katharine speedily found, her discoveries gave her
equal cause for surprise, shame, and intense anxiety. Much depended,
as usual, upon the interpretation of the word love; which word came up
again and again, whether she considered Rodney, Denham, Mary Datchet,
or herself; and in each case it seemed to stand for something different,
and yet for something unmistakable and something not to be passed by.
For the more she looked into the confusion of lives which, instead
of running parallel, had suddenly intersected each other, the more
distinctly she seemed to convince herself that there was no other light
on them than was shed by this strange illumination, and no other path
save the one upon which it threw its beams. Her blindness in the case
of Rodney, her attempt to match his true feeling with her false feeling,
was a failure never to be sufficiently condemned; indeed, she could only
pay it the tribute of leaving it a black and naked landmark unburied by
attempt at oblivion or excuse.

With this to humiliate there was much to exalt. She thought of three
different scenes; she thought of Mary sitting upright and saying,
“I’m in love--I’m in love”; she thought of Rodney losing his
self-consciousness among the dead leaves, and speaking with the
abandonment of a child; she thought of Denham leaning upon the stone
parapet and talking to the distant sky, so that she thought him mad. Her
mind, passing from Mary to Denham, from William to Cassandra, and from
Denham to herself--if, as she rather doubted, Denham’s state of mind
was connected with herself--seemed to be tracing out the lines of some
symmetrical pattern, some arrangement of life, which invested, if not
herself, at least the others, not only with interest, but with a kind
of tragic beauty. She had a fantastic picture of them upholding splendid
palaces upon their bent backs. They were the lantern-bearers, whose
lights, scattered among the crowd, wove a pattern, dissolving, joining,
meeting again in combination. Half forming such conceptions as these
in her rapid walk along the dreary streets of South Kensington, she
determined that, whatever else might be obscure, she must further
the objects of Mary, Denham, William, and Cassandra. The way was not
apparent. No course of action seemed to her indubitably right. All she
achieved by her thinking was the conviction that, in such a cause, no
risk was too great; and that, far from making any rules for herself or
others, she would let difficulties accumulate unsolved, situations widen
their jaws unsatiated, while she maintained a position of absolute and
fearless independence. So she could best serve the people who loved.

Read in the light of this exaltation, there was a new meaning in the
words which her mother had penciled upon the card attached to the bunch
of anemones. The door of the house in the Cromwell Road opened; gloomy
vistas of passage and staircase were revealed; such light as there was
seemed to be concentrated upon a silver salver of visiting-cards, whose
black borders suggested that the widow’s friends had all suffered the
same bereavement. The parlor-maid could hardly be expected to fathom the
meaning of the grave tone in which the young lady proffered the flowers,
with Mrs. Hilbery’s love; and the door shut upon the offering.

The sight of a face, the slam of a door, are both rather destructive
of exaltation in the abstract; and, as she walked back to Chelsea,
Katharine had her doubts whether anything would come of her resolves.
If you cannot make sure of people, however, you can hold fairly fast to
figures, and in some way or other her thought about such problems as she
was wont to consider worked in happily with her mood as to her friends’
lives. She reached home rather late for tea.

On the ancient Dutch chest in the hall she perceived one or two hats,
coats, and walking-sticks, and the sound of voices reached her as she
stood outside the drawing-room door. Her mother gave a little cry as she
came in; a cry which conveyed to Katharine the fact that she was late,
that the teacups and milk-jugs were in a conspiracy of disobedience, and
that she must immediately take her place at the head of the table and
pour out tea for the guests. Augustus Pelham, the diarist, liked a calm
atmosphere in which to tell his stories; he liked attention; he liked to
elicit little facts, little stories, about the past and the great dead,
from such distinguished characters as Mrs. Hilbery for the nourishment
of his diary, for whose sake he frequented tea-tables and ate yearly an
enormous quantity of buttered toast. He, therefore, welcomed Katharine
with relief, and she had merely to shake hands with Rodney and to greet
the American lady who had come to be shown the relics, before the talk
started again on the broad lines of reminiscence and discussion which
were familiar to her.

Yet, even with this thick veil between them, she could not help looking
at Rodney, as if she could detect what had happened to him since they
met. It was in vain. His clothes, even the white slip, the pearl in his
tie, seemed to intercept her quick glance, and to proclaim the futility
of such inquiries of a discreet, urbane gentleman, who balanced his cup
of tea and poised a slice of bread and butter on the edge of the saucer.
He would not meet her eye, but that could be accounted for by his
activity in serving and helping, and the polite alacrity with which he
was answering the questions of the American visitor.

It was certainly a sight to daunt any one coming in with a head full
of theories about love. The voices of the invisible questioners were
reinforced by the scene round the table, and sounded with a tremendous
self-confidence, as if they had behind them the common sense of twenty
generations, together with the immediate approval of Mr. Augustus
Pelham, Mrs. Vermont Bankes, William Rodney, and, possibly, Mrs. Hilbery
herself. Katharine set her teeth, not entirely in the metaphorical
sense, for her hand, obeying the impulse towards definite action, laid
firmly upon the table beside her an envelope which she had been grasping
all this time in complete forgetfulness. The address was uppermost, and
a moment later she saw William’s eye rest upon it as he rose to fulfil
some duty with a plate. His expression instantly changed. He did what
he was on the point of doing, and then looked at Katharine with a look
which revealed enough of his confusion to show her that he was not
entirely represented by his appearance. In a minute or two he proved
himself at a loss with Mrs. Vermont Bankes, and Mrs. Hilbery, aware of
the silence with her usual quickness, suggested that, perhaps, it was
now time that Mrs. Bankes should be shown “our things.”

Katharine accordingly rose, and led the way to the little inner room
with the pictures and the books. Mrs. Bankes and Rodney followed her.

She turned on the lights, and began directly in her low, pleasant voice:
“This table is my grandfather’s writing-table. Most of the later poems
were written at it. And this is his pen--the last pen he ever used.” She
took it in her hand and paused for the right number of seconds. “Here,”
 she continued, “is the original manuscript of the ‘Ode to Winter.’ The
early manuscripts are far less corrected than the later ones, as you
will see directly.... Oh, do take it yourself,” she added, as Mrs.
Bankes asked, in an awestruck tone of voice, for that privilege, and
began a preliminary unbuttoning of her white kid gloves.

“You are wonderfully like your grandfather, Miss Hilbery,” the American
lady observed, gazing from Katharine to the portrait, “especially about
the eyes. Come, now, I expect she writes poetry herself, doesn’t she?”
 she asked in a jocular tone, turning to William. “Quite one’s ideal of
a poet, is it not, Mr. Rodney? I cannot tell you what a privilege I feel
it to be standing just here with the poet’s granddaughter. You must know
we think a great deal of your grandfather in America, Miss Hilbery.
We have societies for reading him aloud. What! His very own slippers!”
 Laying aside the manuscript, she hastily grasped the old shoes, and
remained for a moment dumb in contemplation of them.

While Katharine went on steadily with her duties as show-woman, Rodney
examined intently a row of little drawings which he knew by heart
already. His disordered state of mind made it necessary for him to take
advantage of these little respites, as if he had been out in a high wind
and must straighten his dress in the first shelter he reached. His calm
was only superficial, as he knew too well; it did not exist much below
the surface of tie, waistcoat, and white slip.

On getting out of bed that morning he had fully made up his mind to
ignore what had been said the night before; he had been convinced, by
the sight of Denham, that his love for Katharine was passionate, and
when he addressed her early that morning on the telephone, he had meant
his cheerful but authoritative tones to convey to her the fact that,
after a night of madness, they were as indissolubly engaged as ever. But
when he reached his office his torments began. He found a letter from
Cassandra waiting for him. She had read his play, and had taken the
very first opportunity to write and tell him what she thought of it. She
knew, she wrote, that her praise meant absolutely nothing; but still,
she had sat up all night; she thought this, that, and the other; she was
full of enthusiasm most elaborately scratched out in places, but enough
was written plain to gratify William’s vanity exceedingly. She was quite
intelligent enough to say the right things, or, even more charmingly,
to hint at them. In other ways, too, it was a very charming letter. She
told him about her music, and about a Suffrage meeting to which Henry
had taken her, and she asserted, half seriously, that she had learnt the
Greek alphabet, and found it “fascinating.” The word was underlined. Had
she laughed when she drew that line? Was she ever serious? Didn’t the
letter show the most engaging compound of enthusiasm and spirit and
whimsicality, all tapering into a flame of girlish freakishness, which
flitted, for the rest of the morning, as a will-o’-the-wisp, across
Rodney’s landscape. He could not resist beginning an answer to her there
and then. He found it particularly delightful to shape a style which
should express the bowing and curtsying, advancing and retreating, which
are characteristic of one of the many million partnerships of men and
women. Katharine never trod that particular measure, he could not help
reflecting; Katharine--Cassandra; Cassandra--Katharine--they alternated
in his consciousness all day long. It was all very well to dress oneself
carefully, compose one’s face, and start off punctually at half-past
four to a tea-party in Cheyne Walk, but Heaven only knew what would
come of it all, and when Katharine, after sitting silent with her usual
immobility, wantonly drew from her pocket and slapped down on the table
beneath his eyes a letter addressed to Cassandra herself, his composure
deserted him. What did she mean by her behavior?

He looked up sharply from his row of little pictures. Katharine was
disposing of the American lady in far too arbitrary a fashion. Surely
the victim herself must see how foolish her enthusiasms appeared in the
eyes of the poet’s granddaughter. Katharine never made any attempt to
spare people’s feelings, he reflected; and, being himself very sensitive
to all shades of comfort and discomfort, he cut short the auctioneer’s
catalog, which Katharine was reeling off more and more absent-mindedly,
and took Mrs. Vermont Bankes, with a queer sense of fellowship in
suffering, under his own protection.

But within a few minutes the American lady had completed her inspection,
and inclining her head in a little nod of reverential farewell to the
poet and his shoes, she was escorted downstairs by Rodney. Katharine
stayed by herself in the little room. The ceremony of ancestor-worship
had been more than usually oppressive to her. Moreover, the room was
becoming crowded beyond the bounds of order. Only that morning a heavily
insured proof-sheet had reached them from a collector in Australia,
which recorded a change of the poet’s mind about a very famous phrase,
and, therefore, had claims to the honor of glazing and framing. But
was there room for it? Must it be hung on the staircase, or should some
other relic give place to do it honor? Feeling unable to decide the
question, Katharine glanced at the portrait of her grandfather, as if to
ask his opinion. The artist who had painted it was now out of fashion,
and by dint of showing it to visitors, Katharine had almost ceased
to see anything but a glow of faintly pleasing pink and brown tints,
enclosed within a circular scroll of gilt laurel-leaves. The young man
who was her grandfather looked vaguely over her head. The sensual lips
were slightly parted, and gave the face an expression of beholding
something lovely or miraculous vanishing or just rising upon the rim of
the distance. The expression repeated itself curiously upon Katharine’s
face as she gazed up into his. They were the same age, or very nearly
so. She wondered what he was looking for; were there waves beating
upon a shore for him, too, she wondered, and heroes riding through the
leaf-hung forests? For perhaps the first time in her life she thought of
him as a man, young, unhappy, tempestuous, full of desires and faults;
for the first time she realized him for herself, and not from her
mother’s memory. He might have been her brother, she thought. It seemed
to her that they were akin, with the mysterious kinship of blood which
makes it seem possible to interpret the sights which the eyes of the
dead behold so intently, or even to believe that they look with us upon
our present joys and sorrows. He would have understood, she thought,
suddenly; and instead of laying her withered flowers upon his shrine,
she brought him her own perplexities--perhaps a gift of greater value,
should the dead be conscious of gifts, than flowers and incense and
adoration. Doubts, questionings, and despondencies she felt, as she
looked up, would be more welcome to him than homage, and he would hold
them but a very small burden if she gave him, also, some share in what
she suffered and achieved. The depth of her own pride and love were not
more apparent to her than the sense that the dead asked neither flowers
nor regrets, but a share in the life which they had given her, the life
which they had lived.

Rodney found her a moment later sitting beneath her grandfather’s
portrait. She laid her hand on the seat next her in a friendly way, and
said:

“Come and sit down, William. How glad I was you were here! I felt myself
getting ruder and ruder.”

“You are not good at hiding your feelings,” he returned dryly.

“Oh, don’t scold me--I’ve had a horrid afternoon.” She told him how
she had taken the flowers to Mrs. McCormick, and how South Kensington
impressed her as the preserve of officers’ widows. She described how
the door had opened, and what gloomy avenues of busts and palm-trees and
umbrellas had been revealed to her. She spoke lightly, and succeeded in
putting him at his ease. Indeed, he rapidly became too much at his ease
to persist in a condition of cheerful neutrality. He felt his composure
slipping from him. Katharine made it seem so natural to ask her to help
him, or advise him, to say straight out what he had in his mind. The
letter from Cassandra was heavy in his pocket. There was also the letter
to Cassandra lying on the table in the next room. The atmosphere seemed
charged with Cassandra. But, unless Katharine began the subject of her
own accord, he could not even hint--he must ignore the whole affair; it
was the part of a gentleman to preserve a bearing that was, as far as
he could make it, the bearing of an undoubting lover. At intervals
he sighed deeply. He talked rather more quickly than usual about the
possibility that some of the operas of Mozart would be played in the
summer. He had received a notice, he said, and at once produced a
pocket-book stuffed with papers, and began shuffling them in search.
He held a thick envelope between his finger and thumb, as if the notice
from the opera company had become in some way inseparably attached to
it.

“A letter from Cassandra?” said Katharine, in the easiest voice in the
world, looking over his shoulder. “I’ve just written to ask her to come
here, only I forgot to post it.”

He handed her the envelope in silence. She took it, extracted the
sheets, and read the letter through.

The reading seemed to Rodney to take an intolerably long time.

“Yes,” she observed at length, “a very charming letter.”

Rodney’s face was half turned away, as if in bashfulness. Her view of
his profile almost moved her to laughter. She glanced through the pages
once more.

“I see no harm,” William blurted out, “in helping her--with Greek, for
example--if she really cares for that sort of thing.”

“There’s no reason why she shouldn’t care,” said Katharine, consulting
the pages once more. “In fact--ah, here it is--‘The Greek alphabet is
absolutely FASCINATING.’ Obviously she does care.”

“Well, Greek may be rather a large order. I was thinking chiefly
of English. Her criticisms of my play, though they’re too generous,
evidently immature--she can’t be more than twenty-two, I suppose?--they
certainly show the sort of thing one wants: real feeling for poetry,
understanding, not formed, of course, but it’s at the root of everything
after all. There’d be no harm in lending her books?”

“No. Certainly not.”

“But if it--hum--led to a correspondence? I mean, Katharine, I take it,
without going into matters which seem to me a little morbid, I mean,”
 he floundered, “you, from your point of view, feel that there’s nothing
disagreeable to you in the notion? If so, you’ve only to speak, and I
never think of it again.”

She was surprised by the violence of her desire that he never should
think of it again. For an instant it seemed to her impossible to
surrender an intimacy, which might not be the intimacy of love, but was
certainly the intimacy of true friendship, to any woman in the world.
Cassandra would never understand him--she was not good enough for him.
The letter seemed to her a letter of flattery--a letter addressed to his
weakness, which it made her angry to think was known to another. For he
was not weak; he had the rare strength of doing what he promised--she
had only to speak, and he would never think of Cassandra again.

She paused. Rodney guessed the reason. He was amazed.

“She loves me,” he thought. The woman he admired more than any one in
the world, loved him, as he had given up hope that she would ever
love him. And now that for the first time he was sure of her love, he
resented it. He felt it as a fetter, an encumbrance, something which
made them both, but him in particular, ridiculous. He was in her power
completely, but his eyes were open and he was no longer her slave or her
dupe. He would be her master in future. The instant prolonged itself as
Katharine realized the strength of her desire to speak the words that
should keep William for ever, and the baseness of the temptation which
assailed her to make the movement, or speak the word, which he had often
begged her for, which she was now near enough to feeling. She held the
letter in her hand. She sat silent.

At this moment there was a stir in the other room; the voice of
Mrs. Hilbery was heard talking of proof-sheets rescued by miraculous
providence from butcher’s ledgers in Australia; the curtain separating
one room from the other was drawn apart, and Mrs. Hilbery and Augustus
Pelham stood in the doorway. Mrs. Hilbery stopped short. She looked
at her daughter, and at the man her daughter was to marry, with her
peculiar smile that always seemed to tremble on the brink of satire.

“The best of all my treasures, Mr. Pelham!” she exclaimed. “Don’t move,
Katharine. Sit still, William. Mr. Pelham will come another day.”

Mr. Pelham looked, smiled, bowed, and, as his hostess had moved on,
followed her without a word. The curtain was drawn again either by him
or by Mrs. Hilbery.

But her mother had settled the question somehow. Katharine doubted no
longer.

“As I told you last night,” she said, “I think it’s your duty, if
there’s a chance that you care for Cassandra, to discover what your
feeling is for her now. It’s your duty to her, as well as to me. But we
must tell my mother. We can’t go on pretending.”

“That is entirely in your hands, of course,” said Rodney, with an
immediate return to the manner of a formal man of honor.

“Very well,” said Katharine.

Directly he left her she would go to her mother, and explain that the
engagement was at an end--or it might be better that they should go
together?

“But, Katharine,” Rodney began, nervously attempting to stuff
Cassandra’s sheets back into their envelope; “if Cassandra--should
Cassandra--you’ve asked Cassandra to stay with you.”

“Yes; but I’ve not posted the letter.”

He crossed his knees in a discomfited silence. By all his codes it
was impossible to ask a woman with whom he had just broken off his
engagement to help him to become acquainted with another woman with a
view to his falling in love with her. If it was announced that their
engagement was over, a long and complete separation would inevitably
follow; in those circumstances, letters and gifts were returned; after
years of distance the severed couple met, perhaps at an evening party,
and touched hands uncomfortably with an indifferent word or two.
He would be cast off completely; he would have to trust to his own
resources. He could never mention Cassandra to Katharine again; for
months, and doubtless years, he would never see Katharine again;
anything might happen to her in his absence.

Katharine was almost as well aware of his perplexities as he was.
She knew in what direction complete generosity pointed the way; but
pride--for to remain engaged to Rodney and to cover his experiments hurt
what was nobler in her than mere vanity--fought for its life.

“I’m to give up my freedom for an indefinite time,” she thought, “in
order that William may see Cassandra here at his ease. He’s not the
courage to manage it without my help--he’s too much of a coward to tell
me openly what he wants. He hates the notion of a public breach. He
wants to keep us both.”

When she reached this point, Rodney pocketed the letter and elaborately
looked at his watch. Although the action meant that he resigned
Cassandra, for he knew his own incompetence and distrusted himself
entirely, and lost Katharine, for whom his feeling was profound though
unsatisfactory, still it appeared to him that there was nothing else
left for him to do. He was forced to go, leaving Katharine free, as he
had said, to tell her mother that the engagement was at an end. But to
do what plain duty required of an honorable man, cost an effort which
only a day or two ago would have been inconceivable to him. That a
relationship such as he had glanced at with desire could be possible
between him and Katharine, he would have been the first, two days ago,
to deny with indignation. But now his life had changed; his attitude
had changed; his feelings were different; new aims and possibilities
had been shown him, and they had an almost irresistible fascination
and force. The training of a life of thirty-five years had not left him
defenceless; he was still master of his dignity; he rose, with a mind
made up to an irrevocable farewell.

“I leave you, then,” he said, standing up and holding out his hand with
an effort that left him pale, but lent him dignity, “to tell your mother
that our engagement is ended by your desire.”

She took his hand and held it.

“You don’t trust me?” she said.

“I do, absolutely,” he replied.

“No. You don’t trust me to help you.... I could help you?”

“I’m hopeless without your help!” he exclaimed passionately, but
withdrew his hand and turned his back. When he faced her, she thought
that she saw him for the first time without disguise.

“It’s useless to pretend that I don’t understand what you’re offering,
Katharine. I admit what you say. Speaking to you perfectly frankly, I
believe at this moment that I do love your cousin; there is a chance
that, with your help, I might--but no,” he broke off, “it’s impossible,
it’s wrong--I’m infinitely to blame for having allowed this situation to
arise.”

“Sit beside me. Let’s consider sensibly--”

“Your sense has been our undoing--” he groaned.

“I accept the responsibility.”

“Ah, but can I allow that?” he exclaimed. “It would mean--for we must
face it, Katharine--that we let our engagement stand for the time
nominally; in fact, of course, your freedom would be absolute.”

“And yours too.”

“Yes, we should both be free. Let us say that I saw Cassandra once,
twice, perhaps, under these conditions; and then if, as I think certain,
the whole thing proves a dream, we tell your mother instantly. Why not
tell her now, indeed, under pledge of secrecy?”

“Why not? It would be over London in ten minutes, besides, she would
never even remotely understand.”

“Your father, then? This secrecy is detestable--it’s dishonorable.”

“My father would understand even less than my mother.”

“Ah, who could be expected to understand?” Rodney groaned; “but it’s
from your point of view that we must look at it. It’s not only asking
too much, it’s putting you into a position--a position in which I could
not endure to see my own sister.”

“We’re not brothers and sisters,” she said impatiently, “and if we can’t
decide, who can? I’m not talking nonsense,” she proceeded. “I’ve done
my best to think this out from every point of view, and I’ve come to the
conclusion that there are risks which have to be taken,--though I don’t
deny that they hurt horribly.”

“Katharine, you mind? You’ll mind too much.”

“No I shan’t,” she said stoutly. “I shall mind a good deal, but I’m
prepared for that; I shall get through it, because you will help me.
You’ll both help me. In fact, we’ll help each other. That’s a Christian
doctrine, isn’t it?”

“It sounds more like Paganism to me,” Rodney groaned, as he reviewed the
situation into which her Christian doctrine was plunging them.

And yet he could not deny that a divine relief possessed him, and that
the future, instead of wearing a lead-colored mask, now blossomed with
a thousand varied gaieties and excitements. He was actually to see
Cassandra within a week or perhaps less, and he was more anxious to know
the date of her arrival than he could own even to himself. It seemed
base to be so anxious to pluck this fruit of Katharine’s unexampled
generosity and of his own contemptible baseness. And yet, though he used
these words automatically, they had now no meaning. He was not debased
in his own eyes by what he had done, and as for praising Katharine,
were they not partners, conspirators, people bent upon the same quest
together, so that to praise the pursuit of a common end as an act of
generosity was meaningless. He took her hand and pressed it, not in
thanks so much as in an ecstasy of comradeship.

“We will help each other,” he said, repeating her words, seeking her
eyes in an enthusiasm of friendship.

Her eyes were grave but dark with sadness as they rested on him. “He’s
already gone,” she thought, “far away--he thinks of me no more.” And
the fancy came to her that, as they sat side by side, hand in hand, she
could hear the earth pouring from above to make a barrier between
them, so that, as they sat, they were separated second by second by
an impenetrable wall. The process, which affected her as that of being
sealed away and for ever from all companionship with the person she
cared for most, came to an end at last, and by common consent they
unclasped their fingers, Rodney touching hers with his lips, as the
curtain parted, and Mrs. Hilbery peered through the opening with her
benevolent and sarcastic expression to ask whether Katharine could
remember was it Tuesday or Wednesday, and did she dine in Westminster?

“Dearest William,” she said, pausing, as if she could not resist the
pleasure of encroaching for a second upon this wonderful world of love
and confidence and romance. “Dearest children,” she added, disappearing
with an impulsive gesture, as if she forced herself to draw the curtain
upon a scene which she refused all temptation to interrupt.



CHAPTER XXV

At a quarter-past three in the afternoon of the following Saturday
Ralph Denham sat on the bank of the lake in Kew Gardens, dividing the
dial-plate of his watch into sections with his forefinger. The just and
inexorable nature of time itself was reflected in his face. He might
have been composing a hymn to the unhasting and unresting march of that
divinity. He seemed to greet the lapse of minute after minute with stern
acquiescence in the inevitable order. His expression was so severe, so
serene, so immobile, that it seemed obvious that for him at least there
was a grandeur in the departing hour which no petty irritation on his
part was to mar, although the wasting time wasted also high private
hopes of his own.

His face was no bad index to what went on within him. He was in a
condition of mind rather too exalted for the trivialities of daily life.
He could not accept the fact that a lady was fifteen minutes late in
keeping her appointment without seeing in that accident the frustration
of his entire life. Looking at his watch, he seemed to look deep into
the springs of human existence, and by the light of what he saw there
altered his course towards the north and the midnight.... Yes, one’s
voyage must be made absolutely without companions through ice and black
water--towards what goal? Here he laid his finger upon the half-hour,
and decided that when the minute-hand reached that point he would go, at
the same time answering the question put by another of the many voices
of consciousness with the reply that there was undoubtedly a goal, but
that it would need the most relentless energy to keep anywhere in its
direction. Still, still, one goes on, the ticking seconds seemed to
assure him, with dignity, with open eyes, with determination not to
accept the second-rate, not to be tempted by the unworthy, not to yield,
not to compromise. Twenty-five minutes past three were now marked upon
the face of the watch. The world, he assured himself, since Katharine
Hilbery was now half an hour behind her time, offers no happiness, no
rest from struggle, no certainty. In a scheme of things utterly bad from
the start the only unpardonable folly is that of hope. Raising his
eyes for a moment from the face of his watch, he rested them upon the
opposite bank, reflectively and not without a certain wistfulness, as
if the sternness of their gaze were still capable of mitigation. Soon a
look of the deepest satisfaction filled them, though, for a moment, he
did not move. He watched a lady who came rapidly, and yet with a trace
of hesitation, down the broad grass-walk towards him. She did not see
him. Distance lent her figure an indescribable height, and romance
seemed to surround her from the floating of a purple veil which the
light air filled and curved from her shoulders.

“Here she comes, like a ship in full sail,” he said to himself, half
remembering some line from a play or poem where the heroine bore down
thus with feathers flying and airs saluting her. The greenery and the
high presences of the trees surrounded her as if they stood forth at her
coming. He rose, and she saw him; her little exclamation proved that she
was glad to find him, and then that she blamed herself for being late.

“Why did you never tell me? I didn’t know there was this,” she remarked,
alluding to the lake, the broad green space, the vista of trees, with
the ruffled gold of the Thames in the distance and the Ducal castle
standing in its meadows. She paid the rigid tail of the Ducal lion the
tribute of incredulous laughter.

“You’ve never been to Kew?” Denham remarked.

But it appeared that she had come once as a small child, when the
geography of the place was entirely different, and the fauna included
certainly flamingoes and, possibly, camels. They strolled on,
refashioning these legendary gardens. She was, as he felt, glad merely
to stroll and loiter and let her fancy touch upon anything her eyes
encountered--a bush, a park-keeper, a decorated goose--as if the
relaxation soothed her. The warmth of the afternoon, the first of
spring, tempted them to sit upon a seat in a glade of beech-trees, with
forest drives striking green paths this way and that around them. She
sighed deeply.

“It’s so peaceful,” she said, as if in explanation of her sigh. Not a
single person was in sight, and the stir of the wind in the branches,
that sound so seldom heard by Londoners, seemed to her as if wafted from
fathomless oceans of sweet air in the distance.

While she breathed and looked, Denham was engaged in uncovering with the
point of his stick a group of green spikes half smothered by the dead
leaves. He did this with the peculiar touch of the botanist. In naming
the little green plant to her he used the Latin name, thus disguising
some flower familiar even to Chelsea, and making her exclaim, half in
amusement, at his knowledge. Her own ignorance was vast, she confessed.
What did one call that tree opposite, for instance, supposing one
condescended to call it by its English name? Beech or elm or sycamore?
It chanced, by the testimony of a dead leaf, to be oak; and a little
attention to a diagram which Denham proceeded to draw upon an envelope
soon put Katharine in possession of some of the fundamental distinctions
between our British trees. She then asked him to inform her about
flowers. To her they were variously shaped and colored petals, poised,
at different seasons of the year, upon very similar green stalks; but to
him they were, in the first instance, bulbs or seeds, and later, living
things endowed with sex, and pores, and susceptibilities which adapted
themselves by all manner of ingenious devices to live and beget life,
and could be fashioned squat or tapering, flame-colored or pale, pure or
spotted, by processes which might reveal the secrets of human existence.
Denham spoke with increasing ardor of a hobby which had long been his in
secret. No discourse could have worn a more welcome sound in Katharine’s
ears. For weeks she had heard nothing that made such pleasant music in
her mind. It wakened echoes in all those remote fastnesses of her being
where loneliness had brooded so long undisturbed.

She wished he would go on for ever talking of plants, and showing her
how science felt not quite blindly for the law that ruled their endless
variations. A law that might be inscrutable but was certainly omnipotent
appealed to her at the moment, because she could find nothing like it
in possession of human lives. Circumstances had long forced her, as
they force most women in the flower of youth, to consider, painfully and
minutely, all that part of life which is conspicuously without
order; she had had to consider moods and wishes, degrees of liking or
disliking, and their effect upon the destiny of people dear to her; she
had been forced to deny herself any contemplation of that other part of
life where thought constructs a destiny which is independent of human
beings. As Denham spoke, she followed his words and considered their
bearing with an easy vigor which spoke of a capacity long hoarded and
unspent. The very trees and the green merging into the blue distance
became symbols of the vast external world which recks so little of the
happiness, of the marriages or deaths of individuals. In order to give
her examples of what he was saying, Denham led the way, first to the
Rock Garden, and then to the Orchid House.

For him there was safety in the direction which the talk had taken.
His emphasis might come from feelings more personal than those science
roused in him, but it was disguised, and naturally he found it easy
to expound and explain. Nevertheless, when he saw Katharine among the
orchids, her beauty strangely emphasized by the fantastic plants, which
seemed to peer and gape at her from striped hoods and fleshy throats,
his ardor for botany waned, and a more complex feeling replaced it. She
fell silent. The orchids seemed to suggest absorbing reflections. In
defiance of the rules she stretched her ungloved hand and touched one.
The sight of the rubies upon her finger affected him so disagreeably
that he started and turned away. But next moment he controlled himself;
he looked at her taking in one strange shape after another with the
contemplative, considering gaze of a person who sees not exactly what is
before him, but gropes in regions that lie beyond it. The far-away
look entirely lacked self-consciousness. Denham doubted whether she
remembered his presence. He could recall himself, of course, by a word
or a movement--but why? She was happier thus. She needed nothing that
he could give her. And for him, too, perhaps, it was best to keep aloof,
only to know that she existed, to preserve what he already had--perfect,
remote, and unbroken. Further, her still look, standing among the
orchids in that hot atmosphere, strangely illustrated some scene that
he had imagined in his room at home. The sight, mingling with his
recollection, kept him silent when the door was shut and they were
walking on again.

But though she did not speak, Katharine had an uneasy sense that silence
on her part was selfishness. It was selfish of her to continue, as she
wished to do, a discussion of subjects not remotely connected with any
human beings. She roused herself to consider their exact position upon
the turbulent map of the emotions. Oh yes--it was a question whether
Ralph Denham should live in the country and write a book; it was getting
late; they must waste no more time; Cassandra arrived to-night for
dinner; she flinched and roused herself, and discovered that she ought
to be holding something in her hands. But they were empty. She held them
out with an exclamation.

“I’ve left my bag somewhere--where?” The gardens had no points of the
compass, so far as she was concerned. She had been walking for the most
part on grass--that was all she knew. Even the road to the Orchid House
had now split itself into three. But there was no bag in the Orchid
House. It must, therefore, have been left upon the seat. They retraced
their steps in the preoccupied manner of people who have to think
about something that is lost. What did this bag look like? What did it
contain?

“A purse--a ticket--some letters, papers,” Katharine counted, becoming
more agitated as she recalled the list. Denham went on quickly in
advance of her, and she heard him shout that he had found it before she
reached the seat. In order to make sure that all was safe she spread the
contents on her knee. It was a queer collection, Denham thought, gazing
with the deepest interest. Loose gold coins were tangled in a narrow
strip of lace; there were letters which somehow suggested the extreme of
intimacy; there were two or three keys, and lists of commissions against
which crosses were set at intervals. But she did not seem satisfied
until she had made sure of a certain paper so folded that Denham could
not judge what it contained. In her relief and gratitude she began at
once to say that she had been thinking over what Denham had told her of
his plans.

He cut her short. “Don’t let’s discuss that dreary business.”

“But I thought--”

“It’s a dreary business. I ought never to have bothered you--”

“Have you decided, then?”

He made an impatient sound. “It’s not a thing that matters.”

She could only say rather flatly, “Oh!”

“I mean it matters to me, but it matters to no one else. Anyhow,” he
continued, more amiably, “I see no reason why you should be bothered
with other people’s nuisances.”

She supposed that she had let him see too clearly her weariness of this
side of life.

“I’m afraid I’ve been absent-minded,” she began, remembering how often
William had brought this charge against her.

“You have a good deal to make you absent-minded,” he replied.

“Yes,” she replied, flushing. “No,” she contradicted herself. “Nothing
particular, I mean. But I was thinking about plants. I was enjoying
myself. In fact, I’ve seldom enjoyed an afternoon more. But I want to
hear what you’ve settled, if you don’t mind telling me.”

“Oh, it’s all settled,” he replied. “I’m going to this infernal cottage
to write a worthless book.”

“How I envy you,” she replied, with the utmost sincerity.

“Well, cottages are to be had for fifteen shillings a week.”

“Cottages are to be had--yes,” she replied. “The question is--” She
checked herself. “Two rooms are all I should want,” she continued, with
a curious sigh; “one for eating, one for sleeping. Oh, but I should like
another, a large one at the top, and a little garden where one could
grow flowers. A path--so--down to a river, or up to a wood, and the sea
not very far off, so that one could hear the waves at night. Ships just
vanishing on the horizon--” She broke off. “Shall you be near the sea?”

“My notion of perfect happiness,” he began, not replying to her
question, “is to live as you’ve said.”

“Well, now you can. You will work, I suppose,” she continued; “you’ll
work all the morning and again after tea and perhaps at night. You won’t
have people always coming about you to interrupt.”

“How far can one live alone?” he asked. “Have you tried ever?”

“Once for three weeks,” she replied. “My father and mother were in
Italy, and something happened so that I couldn’t join them. For three
weeks I lived entirely by myself, and the only person I spoke to was a
stranger in a shop where I lunched--a man with a beard. Then I went back
to my room by myself and--well, I did what I liked. It doesn’t make me
out an amiable character, I’m afraid,” she added, “but I can’t endure
living with other people. An occasional man with a beard is interesting;
he’s detached; he lets me go my way, and we know we shall never meet
again. Therefore, we are perfectly sincere--a thing not possible with
one’s friends.”

“Nonsense,” Denham replied abruptly.

“Why ‘nonsense’?” she inquired.

“Because you don’t mean what you say,” he expostulated.

“You’re very positive,” she said, laughing and looking at him. How
arbitrary, hot-tempered, and imperious he was! He had asked her to come
to Kew to advise him; he then told her that he had settled the question
already; he then proceeded to find fault with her. He was the very
opposite of William Rodney, she thought; he was shabby, his clothes
were badly made, he was ill versed in the amenities of life; he was
tongue-tied and awkward to the verge of obliterating his real character.
He was awkwardly silent; he was awkwardly emphatic. And yet she liked
him.

“I don’t mean what I say,” she repeated good-humoredly. “Well--?”

“I doubt whether you make absolute sincerity your standard in life,” he
answered significantly.

She flushed. He had penetrated at once to the weak spot--her engagement,
and had reason for what he said. He was not altogether justified now, at
any rate, she was glad to remember; but she could not enlighten him
and must bear his insinuations, though from the lips of a man who
had behaved as he had behaved their force should not have been sharp.
Nevertheless, what he said had its force, she mused; partly because he
seemed unconscious of his own lapse in the case of Mary Datchet, and
thus baffled her insight; partly because he always spoke with force, for
what reason she did not yet feel certain.

“Absolute sincerity is rather difficult, don’t you think?” she inquired,
with a touch of irony.

“There are people one credits even with that,” he replied a little
vaguely. He was ashamed of his savage wish to hurt her, and yet it was
not for the sake of hurting her, who was beyond his shafts, but in order
to mortify his own incredibly reckless impulse of abandonment to the
spirit which seemed, at moments, about to rush him to the uttermost ends
of the earth. She affected him beyond the scope of his wildest dreams.
He seemed to see that beneath the quiet surface of her manner, which was
almost pathetically at hand and within reach for all the trivial demands
of daily life, there was a spirit which she reserved or repressed for
some reason either of loneliness or--could it be possible--of love. Was
it given to Rodney to see her unmasked, unrestrained, unconscious of her
duties? a creature of uncalculating passion and instinctive freedom? No;
he refused to believe it. It was in her loneliness that Katharine was
unreserved. “I went back to my room by myself and I did--what I liked.”
 She had said that to him, and in saying it had given him a glimpse of
possibilities, even of confidences, as if he might be the one to share
her loneliness, the mere hint of which made his heart beat faster and
his brain spin. He checked himself as brutally as he could. He saw her
redden, and in the irony of her reply he heard her resentment.

He began slipping his smooth, silver watch in his pocket, in the hope
that somehow he might help himself back to that calm and fatalistic mood
which had been his when he looked at its face upon the bank of the lake,
for that mood must, at whatever cost, be the mood of his intercourse
with Katharine. He had spoken of gratitude and acquiescence in the
letter which he had never sent, and now all the force of his character
must make good those vows in her presence.

She, thus challenged, tried meanwhile to define her points. She wished
to make Denham understand.

“Don’t you see that if you have no relations with people it’s easier to
be honest with them?” she inquired. “That is what I meant. One needn’t
cajole them; one’s under no obligation to them. Surely you must have
found with your own family that it’s impossible to discuss what matters
to you most because you’re all herded together, because you’re in a
conspiracy, because the position is false--” Her reasoning suspended
itself a little inconclusively, for the subject was complex, and she
found herself in ignorance whether Denham had a family or not. Denham
was agreed with her as to the destructiveness of the family system, but
he did not wish to discuss the problem at that moment.

He turned to a problem which was of greater interest to him.

“I’m convinced,” he said, “that there are cases in which perfect
sincerity is possible--cases where there’s no relationship, though the
people live together, if you like, where each is free, where there’s no
obligation upon either side.”

“For a time perhaps,” she agreed, a little despondently. “But
obligations always grow up. There are feelings to be considered. People
aren’t simple, and though they may mean to be reasonable, they
end”--in the condition in which she found herself, she meant, but added
lamely--“in a muddle.”

“Because,” Denham instantly intervened, “they don’t make themselves
understood at the beginning. I could undertake, at this instant,” he
continued, with a reasonable intonation which did much credit to his
self-control, “to lay down terms for a friendship which should be
perfectly sincere and perfectly straightforward.”

She was curious to hear them, but, besides feeling that the topic
concealed dangers better known to her than to him, she was reminded
by his tone of his curious abstract declaration upon the Embankment.
Anything that hinted at love for the moment alarmed her; it was as much
an infliction to her as the rubbing of a skinless wound.

But he went on, without waiting for her invitation.

“In the first place, such a friendship must be unemotional,” he laid it
down emphatically. “At least, on both sides it must be understood that
if either chooses to fall in love, he or she does so entirely at his
own risk. Neither is under any obligation to the other. They must be
at liberty to break or to alter at any moment. They must be able to say
whatever they wish to say. All this must be understood.”

“And they gain something worth having?” she asked.

“It’s a risk--of course it’s a risk,” he replied. The word

was one that she had been using frequently in her arguments with herself
of late.

“But it’s the only way--if you think friendship worth having,” he
concluded.

“Perhaps under those conditions it might be,” she said reflectively.

“Well,” he said, “those are the terms of the friendship I wish to offer
you.” She had known that this was coming, but, none the less, felt a
little shock, half of pleasure, half of reluctance, when she heard the
formal statement.

“I should like it,” she began, “but--”

“Would Rodney mind?”

“Oh no,” she replied quickly.

“No, no, it isn’t that,” she went on, and again came to an end. She had
been touched by the unreserved and yet ceremonious way in which he had
made what he called his offer of terms, but if he was generous it was
the more necessary for her to be cautious. They would find themselves
in difficulties, she speculated; but, at this point, which was not very
far, after all, upon the road of caution, her foresight deserted her.
She sought for some definite catastrophe into which they must inevitably
plunge. But she could think of none. It seemed to her that these
catastrophes were fictitious; life went on and on--life was different
altogether from what people said. And not only was she at an end of her
stock of caution, but it seemed suddenly altogether superfluous. Surely
if any one could take care of himself, Ralph Denham could; he had told
her that he did not love her. And, further, she meditated, walking on
beneath the beech-trees and swinging her umbrella, as in her thought she
was accustomed to complete freedom, why should she perpetually apply so
different a standard to her behavior in practice? Why, she reflected,
should there be this perpetual disparity between the thought and the
action, between the life of solitude and the life of society, this
astonishing precipice on one side of which the soul was active and in
broad daylight, on the other side of which it was contemplative and dark
as night? Was it not possible to step from one to the other, erect, and
without essential change? Was this not the chance he offered her--the
rare and wonderful chance of friendship? At any rate, she told Denham,
with a sigh in which he heard both impatience and relief, that she
agreed; she thought him right; she would accept his terms of friendship.

“Now,” she said, “let’s go and have tea.”

In fact, these principles having been laid down, a great lightness of
spirit showed itself in both of them. They were both convinced that
something of profound importance had been settled, and could now give
their attention to their tea and the Gardens. They wandered in and out
of glass-houses, saw lilies swimming in tanks, breathed in the scent
of thousands of carnations, and compared their respective tastes in the
matter of trees and lakes. While talking exclusively of what they saw,
so that any one might have overheard them, they felt that the compact
between them was made firmer and deeper by the number of people who
passed them and suspected nothing of the kind. The question of Ralph’s
cottage and future was not mentioned again.



CHAPTER XXVI

Although the old coaches, with their gay panels and the guard’s horn,
and the humors of the box and the vicissitudes of the road, have long
moldered into dust so far as they were matter, and are preserved in the
printed pages of our novelists so far as they partook of the spirit,
a journey to London by express train can still be a very pleasant and
romantic adventure. Cassandra Otway, at the age of twenty-two, could
imagine few things more pleasant. Satiated with months of green fields
as she was, the first row of artisans’ villas on the outskirts of London
seemed to have something serious about it, which positively increased
the importance of every person in the railway carriage, and even, to her
impressionable mind, quickened the speed of the train and gave a note of
stern authority to the shriek of the engine-whistle. They were bound for
London; they must have precedence of all traffic not similarly destined.
A different demeanor was necessary directly one stepped out upon
Liverpool Street platform, and became one of those preoccupied and hasty
citizens for whose needs innumerable taxi-cabs, motor-omnibuses, and
underground railways were in waiting. She did her best to look
dignified and preoccupied too, but as the cab carried her away, with
a determination which alarmed her a little, she became more and more
forgetful of her station as a citizen of London, and turned her head
from one window to another, picking up eagerly a building on this side
or a street scene on that to feed her intense curiosity. And yet, while
the drive lasted no one was real, nothing was ordinary; the crowds, the
Government buildings, the tide of men and women washing the base of the
great glass windows, were all generalized, and affected her as if she
saw them on the stage.

All these feelings were sustained and partly inspired by the fact that
her journey took her straight to the center of her most romantic world.
A thousand times in the midst of her pastoral landscape her thoughts
took this precise road, were admitted to the house in Chelsea, and went
directly upstairs to Katharine’s room, where, invisible themselves,
they had the better chance of feasting upon the privacy of the room’s
adorable and mysterious mistress. Cassandra adored her cousin; the
adoration might have been foolish, but was saved from that excess
and lent an engaging charm by the volatile nature of Cassandra’s
temperament. She had adored a great many things and people in the
course of twenty-two years; she had been alternately the pride and the
desperation of her teachers. She had worshipped architecture and music,
natural history and humanity, literature and art, but always at the
height of her enthusiasm, which was accompanied by a brilliant degree
of accomplishment, she changed her mind and bought, surreptitiously,
another grammar. The terrible results which governesses had predicted
from such mental dissipation were certainly apparent now that Cassandra
was twenty-two, and had never passed an examination, and daily
showed herself less and less capable of passing one. The more serious
prediction that she could never possibly earn her living was also
verified. But from all these short strands of different accomplishments
Cassandra wove for herself an attitude, a cast of mind, which, if
useless, was found by some people to have the not despicable virtues
of vivacity and freshness. Katharine, for example, thought her a most
charming companion. The cousins seemed to assemble between them a great
range of qualities which are never found united in one person and
seldom in half a dozen people. Where Katharine was simple, Cassandra was
complex; where Katharine was solid and direct, Cassandra was vague and
evasive. In short, they represented very well the manly and the womanly
sides of the feminine nature, and, for foundation, there was the
profound unity of common blood between them. If Cassandra adored
Katharine she was incapable of adoring any one without refreshing her
spirit with frequent draughts of raillery and criticism, and Katharine
enjoyed her laughter at least as much as her respect.

Respect was certainly uppermost in Cassandra’s mind at the present
moment. Katharine’s engagement had appealed to her imagination as the
first engagement in a circle of contemporaries is apt to appeal to the
imaginations of the others; it was solemn, beautiful, and mysterious;
it gave both parties the important air of those who have been initiated
into some rite which is still concealed from the rest of the group.
For Katharine’s sake Cassandra thought William a most distinguished and
interesting character, and welcomed first his conversation and then his
manuscript as the marks of a friendship which it flattered and delighted
her to inspire.

Katharine was still out when she arrived at Cheyne Walk. After greeting
her uncle and aunt and receiving, as usual, a present of two sovereigns
for “cab fares and dissipation” from Uncle Trevor, whose favorite niece
she was, she changed her dress and wandered into Katharine’s room to
await her. What a great looking-glass Katharine had, she thought, and
how mature all the arrangements upon the dressing-table were compared to
what she was used to at home. Glancing round, she thought that the bills
stuck upon a skewer and stood for ornament upon the mantelpiece were
astonishingly like Katharine, There wasn’t a photograph of William
anywhere to be seen. The room, with its combination of luxury and
bareness, its silk dressing-gowns and crimson slippers, its shabby
carpet and bare walls, had a powerful air of Katharine herself; she
stood in the middle of the room and enjoyed the sensation; and then,
with a desire to finger what her cousin was in the habit of fingering,
Cassandra began to take down the books which stood in a row upon the
shelf above the bed. In most houses this shelf is the ledge upon which
the last relics of religious belief lodge themselves as if, late at
night, in the heart of privacy, people, skeptical by day, find solace in
sipping one draught of the old charm for such sorrows or perplexities
as may steal from their hiding-places in the dark. But there was no
hymn-book here. By their battered covers and enigmatical contents,
Cassandra judged them to be old school-books belonging to Uncle Trevor,
and piously, though eccentrically, preserved by his daughter. There was
no end, she thought, to the unexpectedness of Katharine. She had once
had a passion for geometry herself, and, curled upon Katharine’s quilt,
she became absorbed in trying to remember how far she had forgotten what
she once knew. Katharine, coming in a little later, found her deep in
this characteristic pursuit.

“My dear,” Cassandra exclaimed, shaking the book at her cousin, “my
whole life’s changed from this moment! I must write the man’s name down
at once, or I shall forget--”

Whose name, what book, which life was changed Katharine proceeded to
ascertain. She began to lay aside her clothes hurriedly, for she was
very late.

“May I sit and watch you?” Cassandra asked, shutting up her book. “I got
ready on purpose.”

“Oh, you’re ready, are you?” said Katharine, half turning in the midst
of her operations, and looking at Cassandra, who sat, clasping her
knees, on the edge of the bed.

“There are people dining here,” she said, taking in the effect of
Cassandra from a new point of view. After an interval, the distinction,
the irregular charm, of the small face with its long tapering nose
and its bright oval eyes were very notable. The hair rose up off
the forehead rather stiffly, and, given a more careful treatment by
hairdressers and dressmakers, the light angular figure might possess a
likeness to a French lady of distinction in the eighteenth century.

“Who’s coming to dinner?” Cassandra asked, anticipating further
possibilities of rapture.

“There’s William, and, I believe, Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Aubrey.”

“I’m so glad William is coming. Did he tell you that he sent me his
manuscript? I think it’s wonderful--I think he’s almost good enough for
you, Katharine.”

“You shall sit next to him and tell him what you think of him.”

“I shan’t dare do that,” Cassandra asserted.

“Why? You’re not afraid of him, are you?”

“A little--because he’s connected with you.”

Katharine smiled.

“But then, with your well-known fidelity, considering that you’re
staying here at least a fortnight, you won’t have any illusions left
about me by the time you go. I give you a week, Cassandra. I shall see
my power fading day by day. Now it’s at the climax; but to-morrow it’ll
have begun to fade. What am I to wear, I wonder? Find me a blue dress,
Cassandra, over there in the long wardrobe.”

She spoke disconnectedly, handling brush and comb, and pulling out the
little drawers in her dressing-table and leaving them open. Cassandra,
sitting on the bed behind her, saw the reflection of her cousin’s face
in the looking-glass. The face in the looking-glass was serious and
intent, apparently occupied with other things besides the straightness
of the parting which, however, was being driven as straight as a Roman
road through the dark hair. Cassandra was impressed again by Katharine’s
maturity; and, as she enveloped herself in the blue dress which filled
almost the whole of the long looking-glass with blue light and made it
the frame of a picture, holding not only the slightly moving effigy of
the beautiful woman, but shapes and colors of objects reflected from
the background, Cassandra thought that no sight had ever been quite so
romantic. It was all in keeping with the room and the house, and the
city round them; for her ears had not yet ceased to notice the hum of
distant wheels.

They went downstairs rather late, in spite of Katharine’s extreme speed
in getting ready. To Cassandra’s ears the buzz of voices inside the
drawing-room was like the tuning up of the instruments of the orchestra.
It seemed to her that there were numbers of people in the room, and that
they were strangers, and that they were beautiful and dressed with the
greatest distinction, although they proved to be mostly her relations,
and the distinction of their clothing was confined, in the eyes of an
impartial observer, to the white waistcoat which Rodney wore. But they
all rose simultaneously, which was by itself impressive, and they all
exclaimed, and shook hands, and she was introduced to Mr. Peyton, and
the door sprang open, and dinner was announced, and they filed off,
William Rodney offering her his slightly bent black arm, as she had
secretly hoped he would. In short, had the scene been looked at
only through her eyes, it must have been described as one of magical
brilliancy. The pattern of the soup-plates, the stiff folds of the
napkins, which rose by the side of each plate in the shape of arum
lilies, the long sticks of bread tied with pink ribbon, the silver
dishes and the sea-colored champagne glasses, with the flakes of gold
congealed in their stems--all these details, together with a curiously
pervasive smell of kid gloves, contributed to her exhilaration, which
must be repressed, however, because she was grown up, and the world held
no more for her to marvel at.

The world held no more for her to marvel at, it is true; but it held
other people; and each other person possessed in Cassandra’s mind some
fragment of what privately she called “reality.” It was a gift that they
would impart if you asked them for it, and thus no dinner-party could
possibly be dull, and little Mr. Peyton on her right and William Rodney
on her left were in equal measure endowed with the quality which seemed
to her so unmistakable and so precious that the way people neglected to
demand it was a constant source of surprise to her. She scarcely knew,
indeed, whether she was talking to Mr. Peyton or to William Rodney.
But to one who, by degrees, assumed the shape of an elderly man with
a mustache, she described how she had arrived in London that very
afternoon, and how she had taken a cab and driven through the streets.
Mr. Peyton, an editor of fifty years, bowed his bald head repeatedly,
with apparent understanding. At least, he understood that she was very
young and pretty, and saw that she was excited, though he could not
gather at once from her words or remember from his own experience what
there was to be excited about. “Were there any buds on the trees?” he
asked. “Which line did she travel by?”

He was cut short in these amiable inquiries by her desire to know
whether he was one of those who read, or one of those who look out of
the window? Mr. Peyton was by no means sure which he did. He rather
thought he did both. He was told that he had made a most dangerous
confession. She could deduce his entire history from that one fact. He
challenged her to proceed; and she proclaimed him a Liberal Member of
Parliament.

William, nominally engaged in a desultory conversation with Aunt
Eleanor, heard every word, and taking advantage of the fact that elderly
ladies have little continuity of conversation, at least with those whom
they esteem for their youth and their sex, he asserted his presence by a
very nervous laugh.

Cassandra turned to him directly. She was enchanted to find that,
instantly and with such ease, another of these fascinating beings was
offering untold wealth for her extraction.

“There’s no doubt what YOU do in a railway carriage, William,” she said,
making use in her pleasure of his first name. “You never ONCE look out
of the window; you read ALL the time.”

“And what facts do you deduce from that?” Mr. Peyton asked.

“Oh, that he’s a poet, of course,” said Cassandra. “But I must confess
that I knew that before, so it isn’t fair. I’ve got your manuscript with
me,” she went on, disregarding Mr. Peyton in a shameless way. “I’ve got
all sorts of things I want to ask you about it.”

William inclined his head and tried to conceal the pleasure that her
remark gave him. But the pleasure was not unalloyed. However susceptible
to flattery William might be, he would never tolerate it from people who
showed a gross or emotional taste in literature, and if Cassandra erred
even slightly from what he considered essential in this respect he
would express his discomfort by flinging out his hands and wrinkling his
forehead; he would find no pleasure in her flattery after that.

“First of all,” she proceeded, “I want to know why you chose to write a
play?”

“Ah! You mean it’s not dramatic?”

“I mean that I don’t see what it would gain by being acted. But then
does Shakespeare gain? Henry and I are always arguing about Shakespeare.
I’m certain he’s wrong, but I can’t prove it because I’ve only seen
Shakespeare acted once in Lincoln. But I’m quite positive,” she
insisted, “that Shakespeare wrote for the stage.”

“You’re perfectly right,” Rodney exclaimed. “I was hoping you were on
that side. Henry’s wrong--entirely wrong. Of course, I’ve failed, as all
the moderns fail. Dear, dear, I wish I’d consulted you before.”

From this point they proceeded to go over, as far as memory served them,
the different aspects of Rodney’s drama. She said nothing that jarred
upon him, and untrained daring had the power to stimulate experience
to such an extent that Rodney was frequently seen to hold his fork
suspended before him, while he debated the first principles of the art.
Mrs. Hilbery thought to herself that she had never seen him to such
advantage; yes, he was somehow different; he reminded her of some one
who was dead, some one who was distinguished--she had forgotten his
name.

Cassandra’s voice rose high in its excitement.

“You’ve not read ‘The Idiot’!” she exclaimed.

“I’ve read ‘War and Peace’,” William replied, a little testily.

“‘WAR AND PEACE’!” she echoed, in a tone of derision.

“I confess I don’t understand the Russians.”

“Shake hands! Shake hands!” boomed Uncle Aubrey from across the table.
“Neither do I. And I hazard the opinion that they don’t themselves.”

The old gentleman had ruled a large part of the Indian Empire, but he
was in the habit of saying that he had rather have written the works of
Dickens. The table now took possession of a subject much to its liking.
Aunt Eleanor showed premonitory signs of pronouncing an opinion.
Although she had blunted her taste upon some form of philanthropy for
twenty-five years, she had a fine natural instinct for an upstart or a
pretender, and knew to a hairbreadth what literature should be and what
it should not be. She was born to the knowledge, and scarcely thought it
a matter to be proud of.

“Insanity is not a fit subject for fiction,” she announced positively.

“There’s the well-known case of Hamlet,” Mr. Hilbery interposed, in his
leisurely, half-humorous tones.

“Ah, but poetry’s different, Trevor,” said Aunt Eleanor, as if she had
special authority from Shakespeare to say so. “Different altogether.
And I’ve never thought, for my part, that Hamlet was as mad as they make
out. What is your opinion, Mr. Peyton?” For, as there was a minister of
literature present in the person of the editor of an esteemed review,
she deferred to him.

Mr. Peyton leant a little back in his chair, and, putting his head
rather on one side, observed that that was a question that he had never
been able to answer entirely to his satisfaction. There was much to be
said on both sides, but as he considered upon which side he should say
it, Mrs. Hilbery broke in upon his judicious meditations.

“Lovely, lovely Ophelia!” she exclaimed. “What a wonderful power it
is--poetry! I wake up in the morning all bedraggled; there’s a yellow
fog outside; little Emily turns on the electric light when she brings
me my tea, and says, ‘Oh, ma’am, the water’s frozen in the cistern, and
cook’s cut her finger to the bone.’ And then I open a little green book,
and the birds are singing, the stars shining, the flowers twinkling--”
 She looked about her as if these presences had suddenly manifested
themselves round her dining-room table.

“Has the cook cut her finger badly?” Aunt Eleanor demanded, addressing
herself naturally to Katharine.

“Oh, the cook’s finger is only my way of putting it,” said Mrs. Hilbery.
“But if she had cut her arm off, Katharine would have sewn it on again,”
 she remarked, with an affectionate glance at her daughter, who looked,
she thought, a little sad. “But what horrid, horrid thoughts,” she wound
up, laying down her napkin and pushing her chair back. “Come, let us
find something more cheerful to talk about upstairs.”

Upstairs in the drawing-room Cassandra found fresh sources of pleasure,
first in the distinguished and expectant look of the room, and then in
the chance of exercising her divining-rod upon a new assortment of human
beings. But the low tones of the women, their meditative silences, the
beauty which, to her at least, shone even from black satin and the knobs
of amber which encircled elderly necks, changed her wish to chatter to
a more subdued desire merely to watch and to whisper. She entered
with delight into an atmosphere in which private matters were being
interchanged freely, almost in monosyllables, by the older women who now
accepted her as one of themselves. Her expression became very gentle and
sympathetic, as if she, too, were full of solicitude for the world which
was somehow being cared for, managed and deprecated by Aunt Maggie and
Aunt Eleanor. After a time she perceived that Katharine was outside the
community in some way, and, suddenly, she threw aside her wisdom and
gentleness and concern and began to laugh.

“What are you laughing at?” Katharine asked.

A joke so foolish and unfilial wasn’t worth explaining.

“It was nothing--ridiculous--in the worst of taste, but still, if you
half shut your eyes and looked--” Katharine half shut her eyes and
looked, but she looked in the wrong direction, and Cassandra laughed
more than ever, and was still laughing and doing her best to explain in
a whisper that Aunt Eleanor, through half-shut eyes, was like the parrot
in the cage at Stogdon House, when the gentlemen came in and Rodney
walked straight up to them and wanted to know what they were laughing
at.

“I utterly refuse to tell you!” Cassandra replied, standing up straight,
clasping her hands in front of her, and facing him. Her mockery was
delicious to him. He had not even for a second the fear that she had
been laughing at him. She was laughing because life was so adorable, so
enchanting.

“Ah, but you’re cruel to make me feel the barbarity of my sex,” he
replied, drawing his feet together and pressing his finger-tips upon an
imaginary opera-hat or malacca cane. “We’ve been discussing all sorts
of dull things, and now I shall never know what I want to know more than
anything in the world.”

“You don’t deceive us for a minute!” she cried. “Not for a second.
We both know that you’ve been enjoying yourself immensely. Hasn’t he,
Katharine?”

“No,” she replied, “I think he’s speaking the truth. He doesn’t care
much for politics.”

Her words, though spoken simply, produced a curious change in the light,
sparkling atmosphere. William at once lost his look of animation and
said seriously:

“I detest politics.”

“I don’t think any man has the right to say that,” said Cassandra,
almost severely.

“I agree. I mean that I detest politicians,” he corrected himself
quickly.

“You see, I believe Cassandra is what they call a Feminist,” Katharine
went on. “Or rather, she was a Feminist six months ago, but it’s no good
supposing that she is now what she was then. That is one of her greatest
charms in my eyes. One never can tell.” She smiled at her as an elder
sister might smile.

“Katharine, you make one feel so horribly small!” Cassandra exclaimed.

“No, no, that’s not what she means,” Rodney interposed. “I quite agree
that women have an immense advantage over us there. One misses a lot by
attempting to know things thoroughly.”

“He knows Greek thoroughly,” said Katharine. “But then he also knows a
good deal about painting, and a certain amount about music. He’s very
cultivated--perhaps the most cultivated person I know.”

“And poetry,” Cassandra added.

“Yes, I was forgetting his play,” Katharine remarked, and turning her
head as though she saw something that needed her attention in a far
corner of the room, she left them.

For a moment they stood silent, after what seemed a deliberate
introduction to each other, and Cassandra watched her crossing the room.

“Henry,” she said next moment, “would say that a stage ought to be no
bigger than this drawing-room. He wants there to be singing and dancing
as well as acting--only all the opposite of Wagner--you understand?”

They sat down, and Katharine, turning when she reached the window, saw
William with his hand raised in gesticulation and his mouth open, as if
ready to speak the moment Cassandra ceased.

Katharine’s duty, whether it was to pull a curtain or move a chair, was
either forgotten or discharged, but she continued to stand by the window
without doing anything. The elderly people were all grouped together
round the fire. They seemed an independent, middle-aged community busy
with its own concerns. They were telling stories very well and listening
to them very graciously. But for her there was no obvious employment.

“If anybody says anything, I shall say that I’m looking at the river,”
 she thought, for in her slavery to her family traditions, she was ready
to pay for her transgression with some plausible falsehood. She pushed
aside the blind and looked at the river. But it was a dark night and the
water was barely visible. Cabs were passing, and couples were loitering
slowly along the road, keeping as close to the railings as possible,
though the trees had as yet no leaves to cast shadow upon their
embraces. Katharine, thus withdrawn, felt her loneliness. The evening
had been one of pain, offering her, minute after minute, plainer proof
that things would fall out as she had foreseen. She had faced tones,
gestures, glances; she knew, with her back to them, that William, even
now, was plunging deeper and deeper into the delight of unexpected
understanding with Cassandra. He had almost told her that he was finding
it infinitely better than he could have believed. She looked out of
the window, sternly determined to forget private misfortunes, to forget
herself, to forget individual lives. With her eyes upon the dark sky,
voices reached her from the room in which she was standing. She heard
them as if they came from people in another world, a world antecedent to
her world, a world that was the prelude, the antechamber to reality; it
was as if, lately dead, she heard the living talking. The dream nature
of our life had never been more apparent to her, never had life been
more certainly an affair of four walls, whose objects existed only
within the range of lights and fires, beyond which lay nothing, or
nothing more than darkness. She seemed physically to have stepped beyond
the region where the light of illusion still makes it desirable to
possess, to love, to struggle. And yet her melancholy brought her no
serenity. She still heard the voices within the room. She was still
tormented by desires. She wished to be beyond their range. She wished
inconsistently enough that she could find herself driving rapidly
through the streets; she was even anxious to be with some one who, after
a moment’s groping, took a definite shape and solidified into the person
of Mary Datchet. She drew the curtains so that the draperies met in deep
folds in the middle of the window.

“Ah, there she is,” said Mr. Hilbery, who was standing swaying affably
from side to side, with his back to the fire. “Come here, Katharine.
I couldn’t see where you’d got to--our children,” he observed
parenthetically, “have their uses--I want you to go to my study,
Katharine; go to the third shelf on the right-hand side of the door;
take down ‘Trelawny’s Recollections of Shelley’; bring it to me. Then,
Peyton, you will have to admit to the assembled company that you have
been mistaken.”

“‘Trelawny’s Recollections of Shelley.’ The third shelf on the right of
the door,” Katharine repeated. After all, one does not check children in
their play, or rouse sleepers from their dreams. She passed William and
Cassandra on her way to the door.

“Stop, Katharine,” said William, speaking almost as if he were conscious
of her against his will. “Let me go.” He rose, after a second’s
hesitation, and she understood that it cost him an effort. She knelt
one knee upon the sofa where Cassandra sat, looking down at her cousin’s
face, which still moved with the speed of what she had been saying.

“Are you--happy?” she asked.

“Oh, my dear!” Cassandra exclaimed, as if no further words were
needed. “Of course, we disagree about every subject under the sun,” she
exclaimed, “but I think he’s the cleverest man I’ve ever met--and you’re
the most beautiful woman,” she added, looking at Katharine, and as
she looked her face lost its animation and became almost melancholy in
sympathy with Katharine’s melancholy, which seemed to Cassandra the last
refinement of her distinction.

“Ah, but it’s only ten o’clock,” said Katharine darkly.

“As late as that! Well--?” She did not understand.

“At twelve my horses turn into rats and off I go. The illusion fades.
But I accept my fate. I make hay while the sun shines.” Cassandra looked
at her with a puzzled expression.

“Here’s Katharine talking about rats, and hay, and all sorts of odd
things,” she said, as William returned to them. He had been quick. “Can
you make her out?”

Katharine perceived from his little frown and hesitation that he did not
find that particular problem to his taste at present. She stood upright
at once and said in a different tone:

“I really am off, though. I wish you’d explain if they say anything,
William. I shan’t be late, but I’ve got to see some one.”

“At this time of night?” Cassandra exclaimed.

“Whom have you got to see?” William demanded.

“A friend,” she remarked, half turning her head towards him. She
knew that he wished her to stay, not, indeed, with them, but in their
neighborhood, in case of need.

“Katharine has a great many friends,” said William rather lamely,
sitting down once more, as Katharine left the room.

She was soon driving quickly, as she had wished to drive, through the
lamp-lit streets. She liked both light and speed, and the sense of being
out of doors alone, and the knowledge that she would reach Mary in her
high, lonely room at the end of the drive. She climbed the stone steps
quickly, remarking the queer look of her blue silk skirt and blue shoes
upon the stone, dusty with the boots of the day, under the light of an
occasional jet of flickering gas.

The door was opened in a second by Mary herself, whose face showed
not only surprise at the sight of her visitor, but some degree of
embarrassment. She greeted her cordially, and, as there was no time for
explanations, Katharine walked straight into the sitting-room, and found
herself in the presence of a young man who was lying back in a chair and
holding a sheet of paper in his hand, at which he was looking as if he
expected to go on immediately with what he was in the middle of saying
to Mary Datchet. The apparition of an unknown lady in full evening dress
seemed to disturb him. He took his pipe from his mouth, rose stiffly,
and sat down again with a jerk.

“Have you been dining out?” Mary asked.

“Are you working?” Katharine inquired simultaneously.

The young man shook his head, as if he disowned his share in the
question with some irritation.

“Well, not exactly,” Mary replied. “Mr. Basnett had brought some papers
to show me. We were going through them, but we’d almost done.... Tell us
about your party.”

Mary had a ruffled appearance, as if she had been running her fingers
through her hair in the course of her conversation; she was dressed more
or less like a Russian peasant girl. She sat down again in a chair which
looked as if it had been her seat for some hours; the saucer which stood
upon the arm contained the ashes of many cigarettes. Mr. Basnett, a very
young man with a fresh complexion and a high forehead from which the
hair was combed straight back, was one of that group of “very able young
men” suspected by Mr. Clacton, justly as it turned out, of an influence
upon Mary Datchet. He had come down from one of the Universities not
long ago, and was now charged with the reformation of society. In
connection with the rest of the group of very able young men he had
drawn up a scheme for the education of labor, for the amalgamation of
the middle class and the working class, and for a joint assault of the
two bodies, combined in the Society for the Education of Democracy,
upon Capital. The scheme had already reached the stage in which it was
permissible to hire an office and engage a secretary, and he had been
deputed to expound the scheme to Mary, and make her an offer of the
Secretaryship, to which, as a matter of principle, a small salary was
attached. Since seven o’clock that evening he had been reading out loud
the document in which the faith of the new reformers was expounded, but
the reading was so frequently interrupted by discussion, and it was so
often necessary to inform Mary “in strictest confidence” of the private
characters and evil designs of certain individuals and societies that
they were still only half-way through the manuscript. Neither of
them realized that the talk had already lasted three hours. In their
absorption they had forgotten even to feed the fire, and yet both Mr.
Basnett in his exposition, and Mary in her interrogation, carefully
preserved a kind of formality calculated to check the desire of the
human mind for irrelevant discussion. Her questions frequently began,
“Am I to understand--” and his replies invariably represented the views
of some one called “we.”

By this time Mary was almost persuaded that she, too, was included in
the “we,” and agreed with Mr. Basnett in believing that “our” views,
“our” society, “our” policy, stood for something quite definitely
segregated from the main body of society in a circle of superior
illumination.

The appearance of Katharine in this atmosphere was extremely
incongruous, and had the effect of making Mary remember all sorts of
things that she had been glad to forget.

“You’ve been dining out?” she asked again, looking, with a little smile,
at the blue silk and the pearl-sewn shoes.

“No, at home. Are you starting something new?” Katharine hazarded,
rather hesitatingly, looking at the papers.

“We are,” Mr. Basnett replied. He said no more.

“I’m thinking of leaving our friends in Russell Square,” Mary explained.

“I see. And then you will do something else.”

“Well, I’m afraid I like working,” said Mary.

“Afraid,” said Mr. Basnett, conveying the impression that, in his
opinion, no sensible person could be afraid of liking to work.

“Yes,” said Katharine, as if he had stated this opinion aloud. “I should
like to start something--something off one’s own bat--that’s what I
should like.”

“Yes, that’s the fun,” said Mr. Basnett, looking at her for the first
time rather keenly, and refilling his pipe.

“But you can’t limit work--that’s what I mean,” said Mary. “I mean there
are other sorts of work. No one works harder than a woman with little
children.”

“Quite so,” said Mr. Basnett. “It’s precisely the women with babies
we want to get hold of.” He glanced at his document, rolled it into a
cylinder between his fingers, and gazed into the fire. Katharine felt
that in this company anything that one said would be judged upon its
merits; one had only to say what one thought, rather barely and tersely,
with a curious assumption that the number of things that could properly
be thought about was strictly limited. And Mr. Basnett was only stiff
upon the surface; there was an intelligence in his face which attracted
her intelligence.

“When will the public know?” she asked.

“What d’you mean--about us?” Mr. Basnett asked, with a little smile.

“That depends upon many things,” said Mary. The conspirators looked
pleased, as if Katharine’s question, with the belief in their existence
which it implied, had a warming effect upon them.

“In starting a society such as we wish to start (we can’t say any more
at present),” Mr. Basnett began, with a little jerk of his head, “there
are two things to remember--the Press and the public. Other societies,
which shall be nameless, have gone under because they’ve appealed only
to cranks. If you don’t want a mutual admiration society, which dies as
soon as you’ve all discovered each other’s faults, you must nobble the
Press. You must appeal to the public.”

“That’s the difficulty,” said Mary thoughtfully.

“That’s where she comes in,” said Mr. Basnett, jerking his head in
Mary’s direction. “She’s the only one of us who’s a capitalist. She can
make a whole-time job of it. I’m tied to an office; I can only give my
spare time. Are you, by any chance, on the look-out for a job?” he asked
Katharine, with a queer mixture of distrust and deference.

“Marriage is her job at present,” Mary replied for her.

“Oh, I see,” said Mr. Basnett. He made allowances for that; he and
his friends had faced the question of sex, along with all others, and
assigned it an honorable place in their scheme of life. Katharine felt
this beneath the roughness of his manner; and a world entrusted to the
guardianship of Mary Datchet and Mr. Basnett seemed to her a good world,
although not a romantic or beautiful place or, to put it figuratively,
a place where any line of blue mist softly linked tree to tree upon the
horizon. For a moment she thought she saw in his face, bent now over the
fire, the features of that original man whom we still recall every
now and then, although we know only the clerk, barrister, Governmental
official, or workingman variety of him. Not that Mr. Basnett, giving his
days to commerce and his spare time to social reform, would long carry
about him any trace of his possibilities of completeness; but, for the
moment, in his youth and ardor, still speculative, still uncramped, one
might imagine him the citizen of a nobler state than ours. Katharine
turned over her small stock of information, and wondered what their
society might be going to attempt. Then she remembered that she was
hindering their business, and rose, still thinking of this society, and
thus thinking, she said to Mr. Basnett:

“Well, you’ll ask me to join when the time comes, I hope.”

He nodded, and took his pipe from his mouth, but, being unable to think
of anything to say, he put it back again, although he would have been
glad if she had stayed.

Against her wish, Mary insisted upon taking her downstairs, and then, as
there was no cab to be seen, they stood in the street together, looking
about them.

“Go back,” Katharine urged her, thinking of Mr. Basnett with his papers
in his hand.

“You can’t wander about the streets alone in those clothes,” said Mary,
but the desire to find a cab was not her true reason for standing beside
Katharine for a minute or two. Unfortunately for her composure, Mr.
Basnett and his papers seemed to her an incidental diversion of life’s
serious purpose compared with some tremendous fact which manifested
itself as she stood alone with Katharine. It may have been their common
womanhood.

“Have you seen Ralph?” she asked suddenly, without preface.

“Yes,” said Katharine directly, but she did not remember when or where
she had seen him. It took her a moment or two to remember why Mary
should ask her if she had seen Ralph.

“I believe I’m jealous,” said Mary.

“Nonsense, Mary,” said Katharine, rather distractedly, taking her arm
and beginning to walk up the street in the direction of the main road.
“Let me see; we went to Kew, and we agreed to be friends. Yes, that’s
what happened.” Mary was silent, in the hope that Katharine would tell
her more. But Katharine said nothing.

“It’s not a question of friendship,” Mary exclaimed, her anger rising,
to her own surprise. “You know it’s not. How can it be? I’ve no right
to interfere--” She stopped. “Only I’d rather Ralph wasn’t hurt,” she
concluded.

“I think he seems able to take care of himself,” Katharine observed.
Without either of them wishing it, a feeling of hostility had risen
between them.

“Do you really think it’s worth it?” said Mary, after a pause.

“How can one tell?” Katharine asked.

“Have you ever cared for any one?” Mary demanded rashly and foolishly.

“I can’t wander about London discussing my feelings--Here’s a cab--no,
there’s some one in it.”

“We don’t want to quarrel,” said Mary.

“Ought I to have told him that I wouldn’t be his friend?” Katharine
asked. “Shall I tell him that? If so, what reason shall I give him?”

“Of course you can’t tell him that,” said Mary, controlling herself.

“I believe I shall, though,” said Katharine suddenly.

“I lost my temper, Katharine; I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

“The whole thing’s foolish,” said Katharine, peremptorily. “That’s what
I say. It’s not worth it.” She spoke with unnecessary vehemence, but it
was not directed against Mary Datchet. Their animosity had completely
disappeared, and upon both of them a cloud of difficulty and darkness
rested, obscuring the future, in which they had both to find a way.

“No, no, it’s not worth it,” Katharine repeated. “Suppose, as you say,
it’s out of the question--this friendship; he falls in love with me. I
don’t want that. Still,” she added, “I believe you exaggerate; love’s
not everything; marriage itself is only one of the things--” They had
reached the main thoroughfare, and stood looking at the omnibuses and
passers-by, who seemed, for the moment, to illustrate what Katharine had
said of the diversity of human interests. For both of them it had become
one of those moments of extreme detachment, when it seems unnecessary
ever again to shoulder the burden of happiness and self-assertive
existence. Their neighbors were welcome to their possessions.

“I don’t lay down any rules,”’ said Mary, recovering herself first, as
they turned after a long pause of this description. “All I say is that
you should know what you’re about--for certain; but,” she added, “I
expect you do.”

At the same time she was profoundly perplexed, not only by what she
knew of the arrangements for Katharine’s marriage, but by the impression
which she had of her, there on her arm, dark and inscrutable.

They walked back again and reached the steps which led up to Mary’s
flat. Here they stopped and paused for a moment, saying nothing.

“You must go in,” said Katharine, rousing herself. “He’s waiting all
this time to go on with his reading.” She glanced up at the lighted
window near the top of the house, and they both looked at it and waited
for a moment. A flight of semicircular steps ran up to the hall, and
Mary slowly mounted the first two or three, and paused, looking down
upon Katharine.

“I think you underrate the value of that emotion,” she said slowly, and
a little awkwardly. She climbed another step and looked down once more
upon the figure that was only partly lit up, standing in the street with
a colorless face turned upwards. As Mary hesitated, a cab came by and
Katharine turned and stopped it, saying as she opened the door:

“Remember, I want to belong to your society--remember,” she added,
having to raise her voice a little, and shutting the door upon the rest
of her words.

Mary mounted the stairs step by step, as if she had to lift her body up
an extremely steep ascent. She had had to wrench herself forcibly
away from Katharine, and every step vanquished her desire. She held
on grimly, encouraging herself as though she were actually making some
great physical effort in climbing a height. She was conscious that Mr.
Basnett, sitting at the top of the stairs with his documents, offered
her solid footing if she were capable of reaching it. The knowledge gave
her a faint sense of exaltation.

Mr. Basnett raised his eyes as she opened the door.

“I’ll go on where I left off,” he said. “Stop me if you want anything
explained.”

He had been re-reading the document, and making pencil notes in the
margin while he waited, and he went on again as if there had been
no interruption. Mary sat down among the flat cushions, lit another
cigarette, and listened with a frown upon her face.

Katharine leant back in the corner of the cab that carried her to
Chelsea, conscious of fatigue, and conscious, too, of the sober and
satisfactory nature of such industry as she had just witnessed. The
thought of it composed and calmed her. When she reached home she let
herself in as quietly as she could, in the hope that the household was
already gone to bed. But her excursion had occupied less time than she
thought, and she heard sounds of unmistakable liveliness upstairs. A
door opened, and she drew herself into a ground-floor room in case the
sound meant that Mr. Peyton were taking his leave. From where she stood
she could see the stairs, though she was herself invisible. Some one was
coming down the stairs, and now she saw that it was William Rodney. He
looked a little strange, as if he were walking in his sleep; his lips
moved as if he were acting some part to himself. He came down very
slowly, step by step, with one hand upon the banisters to guide himself.
She thought he looked as if he were in some mood of high exaltation,
which it made her uncomfortable to witness any longer unseen. She
stepped into the hall. He gave a great start upon seeing her and
stopped.

“Katharine!” he exclaimed. “You’ve been out?” he asked.

“Yes.... Are they still up?”

He did not answer, and walked into the ground-floor room through the
door which stood open.

“It’s been more wonderful than I can tell you,” he said, “I’m incredibly
happy--”

He was scarcely addressing her, and she said nothing. For a moment they
stood at opposite sides of a table saying nothing. Then he asked her
quickly, “But tell me, how did it seem to you? What did you think,
Katharine? Is there a chance that she likes me? Tell me, Katharine!”

Before she could answer a door opened on the landing above and disturbed
them. It disturbed William excessively. He started back, walked rapidly
into the hall, and said in a loud and ostentatiously ordinary tone:

“Good night, Katharine. Go to bed now. I shall see you soon. I hope I
shall be able to come to-morrow.”

Next moment he was gone. She went upstairs and found Cassandra on the
landing. She held two or three books in her hand, and she was stooping
to look at others in a little bookcase. She said that she could never
tell which book she wanted to read in bed, poetry, biography, or
metaphysics.

“What do you read in bed, Katharine?” she asked, as they walked upstairs
side by side.

“Sometimes one thing--sometimes another,” said Katharine vaguely.
Cassandra looked at her.

“D’you know, you’re extraordinarily queer,” she said. “Every one seems
to me a little queer. Perhaps it’s the effect of London.”

“Is William queer, too?” Katharine asked.

“Well, I think he is a little,” Cassandra replied. “Queer, but very
fascinating. I shall read Milton to-night. It’s been one of the happiest
nights of my life, Katharine,” she added, looking with shy devotion at
her cousin’s beautiful face.



CHAPTER XXVII

London, in the first days of spring, has buds that open and flowers that
suddenly shake their petals--white, purple, or crimson--in competition
with the display in the garden beds, although these city flowers are
merely so many doors flung wide in Bond Street and the neighborhood,
inviting you to look at a picture, or hear a symphony, or merely crowd
and crush yourself among all sorts of vocal, excitable, brightly colored
human beings. But, all the same, it is no mean rival to the quieter
process of vegetable florescence. Whether or not there is a generous
motive at the root, a desire to share and impart, or whether the
animation is purely that of insensate fervor and friction, the effect,
while it lasts, certainly encourages those who are young, and those
who are ignorant, to think the world one great bazaar, with banners
fluttering and divans heaped with spoils from every quarter of the globe
for their delight.

As Cassandra Otway went about London provided with shillings that
opened turnstiles, or more often with large white cards that disregarded
turnstiles, the city seemed to her the most lavish and hospitable
of hosts. After visiting the National Gallery, or Hertford House, or
hearing Brahms or Beethoven at the Bechstein Hall, she would come back
to find a new person awaiting her, in whose soul were imbedded some
grains of the invaluable substance which she still called reality, and
still believed that she could find. The Hilberys, as the saying is,
“knew every one,” and that arrogant claim was certainly upheld by the
number of houses which, within a certain area, lit their lamps at night,
opened their doors after 3 p. m., and admitted the Hilberys to their
dining-rooms, say, once a month. An indefinable freedom and authority of
manner, shared by most of the people who lived in these houses, seemed
to indicate that whether it was a question of art, music, or government,
they were well within the gates, and could smile indulgently at the
vast mass of humanity which is forced to wait and struggle, and pay for
entrance with common coin at the door. The gates opened instantly to
admit Cassandra. She was naturally critical of what went on inside, and
inclined to quote what Henry would have said; but she often succeeded in
contradicting Henry, in his absence, and invariably paid her partner
at dinner, or the kind old lady who remembered her grandmother, the
compliment of believing that there was meaning in what they said. For
the sake of the light in her eager eyes, much crudity of expression and
some untidiness of person were forgiven her. It was generally felt that,
given a year or two of experience, introduced to good dressmakers,
and preserved from bad influences, she would be an acquisition. Those
elderly ladies, who sit on the edge of ballrooms sampling the stuff
of humanity between finger and thumb and breathing so evenly that the
necklaces, which rise and fall upon their breasts, seem to represent
some elemental force, such as the waves upon the ocean of humanity,
concluded, a little smilingly, that she would do. They meant that
she would in all probability marry some young man whose mother they
respected.

William Rodney was fertile in suggestions. He knew of little galleries,
and select concerts, and private performances, and somehow made time to
meet Katharine and Cassandra, and to give them tea or dinner or supper
in his rooms afterwards. Each one of her fourteen days thus promised to
bear some bright illumination in its sober text. But Sunday approached.
The day is usually dedicated to Nature. The weather was almost kindly
enough for an expedition. But Cassandra rejected Hampton Court,
Greenwich, Richmond, and Kew in favor of the Zoological Gardens. She had
once trifled with the psychology of animals, and still knew something
about inherited characteristics. On Sunday afternoon, therefore,
Katharine, Cassandra, and William Rodney drove off to the Zoo. As their
cab approached the entrance, Katharine bent forward and waved her hand
to a young man who was walking rapidly in the same direction.

“There’s Ralph Denham!” she exclaimed. “I told him to meet us here,”
 she added. She had even come provided with a ticket for him. William’s
objection that he would not be admitted was, therefore, silenced
directly. But the way in which the two men greeted each other was
significant of what was going to happen. As soon as they had admired the
little birds in the large cage William and Cassandra lagged behind, and
Ralph and Katharine pressed on rather in advance. It was an arrangement
in which William took his part, and one that suited his convenience, but
he was annoyed all the same. He thought that Katharine should have told
him that she had invited Denham to meet them.

“One of Katharine’s friends,” he said rather sharply. It was clear
that he was irritated, and Cassandra felt for his annoyance. They were
standing by the pen of some Oriental hog, and she was prodding the
brute gently with the point of her umbrella, when a thousand little
observations seemed, in some way, to collect in one center. The center
was one of intense and curious emotion. Were they happy? She dismissed
the question as she asked it, scorning herself for applying such simple
measures to the rare and splendid emotions of so unique a couple.
Nevertheless, her manner became immediately different, as if, for
the first time, she felt consciously womanly, and as if William might
conceivably wish later on to confide in her. She forgot all about the
psychology of animals, and the recurrence of blue eyes and brown,
and became instantly engrossed in her feelings as a woman who could
administer consolation, and she hoped that Katharine would keep ahead
with Mr. Denham, as a child who plays at being grown-up hopes that her
mother won’t come in just yet, and spoil the game. Or was it not rather
that she had ceased to play at being grown-up, and was conscious,
suddenly, that she was alarmingly mature and in earnest?

There was still unbroken silence between Katharine and Ralph Denham, but
the occupants of the different cages served instead of speech.

“What have you been doing since we met?” Ralph asked at length.

“Doing?” she pondered. “Walking in and out of other people’s houses. I
wonder if these animals are happy?” she speculated, stopping before a
gray bear, who was philosophically playing with a tassel which once,
perhaps, formed part of a lady’s parasol.

“I’m afraid Rodney didn’t like my coming,” Ralph remarked.

“No. But he’ll soon get over that,” she replied. The detachment
expressed by her voice puzzled Ralph, and he would have been glad if she
had explained her meaning further. But he was not going to press her
for explanations. Each moment was to be, as far as he could make it,
complete in itself, owing nothing of its happiness to explanations,
borrowing neither bright nor dark tints from the future.

“The bears seem happy,” he remarked. “But we must buy them a bag of
something. There’s the place to buy buns. Let’s go and get them.”
 They walked to the counter piled with little paper bags, and each
simultaneously produced a shilling and pressed it upon the young lady,
who did not know whether to oblige the lady or the gentleman, but
decided, from conventional reasons, that it was the part of the
gentleman to pay.

“I wish to pay,” said Ralph peremptorily, refusing the coin which
Katharine tendered. “I have a reason for what I do,” he added, seeing
her smile at his tone of decision.

“I believe you have a reason for everything,” she agreed, breaking the
bun into parts and tossing them down the bears’ throats, “but I can’t
believe it’s a good one this time. What is your reason?”

He refused to tell her. He could not explain to her that he was offering
up consciously all his happiness to her, and wished, absurdly enough, to
pour every possession he had upon the blazing pyre, even his silver and
gold. He wished to keep this distance between them--the distance which
separates the devotee from the image in the shrine.

Circumstances conspired to make this easier than it would have been, had
they been seated in a drawing-room, for example, with a tea-tray between
them. He saw her against a background of pale grottos and sleek hides;
camels slanted their heavy-ridded eyes at her, giraffes fastidiously
observed her from their melancholy eminence, and the pink-lined trunks
of elephants cautiously abstracted buns from her outstretched hands.
Then there were the hothouses. He saw her bending over pythons coiled
upon the sand, or considering the brown rock breaking the stagnant water
of the alligators’ pool, or searching some minute section of tropical
forest for the golden eye of a lizard or the indrawn movement of the
green frogs’ flanks. In particular, he saw her outlined against the deep
green waters, in which squadrons of silvery fish wheeled incessantly,
or ogled her for a moment, pressing their distorted mouths against the
glass, quivering their tails straight out behind them. Again, there was
the insect house, where she lifted the blinds of the little cages, and
marveled at the purple circles marked upon the rich tussore wings of
some lately emerged and semi-conscious butterfly, or at caterpillars
immobile like the knobbed twigs of a pale-skinned tree, or at slim green
snakes stabbing the glass wall again and again with their flickering
cleft tongues. The heat of the air, and the bloom of heavy flowers,
which swam in water or rose stiffly from great red jars, together
with the display of curious patterns and fantastic shapes, produced an
atmosphere in which human beings tended to look pale and to fall silent.

Opening the door of a house which rang with the mocking and profoundly
unhappy laughter of monkeys, they discovered William and Cassandra.
William appeared to be tempting some small reluctant animal to descend
from an upper perch to partake of half an apple. Cassandra was reading
out, in her high-pitched tones, an account of this creature’s secluded
disposition and nocturnal habits. She saw Katharine and exclaimed:

“Here you are! Do prevent William from torturing this unfortunate
aye-aye.”

“We thought we’d lost you,” said William. He looked from one to the
other, and seemed to take stock of Denham’s unfashionable appearance. He
seemed to wish to find some outlet for malevolence, but, failing one,
he remained silent. The glance, the slight quiver of the upper lip, were
not lost upon Katharine.

“William isn’t kind to animals,” she remarked. “He doesn’t know what
they like and what they don’t like.”

“I take it you’re well versed in these matters, Denham,” said Rodney,
withdrawing his hand with the apple.

“It’s mainly a question of knowing how to stroke them,” Denham replied.

“Which is the way to the Reptile House?” Cassandra asked him, not from
a genuine desire to visit the reptiles, but in obedience to her new-born
feminine susceptibility, which urged her to charm and conciliate the
other sex. Denham began to give her directions, and Katharine and
William moved on together.

“I hope you’ve had a pleasant afternoon,” William remarked.

“I like Ralph Denham,” she replied.

“Ca se voit,” William returned, with superficial urbanity.

Many retorts were obvious, but wishing, on the whole, for peace,
Katharine merely inquired:

“Are you coming back to tea?”

“Cassandra and I thought of having tea at a little shop in Portland
Place,” he replied. “I don’t know whether you and Denham would care to
join us.”

“I’ll ask him,” she replied, turning her head to look for him. But he
and Cassandra were absorbed in the aye-aye once more.

William and Katharine watched them for a moment, and each looked
curiously at the object of the other’s preference. But resting his eye
upon Cassandra, to whose elegance the dressmakers had now done justice,
William said sharply:

“If you come, I hope you won’t do your best to make me ridiculous.”

“If that’s what you’re afraid of I certainly shan’t come,” Katharine
replied.

They were professedly looking into the enormous central cage of monkeys,
and being thoroughly annoyed by William, she compared him to a wretched
misanthropical ape, huddled in a scrap of old shawl at the end of
a pole, darting peevish glances of suspicion and distrust at his
companions. Her tolerance was deserting her. The events of the past week
had worn it thin. She was in one of those moods, perhaps not uncommon
with either sex, when the other becomes very clearly distinguished,
and of contemptible baseness, so that the necessity of association is
degrading, and the tie, which at such moments is always extremely close,
drags like a halter round the neck. William’s exacting demands and his
jealousy had pulled her down into some horrible swamp of her nature
where the primeval struggle between man and woman still rages.

“You seem to delight in hurting me,” William persisted. “Why did you say
that just now about my behavior to animals?” As he spoke he rattled
his stick against the bars of the cage, which gave his words an
accompaniment peculiarly exasperating to Katharine’s nerves.

“Because it’s true. You never see what any one feels,” she said. “You
think of no one but yourself.”

“That is not true,” said William. By his determined rattling he had
now collected the animated attention of some half-dozen apes. Either
to propitiate them, or to show his consideration for their feelings, he
proceeded to offer them the apple which he held.

The sight, unfortunately, was so comically apt in its illustration of
the picture in her mind, the ruse was so transparent, that Katharine was
seized with laughter. She laughed uncontrollably. William flushed red.
No display of anger could have hurt his feelings more profoundly. It was
not only that she was laughing at him; the detachment of the sound was
horrible.

“I don’t know what you’re laughing at,” he muttered, and, turning,
found that the other couple had rejoined them. As if the matter had been
privately agreed upon, the couples separated once more, Katharine and
Denham passing out of the house without more than a perfunctory glance
round them. Denham obeyed what seemed to be Katharine’s wish in thus
making haste. Some change had come over her. He connected it with her
laughter, and her few words in private with Rodney; he felt that she had
become unfriendly to him. She talked, but her remarks were indifferent,
and when he spoke her attention seemed to wander. This change of
mood was at first extremely disagreeable to him; but soon he found it
salutary. The pale drizzling atmosphere of the day affected him, also.
The charm, the insidious magic in which he had luxuriated, were suddenly
gone; his feeling had become one of friendly respect, and to his great
pleasure he found himself thinking spontaneously of the relief of
finding himself alone in his room that night. In his surprise at the
suddenness of the change, and at the extent of his freedom, he bethought
him of a daring plan, by which the ghost of Katharine could be more
effectually exorcised than by mere abstinence. He would ask her to come
home with him to tea. He would force her through the mill of family
life; he would place her in a light unsparing and revealing. His family
would find nothing to admire in her, and she, he felt certain, would
despise them all, and this, too, would help him. He felt himself
becoming more and more merciless towards her. By such courageous
measures any one, he thought, could end the absurd passions which were
the cause of so much pain and waste. He could foresee a time when his
experiences, his discovery, and his triumph were made available for
younger brothers who found themselves in the same predicament. He looked
at his watch, and remarked that the gardens would soon be closed.

“Anyhow,” he added, “I think we’ve seen enough for one afternoon. Where
have the others got to?” He looked over his shoulder, and, seeing no
trace of them, remarked at once:

“We’d better be independent of them. The best plan will be for you to
come back to tea with me.”

“Why shouldn’t you come with me?” she asked.

“Because we’re next door to Highgate here,” he replied promptly.

She assented, having very little notion whether Highgate was next door
to Regent’s Park or not. She was only glad to put off her return to
the family tea-table in Chelsea for an hour or two. They proceeded with
dogged determination through the winding roads of Regent’s Park, and
the Sunday-stricken streets of the neighborhood, in the direction of the
Tube station. Ignorant of the way, she resigned herself entirely to him,
and found his silence a convenient cover beneath which to continue her
anger with Rodney.

When they stepped out of the train into the still grayer gloom of
Highgate, she wondered, for the first time, where he was taking her.
Had he a family, or did he live alone in rooms? On the whole she was
inclined to believe that he was the only son of an aged, and possibly
invalid, mother. She sketched lightly, upon the blank vista down which
they walked, the little white house and the tremulous old lady rising
from behind her tea-table to greet her with faltering words about “my
son’s friends,” and was on the point of asking Ralph to tell her what
she might expect, when he jerked open one of the infinite number of
identical wooden doors, and led her up a tiled path to a porch in the
Alpine style of architecture. As they listened to the shaking of the
bell in the basement, she could summon no vision to replace the one so
rudely destroyed.

“I must warn you to expect a family party,” said Ralph. “They’re mostly
in on Sundays. We can go to my room afterwards.”

“Have you many brothers and sisters?” she asked, without concealing her
dismay.

“Six or seven,” he replied grimly, as the door opened.

While Ralph took off his coat, she had time to notice the ferns and
photographs and draperies, and to hear a hum, or rather a babble, of
voices talking each other down, from the sound of them. The rigidity
of extreme shyness came over her. She kept as far behind Denham as she
could, and walked stiffly after him into a room blazing with unshaded
lights, which fell upon a number of people, of different ages,
sitting round a large dining-room table untidily strewn with food, and
unflinchingly lit up by incandescent gas. Ralph walked straight to the
far end of the table.

“Mother, this is Miss Hilbery,” he said.

A large elderly lady, bent over an unsatisfactory spirit-lamp, looked up
with a little frown, and observed:

“I beg your pardon. I thought you were one of my own girls. Dorothy,”
 she continued on the same breath, to catch the servant before she left
the room, “we shall want some more methylated spirits--unless the lamp
itself is out of order. If one of you could invent a good spirit-lamp--”
 she sighed, looking generally down the table, and then began seeking
among the china before her for two clean cups for the new-comers.

The unsparing light revealed more ugliness than Katharine had seen in
one room for a very long time. It was the ugliness of enormous folds
of brown material, looped and festooned, of plush curtains, from which
depended balls and fringes, partially concealing bookshelves swollen
with black school-texts. Her eye was arrested by crossed scabbards of
fretted wood upon the dull green wall, and whereever there was a high
flat eminence, some fern waved from a pot of crinkled china, or a
bronze horse reared so high that the stump of a tree had to sustain his
forequarters. The waters of family life seemed to rise and close over
her head, and she munched in silence.

At length Mrs. Denham looked up from her teacups and remarked:

“You see, Miss Hilbery, my children all come in at different hours and
want different things. (The tray should go up if you’ve done,
Johnnie.) My boy Charles is in bed with a cold. What else can you
expect?--standing in the wet playing football. We did try drawing-room
tea, but it didn’t do.”

A boy of sixteen, who appeared to be Johnnie, grumbled derisively both
at the notion of drawing-room tea and at the necessity of carrying a
tray up to his brother. But he took himself off, being enjoined by his
mother to mind what he was doing, and shut the door after him.

“It’s much nicer like this,” said Katharine, applying herself with
determination to the dissection of her cake; they had given her too
large a slice. She knew that Mrs. Denham suspected her of critical
comparisons. She knew that she was making poor progress with her cake.
Mrs. Denham had looked at her sufficiently often to make it clear to
Katharine that she was asking who this young woman was, and why Ralph
had brought her to tea with them. There was an obvious reason, which
Mrs. Denham had probably reached by this time. Outwardly, she was
behaving with rather rusty and laborious civility. She was making
conversation about the amenities of Highgate, its development and
situation.

“When I first married,” she said, “Highgate was quite separate from
London, Miss Hilbery, and this house, though you wouldn’t believe it,
had a view of apple orchards. That was before the Middletons built their
house in front of us.”

“It must be a great advantage to live at the top of a hill,” said
Katharine. Mrs. Denham agreed effusively, as if her opinion of
Katharine’s sense had risen.

“Yes, indeed, we find it very healthy,” she said, and she went on,
as people who live in the suburbs so often do, to prove that it was
healthier, more convenient, and less spoilt than any suburb round
London. She spoke with such emphasis that it was quite obvious that she
expressed unpopular views, and that her children disagreed with her.

“The ceiling’s fallen down in the pantry again,” said Hester, a girl of
eighteen, abruptly.

“The whole house will be down one of these days,” James muttered.

“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Denham. “It’s only a little bit of plaster--I
don’t see how any house could be expected to stand the wear and tear
you give it.” Here some family joke exploded, which Katharine could not
follow. Even Mrs. Denham laughed against her will.

“Miss Hilbery’s thinking us all so rude,” she added reprovingly. Miss
Hilbery smiled and shook her head, and was conscious that a great many
eyes rested upon her, for a moment, as if they would find pleasure
in discussing her when she was gone. Owing, perhaps, to this critical
glance, Katharine decided that Ralph Denham’s family was commonplace,
unshapely, lacking in charm, and fitly expressed by the hideous nature
of their furniture and decorations. She glanced along a mantelpiece
ranged with bronze chariots, silver vases, and china ornaments that were
either facetious or eccentric.

She did not apply her judgment consciously to Ralph, but when she looked
at him, a moment later, she rated him lower than at any other time of
their acquaintanceship.

He had made no effort to tide over the discomforts of her introduction,
and now, engaged in argument with his brother, apparently forgot her
presence. She must have counted upon his support more than she realized,
for this indifference, emphasized, as it was, by the insignificant
commonplace of his surroundings, awoke her, not only to that ugliness,
but to her own folly. She thought of one scene after another in a few
seconds, with that shudder which is almost a blush. She had believed
him when he spoke of friendship. She had believed in a spiritual
light burning steadily and steadfastly behind the erratic disorder
and incoherence of life. The light was now gone out, suddenly, as if
a sponge had blotted it. The litter of the table and the tedious but
exacting conversation of Mrs. Denham remained: they struck, indeed, upon
a mind bereft of all defences, and, keenly conscious of the degradation
which is the result of strife whether victorious or not, she thought
gloomily of her loneliness, of life’s futility, of the barren prose of
reality, of William Rodney, of her mother, and the unfinished book.

Her answers to Mrs. Denham were perfunctory to the verge of rudeness,
and to Ralph, who watched her narrowly, she seemed further away than was
compatible with her physical closeness. He glanced at her, and ground
out further steps in his argument, determined that no folly should
remain when this experience was over. Next moment, a silence, sudden and
complete, descended upon them all. The silence of all these people round
the untidy table was enormous and hideous; something horrible seemed
about to burst from it, but they endured it obstinately. A second later
the door opened and there was a stir of relief; cries of “Hullo,
Joan! There’s nothing left for you to eat,” broke up the oppressive
concentration of so many eyes upon the table-cloth, and set the waters
of family life dashing in brisk little waves again. It was obvious that
Joan had some mysterious and beneficent power upon her family. She went
up to Katharine as if she had heard of her, and was very glad to see her
at last. She explained that she had been visiting an uncle who was ill,
and that had kept her. No, she hadn’t had any tea, but a slice of bread
would do. Some one handed up a hot cake, which had been keeping warm in
the fender; she sat down by her mother’s side, Mrs. Denham’s anxieties
seemed to relax, and every one began eating and drinking, as if tea had
begun over again. Hester voluntarily explained to Katharine that she was
reading to pass some examination, because she wanted more than anything
in the whole world to go to Newnham.

“Now, just let me hear you decline ‘amo’--I love,” Johnnie demanded.

“No, Johnnie, no Greek at meal-times,” said Joan, overhearing him
instantly. “She’s up at all hours of the night over her books, Miss
Hilbery, and I’m sure that’s not the way to pass examinations,” she went
on, smiling at Katharine, with the worried humorous smile of the elder
sister whose younger brothers and sisters have become almost like
children of her own.

“Joan, you don’t really think that ‘amo’ is Greek?” Ralph

asked.

“Did I say Greek? Well, never mind. No dead languages at tea-time. My
dear boy, don’t trouble to make me any toast--”

“Or if you do, surely there’s the toasting-fork somewhere?” said Mrs.
Denham, still cherishing the belief that the bread-knife could be
spoilt. “Do one of you ring and ask for one,” she said, without any
conviction that she would be obeyed. “But is Ann coming to be with Uncle
Joseph?” she continued. “If so, surely they had better send Amy to
us--” and in the mysterious delight of learning further details of these
arrangements, and suggesting more sensible plans of her own, which, from
the aggrieved way in which she spoke, she did not seem to expect any one
to adopt, Mrs. Denham completely forgot the presence of a well-dressed
visitor, who had to be informed about the amenities of Highgate. As soon
as Joan had taken her seat, an argument had sprung up on either side of
Katharine, as to whether the Salvation Army has any right to play hymns
at street corners on Sunday mornings, thereby making it impossible for
James to have his sleep out, and tampering with the rights of individual
liberty.

“You see, James likes to lie in bed and sleep like a hog,” said Johnnie,
explaining himself to Katharine, whereupon James fired up and, making
her his goal, also exclaimed:

“Because Sundays are my one chance in the week of having my sleep out.
Johnnie messes with stinking chemicals in the pantry--”

They appealed to her, and she forgot her cake and began to laugh and
talk and argue with sudden animation. The large family seemed to her
so warm and various that she forgot to censure them for their taste in
pottery. But the personal question between James and Johnnie merged into
some argument already, apparently, debated, so that the parts had
been distributed among the family, in which Ralph took the lead; and
Katharine found herself opposed to him and the champion of Johnnie’s
cause, who, it appeared, always lost his head and got excited in
argument with Ralph.

“Yes, yes, that’s what I mean. She’s got it right,” he exclaimed, after
Katharine had restated his case, and made it more precise. The debate
was left almost solely to Katharine and Ralph. They looked into each
other’s eyes fixedly, like wrestlers trying to see what movement is
coming next, and while Ralph spoke, Katharine bit her lower lip, and was
always ready with her next point as soon as he had done. They were very
well matched, and held the opposite views.

But at the most exciting stage of the argument, for no reason that
Katharine could see, all chairs were pushed back, and one after another
the Denham family got up and went out of the door, as if a bell had
summoned them. She was not used to the clockwork regulations of a large
family. She hesitated in what she was saying, and rose. Mrs. Denham and
Joan had drawn together and stood by the fireplace, slightly raising
their skirts above their ankles, and discussing something which had
an air of being very serious and very private. They appeared to have
forgotten her presence among them. Ralph stood holding the door open for
her.

“Won’t you come up to my room?” he said. And Katharine, glancing back at
Joan, who smiled at her in a preoccupied way, followed Ralph upstairs.
She was thinking of their argument, and when, after the long climb, he
opened his door, she began at once.

“The question is, then, at what point is it right for the individual to
assert his will against the will of the State.”

For some time they continued the argument, and then the intervals
between one statement and the next became longer and longer, and they
spoke more speculatively and less pugnaciously, and at last fell silent.
Katharine went over the argument in her mind, remembering how, now and
then, it had been set conspicuously on the right course by some remark
offered either by James or by Johnnie.

“Your brothers are very clever,” she said. “I suppose you’re in the
habit of arguing?”

“James and Johnnie will go on like that for hours,” Ralph replied. “So
will Hester, if you start her upon Elizabethan dramatists.”

“And the little girl with the pigtail?”

“Molly? She’s only ten. But they’re always arguing among themselves.”

He was immensely pleased by Katharine’s praise of his brothers and
sisters. He would have liked to go on telling her about them, but he
checked himself.

“I see that it must be difficult to leave them,” Katharine continued.
His deep pride in his family was more evident to him, at that moment,
than ever before, and the idea of living alone in a cottage was
ridiculous. All that brotherhood and sisterhood, and a common childhood
in a common past mean, all the stability, the unambitious comradeship,
and tacit understanding of family life at its best, came to his mind,
and he thought of them as a company, of which he was the leader, bound
on a difficult, dreary, but glorious voyage. And it was Katharine who
had opened his eyes to this, he thought.

A little dry chirp from the corner of the room now roused her attention.

“My tame rook,” he explained briefly. “A cat had bitten one of its
legs.” She looked at the rook, and her eyes went from one object to
another.

“You sit here and read?” she said, her eyes resting upon his books. He
said that he was in the habit of working there at night.

“The great advantage of Highgate is the view over London. At night the
view from my window is splendid.” He was extremely anxious that she
should appreciate his view, and she rose to see what was to be seen.
It was already dark enough for the turbulent haze to be yellow with the
light of street lamps, and she tried to determine the quarters of the
city beneath her. The sight of her gazing from his window gave him a
peculiar satisfaction. When she turned, at length, he was still sitting
motionless in his chair.

“It must be late,” she said. “I must be going.” She settled upon the
arm of the chair irresolutely, thinking that she had no wish to go home.
William would be there, and he would find some way of making things
unpleasant for her, and the memory of their quarrel came back to her.
She had noticed Ralph’s coldness, too. She looked at him, and from his
fixed stare she thought that he must be working out some theory, some
argument. He had thought, perhaps, of some fresh point in his position,
as to the bounds of personal liberty. She waited, silently, thinking
about liberty.

“You’ve won again,” he said at last, without moving.

“I’ve won?” she repeated, thinking of the argument.

“I wish to God I hadn’t asked you here,” he burst out.

“What do you mean?”

“When you’re here, it’s different--I’m happy. You’ve only to walk to
the window--you’ve only to talk about liberty. When I saw you down there
among them all--” He stopped short.

“You thought how ordinary I was.”

“I tried to think so. But I thought you more wonderful than ever.”

An immense relief, and a reluctance to enjoy that relief, conflicted in
her heart.

She slid down into the chair.

“I thought you disliked me,” she said.

“God knows I tried,” he replied. “I’ve done my best to see you as you
are, without any of this damned romantic nonsense. That was why I asked
you here, and it’s increased my folly. When you’re gone I shall look
out of that window and think of you. I shall waste the whole evening
thinking of you. I shall waste my whole life, I believe.”

He spoke with such vehemence that her relief disappeared; she frowned;
and her tone changed to one almost of severity.

“This is what I foretold. We shall gain nothing but unhappiness. Look at
me, Ralph.” He looked at her. “I assure you that I’m far more ordinary
than I appear. Beauty means nothing whatever. In fact, the most
beautiful women are generally the most stupid. I’m not that, but I’m a
matter-of-fact, prosaic, rather ordinary character; I order the dinner,
I pay the bills, I do the accounts, I wind up the clock, and I never
look at a book.”

“You forget--” he began, but she would not let him speak.

“You come and see me among flowers and pictures, and think me
mysterious, romantic, and all the rest of it. Being yourself very
inexperienced and very emotional, you go home and invent a story about
me, and now you can’t separate me from the person you’ve imagined me to
be. You call that, I suppose, being in love; as a matter of fact it’s
being in delusion. All romantic people are the same,” she added. “My
mother spends her life in making stories about the people she’s fond of.
But I won’t have you do it about me, if I can help it.”

“You can’t help it,” he said.

“I warn you it’s the source of all evil.”

“And of all good,” he added.

“You’ll find out that I’m not what you think me.”

“Perhaps. But I shall gain more than I lose.”

“If such gain’s worth having.”

They were silent for a space.

“That may be what we have to face,” he said. “There may be nothing else.
Nothing but what we imagine.”

“The reason of our loneliness,” she mused, and they were silent for a
time.

“When are you to be married?” he asked abruptly, with a change of tone.

“Not till September, I think. It’s been put off.”

“You won’t be lonely then,” he said. “According to what people say,
marriage is a very queer business. They say it’s different from anything
else. It may be true. I’ve known one or two cases where it seems to be
true.” He hoped that she would go on with the subject. But she made
no reply. He had done his best to master himself, and his voice was
sufficiently indifferent, but her silence tormented him. She would never
speak to him of Rodney of her own accord, and her reserve left a whole
continent of her soul in darkness.

“It may be put off even longer than that,” she said, as if by an
afterthought. “Some one in the office is ill, and William has to take
his place. We may put it off for some time in fact.”

“That’s rather hard on him, isn’t it?” Ralph asked.

“He has his work,” she replied. “He has lots of things that interest
him.... I know I’ve been to that place,” she broke off, pointing to
a photograph. “But I can’t remember where it is--oh, of course it’s
Oxford. Now, what about your cottage?”

“I’m not going to take it.”

“How you change your mind!” she smiled.

“It’s not that,” he said impatiently. “It’s that I want to be where I
can see you.”

“Our compact is going to hold in spite of all I’ve said?” she asked.

“For ever, so far as I’m concerned,” he replied.

“You’re going to go on dreaming and imagining and making up stories
about me as you walk along the street, and pretending that we’re riding
in a forest, or landing on an island--”

“No. I shall think of you ordering dinner, paying bills, doing the
accounts, showing old ladies the relics--”

“That’s better,” she said. “You can think of me to-morrow morning
looking up dates in the ‘Dictionary of National Biography.’”

“And forgetting your purse,” Ralph added.

At this she smiled, but in another moment her smile faded, either
because of his words or of the way in which he spoke them. She was
capable of forgetting things. He saw that. But what more did he see? Was
he not looking at something she had never shown to anybody? Was it not
something so profound that the notion of his seeing it almost shocked
her? Her smile faded, and for a moment she seemed upon the point of
speaking, but looking at him in silence, with a look that seemed to ask
what she could not put into words, she turned and bade him good night.



CHAPTER XXVIII

Like a strain of music, the effect of Katharine’s presence slowly died
from the room in which Ralph sat alone. The music had ceased in the
rapture of its melody. He strained to catch the faintest lingering
echoes; for a moment the memory lulled him into peace; but soon it
failed, and he paced the room so hungry for the sound to come again that
he was conscious of no other desire left in life. She had gone without
speaking; abruptly a chasm had been cut in his course, down which the
tide of his being plunged in disorder; fell upon rocks; flung itself to
destruction. The distress had an effect of physical ruin and disaster.
He trembled; he was white; he felt exhausted, as if by a great physical
effort. He sank at last into a chair standing opposite her empty one,
and marked, mechanically, with his eye upon the clock, how she went
farther and farther from him, was home now, and now, doubtless, again
with Rodney. But it was long before he could realize these facts; the
immense desire for her presence churned his senses into foam, into
froth, into a haze of emotion that removed all facts from his grasp, and
gave him a strange sense of distance, even from the material shapes of
wall and window by which he was surrounded. The prospect of the future,
now that the strength of his passion was revealed to him, appalled him.

The marriage would take place in September, she had said; that allowed
him, then, six full months in which to undergo these terrible extremes
of emotion. Six months of torture, and after that the silence of the
grave, the isolation of the insane, the exile of the damned; at best, a
life from which the chief good was knowingly and for ever excluded. An
impartial judge might have assured him that his chief hope of recovery
lay in this mystic temper, which identified a living woman with much
that no human beings long possess in the eyes of each other; she would
pass, and the desire for her vanish, but his belief in what she stood
for, detached from her, would remain. This line of thought offered,
perhaps, some respite, and possessed of a brain that had its station
considerably above the tumult of the senses, he tried to reduce the
vague and wandering incoherency of his emotions to order. The sense of
self-preservation was strong in him, and Katharine herself had strangely
revived it by convincing him that his family deserved and needed all his
strength. She was right, and for their sake, if not for his own, this
passion, which could bear no fruit, must be cut off, uprooted, shown
to be as visionary and baseless as she had maintained. The best way of
achieving this was not to run away from her, but to face her, and having
steeped himself in her qualities, to convince his reason that they were,
as she assured him, not those that he imagined. She was a practical
woman, a domestic wife for an inferior poet, endowed with romantic
beauty by some freak of unintelligent Nature. No doubt her beauty itself
would not stand examination. He had the means of settling this point at
least. He possessed a book of photographs from the Greek statues; the
head of a goddess, if the lower part were concealed, had often given him
the ecstasy of being in Katharine’s presence. He took it down from the
shelf and found the picture. To this he added a note from her, bidding
him meet her at the Zoo. He had a flower which he had picked at Kew to
teach her botany. Such were his relics. He placed them before him, and
set himself to visualize her so clearly that no deception or delusion
was possible. In a second he could see her, with the sun slanting across
her dress, coming towards him down the green walk at Kew. He made her
sit upon the seat beside him. He heard her voice, so low and yet so
decided in its tone; she spoke reasonably of indifferent matters. He
could see her faults, and analyze her virtues. His pulse became quieter,
and his brain increased in clarity. This time she could not escape him.
The illusion of her presence became more and more complete. They seemed
to pass in and out of each other’s minds, questioning and answering. The
utmost fullness of communion seemed to be theirs. Thus united, he felt
himself raised to an eminence, exalted, and filled with a power of
achievement such as he had never known in singleness. Once more he told
over conscientiously her faults, both of face and character; they were
clearly known to him; but they merged themselves in the flawless union
that was born of their association. They surveyed life to its uttermost
limits. How deep it was when looked at from this height! How sublime!
How the commonest things moved him almost to tears! Thus, he forgot
the inevitable limitations; he forgot her absence, he thought it of no
account whether she married him or another; nothing mattered, save
that she should exist, and that he should love her. Some words of these
reflections were uttered aloud, and it happened that among them were
the words, “I love her.” It was the first time that he had used the word
“love” to describe his feeling; madness, romance, hallucination--he had
called it by these names before; but having, apparently by accident,
stumbled upon the word “love,” he repeated it again and again with a
sense of revelation.

“But I’m in love with you!” he exclaimed, with something like dismay. He
leant against the window-sill, looking over the city as she had looked.
Everything had become miraculously different and completely distinct.
His feelings were justified and needed no further explanation. But he
must impart them to some one, because his discovery was so important
that it concerned other people too. Shutting the book of Greek
photographs, and hiding his relics, he ran downstairs, snatched his
coat, and passed out of doors.

The lamps were being lit, but the streets were dark enough and empty
enough to let him walk his fastest, and to talk aloud as he walked. He
had no doubt where he was going. He was going to find Mary Datchet. The
desire to share what he felt, with some one who understood it, was so
imperious that he did not question it. He was soon in her street. He
ran up the stairs leading to her flat two steps at a time, and it never
crossed his mind that she might not be at home. As he rang her bell, he
seemed to himself to be announcing the presence of something wonderful
that was separate from himself, and gave him power and authority over
all other people. Mary came to the door after a moment’s pause. He was
perfectly silent, and in the dusk his face looked completely white. He
followed her into her room.

“Do you know each other?” she said, to his extreme surprise, for he had
counted on finding her alone. A young man rose, and said that he knew
Ralph by sight.

“We were just going through some papers,” said Mary. “Mr. Basnett has
to help me, because I don’t know much about my work yet. It’s the new
society,” she explained. “I’m the secretary. I’m no longer at Russell
Square.”

The voice in which she gave this information was so constrained as to
sound almost harsh.

“What are your aims?” said Ralph. He looked neither at Mary nor at Mr.
Basnett. Mr. Basnett thought he had seldom seen a more disagreeable
or formidable man than this friend of Mary’s, this sarcastic-looking,
white-faced Mr. Denham, who seemed to demand, as if by right, an account
of their proposals, and to criticize them before he had heard them.
Nevertheless, he explained his projects as clearly as he could, and knew
that he wished Mr. Denham to think well of them.

“I see,” said Ralph, when he had done. “D’you know, Mary,” he suddenly
remarked, “I believe I’m in for a cold. Have you any quinine?” The
look which he cast at her frightened her; it expressed mutely, perhaps
without his own consciousness, something deep, wild, and passionate. She
left the room at once. Her heart beat fast at the knowledge of Ralph’s
presence; but it beat with pain, and with an extraordinary fear. She
stood listening for a moment to the voices in the next room.

“Of course, I agree with you,” she heard Ralph say, in this strange
voice, to Mr. Basnett. “But there’s more that might be done. Have you
seen Judson, for instance? You should make a point of getting him.”

Mary returned with the quinine.

“Judson’s address?” Mr. Basnett inquired, pulling out his notebook and
preparing to write. For twenty minutes, perhaps, he wrote down names,
addresses, and other suggestions that Ralph dictated to him. Then, when
Ralph fell silent, Mr. Basnett felt that his presence was not desired,
and thanking Ralph for his help, with a sense that he was very young and
ignorant compared with him, he said good-bye.

“Mary,” said Ralph, directly Mr. Basnett had shut the door and they were
alone together. “Mary,” he repeated. But the old difficulty of speaking
to Mary without reserve prevented him from continuing. His desire to
proclaim his love for Katharine was still strong in him, but he had
felt, directly he saw Mary, that he could not share it with her. The
feeling increased as he sat talking to Mr. Basnett. And yet all the time
he was thinking of Katharine, and marveling at his love. The tone in
which he spoke Mary’s name was harsh.

“What is it, Ralph?” she asked, startled by his tone. She looked at him
anxiously, and her little frown showed that she was trying painfully
to understand him, and was puzzled. He could feel her groping for his
meaning, and he was annoyed with her, and thought how he had always
found her slow, painstaking, and clumsy. He had behaved badly to her,
too, which made his irritation the more acute. Without waiting for him
to answer, she rose as if his answer were indifferent to her, and began
to put in order some papers that Mr. Basnett had left on the table. She
hummed a scrap of a tune under her breath, and moved about the room as
if she were occupied in making things tidy, and had no other concern.

“You’ll stay and dine?” she said casually, returning to her seat.

“No,” Ralph replied. She did not press him further. They sat side by
side without speaking, and Mary reached her hand for her work basket,
and took out her sewing and threaded a needle.

“That’s a clever young man,” Ralph observed, referring to Mr. Basnett.

“I’m glad you thought so. It’s tremendously interesting work, and
considering everything, I think we’ve done very well. But I’m inclined
to agree with you; we ought to try to be more conciliatory. We’re
absurdly strict. It’s difficult to see that there may be sense in what
one’s opponents say, though they are one’s opponents. Horace Basnett
is certainly too uncompromising. I mustn’t forget to see that he writes
that letter to Judson. You’re too busy, I suppose, to come on to our
committee?” She spoke in the most impersonal manner.

“I may be out of town,” Ralph replied, with equal distance of manner.

“Our executive meets every week, of course,” she observed. “But some of
our members don’t come more than once a month. Members of Parliament are
the worst; it was a mistake, I think, to ask them.”

She went on sewing in silence.

“You’ve not taken your quinine,” she said, looking up and seeing the
tabloids upon the mantelpiece.

“I don’t want it,” said Ralph shortly.

“Well, you know best,” she replied tranquilly.

“Mary, I’m a brute!” he exclaimed. “Here I come and waste your time, and
do nothing but make myself disagreeable.”

“A cold coming on does make one feel wretched,” she replied.

“I’ve not got a cold. That was a lie. There’s nothing the matter with
me. I’m mad, I suppose. I ought to have had the decency to keep away.
But I wanted to see you--I wanted to tell you--I’m in love, Mary.” He
spoke the word, but, as he spoke it, it seemed robbed of substance.

“In love, are you?” she said quietly. “I’m glad, Ralph.”

“I suppose I’m in love. Anyhow, I’m out of my mind. I can’t think, I
can’t work, I don’t care a hang for anything in the world. Good Heavens,
Mary! I’m in torment! One moment I’m happy; next I’m miserable. I hate
her for half an hour; then I’d give my whole life to be with her for ten
minutes; all the time I don’t know what I feel, or why I feel it; it’s
insanity, and yet it’s perfectly reasonable. Can you make any sense of
it? Can you see what’s happened? I’m raving, I know; don’t listen, Mary;
go on with your work.”

He rose and began, as usual, to pace up and down the room. He knew that
what he had just said bore very little resemblance to what he felt, for
Mary’s presence acted upon him like a very strong magnet, drawing from
him certain expressions which were not those he made use of when he
spoke to himself, nor did they represent his deepest feelings. He felt
a little contempt for himself at having spoken thus; but somehow he had
been forced into speech.

“Do sit down,” said Mary suddenly. “You make me so--” She spoke with
unusual irritability, and Ralph, noticing it with surprise, sat down at
once.

“You haven’t told me her name--you’d rather not, I suppose?”

“Her name? Katharine Hilbery.”

“But she’s engaged--”

“To Rodney. They’re to be married in September.”

“I see,” said Mary. But in truth the calm of his manner, now that he was
sitting down once more, wrapt her in the presence of something which she
felt to be so strong, so mysterious, so incalculable, that she scarcely
dared to attempt to intercept it by any word or question that she was
able to frame. She looked at Ralph blankly, with a kind of awe in her
face, her lips slightly parted, and her brows raised. He was apparently
quite unconscious of her gaze. Then, as if she could look no longer, she
leant back in her chair, and half closed her eyes. The distance between
them hurt her terribly; one thing after another came into her mind,
tempting her to assail Ralph with questions, to force him to confide
in her, and to enjoy once more his intimacy. But she rejected every
impulse, for she could not speak without doing violence to some reserve
which had grown between them, putting them a little far from each other,
so that he seemed to her dignified and remote, like a person she no
longer knew well.

“Is there anything that I could do for you?” she asked gently, and even
with courtesy, at length.

“You could see her--no, that’s not what I want; you mustn’t bother about
me, Mary.” He, too, spoke very gently.

“I’m afraid no third person can do anything to help,” she added.

“No,” he shook his head. “Katharine was saying to-day how lonely we
are.” She saw the effort with which he spoke Katharine’s name, and
believed that he forced himself to make amends now for his concealment
in the past. At any rate, she was conscious of no anger against him; but
rather of a deep pity for one condemned to suffer as she had suffered.
But in the case of Katharine it was different; she was indignant with
Katharine.

“There’s always work,” she said, a little aggressively.

Ralph moved directly.

“Do you want to be working now?” he asked.

“No, no. It’s Sunday,” she replied. “I was thinking of Katharine. She
doesn’t understand about work. She’s never had to. She doesn’t know what
work is. I’ve only found out myself quite lately. But it’s the thing
that saves one--I’m sure of that.”

“There are other things, aren’t there?” he hesitated.

“Nothing that one can count upon,” she returned. “After all, other
people--” she stopped, but forced herself to go on. “Where should I be
now if I hadn’t got to go to my office every day? Thousands of people
would tell you the same thing--thousands of women. I tell you, work is
the only thing that saved me, Ralph.” He set his mouth, as if her words
rained blows on him; he looked as if he had made up his mind to bear
anything she might say, in silence. He had deserved it, and there would
be relief in having to bear it. But she broke off, and rose as if to
fetch something from the next room. Before she reached the door she
turned back, and stood facing him, self-possessed, and yet defiant and
formidable in her composure.

“It’s all turned out splendidly for me,” she said. “It will for you,
too. I’m sure of that. Because, after all, Katharine is worth it.”

“Mary--!” he exclaimed. But her head was turned away, and he could not
say what he wished to say. “Mary, you’re splendid,” he concluded. She
faced him as he spoke, and gave him her hand. She had suffered and
relinquished, she had seen her future turned from one of infinite
promise to one of barrenness, and yet, somehow, over what she scarcely
knew, and with what results she could hardly foretell, she had
conquered. With Ralph’s eyes upon her, smiling straight back at him
serenely and proudly, she knew, for the first time, that she had
conquered. She let him kiss her hand.

The streets were empty enough on Sunday night, and if the Sabbath,
and the domestic amusements proper to the Sabbath, had not kept people
indoors, a high strong wind might very probably have done so. Ralph
Denham was aware of a tumult in the street much in accordance with his
own sensations. The gusts, sweeping along the Strand, seemed at the same
time to blow a clear space across the sky in which stars appeared, and
for a short time the quicks-peeding silver moon riding through clouds,
as if they were waves of water surging round her and over her. They
swamped her, but she emerged; they broke over her and covered her again;
she issued forth indomitable. In the country fields all the wreckage of
winter was being dispersed; the dead leaves, the withered bracken, the
dry and discolored grass, but no bud would be broken, nor would the new
stalks that showed above the earth take any harm, and perhaps to-morrow
a line of blue or yellow would show through a slit in their green. But
the whirl of the atmosphere alone was in Denham’s mood, and what of
star or blossom appeared was only as a light gleaming for a second upon
heaped waves fast following each other. He had not been able to speak to
Mary, though for a moment he had come near enough to be tantalized by
a wonderful possibility of understanding. But the desire to communicate
something of the very greatest importance possessed him completely; he
still wished to bestow this gift upon some other human being; he sought
their company. More by instinct than by conscious choice, he took the
direction which led to Rodney’s rooms. He knocked loudly upon his door;
but no one answered. He rang the bell. It took him some time to accept
the fact that Rodney was out. When he could no longer pretend that the
sound of the wind in the old building was the sound of some one rising
from his chair, he ran downstairs again, as if his goal had been altered
and only just revealed to him. He walked in the direction of Chelsea.

But physical fatigue, for he had not dined and had tramped both far and
fast, made him sit for a moment upon a seat on the Embankment. One
of the regular occupants of those seats, an elderly man who had drunk
himself, probably, out of work and lodging, drifted up, begged a match,
and sat down beside him. It was a windy night, he said; times were hard;
some long story of bad luck and injustice followed, told so often that
the man seemed to be talking to himself, or, perhaps, the neglect of
his audience had long made any attempt to catch their attention seem
scarcely worth while. When he began to speak Ralph had a wild desire to
talk to him; to question him; to make him understand. He did, in fact,
interrupt him at one point; but it was useless. The ancient story of
failure, ill-luck, undeserved disaster, went down the wind, disconnected
syllables flying past Ralph’s ears with a queer alternation of loudness
and faintness as if, at certain moments, the man’s memory of his
wrongs revived and then flagged, dying down at last into a grumble of
resignation, which seemed to represent a final lapse into the accustomed
despair. The unhappy voice afflicted Ralph, but it also angered him. And
when the elderly man refused to listen and mumbled on, an odd image came
to his mind of a lighthouse besieged by the flying bodies of lost birds,
who were dashed senseless, by the gale, against the glass. He had a
strange sensation that he was both lighthouse and bird; he was steadfast
and brilliant; and at the same time he was whirled, with all other
things, senseless against the glass. He got up, left his tribute of
silver, and pressed on, with the wind against him. The image of the
lighthouse and the storm full of birds persisted, taking the place of
more definite thoughts, as he walked past the Houses of Parliament and
down Grosvenor Road, by the side of the river. In his state of physical
fatigue, details merged themselves in the vaster prospect, of which
the flying gloom and the intermittent lights of lamp-posts and private
houses were the outward token, but he never lost his sense of walking
in the direction of Katharine’s house. He took it for granted that
something would then happen, and, as he walked on, his mind became more
and more full of pleasure and expectancy. Within a certain radius of her
house the streets came under the influence of her presence. Each
house had an individuality known to Ralph, because of the tremendous
individuality of the house in which she lived. For some yards before
reaching the Hilberys’ door he walked in a trance of pleasure, but
when he reached it, and pushed the gate of the little garden open, he
hesitated. He did not know what to do next. There was no hurry, however,
for the outside of the house held pleasure enough to last him some time
longer. He crossed the road, and leant against the balustrade of the
Embankment, fixing his eyes upon the house.

Lights burnt in the three long windows of the drawing-room. The space
of the room behind became, in Ralph’s vision, the center of the dark,
flying wilderness of the world; the justification for the welter of
confusion surrounding it; the steady light which cast its beams, like
those of a lighthouse, with searching composure over the trackless
waste. In this little sanctuary were gathered together several different
people, but their identity was dissolved in a general glory of something
that might, perhaps, be called civilization; at any rate, all
dryness, all safety, all that stood up above the surge and preserved
a consciousness of its own, was centered in the drawing-room of the
Hilberys. Its purpose was beneficent; and yet so far above his level as
to have something austere about it, a light that cast itself out and yet
kept itself aloof. Then he began, in his mind, to distinguish different
individuals within, consciously refusing as yet to attack the figure of
Katharine. His thoughts lingered over Mrs. Hilbery and Cassandra; and
then he turned to Rodney and Mr. Hilbery. Physically, he saw them bathed
in that steady flow of yellow light which filled the long oblongs of the
windows; in their movements they were beautiful; and in their speech he
figured a reserve of meaning, unspoken, but understood. At length, after
all this half-conscious selection and arrangement, he allowed himself
to approach the figure of Katharine herself; and instantly the scene
was flooded with excitement. He did not see her in the body; he seemed
curiously to see her as a shape of light, the light itself; he seemed,
simplified and exhausted as he was, to be like one of those lost birds
fascinated by the lighthouse and held to the glass by the splendor of
the blaze.

These thoughts drove him to tramp a beat up and down the pavement before
the Hilberys’ gate. He did not trouble himself to make any plans for the
future. Something of an unknown kind would decide both the coming year
and the coming hour. Now and again, in his vigil, he sought the light in
the long windows, or glanced at the ray which gilded a few leaves and
a few blades of grass in the little garden. For a long time the light
burnt without changing. He had just reached the limit of his beat and
was turning, when the front door opened, and the aspect of the house was
entirely changed. A black figure came down the little pathway and paused
at the gate. Denham understood instantly that it was Rodney. Without
hesitation, and conscious only of a great friendliness for any one
coming from that lighted room, he walked straight up to him and stopped
him. In the flurry of the wind Rodney was taken aback, and for the
moment tried to press on, muttering something, as if he suspected a
demand upon his charity.

“Goodness, Denham, what are you doing here?” he exclaimed, recognizing
him.

Ralph mumbled something about being on his way home. They walked on
together, though Rodney walked quick enough to make it plain that he had
no wish for company.

He was very unhappy. That afternoon Cassandra had repulsed him; he
had tried to explain to her the difficulties of the situation, and
to suggest the nature of his feelings for her without saying anything
definite or anything offensive to her. But he had lost his head; under
the goad of Katharine’s ridicule he had said too much, and Cassandra,
superb in her dignity and severity, had refused to hear another word,
and threatened an immediate return to her home. His agitation, after an
evening spent between the two women, was extreme. Moreover, he could not
help suspecting that Ralph was wandering near the Hilberys’ house, at
this hour, for reasons connected with Katharine. There was probably some
understanding between them--not that anything of the kind mattered
to him now. He was convinced that he had never cared for any one save
Cassandra, and Katharine’s future was no concern of his. Aloud, he said,
shortly, that he was very tired and wished to find a cab. But on Sunday
night, on the Embankment, cabs were hard to come by, and Rodney found
himself constrained to walk some distance, at any rate, in Denham’s
company. Denham maintained his silence. Rodney’s irritation lapsed. He
found the silence oddly suggestive of the good masculine qualities which
he much respected, and had at this moment great reason to need. After
the mystery, difficulty, and uncertainty of dealing with the other sex,
intercourse with one’s own is apt to have a composing and even ennobling
influence, since plain speaking is possible and subterfuges of no avail.
Rodney, too, was much in need of a confidant; Katharine, despite her
promises of help, had failed him at the critical moment; she had
gone off with Denham; she was, perhaps, tormenting Denham as she had
tormented him. How grave and stable he seemed, speaking little, and
walking firmly, compared with what Rodney knew of his own torments and
indecisions! He began to cast about for some way of telling the story of
his relations with Katharine and Cassandra that would not lower him in
Denham’s eyes. It then occurred to him that, perhaps, Katharine herself
had confided in Denham; they had something in common; it was likely that
they had discussed him that very afternoon. The desire to discover
what they had said of him now came uppermost in his mind. He recalled
Katharine’s laugh; he remembered that she had gone, laughing, to walk
with Denham.

“Did you stay long after we’d left?” he asked abruptly.

“No. We went back to my house.”

This seemed to confirm Rodney’s belief that he had been discussed. He
turned over the unpalatable idea for a while, in silence.

“Women are incomprehensible creatures, Denham!” he then exclaimed.

“Um,” said Denham, who seemed to himself possessed of complete
understanding, not merely of women, but of the entire universe. He
could read Rodney, too, like a book. He knew that he was unhappy, and he
pitied him, and wished to help him.

“You say something and they--fly into a passion. Or for no reason at
all, they laugh. I take it that no amount of education will--” The
remainder of the sentence was lost in the high wind, against which they
had to struggle; but Denham understood that he referred to Katharine’s
laughter, and that the memory of it was still hurting him. In comparison
with Rodney, Denham felt himself very secure; he saw Rodney as one of
the lost birds dashed senseless against the glass; one of the flying
bodies of which the air was full. But he and Katharine were alone
together, aloft, splendid, and luminous with a twofold radiance. He
pitied the unstable creature beside him; he felt a desire to protect
him, exposed without the knowledge which made his own way so direct.
They were united as the adventurous are united, though one reaches the
goal and the other perishes by the way.

“You couldn’t laugh at some one you cared for.”

This sentence, apparently addressed to no other human being, reached
Denham’s ears. The wind seemed to muffle it and fly away with it
directly. Had Rodney spoken those words?

“You love her.” Was that his own voice, which seemed to sound in the air
several yards in front of him?

“I’ve suffered tortures, Denham, tortures!”

“Yes, yes, I know that.”

“She’s laughed at me.”

“Never--to me.”

The wind blew a space between the words--blew them so far away that they
seemed unspoken.

“How I’ve loved her!”

This was certainly spoken by the man at Denham’s side. The voice had all
the marks of Rodney’s character, and recalled, with; strange vividness,
his personal appearance. Denham could see him against the blank
buildings and towers of the horizon. He saw him dignified, exalted, and
tragic, as he might have appeared thinking of Katharine alone in his
rooms at night.

“I am in love with Katharine myself. That is why I am here to-night.”

Ralph spoke distinctly and deliberately, as if Rodney’s confession had
made this statement necessary.

Rodney exclaimed something inarticulate.

“Ah, I’ve always known it,” he cried, “I’ve known it from the first.
You’ll marry her!”

The cry had a note of despair in it. Again the wind intercepted their
words. They said no more. At length they drew up beneath a lamp-post,
simultaneously.

“My God, Denham, what fools we both are!” Rodney exclaimed. They looked
at each other, queerly, in the light of the lamp. Fools! They seemed to
confess to each other the extreme depths of their folly. For the moment,
under the lamp-post, they seemed to be aware of some common knowledge
which did away with the possibility of rivalry, and made them feel
more sympathy for each other than for any one else in the world.
Giving simultaneously a little nod, as if in confirmation of this
understanding, they parted without speaking again.



CHAPTER XXIX

Between twelve and one that Sunday night Katharine lay in bed, not
asleep, but in that twilight region where a detached and humorous view
of our own lot is possible; or if we must be serious, our seriousness is
tempered by the swift oncome of slumber and oblivion. She saw the forms
of Ralph, William, Cassandra, and herself, as if they were all equally
unsubstantial, and, in putting off reality, had gained a kind of dignity
which rested upon each impartially. Thus rid of any uncomfortable warmth
of partisanship or load of obligation, she was dropping off to sleep
when a light tap sounded upon her door. A moment later Cassandra stood
beside her, holding a candle and speaking in the low tones proper to the
time of night.

“Are you awake, Katharine?”

“Yes, I’m awake. What is it?”

She roused herself, sat up, and asked what in Heaven’s name Cassandra
was doing?

“I couldn’t sleep, and I thought I’d come and speak to you--only for a
moment, though. I’m going home to-morrow.”

“Home? Why, what has happened?”

“Something happened to-day which makes it impossible for me to stay
here.”

Cassandra spoke formally, almost solemnly; the announcement was clearly
prepared and marked a crisis of the utmost gravity. She continued what
seemed to be part of a set speech.

“I have decided to tell you the whole truth, Katharine. William allowed
himself to behave in a way which made me extremely uncomfortable
to-day.”

Katharine seemed to waken completely, and at once to be in control of
herself.

“At the Zoo?” she asked.

“No, on the way home. When we had tea.”

As if foreseeing that the interview might be long, and the night chilly,
Katharine advised Cassandra to wrap herself in a quilt. Cassandra did so
with unbroken solemnity.

“There’s a train at eleven,” she said. “I shall tell Aunt Maggie that
I have to go suddenly.... I shall make Violet’s visit an excuse. But,
after thinking it over, I don’t see how I can go without telling you the
truth.”

She was careful to abstain from looking in Katharine’s direction. There
was a slight pause.

“But I don’t see the least reason why you should go,” said Katharine
eventually. Her voice sounded so astonishingly equable that Cassandra
glanced at her. It was impossible to suppose that she was either
indignant or surprised; she seemed, on the contrary, sitting up in bed,
with her arms clasped round her knees and a little frown on her brow, to
be thinking closely upon a matter of indifference to her.

“Because I can’t allow any man to behave to me in that way,” Cassandra
replied, and she added, “particularly when I know that he is engaged to
some one else.”

“But you like him, don’t you?” Katharine inquired.

“That’s got nothing to do with it,” Cassandra exclaimed indignantly. “I
consider his conduct, under the circumstances, most disgraceful.”

This was the last of the sentences of her premeditated speech; and
having spoken it she was left unprovided with any more to say in that
particular style. When Katharine remarked:

“I should say it had everything to do with it,” Cassandra’s
self-possession deserted her.

“I don’t understand you in the least, Katharine. How can you behave as
you behave? Ever since I came here I’ve been amazed by you!”

“You’ve enjoyed yourself, haven’t you?” Katharine asked.

“Yes, I have,” Cassandra admitted.

“Anyhow, my behavior hasn’t spoiled your visit.”

“No,” Cassandra allowed once more. She was completely at a loss. In her
forecast of the interview she had taken it for granted that Katharine,
after an outburst of incredulity, would agree that Cassandra must return
home as soon as possible. But Katharine, on the contrary, accepted her
statement at once, seemed neither shocked nor surprised, and merely
looked rather more thoughtful than usual. From being a mature woman
charged with an important mission, Cassandra shrunk to the stature of an
inexperienced child.

“Do you think I’ve been very foolish about it?” she asked.

Katharine made no answer, but still sat deliberating silently, and a
certain feeling of alarm took possession of Cassandra. Perhaps her
words had struck far deeper than she had thought, into depths beyond
her reach, as so much of Katharine was beyond her reach. She thought
suddenly that she had been playing with very dangerous tools.

Looking at her at length, Katharine asked slowly, as if she found the
question very difficult to ask.

“But do you care for William?”

She marked the agitation and bewilderment of the girl’s expression, and
how she looked away from her.

“Do you mean, am I in love with him?” Cassandra asked, breathing
quickly, and nervously moving her hands.

“Yes, in love with him,” Katharine repeated.

“How can I love the man you’re engaged to marry?” Cassandra burst out.

“He may be in love with you.”

“I don’t think you’ve any right to say such things, Katharine,”
 Cassandra exclaimed. “Why do you say them? Don’t you mind in the least
how William behaves to other women? If I were engaged, I couldn’t bear
it!”

“We’re not engaged,” said Katharine, after a pause.

“Katharine!” Cassandra cried.

“No, we’re not engaged,” Katharine repeated. “But no one knows it but
ourselves.”

“But why--I don’t understand--you’re not engaged!” Cassandra said again.
“Oh, that explains it! You’re not in love with him! You don’t want to
marry him!”

“We aren’t in love with each other any longer,” said Katharine, as if
disposing of something for ever and ever.

“How queer, how strange, how unlike other people you are, Katharine,”
 Cassandra said, her whole body and voice seeming to fall and collapse
together, and no trace of anger or excitement remaining, but only a
dreamy quietude.

“You’re not in love with him?”

“But I love him,” said Katharine.

Cassandra remained bowed, as if by the weight of the revelation, for
some little while longer. Nor did Katharine speak. Her attitude was
that of some one who wishes to be concealed as much as possible from
observation. She sighed profoundly; she was absolutely silent, and
apparently overcome by her thoughts.

“D’you know what time it is?” she said at length, and shook her pillow,
as if making ready for sleep.

Cassandra rose obediently, and once more took up her candle. Perhaps the
white dressing-gown, and the loosened hair, and something unseeing in
the expression of the eyes gave her a likeness to a woman walking in her
sleep. Katharine, at least, thought so.

“There’s no reason why I should go home, then?” Cassandra said, pausing.
“Unless you want me to go, Katharine? What DO you want me to do?”

For the first time their eyes met.

“You wanted us to fall in love,” Cassandra exclaimed, as if she read the
certainty there. But as she looked she saw a sight that surprised her.
The tears rose slowly in Katharine’s eyes and stood there, brimming
but contained--the tears of some profound emotion, happiness, grief,
renunciation; an emotion so complex in its nature that to express it was
impossible, and Cassandra, bending her head and receiving the tears upon
her cheek, accepted them in silence as the consecration of her love.

“Please, miss,” said the maid, about eleven o’clock on the following
morning, “Mrs. Milvain is in the kitchen.”

A long wicker basket of flowers and branches had arrived from the
country, and Katharine, kneeling upon the floor of the drawing-room,
was sorting them while Cassandra watched her from an arm-chair, and
absent-mindedly made spasmodic offers of help which were not accepted.
The maid’s message had a curious effect upon Katharine.

She rose, walked to the window, and, the maid being gone, said
emphatically and even tragically:

“You know what that means.”

Cassandra had understood nothing.

“Aunt Celia is in the kitchen,” Katharine repeated.

“Why in the kitchen?” Cassandra asked, not unnaturally.

“Probably because she’s discovered something,” Katharine replied.
Cassandra’s thoughts flew to the subject of her preoccupation.

“About us?” she inquired.

“Heaven knows,” Katharine replied. “I shan’t let her stay in the
kitchen, though. I shall bring her up here.”

The sternness with which this was said suggested that to bring Aunt
Celia upstairs was, for some reason, a disciplinary measure.

“For goodness’ sake, Katharine,” Cassandra exclaimed, jumping from her
chair and showing signs of agitation, “don’t be rash. Don’t let her
suspect. Remember, nothing’s certain--”

Katharine assured her by nodding her head several times, but the manner
in which she left the room was not calculated to inspire complete
confidence in her diplomacy.

Mrs. Milvain was sitting, or rather perching, upon the edge of a chair
in the servants’ room. Whether there was any sound reason for her choice
of a subterranean chamber, or whether it corresponded with the spirit of
her quest, Mrs. Milvain invariably came in by the back door and sat
in the servants’ room when she was engaged in confidential family
transactions. The ostensible reason she gave was that neither Mr. nor
Mrs. Hilbery should be disturbed. But, in truth, Mrs. Milvain depended
even more than most elderly women of her generation upon the delicious
emotions of intimacy, agony, and secrecy, and the additional thrill
provided by the basement was one not lightly to be forfeited. She
protested almost plaintively when Katharine proposed to go upstairs.

“I’ve something that I want to say to you in PRIVATE,” she said,
hesitating reluctantly upon the threshold of her ambush.

“The drawing-room is empty--”

“But we might meet your mother upon the stairs. We might disturb your
father,” Mrs. Milvain objected, taking the precaution to speak in a
whisper already.

But as Katharine’s presence was absolutely necessary to the success
of the interview, and as Katharine obstinately receded up the kitchen
stairs, Mrs. Milvain had no course but to follow her. She glanced
furtively about her as she proceeded upstairs, drew her skirts together,
and stepped with circumspection past all doors, whether they were open
or shut.

“Nobody will overhear us?” she murmured, when the comparative sanctuary
of the drawing-room had been reached. “I see that I have interrupted
you,” she added, glancing at the flowers strewn upon the floor. A
moment later she inquired, “Was some one sitting with you?” noticing a
handkerchief that Cassandra had dropped in her flight.

“Cassandra was helping me to put the flowers in water,” said Katharine,
and she spoke so firmly and clearly that Mrs. Milvain glanced nervously
at the main door and then at the curtain which divided the little room
with the relics from the drawing-room.

“Ah, Cassandra is still with you,” she remarked. “And did William send
you those lovely flowers?”

Katharine sat down opposite her aunt and said neither yes nor no. She
looked past her, and it might have been thought that she was considering
very critically the pattern of the curtains. Another advantage of
the basement, from Mrs. Milvain’s point of view, was that it made it
necessary to sit very close together, and the light was dim compared
with that which now poured through three windows upon Katharine and
the basket of flowers, and gave even the slight angular figure of Mrs.
Milvain herself a halo of gold.

“They’re from Stogdon House,” said Katharine abruptly, with a little
jerk of her head.

Mrs. Milvain felt that it would be easier to tell her niece what
she wished to say if they were actually in physical contact, for the
spiritual distance between them was formidable. Katharine, however, made
no overtures, and Mrs. Milvain, who was possessed of rash but heroic
courage, plunged without preface:

“People are talking about you, Katharine. That is why I have come this
morning. You forgive me for saying what I’d much rather not say? What I
say is only for your own sake, my child.”

“There’s nothing to forgive yet, Aunt Celia,” said Katharine, with
apparent good humor.

“People are saying that William goes everywhere with you and Cassandra,
and that he is always paying her attentions. At the Markhams’ dance he
sat out five dances with her. At the Zoo they were seen alone together.
They left together. They never came back here till seven in the evening.
But that is not all. They say his manner is very marked--he is quite
different when she is there.”

Mrs. Milvain, whose words had run themselves together, and whose voice
had raised its tone almost to one of protest, here ceased, and looked
intently at Katharine, as if to judge the effect of her communication. A
slight rigidity had passed over Katharine’s face. Her lips were pressed
together; her eyes were contracted, and they were still fixed upon the
curtain. These superficial changes covered an extreme inner loathing
such as might follow the display of some hideous or indecent spectacle.
The indecent spectacle was her own action beheld for the first time from
the outside; her aunt’s words made her realize how infinitely repulsive
the body of life is without its soul.

“Well?” she said at length.

Mrs. Milvain made a gesture as if to bring her closer, but it was not
returned.

“We all know how good you are--how unselfish--how you sacrifice yourself
to others. But you’ve been too unselfish, Katharine. You have made
Cassandra happy, and she has taken advantage of your goodness.”

“I don’t understand, Aunt Celia,” said Katharine. “What has Cassandra
done?”

“Cassandra has behaved in a way that I could not have thought possible,”
 said Mrs. Milvain warmly. “She has been utterly selfish--utterly
heartless. I must speak to her before I go.”

“I don’t understand,” Katharine persisted.

Mrs. Milvain looked at her. Was it possible that Katharine really
doubted? That there was something that Mrs. Milvain herself did not
understand? She braced herself, and pronounced the tremendous words:

“Cassandra has stolen William’s love.”

Still the words seemed to have curiously little effect.

“Do you mean,” said Katharine, “that he has fallen in love with her?”

“There are ways of MAKING men fall in love with one, Katharine.”

Katharine remained silent. The silence alarmed Mrs. Milvain, and she
began hurriedly:

“Nothing would have made me say these things but your own good. I have
not wished to interfere; I have not wished to give you pain. I am a
useless old woman. I have no children of my own. I only want to see you
happy, Katharine.”

Again she stretched forth her arms, but they remained empty.

“You are not going to say these things to Cassandra,” said Katharine
suddenly. “You’ve said them to me; that’s enough.”

Katharine spoke so low and with such restraint that Mrs. Milvain had
to strain to catch her words, and when she heard them she was dazed by
them.

“I’ve made you angry! I knew I should!” she exclaimed. She quivered, and
a kind of sob shook her; but even to have made Katharine angry was some
relief, and allowed her to feel some of the agreeable sensations of
martyrdom.

“Yes,” said Katharine, standing up, “I’m so angry that I don’t want
to say anything more. I think you’d better go, Aunt Celia. We don’t
understand each other.”

At these words Mrs. Milvain looked for a moment terribly apprehensive;
she glanced at her niece’s face, but read no pity there, whereupon
she folded her hands upon a black velvet bag which she carried in an
attitude that was almost one of prayer. Whatever divinity she prayed to,
if pray she did, at any rate she recovered her dignity in a singular way
and faced her niece.

“Married love,” she said slowly and with emphasis upon every word, “is
the most sacred of all loves. The love of husband and wife is the most
holy we know. That is the lesson Mamma’s children learnt from her; that
is what they can never forget. I have tried to speak as she would have
wished her daughter to speak. You are her grandchild.”

Katharine seemed to judge this defence upon its merits, and then to
convict it of falsity.

“I don’t see that there is any excuse for your behavior,” she said.

At these words Mrs. Milvain rose and stood for a moment beside her
niece. She had never met with such treatment before, and she did not
know with what weapons to break down the terrible wall of resistance
offered her by one who, by virtue of youth and beauty and sex, should
have been all tears and supplications. But Mrs. Milvain herself was
obstinate; upon a matter of this kind she could not admit that she was
either beaten or mistaken. She beheld herself the champion of married
love in its purity and supremacy; what her niece stood for she was quite
unable to say, but she was filled with the gravest suspicions. The old
woman and the young woman stood side by side in unbroken silence. Mrs.
Milvain could not make up her mind to withdraw while her principles
trembled in the balance and her curiosity remained unappeased. She
ransacked her mind for some question that should force Katharine to
enlighten her, but the supply was limited, the choice difficult, and
while she hesitated the door opened and William Rodney came in. He
carried in his hand an enormous and splendid bunch of white and purple
flowers, and, either not seeing Mrs. Milvain, or disregarding her,
he advanced straight to Katharine, and presented the flowers with the
words:

“These are for you, Katharine.”

Katharine took them with a glance that Mrs. Milvain did not fail to
intercept. But with all her experience, she did not know what to make of
it. She watched anxiously for further illumination. William greeted her
without obvious sign of guilt, and, explaining that he had a holiday,
both he and Katharine seemed to take it for granted that his holiday
should be celebrated with flowers and spent in Cheyne Walk. A pause
followed; that, too, was natural; and Mrs. Milvain began to feel that
she laid herself open to a charge of selfishness if she stayed. The
mere presence of a young man had altered her disposition curiously, and
filled her with a desire for a scene which should end in an emotional
forgiveness. She would have given much to clasp both nephew and niece
in her arms. But she could not flatter herself that any hope of the
customary exaltation remained.

“I must go,” she said, and she was conscious of an extreme flatness of
spirit.

Neither of them said anything to stop her. William politely escorted her
downstairs, and somehow, amongst her protests and embarrassments, Mrs.
Milvain forgot to say good-bye to Katharine. She departed, murmuring
words about masses of flowers and a drawing-room always beautiful even
in the depths of winter.

William came back to Katharine; he found her standing where he had left
her.

“I’ve come to be forgiven,” he said. “Our quarrel was perfectly hateful
to me. I’ve not slept all night. You’re not angry with me, are you,
Katharine?”

She could not bring herself to answer him until she had rid her mind of
the impression that her aunt had made on her. It seemed to her that the
very flowers were contaminated, and Cassandra’s pocket-handkerchief, for
Mrs. Milvain had used them for evidence in her investigations.

“She’s been spying upon us,” she said, “following us about London,
overhearing what people are saying--”

“Mrs. Milvain?” Rodney exclaimed. “What has she told you?”

His air of open confidence entirely vanished.

“Oh, people are saying that you’re in love with Cassandra, and that you
don’t care for me.”

“They have seen us?” he asked.

“Everything we’ve done for a fortnight has been seen.”

“I told you that would happen!” he exclaimed.

He walked to the window in evident perturbation. Katharine was too
indignant to attend to him. She was swept away by the force of her own
anger. Clasping Rodney’s flowers, she stood upright and motionless.

Rodney turned away from the window.

“It’s all been a mistake,” he said. “I blame myself for it. I should
have known better. I let you persuade me in a moment of madness. I beg
you to forget my insanity, Katharine.”

“She wished even to persecute Cassandra!” Katharine burst out, not
listening to him. “She threatened to speak to her. She’s capable of
it--she’s capable of anything!”

“Mrs. Milvain is not tactful, I know, but you exaggerate, Katharine.
People are talking about us. She was right to tell us. It only confirms
my own feeling--the position is monstrous.”

At length Katharine realized some part of what he meant.

“You don’t mean that this influences you, William?” she asked in
amazement.

“It does,” he said, flushing. “It’s intensely disagreeable to me. I
can’t endure that people should gossip about us. And then there’s your
cousin--Cassandra--” He paused in embarrassment.

“I came here this morning, Katharine,” he resumed, with a change of
voice, “to ask you to forget my folly, my bad temper, my inconceivable
behavior. I came, Katharine, to ask whether we can’t return to the
position we were in before this--this season of lunacy. Will you take me
back, Katharine, once more and for ever?”

No doubt her beauty, intensified by emotion and enhanced by the flowers
of bright color and strange shape which she carried wrought upon Rodney,
and had its share in bestowing upon her the old romance. But a less
noble passion worked in him, too; he was inflamed by jealousy. His
tentative offer of affection had been rudely and, as he thought,
completely repulsed by Cassandra on the preceding day. Denham’s
confession was in his mind. And ultimately, Katharine’s dominion over
him was of the sort that the fevers of the night cannot exorcise.

“I was as much to blame as you were yesterday,” she said gently,
disregarding his question. “I confess, William, the sight of you and
Cassandra together made me jealous, and I couldn’t control myself. I
laughed at you, I know.”

“You jealous!” William exclaimed. “I assure you, Katharine, you’ve not
the slightest reason to be jealous. Cassandra dislikes me, so far as she
feels about me at all. I was foolish enough to try to explain the nature
of our relationship. I couldn’t resist telling her what I supposed
myself to feel for her. She refused to listen, very rightly. But she
left me in no doubt of her scorn.”

Katharine hesitated. She was confused, agitated, physically tired, and
had already to reckon with the violent feeling of dislike aroused by her
aunt which still vibrated through all the rest of her feelings. She sank
into a chair and dropped her flowers upon her lap.

“She charmed me,” Rodney continued. “I thought I loved her. But that’s
a thing of the past. It’s all over, Katharine. It was a dream--an
hallucination. We were both equally to blame, but no harm’s done if you
believe how truly I care for you. Say you believe me!”

He stood over her, as if in readiness to seize the first sign of her
assent. Precisely at that moment, owing, perhaps, to her vicissitudes
of feeling, all sense of love left her, as in a moment a mist lifts from
the earth. And when the mist departed a skeleton world and blankness
alone remained--a terrible prospect for the eyes of the living to
behold. He saw the look of terror in her face, and without understanding
its origin, took her hand in his. With the sense of companionship
returned a desire, like that of a child for shelter, to accept what he
had to offer her--and at that moment it seemed that he offered her the
only thing that could make it tolerable to live. She let him press his
lips to her cheek, and leant her head upon his arm. It was the moment of
his triumph. It was the only moment in which she belonged to him and was
dependent upon his protection.

“Yes, yes, yes,” he murmured, “you accept me, Katharine. You love me.”

For a moment she remained silent. He then heard her murmur:

“Cassandra loves you more than I do.”

“Cassandra?” he whispered.

“She loves you,” Katharine repeated. She raised herself and repeated the
sentence yet a third time. “She loves you.”

William slowly raised himself. He believed instinctively what Katharine
said, but what it meant to him he was unable to understand. Could
Cassandra love him? Could she have told Katharine that she loved him?
The desire to know the truth of this was urgent, unknown though the
consequences might be. The thrill of excitement associated with the
thought of Cassandra once more took possession of him. No longer was it
the excitement of anticipation and ignorance; it was the excitement
of something greater than a possibility, for now he knew her and had
measure of the sympathy between them. But who could give him certainty?
Could Katharine, Katharine who had lately lain in his arms, Katharine
herself the most admired of women? He looked at her, with doubt, and
with anxiety, but said nothing.

“Yes, yes,” she said, interpreting his wish for assurance, “it’s true. I
know what she feels for you.”

“She loves me?”

Katharine nodded.

“Ah, but who knows what I feel? How can I be sure of my feeling myself?
Ten minutes ago I asked you to marry me. I still wish it--I don’t know
what I wish--”

He clenched his hands and turned away. He suddenly faced her and
demanded: “Tell me what you feel for Denham.”

“For Ralph Denham?” she asked. “Yes!” she exclaimed, as if she had found
the answer to some momentarily perplexing question. “You’re jealous
of me, William; but you’re not in love with me. I’m jealous of you.
Therefore, for both our sakes, I say, speak to Cassandra at once.”

He tried to compose himself. He walked up and down the room; he paused
at the window and surveyed the flowers strewn upon the floor. Meanwhile
his desire to have Katharine’s assurance confirmed became so insistent
that he could no longer deny the overmastering strength of his feeling
for Cassandra.

“You’re right,” he exclaimed, coming to a standstill and rapping his
knuckles sharply upon a small table carrying one slender vase. “I love
Cassandra.”

As he said this, the curtains hanging at the door of the little room
parted, and Cassandra herself stepped forth.

“I have overheard every word!” she exclaimed.

A pause succeeded this announcement. Rodney made a step forward and
said:

“Then you know what I wish to ask you. Give me your answer--”

She put her hands before her face; she turned away and seemed to shrink
from both of them.

“What Katharine said,” she murmured. “But,” she added, raising her head
with a look of fear from the kiss with which he greeted her admission,
“how frightfully difficult it all is! Our feelings, I mean--yours and
mine and Katharine’s. Katharine, tell me, are we doing right?”

“Right--of course we’re doing right,” William answered her, “if,
after what you’ve heard, you can marry a man of such incomprehensible
confusion, such deplorable--”

“Don’t, William,” Katharine interposed; “Cassandra has heard us; she can
judge what we are; she knows better than we could tell her.”

But, still holding William’s hand, questions and desires welled up in
Cassandra’s heart. Had she done wrong in listening? Why did Aunt Celia
blame her? Did Katharine think her right? Above all, did William really
love her, for ever and ever, better than any one?

“I must be first with him, Katharine!” she exclaimed. “I can’t share him
even with you.”

“I shall never ask that,” said Katharine. She moved a little away from
where they sat and began half-consciously sorting her flowers.

“But you’ve shared with me,” Cassandra said. “Why can’t I share with
you? Why am I so mean? I know why it is,” she added. “We understand each
other, William and I. You’ve never understood each other. You’re too
different.”

“I’ve never admired anybody more,” William interposed.

“It’s not that”--Cassandra tried to enlighten him--“it’s understanding.”

“Have I never understood you, Katharine? Have I been very selfish?”

“Yes,” Cassandra interposed. “You’ve asked her for sympathy, and she’s
not sympathetic; you’ve wanted her to be practical, and she’s not
practical. You’ve been selfish; you’ve been exacting--and so has
Katharine--but it wasn’t anybody’s fault.”

Katharine had listened to this attempt at analysis with keen attention.
Cassandra’s words seemed to rub the old blurred image of life and
freshen it so marvelously that it looked new again. She turned to
William.

“It’s quite true,” she said. “It was nobody’s fault.”

“There are many things that he’ll always come to you for,” Cassandra
continued, still reading from her invisible book. “I accept that,
Katharine. I shall never dispute it. I want to be generous as you’ve
been generous. But being in love makes it more difficult for me.”

They were silent. At length William broke the silence.

“One thing I beg of you both,” he said, and the old nervousness of
manner returned as he glanced at Katharine. “We will never discuss these
matters again. It’s not that I’m timid and conventional, as you think,
Katharine. It’s that it spoils things to discuss them; it unsettles
people’s minds; and now we’re all so happy--”

Cassandra ratified this conclusion so far as she was concerned, and
William, after receiving the exquisite pleasure of her glance, with its
absolute affection and trust, looked anxiously at Katharine.

“Yes, I’m happy,” she assured him. “And I agree. We will never talk
about it again.”

“Oh, Katharine, Katharine!” Cassandra cried, holding out her arms while
the tears ran down her cheeks.



CHAPTER XXX

The day was so different from other days to three people in the house
that the common routine of household life--the maid waiting at table,
Mrs. Hilbery writing a letter, the clock striking, and the door opening,
and all the other signs of long-established civilization appeared
suddenly to have no meaning save as they lulled Mr. and Mrs. Hilbery
into the belief that nothing unusual had taken place. It chanced that
Mrs. Hilbery was depressed without visible cause, unless a certain
crudeness verging upon coarseness in the temper of her favorite
Elizabethans could be held responsible for the mood. At any rate, she
had shut up “The Duchess of Malfi” with a sigh, and wished to know, so
she told Rodney at dinner, whether there wasn’t some young writer with
a touch of the great spirit--somebody who made you believe that life
was BEAUTIFUL? She got little help from Rodney, and after singing
her plaintive requiem for the death of poetry by herself, she charmed
herself into good spirits again by remembering the existence of Mozart.
She begged Cassandra to play to her, and when they went upstairs
Cassandra opened the piano directly, and did her best to create an
atmosphere of unmixed beauty. At the sound of the first notes Katharine
and Rodney both felt an enormous sense of relief at the license which
the music gave them to loosen their hold upon the mechanism of behavior.
They lapsed into the depths of thought. Mrs. Hilbery was soon spirited
away into a perfectly congenial mood, that was half reverie and half
slumber, half delicious melancholy and half pure bliss. Mr. Hilbery
alone attended. He was extremely musical, and made Cassandra aware that
he listened to every note. She played her best, and won his approval.
Leaning slightly forward in his chair, and turning his little green
stone, he weighed the intention of her phrases approvingly, but stopped
her suddenly to complain of a noise behind him. The window was unhasped.
He signed to Rodney, who crossed the room immediately to put the matter
right. He stayed a moment longer by the window than was, perhaps,
necessary, and having done what was needed, drew his chair a little
closer than before to Katharine’s side. The music went on. Under cover
of some exquisite run of melody, he leant towards her and whispered
something. She glanced at her father and mother, and a moment later left
the room, almost unobserved, with Rodney.

“What is it?” she asked, as soon as the door was shut.

Rodney made no answer, but led her downstairs into the dining-room on
the ground floor. Even when he had shut the door he said nothing, but
went straight to the window and parted the curtains. He beckoned to
Katharine.

“There he is again,” he said. “Look, there--under the lamp-post.”

Katharine looked. She had no idea what Rodney was talking about. A vague
feeling of alarm and mystery possessed her. She saw a man standing on
the opposite side of the road facing the house beneath a lamp-post. As
they looked the figure turned, walked a few steps, and came back again
to his old position. It seemed to her that he was looking fixedly at
her, and was conscious of her gaze on him. She knew, in a flash, who the
man was who was watching them. She drew the curtain abruptly.

“Denham,” said Rodney. “He was there last night too.” He spoke sternly.
His whole manner had become full of authority. Katharine felt almost
as if he accused her of some crime. She was pale and uncomfortably
agitated, as much by the strangeness of Rodney’s behavior as by the
sight of Ralph Denham.

“If he chooses to come--” she said defiantly.

“You can’t let him wait out there. I shall tell him to come in.” Rodney
spoke with such decision that when he raised his arm Katharine expected
him to draw the curtain instantly. She caught his hand with a little
exclamation.

“Wait!” she cried. “I don’t allow you.”

“You can’t wait,” he replied. “You’ve gone too far.” His hand remained
upon the curtain. “Why don’t you admit, Katharine,” he broke out,
looking at her with an expression of contempt as well as of anger, “that
you love him? Are you going to treat him as you treated me?”

She looked at him, wondering, in spite of all her perplexity, at the
spirit that possessed him.

“I forbid you to draw the curtain,” she said.

He reflected, and then took his hand away.

“I’ve no right to interfere,” he concluded. “I’ll leave you. Or, if you
like, we’ll go back to the drawing-room.”

“No. I can’t go back,” she said, shaking her head. She bent her head in
thought.

“You love him, Katharine,” Rodney said suddenly. His tone had lost
something of its sternness, and might have been used to urge a child to
confess its fault. She raised her eyes and fixed them upon him.

“I love him?” she repeated. He nodded. She searched his face, as if
for further confirmation of his words, and, as he remained silent and
expectant, turned away once more and continued her thoughts. He observed
her closely, but without stirring, as if he gave her time to make up her
mind to fulfil her obvious duty. The strains of Mozart reached them from
the room above.

“Now,” she said suddenly, with a sort of desperation, rising from her
chair and seeming to command Rodney to fulfil his part. He drew the
curtain instantly, and she made no attempt to stop him. Their eyes at
once sought the same spot beneath the lamp-post.

“He’s not there!” she exclaimed.

No one was there. William threw the window up and looked out. The
wind rushed into the room, together with the sound of distant wheels,
footsteps hurrying along the pavement, and the cries of sirens hooting
down the river.

“Denham!” William cried.

“Ralph!” said Katharine, but she spoke scarcely louder than she might
have spoken to some one in the same room. With their eyes fixed upon
the opposite side of the road, they did not notice a figure close to the
railing which divided the garden from the street. But Denham had crossed
the road and was standing there. They were startled by his voice close
at hand.

“Rodney!”

“There you are! Come in, Denham.” Rodney went to the front door and
opened it. “Here he is,” he said, bringing Ralph with him into the
dining-room where Katharine stood, with her back to the open window.
Their eyes met for a second. Denham looked half dazed by the strong
light, and, buttoned in his overcoat, with his hair ruffled across his
forehead by the wind, he seemed like somebody rescued from an open boat
out at sea. William promptly shut the window and drew the curtains. He
acted with a cheerful decision as if he were master of the situation,
and knew exactly what he meant to do.

“You’re the first to hear the news, Denham,” he said. “Katharine isn’t
going to marry me, after all.”

“Where shall I put--” Ralph began vaguely, holding out his hat and
glancing about him; he balanced it carefully against a silver bowl that
stood upon the sideboard. He then sat himself down rather heavily at
the head of the oval dinner-table. Rodney stood on one side of him and
Katharine on the other. He appeared to be presiding over some meeting
from which most of the members were absent. Meanwhile, he waited, and
his eyes rested upon the glow of the beautifully polished mahogany
table.

“William is engaged to Cassandra,” said Katharine briefly.

At that Denham looked up quickly at Rodney. Rodney’s expression changed.
He lost his self-possession. He smiled a little nervously, and then his
attention seemed to be caught by a fragment of melody from the floor
above. He seemed for a moment to forget the presence of the others. He
glanced towards the door.

“I congratulate you,” said Denham.

“Yes, yes. We’re all mad--quite out of our minds, Denham,” he said.
“It’s partly Katharine’s doing--partly mine.” He looked oddly round the
room as if he wished to make sure that the scene in which he played
a part had some real existence. “Quite mad,” he repeated. “Even
Katharine--” His gaze rested upon her finally, as if she, too, had
changed from his old view of her. He smiled at her as if to encourage
her. “Katharine shall explain,” he said, and giving a little nod to
Denham, he left the room.

Katharine sat down at once, and leant her chin upon her hands. So long
as Rodney was in the room the proceedings of the evening had seemed to
be in his charge, and had been marked by a certain unreality. Now that
she was alone with Ralph she felt at once that a constraint had been
taken from them both. She felt that they were alone at the bottom of the
house, which rose, story upon story, upon the top of them.

“Why were you waiting out there?” she asked.

“For the chance of seeing you,” he replied.

“You would have waited all night if it hadn’t been for William. It’s
windy too. You must have been cold. What could you see? Nothing but our
windows.”

“It was worth it. I heard you call me.”

“I called you?” She had called unconsciously.

“They were engaged this morning,” she told him, after a pause.

“You’re glad?” he asked.

She bent her head. “Yes, yes,” she sighed. “But you don’t know how good
he is--what he’s done for me--” Ralph made a sound of understanding.
“You waited there last night too?” she asked.

“Yes. I can wait,” Denham replied.

The words seemed to fill the room with an emotion which Katharine
connected with the sound of distant wheels, the footsteps hurrying along
the pavement, the cries of sirens hooting down the river, the darkness
and the wind. She saw the upright figure standing beneath the lamp-post.

“Waiting in the dark,” she said, glancing at the window, as if he saw
what she was seeing. “Ah, but it’s different--” She broke off. “I’m not
the person you think me. Until you realize that it’s impossible--”

Placing her elbows on the table, she slid her ruby ring up and down
her finger abstractedly. She frowned at the rows of leather-bound
books opposite her. Ralph looked keenly at her. Very pale, but sternly
concentrated upon her meaning, beautiful but so little aware of herself
as to seem remote from him also, there was something distant and
abstract about her which exalted him and chilled him at the same time.

“No, you’re right,” he said. “I don’t know you. I’ve never known you.”

“Yet perhaps you know me better than any one else,” she mused.

Some detached instinct made her aware that she was gazing at a book
which belonged by rights to some other part of the house. She walked
over to the shelf, took it down, and returned to her seat, placing
the book on the table between them. Ralph opened it and looked at the
portrait of a man with a voluminous white shirt-collar, which formed the
frontispiece.

“I say I do know you, Katharine,” he affirmed, shutting the book. “It’s
only for moments that I go mad.”

“Do you call two whole nights a moment?”

“I swear to you that now, at this instant, I see you precisely as you
are. No one has ever known you as I know you.... Could you have taken
down that book just now if I hadn’t known you?”

“That’s true,” she replied, “but you can’t think how I’m divided--how
I’m at my ease with you, and how I’m bewildered. The unreality--the
dark--the waiting outside in the wind--yes, when you look at me, not
seeing me, and I don’t see you either.... But I do see,” she went on
quickly, changing her position and frowning again, “heaps of things,
only not you.”

“Tell me what you see,” he urged.

But she could not reduce her vision to words, since it was no single
shape colored upon the dark, but rather a general excitement, an
atmosphere, which, when she tried to visualize it, took form as a wind
scouring the flanks of northern hills and flashing light upon cornfields
and pools.

“Impossible,” she sighed, laughing at the ridiculous notion of putting
any part of this into words.

“Try, Katharine,” Ralph urged her.

“But I can’t--I’m talking a sort of nonsense--the sort of nonsense one
talks to oneself.” She was dismayed by the expression of longing and
despair upon his face. “I was thinking about a mountain in the North of
England,” she attempted. “It’s too silly--I won’t go on.”

“We were there together?” he pressed her.

“No. I was alone.” She seemed to be disappointing the desire of a child.
His face fell.

“You’re always alone there?”

“I can’t explain.” She could not explain that she was essentially
alone there. “It’s not a mountain in the North of England. It’s an
imagination--a story one tells oneself. You have yours too?”

“You’re with me in mine. You’re the thing I make up, you see.”

“Oh, I see,” she sighed. “That’s why it’s so impossible.” She turned
upon him almost fiercely. “You must try to stop it,” she said.

“I won’t,” he replied roughly, “because I--” He stopped. He realized
that the moment had come to impart that news of the utmost importance
which he had tried to impart to Mary Datchet, to Rodney upon the
Embankment, to the drunken tramp upon the seat. How should he offer it
to Katharine? He looked quickly at her. He saw that she was only half
attentive to him; only a section of her was exposed to him. The sight
roused in him such desperation that he had much ado to control his
impulse to rise and leave the house. Her hand lay loosely curled upon
the table. He seized it and grasped it firmly as if to make sure of her
existence and of his own. “Because I love you, Katharine,” he said.

Some roundness or warmth essential to that statement was absent from
his voice, and she had merely to shake her head very slightly for him
to drop her hand and turn away in shame at his own impotence. He thought
that she had detected his wish to leave her. She had discerned the break
in his resolution, the blankness in the heart of his vision. It was true
that he had been happier out in the street, thinking of her, than now
that he was in the same room with her. He looked at her with a guilty
expression on his face. But her look expressed neither disappointment
nor reproach. Her pose was easy, and she seemed to give effect to a mood
of quiet speculation by the spinning of her ruby ring upon the polished
table. Denham forgot his despair in wondering what thoughts now occupied
her.

“You don’t believe me?” he said. His tone was humble, and made her smile
at him.

“As far as I understand you--but what should you advise me to do with
this ring?” she asked, holding it out.

“I should advise you to let me keep it for you,” he replied, in the same
tone of half-humorous gravity.

“After what you’ve said, I can hardly trust you--unless you’ll unsay
what you’ve said?”

“Very well. I’m not in love with you.”

“But I think you ARE in love with me.... As I am with you,” she added
casually enough. “At least,” she said slipping her ring back to its old
position, “what other word describes the state we’re in?”

She looked at him gravely and inquiringly, as if in search of help.

“It’s when I’m with you that I doubt it, not when I’m alone,” he stated.

“So I thought,” she replied.

In order to explain to her his state of mind, Ralph recounted his
experience with the photograph, the letter, and the flower picked at
Kew. She listened very seriously.

“And then you went raving about the streets,” she mused. “Well, it’s bad
enough. But my state is worse than yours, because it hasn’t anything
to do with facts. It’s an hallucination, pure and simple--an
intoxication.... One can be in love with pure reason?” she hazarded.
“Because if you’re in love with a vision, I believe that that’s what I’m
in love with.”

This conclusion seemed fantastic and profoundly unsatisfactory to Ralph,
but after the astonishing variations of his own sentiments during the
past half-hour he could not accuse her of fanciful exaggeration.

“Rodney seems to know his own mind well enough,” he said almost
bitterly. The music, which had ceased, had now begun again, and the
melody of Mozart seemed to express the easy and exquisite love of the
two upstairs.

“Cassandra never doubted for a moment. But we--” she glanced at him as
if to ascertain his position, “we see each other only now and then--”

“Like lights in a storm--”

“In the midst of a hurricane,” she concluded, as the window shook
beneath the pressure of the wind. They listened to the sound in silence.

Here the door opened with considerable hesitation, and Mrs. Hilbery’s
head appeared, at first with an air of caution, but having made sure
that she had admitted herself to the dining-room and not to some more
unusual region, she came completely inside and seemed in no way taken
aback by the sight she saw. She seemed, as usual, bound on some quest of
her own which was interrupted pleasantly but strangely by running into
one of those queer, unnecessary ceremonies that other people thought fit
to indulge in.

“Please don’t let me interrupt you, Mr.--” she was at a loss, as usual,
for the name, and Katharine thought that she did not recognize him. “I
hope you’ve found something nice to read,” she added, pointing to the
book upon the table. “Byron--ah, Byron. I’ve known people who knew Lord
Byron,” she said.

Katharine, who had risen in some confusion, could not help smiling at
the thought that her mother found it perfectly natural and desirable
that her daughter should be reading Byron in the dining-room late at
night alone with a strange young man. She blessed a disposition that
was so convenient, and felt tenderly towards her mother and her mother’s
eccentricities. But Ralph observed that although Mrs. Hilbery held the
book so close to her eyes she was not reading a word.

“My dear mother, why aren’t you in bed?” Katharine exclaimed, changing
astonishingly in the space of a minute to her usual condition of
authoritative good sense. “Why are you wandering about?”

“I’m sure I should like your poetry better than I like Lord Byron’s,”
 said Mrs. Hilbery, addressing Ralph Denham.

“Mr. Denham doesn’t write poetry; he has written articles for father,
for the Review,” Katharine said, as if prompting her memory.

“Oh dear! How dull!” Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed, with a sudden laugh that
rather puzzled her daughter.

Ralph found that she had turned upon him a gaze that was at once very
vague and very penetrating.

“But I’m sure you read poetry at night. I always judge by the expression
of the eyes,” Mrs. Hilbery continued. (“The windows of the soul,” she
added parenthetically.) “I don’t know much about the law,” she went
on, “though many of my relations were lawyers. Some of them looked
very handsome, too, in their wigs. But I think I do know a little
about poetry,” she added. “And all the things that aren’t written
down, but--but--” She waved her hand, as if to indicate the wealth of
unwritten poetry all about them. “The night and the stars, the dawn
coming up, the barges swimming past, the sun setting.... Ah dear,” she
sighed, “well, the sunset is very lovely too. I sometimes think that
poetry isn’t so much what we write as what we feel, Mr. Denham.”

During this speech of her mother’s Katharine had turned away, and
Ralph felt that Mrs. Hilbery was talking to him apart, with a desire
to ascertain something about him which she veiled purposely by the
vagueness of her words. He felt curiously encouraged and heartened by
the beam in her eye rather than by her actual words. From the distance
of her age and sex she seemed to be waving to him, hailing him as a ship
sinking beneath the horizon might wave its flag of greeting to another
setting out upon the same voyage. He bent his head, saying nothing, but
with a curious certainty that she had read an answer to her inquiry that
satisfied her. At any rate, she rambled off into a description of the
Law Courts which turned to a denunciation of English justice, which,
according to her, imprisoned poor men who couldn’t pay their debts.
“Tell me, shall we ever do without it all?” she asked, but at this point
Katharine gently insisted that her mother should go to bed. Looking back
from half-way up the staircase, Katharine seemed to see Denham’s eyes
watching her steadily and intently with an expression that she had
guessed in them when he stood looking at the windows across the road.



CHAPTER XXXI

The tray which brought Katharine’s cup of tea the next morning brought,
also, a note from her mother, announcing that it was her intention to
catch an early train to Stratford-on-Avon that very day.

“Please find out the best way of getting there,” the note ran, “and wire
to dear Sir John Burdett to expect me, with my love. I’ve been dreaming
all night of you and Shakespeare, dearest Katharine.”

This was no momentary impulse. Mrs. Hilbery had been dreaming of
Shakespeare any time these six months, toying with the idea of an
excursion to what she considered the heart of the civilized world. To
stand six feet above Shakespeare’s bones, to see the very stones worn by
his feet, to reflect that the oldest man’s oldest mother had very likely
seen Shakespeare’s daughter--such thoughts roused an emotion in her,
which she expressed at unsuitable moments, and with a passion that would
not have been unseemly in a pilgrim to a sacred shrine. The only strange
thing was that she wished to go by herself. But, naturally enough,
she was well provided with friends who lived in the neighborhood of
Shakespeare’s tomb, and were delighted to welcome her; and she left
later to catch her train in the best of spirits. There was a man selling
violets in the street. It was a fine day. She would remember to send Mr.
Hilbery the first daffodil she saw. And, as she ran back into the hall
to tell Katharine, she felt, she had always felt, that Shakespeare’s
command to leave his bones undisturbed applied only to odious
curiosity-mongers--not to dear Sir John and herself. Leaving her
daughter to cogitate the theory of Anne Hathaway’s sonnets, and the
buried manuscripts here referred to, with the implied menace to the
safety of the heart of civilization itself, she briskly shut the door
of her taxi-cab, and was whirled off upon the first stage of her
pilgrimage.

The house was oddly different without her. Katharine found the maids
already in possession of her room, which they meant to clean thoroughly
during her absence. To Katharine it seemed as if they had brushed away
sixty years or so with the first flick of their damp dusters. It seemed
to her that the work she had tried to do in that room was being swept
into a very insignificant heap of dust. The china shepherdesses were
already shining from a bath of hot water. The writing-table might have
belonged to a professional man of methodical habits.

Gathering together a few papers upon which she was at work, Katharine
proceeded to her own room with the intention of looking through them,
perhaps, in the course of the morning. But she was met on the stairs
by Cassandra, who followed her up, but with such intervals between each
step that Katharine began to feel her purpose dwindling before they had
reached the door. Cassandra leant over the banisters, and looked down
upon the Persian rug that lay on the floor of the hall.

“Doesn’t everything look odd this morning?” she inquired. “Are you
really going to spend the morning with those dull old letters, because
if so--”

The dull old letters, which would have turned the heads of the most
sober of collectors, were laid upon a table, and, after a moment’s
pause, Cassandra, looking grave all of a sudden, asked Katharine where
she should find the “History of England” by Lord Macaulay. It was
downstairs in Mr. Hilbery’s study. The cousins descended together in
search of it. They diverged into the drawing-room for the good reason
that the door was open. The portrait of Richard Alardyce attracted their
attention.

“I wonder what he was like?” It was a question that Katharine had often
asked herself lately.

“Oh, a fraud like the rest of them--at least Henry says so,” Cassandra
replied. “Though I don’t believe everything Henry says,” she added a
little defensively.

Down they went into Mr. Hilbery’s study, where they began to look among
his books. So desultory was this examination that some fifteen minutes
failed to discover the work they were in search of.

“Must you read Macaulay’s History, Cassandra?” Katharine asked, with a
stretch of her arms.

“I must,” Cassandra replied briefly.

“Well, I’m going to leave you to look for it by yourself.”

“Oh, no, Katharine. Please stay and help me. You see--you see--I told
William I’d read a little every day. And I want to tell him that I’ve
begun when he comes.”

“When does William come?” Katharine asked, turning to the shelves again.

“To tea, if that suits you?”

“If it suits me to be out, I suppose you mean.”

“Oh, you’re horrid.... Why shouldn’t you--?”

“Yes?”

“Why shouldn’t you be happy too?”

“I am quite happy,” Katharine replied.

“I mean as I am. Katharine,” she said impulsively, “do let’s be married
on the same day.”

“To the same man?”

“Oh, no, no. But why shouldn’t you marry--some one else?”

“Here’s your Macaulay,” said Katharine, turning round with the book in
her hand. “I should say you’d better begin to read at once if you mean
to be educated by tea-time.”

“Damn Lord Macaulay!” cried Cassandra, slapping the book upon the table.
“Would you rather not talk?”

“We’ve talked enough already,” Katharine replied evasively.

“I know I shan’t be able to settle to Macaulay,” said Cassandra, looking
ruefully at the dull red cover of the prescribed volume, which, however,
possessed a talismanic property, since William admired it. He had
advised a little serious reading for the morning hours.

“Have YOU read Macaulay?” she asked.

“No. William never tried to educate me.” As she spoke she saw the light
fade from Cassandra’s face, as if she had implied some other, more
mysterious, relationship. She was stung with compunction. She marveled
at her own rashness in having influenced the life of another, as she had
influenced Cassandra’s life.

“We weren’t serious,” she said quickly.

“But I’m fearfully serious,” said Cassandra, with a little shudder,
and her look showed that she spoke the truth. She turned and glanced at
Katharine as she had never glanced at her before. There was fear in her
glance, which darted on her and then dropped guiltily. Oh, Katharine
had everything--beauty, mind, character. She could never compete with
Katharine; she could never be safe so long as Katharine brooded over
her, dominating her, disposing of her. She called her cold, unseeing,
unscrupulous, but the only sign she gave outwardly was a curious
one--she reached out her hand and grasped the volume of history. At that
moment the bell of the telephone rang and Katharine went to answer it.
Cassandra, released from observation, dropped her book and clenched her
hands. She suffered more fiery torture in those few minutes than she had
suffered in the whole of her life; she learnt more of her capacities for
feeling. But when Katharine reappeared she was calm, and had gained a
look of dignity that was new to her.

“Was that him?” she asked.

“It was Ralph Denham,” Katharine replied.

“I meant Ralph Denham.”

“Why did you mean Ralph Denham? What has William told you about
Ralph Denham?” The accusation that Katharine was calm, callous, and
indifferent was not possible in face of her present air of animation.
She gave Cassandra no time to frame an answer. “Now, when are you and
William going to be married?” she asked.

Cassandra made no reply for some moments. It was, indeed, a very
difficult question to answer. In conversation the night before, William
had indicated to Cassandra that, in his belief, Katharine was becoming
engaged to Ralph Denham in the dining-room. Cassandra, in the rosy light
of her own circumstances, had been disposed to think that the matter
must be settled already. But a letter which she had received that
morning from William, while ardent in its expression of affection, had
conveyed to her obliquely that he would prefer the announcement of their
engagement to coincide with that of Katharine’s. This document Cassandra
now produced, and read aloud, with considerable excisions and much
hesitation.

“... a thousand pities--ahem--I fear we shall cause a great deal of
natural annoyance. If, on the other hand, what I have reason to think
will happen, should happen--within reasonable time, and the present
position is not in any way offensive to you, delay would, in my opinion,
serve all our interests better than a premature explanation, which is
bound to cause more surprise than is desirable--”

“Very like William,” Katharine exclaimed, having gathered the drift of
these remarks with a speed that, by itself, disconcerted Cassandra.

“I quite understand his feelings,” Cassandra replied. “I quite agree
with them. I think it would be much better, if you intend to marry Mr.
Denham, that we should wait as William says.”

“But, then, if I don’t marry him for months--or, perhaps, not at all?”

Cassandra was silent. The prospect appalled her. Katharine had been
telephoning to Ralph Denham; she looked queer, too; she must be, or
about to become, engaged to him. But if Cassandra could have overheard
the conversation upon the telephone, she would not have felt so certain
that it tended in that direction. It was to this effect:

“I’m Ralph Denham speaking. I’m in my right senses now.”

“How long did you wait outside the house?”

“I went home and wrote you a letter. I tore it up.”

“I shall tear up everything too.”

“I shall come.”

“Yes. Come to-day.”

“I must explain to you--”

“Yes. We must explain--”

A long pause followed. Ralph began a sentence, which he canceled with
the word, “Nothing.” Suddenly, together, at the same moment, they said
good-bye. And yet, if the telephone had been miraculously connected with
some higher atmosphere pungent with the scent of thyme and the savor
of salt, Katharine could hardly have breathed in a keener sense of
exhilaration. She ran downstairs on the crest of it. She was amazed to
find herself already committed by William and Cassandra to marry the
owner of the halting voice she had just heard on the telephone.
The tendency of her spirit seemed to be in an altogether different
direction; and of a different nature. She had only to look at Cassandra
to see what the love that results in an engagement and marriage means.
She considered for a moment, and then said: “If you don’t want to tell
people yourselves, I’ll do it for you. I know William has feelings about
these matters that make it very difficult for him to do anything.”

“Because he’s fearfully sensitive about other people’s feelings,” said
Cassandra. “The idea that he could upset Aunt Maggie or Uncle Trevor
would make him ill for weeks.”

This interpretation of what she was used to call William’s
conventionality was new to Katharine. And yet she felt it now to be the
true one.

“Yes, you’re right,” she said.

“And then he worships beauty. He wants life to be beautiful in
every part of it. Have you ever noticed how exquisitely he finishes
everything? Look at the address on that envelope. Every letter is
perfect.”

Whether this applied also to the sentiments expressed in the letter,
Katharine was not so sure; but when William’s solicitude was spent upon
Cassandra it not only failed to irritate her, as it had done when she
was the object of it, but appeared, as Cassandra said, the fruit of his
love of beauty.

“Yes,” she said, “he loves beauty.”

“I hope we shall have a great many children,” said Cassandra. “He loves
children.”

This remark made Katharine realize the depths of their intimacy better
than any other words could have done; she was jealous for one moment;
but the next she was humiliated. She had known William for years, and
she had never once guessed that he loved children. She looked at the
queer glow of exaltation in Cassandra’s eyes, through which she was
beholding the true spirit of a human being, and wished that she would
go on talking about William for ever. Cassandra was not unwilling to
gratify her. She talked on. The morning slipped away. Katharine scarcely
changed her position on the edge of her father’s writing-table, and
Cassandra never opened the “History of England.”

And yet it must be confessed that there were vast lapses in the
attention which Katharine bestowed upon her cousin. The atmosphere
was wonderfully congenial for thoughts of her own. She lost herself
sometimes in such deep reverie that Cassandra, pausing, could look at
her for moments unperceived. What could Katharine be thinking about,
unless it were Ralph Denham? She was satisfied, by certain random
replies, that Katharine had wandered a little from the subject of
William’s perfections. But Katharine made no sign. She always ended
these pauses by saying something so natural that Cassandra was deluded
into giving fresh examples of her absorbing theme. Then they lunched,
and the only sign that Katharine gave of abstraction was to forget
to help the pudding. She looked so like her mother, as she sat there
oblivious of the tapioca, that Cassandra was startled into exclaiming:

“How like Aunt Maggie you look!”

“Nonsense,” said Katharine, with more irritation than the remark seemed
to call for.

In truth, now that her mother was away, Katharine did feel less sensible
than usual, but as she argued it to herself, there was much less need
for sense. Secretly, she was a little shaken by the evidence which the
morning had supplied of her immense capacity for--what could one call
it?--rambling over an infinite variety of thoughts that were too foolish
to be named. She was, for example, walking down a road in Northumberland
in the August sunset; at the inn she left her companion, who was Ralph
Denham, and was transported, not so much by her own feet as by some
invisible means, to the top of a high hill. Here the scents, the sounds
among the dry heather-roots, the grass-blades pressed upon the palm of
her hand, were all so perceptible that she could experience each one
separately. After this her mind made excursions into the dark of the
air, or settled upon the surface of the sea, which could be discovered
over there, or with equal unreason it returned to its couch of bracken
beneath the stars of midnight, and visited the snow valleys of the moon.
These fancies would have been in no way strange, since the walls of
every mind are decorated with some such tracery, but she found herself
suddenly pursuing such thoughts with an extreme ardor, which became
a desire to change her actual condition for something matching the
conditions of her dream. Then she started; then she awoke to the fact
that Cassandra was looking at her in amazement.

Cassandra would have liked to feel certain that, when Katharine made no
reply at all or one wide of the mark, she was making up her mind to get
married at once, but it was difficult, if this were so, to account for
some remarks that Katharine let fall about the future. She recurred
several times to the summer, as if she meant to spend that season in
solitary wandering. She seemed to have a plan in her mind which required
Bradshaws and the names of inns.

Cassandra was driven finally, by her own unrest, to put on her clothes
and wander out along the streets of Chelsea, on the pretence that
she must buy something. But, in her ignorance of the way, she became
panic-stricken at the thought of being late, and no sooner had she found
the shop she wanted, than she fled back again in order to be at home
when William came. He came, indeed, five minutes after she had sat down
by the tea-table, and she had the happiness of receiving him alone. His
greeting put her doubts of his affection at rest, but the first question
he asked was:

“Has Katharine spoken to you?”

“Yes. But she says she’s not engaged. She doesn’t seem to think she’s
ever going to be engaged.”

William frowned, and looked annoyed.

“They telephoned this morning, and she behaves very oddly. She forgets
to help the pudding,” Cassandra added by way of cheering him.

“My dear child, after what I saw and heard last night, it’s not a
question of guessing or suspecting. Either she’s engaged to him--or--”

He left his sentence unfinished, for at this point Katharine herself
appeared. With his recollections of the scene the night before, he was
too self-conscious even to look at her, and it was not until she told
him of her mother’s visit to Stratford-on-Avon that he raised his eyes.
It was clear that he was greatly relieved. He looked round him now, as
if he felt at his ease, and Cassandra exclaimed:

“Don’t you think everything looks quite different?”

“You’ve moved the sofa?” he asked.

“No. Nothing’s been touched,” said Katharine. “Everything’s exactly the
same.” But as she said this, with a decision which seemed to make it
imply that more than the sofa was unchanged, she held out a cup
into which she had forgotten to pour any tea. Being told of her
forgetfulness, she frowned with annoyance, and said that Cassandra was
demoralizing her. The glance she cast upon them, and the resolute way in
which she plunged them into speech, made William and Cassandra feel
like children who had been caught prying. They followed her obediently,
making conversation. Any one coming in might have judged them
acquaintances met, perhaps, for the third time. If that were so, one
must have concluded that the hostess suddenly bethought her of an
engagement pressing for fulfilment. First Katharine looked at her watch,
and then she asked William to tell her the right time. When told that it
was ten minutes to five she rose at once, and said:

“Then I’m afraid I must go.”

She left the room, holding her unfinished bread and butter in her hand.
William glanced at Cassandra.

“Well, she IS queer!” Cassandra exclaimed.

William looked perturbed. He knew more of Katharine than Cassandra
did, but even he could not tell--. In a second Katharine was back again
dressed in outdoor things, still holding her bread and butter in her
bare hand.

“If I’m late, don’t wait for me,” she said. “I shall have dined,” and so
saying, she left them.

“But she can’t--” William exclaimed, as the door shut, “not without any
gloves and bread and butter in her hand!” They ran to the window, and
saw her walking rapidly along the street towards the City. Then she
vanished.

“She must have gone to meet Mr. Denham,” Cassandra exclaimed.

“Goodness knows!” William interjected.

The incident impressed them both as having something queer and ominous
about it out of all proportion to its surface strangeness.

“It’s the sort of way Aunt Maggie behaves,” said Cassandra, as if in
explanation.

William shook his head, and paced up and down the room looking extremely
perturbed.

“This is what I’ve been foretelling,” he burst out. “Once set the
ordinary conventions aside--Thank Heaven Mrs. Hilbery is away. But
there’s Mr. Hilbery. How are we to explain it to him? I shall have to
leave you.”

“But Uncle Trevor won’t be back for hours, William!” Cassandra implored.

“You never can tell. He may be on his way already. Or suppose Mrs.
Milvain--your Aunt Celia--or Mrs. Cosham, or any other of your aunts
or uncles should be shown in and find us alone together. You know what
they’re saying about us already.”

Cassandra was equally stricken by the sight of William’s agitation, and
appalled by the prospect of his desertion.

“We might hide,” she exclaimed wildly, glancing at the curtain which
separated the room with the relics.

“I refuse entirely to get under the table,” said William sarcastically.

She saw that he was losing his temper with the difficulties of the
situation. Her instinct told her that an appeal to his affection, at
this moment, would be extremely ill-judged. She controlled herself, sat
down, poured out a fresh cup of tea, and sipped it quietly. This natural
action, arguing complete self-mastery, and showing her in one of those
feminine attitudes which William found adorable, did more than any
argument to compose his agitation. It appealed to his chivalry. He
accepted a cup. Next she asked for a slice of cake. By the time the cake
was eaten and the tea drunk the personal question had lapsed, and they
were discussing poetry. Insensibly they turned from the question of
dramatic poetry in general, to the particular example which reposed
in William’s pocket, and when the maid came in to clear away the
tea-things, William had asked permission to read a short passage aloud,
“unless it bored her?”

Cassandra bent her head in silence, but she showed a little of what she
felt in her eyes, and thus fortified, William felt confident that it
would take more than Mrs. Milvain herself to rout him from his position.
He read aloud.

Meanwhile Katharine walked rapidly along the street. If called upon to
explain her impulsive action in leaving the tea-table, she could have
traced it to no better cause than that William had glanced at Cassandra;
Cassandra at William. Yet, because they had glanced, her position was
impossible. If one forgot to pour out a cup of tea they rushed to the
conclusion that she was engaged to Ralph Denham. She knew that in half
an hour or so the door would open, and Ralph Denham would appear.
She could not sit there and contemplate seeing him with William’s and
Cassandra’s eyes upon them, judging their exact degree of intimacy, so
that they might fix the wedding-day. She promptly decided that she
would meet Ralph out of doors; she still had time to reach Lincoln’s Inn
Fields before he left his office. She hailed a cab, and bade it take her
to a shop for selling maps which she remembered in Great Queen Street,
since she hardly liked to be set down at his door. Arrived at the shop,
she bought a large scale map of Norfolk, and thus provided, hurried into
Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and assured herself of the position of Messrs.
Hoper and Grateley’s office. The great gas chandeliers were alight in
the office windows. She conceived that he sat at an enormous table laden
with papers beneath one of them in the front room with the three tall
windows. Having settled his position there, she began walking to and fro
upon the pavement. Nobody of his build appeared. She scrutinized each
male figure as it approached and passed her. Each male figure had,
nevertheless, a look of him, due, perhaps, to the professional dress,
the quick step, the keen glance which they cast upon her as they
hastened home after the day’s work. The square itself, with its immense
houses all so fully occupied and stern of aspect, its atmosphere of
industry and power, as if even the sparrows and the children were
earning their daily bread, as if the sky itself, with its gray and
scarlet clouds, reflected the serious intention of the city beneath it,
spoke of him. Here was the fit place for their meeting, she thought;
here was the fit place for her to walk thinking of him. She could
not help comparing it with the domestic streets of Chelsea. With this
comparison in her mind, she extended her range a little, and turned into
the main road. The great torrent of vans and carts was sweeping
down Kingsway; pedestrians were streaming in two currents along the
pavements. She stood fascinated at the corner. The deep roar filled her
ears; the changing tumult had the inexpressible fascination of varied
life pouring ceaselessly with a purpose which, as she looked, seemed to
her, somehow, the normal purpose for which life was framed; its complete
indifference to the individuals, whom it swallowed up and rolled
onwards, filled her with at least a temporary exaltation. The blend of
daylight and of lamplight made her an invisible spectator, just as it
gave the people who passed her a semi-transparent quality, and left the
faces pale ivory ovals in which the eyes alone were dark. They tended
the enormous rush of the current--the great flow, the deep stream, the
unquenchable tide. She stood unobserved and absorbed, glorying openly
in the rapture that had run subterraneously all day. Suddenly she
was clutched, unwilling, from the outside, by the recollection of her
purpose in coming there. She had come to find Ralph Denham. She hastily
turned back into Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and looked for her landmark--the
light in the three tall windows. She sought in vain. The faces of the
houses had now merged in the general darkness, and she had difficulty in
determining which she sought. Ralph’s three windows gave back on their
ghostly glass panels only a reflection of the gray and greenish sky. She
rang the bell, peremptorily, under the painted name of the firm. After
some delay she was answered by a caretaker, whose pail and brush of
themselves told her that the working day was over and the workers
gone. Nobody, save perhaps Mr. Grateley himself, was left, she assured
Katharine; every one else had been gone these ten minutes.

The news woke Katharine completely. Anxiety gained upon her. She
hastened back into Kingsway, looking at people who had miraculously
regained their solidity. She ran as far as the Tube station, overhauling
clerk after clerk, solicitor after solicitor. Not one of them even
faintly resembled Ralph Denham. More and more plainly did she see him;
and more and more did he seem to her unlike any one else. At the door of
the station she paused, and tried to collect her thoughts. He had gone
to her house. By taking a cab she could be there probably in advance of
him. But she pictured herself opening the drawing-room door, and William
and Cassandra looking up, and Ralph’s entrance a moment later, and the
glances--the insinuations. No; she could not face it. She would write
him a letter and take it at once to his house. She bought paper and
pencil at the bookstall, and entered an A.B.C. shop, where, by ordering
a cup of coffee, she secured an empty table, and began at vice to write:

“I came to meet you and I have missed you. I could not face William and
Cassandra. They want us--” here she paused. “They insist that we are
engaged,” she substituted, “and we couldn’t talk at all, or explain
anything. I want--” Her wants were so vast, now that she was in
communication with Ralph, that the pencil was utterly inadequate to
conduct them on to the paper; it seemed as if the whole torrent of
Kingsway had to run down her pencil. She gazed intently at a notice
hanging on the gold-encrusted wall opposite, “... to say all kinds of
things,” she added, writing each word with the painstaking of a child.
But, when she raised her eyes again to meditate the next sentence, she
was aware of a waitress, whose expression intimated that it was closing
time, and, looking round, Katharine saw herself almost the last person
left in the shop. She took up her letter, paid her bill, and found
herself once more in the street. She would now take a cab to Highgate.
But at that moment it flashed upon her that she could not remember the
address. This check seemed to let fall a barrier across a very powerful
current of desire. She ransacked her memory in desperation, hunting
for the name, first by remembering the look of the house, and then by
trying, in memory, to retrace the words she had written once, at least,
upon an envelope. The more she pressed the farther the words receded.
Was the house an Orchard Something, on the street a Hill? She gave
it up. Never, since she was a child, had she felt anything like this
blankness and desolation. There rushed in upon her, as if she were
waking from some dream, all the consequences of her inexplicable
indolence. She figured Ralph’s face as he turned from her door without
a word of explanation, receiving his dismissal as a blow from herself,
a callous intimation that she did not wish to see him. She followed his
departure from her door; but it was far more easy to see him marching
far and fast in any direction for any length of time than to conceive
that he would turn back to Highgate. Perhaps he would try once more to
see her in Cheyne Walk? It was proof of the clearness with which she saw
him, that she started forward as this possibility occurred to her, and
almost raised her hand to beckon to a cab. No; he was too proud to come
again; he rejected the desire and walked on and on, on and on--If
only she could read the names of those visionary streets down which he
passed! But her imagination betrayed her at this point, or mocked her
with a sense of their strangeness, darkness, and distance. Indeed,
instead of helping herself to any decision, she only filled her mind
with the vast extent of London and the impossibility of finding any
single figure that wandered off this way and that way, turned to the
right and to the left, chose that dingy little back street where
the children were playing in the road, and so--She roused herself
impatiently. She walked rapidly along Holborn. Soon she turned and
walked as rapidly in the other direction. This indecision was not merely
odious, but had something that alarmed her about it, as she had been
alarmed slightly once or twice already that day; she felt unable to cope
with the strength of her own desires. To a person controlled by habit,
there was humiliation as well as alarm in this sudden release of what
appeared to be a very powerful as well as an unreasonable force. An
aching in the muscles of her right hand now showed her that she was
crushing her gloves and the map of Norfolk in a grip sufficient to crack
a more solid object. She relaxed her grasp; she looked anxiously at the
faces of the passers-by to see whether their eyes rested on her for
a moment longer than was natural, or with any curiosity. But having
smoothed out her gloves, and done what she could to look as usual, she
forgot spectators, and was once more given up to her desperate desire to
find Ralph Denham. It was a desire now--wild, irrational, unexplained,
resembling something felt in childhood. Once more she blamed herself
bitterly for her carelessness. But finding herself opposite the Tube
station, she pulled herself up and took counsel swiftly, as of old. It
flashed upon her that she would go at once to Mary Datchet, and ask
her to give her Ralph’s address. The decision was a relief, not only in
giving her a goal, but in providing her with a rational excuse for her
own actions. It gave her a goal certainly, but the fact of having a goal
led her to dwell exclusively upon her obsession; so that when she rang
the bell of Mary’s flat, she did not for a moment consider how this
demand would strike Mary. To her extreme annoyance Mary was not at home;
a charwoman opened the door. All Katharine could do was to accept the
invitation to wait. She waited for, perhaps, fifteen minutes, and
spent them in pacing from one end of the room to the other without
intermission. When she heard Mary’s key in the door she paused in front
of the fireplace, and Mary found her standing upright, looking at once
expectant and determined, like a person who has come on an errand of
such importance that it must be broached without preface.

Mary exclaimed in surprise.

“Yes, yes,” Katharine said, brushing these remarks aside, as if they
were in the way.

“Have you had tea?”

“Oh yes,” she said, thinking that she had had tea hundreds of years ago,
somewhere or other.

Mary paused, took off her gloves, and, finding matches, proceeded to
light the fire.

Katharine checked her with an impatient movement, and said:

“Don’t light the fire for me.... I want to know Ralph Denham’s address.”

She was holding a pencil and preparing to write on the envelope. She
waited with an imperious expression.

“The Apple Orchard, Mount Ararat Road, Highgate,” Mary said, speaking
slowly and rather strangely.

“Oh, I remember now!” Katharine exclaimed, with irritation at her own
stupidity. “I suppose it wouldn’t take twenty minutes to drive there?”
 She gathered up her purse and gloves and seemed about to go.

“But you won’t find him,” said Mary, pausing with a match in her hand.
Katharine, who had already turned towards the door, stopped and looked
at her.

“Why? Where is he?” she asked.

“He won’t have left his office.”

“But he has left the office,” she replied. “The only question is will he
have reached home yet? He went to see me at Chelsea; I tried to meet him
and missed him. He will have found no message to explain. So I must find
him--as soon as possible.”

Mary took in the situation at her leisure.

“But why not telephone?” she said.

Katharine immediately dropped all that she was holding; her strained
expression relaxed, and exclaiming, “Of course! Why didn’t I think
of that!” she seized the telephone receiver and gave her number. Mary
looked at her steadily, and then left the room. At length Katharine
heard, through all the superimposed weight of London, the mysterious
sound of feet in her own house mounting to the little room, where she
could almost see the pictures and the books; she listened with extreme
intentness to the preparatory vibrations, and then established her
identity.

“Has Mr. Denham called?”

“Yes, miss.”

“Did he ask for me?”

“Yes. We said you were out, miss.”

“Did he leave any message?”

“No. He went away. About twenty minutes ago, miss.”

Katharine hung up the receiver. She walked the length of the room in
such acute disappointment that she did not at first perceive Mary’s
absence. Then she called in a harsh and peremptory tone:

“Mary.”

Mary was taking off her outdoor things in the bedroom. She heard
Katharine call her. “Yes,” she said, “I shan’t be a moment.” But the
moment prolonged itself, as if for some reason Mary found satisfaction
in making herself not only tidy, but seemly and ornamented. A stage in
her life had been accomplished in the last months which left its traces
for ever upon her bearing. Youth, and the bloom of youth, had receded,
leaving the purpose of her face to show itself in the hollower cheeks,
the firmer lips, the eyes no longer spontaneously observing at random,
but narrowed upon an end which was not near at hand. This woman was now
a serviceable human being, mistress of her own destiny, and thus, by
some combination of ideas, fit to be adorned with the dignity of silver
chains and glowing brooches. She came in at her leisure and asked:
“Well, did you get an answer?”

“He has left Chelsea already,” Katharine replied.

“Still, he won’t be home yet,” said Mary.

Katharine was once more irresistibly drawn to gaze upon an imaginary map
of London, to follow the twists and turns of unnamed streets.

“I’ll ring up his home and ask whether he’s back.” Mary crossed to the
telephone and, after a series of brief remarks, announced:

“No. His sister says he hasn’t come back yet.”

“Ah!” She applied her ear to the telephone once more. “They’ve had a
message. He won’t be back to dinner.”

“Then what is he going to do?”

Very pale, and with her large eyes fixed not so much upon Mary as upon
vistas of unresponding blankness, Katharine addressed herself also not
so much to Mary as to the unrelenting spirit which now appeared to mock
her from every quarter of her survey.

After waiting a little time Mary remarked indifferently:

“I really don’t know.” Slackly lying back in her armchair, she watched
the little flames beginning to creep among the coals indifferently, as
if they, too, were very distant and indifferent.

Katharine looked at her indignantly and rose.

“Possibly he may come here,” Mary continued, without altering the
abstract tone of her voice. “It would be worth your while to wait if
you want to see him to-night.” She bent forward and touched the wood, so
that the flames slipped in between the interstices of the coal.

Katharine reflected. “I’ll wait half an hour,” she said.

Mary rose, went to the table, spread out her papers under the
green-shaded lamp and, with an action that was becoming a habit,
twisted a lock of hair round and round in her fingers. Once she looked
unperceived at her visitor, who never moved, who sat so still, with eyes
so intent, that you could almost fancy that she was watching something,
some face that never looked up at her. Mary found herself unable to
go on writing. She turned her eyes away, but only to be aware of the
presence of what Katharine looked at. There were ghosts in the room, and
one, strangely and sadly, was the ghost of herself. The minutes went by.

“What would be the time now?” said Katharine at last. The half-hour was
not quite spent.

“I’m going to get dinner ready,” said Mary, rising from her table.

“Then I’ll go,” said Katharine.

“Why don’t you stay? Where are you going?”

Katharine looked round the room, conveying her uncertainty in her
glance.

“Perhaps I might find him,” she mused.

“But why should it matter? You’ll see him another day.”

Mary spoke, and intended to speak, cruelly enough.

“I was wrong to come here,” Katharine replied.

Their eyes met with antagonism, and neither flinched.

“You had a perfect right to come here,” Mary answered.

A loud knocking at the door interrupted them. Mary went to open it, and
returning with some note or parcel, Katharine looked away so that Mary
might not read her disappointment.

“Of course you had a right to come,” Mary repeated, laying the note upon
the table.

“No,” said Katharine. “Except that when one’s desperate one has a sort
of right. I am desperate. How do I know what’s happening to him now? He
may do anything. He may wander about the streets all night. Anything may
happen to him.”

She spoke with a self-abandonment that Mary had never seen in her.

“You know you exaggerate; you’re talking nonsense,” she said roughly.

“Mary, I must talk--I must tell you--”

“You needn’t tell me anything,” Mary interrupted her. “Can’t I see for
myself?”

“No, no,” Katharine exclaimed. “It’s not that--”

Her look, passing beyond Mary, beyond the verge of the room and out
beyond any words that came her way, wildly and passionately, convinced
Mary that she, at any rate, could not follow such a glance to its end.
She was baffled; she tried to think herself back again into the height
of her love for Ralph. Pressing her fingers upon her eyelids, she
murmured:

“You forget that I loved him too. I thought I knew him. I DID know him.”

And yet, what had she known? She could not remember it any more. She
pressed her eyeballs until they struck stars and suns into her darkness.
She convinced herself that she was stirring among ashes. She desisted.
She was astonished at her discovery. She did not love Ralph any more.
She looked back dazed into the room, and her eyes rested upon the table
with its lamp-lit papers. The steady radiance seemed for a second to
have its counterpart within her; she shut her eyes; she opened them and
looked at the lamp again; another love burnt in the place of the old
one, or so, in a momentary glance of amazement, she guessed before the
revelation was over and the old surroundings asserted themselves. She
leant in silence against the mantelpiece.

“There are different ways of loving,” she murmured, half to herself, at
length.

Katharine made no reply and seemed unaware of her words. She seemed
absorbed in her own thoughts.

“Perhaps he’s waiting in the street again to-night,” she exclaimed.
“I’ll go now. I might find him.”

“It’s far more likely that he’ll come here,” said Mary, and Katharine,
after considering for a moment, said:

“I’ll wait another half-hour.”

She sank down into her chair again, and took up the same position which
Mary had compared to the position of one watching an unseeing face. She
watched, indeed, not a face, but a procession, not of people, but of
life itself: the good and bad; the meaning; the past, the present, and
the future. All this seemed apparent to her, and she was not ashamed
of her extravagance so much as exalted to one of the pinnacles of
existence, where it behoved the world to do her homage. No one but
she herself knew what it meant to miss Ralph Denham on that particular
night; into this inadequate event crowded feelings that the great crises
of life might have failed to call forth. She had missed him, and knew
the bitterness of all failure; she desired him, and knew the torment
of all passion. It did not matter what trivial accidents led to this
culmination. Nor did she care how extravagant she appeared, nor how
openly she showed her feelings.

When the dinner was ready Mary told her to come, and she came
submissively, as if she let Mary direct her movements for her. They
ate and drank together almost in silence, and when Mary told her to
eat more, she ate more; when she was told to drink wine, she drank it.
Nevertheless, beneath this superficial obedience, Mary knew that she was
following her own thoughts unhindered. She was not inattentive so much
as remote; she looked at once so unseeing and so intent upon some vision
of her own that Mary gradually felt more than protective--she became
actually alarmed at the prospect of some collision between Katharine
and the forces of the outside world. Directly they had done, Katharine
announced her intention of going.

“But where are you going to?” Mary asked, desiring vaguely to hinder
her.

“Oh, I’m going home--no, to Highgate perhaps.”

Mary saw that it would be useless to try to stop her. All she could do
was to insist upon coming too, but she met with no opposition; Katharine
seemed indifferent to her presence. In a few minutes they were walking
along the Strand. They walked so rapidly that Mary was deluded into
the belief that Katharine knew where she was going. She herself was not
attentive. She was glad of the movement along lamp-lit streets in the
open air. She was fingering, painfully and with fear, yet with strange
hope, too, the discovery which she had stumbled upon unexpectedly that
night. She was free once more at the cost of a gift, the best, perhaps,
that she could offer, but she was, thank Heaven, in love no longer.
She was tempted to spend the first instalment of her freedom in some
dissipation; in the pit of the Coliseum, for example, since they were
now passing the door. Why not go in and celebrate her independence of
the tyranny of love? Or, perhaps, the top of an omnibus bound for some
remote place such as Camberwell, or Sidcup, or the Welsh Harp would suit
her better. She noticed these names painted on little boards for the
first time for weeks. Or should she return to her room, and spend
the night working out the details of a very enlightened and ingenious
scheme? Of all possibilities this appealed to her most, and brought to
mind the fire, the lamplight, the steady glow which had seemed lit in
the place where a more passionate flame had once burnt.

Now Katharine stopped, and Mary woke to the fact that instead of having
a goal she had evidently none. She paused at the edge of the crossing,
and looked this way and that, and finally made as if in the direction of
Haverstock Hill.

“Look here--where are you going?” Mary cried, catching her by the hand.
“We must take that cab and go home.” She hailed a cab and insisted that
Katharine should get in, while she directed the driver to take them to
Cheyne Walk.

Katharine submitted. “Very well,” she said. “We may as well go there as
anywhere else.”

A gloom seemed to have fallen on her. She lay back in her corner, silent
and apparently exhausted. Mary, in spite of her own preoccupation, was
struck by her pallor and her attitude of dejection.

“I’m sure we shall find him,” she said more gently than she had yet
spoken.

“It may be too late,” Katharine replied. Without understanding her, Mary
began to pity her for what she was suffering.

“Nonsense,” she said, taking her hand and rubbing it. “If we don’t find
him there we shall find him somewhere else.”

“But suppose he’s walking about the streets--for hours and hours?”

She leant forward and looked out of the window.

“He may refuse ever to speak to me again,” she said in a low voice,
almost to herself.

The exaggeration was so immense that Mary did not attempt to cope with
it, save by keeping hold of Katharine’s wrist. She half expected that
Katharine might open the door suddenly and jump out. Perhaps Katharine
perceived the purpose with which her hand was held.

“Don’t be frightened,” she said, with a little laugh. “I’m not going to
jump out of the cab. It wouldn’t do much good after all.”

Upon this, Mary ostentatiously withdrew her hand.

“I ought to have apologized,” Katharine continued, with an effort, “for
bringing you into all this business; I haven’t told you half, either.
I’m no longer engaged to William Rodney. He is to marry Cassandra Otway.
It’s all arranged--all perfectly right.... And after he’d waited in
the streets for hours and hours, William made me bring him in. He was
standing under the lamp-post watching our windows. He was perfectly
white when he came into the room. William left us alone, and we sat and
talked. It seems ages and ages ago, now. Was it last night? Have I
been out long? What’s the time?” She sprang forward to catch sight of a
clock, as if the exact time had some important bearing on her case.

“Only half-past eight!” she exclaimed. “Then he may be there still.” She
leant out of the window and told the cabman to drive faster.

“But if he’s not there, what shall I do? Where could I find him? The
streets are so crowded.”

“We shall find him,” Mary repeated.

Mary had no doubt but that somehow or other they would find him. But
suppose they did find him? She began to think of Ralph with a sort of
strangeness, in her effort to understand how he could be capable of
satisfying this extraordinary desire. Once more she thought herself back
to her old view of him and could, with an effort, recall the haze
which surrounded his figure, and the sense of confused, heightened
exhilaration which lay all about his neighborhood, so that for months at
a time she had never exactly heard his voice or seen his face--or so it
now seemed to her. The pain of her loss shot through her. Nothing would
ever make up--not success, or happiness, or oblivion. But this pang was
immediately followed by the assurance that now, at any rate, she knew
the truth; and Katharine, she thought, stealing a look at her, did not
know the truth; yes, Katharine was immensely to be pitied.

The cab, which had been caught in the traffic, was now liberated and
sped on down Sloane Street. Mary was conscious of the tension with which
Katharine marked its progress, as if her mind were fixed upon a point in
front of them, and marked, second by second, their approach to it. She
said nothing, and in silence Mary began to fix her mind, in sympathy
at first, and later in forgetfulness of her companion, upon a point
in front of them. She imagined a point distant as a low star upon the
horizon of the dark. There for her too, for them both, was the goal for
which they were striving, and the end for the ardors of their spirits
was the same: but where it was, or what it was, or why she felt
convinced that they were united in search of it, as they drove swiftly
down the streets of London side by side, she could not have said.

“At last,” Katharine breathed, as the cab drew up at the door. She
jumped out and scanned the pavement on either side. Mary, meanwhile,
rang the bell. The door opened as Katharine assured herself that no one
of the people within view had any likeness to Ralph. On seeing her, the
maid said at once:

“Mr. Denham called again, miss. He has been waiting for you for some
time.”

Katharine vanished from Mary’s sight. The door shut between them, and
Mary walked slowly and thoughtfully up the street alone.

Katharine turned at once to the dining-room. But with her fingers upon
the handle, she held back. Perhaps she realized that this was a moment
which would never come again. Perhaps, for a second, it seemed to her
that no reality could equal the imagination she had formed. Perhaps she
was restrained by some vague fear or anticipation, which made her dread
any exchange or interruption. But if these doubts and fears or this
supreme bliss restrained her, it was only for a moment. In another
second she had turned the handle and, biting her lip to control herself,
she opened the door upon Ralph Denham. An extraordinary clearness of
sight seemed to possess her on beholding him. So little, so single,
so separate from all else he appeared, who had been the cause of these
extreme agitations and aspirations. She could have laughed in his face.
But, gaining upon this clearness of sight against her will, and to her
dislike, was a flood of confusion, of relief, of certainty, of humility,
of desire no longer to strive and to discriminate, yielding to which,
she let herself sink within his arms and confessed her love.



CHAPTER XXXII

Nobody asked Katharine any questions next day. If cross-examined she
might have said that nobody spoke to her. She worked a little, wrote a
little, ordered the dinner, and sat, for longer than she knew, with
her head on her hand piercing whatever lay before her, whether it was
a letter or a dictionary, as if it were a film upon the deep prospects
that revealed themselves to her kindling and brooding eyes. She rose
once, and going to the bookcase, took out her father’s Greek dictionary
and spread the sacred pages of symbols and figures before her. She
smoothed the sheets with a mixture of affectionate amusement and hope.
Would other eyes look on them with her one day? The thought, long
intolerable, was now just bearable.

She was quite unaware of the anxiety with which her movements were
watched and her expression scanned. Cassandra was careful not to be
caught looking at her, and their conversation was so prosaic that were
it not for certain jolts and jerks between the sentences, as if the mind
were kept with difficulty to the rails, Mrs. Milvain herself could have
detected nothing of a suspicious nature in what she overheard.

William, when he came in late that afternoon and found Cassandra alone,
had a very serious piece of news to impart. He had just passed Katharine
in the street and she had failed to recognize him.

“That doesn’t matter with me, of course, but suppose it happened with
somebody else? What would they think? They would suspect something
merely from her expression. She looked--she looked”--he hesitated--“like
some one walking in her sleep.”

To Cassandra the significant thing was that Katharine had gone out
without telling her, and she interpreted this to mean that she had gone
out to meet Ralph Denham. But to her surprise William drew no comfort
from this probability.

“Once throw conventions aside,” he began, “once do the things that
people don’t do--” and the fact that you are going to meet a young man
is no longer proof of anything, except, indeed, that people will talk.

Cassandra saw, not without a pang of jealousy, that he was extremely
solicitous that people should not talk about Katharine, as if his
interest in her were still proprietary rather than friendly. As they
were both ignorant of Ralph’s visit the night before they had not
that reason to comfort themselves with the thought that matters were
hastening to a crisis. These absences of Katharine’s, moreover, left
them exposed to interruptions which almost destroyed their pleasure in
being alone together. The rainy evening made it impossible to go out;
and, indeed, according to William’s code, it was considerably more
damning to be seen out of doors than surprised within. They were so much
at the mercy of bells and doors that they could hardly talk of Macaulay
with any conviction, and William preferred to defer the second act of
his tragedy until another day.

Under these circumstances Cassandra showed herself at her best. She
sympathized with William’s anxieties and did her utmost to share them;
but still, to be alone together, to be running risks together, to be
partners in the wonderful conspiracy, was to her so enthralling that
she was always forgetting discretion, breaking out into exclamations and
admirations which finally made William believe that, although deplorable
and upsetting, the situation was not without its sweetness.

When the door did open, he started, but braved the forthcoming
revelation. It was not Mrs. Milvain, however, but Katharine herself who
entered, closely followed by Ralph Denham. With a set expression which
showed what an effort she was making, Katharine encountered their eyes,
and saying, “We’re not going to interrupt you,” she led Denham behind
the curtain which hung in front of the room with the relics. This refuge
was none of her willing, but confronted with wet pavements and only some
belated museum or Tube station for shelter, she was forced, for Ralph’s
sake, to face the discomforts of her own house. Under the street lamps
she had thought him looking both tired and strained.

Thus separated, the two couples remained occupied for some time with
their own affairs. Only the lowest murmurs penetrated from one section
of the room to the other. At length the maid came in to bring a message
that Mr. Hilbery would not be home for dinner. It was true that there
was no need that Katharine should be informed, but William began to
inquire Cassandra’s opinion in such a way as to show that, with or
without reason, he wished very much to speak to her.

From motives of her own Cassandra dissuaded him.

“But don’t you think it’s a little unsociable?” he hazarded. “Why not do
something amusing?--go to the play, for instance? Why not ask Katharine
and Ralph, eh?” The coupling of their names in this manner caused
Cassandra’s heart to leap with pleasure.

“Don’t you think they must be--?” she began, but William hastily took
her up.

“Oh, I know nothing about that. I only thought we might amuse ourselves,
as your uncle’s out.”

He proceeded on his embassy with a mixture of excitement and
embarrassment which caused him to turn aside with his hand on the
curtain, and to examine intently for several moments the portrait of
a lady, optimistically said by Mrs. Hilbery to be an early work of Sir
Joshua Reynolds. Then, with some unnecessary fumbling, he drew aside the
curtain, and with his eyes fixed upon the ground, repeated his message
and suggested that they should all spend the evening at the play.
Katharine accepted the suggestion with such cordiality that it was
strange to find her of no clear mind as to the precise spectacle she
wished to see. She left the choice entirely to Ralph and William, who,
taking counsel fraternally over an evening paper, found themselves
in agreement as to the merits of a music-hall. This being arranged,
everything else followed easily and enthusiastically. Cassandra had
never been to a music-hall. Katharine instructed her in the peculiar
delights of an entertainment where Polar bears follow directly upon
ladies in full evening dress, and the stage is alternately a garden of
mystery, a milliner’s band-box, and a fried-fish shop in the Mile End
Road. Whatever the exact nature of the program that night, it fulfilled
the highest purposes of dramatic art, so far, at least, as four of the
audience were concerned.

No doubt the actors and the authors would have been surprised to learn
in what shape their efforts reached those particular eyes and ears; but
they could not have denied that the effect as a whole was tremendous.
The hall resounded with brass and strings, alternately of enormous pomp
and majesty, and then of sweetest lamentation. The reds and creams
of the background, the lyres and harps and urns and skulls, the
protuberances of plaster, the fringes of scarlet plush, the sinking
and blazing of innumerable electric lights, could scarcely have been
surpassed for decorative effect by any craftsman of the ancient or
modern world.

Then there was the audience itself, bare-shouldered, tufted and
garlanded in the stalls, decorous but festal in the balconies, and
frankly fit for daylight and street life in the galleries. But, however
they differed when looked at separately, they shared the same huge,
lovable nature in the bulk, which murmured and swayed and quivered all
the time the dancing and juggling and love-making went on in front of
it, slowly laughed and reluctantly left off laughing, and applauded
with a helter-skelter generosity which sometimes became unanimous and
overwhelming. Once William saw Katharine leaning forward and clapping
her hands with an abandonment that startled him. Her laugh rang out with
the laughter of the audience.

For a second he was puzzled, as if this laughter disclosed something
that he had never suspected in her. But then Cassandra’s face caught his
eye, gazing with astonishment at the buffoon, not laughing, too deeply
intent and surprised to laugh at what she saw, and for some moments he
watched her as if she were a child.

The performance came to an end, the illusion dying out first here and
then there, as some rose to put on their coats, others stood upright to
salute “God Save the King,” the musicians folded their music and encased
their instruments, and the lights sank one by one until the house was
empty, silent, and full of great shadows. Looking back over her shoulder
as she followed Ralph through the swing doors, Cassandra marveled to see
how the stage was already entirely without romance. But, she wondered,
did they really cover all the seats in brown holland every night?

The success of this entertainment was such that before they separated
another expedition had been planned for the next day. The next day was
Saturday; therefore both William and Ralph were free to devote the whole
afternoon to an expedition to Greenwich, which Cassandra had never seen,
and Katharine confused with Dulwich. On this occasion Ralph was their
guide. He brought them without accident to Greenwich.

What exigencies of state or fantasies of imagination first gave birth to
the cluster of pleasant places by which London is surrounded is matter
of indifference now that they have adapted themselves so admirably to
the needs of people between the ages of twenty and thirty with Saturday
afternoons to spend. Indeed, if ghosts have any interest in the
affections of those who succeed them they must reap their richest
harvests when the fine weather comes again and the lovers, the
sightseers, and the holiday-makers pour themselves out of trains and
omnibuses into their old pleasure-grounds. It is true that they go, for
the most part, unthanked by name, although upon this occasion William
was ready to give such discriminating praise as the dead architects and
painters received seldom in the course of the year. They were walking by
the river bank, and Katharine and Ralph, lagging a little behind, caught
fragments of his lecture. Katharine smiled at the sound of his voice;
she listened as if she found it a little unfamiliar, intimately though
she knew it; she tested it. The note of assurance and happiness was
new. William was very happy. She learnt every hour what sources of
his happiness she had neglected. She had never asked him to teach
her anything; she had never consented to read Macaulay; she had never
expressed her belief that his play was second only to the works of
Shakespeare. She followed dreamily in their wake, smiling and delighting
in the sound which conveyed, she knew, the rapturous and yet not servile
assent of Cassandra.

Then she murmured, “How can Cassandra--” but changed her sentence to the
opposite of what she meant to say and ended, “how could she herself have
been so blind?” But it was unnecessary to follow out such riddles when
the presence of Ralph supplied her with more interesting problems, which
somehow became involved with the little boat crossing the river, the
majestic and careworn City, and the steamers homecoming with their
treasury, or starting in search of it, so that infinite leisure would
be necessary for the proper disentanglement of one from the other. He
stopped, moreover, and began inquiring of an old boatman as to the tides
and the ships. In thus talking he seemed different, and even looked
different, she thought, against the river, with the steeples and towers
for background. His strangeness, his romance, his power to leave her
side and take part in the affairs of men, the possibility that they
should together hire a boat and cross the river, the speed and wildness
of this enterprise filled her mind and inspired her with such rapture,
half of love and half of adventure, that William and Cassandra were
startled from their talk, and Cassandra exclaimed, “She looks as if she
were offering up a sacrifice! Very beautiful,” she added quickly, though
she repressed, in deference to William, her own wonder that the sight of
Ralph Denham talking to a boatman on the banks of the Thames could move
any one to such an attitude of adoration.

That afternoon, what with tea and the curiosities of the Thames tunnel
and the unfamiliarity of the streets, passed so quickly that the only
method of prolonging it was to plan another expedition for the following
day. Hampton Court was decided upon, in preference to Hampstead, for
though Cassandra had dreamt as a child of the brigands of Hampstead, she
had now transferred her affections completely and for ever to William
III. Accordingly, they arrived at Hampton Court about lunch-time on a
fine Sunday morning. Such unity marked their expressions of admiration
for the red-brick building that they might have come there for no other
purpose than to assure each other that this palace was the stateliest
palace in the world. They walked up and down the Terrace, four abreast,
and fancied themselves the owners of the place, and calculated the
amount of good to the world produced indubitably by such a tenancy.

“The only hope for us,” said Katharine, “is that William shall die, and
Cassandra shall be given rooms as the widow of a distinguished poet.”

“Or--” Cassandra began, but checked herself from the liberty of
envisaging Katharine as the widow of a distinguished lawyer. Upon this,
the third day of junketing, it was tiresome to have to restrain oneself
even from such innocent excursions of fancy. She dared not question
William; he was inscrutable; he never seemed even to follow the other
couple with curiosity when they separated, as they frequently did, to
name a plant, or examine a fresco. Cassandra was constantly studying
their backs. She noticed how sometimes the impulse to move came from
Katharine, and sometimes from Ralph; how, sometimes, they walked slow,
as if in profound intercourse, and sometimes fast, as if in passionate.
When they came together again nothing could be more unconcerned than
their manner.

“We have been wondering whether they ever catch a fish...” or, “We must
leave time to visit the Maze.” Then, to puzzle her further, William and
Ralph filled in all interstices of meal-times or railway journeys with
perfectly good-tempered arguments; or they discussed politics, or they
told stories, or they did sums together upon the backs of old envelopes
to prove something. She suspected that Katharine was absent-minded, but
it was impossible to tell. There were moments when she felt so young and
inexperienced that she almost wished herself back with the silkworms at
Stogdon House, and not embarked upon this bewildering intrigue.

These moments, however, were only the necessary shadow or chill which
proved the substance of her bliss, and did not damage the radiance which
seemed to rest equally upon the whole party. The fresh air of spring,
the sky washed of clouds and already shedding warmth from its blue,
seemed the reply vouchsafed by nature to the mood of her chosen spirits.
These chosen spirits were to be found also among the deer, dumbly
basking, and among the fish, set still in mid-stream, for they were mute
sharers in a benignant state not needing any exposition by the tongue.
No words that Cassandra could come by expressed the stillness, the
brightness, the air of expectancy which lay upon the orderly beauty
of the grass walks and gravel paths down which they went walking four
abreast that Sunday afternoon. Silently the shadows of the trees lay
across the broad sunshine; silence wrapt her heart in its folds. The
quivering stillness of the butterfly on the half-opened flower, the
silent grazing of the deer in the sun, were the sights her eye rested
upon and received as the images of her own nature laid open to happiness
and trembling in its ecstasy.

But the afternoon wore on, and it became time to leave the gardens.
As they drove from Waterloo to Chelsea, Katharine began to have some
compunction about her father, which, together with the opening of
offices and the need of working in them on Monday, made it difficult to
plan another festival for the following day. Mr. Hilbery had taken their
absence, so far, with paternal benevolence, but they could not trespass
upon it indefinitely. Indeed, had they known it, he was already
suffering from their absence, and longing for their return.

He had no dislike of solitude, and Sunday, in particular, was pleasantly
adapted for letter-writing, paying calls, or a visit to his club. He was
leaving the house on some such suitable expedition towards tea-time
when he found himself stopped on his own doorstep by his sister, Mrs.
Milvain. She should, on hearing that no one was at home, have withdrawn
submissively, but instead she accepted his half-hearted invitation to
come in, and he found himself in the melancholy position of being forced
to order tea for her and sit in the drawing-room while she drank it. She
speedily made it plain that she was only thus exacting because she had
come on a matter of business. He was by no means exhilarated at the
news.

“Katharine is out this afternoon,” he remarked. “Why not come round
later and discuss it with her--with us both, eh?”

“My dear Trevor, I have particular reasons for wishing to talk to you
alone.... Where is Katharine?”

“She’s out with her young man, naturally. Cassandra plays the part of
chaperone very usefully. A charming young woman that--a great favorite
of mine.” He turned his stone between his fingers, and conceived
different methods of leading Celia away from her obsession, which, he
supposed, must have reference to the domestic affairs of Cyril as usual.

“With Cassandra,” Mrs. Milvain repeated significantly. “With Cassandra.”

“Yes, with Cassandra,” Mr. Hilbery agreed urbanely, pleased at the
diversion. “I think they said they were going to Hampton Court, and I
rather believe they were taking a protege of mine, Ralph Denham, a very
clever fellow, too, to amuse Cassandra. I thought the arrangement very
suitable.” He was prepared to dwell at some length upon this safe topic,
and trusted that Katharine would come in before he had done with it.

“Hampton Court always seems to me an ideal spot for engaged couples.
There’s the Maze, there’s a nice place for having tea--I forget what
they call it--and then, if the young man knows his business he contrives
to take his lady upon the river. Full of possibilities--full. Cake,
Celia?” Mr. Hilbery continued. “I respect my dinner too much, but that
can’t possibly apply to you. You’ve never observed that feast, so far as
I can remember.”

Her brother’s affability did not deceive Mrs. Milvain; it slightly
saddened her; she well knew the cause of it. Blind and infatuated as
usual!

“Who is this Mr. Denham?” she asked.

“Ralph Denham?” said Mr. Hilbery, in relief that her mind had taken this
turn. “A very interesting young man. I’ve a great belief in him. He’s an
authority upon our mediaeval institutions, and if he weren’t forced to
earn his living he would write a book that very much wants writing--”

“He is not well off, then?” Mrs. Milvain interposed.

“Hasn’t a penny, I’m afraid, and a family more or less dependent on
him.”

“A mother and sisters?--His father is dead?”

“Yes, his father died some years ago,” said Mr. Hilbery, who was
prepared to draw upon his imagination, if necessary, to keep Mrs.
Milvain supplied with facts about the private history of Ralph Denham
since, for some inscrutable reason, the subject took her fancy.

“His father has been dead some time, and this young man had to take his
place--”

“A legal family?” Mrs. Milvain inquired. “I fancy I’ve seen the name
somewhere.”

Mr. Hilbery shook his head. “I should be inclined to doubt whether they
were altogether in that walk of life,” he observed. “I fancy that Denham
once told me that his father was a corn merchant. Perhaps he said a
stockbroker. He came to grief, anyhow, as stockbrokers have a way of
doing. I’ve a great respect for Denham,” he added. The remark sounded
to his ears unfortunately conclusive, and he was afraid that there
was nothing more to be said about Denham. He examined the tips of his
fingers carefully. “Cassandra’s grown into a very charming young woman,”
 he started afresh. “Charming to look at, and charming to talk to, though
her historical knowledge is not altogether profound. Another cup of
tea?”

Mrs. Milvain had given her cup a little push, which seemed to indicate
some momentary displeasure. But she did not want any more tea.

“It is Cassandra that I have come about,” she began. “I am very sorry
to say that Cassandra is not at all what you think her, Trevor. She has
imposed upon your and Maggie’s goodness. She has behaved in a way that
would have seemed incredible--in this house of all houses--were it not
for other circumstances that are still more incredible.”

Mr. Hilbery looked taken aback, and was silent for a second.

“It all sounds very black,” he remarked urbanely, continuing his
examination of his finger-nails. “But I own I am completely in the
dark.”

Mrs. Milvain became rigid, and emitted her message in little short
sentences of extreme intensity.

“Who has Cassandra gone out with? William Rodney. Who has Katharine gone
out with? Ralph Denham. Why are they for ever meeting each other round
street corners, and going to music-halls, and taking cabs late at
night? Why will Katharine not tell me the truth when I question her?
I understand the reason now. Katharine has entangled herself with this
unknown lawyer; she has seen fit to condone Cassandra’s conduct.”

There was another slight pause.

“Ah, well, Katharine will no doubt have some explanation to give me,”
 Mr. Hilbery replied imperturbably. “It’s a little too complicated for
me to take in all at once, I confess--and, if you won’t think me rude,
Celia, I think I’ll be getting along towards Knightsbridge.”

Mrs. Milvain rose at once.

“She has condoned Cassandra’s conduct and entangled herself with Ralph
Denham,” she repeated. She stood very erect with the dauntless air of
one testifying to the truth regardless of consequences. She knew from
past discussions that the only way to counter her brother’s indolence
and indifference was to shoot her statements at him in a compressed form
once finally upon leaving the room. Having spoken thus, she restrained
herself from adding another word, and left the house with the dignity of
one inspired by a great ideal.

She had certainly framed her remarks in such a way as to prevent her
brother from paying his call in the region of Knightsbridge. He had no
fears for Katharine, but there was a suspicion at the back of his mind
that Cassandra might have been, innocently and ignorantly, led into some
foolish situation in one of their unshepherded dissipations. His wife
was an erratic judge of the conventions; he himself was lazy; and with
Katharine absorbed, very naturally--Here he recalled, as well as he
could, the exact nature of the charge. “She has condoned Cassandra’s
conduct and entangled herself with Ralph Denham.” From which it appeared
that Katharine was NOT absorbed, or which of them was it that had
entangled herself with Ralph Denham? From this maze of absurdity Mr.
Hilbery saw no way out until Katharine herself came to his help, so that
he applied himself, very philosophically on the whole, to a book.

No sooner had he heard the young people come in and go upstairs than he
sent a maid to tell Miss Katharine that he wished to speak to her in the
study. She was slipping furs loosely onto the floor in the drawing-room
in front of the fire. They were all gathered round, reluctant to part.
The message from her father surprised Katharine, and the others caught
from her look, as she turned to go, a vague sense of apprehension.

Mr. Hilbery was reassured by the sight of her. He congratulated himself,
he prided himself, upon possessing a daughter who had a sense of
responsibility and an understanding of life profound beyond her years.
Moreover, she was looking to-day unusual; he had come to take her beauty
for granted; now he remembered it and was surprised by it. He thought
instinctively that he had interrupted some happy hour of hers with
Rodney, and apologized.

“I’m sorry to bother you, my dear. I heard you come in, and thought I’d
better make myself disagreeable at once--as it seems, unfortunately,
that fathers are expected to make themselves disagreeable. Now, your
Aunt Celia has been to see me; your Aunt Celia has taken it into her
head apparently that you and Cassandra have been--let us say a
little foolish. This going about together--these pleasant little
parties--there’s been some kind of misunderstanding. I told her I saw no
harm in it, but I should just like to hear from yourself. Has Cassandra
been left a little too much in the company of Mr. Denham?”

Katharine did not reply at once, and Mr. Hilbery tapped the coal
encouragingly with the poker. Then she said, without embarrassment or
apology:

“I don’t see why I should answer Aunt Celia’s questions. I’ve told her
already that I won’t.”

Mr. Hilbery was relieved and secretly amused at the thought of the
interview, although he could not license such irreverence outwardly.

“Very good. Then you authorize me to tell her that she’s been mistaken,
and there was nothing but a little fun in it? You’ve no doubt,
Katharine, in your own mind? Cassandra is in our charge, and I don’t
intend that people should gossip about her. I suggest that you should be
a little more careful in future. Invite me to your next entertainment.”

She did not respond, as he had hoped, with any affectionate or humorous
reply. She meditated, pondering something or other, and he reflected
that even his Katharine did not differ from other women in the capacity
to let things be. Or had she something to say?

“Have you a guilty conscience?” he inquired lightly. “Tell me,
Katharine,” he said more seriously, struck by something in the
expression of her eyes.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you for some time,” she said, “I’m not going
to marry William.”

“You’re not going--!” he exclaimed, dropping the poker in his immense
surprise. “Why? When? Explain yourself, Katharine.”

“Oh, some time ago--a week, perhaps more.” Katharine spoke hurriedly and
indifferently, as if the matter could no longer concern any one.

“But may I ask--why have I not been told of this--what do you mean by
it?”

“We don’t wish to be married--that’s all.”

“This is William’s wish as well as yours?”

“Oh, yes. We agree perfectly.”

Mr. Hilbery had seldom felt more completely at a loss. He thought that
Katharine was treating the matter with curious unconcern; she scarcely
seemed aware of the gravity of what she was saying; he did not
understand the position at all. But his desire to smooth everything over
comfortably came to his relief. No doubt there was some quarrel, some
whimsey on the part of William, who, though a good fellow, was a little
exacting sometimes--something that a woman could put right. But though
he inclined to take the easiest view of his responsibilities, he cared
too much for this daughter to let things be.

“I confess I find great difficulty in following you. I should like to
hear William’s side of the story,” he said irritably. “I think he ought
to have spoken to me in the first instance.”

“I wouldn’t let him,” said Katharine. “I know it must seem to you very
strange,” she added. “But I assure you, if you’d wait a little--until
mother comes back.”

This appeal for delay was much to Mr. Hilbery’s liking. But his
conscience would not suffer it. People were talking. He could not endure
that his daughter’s conduct should be in any way considered irregular.
He wondered whether, in the circumstances, it would be better to wire to
his wife, to send for one of his sisters, to forbid William the
house, to pack Cassandra off home--for he was vaguely conscious of
responsibilities in her direction, too. His forehead was becoming more
and more wrinkled by the multiplicity of his anxieties, which he was
sorely tempted to ask Katharine to solve for him, when the door opened
and William Rodney appeared. This necessitated a complete change, not
only of manner, but of position also.

“Here’s William,” Katharine exclaimed, in a tone of relief. “I’ve told
father we’re not engaged,” she said to him. “I’ve explained that I
prevented you from telling him.”

William’s manner was marked by the utmost formality. He bowed very
slightly in the direction of Mr. Hilbery, and stood erect, holding one
lapel of his coat, and gazing into the center of the fire. He waited for
Mr. Hilbery to speak.

Mr. Hilbery also assumed an appearance of formidable dignity. He had
risen to his feet, and now bent the top part of his body slightly
forward.

“I should like your account of this affair, Rodney--if Katharine no
longer prevents you from speaking.”

William waited two seconds at least.

“Our engagement is at an end,” he said, with the utmost stiffness.

“Has this been arrived at by your joint desire?”

After a perceptible pause William bent his head, and Katharine said, as
if by an afterthought:

“Oh, yes.”

Mr. Hilbery swayed to and fro, and moved his lips as if to utter remarks
which remained unspoken.

“I can only suggest that you should postpone any decision until the
effect of this misunderstanding has had time to wear off. You have now
known each other--” he began.

“There’s been no misunderstanding,” Katharine interposed. “Nothing at
all.” She moved a few paces across the room, as if she intended to
leave them. Her preoccupied naturalness was in strange contrast to her
father’s pomposity and to William’s military rigidity. He had not once
raised his eyes. Katharine’s glance, on the other hand, ranged past the
two gentlemen, along the books, over the tables, towards the door.
She was paying the least possible attention, it seemed, to what was
happening. Her father looked at her with a sudden clouding and troubling
of his expression. Somehow his faith in her stability and sense was
queerly shaken. He no longer felt that he could ultimately entrust her
with the whole conduct of her own affairs after a superficial show of
directing them. He felt, for the first time in many years, responsible
for her.

“Look here, we must get to the bottom of this,” he said, dropping his
formal manner and addressing Rodney as if Katharine were not present.
“You’ve had some difference of opinion, eh? Take my word for it, most
people go through this sort of thing when they’re engaged. I’ve seen
more trouble come from long engagements than from any other form
of human folly. Take my advice and put the whole matter out of your
minds--both of you. I prescribe a complete abstinence from emotion.
Visit some cheerful seaside resort, Rodney.”

He was struck by William’s appearance, which seemed to him to indicate
profound feeling resolutely held in check. No doubt, he reflected,
Katharine had been very trying, unconsciously trying, and had driven
him to take up a position which was none of his willing. Mr. Hilbery
certainly did not overrate William’s sufferings. No minutes in his life
had hitherto extorted from him such intensity of anguish. He was
now facing the consequences of his insanity. He must confess himself
entirely and fundamentally other than Mr. Hilbery thought him.
Everything was against him. Even the Sunday evening and the fire and the
tranquil library scene were against him. Mr. Hilbery’s appeal to him as
a man of the world was terribly against him. He was no longer a man of
any world that Mr. Hilbery cared to recognize. But some power compelled
him, as it had compelled him to come downstairs, to make his stand here
and now, alone and unhelped by any one, without prospect of reward. He
fumbled with various phrases; and then jerked out:

“I love Cassandra.”

Mr. Hilbery’s face turned a curious dull purple. He looked at his
daughter. He nodded his head, as if to convey his silent command to her
to leave the room; but either she did not notice it or preferred not to
obey.

“You have the impudence--” Mr. Hilbery began, in a dull, low voice
that he himself had never heard before, when there was a scuffling and
exclaiming in the hall, and Cassandra, who appeared to be insisting
against some dissuasion on the part of another, burst into the room.

“Uncle Trevor,” she exclaimed, “I insist upon telling you the truth!”
 She flung herself between Rodney and her uncle, as if she sought to
intercept their blows. As her uncle stood perfectly still, looking very
large and imposing, and as nobody spoke, she shrank back a little, and
looked first at Katharine and then at Rodney. “You must know the truth,”
 she said, a little lamely.

“You have the impudence to tell me this in Katharine’s presence?” Mr.
Hilbery continued, speaking with complete disregard of Cassandra’s
interruption.

“I am aware, quite aware--” Rodney’s words, which were broken in sense,
spoken after a pause, and with his eyes upon the ground, nevertheless
expressed an astonishing amount of resolution. “I am quite aware what
you must think of me,” he brought out, looking Mr. Hilbery directly in
the eyes for the first time.

“I could express my views on the subject more fully if we were alone,”
 Mr. Hilbery returned.

“But you forget me,” said Katharine. She moved a little towards Rodney,
and her movement seemed to testify mutely to her respect for him, and
her alliance with him. “I think William has behaved perfectly rightly,
and, after all, it is I who am concerned--I and Cassandra.”

Cassandra, too, gave an indescribably slight movement which seemed to
draw the three of them into alliance together. Katharine’s tone and
glance made Mr. Hilbery once more feel completely at a loss, and in
addition, painfully and angrily obsolete; but in spite of an awful inner
hollowness he was outwardly composed.

“Cassandra and Rodney have a perfect right to settle their own affairs
according to their own wishes; but I see no reason why they should do
so either in my room or in my house.... I wish to be quite clear on this
point, however; you are no longer engaged to Rodney.”

He paused, and his pause seemed to signify that he was extremely
thankful for his daughter’s deliverance.

Cassandra turned to Katharine, who drew her breath as if to speak and
checked herself; Rodney, too, seemed to await some movement on her
part; her father glanced at her as if he half anticipated some further
revelation. She remained perfectly silent. In the silence they heard
distinctly steps descending the staircase, and Katharine went straight
to the door.

“Wait,” Mr. Hilbery commanded. “I wish to speak to you--alone,” he
added.

She paused, holding the door ajar.

“I’ll come back,” she said, and as she spoke she opened the door and
went out. They could hear her immediately speak to some one outside,
though the words were inaudible.

Mr. Hilbery was left confronting the guilty couple, who remained
standing as if they did not accept their dismissal, and the
disappearance of Katharine had brought some change into the situation.
So, in his secret heart, Mr. Hilbery felt that it had, for he could not
explain his daughter’s behavior to his own satisfaction.

“Uncle Trevor,” Cassandra exclaimed impulsively, “don’t be angry,
please. I couldn’t help it; I do beg you to forgive me.”

Her uncle still refused to acknowledge her identity, and still talked
over her head as if she did not exist.

“I suppose you have communicated with the Otways,” he said to Rodney
grimly.

“Uncle Trevor, we wanted to tell you,” Cassandra replied for him. “We
waited--” she looked appealingly at Rodney, who shook his head ever so
slightly.

“Yes? What were you waiting for?” her uncle asked sharply, looking at
her at last.

The words died on her lips. It was apparent that she was straining her
ears as if to catch some sound outside the room that would come to her
help. He received no answer. He listened, too.

“This is a most unpleasant business for all parties,” he concluded,
sinking into his chair again, hunching his shoulders and regarding the
flames. He seemed to speak to himself, and Rodney and Cassandra looked
at him in silence.

“Why don’t you sit down?” he said suddenly. He spoke gruffly, but the
force of his anger was evidently spent, or some preoccupation had turned
his mood to other regions. While Cassandra accepted his invitation,
Rodney remained standing.

“I think Cassandra can explain matters better in my absence,” he said,
and left the room, Mr. Hilbery giving his assent by a slight nod of the
head.

Meanwhile, in the dining-room next door, Denham and Katharine were
once more seated at the mahogany table. They seemed to be continuing a
conversation broken off in the middle, as if each remembered the precise
point at which they had been interrupted, and was eager to go on as
quickly as possible. Katharine, having interposed a short account of the
interview with her father, Denham made no comment, but said:

“Anyhow, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t see each other.”

“Or stay together. It’s only marriage that’s out of the question,”
 Katharine replied.

“But if I find myself coming to want you more and more?”

“If our lapses come more and more often?”

He sighed impatiently, and said nothing for a moment.

“But at least,” he renewed, “we’ve established the fact that my lapses
are still in some odd way connected with you; yours have nothing to do
with me. Katharine,” he added, his assumption of reason broken up by
his agitation, “I assure you that we are in love--what other people
call love. Remember that night. We had no doubts whatever then. We were
absolutely happy for half an hour. You had no lapse until the day after;
I had no lapse until yesterday morning. We’ve been happy at intervals
all day until I--went off my head, and you, quite naturally, were
bored.”

“Ah,” she exclaimed, as if the subject chafed her, “I can’t make you
understand. It’s not boredom--I’m never bored. Reality--reality,” she
ejaculated, tapping her finger upon the table as if to emphasize and
perhaps explain her isolated utterance of this word. “I cease to be real
to you. It’s the faces in a storm again--the vision in a hurricane. We
come together for a moment and we part. It’s my fault, too. I’m as bad
as you are--worse, perhaps.”

They were trying to explain, not for the first time, as their weary
gestures and frequent interruptions showed, what in their common
language they had christened their “lapses”; a constant source of
distress to them, in the past few days, and the immediate reason why
Ralph was on his way to leave the house when Katharine, listening
anxiously, heard him and prevented him. What was the cause of these
lapses? Either because Katharine looked more beautiful, or more strange,
because she wore something different, or said something unexpected,
Ralph’s sense of her romance welled up and overcame him either into
silence or into inarticulate expressions, which Katharine, with
unintentional but invariable perversity, interrupted or contradicted
with some severity or assertion of prosaic fact. Then the vision
disappeared, and Ralph expressed vehemently in his turn the conviction
that he only loved her shadow and cared nothing for her reality. If the
lapse was on her side it took the form of gradual detachment until she
became completely absorbed in her own thoughts, which carried her
away with such intensity that she sharply resented any recall to her
companion’s side. It was useless to assert that these trances were
always originated by Ralph himself, however little in their later stages
they had to do with him. The fact remained that she had no need of him
and was very loath to be reminded of him. How, then, could they be in
love? The fragmentary nature of their relationship was but too apparent.

Thus they sat depressed to silence at the dining-room table, oblivious
of everything, while Rodney paced the drawing-room overhead in such
agitation and exaltation of mind as he had never conceived possible,
and Cassandra remained alone with her uncle. Ralph, at length, rose and
walked gloomily to the window. He pressed close to the pane. Outside
were truth and freedom and the immensity only to be apprehended by
the mind in loneliness, and never communicated to another. What worse
sacrilege was there than to attempt to violate what he perceived by
seeking to impart it? Some movement behind him made him reflect that
Katharine had the power, if she chose, to be in person what he dreamed
of her spirit. He turned sharply to implore her help, when again he was
struck cold by her look of distance, her expression of intentness upon
some far object. As if conscious of his look upon her she rose and came
to him, standing close by his side, and looking with him out into the
dusky atmosphere. Their physical closeness was to him a bitter enough
comment upon the distance between their minds. Yet distant as she
was, her presence by his side transformed the world. He saw himself
performing wonderful deeds of courage; saving the drowning, rescuing the
forlorn. Impatient with this form of egotism, he could not shake off
the conviction that somehow life was wonderful, romantic, a master
worth serving so long as she stood there. He had no wish that she should
speak; he did not look at her or touch her; she was apparently deep in
her own thoughts and oblivious of his presence.

The door opened without their hearing the sound. Mr. Hilbery looked
round the room, and for a moment failed to discover the two figures in
the window. He started with displeasure when he saw them, and observed
them keenly before he appeared able to make up his mind to say anything.
He made a movement finally that warned them of his presence; they turned
instantly. Without speaking, he beckoned to Katharine to come to him,
and, keeping his eyes from the region of the room where Denham stood,
he shepherded her in front of him back to the study. When Katharine was
inside the room he shut the study door carefully behind him as if to
secure himself from something that he disliked.

“Now, Katharine,” he said, taking up his stand in front of the fire,
“you will, perhaps, have the kindness to explain--” She remained silent.
“What inferences do you expect me to draw?” he said sharply.... “You
tell me that you are not engaged to Rodney; I see you on what appear to
be extremely intimate terms with another--with Ralph Denham. What am I
to conclude? Are you,” he added, as she still said nothing, “engaged to
Ralph Denham?”

“No,” she replied.

His sense of relief was great; he had been certain that her answer would
have confirmed his suspicions, but that anxiety being set at rest, he
was the more conscious of annoyance with her for her behavior.

“Then all I can say is that you’ve very strange ideas of the proper
way to behave.... People have drawn certain conclusions, nor am I
surprised.... The more I think of it the more inexplicable I find it,”
 he went on, his anger rising as he spoke. “Why am I left in ignorance of
what is going on in my own house? Why am I left to hear of these events
for the first time from my sister? Most disagreeable--most upsetting.
How I’m to explain to your Uncle Francis--but I wash my hands of it.
Cassandra goes tomorrow. I forbid Rodney the house. As for the other
young man, the sooner he makes himself scarce the better. After placing
the most implicit trust in you, Katharine--” He broke off, disquieted
by the ominous silence with which his words were received, and looked at
his daughter with the curious doubt as to her state of mind which he had
felt before, for the first time, this evening. He perceived once more
that she was not attending to what he said, but was listening, and for a
moment he, too, listened for sounds outside the room. His certainty that
there was some understanding between Denham and Katharine returned, but
with a most unpleasant suspicion that there was something illicit about
it, as the whole position between the young people seemed to him gravely
illicit.

“I’ll speak to Denham,” he said, on the impulse of his suspicion, moving
as if to go.

“I shall come with you,” Katharine said instantly, starting forward.

“You will stay here,” said her father.

“What are you going to say to him?” she asked.

“I suppose I may say what I like in my own house?” he returned.

“Then I go, too,” she replied.

At these words, which seemed to imply a determination to go--to go for
ever, Mr. Hilbery returned to his position in front of the fire, and
began swaying slightly from side to side without for the moment making
any remark.

“I understood you to say that you were not engaged to him,” he said at
length, fixing his eyes upon his daughter.

“We are not engaged,” she said.

“It should be a matter of indifference to you, then, whether he comes
here or not--I will not have you listening to other things when I am
speaking to you!” he broke off angrily, perceiving a slight movement on
her part to one side. “Answer me frankly, what is your relationship with
this young man?”

“Nothing that I can explain to a third person,” she said obstinately.

“I will have no more of these equivocations,” he replied.

“I refuse to explain,” she returned, and as she said it the front door
banged to. “There!” she exclaimed. “He is gone!” She flashed such a look
of fiery indignation at her father that he lost his self-control for a
moment.

“For God’s sake, Katharine, control yourself!” he cried.

She looked for a moment like a wild animal caged in a civilized
dwelling-place. She glanced over the walls covered with books, as if for
a second she had forgotten the position of the door. Then she made as if
to go, but her father laid his hand upon her shoulder. He compelled her
to sit down.

“These emotions have been very upsetting, naturally,” he said. His
manner had regained all its suavity, and he spoke with a soothing
assumption of paternal authority. “You’ve been placed in a very
difficult position, as I understand from Cassandra. Now let us come to
terms; we will leave these agitating questions in peace for the present.
Meanwhile, let us try to behave like civilized beings. Let us read Sir
Walter Scott. What d’you say to ‘The Antiquary,’ eh? Or ‘The Bride of
Lammermoor’?”

He made his own choice, and before his daughter could protest or make
her escape, she found herself being turned by the agency of Sir Walter
Scott into a civilized human being.

Yet Mr. Hilbery had grave doubts, as he read, whether the process
was more than skin-deep. Civilization had been very profoundly and
unpleasantly overthrown that evening; the extent of the ruin was still
undetermined; he had lost his temper, a physical disaster not to be
matched for the space of ten years or so; and his own condition urgently
required soothing and renovating at the hands of the classics. His house
was in a state of revolution; he had a vision of unpleasant encounters
on the staircase; his meals would be poisoned for days to come; was
literature itself a specific against such disagreeables? A note of
hollowness was in his voice as he read.



CHAPTER XXXIII

Considering that Mr. Hilbery lived in a house which was accurately
numbered in order with its fellows, and that he filled up forms, paid
rent, and had seven more years of tenancy to run, he had an excuse for
laying down laws for the conduct of those who lived in his house, and
this excuse, though profoundly inadequate, he found useful during the
interregnum of civilization with which he now found himself faced. In
obedience to those laws, Rodney disappeared; Cassandra was dispatched to
catch the eleven-thirty on Monday morning; Denham was seen no more; so
that only Katharine, the lawful occupant of the upper rooms, remained,
and Mr. Hilbery thought himself competent to see that she did nothing
further to compromise herself. As he bade her good morning next day
he was aware that he knew nothing of what she was thinking, but, as
he reflected with some bitterness, even this was an advance upon the
ignorance of the previous mornings. He went to his study, wrote, tore
up, and wrote again a letter to his wife, asking her to come back on
account of domestic difficulties which he specified at first, but in a
later draft more discreetly left unspecified. Even if she started the
very moment that she got it, he reflected, she would not be home till
Tuesday night, and he counted lugubriously the number of hours that he
would have to spend in a position of detestable authority alone with his
daughter.

What was she doing now, he wondered, as he addressed the envelope to his
wife. He could not control the telephone. He could not play the spy.
She might be making any arrangements she chose. Yet the thought did not
disturb him so much as the strange, unpleasant, illicit atmosphere of
the whole scene with the young people the night before. His sense of
discomfort was almost physical.

Had he known it, Katharine was far enough withdrawn, both physically
and spiritually, from the telephone. She sat in her room with the
dictionaries spreading their wide leaves on the table before her, and
all the pages which they had concealed for so many years arranged in a
pile. She worked with the steady concentration that is produced by
the successful effort to think down some unwelcome thought by means of
another thought. Having absorbed the unwelcome thought, her mind went
on with additional vigor, derived from the victory; on a sheet of paper
lines of figures and symbols frequently and firmly written down marked
the different stages of its progress. And yet it was broad daylight;
there were sounds of knocking and sweeping, which proved that living
people were at work on the other side of the door, and the door, which
could be thrown open in a second, was her only protection against the
world. But she had somehow risen to be mistress in her own kingdom,
assuming her sovereignty unconsciously.

Steps approached her unheard. It is true that they were steps that
lingered, divagated, and mounted with the deliberation natural to one
past sixty whose arms, moreover, are full of leaves and blossoms; but
they came on steadily, and soon a tap of laurel boughs against the door
arrested Katharine’s pencil as it touched the page. She did not move,
however, and sat blank-eyed as if waiting for the interruption to cease.
Instead, the door opened. At first, she attached no meaning to the
moving mass of green which seemed to enter the room independently of any
human agency. Then she recognized parts of her mother’s face and person
behind the yellow flowers and soft velvet of the palm-buds.

“From Shakespeare’s tomb!” exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery, dropping the entire
mass upon the floor, with a gesture that seemed to indicate an act of
dedication. Then she flung her arms wide and embraced her daughter.

“Thank God, Katharine!” she exclaimed. “Thank God!” she repeated.

“You’ve come back?” said Katharine, very vaguely, standing up to receive
the embrace.

Although she recognized her mother’s presence, she was very far from
taking part in the scene, and yet felt it to be amazingly appropriate
that her mother should be there, thanking God emphatically for
unknown blessings, and strewing the floor with flowers and leaves from
Shakespeare’s tomb.

“Nothing else matters in the world!” Mrs. Hilbery continued. “Names
aren’t everything; it’s what we feel that’s everything. I didn’t want
silly, kind, interfering letters. I didn’t want your father to tell me.
I knew it from the first. I prayed that it might be so.”

“You knew it?” Katharine repeated her mother’s words softly and vaguely,
looking past her. “How did you know it?” She began, like a child, to
finger a tassel hanging from her mother’s cloak.

“The first evening you told me, Katharine. Oh, and thousands of
times--dinner-parties--talking about books--the way he came into the
room--your voice when you spoke of him.”

Katharine seemed to consider each of these proofs separately. Then she
said gravely:

“I’m not going to marry William. And then there’s Cassandra--”

“Yes, there’s Cassandra,” said Mrs. Hilbery. “I own I was a little
grudging at first, but, after all, she plays the piano so beautifully.
Do tell me, Katharine,” she asked impulsively, “where did you go that
evening she played Mozart, and you thought I was asleep?”

Katharine recollected with difficulty.

“To Mary Datchet’s,” she remembered.

“Ah!” said Mrs. Hilbery, with a slight note of disappointment in her
voice. “I had my little romance--my little speculation.” She looked at
her daughter. Katharine faltered beneath that innocent and penetrating
gaze; she flushed, turned away, and then looked up with very bright
eyes.

“I’m not in love with Ralph Denham,” she said.

“Don’t marry unless you’re in love!” said Mrs. Hilbery very quickly.
“But,” she added, glancing momentarily at her daughter, “aren’t there
different ways, Katharine--different--?”

“We want to meet as often as we like, but to be free,” Katharine
continued.

“To meet here, to meet in his house, to meet in the street.” Mrs.
Hilbery ran over these phrases as if she were trying chords that did
not quite satisfy her ear. It was plain that she had her sources of
information, and, indeed, her bag was stuffed with what she called “kind
letters” from the pen of her sister-in-law.

“Yes. Or to stay away in the country,” Katharine concluded.

Mrs. Hilbery paused, looked unhappy, and sought inspiration from the
window.

“What a comfort he was in that shop--how he took me and found the ruins
at once--how SAFE I felt with him--”

“Safe? Oh, no, he’s fearfully rash--he’s always taking risks. He wants
to throw up his profession and live in a little cottage and write books,
though he hasn’t a penny of his own, and there are any number of sisters
and brothers dependent on him.”

“Ah, he has a mother?” Mrs. Hilbery inquired.

“Yes. Rather a fine-looking old lady, with white hair.” Katharine began
to describe her visit, and soon Mrs. Hilbery elicited the facts that not
only was the house of excruciating ugliness, which Ralph bore without
complaint, but that it was evident that every one depended on him,
and he had a room at the top of the house, with a wonderful view over
London, and a rook.

“A wretched old bird in a corner, with half its feathers out,” she said,
with a tenderness in her voice that seemed to commiserate the sufferings
of humanity while resting assured in the capacity of Ralph Denham to
alleviate them, so that Mrs. Hilbery could not help exclaiming:

“But, Katharine, you ARE in love!” at which Katharine flushed, looked
startled, as if she had said something that she ought not to have said,
and shook her head.

Hastily Mrs. Hilbery asked for further details of this extraordinary
house, and interposed a few speculations about the meeting between Keats
and Coleridge in a lane, which tided over the discomfort of the moment,
and drew Katharine on to further descriptions and indiscretions. In
truth, she found an extraordinary pleasure in being thus free to talk to
some one who was equally wise and equally benignant, the mother of her
earliest childhood, whose silence seemed to answer questions that were
never asked. Mrs. Hilbery listened without making any remark for a
considerable time. She seemed to draw her conclusions rather by looking
at her daughter than by listening to her, and, if cross-examined, she
would probably have given a highly inaccurate version of Ralph Denham’s
life-history except that he was penniless, fatherless, and lived at
Highgate--all of which was much in his favor. But by means of these
furtive glances she had assured herself that Katharine was in a state
which gave her, alternately, the most exquisite pleasure and the most
profound alarm.

She could not help ejaculating at last:

“It’s all done in five minutes at a Registry Office nowadays, if you
think the Church service a little florid--which it is, though there are
noble things in it.”

“But we don’t want to be married,” Katharine replied emphatically, and
added, “Why, after all, isn’t it perfectly possible to live together
without being married?”

Again Mrs. Hilbery looked discomposed, and, in her trouble, took up the
sheets which were lying upon the table, and began turning them over this
way and that, and muttering to herself as she glanced:

“A plus B minus C equals ‘x y z’. It’s so dreadfully ugly, Katharine.
That’s what I feel--so dreadfully ugly.”

Katharine took the sheets from her mother’s hand and began shuffling
them absent-mindedly together, for her fixed gaze seemed to show that
her thoughts were intent upon some other matter.

“Well, I don’t know about ugliness,” she said at length.

“But he doesn’t ask it of you?” Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed. “Not that grave
young man with the steady brown eyes?”

“He doesn’t ask anything--we neither of us ask anything.”

“If I could help you, Katharine, by the memory of what I felt--”

“Yes, tell me what you felt.”

Mrs. Hilbery, her eyes growing blank, peered down the enormously long
corridor of days at the far end of which the little figures of herself
and her husband appeared fantastically attired, clasping hands upon a
moonlit beach, with roses swinging in the dusk.

“We were in a little boat going out to a ship at night,” she began. “The
sun had set and the moon was rising over our heads. There were lovely
silver lights upon the waves and three green lights upon the steamer in
the middle of the bay. Your father’s head looked so grand against the
mast. It was life, it was death. The great sea was round us. It was the
voyage for ever and ever.”

The ancient fairy-tale fell roundly and harmoniously upon Katharine’s
ears. Yes, there was the enormous space of the sea; there were the three
green lights upon the steamer; the cloaked figures climbed up on deck.
And so, voyaging over the green and purple waters, past the cliffs and
the sandy lagoons and through pools crowded with the masts of ships
and the steeples of churches--here they were. The river seemed to have
brought them and deposited them here at this precise point. She looked
admiringly at her mother, that ancient voyager.

“Who knows,” exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery, continuing her reveries, “where we
are bound for, or why, or who has sent us, or what we shall find--who
knows anything, except that love is our faith--love--” she crooned, and
the soft sound beating through the dim words was heard by her daughter
as the breaking of waves solemnly in order upon the vast shore that she
gazed upon. She would have been content for her mother to repeat that
word almost indefinitely--a soothing word when uttered by another, a
riveting together of the shattered fragments of the world. But Mrs.
Hilbery, instead of repeating the word love, said pleadingly:

“And you won’t think those ugly thoughts again, will you, Katharine?” at
which words the ship which Katharine had been considering seemed to put
into harbor and have done with its seafaring. Yet she was in great need,
if not exactly of sympathy, of some form of advice, or, at least, of the
opportunity of setting forth her problems before a third person so as to
renew them in her own eyes.

“But then,” she said, ignoring the difficult problem of ugliness, “you
knew you were in love; but we’re different. It seems,” she continued,
frowning a little as she tried to fix the difficult feeling, “as if
something came to an end suddenly--gave out--faded--an illusion--as
if when we think we’re in love we make it up--we imagine what doesn’t
exist. That’s why it’s impossible that we should ever marry. Always to
be finding the other an illusion, and going off and forgetting about
them, never to be certain that you cared, or that he wasn’t caring for
some one not you at all, the horror of changing from one state to the
other, being happy one moment and miserable the next--that’s the reason
why we can’t possibly marry. At the same time,” she continued, “we can’t
live without each other, because--” Mrs. Hilbery waited patiently for
the sentence to be completed, but Katharine fell silent and fingered her
sheet of figures.

“We have to have faith in our vision,” Mrs. Hilbery resumed, glancing
at the figures, which distressed her vaguely, and had some connection in
her mind with the household accounts, “otherwise, as you say--” She
cast a lightning glance into the depths of disillusionment which were,
perhaps, not altogether unknown to her.

“Believe me, Katharine, it’s the same for every one--for me, too--for
your father,” she said earnestly, and sighed. They looked together into
the abyss and, as the elder of the two, she recovered herself first and
asked:

“But where is Ralph? Why isn’t he here to see me?”

Katharine’s expression changed instantly.

“Because he’s not allowed to come here,” she replied bitterly.

Mrs. Hilbery brushed this aside.

“Would there be time to send for him before luncheon?” she asked.

Katharine looked at her as if, indeed, she were some magician. Once
more she felt that instead of being a grown woman, used to advise and
command, she was only a foot or two raised above the long grass and the
little flowers and entirely dependent upon the figure of indefinite size
whose head went up into the sky, whose hand was in hers, for guidance.

“I’m not happy without him,” she said simply.

Mrs. Hilbery nodded her head in a manner which indicated complete
understanding, and the immediate conception of certain plans for the
future. She swept up her flowers, breathed in their sweetness, and,
humming a little song about a miller’s daughter, left the room.

The case upon which Ralph Denham was engaged that afternoon was not
apparently receiving his full attention, and yet the affairs of the late
John Leake of Dublin were sufficiently confused to need all the care
that a solicitor could bestow upon them, if the widow Leake and the five
Leake children of tender age were to receive any pittance at all. But
the appeal to Ralph’s humanity had little chance of being heard to-day;
he was no longer a model of concentration. The partition so carefully
erected between the different sections of his life had been broken down,
with the result that though his eyes were fixed upon the last Will and
Testament, he saw through the page a certain drawing-room in Cheyne
Walk.

He tried every device that had proved effective in the past for keeping
up the partitions of the mind, until he could decently go home; but a
little to his alarm he found himself assailed so persistently, as if
from outside, by Katharine, that he launched forth desperately into an
imaginary interview with her. She obliterated a bookcase full of law
reports, and the corners and lines of the room underwent a curious
softening of outline like that which sometimes makes a room unfamiliar
at the moment of waking from sleep. By degrees, a pulse or stress began
to beat at regular intervals in his mind, heaping his thoughts into
waves to which words fitted themselves, and without much consciousness
of what he was doing, he began to write on a sheet of draft paper what
had the appearance of a poem lacking several words in each line. Not
many lines had been set down, however, before he threw away his pen as
violently as if that were responsible for his misdeeds, and tore the
paper into many separate pieces. This was a sign that Katharine
had asserted herself and put to him a remark that could not be met
poetically. Her remark was entirely destructive of poetry, since it was
to the effect that poetry had nothing whatever to do with her; all
her friends spent their lives in making up phrases, she said; all his
feeling was an illusion, and next moment, as if to taunt him with his
impotence, she had sunk into one of those dreamy states which took no
account whatever of his existence. Ralph was roused by his passionate
attempts to attract her attention to the fact that he was standing
in the middle of his little private room in Lincoln’s Inn Fields at a
considerable distance from Chelsea. The physical distance increased his
desperation. He began pacing in circles until the process sickened him,
and then took a sheet of paper for the composition of a letter which, he
vowed before he began it, should be sent that same evening.

It was a difficult matter to put into words; poetry would have done it
better justice, but he must abstain from poetry. In an infinite number
of half-obliterated scratches he tried to convey to her the possibility
that although human beings are woefully ill-adapted for communication,
still, such communion is the best we know; moreover, they make it
possible for each to have access to another world independent of
personal affairs, a world of law, of philosophy, or more strangely a
world such as he had had a glimpse of the other evening when together
they seemed to be sharing something, creating something, an ideal--a
vision flung out in advance of our actual circumstances. If this golden
rim were quenched, if life were no longer circled by an illusion (but
was it an illusion after all?), then it would be too dismal an affair
to carry to an end; so he wrote with a sudden spurt of conviction which
made clear way for a space and left at least one sentence standing
whole. Making every allowance for other desires, on the whole this
conclusion appeared to him to justify their relationship. But the
conclusion was mystical; it plunged him into thought. The difficulty
with which even this amount was written, the inadequacy of the words,
and the need of writing under them and over them others which, after
all, did no better, led him to leave off before he was at all satisfied
with his production, and unable to resist the conviction that such
rambling would never be fit for Katharine’s eye. He felt himself more
cut off from her than ever. In idleness, and because he could do nothing
further with words, he began to draw little figures in the blank spaces,
heads meant to resemble her head, blots fringed with flames meant to
represent--perhaps the entire universe. From this occupation he was
roused by the message that a lady wished to speak to him. He had
scarcely time to run his hands through his hair in order to look as much
like a solicitor as possible, and to cram his papers into his pocket,
already overcome with shame that another eye should behold them, when he
realized that his preparations were needless. The lady was Mrs. Hilbery.

“I hope you’re not disposing of somebody’s fortune in a hurry,” she
remarked, gazing at the documents on his table, “or cutting off an
entail at one blow, because I want to ask you to do me a favor. And
Anderson won’t keep his horse waiting. (Anderson is a perfect tyrant,
but he drove my dear father to the Abbey the day they buried him.) I
made bold to come to you, Mr. Denham, not exactly in search of legal
assistance (though I don’t know who I’d rather come to, if I were in
trouble), but in order to ask your help in settling some tiresome
little domestic affairs that have arisen in my absence. I’ve been to
Stratford-on-Avon (I must tell you all about that one of these days),
and there I got a letter from my sister-in-law, a dear kind goose who
likes interfering with other people’s children because she’s got none of
her own. (We’re dreadfully afraid that she’s going to lose the sight of
one of her eyes, and I always feel that our physical ailments are so apt
to turn into mental ailments. I think Matthew Arnold says something of
the same kind about Lord Byron.) But that’s neither here nor there.”

The effect of these parentheses, whether they were introduced for that
purpose or represented a natural instinct on Mrs. Hilbery’s part to
embellish the bareness of her discourse, gave Ralph time to perceive
that she possessed all the facts of their situation and was come,
somehow, in the capacity of ambassador.

“I didn’t come here to talk about Lord Byron,” Mrs. Hilbery continued,
with a little laugh, “though I know that both you and Katharine, unlike
other young people of your generation, still find him worth reading.”
 She paused. “I’m so glad you’ve made Katharine read poetry, Mr. Denham!”
 she exclaimed, “and feel poetry, and look poetry! She can’t talk it yet,
but she will--oh, she will!”

Ralph, whose hand was grasped and whose tongue almost refused to
articulate, somehow contrived to say that there were moments when he
felt hopeless, utterly hopeless, though he gave no reason for this
statement on his part.

“But you care for her?” Mrs. Hilbery inquired.

“Good God!” he exclaimed, with a vehemence which admitted of no
question.

“It’s the Church of England service you both object to?” Mrs. Hilbery
inquired innocently.

“I don’t care a damn what service it is,” Ralph replied.

“You would marry her in Westminster Abbey if the worst came to the
worst?” Mrs. Hilbery inquired.

“I would marry her in St. Paul’s Cathedral,” Ralph replied. His doubts
upon this point, which were always roused by Katharine’s presence, had
vanished completely, and his strongest wish in the world was to be with
her immediately, since every second he was away from her he imagined her
slipping farther and farther from him into one of those states of mind
in which he was unrepresented. He wished to dominate her, to possess
her.

“Thank God!” exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery. She thanked Him for a variety of
blessings: for the conviction with which the young man spoke; and not
least for the prospect that on her daughter’s wedding-day the noble
cadences, the stately periods, the ancient eloquence of the marriage
service would resound over the heads of a distinguished congregation
gathered together near the very spot where her father lay quiescent
with the other poets of England. The tears filled her eyes; but she
remembered simultaneously that her carriage was waiting, and with dim
eyes she walked to the door. Denham followed her downstairs.

It was a strange drive. For Denham it was without exception the most
unpleasant he had ever taken. His only wish was to go as straightly
and quickly as possible to Cheyne Walk; but it soon appeared that
Mrs. Hilbery either ignored or thought fit to baffle this desire by
interposing various errands of her own. She stopped the carriage at
post-offices, and coffee-shops, and shops of inscrutable dignity where
the aged attendants had to be greeted as old friends; and, catching
sight of the dome of St. Paul’s above the irregular spires of Ludgate
Hill, she pulled the cord impulsively, and gave directions that Anderson
should drive them there. But Anderson had reasons of his own for
discouraging afternoon worship, and kept his horse’s nose obstinately
towards the west. After some minutes, Mrs. Hilbery realized the
situation, and accepted it good-humoredly, apologizing to Ralph for his
disappointment.

“Never mind,” she said, “we’ll go to St. Paul’s another day, and it may
turn out, though I can’t promise that it WILL, that he’ll take us past
Westminster Abbey, which would be even better.”

Ralph was scarcely aware of what she went on to say. Her mind and body
both seemed to have floated into another region of quick-sailing
clouds rapidly passing across each other and enveloping everything in
a vaporous indistinctness. Meanwhile he remained conscious of his own
concentrated desire, his impotence to bring about anything he wished,
and his increasing agony of impatience.

Suddenly Mrs. Hilbery pulled the cord with such decision that even
Anderson had to listen to the order which she leant out of the window
to give him. The carriage pulled up abruptly in the middle of Whitehall
before a large building dedicated to one of our Government offices. In
a second Mrs. Hilbery was mounting the steps, and Ralph was left in too
acute an irritation by this further delay even to speculate what errand
took her now to the Board of Education. He was about to jump from the
carriage and take a cab, when Mrs. Hilbery reappeared talking genially
to a figure who remained hidden behind her.

“There’s plenty of room for us all,” she was saying. “Plenty of room. We
could find space for FOUR of you, William,” she added, opening the door,
and Ralph found that Rodney had now joined their company. The two men
glanced at each other. If distress, shame, discomfort in its most acute
form were ever visible upon a human face, Ralph could read them all
expressed beyond the eloquence of words upon the face of his unfortunate
companion. But Mrs. Hilbery was either completely unseeing or determined
to appear so. She went on talking; she talked, it seemed to both
the young men, to some one outside, up in the air. She talked about
Shakespeare, she apostrophized the human race, she proclaimed the
virtues of divine poetry, she began to recite verses which broke down
in the middle. The great advantage of her discourse was that it was
self-supporting. It nourished itself until Cheyne Walk was reached upon
half a dozen grunts and murmurs.

“Now,” she said, alighting briskly at her door, “here we are!”

There was something airy and ironical in her voice and expression as she
turned upon the doorstep and looked at them, which filled both Rodney
and Denham with the same misgivings at having trusted their fortunes to
such an ambassador; and Rodney actually hesitated upon the threshold and
murmured to Denham:

“You go in, Denham. I...” He was turning tail, but the door opening and
the familiar look of the house asserting its charm, he bolted in on the
wake of the others, and the door shut upon his escape. Mrs. Hilbery led
the way upstairs. She took them to the drawing-room. The fire burnt
as usual, the little tables were laid with china and silver. There was
nobody there.

“Ah,” she said, “Katharine’s not here. She must be upstairs in her room.
You have something to say to her, I know, Mr. Denham. You can find your
way?” she vaguely indicated the ceiling with a gesture of her hand. She
had become suddenly serious and composed, mistress in her own house.
The gesture with which she dismissed him had a dignity that Ralph never
forgot. She seemed to make him free with a wave of her hand to all that
she possessed. He left the room.

The Hilberys’ house was tall, possessing many stories and passages with
closed doors, all, once he had passed the drawing-room floor, unknown to
Ralph. He mounted as high as he could and knocked at the first door he
came to.

“May I come in?” he asked.

A voice from within answered “Yes.”

He was conscious of a large window, full of light, of a bare table, and
of a long looking-glass. Katharine had risen, and was standing with some
white papers in her hand, which slowly fluttered to the ground as
she saw her visitor. The explanation was a short one. The sounds were
inarticulate; no one could have understood the meaning save themselves.
As if the forces of the world were all at work to tear them asunder they
sat, clasping hands, near enough to be taken even by the malicious eye
of Time himself for a united couple, an indivisible unit.

“Don’t move, don’t go,” she begged of him, when he stooped to gather the
papers she had let fall. But he took them in his hands and, giving her
by a sudden impulse his own unfinished dissertation, with its mystical
conclusion, they read each other’s compositions in silence.

Katharine read his sheets to an end; Ralph followed her figures as far
as his mathematics would let him. They came to the end of their tasks at
about the same moment, and sat for a time in silence.

“Those were the papers you left on the seat at Kew,” said Ralph at
length. “You folded them so quickly that I couldn’t see what they were.”

She blushed very deeply; but as she did not move or attempt to hide her
face she had the appearance of some one disarmed of all defences, or
Ralph likened her to a wild bird just settling with wings trembling to
fold themselves within reach of his hand. The moment of exposure had
been exquisitely painful--the light shed startlingly vivid. She had
now to get used to the fact that some one shared her loneliness. The
bewilderment was half shame and half the prelude to profound rejoicing.
Nor was she unconscious that on the surface the whole thing must appear
of the utmost absurdity. She looked to see whether Ralph smiled, but
found his gaze fixed on her with such gravity that she turned to the
belief that she had committed no sacrilege but enriched herself, perhaps
immeasurably, perhaps eternally. She hardly dared steep herself in the
infinite bliss. But his glance seemed to ask for some assurance upon
another point of vital interest to him. It beseeched her mutely to tell
him whether what she had read upon his confused sheet had any meaning or
truth to her. She bent her head once more to the papers she held.

“I like your little dot with the flames round it,” she said
meditatively.

Ralph nearly tore the page from her hand in shame and despair when he
saw her actually contemplating the idiotic symbol of his most confused
and emotional moments.

He was convinced that it could mean nothing to another, although somehow
to him it conveyed not only Katharine herself but all those states of
mind which had clustered round her since he first saw her pouring
out tea on a Sunday afternoon. It represented by its circumference of
smudges surrounding a central blot all that encircling glow which for
him surrounded, inexplicably, so many of the objects of life, softening
their sharp outline, so that he could see certain streets, books, and
situations wearing a halo almost perceptible to the physical eye. Did
she smile? Did she put the paper down wearily, condemning it not only
for its inadequacy but for its falsity? Was she going to protest once
more that he only loved the vision of her? But it did not occur to her
that this diagram had anything to do with her. She said simply, and in
the same tone of reflection:

“Yes, the world looks something like that to me too.”

He received her assurance with profound joy. Quietly and steadily there
rose up behind the whole aspect of life that soft edge of fire which
gave its red tint to the atmosphere and crowded the scene with shadows
so deep and dark that one could fancy pushing farther into their
density and still farther, exploring indefinitely. Whether there was any
correspondence between the two prospects now opening before them
they shared the same sense of the impending future, vast, mysterious,
infinitely stored with undeveloped shapes which each would unwrap for
the other to behold; but for the present the prospect of the future was
enough to fill them with silent adoration. At any rate, their further
attempts to communicate articulately were interrupted by a knock on
the door, and the entrance of a maid who, with a due sense of mystery,
announced that a lady wished to see Miss Hilbery, but refused to allow
her name to be given.

When Katharine rose, with a profound sigh, to resume her duties, Ralph
went with her, and neither of them formulated any guess, on their way
downstairs, as to who this anonymous lady might prove to be. Perhaps the
fantastic notion that she was a little black hunchback provided with a
steel knife, which she would plunge into Katharine’s heart, appeared
to Ralph more probable than another, and he pushed first into the
dining-room to avert the blow. Then he exclaimed “Cassandra!” with such
heartiness at the sight of Cassandra Otway standing by the dining-room
table that she put her finger to her lips and begged him to be quiet.

“Nobody must know I’m here,” she explained in a sepulchral whisper. “I
missed my train. I have been wandering about London all day. I can bear
it no longer. Katharine, what am I to do?”

Katharine pushed forward a chair; Ralph hastily found wine and poured it
out for her. If not actually fainting, she was very near it.

“William’s upstairs,” said Ralph, as soon as she appeared to be
recovered. “I’ll go and ask him to come down to you.” His own happiness
had given him a confidence that every one else was bound to be happy
too. But Cassandra had her uncle’s commands and anger too vividly in her
mind to dare any such defiance. She became agitated and said that she
must leave the house at once. She was not in a condition to go, had they
known where to send her. Katharine’s common sense, which had been in
abeyance for the past week or two, still failed her, and she could
only ask, “But where’s your luggage?” in the vague belief that to take
lodgings depended entirely upon a sufficiency of luggage. Cassandra’s
reply, “I’ve lost my luggage,” in no way helped her to a conclusion.

“You’ve lost your luggage,” she repeated. Her eyes rested upon Ralph,
with an expression which seemed better fitted to accompany a profound
thanksgiving for his existence or some vow of eternal devotion than a
question about luggage. Cassandra perceived the look, and saw that it
was returned; her eyes filled with tears. She faltered in what she was
saying. She began bravely again to discuss the question of lodging when
Katharine, who seemed to have communicated silently with Ralph, and
obtained his permission, took her ruby ring from her finger and
giving it to Cassandra, said: “I believe it will fit you without any
alteration.”

These words would not have been enough to convince Cassandra of what she
very much wished to believe had not Ralph taken the bare hand in his and
demanded:

“Why don’t you tell us you’re glad?” Cassandra was so glad that the
tears ran down her cheeks. The certainty of Katharine’s engagement not
only relieved her of a thousand vague fears and self-reproaches, but
entirely quenched that spirit of criticism which had lately impaired
her belief in Katharine. Her old faith came back to her. She seemed to
behold her with that curious intensity which she had lost; as a being
who walks just beyond our sphere, so that life in their presence is a
heightened process, illuminating not only ourselves but a considerable
stretch of the surrounding world. Next moment she contrasted her own lot
with theirs and gave back the ring.

“I won’t take that unless William gives it me himself,” she said. “Keep
it for me, Katharine.”

“I assure you everything’s perfectly all right,” said Ralph. “Let me
tell William--”

He was about, in spite of Cassandra’s protest, to reach the door, when
Mrs. Hilbery, either warned by the parlor-maid or conscious with her
usual prescience of the need for her intervention, opened the door and
smilingly surveyed them.

“My dear Cassandra!” she exclaimed. “How delightful to see you back
again! What a coincidence!” she observed, in a general way. “William is
upstairs. The kettle boils over. Where’s Katharine, I say? I go to look,
and I find Cassandra!” She seemed to have proved something to her own
satisfaction, although nobody felt certain what thing precisely it was.

“I find Cassandra,” she repeated.

“She missed her train,” Katharine interposed, seeing that Cassandra was
unable to speak.

“Life,” began Mrs. Hilbery, drawing inspiration from the portraits on
the wall apparently, “consists in missing trains and in finding--” But
she pulled herself up and remarked that the kettle must have boiled
completely over everything.

To Katharine’s agitated mind it appeared that this kettle was an
enormous kettle, capable of deluging the house in its incessant showers
of steam, the enraged representative of all those household duties which
she had neglected. She ran hastily up to the drawing-room, and the rest
followed her, for Mrs. Hilbery put her arm round Cassandra and drew her
upstairs. They found Rodney observing the kettle with uneasiness but
with such absence of mind that Katharine’s catastrophe was in a fair
way to be fulfilled. In putting the matter straight no greetings
were exchanged, but Rodney and Cassandra chose seats as far apart as
possible, and sat down with an air of people making a very temporary
lodgment. Either Mrs. Hilbery was impervious to their discomfort,
or chose to ignore it, or thought it high time that the subject was
changed, for she did nothing but talk about Shakespeare’s tomb.

“So much earth and so much water and that sublime spirit brooding over
it all,” she mused, and went on to sing her strange, half-earthly song
of dawns and sunsets, of great poets, and the unchanged spirit of noble
loving which they had taught, so that nothing changes, and one age is
linked with another, and no one dies, and we all meet in spirit, until
she appeared oblivious of any one in the room. But suddenly her remarks
seemed to contract the enormously wide circle in which they were soaring
and to alight, airily and temporarily, upon matters of more immediate
moment.

“Katharine and Ralph,” she said, as if to try the sound. “William and
Cassandra.”

“I feel myself in an entirely false position,” said William desperately,
thrusting himself into this breach in her reflections. “I’ve no right to
be sitting here. Mr. Hilbery told me yesterday to leave the house. I’d
no intention of coming back again. I shall now--”

“I feel the same too,” Cassandra interrupted. “After what Uncle Trevor
said to me last night--”

“I have put you into a most odious position,” Rodney went on, rising
from his seat, in which movement he was imitated simultaneously by
Cassandra. “Until I have your father’s consent I have no right to
speak to you--let alone in this house, where my conduct”--he looked
at Katharine, stammered, and fell silent--“where my conduct has been
reprehensible and inexcusable in the extreme,” he forced himself
to continue. “I have explained everything to your mother. She is so
generous as to try and make me believe that I have done no harm--you
have convinced her that my behavior, selfish and weak as it was--selfish
and weak--” he repeated, like a speaker who has lost his notes.

Two emotions seemed to be struggling in Katharine; one the desire to
laugh at the ridiculous spectacle of William making her a formal
speech across the tea-table, the other a desire to weep at the sight of
something childlike and honest in him which touched her inexpressibly.
To every one’s surprise she rose, stretched out her hand, and said:

“You’ve nothing to reproach yourself with--you’ve been always--” but
here her voice died away, and the tears forced themselves into her eyes,
and ran down her cheeks, while William, equally moved, seized her hand
and pressed it to his lips. No one perceived that the drawing-room door
had opened itself sufficiently to admit at least half the person of
Mr. Hilbery, or saw him gaze at the scene round the tea-table with an
expression of the utmost disgust and expostulation. He withdrew unseen.
He paused outside on the landing trying to recover his self-control and
to decide what course he might with most dignity pursue. It was
obvious to him that his wife had entirely confused the meaning of his
instructions. She had plunged them all into the most odious confusion.
He waited a moment, and then, with much preliminary rattling of the
handle, opened the door a second time. They had all regained their
places; some incident of an absurd nature had now set them laughing
and looking under the table, so that his entrance passed momentarily
unperceived. Katharine, with flushed cheeks, raised her head and said:

“Well, that’s my last attempt at the dramatic.”

“It’s astonishing what a distance they roll,” said Ralph, stooping to
turn up the corner of the hearthrug.

“Don’t trouble--don’t bother. We shall find it--” Mrs. Hilbery began,
and then saw her husband and exclaimed: “Oh, Trevor, we’re looking for
Cassandra’s engagement-ring!”

Mr. Hilbery looked instinctively at the carpet. Remarkably enough, the
ring had rolled to the very point where he stood. He saw the rubies
touching the tip of his boot. Such is the force of habit that he could
not refrain from stooping, with an absurd little thrill of pleasure at
being the one to find what others were looking for, and, picking the
ring up, he presented it, with a bow that was courtly in the extreme, to
Cassandra. Whether the making of a bow released automatically feelings
of complaisance and urbanity, Mr. Hilbery found his resentment
completely washed away during the second in which he bent and
straightened himself. Cassandra dared to offer her cheek and received
his embrace. He nodded with some degree of stiffness to Rodney and
Denham, who had both risen upon seeing him, and now altogether sat
down. Mrs. Hilbery seemed to have been waiting for the entrance of her
husband, and for this precise moment in order to put to him a question
which, from the ardor with which she announced it, had evidently been
pressing for utterance for some time past.

“Oh, Trevor, please tell me, what was the date of the first performance
of ‘Hamlet’?”

In order to answer her Mr. Hilbery had to have recourse to the exact
scholarship of William Rodney, and before he had given his excellent
authorities for believing as he believed, Rodney felt himself admitted
once more to the society of the civilized and sanctioned by the
authority of no less a person than Shakespeare himself. The power of
literature, which had temporarily deserted Mr. Hilbery, now came back to
him, pouring over the raw ugliness of human affairs its soothing
balm, and providing a form into which such passions as he had felt so
painfully the night before could be molded so that they fell roundly
from the tongue in shapely phrases, hurting nobody. He was sufficiently
sure of his command of language at length to look at Katharine and again
at Denham. All this talk about Shakespeare had acted as a soporific, or
rather as an incantation upon Katharine. She leaned back in her chair at
the head of the tea-table, perfectly silent, looking vaguely past
them all, receiving the most generalized ideas of human heads against
pictures, against yellow-tinted walls, against curtains of deep crimson
velvet. Denham, to whom he turned next, shared her immobility under his
gaze. But beneath his restraint and calm it was possible to detect a
resolution, a will, set now with unalterable tenacity, which made such
turns of speech as Mr. Hilbery had at command appear oddly irrelevant.
At any rate, he said nothing. He respected the young man; he was a very
able young man; he was likely to get his own way. He could, he thought,
looking at his still and very dignified head, understand Katharine’s
preference, and, as he thought this, he was surprised by a pang of acute
jealousy. She might have married Rodney without causing him a twinge.
This man she loved. Or what was the state of affairs between them? An
extraordinary confusion of emotion was beginning to get the better of
him, when Mrs. Hilbery, who had been conscious of a sudden pause in the
conversation, and had looked wistfully at her daughter once or twice,
remarked:

“Don’t stay if you want to go, Katharine. There’s the little room over
there. Perhaps you and Ralph--”

“We’re engaged,” said Katharine, waking with a start, and looking
straight at her father. He was taken aback by the directness of the
statement; he exclaimed as if an unexpected blow had struck him. Had he
loved her to see her swept away by this torrent, to have her taken from
him by this uncontrollable force, to stand by helpless, ignored? Oh, how
he loved her! How he loved her! He nodded very curtly to Denham.

“I gathered something of the kind last night,” he said. “I hope you’ll
deserve her.” But he never looked at his daughter, and strode out of the
room, leaving in the minds of the women a sense, half of awe, half of
amusement, at the extravagant, inconsiderate, uncivilized male, outraged
somehow and gone bellowing to his lair with a roar which still sometimes
reverberates in the most polished of drawing-rooms. Then Katharine,
looking at the shut door, looked down again, to hide her tears.



CHAPTER XXXIV

The lamps were lit; their luster reflected itself in the polished wood;
good wine was passed round the dinner-table; before the meal was far
advanced civilization had triumphed, and Mr. Hilbery presided over
a feast which came to wear more and more surely an aspect, cheerful,
dignified, promising well for the future. To judge from the expression
in Katharine’s eyes it promised something--but he checked the approach
sentimentality. He poured out wine; he bade Denham help himself.

They went upstairs and he saw Katharine and Denham abstract
themselves directly Cassandra had asked whether she might not play him
something--some Mozart? some Beethoven? She sat down to the piano; the
door closed softly behind them. His eyes rested on the closed door for
some seconds unwaveringly, but, by degrees, the look of expectation died
out of them, and, with a sigh, he listened to the music.

Katharine and Ralph were agreed with scarcely a word of discussion as
to what they wished to do, and in a moment she joined him in the hall
dressed for walking. The night was still and moonlit, fit for walking,
though any night would have seemed so to them, desiring more than
anything movement, freedom from scrutiny, silence, and the open air.

“At last!” she breathed, as the front door shut. She told him how she
had waited, fidgeted, thought he was never coming, listened for the
sound of doors, half expected to see him again under the lamp-post,
looking at the house. They turned and looked at the serene front with
its gold-rimmed windows, to him the shrine of so much adoration. In
spite of her laugh and the little pressure of mockery on his arm, he
would not resign his belief, but with her hand resting there, her voice
quickened and mysteriously moving in his ears, he had not time--they had
not the same inclination--other objects drew his attention.

How they came to find themselves walking down a street with many lamps,
corners radiant with light, and a steady succession of motor-omnibuses
plying both ways along it, they could neither of them tell; nor account
for the impulse which led them suddenly to select one of these wayfarers
and mount to the very front seat. After curving through streets of
comparative darkness, so narrow that shadows on the blinds were pressed
within a few feet of their faces, they came to one of those great knots
of activity where the lights, having drawn close together, thin out
again and take their separate ways. They were borne on until they saw
the spires of the city churches pale and flat against the sky.

“Are you cold?” he asked, as they stopped by Temple Bar.

“Yes, I am rather,” she replied, becoming conscious that the splendid
race of lights drawn past her eyes by the superb curving and swerving of
the monster on which she sat was at an end. They had followed some such
course in their thoughts too; they had been borne on, victors in the
forefront of some triumphal car, spectators of a pageant enacted
for them, masters of life. But standing on the pavement alone, this
exaltation left them; they were glad to be alone together. Ralph stood
still for a moment to light his pipe beneath a lamp.

She looked at his face isolated in the little circle of light.

“Oh, that cottage,” she said. “We must take it and go there.”

“And leave all this?” he inquired.

“As you like,” she replied. She thought, looking at the sky above
Chancery Lane, how the roof was the same everywhere; how she was now
secure of all that this lofty blue and its steadfast lights meant to
her; reality, was it, figures, love, truth?

“I’ve something on my mind,” said Ralph abruptly. “I mean I’ve been
thinking of Mary Datchet. We’re very near her rooms now. Would you mind
if we went there?”

She had turned before she answered him. She had no wish to see any one
to-night; it seemed to her that the immense riddle was answered; the
problem had been solved; she held in her hands for one brief moment the
globe which we spend our lives in trying to shape, round, whole,
and entire from the confusion of chaos. To see Mary was to risk the
destruction of this globe.

“Did you treat her badly?” she asked rather mechanically, walking on.

“I could defend myself,” he said, almost defiantly. “But what’s the use,
if one feels a thing? I won’t be with her a minute,” he said. “I’ll just
tell her--”

“Of course, you must tell her,” said Katharine, and now felt anxious
for him to do what appeared to be necessary if he, too, were to hold his
globe for a moment round, whole, and entire.

“I wish--I wish--” she sighed, for melancholy came over her and obscured
at least a section of her clear vision. The globe swam before her as if
obscured by tears.

“I regret nothing,” said Ralph firmly. She leant towards him almost as
if she could thus see what he saw. She thought how obscure he still was
to her, save only that more and more constantly he appeared to her a
fire burning through its smoke, a source of life.

“Go on,” she said. “You regret nothing--”

“Nothing--nothing,” he repeated.

“What a fire!” she thought to herself. She thought of him blazing
splendidly in the night, yet so obscure that to hold his arm, as she
held it, was only to touch the opaque substance surrounding the flame
that roared upwards.

“Why nothing?” she asked hurriedly, in order that he might say more and
so make more splendid, more red, more darkly intertwined with smoke this
flame rushing upwards.

“What are you thinking of, Katharine?” he asked suspiciously, noticing
her tone of dreaminess and the inapt words.

“I was thinking of you--yes, I swear it. Always of you, but you take
such strange shapes in my mind. You’ve destroyed my loneliness. Am I to
tell you how I see you? No, tell me--tell me from the beginning.”

Beginning with spasmodic words, he went on to speak more and more
fluently, more and more passionately, feeling her leaning towards him,
listening with wonder like a child, with gratitude like a woman. She
interrupted him gravely now and then.

“But it was foolish to stand outside and look at the windows. Suppose
William hadn’t seen you. Would you have gone to bed?”

He capped her reproof with wonderment that a woman of her age could have
stood in Kingsway looking at the traffic until she forgot.

“But it was then I first knew I loved you!” she exclaimed.

“Tell me from the beginning,” he begged her.

“No, I’m a person who can’t tell things,” she pleaded. “I shall say
something ridiculous--something about flames--fires. No, I can’t tell
you.”

But he persuaded her into a broken statement, beautiful to him, charged
with extreme excitement as she spoke of the dark red fire, and the smoke
twined round it, making him feel that he had stepped over the threshold
into the faintly lit vastness of another mind, stirring with shapes,
so large, so dim, unveiling themselves only in flashes, and moving away
again into the darkness, engulfed by it. They had walked by this time
to the street in which Mary lived, and being engrossed by what they said
and partly saw, passed her staircase without looking up. At this time
of night there was no traffic and scarcely any foot-passengers, so that
they could pace slowly without interruption, arm-in-arm, raising their
hands now and then to draw something upon the vast blue curtain of the
sky.

They brought themselves by these means, acting on a mood of profound
happiness, to a state of clear-sightedness where the lifting of a finger
had effect, and one word spoke more than a sentence. They lapsed gently
into silence, traveling the dark paths of thought side by side towards
something discerned in the distance which gradually possessed them both.
They were victors, masters of life, but at the same time absorbed in the
flame, giving their life to increase its brightness, to testify to their
faith. Thus they had walked, perhaps, twice or three times up and down
Mary Datchet’s street before the recurrence of a light burning behind a
thin, yellow blind caused them to stop without exactly knowing why they
did so. It burned itself into their minds.

“That is the light in Mary’s room,” said Ralph. “She must be at home.”
 He pointed across the street. Katharine’s eyes rested there too.

“Is she alone, working at this time of night? What is she working at?”
 she wondered. “Why should we interrupt her?” she asked passionately.
“What have we got to give her? She’s happy too,” she added. “She has
her work.” Her voice shook slightly, and the light swam like an ocean of
gold behind her tears.

“You don’t want me to go to her?” Ralph asked.

“Go, if you like; tell her what you like,” she replied.

He crossed the road immediately, and went up the steps into Mary’s
house. Katharine stood where he left her, looking at the window and
expecting soon to see a shadow move across it; but she saw nothing; the
blinds conveyed nothing; the light was not moved. It signaled to her
across the dark street; it was a sign of triumph shining there for
ever, not to be extinguished this side of the grave. She brandished her
happiness as if in salute; she dipped it as if in reverence. “How they
burn!” she thought, and all the darkness of London seemed set with
fires, roaring upwards; but her eyes came back to Mary’s window and
rested there satisfied. She had waited some time before a figure
detached itself from the doorway and came across the road, slowly and
reluctantly, to where she stood.

“I didn’t go in--I couldn’t bring myself,” he broke off. He had stood
outside Mary’s door unable to bring himself to knock; if she had come
out she would have found him there, the tears running down his cheeks,
unable to speak.

They stood for some moments, looking at the illuminated blinds, an
expression to them both of something impersonal and serene in the spirit
of the woman within, working out her plans far into the night--her plans
for the good of a world that none of them were ever to know. Then their
minds jumped on and other little figures came by in procession, headed,
in Ralph’s view, by the figure of Sally Seal.

“Do you remember Sally Seal?” he asked. Katharine bent her head.

“Your mother and Mary?” he went on. “Rodney and Cassandra? Old Joan up
at Highgate?” He stopped in his enumeration, not finding it possible to
link them together in any way that should explain the queer combination
which he could perceive in them, as he thought of them. They appeared to
him to be more than individuals; to be made up of many different things
in cohesion; he had a vision of an orderly world.

“It’s all so easy--it’s all so simple,” Katherine quoted, remembering
some words of Sally Seal’s, and wishing Ralph to understand that she
followed the track of his thought. She felt him trying to piece together
in a laborious and elementary fashion fragments of belief, unsoldered
and separate, lacking the unity of phrases fashioned by the old
believers. Together they groped in this difficult region, where the
unfinished, the unfulfilled, the unwritten, the unreturned, came
together in their ghostly way and wore the semblance of the complete and
the satisfactory. The future emerged more splendid than ever from this
construction of the present. Books were to be written, and since books
must be written in rooms, and rooms must have hangings, and outside
the windows there must be land, and an horizon to that land, and trees
perhaps, and a hill, they sketched a habitation for themselves upon the
outline of great offices in the Strand and continued to make an account
of the future upon the omnibus which took them towards Chelsea; and
still, for both of them, it swam miraculously in the golden light of a
large steady lamp.

As the night was far advanced they had the whole of the seats on the
top of the omnibus to choose from, and the roads, save for an occasional
couple, wearing even at midnight, an air of sheltering their words from
the public, were deserted. No longer did the shadow of a man sing to
the shadow of a piano. A few lights in bedroom windows burnt but were
extinguished one by one as the omnibus passed them.

They dismounted and walked down to the river. She felt his arm stiffen
beneath her hand, and knew by this token that they had entered the
enchanted region. She might speak to him, but with that strange tremor
in his voice, those eyes blindly adoring, whom did he answer? What
woman did he see? And where was she walking, and who was her companion?
Moments, fragments, a second of vision, and then the flying waters,
the winds dissipating and dissolving; then, too, the recollection from
chaos, the return of security, the earth firm, superb and brilliant in
the sun. From the heart of his darkness he spoke his thanksgiving;
from a region as far, as hidden, she answered him. On a June night the
nightingales sing, they answer each other across the plain; they are
heard under the window among the trees in the garden. Pausing, they
looked down into the river which bore its dark tide of waters, endlessly
moving, beneath them. They turned and found themselves opposite the
house. Quietly they surveyed the friendly place, burning its lamps
either in expectation of them or because Rodney was still there talking
to Cassandra. Katharine pushed the door half open and stood upon the
threshold. The light lay in soft golden grains upon the deep obscurity
of the hushed and sleeping household. For a moment they waited, and
then loosed their hands. “Good night,” he breathed. “Good night,” she
murmured back to him.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Night and Day" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home