Part 1 out of 10
This etext was prepared by Judy Boss, Omaha, NE
NIGHT AND DAY
BUT, LOOKING FOR A PHRASE,
I FOUND NONE TO STAND
BESIDE YOUR NAME
NIGHT AND DAY
It was a Sunday evening in October, and in common with many other
young ladies of her class, Katharine Hilbery was pouring out tea.
Perhaps a fifth part of her mind was thus occupied, and the remaining
parts leapt over the little barrier of day which interposed between
Monday morning and this rather subdued moment, and played with the
things one does voluntarily and normally in the daylight. But although
she was silent, she was evidently mistress of a situation which was
familiar enough to her, and inclined to let it take its way for the
six hundredth time, perhaps, without bringing into play any of her
unoccupied faculties. A single glance was enough to show that Mrs.
Hilbery was so rich in the gifts which make tea-parties of elderly
distinguished people successful, that she scarcely needed any help
from her daughter, provided that the tiresome business of teacups and
bread and butter was discharged for her.
Considering that the little party had been seated round the tea-table
for less than twenty minutes, the animation observable on their
faces, and the amount of sound they were producing collectively, were
very creditable to the hostess. It suddenly came into Katharine's mind
that if some one opened the door at this moment he would think that
they were enjoying themselves; he would think, "What an extremely nice
house to come into!" and instinctively she laughed, and said something
to increase the noise, for the credit of the house presumably, since
she herself had not been feeling exhilarated. At the very same moment,
rather to her amusement, the door was flung open, and a young man
entered the room. Katharine, as she shook hands with him, asked him,
in her own mind, "Now, do you think we're enjoying ourselves
enormously?" . . . "Mr. Denham, mother," she said aloud, for she saw
that her mother had forgotten his name.
That fact was perceptible to Mr. Denham also, and increased the
awkwardness which inevitably attends the entrance of a stranger into a
room full of people much at their ease, and all launched upon
sentences. At the same time, it seemed to Mr. Denham as if a thousand
softly padded doors had closed between him and the street outside. A
fine mist, the etherealized essence of the fog, hung visibly in the
wide and rather empty space of the drawing-room, all silver where the
candles were grouped on the tea-table, and ruddy again in the
firelight. With the omnibuses and cabs still running in his head, and
his body still tingling with his quick walk along the streets and in
and out of traffic and foot-passengers, this drawing-room seemed very
remote and still; and the faces of the elderly people were mellowed,
at some distance from each other, and had a bloom on them owing to the
fact that the air in the drawing-room was thickened by blue grains of
mist. Mr. Denham had come in as Mr. Fortescue, the eminent novelist,
reached the middle of a very long sentence. He kept this suspended
while the newcomer sat down, and Mrs. Hilbery deftly joined the
severed parts by leaning towards him and remarking:
"Now, what would you do if you were married to an engineer, and had to
live in Manchester, Mr. Denham?"
"Surely she could learn Persian," broke in a thin, elderly gentleman.
"Is there no retired schoolmaster or man of letters in Manchester with
whom she could read Persian?"
"A cousin of ours has married and gone to live in Manchester,"
Katharine explained. Mr. Denham muttered something, which was indeed
all that was required of him, and the novelist went on where he had
left off. Privately, Mr. Denham cursed himself very sharply for having
exchanged the freedom of the street for this sophisticated drawing-
room, where, among other disagreeables, he certainly would not appear
at his best. He glanced round him, and saw that, save for Katharine,
they were all over forty, the only consolation being that Mr.
Fortescue was a considerable celebrity, so that to-morrow one might be
glad to have met him.
"Have you ever been to Manchester?" he asked Katharine.
"Never," she replied.
"Why do you object to it, then?"
Katharine stirred her tea, and seemed to speculate, so Denham thought,
upon the duty of filling somebody else's cup, but she was really
wondering how she was going to keep this strange young man in harmony
with the rest. She observed that he was compressing his teacup, so
that there was danger lest the thin china might cave inwards. She
could see that he was nervous; one would expect a bony young man with
his face slightly reddened by the wind, and his hair not altogether
smooth, to be nervous in such a party. Further, he probably disliked
this kind of thing, and had come out of curiosity, or because her
father had invited him--anyhow, he would not be easily combined with
"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
"Would it be the Battle of Trafalgar or the Spanish Armada,
Katharine?" her mother demanded.
"Trafalgar, of course! How stupid of me! Another cup of tea, with a
thin slice of lemon in it, and then, dear Mr. Fortescue, please
explain my absurd little puzzle. One can't help believing gentlemen
with Roman noses, even if one meets them in omnibuses."
Mr. Hilbery here interposed so far as Denham was concerned, and talked
a great deal of sense about the solicitors' profession, and the
changes which he had seen in his lifetime. Indeed, Denham properly
fell to his lot, owing to the fact that an article by Denham upon some
legal matter, published by Mr. Hilbery in his Review, had brought them
acquainted. But when a moment later Mrs. Sutton Bailey was announced,
he turned to her, and Mr. Denham found himself sitting silent,
rejecting possible things to say, beside Katharine, who was silent
too. Being much about the same age and both under thirty, they were
prohibited from the use of a great many convenient phrases which
launch conversation into smooth waters. They were further silenced by
Katharine's rather malicious determination not to help this young man,
in whose upright and resolute bearing she detected something hostile
to her surroundings, by any of the usual feminine amenities. They
therefore sat silent, Denham controlling his desire to say something
abrupt and explosive, which should shock her into life. But Mrs.
Hilbery was immediately sensitive to any silence in the drawing-room,
as of a dumb note in a sonorous scale, and leaning across the table
she observed, in the curiously tentative detached manner which always
gave her phrases the likeness of butterflies flaunting from one sunny
spot to another, "D'you know, Mr. Denham, you remind me so much of
dear Mr. Ruskin. . . . Is it his tie, Katharine, or his hair, or the
way he sits in his chair? Do tell me, Mr. Denham, are you an admirer
of Ruskin? Some one, the other day, said to me, 'Oh, no, we don't read
Ruskin, Mrs. Hilbery.' What DO you read, I wonder?--for you can't
spend all your time going up in aeroplanes and burrowing into the
bowels of the earth."
She looked benevolently at Denham, who said nothing articulate, and
then at Katharine, who smiled but said nothing either, upon which Mrs.
Hilbery seemed possessed by a brilliant idea, and exclaimed:
"I'm sure Mr. Denham would like to see our things, Katharine. I'm sure
he's not like that dreadful young man, Mr. Ponting, who told me that
he considered it our duty to live exclusively in the present. After
all, what IS the present? Half of it's the past, and the better half,
too, I should say," she added, turning to Mr. Fortescue.
Denham rose, half meaning to go, and thinking that he had seen all
that there was to see, but Katharine rose at the same moment, and
saying, "Perhaps you would like to see the pictures," led the way
across the drawing-room to a smaller room opening out of it.
The smaller room was something like a chapel in a cathedral, or a
grotto in a cave, for the booming sound of the traffic in the distance
suggested the soft surge of waters, and the oval mirrors, with their
silver surface, were like deep pools trembling beneath starlight. But
the comparison to a religious temple of some kind was the more apt of
the two, for the little room was crowded with relics.
As Katharine touched different spots, lights sprang here and there,
and revealed a square mass of red-and-gold books, and then a long
skirt in blue-and-white paint lustrous behind glass, and then a
mahogany writing-table, with its orderly equipment, and, finally, a
picture above the table, to which special illumination was accorded.
When Katharine had touched these last lights, she stood back, as much
as to say, "There!" Denham found himself looked down upon by the eyes
of the great poet, Richard Alardyce, and suffered a little shock which
would have led him, had he been wearing a hat, to remove it. The eyes
looked at him out of the mellow pinks and yellows of the paint with
divine friendliness, which embraced him, and passed on to contemplate
the entire world. The paint had so faded that very little but the
beautiful large eyes were left, dark in the surrounding dimness.
Katharine waited as though for him to receive a full impression, and
then she said:
"This is his writing-table. He used this pen," and she lifted a quill
pen and laid it down again. The writing-table was splashed with old
ink, and the pen disheveled in service. There lay the gigantic gold-
rimmed spectacles, ready to his hand, and beneath the table was a pair
of large, worn slippers, one of which Katharine picked up, remarking:
"I think my grandfather must have been at least twice as large as any
one is nowadays. This," she went on, as if she knew what she had to
say by heart, "is the original manuscript of the 'Ode to Winter.' The
early poems are far less corrected than the later. Would you like to
look at it?"
While Mr. Denham examined the manuscript, she glanced up at her
grandfather, and, for the thousandth time, fell into a pleasant dreamy
state in which she seemed to be the companion of those giant men, of
their own lineage, at any rate, and the insignificant present moment
was put to shame. That magnificent ghostly head on the canvas, surely,
never beheld all the trivialities of a Sunday afternoon, and it did
not seem to matter what she and this young man said to each other, for
they were only small people.
"This is a copy of the first edition of the poems," she continued,
without considering the fact that Mr. Denham was still occupied with
the manuscript, "which contains several poems that have not been
reprinted, as well as corrections." She paused for a minute, and then
went on, as if these spaces had all been calculated.
"That lady in blue is my great-grandmother, by Millington. Here is my
uncle's walking-stick--he was Sir Richard Warburton, you know, and
rode with Havelock to the Relief of Lucknow. And then, let me see--oh,
that's the original Alardyce, 1697, the founder of the family
fortunes, with his wife. Some one gave us this bowl the other day
because it has their crest and initials. We think it must have been
given them to celebrate their silver wedding-day."
Here she stopped for a moment, wondering why it was that Mr. Denham
said nothing. Her feeling that he was antagonistic to her, which had
lapsed while she thought of her family possessions, returned so keenly
that she stopped in the middle of her catalog and looked at him. Her
mother, wishing to connect him reputably with the great dead, had
compared him with Mr. Ruskin; and the comparison was in Katharine's
mind, and led her to be more critical of the young man than was fair,
for a young man paying a call in a tail-coat is in a different element
altogether from a head seized at its climax of expressiveness, gazing
immutably from behind a sheet of glass, which was all that remained to
her of Mr. Ruskin. He had a singular face--a face built for swiftness
and decision rather than for massive contemplation; the forehead
broad, the nose long and formidable, the lips clean-shaven and at once
dogged and sensitive, the cheeks lean, with a deeply running tide of
red blood in them. His eyes, expressive now of the usual masculine
impersonality and authority, might reveal more subtle emotions under
favorable circumstances, for they were large, and of a clear, brown
color; they seemed unexpectedly to hesitate and speculate; but
Katharine only looked at him to wonder whether his face would not have
come nearer the standard of her dead heroes if it had been adorned
with side-whiskers. In his spare build and thin, though healthy,
cheeks, she saw tokens of an angular and acrid soul. His voice, she
noticed, had a slight vibrating or creaking sound in it, as he laid
down the manuscript and said:
"You must be very proud of your family, Miss Hilbery."
"Yes, I am," Katharine answered, and she added, "Do you think there's
anything wrong in that?"
"Wrong? How should it be wrong? It must be a bore, though, showing
your things to visitors," he added reflectively.
"Not if the visitors like them."
"Isn't it difficult to live up to your ancestors?" he proceeded.
"I dare say I shouldn't try to write poetry," Katharine replied.
"No. And that's what I should hate. I couldn't bear my grandfather to
cut me out. And, after all," Denham went on, glancing round him
satirically, as Katharine thought, "it's not your grandfather only.
You're cut out all the way round. I suppose you come of one of the
most distinguished families in England. There are the Warburtons and
the Mannings--and you're related to the Otways, aren't you? I read it
all in some magazine," he added.
"The Otways are my cousins," Katharine replied.
"Well," said Denham, in a final tone of voice, as if his argument were
"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 great-
uncle glazed. Aunt Millicent remarked it last time she was here, and I
know how it would hurt me to see MY father in a broken glass."
It was like tearing through a maze of diamond-glittering spiders' webs
to say good-bye and escape, for at each movement Mrs. Hilbery
remembered something further about the villainies of picture-framers
or the delights of poetry, and at one time it seemed to the young man
that he would be hypnotized into doing what she pretended to want him
to do, for he could not suppose that she attached any value whatever
to his presence. Katharine, however, made an opportunity for him to
leave, and for that he was grateful to her, as one young person is
grateful for the understanding of another.
The young man shut the door with a sharper slam than any visitor had
used that afternoon, and walked up the street at a great pace, cutting
the air with his walking-stick. He was glad to find himself outside
that drawing-room, breathing raw fog, and in contact with unpolished
people who only wanted their share of the pavement allowed them. He
thought that if he had had Mr. or Mrs. or Miss Hilbery out here he
would have made them, somehow, feel his superiority, for he was chafed
by the memory of halting awkward sentences which had failed to give
even the young woman with the sad, but inwardly ironical eyes a hint
of his force. He tried to recall the actual words of his little
outburst, and unconsciously supplemented them by so many words of
greater expressiveness that the irritation of his failure was somewhat
assuaged. Sudden stabs of the unmitigated truth assailed him now and
then, for he was not inclined by nature to take a rosy view of his
conduct, but what with the beat of his foot upon the pavement, and the
glimpse which half-drawn curtains offered him of kitchens, dining-
rooms, and drawing-rooms, illustrating with mute power different
scenes from different lives, his own experience lost its sharpness.
His own experience underwent a curious change. His speed slackened,
his head sank a little towards his breast, and the lamplight shone now
and again upon a face grown strangely tranquil. His thought was so
absorbing that when it became necessary to verify the name of a
street, he looked at it for a time before he read it; when he came to
a crossing, he seemed to have to reassure himself by two or three
taps, such as a blind man gives, upon the curb; and, reaching the
Underground station, he blinked in the bright circle of light, glanced
at his watch, decided that he might still indulge himself in darkness,
and walked straight on.
And yet the thought was the thought with which he had started. He was
still thinking about the people in the house which he had left; but
instead of remembering, with whatever accuracy he could, their looks
and sayings, he had consciously taken leave of the literal truth. A
turn of the street, a firelit room, something monumental in the
procession of the lamp-posts, who shall say what accident of light or
shape had suddenly changed the prospect within his mind, and led him
to murmur aloud:
"She'll do. . . . Yes, Katharine Hilbery'll do. . . . I'll take
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
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 drawing-
room, very empty and spacious; he heard low voices, he saw women's
figures, he could even smell the scent of the cedar log which flamed
in the grate. His mind relaxed its tension, and seemed to be giving
out now what it had taken in unconsciously at the time. He could
remember Mr. Fortescue's exact words, and the rolling emphasis with
which he delivered them, and he began to repeat what Mr. Fortescue had
said, in Mr. Fortescue's own manner, about Manchester. His mind then
began to wander about the house, and he wondered whether there were
other rooms like the drawing-room, and he thought, inconsequently, how
beautiful the bathroom must be, and how leisurely it was--the life of
these well-kept people, who were, no doubt, still sitting in the same
room, only they had changed their clothes, and little Mr. Anning was
there, and the aunt who would mind if the glass of her father's
picture was broken. Miss Hilbery had changed her dress ("although
she's wearing such a pretty one," he heard her mother say), and she
was talking to Mr. Anning, who was well over forty, and bald into the
bargain, about books. How peaceful and spacious it was; and the peace
possessed him so completely that his muscles slackened, his book
drooped from his hand, and he forgot that the hour of work was wasting
minute by minute.
He was roused by a creak upon the stair. With a guilty start he
composed himself, frowned and looked intently at the fifty-sixth page
of his volume. A step paused outside his door, and he knew that the
person, whoever it might be, was considering the placard, and debating
whether to honor its decree or not. Certainly, policy advised him to
sit still in autocratic silence, for no custom can take root in a
family unless every breach of it is punished severely for the first
six months or so. But Ralph was conscious of a distinct wish to be
interrupted, and his disappointment was perceptible when he heard the
creaking sound rather farther down the stairs, as if his visitor had
decided to withdraw. He rose, opened the door with unnecessary
abruptness, and waited on the landing. The person stopped
simultaneously half a flight downstairs.
"Ralph?" said a voice, inquiringly.
"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
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
"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 always think you could make this room much nicer, if you liked,"
"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
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 semi-
sacred character, and were as regularly observed as days of feasting
and fasting in the Church.
In times gone by, Mrs. Hilbery had known all the poets, all the
novelists, all the beautiful women and distinguished men of her time.
These being now either dead or secluded in their infirm glory, she
made her house a meeting-place for her own relations, to whom she
would lament the passing of the great days of the nineteenth century,
when every department of letters and art was represented in England by
two or three illustrious names. Where are their successors? she would
ask, and the absence of any poet or painter or novelist of the true
caliber at the present day was a text upon which she liked to
ruminate, in a sunset mood of benignant reminiscence, which it would
have been hard to disturb had there been need. But she was far from
visiting their inferiority upon the younger generation. She welcomed
them very heartily to her house, told them her stories, gave them
sovereigns and ices and good advice, and weaved round them romances
which had generally no likeness to the truth.
The quality of her birth oozed into Katharine's consciousness from a
dozen different sources as soon as she was able to perceive anything.
Above her nursery fireplace hung a photograph of her grandfather's
tomb in Poets' Corner, and she was told in one of those moments of
grown-up confidence which are so tremendously impressive to the
child's mind, that he was buried there because he was a "good and
great man." Later, on an anniversary, she was taken by her mother
through the fog in a hansom cab, and given a large bunch of bright,
sweet-scented flowers to lay upon his tomb. The candles in the church,
the singing and the booming of the organ, were all, she thought, in
his honor. Again and again she was brought down into the drawing-room
to receive the blessing of some awful distinguished old man, who sat,
even to her childish eye, somewhat apart, all gathered together and
clutching a stick, unlike an ordinary visitor in her father's own arm-
chair, and her father himself was there, unlike himself, too, a little
excited and very polite. These formidable old creatures used to take
her in their arms, look very keenly in her eyes, and then to bless
her, and tell her that she must mind and be a good girl, or detect a
look in her face something like Richard's as a small boy. That drew
down upon her her mother's fervent embrace, and she was sent back to
the nursery very proud, and with a mysterious sense of an important
and unexplained state of things, which time, by degrees, unveiled to
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
Lately, however, it had seemed to her that they were making no way at
all, and this was the more tantalizing because no one with the ghost
of a literary temperament could doubt but that they had materials for
one of the greatest biographies that has ever been written. Shelves
and boxes bulged with the precious stuff. The most private lives of
the most interesting people lay furled in yellow bundles of close-
written manuscript. In addition to this Mrs. Hilbery had in her own
head as bright a vision of that time as now remained to the living,
and could give those flashes and thrills to the old words which gave
them almost the substance of flesh. She had no difficulty in writing,
and covered a page every morning as instinctively as a thrush sings,
but nevertheless, with all this to urge and inspire, and the most
devout intention to accomplish the work, the book still remained
unwritten. Papers accumulated without much furthering their task, and
in dull moments Katharine had her doubts whether they would ever
produce anything at all fit to lay before the public. Where did the
difficulty lie? Not in their materials, alas! nor in their ambitions,
but in something more profound, in her own inaptitude, and above all,
in her mother's temperament. Katharine would calculate that she had
never known her write for more than ten minutes at a time. Ideas came
to her chiefly when she was in motion. She liked to perambulate the
room with a duster in her hand, with which she stopped to polish the
backs of already lustrous books, musing and romancing as she did so.
Suddenly the right phrase or the penetrating point of view would
suggest itself, and she would drop her duster and write ecstatically
for a few breathless moments; and then the mood would pass away, and
the duster would be sought for, and the old books polished again.
These spells of inspiration never burnt steadily, but flickered over
the gigantic mass of the subject as capriciously as a will-o'-the-
wisp, lighting now on this point, now on that. It was as much as
Katharine could do to keep the pages of her mother's manuscript in
order, but to sort them so that the sixteenth year of Richard
Alardyce's life succeeded the fifteenth was beyond her skill. And yet
they were so brilliant, these paragraphs, so nobly phrased, so
lightning-like in their illumination, that the dead seemed to crowd
the very room. Read continuously, they produced a sort of vertigo, and
set her asking herself in despair what on earth she was to do with
them? Her mother refused, also, to face the radical questions of what
to leave in and what to leave out. She could not decide how far the
public was to be told the truth about the poet's separation from his
wife. She drafted passages to suit either case, and then liked each so
well that she could not decide upon the rejection of either.
But the book must be written. It was a duty that they owed the world,
and to Katharine, at least, it meant more than that, for if they could
not between them get this one book accomplished they had no right to
their privileged position. Their increment became yearly more and more
unearned. Besides, it must be established indisputably that her
grandfather was a very great man.
By the time she was twenty-seven, these thoughts had become very
familiar to her. They trod their way through her mind as she sat
opposite her mother of a morning at a table heaped with bundles of old
letters and well supplied with pencils, scissors, bottles of gum,
india-rubber bands, large envelopes, and other appliances for the
manufacture of books. Shortly before Ralph Denham's visit, Katharine
had resolved to try the effect of strict rules upon her mother's
habits of literary composition. They were to be seated at their tables
every morning at ten o'clock, with a clean-swept morning of empty,
secluded hours before them. They were to keep their eyes fast upon the
paper, and nothing was to tempt them to speech, save at the stroke of
the hour when ten minutes for relaxation were to be allowed them. If
these rules were observed for a year, she made out on a sheet of paper
that the completion of the book was certain, and she laid her scheme
before her mother with a feeling that much of the task was already
accomplished. Mrs. Hilbery examined the sheet of paper very carefully.
Then she clapped her hands and exclaimed enthusiastically:
"Well done, Katharine! What a wonderful head for business you've got!
Now I shall keep this before me, and every day I shall make a little
mark in my pocketbook, and on the last day of all--let me think, what
shall we do to celebrate the last day of all? If it weren't the winter
we could take a jaunt to Italy. They say Switzerland's very lovely in
the snow, except for the cold. But, as you say, the great thing is to
finish the book. Now let me see--"
When they inspected her manuscripts, which Katharine had put in order,
they found a state of things well calculated to dash their spirits, if
they had not just resolved on reform. They found, to begin with, a
great variety of very imposing paragraphs with which the biography was
to open; many of these, it is true, were unfinished, and resembled
triumphal arches standing upon one leg, but, as Mrs. Hilbery observed,
they could be patched up in ten minutes, if she gave her mind to it.
Next, there was an account of the ancient home of the Alardyces, or
rather, of spring in Suffolk, which was very beautifully written,
although not essential to the story. However, Katharine had put
together a string of names and dates, so that the poet was capably
brought into the world, and his ninth year was reached without further
mishap. After that, Mrs. Hilbery wished, for sentimental reasons, to
introduce the recollections of a very fluent old lady, who had been
brought up in the same village, but these Katharine decided must go.
It might be advisable to introduce here a sketch of contemporary
poetry contributed by Mr. Hilbery, and thus terse and learned and
altogether out of keeping with the rest, but Mrs. Hilbery was of
opinion that it was too bare, and made one feel altogether like a good
little girl in a lecture-room, which was not at all in keeping with
her father. It was put on one side. Now came the period of his early
manhood, when various affairs of the heart must either be concealed or
revealed; here again Mrs. Hilbery was of two minds, and a thick packet
of manuscript was shelved for further consideration.
Several years were now altogether omitted, because Mrs. Hilbery had
found something distasteful to her in that period, and had preferred
to dwell upon her own recollections as a child. After this, it seemed
to Katharine that the book became a wild dance of will-o'-the-wisps,
without form or continuity, without coherence even, or any attempt to
make a narrative. Here were twenty pages upon her grandfather's taste
in hats, an essay upon contemporary china, a long account of a summer
day's expedition into the country, when they had missed their train,
together with fragmentary visions of all sorts of famous men and
women, which seemed to be partly imaginary and partly authentic. There
were, moreover, thousands of letters, and a mass of faithful
recollections contributed by old friends, which had grown yellow now
in their envelopes, but must be placed somewhere, or their feelings
would be hurt. So many volumes had been written about the poet since
his death that she had also to dispose of a great number of
misstatements, which involved minute researches and much
correspondence. Sometimes Katharine brooded, half crushed, among her
papers; sometimes she felt that it was necessary for her very
existence that she should free herself from the past; at others, that
the past had completely displaced the present, which, when one resumed
life after a morning among the dead, proved to be of an utterly thin
and inferior composition.
The worst of it was that she had no aptitude for literature. She did
not like phrases. She had even some natural antipathy to that process
of self-examination, that perpetual effort to understand one's own
feeling, and express it beautifully, fitly, or energetically in
language, which constituted so great a part of her mother's existence.
She was, on the contrary, inclined to be silent; she shrank from
expressing herself even in talk, let alone in writing. As this
disposition was highly convenient in a family much given to the
manufacture of phrases, and seemed to argue a corresponding capacity
for action, she was, from her childhood even, put in charge of
household affairs. She had the reputation, which nothing in her manner
contradicted, of being the most practical of people. Ordering meals,
directing servants, paying bills, and so contriving that every clock
ticked more or less accurately in time, and a number of vases were
always full of fresh flowers was supposed to be a natural endowment of
hers, and, indeed, Mrs. Hilbery often observed that it was poetry the
wrong side out. From a very early age, too, she had to exert herself
in another capacity; she had to counsel and help and generally sustain
her mother. Mrs. Hilbery would have been perfectly well able to
sustain herself if the world had been what the world is not. She was
beautifully adapted for life in another planet. But the natural genius
she had for conducting affairs there was of no real use to her here.
Her watch, for example, was a constant source of surprise to her, and
at the age of sixty-five she was still amazed at the ascendancy which
rules and reasons exerted over the lives of other people. She had
never learnt her lesson, and had constantly to be punished for her
ignorance. But as that ignorance was combined with a fine natural
insight which saw deep whenever it saw at all, it was not possible to
write Mrs. Hilbery off among the dunces; on the contrary, she had a
way of seeming the wisest person in the room. But, on the whole, she
found it very necessary to seek support in her daughter.
Katharine, thus, was a member of a very great profession which has, as
yet, no title and very little recognition, although the labor of mill
and factory is, perhaps, no more severe and the results of less
benefit to the world. She lived at home. She did it very well, too.
Any one coming to the house in Cheyne Walk felt that here was an
orderly place, shapely, controlled--a place where life had been
trained to show to the best advantage, and, though composed of
different elements, made to appear harmonious and with a character of
its own. Perhaps it was the chief triumph of Katharine's art that Mrs.
Hilbery's character predominated. She and Mr. Hilbery appeared to be a
rich background for her mother's more striking qualities.
Silence being, thus, both natural to her and imposed upon her, the
only other remark that her mother's friends were in the habit of
making about it was that it was neither a stupid silence nor an
indifferent silence. But to what quality it owed its character, since
character of some sort it had, no one troubled themselves to inquire.
It was understood that she was helping her mother to produce a great
book. She was known to manage the household. She was certainly
beautiful. That accounted for her satisfactorily. But it would have
been a surprise, not only to other people but to Katharine herself, if
some magic watch could have taken count of the moments spent in an
entirely different occupation from her ostensible one. Sitting with
faded papers before her, she took part in a series of scenes such as
the taming of wild ponies upon the American prairies, or the conduct
of a vast ship in a hurricane round a black promontory of rock, or in
others more peaceful, but marked by her complete emancipation from her
present surroundings and, needless to say, by her surpassing ability
in her new vocation. When she was rid of the pretense of paper and
pen, phrase-making and biography, she turned her attention in a more
legitimate direction, though, strangely enough, she would rather have
confessed her wildest dreams of hurricane and prairie than the fact
that, upstairs, alone in her room, she rose early in the morning or
sat up late at night to . . . work at mathematics. No force on earth
would have made her confess that. Her actions when thus engaged were
furtive and secretive, like those of some nocturnal animal. Steps had
only to sound on the staircase, and she slipped her paper between the
leaves of a great Greek dictionary which she had purloined from her
father's room for this purpose. It was only at night, indeed, that she
felt secure enough from surprise to concentrate her mind to the
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, half-
surly shrug, as of a large dog tormented by children who shakes his
ears. She would lend her room, but only on condition that all the
arrangements were made by her. This fortnightly meeting of a society
for the free discussion of everything entailed a great deal of moving,
and pulling, and ranging of furniture against the wall, and placing of
breakable and precious things in safe places. Miss Datchet was quite
capable of lifting a kitchen table on her back, if need were, for
although well-proportioned and dressed becomingly, she had the
appearance of unusual strength and determination.
She was some twenty-five years of age, but looked older because she
earned, or intended to earn, her own living, and had already lost the
look of the irresponsible spectator, and taken on that of the private
in the army of workers. Her gestures seemed to have a certain purpose,
the muscles round eyes and lips were set rather firmly, as though the
senses had undergone some discipline, and were held ready for a call
on them. She had contracted two faint lines between her eyebrows, not
from anxiety but from thought, and it was quite evident that all the
feminine instincts of pleasing, soothing, and charming were crossed by
others in no way peculiar to her sex. For the rest she was brown-eyed,
a little clumsy in movement, and suggested country birth and a descent
from respectable hard-working ancestors, who had been men of faith and
integrity rather than doubters or fanatics.
At the end of a fairly hard day's work it was certainly something of
an effort to clear one's room, to pull the mattress off one's bed, and
lay it on the floor, to fill a pitcher with cold coffee, and to sweep
a long table clear for plates and cups and saucers, with pyramids of
little pink biscuits between them; but when these alterations were
effected, Mary felt a lightness of spirit come to her, as if she had
put off the stout stuff of her working hours and slipped over her
entire being some vesture of thin, bright silk. She knelt before the
fire and looked out into the room. The light fell softly, but with
clear radiance, through shades of yellow and blue paper, and the room,
which was set with one or two sofas resembling grassy mounds in their
lack of shape, looked unusually large and quiet. Mary was led to think
of the heights of a Sussex down, and the swelling green circle of some
camp of ancient warriors. The moonlight would be falling there so
peacefully now, and she could fancy the rough pathway of silver upon
the wrinkled skin of the sea.
"And here we are," she said, half aloud, half satirically, yet with
evident pride, "talking about art."
She pulled a basket containing balls of differently colored wools and
a pair of stockings which needed darning towards her, and began to set
her fingers to work; while her mind, reflecting the lassitude of her
body, went on perversely, conjuring up visions of solitude and quiet,
and she pictured herself laying aside her knitting and walking out on
to the down, and hearing nothing but the sheep cropping the grass
close to the roots, while the shadows of the little trees moved very
slightly this way and that in the moonlight, as the breeze went
through them. But she was perfectly conscious of her present
situation, and derived some pleasure from the reflection that she
could rejoice equally in solitude, and in the presence of the many
very different people who were now making their way, by divers paths,
across London to the spot where she was sitting.
As she ran her needle in and out of the wool, she thought of the
various stages in her own life which made her present position seem
the culmination of successive miracles. She thought of her clerical
father in his country parsonage, and of her mother's death, and of her
own determination to obtain education, and of her college life, which
had merged, not so very long ago, in the wonderful maze of London,
which still seemed to her, in spite of her constitutional
level-headedness, like a vast electric light, casting radiance upon
the myriads of men and women who crowded round it. And here she was at
the very center of it all, that center which was constantly in the
minds of people in remote Canadian forests and on the plains of India,
when their thoughts turned to England. The nine mellow strokes, by
which she was now apprised of the hour, were a message from the great
clock at Westminster itself. As the last of them died away, there was
a firm knocking on her own door, and she rose and opened it. She
returned to the room, with a look of steady pleasure in her eyes, and
she was talking to Ralph Denham, who followed her.
"Alone?" he said, as if he were pleasantly surprised by that fact.
"I am sometimes alone," she replied.
"But you expect a great many people," he added, looking round him.
"It's like a room on the stage. Who is it to-night?"
"William Rodney, upon the Elizabethan use of metaphor. I expect a good
solid paper, with plenty of quotations from the classics."
Ralph warmed his hands at the fire, which was flapping bravely in the
grate, while Mary took up her stocking again.
"I suppose you are the only woman in London who darns her own
stockings," he observed.
"I'm only one of a great many thousands really," she replied, "though
I must admit that I was thinking myself very remarkable when you came
in. And now that you're here I don't think myself remarkable at all.
How horrid of you! But I'm afraid you're much more remarkable than I
am. You've done much more than I've done."
"If that's your standard, you've nothing to be proud of," said Ralph
"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
"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
"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 semi-
transparent reddish stone. It had dignity and character. By profession
a clerk in a Government office, he was one of those martyred spirits
to whom literature is at once a source of divine joy and of almost
intolerable irritation. Not content to rest in their love of it, they
must attempt to practise it themselves, and they are generally endowed
with very little facility in composition. They condemn whatever they
produce. Moreover, the violence of their feelings is such that they
seldom meet with adequate sympathy, and being rendered very sensitive
by their cultivated perceptions, suffer constant slights both to their
own persons and to the thing they worship. But Rodney could never
resist making trial of the sympathies of any one who seemed favorably
disposed, and Denham's praise had stimulated his very susceptible
"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
"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,
"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?"
"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
The three of them stood for a moment awkwardly silent, and then Mary
left them in order to see that the great pitcher of coffee was
properly handled, for beneath all her education she preserved the
anxieties of one who owns china.
Ralph could think of nothing further to say; but could one have
stripped off his mask of flesh, one would have seen that his will-
power was rigidly set upon a single object--that Miss Hilbery should
obey him. He wished her to stay there until, by some measures not yet
apparent to him, he had conquered her interest. These states of mind
transmit themselves very often without the use of language, and it was
evident to Katharine that this young man had fixed his mind upon her.
She instantly recalled her first impressions of him, and saw herself
again proffering family relics. She reverted to the state of mind in
which he had left her that Sunday afternoon. She supposed that he
judged her very severely. She argued naturally that, if this were the
case, the burden of the conversation should rest with him. But she
submitted so far as to stand perfectly still, her eyes upon the
opposite wall, and her lips very nearly closed, though the desire to
laugh stirred them slightly.
"You know the names of the stars, I suppose?" Denham remarked, and
from the tone of his voice one might have thought that he grudged
Katharine the knowledge he attributed to her.
She kept her voice steady with some difficulty.
"I know how to find the Pole star if I'm lost."
"I don't suppose that often happens to you."
"No. Nothing interesting ever happens to me," she said.
"I think you make a system of saying disagreeable things, Miss
Hilbery," he broke out, again going further than he meant to. "I
suppose it's one of the characteristics of your class. They never talk
seriously to their inferiors."
Whether it was that they were meeting on neutral ground to-night, or
whether the carelessness of an old grey coat that Denham wore gave an
ease to his bearing that he lacked in conventional dress, Katharine
certainly felt no impulse to consider him outside the particular set
in which she lived.
"In what sense are you my inferior?" she asked, looking at him
gravely, as though honestly searching for his meaning. The look gave
him great pleasure. For the first time he felt himself on perfectly
equal terms with a woman whom he wished to think well of him, although
he could not have explained why her opinion of him mattered one way or
another. Perhaps, after all, he only wanted to have something of her
to take home to think about. But he was not destined to profit by his
"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