Part 10 out of 10
"Go on," she said. "You regret nothing--"
"Nothing--nothing," he repeated.
"What a fire!" she thought to herself. She thought of him blazing
splendidly in the night, yet so obscure that to hold his arm, as she
held it, was only to touch the opaque substance surrounding the flame
that roared upwards.
"Why nothing?" she asked hurriedly, in order that he might say more
and so make more splendid, more red, more darkly intertwined with
smoke this flame rushing upwards.
"What are you thinking of, Katharine?" he asked suspiciously, noticing
her tone of dreaminess and the inapt words.
"I was thinking of you--yes, I swear it. Always of you, but you take
such strange shapes in my mind. You've destroyed my loneliness. Am I
to tell you how I see you? No, tell me--tell me from the beginning."
Beginning with spasmodic words, he went on to speak more and more
fluently, more and more passionately, feeling her leaning towards him,
listening with wonder like a child, with gratitude like a woman. She
interrupted him gravely now and then.
"But it was foolish to stand outside and look at the windows. Suppose
William hadn't seen you. Would you have gone to bed?"
He capped her reproof with wonderment that a woman of her age could
have stood in Kingsway looking at the traffic until she forgot.
"But it was then I first knew I loved you!" she exclaimed.
"Tell me from the beginning," he begged her.
"No, I'm a person who can't tell things," she pleaded. "I shall say
something ridiculous--something about flames--fires. No, I can't tell
But he persuaded her into a broken statement, beautiful to him,
charged with extreme excitement as she spoke of the dark red fire, and
the smoke twined round it, making him feel that he had stepped over
the threshold into the faintly lit vastness of another mind, stirring
with shapes, so large, so dim, unveiling themselves only in flashes,
and moving away again into the darkness, engulfed by it. They had
walked by this time to the street in which Mary lived, and being
engrossed by what they said and partly saw, passed her staircase
without looking up. At this time of night there was no traffic and
scarcely any foot-passengers, so that they could pace slowly without
interruption, arm-in-arm, raising their hands now and then to draw
something upon the vast blue curtain of the sky.
They brought themselves by these means, acting on a mood of profound
happiness, to a state of clear-sightedness where the lifting of a
finger had effect, and one word spoke more than a sentence. They
lapsed gently into silence, traveling the dark paths of thought side
by side towards something discerned in the distance which gradually
possessed them both. They were victors, masters of life, but at the
same time absorbed in the flame, giving their life to increase its
brightness, to testify to their faith. Thus they had walked, perhaps,
twice or three times up and down Mary Datchet's street before the
recurrence of a light burning behind a thin, yellow blind caused them
to stop without exactly knowing why they did so. It burned itself into
"That is the light in Mary's room," said Ralph. "She must be at home."
He pointed across the street. Katharine's eyes rested there too.
"Is she alone, working at this time of night? What is she working at?"
she wondered. "Why should we interrupt her?" she asked passionately.
"What have we got to give her? She's happy too," she added. "She has
her work." Her voice shook slightly, and the light swam like an ocean
of gold behind her tears.
"You don't want me to go to her?" Ralph asked.
"Go, if you like; tell her what you like," she replied.
He crossed the road immediately, and went up the steps into Mary's
house. Katharine stood where he left her, looking at the window and
expecting soon to see a shadow move across it; but she saw nothing;
the blinds conveyed nothing; the light was not moved. It signaled to
her across the dark street; it was a sign of triumph shining there for
ever, not to be extinguished this side of the grave. She brandished
her happiness as if in salute; she dipped it as if in reverence. "How
they burn!" she thought, and all the darkness of London seemed set
with fires, roaring upwards; but her eyes came back to Mary's window
and rested there satisfied. She had waited some time before a figure
detached itself from the doorway and came across the road, slowly and
reluctantly, to where she stood.
"I didn't go in--I couldn't bring myself," he broke off. He had stood
outside Mary's door unable to bring himself to knock; if she had come
out she would have found him there, the tears running down his cheeks,
unable to speak.
They stood for some moments, looking at the illuminated blinds, an
expression to them both of something impersonal and serene in the
spirit of the woman within, working out her plans far into the night--
her plans for the good of a world that none of them were ever to know.
Then their minds jumped on and other little figures came by in
procession, headed, in Ralph's view, by the figure of Sally Seal.
"Do you remember Sally Seal?" he asked. Katharine bent her head.
"Your mother and Mary?" he went on. "Rodney and Cassandra? Old Joan up
at Highgate?" He stopped in his enumeration, not finding it possible
to link them together in any way that should explain the queer
combination which he could perceive in them, as he thought of them.
They appeared to him to be more than individuals; to be made up of
many different things in cohesion; he had a vision of an orderly
"It's all so easy--it's all so simple," Katherine quoted, remembering
some words of Sally Seal's, and wishing Ralph to understand that she
followed the track of his thought. She felt him trying to piece
together in a laborious and elementary fashion fragments of belief,
unsoldered and separate, lacking the unity of phrases fashioned by the
old believers. Together they groped in this difficult region, where
the unfinished, the unfulfilled, the unwritten, the unreturned, came
together in their ghostly way and wore the semblance of the complete
and the satisfactory. The future emerged more splendid than ever from
this construction of the present. Books were to be written, and since
books must be written in rooms, and rooms must have hangings, and
outside the windows there must be land, and an horizon to that land,
and trees perhaps, and a hill, they sketched a habitation for
themselves upon the outline of great offices in the Strand and
continued to make an account of the future upon the omnibus which took
them towards Chelsea; and still, for both of them, it swam
miraculously in the golden light of a large steady lamp.
As the night was far advanced they had the whole of the seats on the
top of the omnibus to choose from, and the roads, save for an
occasional couple, wearing even at midnight, an air of sheltering
their words from the public, were deserted. No longer did the shadow
of a man sing to the shadow of a piano. A few lights in bedroom
windows burnt but were extinguished one by one as the omnibus passed
They dismounted and walked down to the river. She felt his arm stiffen
beneath her hand, and knew by this token that they had entered the
enchanted region. She might speak to him, but with that strange tremor
in his voice, those eyes blindly adoring, whom did he answer? What
woman did he see? And where was she walking, and who was her
companion? Moments, fragments, a second of vision, and then the flying
waters, the winds dissipating and dissolving; then, too, the
recollection from chaos, the return of security, the earth firm,
superb and brilliant in the sun. From the heart of his darkness he
spoke his thanksgiving; from a region as far, as hidden, she answered
him. On a June night the nightingales sing, they answer each other
across the plain; they are heard under the window among the trees in
the garden. Pausing, they looked down into the river which bore its
dark tide of waters, endlessly moving, beneath them. They turned and
found themselves opposite the house. Quietly they surveyed the
friendly place, burning its lamps either in expectation of them or
because Rodney was still there talking to Cassandra. Katharine pushed
the door half open and stood upon the threshold. The light lay in soft
golden grains upon the deep obscurity of the hushed and sleeping
household. For a moment they waited, and then loosed their hands.
"Good night," he breathed. "Good night," she murmured back to him.