Part 2 out of 10
herself by the ridiculous Rodney. It was not the convention of the
meeting to say good-bye, or necessarily even to nod to the person with
whom one was talking; but, nevertheless, Denham was disappointed by
the completeness with which Katharine parted from him, without any
attempt to finish her sentence. She left with Rodney.
Denham had no conscious intention of following Katharine, but, seeing
her depart, he took his hat and ran rather more quickly down the
stairs than he would have done if Katharine had not been in front of
him. He overtook a friend of his, by name Harry Sandys, who was going
the same way, and they walked together a few paces behind Katharine
The night was very still, and on such nights, when the traffic thins
away, the walker becomes conscious of the moon in the street, as if
the curtains of the sky had been drawn apart, and the heaven lay bare,
as it does in the country. The air was softly cool, so that people who
had been sitting talking in a crowd found it pleasant to walk a little
before deciding to stop an omnibus or encounter light again in an
underground railway. Sandys, who was a barrister with a philosophic
tendency, took out his pipe, lit it, murmured "hum" and "ha," and was
silent. The couple in front of them kept their distance accurately,
and appeared, so far as Denham could judge by the way they turned
towards each other, to be talking very constantly. He observed that
when a pedestrian going the opposite way forced them to part they came
together again directly afterwards. Without intending to watch them he
never quite lost sight of the yellow scarf twisted round Katharine's
head, or the light overcoat which made Rodney look fashionable among
the crowd. At the Strand he supposed that they would separate, but
instead they crossed the road, and took their way down one of the
narrow passages which lead through ancient courts to the river. Among
the crowd of people in the big thoroughfares Rodney seemed merely to
be lending Katharine his escort, but now, when passengers were rare
and the footsteps of the couple were distinctly heard in the silence,
Denham could not help picturing to himself some change in their
conversation. The effect of the light and shadow, which seemed to
increase their height, was to make them mysterious and significant, so
that Denham had no feeling of irritation with Katharine, but rather a
half-dreamy acquiescence in the course of the world. Yes, she did very
well to dream about--but Sandys had suddenly begun to talk. He was a
solitary man who had made his friends at college and always addressed
them as if they were still undergraduates arguing in his room, though
many months or even years had passed in some cases between the last
sentence and the present one. The method was a little singular, but
very restful, for it seemed to ignore completely all accidents of
human life, and to span very deep abysses with a few simple words.
On this occasion he began, while they waited for a minute on the edge
of the Strand:
"I hear that Bennett has given up his theory of truth."
Denham returned a suitable answer, and he proceeded to explain how
this decision had been arrived at, and what changes it involved in the
philosophy which they both accepted. Meanwhile Katharine and Rodney
drew further ahead, and Denham kept, if that is the right expression
for an involuntary action, one filament of his mind upon them, while
with the rest of his intelligence he sought to understand what Sandys
As they passed through the courts thus talking, Sandys laid the tip of
his stick upon one of the stones forming a time-worn arch, and struck
it meditatively two or three times in order to illustrate something
very obscure about the complex nature of one's apprehension of facts.
During the pause which this necessitated, Katharine and Rodney turned
the corner and disappeared. For a moment Denham stopped involuntarily
in his sentence, and continued it with a sense of having lost
Unconscious that they were observed, Katharine and Rodney had come out
on the Embankment. When they had crossed the road, Rodney slapped his
hand upon the stone parapet above the river and exclaimed:
"I promise I won't say another word about it, Katharine! But do stop a
minute and look at the moon upon the water."
Katharine paused, looked up and down the river, and snuffed the air.
"I'm sure one can smell the sea, with the wind blowing this way," she
They stood silent for a few moments while the river shifted in its
bed, and the silver and red lights which were laid upon it were torn
by the current and joined together again. Very far off up the river a
steamer hooted with its hollow voice of unspeakable melancholy, as if
from the heart of lonely mist-shrouded voyagings.
"Ah!" Rodney cried, striking his hand once more upon the balustrade,
"why can't one say how beautiful it all is? Why am I condemned for
ever, Katharine, to feel what I can't express? And the things I can
give there's no use in my giving. Trust me, Katharine," he added
hastily, "I won't speak of it again. But in the presence of beauty--
look at the iridescence round the moon!--one feels--one feels--Perhaps
if you married me--I'm half a poet, you see, and I can't pretend not
to feel what I do feel. If I could write--ah, that would be another
matter. I shouldn't bother you to marry me then, Katharine."
He spoke these disconnected sentences rather abruptly, with his eyes
alternately upon the moon and upon the stream.
"But for me I suppose you would recommend marriage?" said Katharine,
with her eyes fixed on the moon.
"Certainly I should. Not for you only, but for all women. Why, you're
nothing at all without it; you're only half alive; using only half
your faculties; you must feel that for yourself. That is why--" Here
he stopped himself, and they began to walk slowly along the
Embankment, the moon fronting them.
"With how sad steps she climbs the sky,
How silently and with how wan a face,"
"I've been told a great many unpleasant things about myself to-night,"
Katharine stated, without attending to him. "Mr. Denham seems to think
it his mission to lecture me, though I hardly know him. By the way,
William, you know him; tell me, what is he like?"
William drew a deep sigh.
"We may lecture you till we're blue in the face--"
"Yes--but what's he like?"
"And we write sonnets to your eyebrows, you cruel practical creature.
Denham?" he added, as Katharine remained silent. "A good fellow, I
should think. He cares, naturally, for the right sort of things, I
expect. But you mustn't marry him, though. He scolded you, did he--
what did he say?"
"What happens with Mr. Denham is this: He comes to tea. I do all I can
to put him at his ease. He merely sits and scowls at me. Then I show
him our manuscripts. At this he becomes really angry, and tells me
I've no business to call myself a middle-class woman. So we part in a
huff; and next time we meet, which was to-night, he walks straight up
to me, and says, 'Go to the Devil!' That's the sort of behavior my
mother complains of. I want to know, what does it mean?"
She paused and, slackening her steps, looked at the lighted train
drawing itself smoothly over Hungerford Bridge.
"It means, I should say, that he finds you chilly and unsympathetic."
Katharine laughed with round, separate notes of genuine amusement.
"It's time I jumped into a cab and hid myself in my own house," she
"Would your mother object to my being seen with you? No one could
possibly recognize us, could they?" Rodney inquired, with some
Katharine looked at him, and perceiving that his solicitude was
genuine, she laughed again, but with an ironical note in her laughter.
"You may laugh, Katharine, but I can tell you that if any of your
friends saw us together at this time of night they would talk about
it, and I should find that very disagreeable. But why do you laugh?"
"I don't know. Because you're such a queer mixture, I think. You're
half poet and half old maid."
"I know I always seem to you highly ridiculous. But I can't help
having inherited certain traditions and trying to put them into
"Nonsense, William. You may come of the oldest family in Devonshire,
but that's no reason why you should mind being seen alone with me on
"I'm ten years older than you are, Katharine, and I know more of the
world than you do."
"Very well. Leave me and go home."
Rodney looked back over his shoulder and perceived that they were
being followed at a short distance by a taxicab, which evidently
awaited his summons. Katharine saw it, too, and exclaimed:
"Don't call that cab for me, William. I shall walk."
"Nonsense, Katharine; you'll do nothing of the kind. It's nearly
twelve o'clock, and we've walked too far as it is."
Katharine laughed and walked on so quickly that both Rodney and the
taxicab had to increase their pace to keep up with her.
"Now, William," she said, "if people see me racing along the
Embankment like this they WILL talk. You had far better say
good-night, if you don't want people to talk."
At this William beckoned, with a despotic gesture, to the cab with one
hand, and with the other he brought Katharine to a standstill.
"Don't let the man see us struggling, for God's sake!" he murmured.
Katharine stood for a moment quite still.
"There's more of the old maid in you than the poet," she observed
William shut the door sharply, gave the address to the driver, and
turned away, lifting his hat punctiliously high in farewell to the
He looked back after the cab twice, suspiciously, half expecting that
she would stop it and dismount; but it bore her swiftly on, and was
soon out of sight. William felt in the mood for a short soliloquy of
indignation, for Katharine had contrived to exasperate him in more
ways than one.
"Of all the unreasonable, inconsiderate creatures I've ever known,
she's the worst!" he exclaimed to himself, striding back along the
Embankment. "Heaven forbid that I should ever make a fool of myself
with her again. Why, I'd sooner marry the daughter of my landlady than
Katharine Hilbery! She'd leave me not a moment's peace--and she'd
never understand me--never, never, never!"
Uttered aloud and with vehemence so that the stars of Heaven might
hear, for there was no human being at hand, these sentiments sounded
satisfactorily irrefutable. Rodney quieted down, and walked on in
silence, until he perceived some one approaching him, who had
something, either in his walk or his dress, which proclaimed that he
was one of William's acquaintances before it was possible to tell
which of them he was. It was Denham who, having parted from Sandys at
the bottom of his staircase, was now walking to the Tube at Charing
Cross, deep in the thoughts which his talk with Sandys had suggested.
He had forgotten the meeting at Mary Datchet's rooms, he had forgotten
Rodney, and metaphors and Elizabethan drama, and could have sworn that
he had forgotten Katharine Hilbery, too, although that was more
disputable. His mind was scaling the highest pinnacles of its alps,
where there was only starlight and the untrodden snow. He cast strange
eyes upon Rodney, as they encountered each other beneath a lamp-post.
"Ha!" Rodney exclaimed.
If he had been in full possession of his mind, Denham would probably
have passed on with a salutation. But the shock of the interruption
made him stand still, and before he knew what he was doing, he had
turned and was walking with Rodney in obedience to Rodney's invitation
to come to his rooms and have something to drink. Denham had no wish
to drink with Rodney, but he followed him passively enough. Rodney was
gratified by this obedience. He felt inclined to be communicative with
this silent man, who possessed so obviously all the good masculine
qualities in which Katharine now seemed lamentably deficient.
"You do well, Denham," he began impulsively, "to have nothing to do
with young women. I offer you my experience--if one trusts them one
invariably has cause to repent. Not that I have any reason at this
moment," he added hastily, "to complain of them. It's a subject that
crops up now and again for no particular reason. Miss Datchet, I dare
say, is one of the exceptions. Do you like Miss Datchet?"
These remarks indicated clearly enough that Rodney's nerves were in a
state of irritation, and Denham speedily woke to the situation of the
world as it had been one hour ago. He had last seen Rodney walking
with Katharine. He could not help regretting the eagerness with which
his mind returned to these interests, and fretted him with the old
trivial anxieties. He sank in his own esteem. Reason bade him break
from Rodney, who clearly tended to become confidential, before he had
utterly lost touch with the problems of high philosophy. He looked
along the road, and marked a lamp-post at a distance of some hundred
yards, and decided that he would part from Rodney when they reached
"Yes, I like Mary; I don't see how one could help liking her," he
remarked cautiously, with his eye on the lamp-post.
"Ah, Denham, you're so different from me. You never give yourself
away. I watched you this evening with Katharine Hilbery. My instinct
is to trust the person I'm talking to. That's why I'm always being
taken in, I suppose."
Denham seemed to be pondering this statement of Rodney's, but, as a
matter of fact, he was hardly conscious of Rodney and his revelations,
and was only concerned to make him mention Katharine again before they
reached the lamp-post.
"Who's taken you in now?" he asked. "Katharine Hilbery?"
Rodney stopped and once more began beating a kind of rhythm, as if he
were marking a phrase in a symphony, upon the smooth stone balustrade
of the Embankment.
"Katharine Hilbery," he repeated, with a curious little chuckle. "No,
Denham, I have no illusions about that young woman. I think I made
that plain to her to-night. But don't run away with a false
impression," he continued eagerly, turning and linking his arm through
Denham's, as though to prevent him from escaping; and, thus compelled,
Denham passed the monitory lamp-post, to which, in passing, he
breathed an excuse, for how could he break away when Rodney's arm was
actually linked in his? "You must not think that I have any bitterness
against her--far from it. It's not altogether her fault, poor girl.
She lives, you know, one of those odious, self-centered lives--at
least, I think them odious for a woman--feeding her wits upon
everything, having control of everything, getting far too much her own
way at home--spoilt, in a sense, feeling that every one is at her
feet, and so not realizing how she hurts--that is, how rudely she
behaves to people who haven't all her advantages. Still, to do her
justice, she's no fool," he added, as if to warn Denham not to take
any liberties. "She has taste. She has sense. She can understand you
when you talk to her. But she's a woman, and there's an end of it," he
added, with another little chuckle, and dropped Denham's arm.
"And did you tell her all this to-night?" Denham asked.
"Oh dear me, no. I should never think of telling Katharine the truth
about herself. That wouldn't do at all. One has to be in an attitude
of adoration in order to get on with Katharine.
"Now I've learnt that she's refused to marry him why don't I go home?"
Denham thought to himself. But he went on walking beside Rodney, and
for a time they did not speak, though Rodney hummed snatches of a tune
out of an opera by Mozart. A feeling of contempt and liking combine
very naturally in the mind of one to whom another has just spoken
unpremeditatedly, revealing rather more of his private feelings than
he intended to reveal. Denham began to wonder what sort of person
Rodney was, and at the same time Rodney began to think about Denham.
"You're a slave like me, I suppose?" he asked.
"A solicitor, yes."
"I sometimes wonder why we don't chuck it. Why don't you emigrate,
Denham? I should have thought that would suit you."
"I've a family."
"I'm often on the point of going myself. And then I know I couldn't
live without this"--and he waved his hand towards the City of London,
which wore, at this moment, the appearance of a town cut out of gray-
blue cardboard, and pasted flat against the sky, which was of a deeper
"There are one or two people I'm fond of, and there's a little good
music, and a few pictures, now and then--just enough to keep one
dangling about here. Ah, but I couldn't live with savages! Are you
fond of books? Music? Pictures? D'you care at all for first editions?
I've got a few nice things up here, things I pick up cheap, for I
can't afford to give what they ask."
They had reached a small court of high eighteenth-century houses, in
one of which Rodney had his rooms. They climbed a very steep
staircase, through whose uncurtained windows the moonlight fell,
illuminating the banisters with their twisted pillars, and the piles
of plates set on the window-sills, and jars half-full of milk.
Rodney's rooms were small, but the sitting-room window looked out into
a courtyard, with its flagged pavement, and its single tree, and
across to the flat red-brick fronts of the opposite houses, which
would not have surprised Dr. Johnson, if he had come out of his grave
for a turn in the moonlight. Rodney lit his lamp, pulled his curtains,
offered Denham a chair, and, flinging the manuscript of his paper on
the Elizabethan use of Metaphor on to the table, exclaimed:
"Oh dear me, what a waste of time! But it's over now, and so we may
think no more about it."
He then busied himself very dexterously in lighting a fire, producing
glasses, whisky, a cake, and cups and saucers. He put on a faded
crimson dressing-gown, and a pair of red slippers, and advanced to
Denham with a tumbler in one hand and a well-burnished book in the
"The Baskerville Congreve," said Rodney, offering it to his guest. "I
couldn't read him in a cheap edition."
When he was seen thus among his books and his valuables, amiably
anxious to make his visitor comfortable, and moving about with
something of the dexterity and grace of a Persian cat, Denham relaxed
his critical attitude, and felt more at home with Rodney than he would
have done with many men better known to him. Rodney's room was the
room of a person who cherishes a great many personal tastes, guarding
them from the rough blasts of the public with scrupulous attention.
His papers and his books rose in jagged mounds on table and floor,
round which he skirted with nervous care lest his dressing-gown might
disarrange them ever so slightly. On a chair stood a stack of
photographs of statues and pictures, which it was his habit to
exhibit, one by one, for the space of a day or two. The books on his
shelves were as orderly as regiments of soldiers, and the backs of
them shone like so many bronze beetle-wings; though, if you took one
from its place you saw a shabbier volume behind it, since space was
limited. An oval Venetian mirror stood above the fireplace, and
reflected duskily in its spotted depths the faint yellow and crimson
of a jarful of tulips which stood among the letters and pipes and
cigarettes upon the mantelpiece. A small piano occupied a corner of
the room, with the score of "Don Giovanni" open upon the bracket.
"Well, Rodney," said Denham, as he filled his pipe and looked about
him, "this is all very nice and comfortable."
Rodney turned his head half round and smiled, with the pride of a
proprietor, and then prevented himself from smiling.
"Tolerable," he muttered.
"But I dare say it's just as well that you have to earn your own
"If you mean that I shouldn't do anything good with leisure if I had
it, I dare say you're right. But I should be ten times as happy with
my whole day to spend as I liked."
"I doubt that," Denham replied.
They sat silent, and the smoke from their pipes joined amicably in a
blue vapor above their heads.
"I could spend three hours every day reading Shakespeare," Rodney
remarked. "And there's music and pictures, let alone the society of
the people one likes."
"You'd be bored to death in a year's time."
"Oh, I grant you I should be bored if I did nothing. But I should
"I should write plays," he repeated. "I've written three-quarters of
one already, and I'm only waiting for a holiday to finish it. And it's
not bad--no, some of it's really rather nice."
The question arose in Denham's mind whether he should ask to see this
play, as, no doubt, he was expected to do. He looked rather stealthily
at Rodney, who was tapping the coal nervously with a poker, and
quivering almost physically, so Denham thought, with desire to talk
about this play of his, and vanity unrequited and urgent. He seemed
very much at Denham's mercy, and Denham could not help liking him,
partly on that account.
"Well, . . . will you let me see the play?" Denham asked, and Rodney
looked immediately appeased, but, nevertheless, he sat silent for a
moment, holding the poker perfectly upright in the air, regarding it
with his rather prominent eyes, and opening his lips and shutting them
"Do you really care for this kind of thing?" he asked at length, in a
different tone of voice from that in which he had been speaking. And,
without waiting for an answer, he went on, rather querulously: "Very
few people care for poetry. I dare say it bores you."
"Perhaps," Denham remarked.
"Well, I'll lend it you," Rodney announced, putting down the poker.
As he moved to fetch the play, Denham stretched a hand to the bookcase
beside him, and took down the first volume which his fingers touched.
It happened to be a small and very lovely edition of Sir Thomas
Browne, containing the "Urn Burial," the "Hydriotaphia," and the
"Garden of Cyrus," and, opening it at a passage which he knew very
nearly by heart, Denham began to read and, for some time, continued to
Rodney resumed his seat, with his manuscript on his knee, and from
time to time he glanced at Denham, and then joined his finger-tips and
crossed his thin legs over the fender, as if he experienced a good
deal of pleasure. At length Denham shut the book, and stood, with his
back to the fireplace, occasionally making an inarticulate humming
sound which seemed to refer to Sir Thomas Browne. He put his hat on
his head, and stood over Rodney, who still lay stretched back in his
chair, with his toes within the fender.
"I shall look in again some time," Denham remarked, upon which Rodney
held up his hand, containing his manuscript, without saying anything
except--"If you like."
Denham took the manuscript and went. Two days later he was much
surprised to find a thin parcel on his breakfastplate, which, on being
opened, revealed the very copy of Sir Thomas Browne which he had
studied so intently in Rodney's rooms. From sheer laziness he returned
no thanks, but he thought of Rodney from time to time with interest,
disconnecting him from Katharine, and meant to go round one evening
and smoke a pipe with him. It pleased Rodney thus to give away
whatever his friends genuinely admired. His library was constantly
Of all the hours of an ordinary working week-day, which are the
pleasantest to look forward to and to look back upon? If a single
instance is of use in framing a theory, it may be said that the
minutes between nine-twenty-five and nine-thirty in the morning had a
singular charm for Mary Datchet. She spent them in a very enviable
frame of mind; her contentment was almost unalloyed. High in the air
as her flat was, some beams from the morning sun reached her even in
November, striking straight at curtain, chair, and carpet, and
painting there three bright, true spaces of green, blue, and purple,
upon which the eye rested with a pleasure which gave physical warmth
to the body.
There were few mornings when Mary did not look up, as she bent to lace
her boots, and as she followed the yellow rod from curtain to
breakfast-table she usually breathed some sigh of thankfulness that
her life provided her with such moments of pure enjoyment. She was
robbing no one of anything, and yet, to get so much pleasure from
simple things, such as eating one's breakfast alone in a room which
had nice colors in it, clean from the skirting of the boards to the
corners of the ceiling, seemed to suit her so thoroughly that she used
at first to hunt about for some one to apologize to, or for some flaw
in the situation. She had now been six months in London, and she could
find no flaw, but that, as she invariably concluded by the time her
boots were laced, was solely and entirely due to the fact that she had
her work. Every day, as she stood with her dispatch-box in her hand at
the door of her flat, and gave one look back into the room to see that
everything was straight before she left, she said to herself that she
was very glad that she was going to leave it all, that to have sat
there all day long, in the enjoyment of leisure, would have been
Out in the street she liked to think herself one of the workers who,
at this hour, take their way in rapid single file along all the broad
pavements of the city, with their heads slightly lowered, as if all
their effort were to follow each other as closely as might be; so that
Mary used to figure to herself a straight rabbit-run worn by their
unswerving feet upon the pavement. But she liked to pretend that she
was indistinguishable from the rest, and that when a wet day drove her
to the Underground or omnibus, she gave and took her share of crowd
and wet with clerks and typists and commercial men, and shared with
them the serious business of winding-up the world to tick for another
Thus thinking, on the particular morning in question, she made her
away across Lincoln's Inn Fields and up Kingsway, and so through
Southampton Row until she reached her office in Russell Square. Now
and then she would pause and look into the window of some bookseller
or flower shop, where, at this early hour, the goods were being
arranged, and empty gaps behind the plate glass revealed a state of
undress. Mary felt kindly disposed towards the shopkeepers, and hoped
that they would trick the midday public into purchasing, for at this
hour of the morning she ranged herself entirely on the side of the
shopkeepers and bank clerks, and regarded all who slept late and had
money to spend as her enemy and natural prey. And directly she had
crossed the road at Holborn, her thoughts all came naturally and
regularly to roost upon her work, and she forgot that she was,
properly speaking, an amateur worker, whose services were unpaid, and
could hardly be said to wind the world up for its daily task, since
the world, so far, had shown very little desire to take the boons
which Mary's society for woman's suffrage had offered it.
She was thinking all the way up Southampton Row of notepaper and
foolscap, and how an economy in the use of paper might be effected
(without, of course, hurting Mrs. Seal's feelings), for she was
certain that the great organizers always pounce, to begin with, upon
trifles like these, and build up their triumphant reforms upon a basis
of absolute solidity; and, without acknowledging it for a moment, Mary
Datchet was determined to be a great organizer, and had already doomed
her society to reconstruction of the most radical kind. Once or twice
lately, it is true, she had started, broad awake, before turning into
Russell Square, and denounced herself rather sharply for being already
in a groove, capable, that is, of thinking the same thoughts every
morning at the same hour, so that the chestnut-colored brick of the
Russell Square houses had some curious connection with her thoughts
about office economy, and served also as a sign that she should get
into trim for meeting Mr. Clacton, or Mrs. Seal, or whoever might be
beforehand with her at the office. Having no religious belief, she was
the more conscientious about her life, examining her position from
time to time very seriously, and nothing annoyed her more than to find
one of these bad habits nibbling away unheeded at the precious
substance. What was the good, after all, of being a woman if one
didn't keep fresh, and cram one's life with all sorts of views and
experiments? Thus she always gave herself a little shake, as she
turned the corner, and, as often as not, reached her own door
whistling a snatch of a Somersetshire ballad.
The suffrage office was at the top of one of the large Russell Square
houses, which had once been lived in by a great city merchant and his
family, and was now let out in slices to a number of societies which
displayed assorted initials upon doors of ground glass, and kept, each
of them, a typewriter which clicked busily all day long. The old
house, with its great stone staircase, echoed hollowly to the sound of
typewriters and of errand-boys from ten to six. The noise of different
typewriters already at work, disseminating their views upon the
protection of native races, or the value of cereals as foodstuffs,
quickened Mary's steps, and she always ran up the last flight of steps
which led to her own landing, at whatever hour she came, so as to get
her typewriter to take its place in competition with the rest.
She sat herself down to her letters, and very soon all these
speculations were forgotten, and the two lines drew themselves between
her eyebrows, as the contents of the letters, the office furniture,
and the sounds of activity in the next room gradually asserted their
sway upon her. By eleven o'clock the atmosphere of concentration was
running so strongly in one direction that any thought of a different
order could hardly have survived its birth more than a moment or so.
The task which lay before her was to organize a series of
entertainments, the profits of which were to benefit the society,
which drooped for want of funds. It was her first attempt at
organization on a large scale, and she meant to achieve something
remarkable. She meant to use the cumbrous machine to pick out this,
that, and the other interesting person from the muddle of the world,
and to set them for a week in a pattern which must catch the eyes of
Cabinet Ministers, and the eyes once caught, the old arguments were to
be delivered with unexampled originality. Such was the scheme as a
whole; and in contemplation of it she would become quite flushed and
excited, and have to remind herself of all the details that intervened
between her and success.
The door would open, and Mr. Clacton would come in to search for a
certain leaflet buried beneath a pyramid of leaflets. He was a thin,
sandy-haired man of about thirty-five, spoke with a Cockney accent,
and had about him a frugal look, as if nature had not dealt generously
with him in any way, which, naturally, prevented him from dealing
generously with other people. When he had found his leaflet, and
offered a few jocular hints upon keeping papers in order, the
typewriting would stop abruptly, and Mrs. Seal would burst into the
room with a letter which needed explanation in her hand. This was a
more serious interruption than the other, because she never knew
exactly what she wanted, and half a dozen requests would bolt from
her, no one of which was clearly stated. Dressed in plum-colored
velveteen, with short, gray hair, and a face that seemed permanently
flushed with philanthropic enthusiasm, she was always in a hurry, and
always in some disorder. She wore two crucifixes, which got themselves
entangled in a heavy gold chain upon her breast, and seemed to Mary
expressive of her mental ambiguity. Only her vast enthusiasm and her
worship of Miss Markham, one of the pioneers of the society, kept her
in her place, for which she had no sound qualification.
So the morning wore on, and the pile of letters grew, and Mary felt,
at last, that she was the center ganglion of a very fine network of
nerves which fell over England, and one of these days, when she
touched the heart of the system, would begin feeling and rushing
together and emitting their splendid blaze of revolutionary fireworks
--for some such metaphor represents what she felt about her work, when
her brain had been heated by three hours of application.
Shortly before one o'clock Mr. Clacton and Mrs. Seal desisted from
their labors, and the old joke about luncheon, which came out
regularly at this hour, was repeated with scarcely any variation of
words. Mr. Clacton patronized a vegetarian restaurant; Mrs. Seal
brought sandwiches, which she ate beneath the plane-trees in Russell
Square; while Mary generally went to a gaudy establishment,
upholstered in red plush, near by, where, much to the vegetarian's
disapproval, you could buy steak, two inches thick, or a roast section
of fowl, swimming in a pewter dish.
"The bare branches against the sky do one so much GOOD," Mrs. Seal
asserted, looking out into the Square.
"But one can't lunch off trees, Sally," said Mary.
"I confess I don't know how you manage it, Miss Datchet," Mr. Clacton
remarked. "I should sleep all the afternoon, I know, if I took a heavy
meal in the middle of the day."
"What's the very latest thing in literature?" Mary asked, good-
humoredly pointing to the yellow-covered volume beneath Mr. Clacton's
arm, for he invariably read some new French author at lunch-time, or
squeezed in a visit to a picture gallery, balancing his social work
with an ardent culture of which he was secretly proud, as Mary had
very soon divined.
So they parted and Mary walked away, wondering if they guessed that
she really wanted to get away from them, and supposing that they had
not quite reached that degree of subtlety. She bought herself an
evening paper, which she read as she ate, looking over the top of it
again and again at the queer people who were buying cakes or imparting
their secrets, until some young woman whom she knew came in, and she
called out, "Eleanor, come and sit by me," and they finished their
lunch together, parting on the strip of pavement among the different
lines of traffic with a pleasant feeling that they were stepping once
more into their separate places in the great and eternally moving
pattern of human life.
But, instead of going straight back to the office to-day, Mary turned
into the British Museum, and strolled down the gallery with the shapes
of stone until she found an empty seat directly beneath the gaze of
the Elgin marbles. She looked at them, and seemed, as usual, borne up
on some wave of exaltation and emotion, by which her life at once
became solemn and beautiful--an impression which was due as much,
perhaps, to the solitude and chill and silence of the gallery as to
the actual beauty of the statues. One must suppose, at least, that her
emotions were not purely esthetic, because, after she had gazed at the
Ulysses for a minute or two, she began to think about Ralph Denham. So
secure did she feel with these silent shapes that she almost yielded
to an impulse to say "I am in love with you" aloud. The presence of
this immense and enduring beauty made her almost alarmingly conscious
of her desire, and at the same time proud of a feeling which did not
display anything like the same proportions when she was going about
her daily work.
She repressed her impulse to speak aloud, and rose and wandered about
rather aimlessly among the statues until she found herself in another
gallery devoted to engraved obelisks and winged Assyrian bulls, and
her emotion took another turn. She began to picture herself traveling
with Ralph in a land where these monsters were couchant in the sand.
"For," she thought to herself, as she gazed fixedly at some
information printed behind a piece of glass, "the wonderful thing
about you is that you're ready for anything; you're not in the least
conventional, like most clever men."
And she conjured up a scene of herself on a camel's back, in the
desert, while Ralph commanded a whole tribe of natives.
"That is what you can do," she went on, moving on to the next statue.
"You always make people do what you want."
A glow spread over her spirit, and filled her eyes with brightness.
Nevertheless, before she left the Museum she was very far from saying,
even in the privacy of her own mind, "I am in love with you," and that
sentence might very well never have framed itself. She was, indeed,
rather annoyed with herself for having allowed such an ill-considered
breach of her reserve, weakening her powers of resistance, she felt,
should this impulse return again. For, as she walked along the street
to her office, the force of all her customary objections to being in
love with any one overcame her. She did not want to marry at all. It
seemed to her that there was something amateurish in bringing love
into touch with a perfectly straightforward friendship, such as hers
was with Ralph, which, for two years now, had based itself upon common
interests in impersonal topics, such as the housing of the poor, or
the taxation of land values.
But the afternoon spirit differed intrinsically from the morning
spirit. Mary found herself watching the flight of a bird, or making
drawings of the branches of the plane-trees upon her blotting-paper.
People came in to see Mr. Clacton on business, and a seductive smell
of cigarette smoke issued from his room. Mrs. Seal wandered about with
newspaper cuttings, which seemed to her either "quite splendid" or
"really too bad for words." She used to paste these into books, or
send them to her friends, having first drawn a broad bar in blue
pencil down the margin, a proceeding which signified equally and
indistinguishably the depths of her reprobation or the heights of her
About four o'clock on that same afternoon Katharine Hilbery was
walking up Kingsway. The question of tea presented itself. The street
lamps were being lit already, and as she stood still for a moment
beneath one of them, she tried to think of some neighboring
drawing-room where there would be firelight and talk congenial to her
mood. That mood, owing to the spinning traffic and the evening veil of
unreality, was ill-adapted to her home surroundings. Perhaps, on the
whole, a shop was the best place in which to preserve this queer sense
of heightened existence. At the same time she wished to talk.
Remembering Mary Datchet and her repeated invitations, she crossed the
road, turned into Russell Square, and peered about, seeking for
numbers with a sense of adventure that was out of all proportion to
the deed itself. She found herself in a dimly lighted hall, unguarded
by a porter, and pushed open the first swing door. But the office-boy
had never heard of Miss Datchet. Did she belong to the S.R.F.R.?
Katharine shook her head with a smile of dismay. A voice from within
shouted, "No. The S.G.S.--top floor."
Katharine mounted past innumerable glass doors, with initials on them,
and became steadily more and more doubtful of the wisdom of her
venture. At the top she paused for a moment to breathe and collect
herself. She heard the typewriter and formal professional voices
inside, not belonging, she thought, to any one she had ever spoken to.
She touched the bell, and the door was opened almost immediately by
Mary herself. Her face had to change its expression entirely when she
"You!" she exclaimed. "We thought you were the printer." Still holding
the door open, she called back, "No, Mr. Clacton, it's not
Penningtons. I should ring them up again--double three double eight,
Central. Well, this is a surprise. Come in," she added. "You're just
in time for tea."
The light of relief shone in Mary's eyes. The boredom of the afternoon
was dissipated at once, and she was glad that Katharine had found them
in a momentary press of activity, owing to the failure of the printer
to send back certain proofs.
The unshaded electric light shining upon the table covered with papers
dazed Katharine for a moment. After the confusion of her twilight
walk, and her random thoughts, life in this small room appeared
extremely concentrated and bright. She turned instinctively to look
out of the window, which was uncurtained, but Mary immediately
"It was very clever of you to find your way," she said, and Katharine
wondered, as she stood there, feeling, for the moment, entirely
detached and unabsorbed, why she had come. She looked, indeed, to
Mary's eyes strangely out of place in the office. Her figure in the
long cloak, which took deep folds, and her face, which was composed
into a mask of sensitive apprehension, disturbed Mary for a moment
with a sense of the presence of some one who was of another world,
and, therefore, subversive of her world. She became immediately
anxious that Katharine should be impressed by the importance of her
world, and hoped that neither Mrs. Seal nor Mr. Clacton would appear
until the impression of importance had been received. But in this she
was disappointed. Mrs. Seal burst into the room holding a kettle in
her hand, which she set upon the stove, and then, with inefficient
haste, she set light to the gas, which flared up, exploded, and went
"Always the way, always the way," she muttered. "Kit Markham is the
only person who knows how to deal with the thing."
Mary had to go to her help, and together they spread the table, and
apologized for the disparity between the cups and the plainness of the
"If we had known Miss Hilbery was coming, we should have bought a
cake," said Mary, upon which Mrs. Seal looked at Katharine for the
first time, suspiciously, because she was a person who needed cake.
Here Mr. Clacton opened the door, and came in, holding a typewritten
letter in his hand, which he was reading aloud.
"Salford's affiliated," he said.
"Well done, Salford!" Mrs. Seal exclaimed enthusiastically, thumping
the teapot which she held upon the table, in token of applause.
"Yes, these provincial centers seem to be coming into line at last,"
said Mr. Clacton, and then Mary introduced him to Miss Hilbery, and he
asked her, in a very formal manner, if she were interested "in our
"And the proofs still not come?" said Mrs. Seal, putting both her
elbows on the table, and propping her chin on her hands, as Mary began
to pour out tea. "It's too bad--too bad. At this rate we shall miss
the country post. Which reminds me, Mr. Clacton, don't you think we
should circularize the provinces with Partridge's last speech? What?
You've not read it? Oh, it's the best thing they've had in the House
this Session. Even the Prime Minister--"
But Mary cut her short.
"We don't allow shop at tea, Sally," she said firmly. "We fine her a
penny each time she forgets, and the fines go to buying a plum cake,"
she explained, seeking to draw Katharine into the community. She had
given up all hope of impressing her.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Mrs. Seal apologized. "It's my misfortune to
be an enthusiast," she said, turning to Katharine. "My father's
daughter could hardly be anything else. I think I've been on as many
committees as most people. Waifs and Strays, Rescue Work, Church Work,
C. O. S.--local branch--besides the usual civic duties which fall to
one as a householder. But I've given them all up for our work here,
and I don't regret it for a second," she added. "This is the root
question, I feel; until women have votes--"
"It'll be sixpence, at least, Sally," said Mary, bringing her fist
down on the table. "And we're all sick to death of women and their
Mrs. Seal looked for a moment as though she could hardly believe her
ears, and made a deprecating "tut-tut-tut" in her throat, looking
alternately at Katharine and Mary, and shaking her head as she did so.
Then she remarked, rather confidentially to Katharine, with a little
nod in Mary's direction:
"She's doing more for the cause than any of us. She's giving her youth
--for, alas! when I was young there were domestic circumstances--" she
sighed, and stopped short.
Mr. Clacton hastily reverted to the joke about luncheon, and explained
how Mrs. Seal fed on a bag of biscuits under the trees, whatever the
weather might be, rather, Katharine thought, as though Mrs. Seal were
a pet dog who had convenient tricks.
"Yes, I took my little bag into the square," said Mrs. Seal, with the
self-conscious guilt of a child owning some fault to its elders. "It
was really very sustaining, and the bare boughs against the sky do one
so much GOOD. But I shall have to give up going into the square," she
proceeded, wrinkling her forehead. "The injustice of it! Why should I
have a beautiful square all to myself, when poor women who need rest
have nowhere at all to sit?" She looked fiercely at Katharine, giving
her short locks a little shake. "It's dreadful what a tyrant one still
is, in spite of all one's efforts. One tries to lead a decent life,
but one can't. Of course, directly one thinks of it, one sees that ALL
squares should be open to EVERY ONE. Is there any society with that
object, Mr. Clacton? If not, there should be, surely."
"A most excellent object," said Mr. Clacton in his professional
manner. "At the same time, one must deplore the ramification of
organizations, Mrs. Seal. So much excellent effort thrown away, not to
speak of pounds, shillings, and pence. Now how many organizations of a
philanthropic nature do you suppose there are in the City of London
itself, Miss Hilbery?" he added, screwing his mouth into a queer
little smile, as if to show that the question had its frivolous side.
Katharine smiled, too. Her unlikeness to the rest of them had, by this
time, penetrated to Mr. Clacton, who was not naturally observant, and
he was wondering who she was; this same unlikeness had subtly
stimulated Mrs. Seal to try and make a convert of her. Mary, too,
looked at her almost as if she begged her to make things easy. For
Katharine had shown no disposition to make things easy. She had
scarcely spoken, and her silence, though grave and even thoughtful,
seemed to Mary the silence of one who criticizes.
"Well, there are more in this house than I'd any notion of," she said.
"On the ground floor you protect natives, on the next you emigrate
women and tell people to eat nuts--"
"Why do you say that 'we' do these things?" Mary interposed, rather
sharply. "We're not responsible for all the cranks who choose to lodge
in the same house with us."
Mr. Clacton cleared his throat and looked at each of the young ladies
in turn. He was a good deal struck by the appearance and manner of
Miss Hilbery, which seemed to him to place her among those cultivated
and luxurious people of whom he used to dream. Mary, on the other
hand, was more of his own sort, and a little too much inclined to
order him about. He picked up crumbs of dry biscuit and put them into
his mouth with incredible rapidity.
"You don't belong to our society, then?" said Mrs. Seal.
"No, I'm afraid I don't," said Katharine, with such ready candor that
Mrs. Seal was nonplussed, and stared at her with a puzzled expression,
as if she could not classify her among the varieties of human beings
known to her.
"But surely " she began.
"Mrs. Seal is an enthusiast in these matters," said Mr. Clacton,
almost apologetically. "We have to remind her sometimes that others
have a right to their views even if they differ from our own. . . .
"Punch" has a very funny picture this week, about a Suffragist and an
agricultural laborer. Have you seen this week's "Punch," Miss
Mary laughed, and said "No."
Mr. Clacton then told them the substance of the joke, which, however,
depended a good deal for its success upon the expression which the
artist had put into the people's faces. Mrs. Seal sat all the time
perfectly grave. Directly he had done speaking she burst out:
"But surely, if you care about the welfare of your sex at all, you
must wish them to have the vote?"
"I never said I didn't wish them to have the vote," Katharine
"Then why aren't you a member of our society?" Mrs. Seal demanded.
Katharine stirred her spoon round and round, stared into the swirl of
the tea, and remained silent. Mr. Clacton, meanwhile, framed a
question which, after a moment's hesitation, he put to Katharine.
"Are you in any way related, I wonder, to the poet Alardyce? His
daughter, I believe, married a Mr. Hilbery."
"Yes; I'm the poet's granddaughter," said Katharine, with a little
sigh, after a pause; and for a moment they were all silent.
"The poet's granddaughter!" Mrs. Seal repeated, half to herself, with
a shake of her head, as if that explained what was otherwise
The light kindled in Mr. Clacton's eye.
"Ah, indeed. That interests me very much," he said. "I owe a great
debt to your grandfather, Miss Hilbery. At one time I could have
repeated the greater part of him by heart. But one gets out of the way
of reading poetry, unfortunately. You don't remember him, I suppose?"
A sharp rap at the door made Katharine's answer inaudible. Mrs. Seal
looked up with renewed hope in her eyes, and exclaiming:
"The proofs at last!" ran to open the door. "Oh, it's only Mr.
Denham!" she cried, without any attempt to conceal her disappointment.
Ralph, Katharine supposed, was a frequent visitor, for the only person
he thought it necessary to greet was herself, and Mary at once
explained the strange fact of her being there by saying:
"Katharine has come to see how one runs an office."
Ralph felt himself stiffen uncomfortably, as he said:
"I hope Mary hasn't persuaded you that she knows how to run an
"What, doesn't she?" said Katharine, looking from one to the other.
At these remarks Mrs. Seal began to exhibit signs of discomposure,
which displayed themselves by a tossing movement of her head, and, as
Ralph took a letter from his pocket, and placed his finger upon a
certain sentence, she forestalled him by exclaiming in confusion:
"Now, I know what you're going to say, Mr. Denham! But it was the day
Kit Markham was here, and she upsets one so--with her wonderful
vitality, always thinking of something new that we ought to be doing
and aren't--and I was conscious at the time that my dates were mixed.
It had nothing to do with Mary at all, I assure you."
"My dear Sally, don't apologize," said Mary, laughing. "Men are such
pedants--they don't know what things matter, and what things don't."
"Now, Denham, speak up for our sex," said Mr. Clacton in a jocular
manner, indeed, but like most insignificant men he was very quick to
resent being found fault with by a woman, in argument with whom he was
fond of calling himself "a mere man." He wished, however, to enter
into a literary conservation with Miss Hilbery, and thus let the
"Doesn't it seem strange to you, Miss Hilbery," he said, "that the
French, with all their wealth of illustrious names, have no poet who
can compare with your grandfather? Let me see. There's Chenier and
Hugo and Alfred de Musset--wonderful men, but, at the same time,
there's a richness, a freshness about Alardyce--"
Here the telephone bell rang, and he had to absent himself with a
smile and a bow which signified that, although literature is
delightful, it is not work. Mrs. Seal rose at the same time, but
remained hovering over the table, delivering herself of a tirade
against party government. "For if I were to tell you what I know of
back-stairs intrigue, and what can be done by the power of the purse,
you wouldn't credit me, Mr. Denham, you wouldn't, indeed. Which is why
I feel that the only work for my father's daughter--for he was one of
the pioneers, Mr. Denham, and on his tombstone I had that verse from
the Psalms put, about the sowers and the seed. . . . And what wouldn't
I give that he should be alive now, seeing what we're going to see--"
but reflecting that the glories of the future depended in part upon
the activity of her typewriter, she bobbed her head, and hurried back
to the seclusion of her little room, from which immediately issued
sounds of enthusiastic, but obviously erratic, composition.
Mary made it clear at once, by starting a fresh topic of general
interest, that though she saw the humor of her colleague, she did not
intend to have her laughed at.
"The standard of morality seems to me frightfully low," she observed
reflectively, pouring out a second cup of tea, "especially among women
who aren't well educated. They don't see that small things matter, and
that's where the leakage begins, and then we find ourselves in
difficulties--I very nearly lost my temper yesterday," she went on,
looking at Ralph with a little smile, as though he knew what happened
when she lost her temper. "It makes me very angry when people tell me
lies--doesn't it make you angry?" she asked Katharine.
"But considering that every one tells lies," Katharine remarked,
looking about the room to see where she had put down her umbrella and
her parcel, for there was an intimacy in the way in which Mary and
Ralph addressed each other which made her wish to leave them. Mary, on
the other hand, was anxious, superficially at least, that Katharine
should stay and so fortify her in her determination not to be in love
Ralph, while lifting his cup from his lips to the table, had made up
his mind that if Miss Hilbery left, he would go with her.
"I don't think that I tell lies, and I don't think that Ralph tells
lies, do you, Ralph?" Mary continued.
Katharine laughed, with more gayety, as it seemed to Mary, than she
could properly account for. What was she laughing at? At them,
presumably. Katharine had risen, and was glancing hither and thither,
at the presses and the cupboards, and all the machinery of the office,
as if she included them all in her rather malicious amusement, which
caused Mary to keep her eyes on her straightly and rather fiercely, as
if she were a gay-plumed, mischievous bird, who might light on the
topmost bough and pick off the ruddiest cherry, without any warning.
Two women less like each other could scarcely be imagined, Ralph
thought, looking from one to the other. Next moment, he too, rose, and
nodding to Mary, as Katharine said good-bye, opened the door for her,
and followed her out.
Mary sat still and made no attempt to prevent them from going. For a
second or two after the door had shut on them her eyes rested on the
door with a straightforward fierceness in which, for a moment, a
certain degree of bewilderment seemed to enter; but, after a brief
hesitation, she put down her cup and proceeded to clear away the
The impulse which had driven Ralph to take this action was the result
of a very swift little piece of reasoning, and thus, perhaps, was not
quite so much of an impulse as it seemed. It passed through his mind
that if he missed this chance of talking to Katharine, he would have
to face an enraged ghost, when he was alone in his room again,
demanding an explanation of his cowardly indecision. It was better, on
the whole, to risk present discomfiture than to waste an evening
bandying excuses and constructing impossible scenes with this
uncompromising section of himself. For ever since he had visited the
Hilberys he had been much at the mercy of a phantom Katharine, who
came to him when he sat alone, and answered him as he would have her
answer, and was always beside him to crown those varying triumphs
which were transacted almost every night, in imaginary scenes, as he
walked through the lamplit streets home from the office. To walk with
Katharine in the flesh would either feed that phantom with fresh food,
which, as all who nourish dreams are aware, is a process that becomes
necessary from time to time, or refine it to such a degree of thinness
that it was scarcely serviceable any longer; and that, too, is
sometimes a welcome change to a dreamer. And all the time Ralph was
well aware that the bulk of Katharine was not represented in his
dreams at all, so that when he met her he was bewildered by the fact
that she had nothing to do with his dream of her.
When, on reaching the street, Katharine found that Mr. Denham
proceeded to keep pace by her side, she was surprised and, perhaps, a
little annoyed. She, too, had her margin of imagination, and to-night
her activity in this obscure region of the mind required solitude. If
she had had her way, she would have walked very fast down the
Tottenham Court Road, and then sprung into a cab and raced swiftly
home. The view she had had of the inside of an office was of the
nature of a dream to her. Shut off up there, she compared Mrs. Seal,
and Mary Datchet, and Mr. Clacton to enchanted people in a bewitched
tower, with the spiders' webs looping across the corners of the room,
and all the tools of the necromancer's craft at hand; for so aloof and
unreal and apart from the normal world did they seem to her, in the
house of innumerable typewriters, murmuring their incantations and
concocting their drugs, and flinging their frail spiders' webs over
the torrent of life which rushed down the streets outside.
She may have been conscious that there was some exaggeration in this
fancy of hers, for she certainly did not wish to share it with Ralph.
To him, she supposed, Mary Datchet, composing leaflets for Cabinet
Ministers among her typewriters, represented all that was interesting
and genuine; and, accordingly, she shut them both out from all share
in the crowded street, with its pendant necklace of lamps, its lighted
windows, and its throng of men and women, which exhilarated her to
such an extent that she very nearly forgot her companion. She walked
very fast, and the effect of people passing in the opposite direction
was to produce a queer dizziness both in her head and in Ralph's,
which set their bodies far apart. But she did her duty by her
companion almost unconsciously.
"Mary Datchet does that sort of work very well. . . . She's
responsible for it, I suppose?"
"Yes. The others don't help at all. . . . Has she made a convert of
"Oh no. That is, I'm a convert already."
"But she hasn't persuaded you to work for them?"
"Oh dear no--that wouldn't do at all."
So they walked on down the Tottenham Court Road, parting and coming
together again, and Ralph felt much as though he were addressing the
summit of a poplar in a high gale of wind.
"Suppose we get on to that omnibus?" he suggested.
Katharine acquiesced, and they climbed up, and found themselves alone
on top of it.
"But which way are you going?" Katharine asked, waking a little from
the trance into which movement among moving things had thrown her.
"I'm going to the Temple," Ralph replied, inventing a destination on
the spur of the moment. He felt the change come over her as they sat
down and the omnibus began to move forward. He imagined her
contemplating the avenue in front of them with those honest sad eyes
which seemed to set him at such a distance from them. But the breeze
was blowing in their faces; it lifted her hat for a second, and she
drew out a pin and stuck it in again,--a little action which seemed,
for some reason, to make her rather more fallible. Ah, if only her hat
would blow off, and leave her altogether disheveled, accepting it from
"This is like Venice," she observed, raising her hand. "The motor-
cars, I mean, shooting about so quickly, with their lights."
"I've never seen Venice," he replied. "I keep that and some other
things for my old age."
"What are the other things?" she asked.
"There's Venice and India and, I think, Dante, too."
"Think of providing for one's old age! And would you refuse to see
Venice if you had the chance?"
Instead of answering her, he wondered whether he should tell her
something that was quite true about himself; and as he wondered, he
"I've planned out my life in sections ever since I was a child, to
make it last longer. You see, I'm always afraid that I'm missing
"And so am I!" Katharine exclaimed. "But, after all," she added, "why
should you miss anything?"
"Why? Because I'm poor, for one thing," Ralph rejoined. "You, I
suppose, can have Venice and India and Dante every day of your life."
She said nothing for a moment, but rested one hand, which was bare of
glove, upon the rail in front of her, meditating upon a variety of
things, of which one was that this strange young man pronounced Dante
as she was used to hearing it pronounced, and another, that he had,
most unexpectedly, a feeling about life that was familiar to her.
Perhaps, then, he was the sort of person she might take an interest
in, if she came to know him better, and as she had placed him among
those whom she would never want to know better, this was enough to
make her silent. She hastily recalled her first view of him, in the
little room where the relics were kept, and ran a bar through half her
impressions, as one cancels a badly written sentence, having found the
"But to know that one might have things doesn't alter the fact that
one hasn't got them," she said, in some confusion. "How could I go to
India, for example? Besides," she began impulsively, and stopped
herself. Here the conductor came round, and interrupted them. Ralph
waited for her to resume her sentence, but she said no more.
"I have a message to give your father," he remarked. "Perhaps you
would give it him, or I could come--"
"Yes, do come," Katharine replied.
"Still, I don't see why you shouldn't go to India," Ralph began, in
order to keep her from rising, as she threatened to do.
But she got up in spite of him, and said good-bye with her usual air
of decision, and left him with a quickness which Ralph connected now
with all her movements. He looked down and saw her standing on the
pavement edge, an alert, commanding figure, which waited its season to
cross, and then walked boldly and swiftly to the other side. That
gesture and action would be added to the picture he had of her, but at
present the real woman completely routed the phantom one.
And little Augustus Pelham said to me, 'It's the younger generation
knocking at the door,' and I said to him, 'Oh, but the younger
generation comes in without knocking, Mr. Pelham.' Such a feeble
little joke, wasn't it, but down it went into his notebook all the
"Let us congratulate ourselves that we shall be in the grave before
that work is published," said Mr. Hilbery.
The elderly couple were waiting for the dinner-bell to ring and for
their daughter to come into the room. Their arm-chairs were drawn up
on either side of the fire, and each sat in the same slightly crouched
position, looking into the coals, with the expressions of people who
have had their share of experiences and wait, rather passively, for
something to happen. Mr. Hilbery now gave all his attention to a piece
of coal which had fallen out of the grate, and to selecting a
favorable position for it among the lumps that were burning already.
Mrs. Hilbery watched him in silence, and the smile changed on her lips
as if her mind still played with the events of the afternoon.
When Mr. Hilbery had accomplished his task, he resumed his crouching
position again, and began to toy with the little green stone attached
to his watch-chain. His deep, oval-shaped eyes were fixed upon the
flames, but behind the superficial glaze seemed to brood an observant
and whimsical spirit, which kept the brown of the eye still unusually
vivid. But a look of indolence, the result of skepticism or of a taste
too fastidious to be satisfied by the prizes and conclusions so easily
within his grasp, lent him an expression almost of melancholy. After
sitting thus for a time, he seemed to reach some point in his thinking
which demonstrated its futility, upon which he sighed and stretched
his hand for a book lying on the table by his side.
Directly the door opened he closed the book, and the eyes of father
and mother both rested on Katharine as she came towards them. The
sight seemed at once to give them a motive which they had not had
before. To them she appeared, as she walked towards them in her light
evening dress, extremely young, and the sight of her refreshed them,
were it only because her youth and ignorance made their knowledge of
the world of some value.
"The only excuse for you, Katharine, is that dinner is still later
than you are," said Mr. Hilbery, putting down his spectacles.
"I don't mind her being late when the result is so charming," said
Mrs. Hilbery, looking with pride at her daughter. "Still, I don't know
that I LIKE your being out so late, Katharine," she continued. "You
took a cab, I hope?"
Here dinner was announced, and Mr. Hilbery formally led his wife
downstairs on his arm. They were all dressed for dinner, and, indeed,
the prettiness of the dinner-table merited that compliment. There was
no cloth upon the table, and the china made regular circles of deep
blue upon the shining brown wood. In the middle there was a bowl of
tawny red and yellow chrysanthemums, and one of pure white, so fresh
that the narrow petals were curved backwards into a firm white ball.
From the surrounding walls the heads of three famous Victorian writers
surveyed this entertainment, and slips of paper pasted beneath them
testified in the great man's own handwriting that he was yours
sincerely or affectionately or for ever. The father and daughter would
have been quite content, apparently, to eat their dinner in silence,
or with a few cryptic remarks expressed in a shorthand which could not
be understood by the servants. But silence depressed Mrs. Hilbery, and
far from minding the presence of maids, she would often address
herself to them, and was never altogether unconscious of their
approval or disapproval of her remarks. In the first place she called
them to witness that the room was darker than usual, and had all the
lights turned on.
"That's more cheerful," she exclaimed. "D'you know, Katharine, that
ridiculous goose came to tea with me? Oh, how I wanted you! He tried
to make epigrams all the time, and I got so nervous, expecting them,
you know, that I spilt the tea--and he made an epigram about that!"
"Which ridiculous goose?" Katharine asked her father.
"Only one of my geese, happily, makes epigrams--Augustus Pelham, of
course," said Mrs. Hilbery.
"I'm not sorry that I was out," said Katharine.
"Poor Augustus!" Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed. "But we're all too hard on
him. Remember how devoted he is to his tiresome old mother."
"That's only because she is his mother. Any one connected with
"No, no, Katharine--that's too bad. That's--what's the word I mean,
Trevor, something long and Latin--the sort of word you and Katharine
Mr. Hilbery suggested "cynical."
"Well, that'll do. I don't believe in sending girls to college, but I
should teach them that sort of thing. It makes one feel so dignified,
bringing out these little allusions, and passing on gracefully to the
next topic. But I don't know what's come over me--I actually had to
ask Augustus the name of the lady Hamlet was in love with, as you were
out, Katharine, and Heaven knows what he mayn't put down about me in
"I wish," Katharine started, with great impetuosity, and checked
herself. Her mother always stirred her to feel and think quickly, and
then she remembered that her father was there, listening with
"What is it you wish?" he asked, as she paused.
He often surprised her, thus, into telling him what she had not meant
to tell him; and then they argued, while Mrs. Hilbery went on with her
"I wish mother wasn't famous. I was out at tea, and they would talk to
me about poetry."
"Thinking you must be poetical, I see--and aren't you?"
"Who's been talking to you about poetry, Katharine?" Mrs. Hilbery
demanded, and Katharine was committed to giving her parents an account
of her visit to the Suffrage office.
"They have an office at the top of one of the old houses in Russell
Square. I never saw such queer-looking people. And the man discovered
I was related to the poet, and talked to me about poetry. Even Mary
Datchet seems different in that atmosphere."
"Yes, the office atmosphere is very bad for the soul," said Mr.
"I don't remember any offices in Russell Square in the old days, when
Mamma lived there," Mrs. Hilbery mused, "and I can't fancy turning one
of those noble great rooms into a stuffy little Suffrage office.
Still, if the clerks read poetry there must be something nice about
"No, because they don't read it as we read it," Katharine insisted.
"But it's nice to think of them reading your grandfather, and not
filling up those dreadful little forms all day long," Mrs. Hilbery
persisted, her notion of office life being derived from some chance
view of a scene behind the counter at her bank, as she slipped the
sovereigns into her purse.
"At any rate, they haven't made a convert of Katharine, which was what
I was afraid of," Mr. Hilbery remarked.
"Oh no," said Katharine very decidedly, "I wouldn't work with them for
"It's curious," Mr. Hilbery continued, agreeing with his daughter,
"how the sight of one's fellow-enthusiasts always chokes one off. They
show up the faults of one's cause so much more plainly than one's
antagonists. One can be enthusiastic in one's study, but directly one
comes into touch with the people who agree with one, all the glamor
goes. So I've always found," and he proceeded to tell them, as he
peeled his apple, how he committed himself once, in his youthful days,
to make a speech at a political meeting, and went there ablaze with
enthusiasm for the ideals of his own side; but while his leaders
spoke, he became gradually converted to the other way of thinking, if
thinking it could be called, and had to feign illness in order to
avoid making a fool of himself--an experience which had sickened him
of public meetings.
Katharine listened and felt as she generally did when her father, and
to some extent her mother, described their feelings, that she quite
understood and agreed with them, but, at the same time, saw something
which they did not see, and always felt some disappointment when they
fell short of her vision, as they always did. The plates succeeded
each other swiftly and noiselessly in front of her, and the table was
decked for dessert, and as the talk murmured on in familiar grooves,
she sat there, rather like a judge, listening to her parents, who did,
indeed, feel it very pleasant when they made her laugh.
Daily life in a house where there are young and old is full of curious
little ceremonies and pieties, which are discharged quite punctually,
though the meaning of them is obscure, and a mystery has come to brood
over them which lends even a superstitious charm to their performance.
Such was the nightly ceremony of the cigar and the glass of port,
which were placed on the right hand and on the left hand of Mr.
Hilbery, and simultaneously Mrs. Hilbery and Katharine left the room.
All the years they had lived together they had never seen Mr. Hilbery
smoke his cigar or drink his port, and they would have felt it
unseemly if, by chance, they had surprised him as he sat there. These
short, but clearly marked, periods of separation between the sexes
were always used for an intimate postscript to what had been said at
dinner, the sense of being women together coming out most strongly
when the male sex was, as if by some religious rite, secluded from the
female. Katharine knew by heart the sort of mood that possessed her as
she walked upstairs to the drawing-room, her mother's arm in hers; and
she could anticipate the pleasure with which, when she had turned on
the lights, they both regarded the drawing-room, fresh swept and set
in order for the last section of the day, with the red parrots
swinging on the chintz curtains, and the arm-chairs warming in the
blaze. Mrs. Hilbery stood over the fire, with one foot on the fender,
and her skirts slightly raised.
"Oh, Katharine," she exclaimed, "how you've made me think of Mamma and
the old days in Russell Square! I can see the chandeliers, and the
green silk of the piano, and Mamma sitting in her cashmere shawl by
the window, singing till the little ragamuffin boys outside stopped to
listen. Papa sent me in with a bunch of violets while he waited round
the corner. It must have been a summer evening. That was before things
were hopeless. . . ."
As she spoke an expression of regret, which must have come frequently
to cause the lines which now grew deep round the lips and eyes,
settled on her face. The poet's marriage had not been a happy one. He
had left his wife, and after some years of a rather reckless
existence, she had died, before her time. This disaster had led to
great irregularities of education, and, indeed, Mrs. Hilbery might be
said to have escaped education altogether. But she had been her
father's companion at the season when he wrote the finest of his
poems. She had sat on his knee in taverns and other haunts of drunken
poets, and it was for her sake, so people said, that he had cured
himself of his dissipation, and become the irreproachable literary
character that the world knows, whose inspiration had deserted him. As
Mrs. Hilbery grew old she thought more and more of the past, and this
ancient disaster seemed at times almost to prey upon her mind, as if
she could not pass out of life herself without laying the ghost of her
parent's sorrow to rest.
Katharine wished to comfort her mother, but it was difficult to do
this satisfactorily when the facts themselves were so much of a
legend. The house in Russell Square, for example, with its noble
rooms, and the magnolia-tree in the garden, and the sweet-voiced
piano, and the sound of feet coming down the corridors, and other
properties of size and romance--had they any existence? Yet why should
Mrs. Alardyce live all alone in this gigantic mansion, and, if she did
not live alone, with whom did she live? For its own sake, Katharine
rather liked this tragic story, and would have been glad to hear the
details of it, and to have been able to discuss them frankly. But this
it became less and less possible to do, for though Mrs. Hilbery was
constantly reverting to the story, it was always in this tentative and
restless fashion, as though by a touch here and there she could set
things straight which had been crooked these sixty years. Perhaps,
indeed, she no longer knew what the truth was.
"If they'd lived now," she concluded, "I feel it wouldn't have
happened. People aren't so set upon tragedy as they were then. If my
father had been able to go round the world, or if she'd had a rest
cure, everything would have come right. But what could I do? And then
they had bad friends, both of them, who made mischief. Ah, Katharine,
when you marry, be quite, quite sure that you love your husband!"
The tears stood in Mrs. Hilbery's eyes.
While comforting her, Katharine thought to herself, "Now this is what
Mary Datchet and Mr. Denham don't understand. This is the sort of
position I'm always getting into. How simple it must be to live as
they do!" for all the evening she had been comparing her home and her
father and mother with the Suffrage office and the people there.
"But, Katharine," Mrs. Hilbery continued, with one of her sudden
changes of mood, "though, Heaven knows, I don't want to see you
married, surely if ever a man loved a woman, William loves you. And
it's a nice, rich-sounding name too--Katharine Rodney, which,
unfortunately, doesn't mean that he's got any money, because he
The alteration of her name annoyed Katharine, and she observed, rather
sharply, that she didn't want to marry any one.
"It's very dull that you can only marry one husband, certainly," Mrs.
Hilbery reflected. "I always wish that you could marry everybody who
wants to marry you. Perhaps they'll come to that in time, but
meanwhile I confess that dear William--" But here Mr. Hilbery came in,
and the more solid part of the evening began. This consisted in the
reading aloud by Katharine from some prose work or other, while her
mother knitted scarves intermittently on a little circular frame, and
her father read the newspaper, not so attentively but that he could
comment humorously now and again upon the fortunes of the hero and the
heroine. The Hilberys subscribed to a library, which delivered books
on Tuesdays and Fridays, and Katharine did her best to interest her
parents in the works of living and highly respectable authors; but
Mrs. Hilbery was perturbed by the very look of the light, gold-
wreathed volumes, and would make little faces as if she tasted
something bitter as the reading went on; while Mr. Hilbery would treat
the moderns with a curious elaborate banter such as one might apply to
the antics of a promising child. So this evening, after five pages or
so of one of these masters, Mrs. Hilbery protested that it was all too
clever and cheap and nasty for words.
"Please, Katharine, read us something REAL."
Katharine had to go to the bookcase and choose a portly volume in
sleek, yellow calf, which had directly a sedative effect upon both her
parents. But the delivery of the evening post broke in upon the
periods of Henry Fielding, and Katharine found that her letters needed
all her attention.
She took her letters up to her room with her, having persuaded her
mother to go to bed directly Mr. Hilbery left them, for so long as she
sat in the same room as her mother, Mrs. Hilbery might, at any moment,
ask for a sight of the post. A very hasty glance through many sheets
had shown Katharine that, by some coincidence, her attention had to be
directed to many different anxieties simultaneously. In the first
place, Rodney had written a very full account of his state of mind,
which was illustrated by a sonnet, and he demanded a reconsideration
of their position, which agitated Katharine more than she liked. Then
there were two letters which had to be laid side by side and compared
before she could make out the truth of their story, and even when she
knew the facts she could not decide what to make of them; and finally
she had to reflect upon a great many pages from a cousin who found
himself in financial difficulties, which forced him to the uncongenial
occupation of teaching the young ladies of Bungay to play upon the
But the two letters which each told the same story differently were
the chief source of her perplexity. She was really rather shocked to
find it definitely established that her own second cousin, Cyril
Alardyce, had lived for the last four years with a woman who was not
his wife, who had borne him two children, and was now about to bear
him another. This state of things had been discovered by Mrs. Milvain,
her aunt Celia, a zealous inquirer into such matters, whose letter was
also under consideration. Cyril, she said, must be made to marry the
woman at once; and Cyril, rightly or wrongly, was indignant with such
interference with his affairs, and would not own that he had any cause
to be ashamed of himself. Had he any cause to be ashamed of himself,
Katharine wondered; and she turned to her aunt again.
"Remember," she wrote, in her profuse, emphatic statement, "that he
bears your grandfather's name, and so will the child that is to be
born. The poor boy is not so much to blame as the woman who deluded
him, thinking him a gentleman, which he IS, and having money, which he
"What would Ralph Denham say to this?" thought Katharine, beginning to
pace up and down her bedroom. She twitched aside the curtains, so
that, on turning, she was faced by darkness, and looking out, could
just distinguish the branches of a plane-tree and the yellow lights of
some one else's windows.
"What would Mary Datchet and Ralph Denham say?" she reflected, pausing
by the window, which, as the night was warm, she raised, in order to
feel the air upon her face, and to lose herself in the nothingness of
night. But with the air the distant humming sound of far-off crowded
thoroughfares was admitted to the room. The incessant and tumultuous
hum of the distant traffic seemed, as she stood there, to represent
the thick texture of her life, for her life was so hemmed in with the
progress of other lives that the sound of its own advance was
inaudible. People like Ralph and Mary, she thought, had it all their
own way, and an empty space before them, and, as she envied them, she
cast her mind out to imagine an empty land where all this petty
intercourse of men and women, this life made up of the dense crossings
and entanglements of men and women, had no existence whatever. Even
now, alone, at night, looking out into the shapeless mass of London,
she was forced to remember that there was one point and here another
with which she had some connection. William Rodney, at this very
moment, was seated in a minute speck of light somewhere to the east of
her, and his mind was occupied, not with his book, but with her. She
wished that no one in the whole world would think of her. However,
there was no way of escaping from one's fellow-beings, she concluded,
and shut the window with a sigh, and returned once more to her
She could not doubt but that William's letter was the most genuine she
had yet received from him. He had come to the conclusion that he could
not live without her, he wrote. He believed that he knew her, and
could give her happiness, and that their marriage would be unlike
other marriages. Nor was the sonnet, in spite of its accomplishment,
lacking in passion, and Katharine, as she read the pages through
again, could see in what direction her feelings ought to flow,
supposing they revealed themselves. She would come to feel a humorous
sort of tenderness for him, a zealous care for his susceptibilities,
and, after all, she considered, thinking of her father and mother,
what is love?
Naturally, with her face, position, and background, she had experience
of young men who wished to marry her, and made protestations of love,
but, perhaps because she did not return the feeling, it remained
something of a pageant to her. Not having experience of it herself,
her mind had unconsciously occupied itself for some years in dressing
up an image of love, and the marriage that was the outcome of love,
and the man who inspired love, which naturally dwarfed any examples
that came her way. Easily, and without correction by reason, her
imagination made pictures, superb backgrounds casting a rich though
phantom light upon the facts in the foreground. Splendid as the waters
that drop with resounding thunder from high ledges of rock, and plunge
downwards into the blue depths of night, was the presence of love she
dreamt, drawing into it every drop of the force of life, and dashing
them all asunder in the superb catastrophe in which everything was
surrendered, and nothing might be reclaimed. The man, too, was some
magnanimous hero, riding a great horse by the shore of the sea. They
rode through forests together, they galloped by the rim of the sea.
But waking, she was able to contemplate a perfectly loveless marriage,
as the thing one did actually in real life, for possibly the people
who dream thus are those who do the most prosaic things.
At this moment she was much inclined to sit on into the night,
spinning her light fabric of thoughts until she tired of their
futility, and went to her mathematics; but, as she knew very well, it
was necessary that she should see her father before he went to bed.
The case of Cyril Alardyce must be discussed, her mother's illusions
and the rights of the family attended to. Being vague herself as to
what all this amounted to, she had to take counsel with her father.
She took her letters in her hand and went downstairs. It was past
eleven, and the clocks had come into their reign, the grandfather's
clock in the hall ticking in competition with the small clock on the
landing. Mr. Hilbery's study ran out behind the rest of the house, on
the ground floor, and was a very silent, subterranean place, the sun
in daytime casting a mere abstract of light through a skylight upon
his books and the large table, with its spread of white papers, now
illumined by a green reading-lamp. Here Mr. Hilbery sat editing his
review, or placing together documents by means of which it could be
proved that Shelley had written "of" instead of "and," or that the inn
in which Byron had slept was called the "Nag's Head" and not the
"Turkish Knight," or that the Christian name of Keats's uncle had been
John rather than Richard, for he knew more minute details about these
poets than any man in England, probably, and was preparing an edition
of Shelley which scrupulously observed the poet's system of
punctuation. He saw the humor of these researches, but that did not
prevent him from carrying them out with the utmost scrupulosity.
He was lying back comfortably in a deep arm-chair smoking a cigar, and
ruminating the fruitful question as to whether Coleridge had wished to
marry Dorothy Wordsworth, and what, if he had done so, would have been
the consequences to him in particular, and to literature in general.
When Katharine came in he reflected that he knew what she had come
for, and he made a pencil note before he spoke to her. Having done
this, he saw that she was reading, and he watched her for a moment
without saying anything. She was reading "Isabella and the Pot of
Basil," and her mind was full of the Italian hills and the blue
daylight, and the hedges set with little rosettes of red and white
roses. Feeling that her father waited for her, she sighed and said,
shutting her book:
"I've had a letter from Aunt Celia about Cyril, father. . . . It seems
to be true--about his marriage. What are we to do?"
"Cyril seems to have been behaving in a very foolish manner," said Mr.
Hilbery, in his pleasant and deliberate tones.
Katharine found some difficulty in carrying on the conversation, while
her father balanced his finger-tips so judiciously, and seemed to
reserve so many of his thoughts for himself.
"He's about done for himself, I should say," he continued. Without
saying anything, he took Katharine's letters out of her hand, adjusted
his eyeglasses, and read them through.
At length he said "Humph!" and gave the letters back to her.
"Mother knows nothing about it," Katharine remarked. "Will you tell
"I shall tell your mother. But I shall tell her that there is nothing
whatever for us to do."
"But the marriage?" Katharine asked, with some diffidence.
Mr. Hilbery said nothing, and stared into the fire.
"What in the name of conscience did he do it for?" he speculated at
last, rather to himself than to her.
Katharine had begun to read her aunt's letter over again, and she now
quoted a sentence. "Ibsen and Butler. . . . He has sent me a letter
full of quotations--nonsense, though clever nonsense."
"Well, if the younger generation want to carry on its life on those
lines, it's none of our affair," he remarked.
"But isn't it our affair, perhaps, to make them get married?"
Katharine asked rather wearily.
"Why the dickens should they apply to me?" her father demanded with
"Only as the head of the family--"
"But I'm not the head of the family. Alfred's the head of the family.
Let them apply to Alfred," said Mr. Hilbery, relapsing again into his
arm-chair. Katharine was aware that she had touched a sensitive spot,
however, in mentioning the family.
"I think, perhaps, the best thing would be for me to go and see them,"
"I won't have you going anywhere near them," Mr. Hilbery replied with
unwonted decision and authority. "Indeed, I don't understand why
they've dragged you into the business at all--I don't see that it's
got anything to do with you."
"I've always been friends with Cyril," Katharine observed.
"But did he ever tell you anything about this?" Mr. Hilbery asked
Katharine shook her head. She was, indeed, a good deal hurt that Cyril
had not confided in her--did he think, as Ralph Denham or Mary Datchet
might think, that she was, for some reason, unsympathetic--hostile
"As to your mother," said Mr. Hilbery, after a pause, in which he
seemed to be considering the color of the flames, "you had better tell
her the facts. She'd better know the facts before every one begins to
talk about it, though why Aunt Celia thinks it necessary to come, I'm
sure I don't know. And the less talk there is the better."
Granting the assumption that gentlemen of sixty who are highly
cultivated, and have had much experience of life, probably think of
many things which they do not say, Katharine could not help feeling
rather puzzled by her father's attitude, as she went back to her room.
What a distance he was from it all! How superficially he smoothed
these events into a semblance of decency which harmonized with his own
view of life! He never wondered what Cyril had felt, nor did the
hidden aspects of the case tempt him to examine into them. He merely
seemed to realize, rather languidly, that Cyril had behaved in a way
which was foolish, because other people did not behave in that way. He
seemed to be looking through a telescope at little figures hundreds of
miles in the distance.
Her selfish anxiety not to have to tell Mrs. Hilbery what had happened
made her follow her father into the hall after breakfast the next
morning in order to question him.
"Have you told mother?" she asked. Her manner to her father was almost
stern, and she seemed to hold endless depths of reflection in the dark
of her eyes.
Mr. Hilbery sighed.
"My dear child, it went out of my head." He smoothed his silk hat
energetically, and at once affected an air of hurry. "I'll send a note
round from the office. . . . I'm late this morning, and I've any
amount of proofs to get through."
"That wouldn't do at all," Katharine said decidedly. "She must be told
--you or I must tell her. We ought to have told her at first."
Mr. Hilbery had now placed his hat on his head, and his hand was on
the door-knob. An expression which Katharine knew well from her
childhood, when he asked her to shield him in some neglect of duty,
came into his eyes; malice, humor, and irresponsibility were blended
in it. He nodded his head to and fro significantly, opened the door
with an adroit movement, and stepped out with a lightness unexpected
at his age. He waved his hand once to his daughter, and was gone. Left
alone, Katharine could not help laughing to find herself cheated as
usual in domestic bargainings with her father, and left to do the
disagreeable work which belonged, by rights, to him.
Katharine disliked telling her mother about Cyril's misbehavior quite
as much as her father did, and for much the same reasons. They both
shrank, nervously, as people fear the report of a gun on the stage,
from all that would have to be said on this occasion. Katharine,
moreover, was unable to decide what she thought of Cyril's
misbehavior. As usual, she saw something which her father and mother
did not see, and the effect of that something was to suspend Cyril's
behavior in her mind without any qualification at all. They would
think whether it was good or bad; to her it was merely a thing that
When Katharine reached the study, Mrs. Hilbery had already dipped her
pen in the ink.
"Katharine," she said, lifting it in the air, "I've just made out such
a queer, strange thing about your grandfather. I'm three years and six
months older than he was when he died. I couldn't very well have been
his mother, but I might have been his elder sister, and that seems to
me such a pleasant fancy. I'm going to start quite fresh this morning,
and get a lot done."
She began her sentence, at any rate, and Katharine sat down at her own
table, untied the bundle of old letters upon which she was working,
smoothed them out absent-mindedly, and began to decipher the faded
script. In a minute she looked across at her mother, to judge her
mood. Peace and happiness had relaxed every muscle in her face; her
lips were parted very slightly, and her breath came in smooth,
controlled inspirations like those of a child who is surrounding
itself with a building of bricks, and increasing in ecstasy as each
brick is placed in position. So Mrs. Hilbery was raising round her the
skies and trees of the past with every stroke of her pen, and
recalling the voices of the dead. Quiet as the room was, and
undisturbed by the sounds of the present moment, Katharine could fancy
that here was a deep pool of past time, and that she and her mother
were bathed in the light of sixty years ago. What could the present
give, she wondered, to compare with the rich crowd of gifts bestowed
by the past? Here was a Thursday morning in process of manufacture;
each second was minted fresh by the clock upon the mantelpiece. She
strained her ears and could just hear, far off, the hoot of a
motor-car and the rush of wheels coming nearer and dying away again,
and the voices of men crying old iron and vegetables in one of the
poorer streets at the back of the house. Rooms, of course, accumulate
their suggestions, and any room in which one has been used to carry on
any particular occupation gives off memories of moods, of ideas, of
postures that have been seen in it; so that to attempt any different
kind of work there is almost impossible.
Katharine was unconsciously affected, each time she entered her
mother's room, by all these influences, which had had their birth
years ago, when she was a child, and had something sweet and solemn
about them, and connected themselves with early memories of the
cavernous glooms and sonorous echoes of the Abbey where her
grandfather lay buried. All the books and pictures, even the chairs
and tables, had belonged to him, or had reference to him; even the
china dogs on the mantelpiece and the little shepherdesses with their
sheep had been bought by him for a penny a piece from a man who used
to stand with a tray of toys in Kensington High Street, as Katharine
had often heard her mother tell. Often she had sat in this room, with
her mind fixed so firmly on those vanished figures that she could
almost see the muscles round their eyes and lips, and had given to
each his own voice, with its tricks of accent, and his coat and his
cravat. Often she had seemed to herself to be moving among them, an
invisible ghost among the living, better acquainted with them than
with her own friends, because she knew their secrets and possessed a
divine foreknowledge of their destiny. They had been so unhappy, such
muddlers, so wrong-headed, it seemed to her. She could have told them
what to do, and what not to do. It was a melancholy fact that they
would pay no heed to her, and were bound to come to grief in their own
antiquated way. Their behavior was often grotesquely irrational; their
conventions monstrously absurd; and yet, as she brooded upon them, she
felt so closely attached to them that it was useless to try to pass
judgment upon them. She very nearly lost consciousness that she was a
separate being, with a future of her own. On a morning of slight
depression, such as this, she would try to find some sort of clue to
the muddle which their old letters presented; some reason which seemed
to make it worth while to them; some aim which they kept steadily in
view--but she was interrupted.
Mrs. Hilbery had risen from her table, and was standing looking out of
the window at a string of barges swimming up the river.
Katharine watched her. Suddenly Mrs. Hilbery turned abruptly, and
"I really believe I'm bewitched! I only want three sentences, you see,
something quite straightforward and commonplace, and I can't find
She began to pace up and down the room, snatching up her duster; but
she was too much annoyed to find any relief, as yet, in polishing the
backs of books.
"Besides," she said, giving the sheet she had written to Katharine, "I
don't believe this'll do. Did your grandfather ever visit the
Hebrides, Katharine?" She looked in a strangely beseeching way at her
daughter. "My mind got running on the Hebrides, and I couldn't help
writing a little description of them. Perhaps it would do at the
beginning of a chapter. Chapters often begin quite differently from
the way they go on, you know." Katharine read what her mother had
written. She might have been a schoolmaster criticizing a child's
essay. Her face gave Mrs. Hilbery, who watched it anxiously, no ground
"It's very beautiful," she stated, "but, you see, mother, we ought to
go from point to point--"
"Oh, I know," Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed. "And that's just what I can't
do. Things keep coming into my head. It isn't that I don't know
everything and feel everything (who did know him, if I didn't?), but I
can't put it down, you see. There's a kind of blind spot," she said,
touching her forehead, "there. And when I can't sleep o' nights, I
fancy I shall die without having done it."
From exultation she had passed to the depths of depression which the
imagination of her death aroused. The depression communicated itself
to Katharine. How impotent they were, fiddling about all day long with
papers! And the clock was striking eleven and nothing done! She
watched her mother, now rummaging in a great brass-bound box which
stood by her table, but she did not go to her help. Of course,
Katharine reflected, her mother had now lost some paper, and they
would waste the rest of the morning looking for it. She cast her eyes
down in irritation, and read again her mother's musical sentences
about the silver gulls, and the roots of little pink flowers washed by
pellucid streams, and the blue mists of hyacinths, until she was
struck by her mother's silence. She raised her eyes. Mrs. Hilbery had
emptied a portfolio containing old photographs over her table, and was
looking from one to another.
"Surely, Katharine," she said, "the men were far handsomer in those
days than they are now, in spite of their odious whiskers? Look at old
John Graham, in his white waistcoat--look at Uncle Harley. That's
Peter the manservant, I suppose. Uncle John brought him back from
Katharine looked at her mother, but did not stir or answer. She had
suddenly become very angry, with a rage which their relationship made
silent, and therefore doubly powerful and critical. She felt all the
unfairness of the claim which her mother tacitly made to her time and
sympathy, and what Mrs. Hilbery took, Katharine thought bitterly, she
wasted. Then, in a flash, she remembered that she had still to tell
her about Cyril's misbehavior. Her anger immediately dissipated
itself; it broke like some wave that has gathered itself high above
the rest; the waters were resumed into the sea again, and Katharine
felt once more full of peace and solicitude, and anxious only that her
mother should be protected from pain. She crossed the room
instinctively, and sat on the arm of her mother's chair. Mrs. Hilbery
leant her head against her daughter's body.
"What is nobler," she mused, turning over the photographs, "than to be
a woman to whom every one turns, in sorrow or difficulty? How have the
young women of your generation improved upon that, Katharine? I can
see them now, sweeping over the lawns at Melbury House, in their
flounces and furbelows, so calm and stately and imperial (and the
monkey and the little black dwarf following behind), as if nothing
mattered in the world but to be beautiful and kind. But they did more
than we do, I sometimes think. They WERE, and that's better than
doing. They seem to me like ships, like majestic ships, holding on
their way, not shoving or pushing, not fretted by little things, as we
are, but taking their way, like ships with white sails."
Katharine tried to interrupt this discourse, but the opportunity did
not come, and she could not forbear to turn over the pages of the
album in which the old photographs were stored. The faces of these men
and women shone forth wonderfully after the hubbub of living faces,
and seemed, as her mother had said, to wear a marvelous dignity and
calm, as if they had ruled their kingdoms justly and deserved great
love. Some were of almost incredible beauty, others were ugly enough
in a forcible way, but none were dull or bored or insignificant. The
superb stiff folds of the crinolines suited the women; the cloaks and
hats of the gentlemen seemed full of character. Once more Katharine
felt the serene air all round her, and seemed far off to hear the
solemn beating of the sea upon the shore. But she knew that she must
join the present on to this past.
Mrs. Hilbery was rambling on, from story to story.
"That's Janie Mannering," she said, pointing to a superb, white-haired
dame, whose satin robes seemed strung with pearls. "I must have told
you how she found her cook drunk under the kitchen table when the
Empress was coming to dinner, and tucked up her velvet sleeves (she
always dressed like an Empress herself), cooked the whole meal, and
appeared in the drawing-room as if she'd been sleeping on a bank of
roses all day. She could do anything with her hands--they all could--
make a cottage or embroider a petticoat.
"And that's Queenie Colquhoun," she went on, turning the pages, "who
took her coffin out with her to Jamaica, packed with lovely shawls and
bonnets, because you couldn't get coffins in Jamaica, and she had a
horror of dying there (as she did), and being devoured by the white
ants. And there's Sabine, the loveliest of them all; ah! it was like a
star rising when she came into the room. And that's Miriam, in her
coachman's cloak, with all the little capes on, and she wore great
top-boots underneath. You young people may say you're unconventional,
but you're nothing compared with her."
Turning the page, she came upon the picture of a very masculine,
handsome lady, whose head the photographer had adorned with an
"Ah, you wretch!" Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed, "what a wicked old despot
you were, in your day! How we all bowed down before you! 'Maggie,' she
used to say, 'if it hadn't been for me, where would you be now?' And
it was true; she brought them together, you know. She said to my
father, 'Marry her,' and he did; and she said to poor little Clara,
'Fall down and worship him,' and she did; but she got up again, of
course. What else could one expect? She was a mere child--eighteen--
and half dead with fright, too. But that old tyrant never repented.
She used to say that she had given them three perfect months, and no
one had a right to more; and I sometimes think, Katharine, that's
true, you know. It's more than most of us have, only we have to
pretend, which was a thing neither of them could ever do. I fancy,"
Mrs. Hilbery mused, "that there was a kind of sincerity in those days
between men and women which, with all your outspokenness, you haven't
Katharine again tried to interrupt. But Mrs. Hilbery had been
gathering impetus from her recollections, and was now in high spirits.
"They must have been good friends at heart," she resumed, "because she
used to sing his songs. Ah, how did it go?" and Mrs. Hilbery, who had
a very sweet voice, trolled out a famous lyric of her father's which
had been set to an absurdly and charmingly sentimental air by some
early Victorian composer.
"It's the vitality of them!" she concluded, striking her fist against
the table. "That's what we haven't got! We're virtuous, we're earnest,
we go to meetings, we pay the poor their wages, but we don't live as
they lived. As often as not, my father wasn't in bed three nights out
of the seven, but always fresh as paint in the morning. I hear him
now, come singing up the stairs to the nursery, and tossing the loaf
for breakfast on his sword-stick, and then off we went for a day's
pleasuring--Richmond, Hampton Court, the Surrey Hills. Why shouldn't
we go, Katharine? It's going to be a fine day."