Monday, November 5, 2007



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 drawingroom,
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 goldrimmed
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
"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
"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 greatuncle
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.
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, diningrooms,
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
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
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 drawingroom,
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.
"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,
"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
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
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
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 semisacred
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 armchair,
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
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 closewritten
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'-thewisp,
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
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!"
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, halfsurly
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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 semitransparent
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"Because you think--" She paused.
"If you want to know, I was laughing at the way you said Miss
"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
"I wonder, Miss Hilbery, whether you remembered to get that picture
glazed?" His voice showed that the question was one that had been
"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 willpower
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
"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.
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
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
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
"Would your mother object to my being seen with you? No one could
possibly recognize us, could they?" Rodney inquired, with some
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
"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
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 grayblue
cardboard, and pasted flat against the sky, which was of a deeper
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
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 breakfastplate, 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.
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
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, goodhumoredly
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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 motorcars,
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
"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.
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
"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
"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
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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
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, goldwreathed
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.
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
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
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
"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
"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.
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
"I really believe I'm bewitched! I only want three sentences, you see,
something quite straightforward and commonplace, and I can't find
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
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
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
"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
"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.
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 selfsufficient
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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 twentyfive
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
"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 dressinggown
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 selfcontrol
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."
Is Mr. Hilbery at home, or Mrs. Hilbery?" Denham asked, of the parlormaid
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
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.
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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.
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"You will come again, I hope. We always seem"--she hesitated--"to be
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
"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.
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 breadcrumbs.
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
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
"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
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
"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 cocksparrow,
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 fellowcreatures.
. . ."
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
"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.
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.
"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
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
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
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 teathings,
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?
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
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
"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 twentytwo.
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
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
"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
"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
"It's my native land, this," she said. "I could smell my way about it
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 dinnertable,
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
"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
"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.
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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.
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
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
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
"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
"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 ponycart.
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.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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 selfconsciousness
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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. I shall be glad to get back to work again."
"Saturday, Sunday, Monday--there are only three days more," she
"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
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
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
"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
"William," she said, "I will marry you. I will try to make you happy."
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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.
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
"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 disagreeablelooking
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"He thinks of it," said Mary briefly. The color at once came to her
"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
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
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.
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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."
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
("And I've got nowhere to live") Katharine thought, as she agreed
"You could get rooms here, no doubt, if you wanted to," Rodney
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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," 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
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.
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
"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
"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 breathingspace.
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
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 selfconsciousness
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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
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 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,
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"When are you to be married?" he asked abruptly, with a change of
"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?

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