Part 4 out of 10
attracted. She thought that if she were engaged to Katharine, she,
too, would find herself very soon using those fretful questions with
which William evidently teased his bride. And yet Katharine's voice
"I wonder how you find the time to know all about pictures as well as
books?" she asked.
"How do I find the time?" William answered, delighted, Mary guessed,
at this little compliment. "Why, I always travel with a notebook. And
I ask my way to the picture gallery the very first thing in the
morning. And then I meet men, and talk to them. There's a man in my
office who knows all about the Flemish school. I was telling Miss
Datchet about the Flemish school. I picked up a lot of it from him--
it's a way men have--Gibbons, his name is. You must meet him. We'll
ask him to lunch. And this not caring about art," he explained,
turning to Mary, "it's one of Katharine's poses, Miss Datchet. Did you
know she posed? She pretends that she's never read Shakespeare. And
why should she read Shakespeare, since she IS Shakespeare--Rosalind,
you know," and he gave his queer little chuckle. Somehow this
compliment appeared very old-fashioned and almost in bad taste. Mary
actually felt herself blush, as if he had said "the sex" or "the
ladies." Constrained, perhaps, by nervousness, Rodney continued in the
"She knows enough--enough for all decent purposes. What do you women
want with learning, when you have so much else--everything, I should
say--everything. Leave us something, eh, Katharine?"
"Leave you something?" said Katharine, apparently waking from a brown
study. "I was thinking we must be going--"
"Is it to-night that Lady Ferrilby dines with us? No, we mustn't be
late," said Rodney, rising. "D'you know the Ferrilbys, Miss Datchet?
They own Trantem Abbey," he added, for her information, as she looked
doubtful. "And if Katharine makes herself very charming to-night,
perhaps'll lend it to us for the honeymoon."
"I agree that may be a reason. Otherwise she's a dull woman," said
Katharine. "At least," she added, as if to qualify her abruptness, "I
find it difficult to talk to her."
"Because you expect every one else to take all the trouble. I've seen
her sit silent a whole evening," he said, turning to Mary, as he had
frequently done already. "Don't you find that, too? Sometimes when
we're alone, I've counted the time on my watch"--here he took out a
large gold watch, and tapped the glass--"the time between one remark
and the next. And once I counted ten minutes and twenty seconds, and
then, if you'll believe me, she only said 'Um!'"
"I'm sure I'm sorry," Katharine apologized. "I know it's a bad habit,
but then, you see, at home--"
The rest of her excuse was cut short, so far as Mary was concerned, by
the closing of the door. She fancied she could hear William finding
fresh fault on the stairs. A moment later, the door-bell rang again,
and Katharine reappeared, having left her purse on a chair. She soon
found it, and said, pausing for a moment at the door, and speaking
differently as they were alone:
"I think being engaged is very bad for the character." She shook her
purse in her hand until the coins jingled, as if she alluded merely to
this example of her forgetfulness. But the remark puzzled Mary; it
seemed to refer to something else; and her manner had changed so
strangely, now that William was out of hearing, that she could not
help looking at her for an explanation. She looked almost stern, so
that Mary, trying to smile at her, only succeeded in producing a
silent stare of interrogation.
As the door shut for the second time, she sank on to the floor in
front of the fire, trying, now that their bodies were not there to
distract her, to piece together her impressions of them as a whole.
And, though priding herself, with all other men and women, upon an
infallible eye for character, she could not feel at all certain that
she knew what motives inspired Katharine Hilbery in life. There was
something that carried her on smoothly, out of reach--something, yes,
but what?--something that reminded Mary of Ralph. Oddly enough, he
gave her the same feeling, too, and with him, too, she felt baffled.
Oddly enough, for no two people, she hastily concluded, were more
unlike. And yet both had this hidden impulse, this incalculable force
--this thing they cared for and didn't talk about--oh, what was it?
The village of Disham lies somewhere on the rolling piece of
cultivated ground in the neighborhood of Lincoln, not so far inland
but that a sound, bringing rumors of the sea, can be heard on summer
nights or when the winter storms fling the waves upon the long beach.
So large is the church, and in particular the church tower, in
comparison with the little street of cottages which compose the
village, that the traveler is apt to cast his mind back to the Middle
Ages, as the only time when so much piety could have been kept alive.
So great a trust in the Church can surely not belong to our day, and
he goes on to conjecture that every one of the villagers has reached
the extreme limit of human life. Such are the reflections of the
superficial stranger, and his sight of the population, as it is
represented by two or three men hoeing in a turnip-field, a small
child carrying a jug, and a young woman shaking a piece of carpet
outside her cottage door, will not lead him to see anything very much
out of keeping with the Middle Ages in the village of Disham as it is
to-day. These people, though they seem young enough, look so angular
and so crude that they remind him of the little pictures painted by
monks in the capital letters of their manuscripts. He only half
understands what they say, and speaks very loud and clearly, as
though, indeed, his voice had to carry through a hundred years or more
before it reached them. He would have a far better chance of
understanding some dweller in Paris or Rome, Berlin or Madrid, than
these countrymen of his who have lived for the last two thousand years
not two hundred miles from the City of London.
The Rectory stands about half a mile beyond the village. It is a large
house, and has been growing steadily for some centuries round the
great kitchen, with its narrow red tiles, as the Rector would point
out to his guests on the first night of their arrival, taking his
brass candlestick, and bidding them mind the steps up and the steps
down, and notice the immense thickness of the walls, the old beams
across the ceiling, the staircases as steep as ladders, and the
attics, with their deep, tent-like roofs, in which swallows bred, and
once a white owl. But nothing very interesting or very beautiful had
resulted from the different additions made by the different rectors.
The house, however, was surrounded by a garden, in which the Rector
took considerable pride. The lawn, which fronted the drawing-room
windows, was a rich and uniform green, unspotted by a single daisy,
and on the other side of it two straight paths led past beds of tall,
standing flowers to a charming grassy walk, where the Rev. Wyndham
Datchet would pace up and down at the same hour every morning, with a
sundial to measure the time for him. As often as not, he carried a
book in his hand, into which he would glance, then shut it up, and
repeat the rest of the ode from memory. He had most of Horace by
heart, and had got into the habit of connecting this particular walk
with certain odes which he repeated duly, at the same time noting the
condition of his flowers, and stooping now and again to pick any that
were withered or overblown. On wet days, such was the power of habit
over him, he rose from his chair at the same hour, and paced his study
for the same length of time, pausing now and then to straighten some
book in the bookcase, or alter the position of the two brass
crucifixes standing upon cairns of serpentine stone upon the
mantelpiece. His children had a great respect for him, credited him
with far more learning than he actually possessed, and saw that his
habits were not interfered with, if possible. Like most people who do
things methodically, the Rector himself had more strength of purpose
and power of self-sacrifice than of intellect or of originality. On
cold and windy nights he rode off to visit sick people, who might need
him, without a murmur; and by virtue of doing dull duties punctually,
he was much employed upon committees and local Boards and Councils;
and at this period of his life (he was sixty-eight) he was beginning
to be commiserated by tender old ladies for the extreme leanness of
his person, which, they said, was worn out upon the roads when it
should have been resting before a comfortable fire. His elder
daughter, Elizabeth, lived with him and managed the house, and already
much resembled him in dry sincerity and methodical habit of mind; of
the two sons one, Richard, was an estate agent, the other,
Christopher, was reading for the Bar. At Christmas, naturally, they
met together; and for a month past the arrangement of the Christmas
week had been much in the mind of mistress and maid, who prided
themselves every year more confidently upon the excellence of their
equipment. The late Mrs. Datchet had left an excellent cupboard of
linen, to which Elizabeth had succeeded at the age of nineteen, when
her mother died, and the charge of the family rested upon the
shoulders of the eldest daughter. She kept a fine flock of yellow
chickens, sketched a little, certain rose-trees in the garden were
committed specially to her care; and what with the care of the house,
the care of the chickens, and the care of the poor, she scarcely knew
what it was to have an idle minute. An extreme rectitude of mind,
rather than any gift, gave her weight in the family. When Mary wrote
to say that she had asked Ralph Denham to stay with them, she added,
out of deference to Elizabeth's character, that he was very nice,
though rather queer, and had been overworking himself in London. No
doubt Elizabeth would conclude that Ralph was in love with her, but
there could be no doubt either that not a word of this would be spoken
by either of them, unless, indeed, some catastrophe made mention of it
Mary went down to Disham without knowing whether Ralph intended to
come; but two or three days before Christmas she received a telegram
from Ralph, asking her to take a room for him in the village. This was
followed by a letter explaining that he hoped he might have his meals
with them; but quiet, essential for his work, made it necessary to
Mary was walking in the garden with Elizabeth, and inspecting the
roses, when the letter arrived.
"But that's absurd," said Elizabeth decidedly, when the plan was
explained to her. "There are five spare rooms, even when the boys are
here. Besides, he wouldn't get a room in the village. And he oughtn't
to work if he's overworked."
"But perhaps he doesn't want to see so much of us," Mary thought to
herself, although outwardly she assented, and felt grateful to
Elizabeth for supporting her in what was, of course, her desire. They
were cutting roses at the time, and laying them, head by head, in a
"If Ralph were here, he'd find this very dull," Mary thought, with a
little shiver of irritation, which led her to place her rose the wrong
way in the basket. Meanwhile, they had come to the end of the path,
and while Elizabeth straightened some flowers, and made them stand
upright within their fence of string, Mary looked at her father, who
was pacing up and down, with his hand behind his back and his head
bowed in meditation. Obeying an impulse which sprang from some desire
to interrupt this methodical marching, Mary stepped on to the grass
walk and put her hand on his arm.
"A flower for your buttonhole, father," she said, presenting a rose.
"Eh, dear?" said Mr. Datchet, taking the flower, and holding it at an
angle which suited his bad eyesight, without pausing in his walk.
"Where does this fellow come from? One of Elizabeth's roses--I hope
you asked her leave. Elizabeth doesn't like having her roses picked
without her leave, and quite right, too."
He had a habit, Mary remarked, and she had never noticed it so clearly
before, of letting his sentences tail away in a continuous murmur,
whereupon he passed into a state of abstraction, presumed by his
children to indicate some train of thought too profound for utterance.
"What?" said Mary, interrupting, for the first time in her life,
perhaps, when the murmur ceased. He made no reply. She knew very well
that he wished to be left alone, but she stuck to his side much as she
might have stuck to some sleep-walker, whom she thought it right
gradually to awaken. She could think of nothing to rouse him with
"The garden's looking very nice, father."
"Yes, yes, yes," said Mr. Datchet, running his words together in the
same abstracted manner, and sinking his head yet lower upon his
breast. And suddenly, as they turned their steps to retrace their way,
he jerked out:
"The traffic's very much increased, you know. More rolling-stock
needed already. Forty trucks went down yesterday by the 12.15--counted
them myself. They've taken off the 9.3, and given us an 8.30 instead--
suits the business men, you know. You came by the old 3.10 yesterday,
She said "Yes," as he seemed to wish for a reply, and then he looked
at his watch, and made off down the path towards the house, holding
the rose at the same angle in front of him. Elizabeth had gone round
to the side of the house, where the chickens lived, so that Mary found
herself alone, holding Ralph's letter in her hand. She was uneasy. She
had put off the season for thinking things out very successfully, and
now that Ralph was actually coming, the next day, she could only
wonder how her family would impress him. She thought it likely that
her father would discuss the train service with him; Elizabeth would
be bright and sensible, and always leaving the room to give messages
to the servants. Her brothers had already said that they would give
him a day's shooting. She was content to leave the problem of Ralph's
relations to the young men obscure, trusting that they would find some
common ground of masculine agreement. But what would he think of HER?
Would he see that she was different from the rest of the family? She
devised a plan for taking him to her sitting-room, and artfully
leading the talk towards the English poets, who now occupied prominent
places in her little bookcase. Moreover, she might give him to
understand, privately, that she, too, thought her family a queer one--
queer, yes, but not dull. That was the rock past which she was bent on
steering him. And she thought how she would draw his attention to
Edward's passion for Jorrocks, and the enthusiasm which led
Christopher to collect moths and butterflies though he was now twenty-
two. Perhaps Elizabeth's sketching, if the fruits were invisible,
might lend color to the general effect which she wished to produce of
a family, eccentric and limited, perhaps, but not dull. Edward, she
perceived, was rolling the lawn, for the sake of exercise; and the
sight of him, with pink cheeks, bright little brown eyes, and a
general resemblance to a clumsy young cart-horse in its winter coat of
dusty brown hair, made Mary violently ashamed of her ambitious
scheming. She loved him precisely as he was; she loved them all; and
as she walked by his side, up and down, and down and up, her strong
moral sense administered a sound drubbing to the vain and romantic
element aroused in her by the mere thought of Ralph. She felt quite
certain that, for good or for bad, she was very like the rest of her
Sitting in the corner of a third-class railway carriage, on the
afternoon of the following day, Ralph made several inquiries of a
commercial traveler in the opposite corner. They centered round a
village called Lampsher, not three miles, he understood, from Lincoln;
was there a big house in Lampsher, he asked, inhabited by a gentleman
of the name of Otway?
The traveler knew nothing, but rolled the name of Otway on his tongue,
reflectively, and the sound of it gratified Ralph amazingly. It gave
him an excuse to take a letter from his pocket in order to verify the
"Stogdon House, Lampsher, Lincoln," he read out.
"You'll find somebody to direct you at Lincoln," said the man; and
Ralph had to confess that he was not bound there this very evening.
"I've got to walk over from Disham," he said, and in the heart of him
could not help marveling at the pleasure which he derived from making
a bagman in a train believe what he himself did not believe. For the
letter, though signed by Katharine's father, contained no invitation
or warrant for thinking that Katharine herself was there; the only
fact it disclosed was that for a fortnight this address would be Mr.
Hilbery's address. But when he looked out of the window, it was of her
he thought; she, too, had seen these gray fields, and, perhaps, she
was there where the trees ran up a slope, and one yellow light shone
now, and then went out again, at the foot of the hill. The light shone
in the windows of an old gray house, he thought. He lay back in his
corner and forgot the commercial traveler altogether. The process of
visualizing Katharine stopped short at the old gray manor-house;
instinct warned him that if he went much further with this process
reality would soon force itself in; he could not altogether neglect
the figure of William Rodney. Since the day when he had heard from
Katharine's lips of her engagement, he had refrained from investing
his dream of her with the details of real life. But the light of the
late afternoon glowed green behind the straight trees, and became a
symbol of her. The light seemed to expand his heart. She brooded over
the gray fields, and was with him now in the railway carriage,
thoughtful, silent, and infinitely tender; but the vision pressed too
close, and must be dismissed, for the train was slackening. Its abrupt
jerks shook him wide awake, and he saw Mary Datchet, a sturdy russet
figure, with a dash of scarlet about it, as the carriage slid down the
platform. A tall youth who accompanied her shook him by the hand, took
his bag, and led the way without uttering one articulate word.
Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter's evening, when dusk
almost hides the body, and they seem to issue from nothingness with a
note of intimacy seldom heard by day. Such an edge was there in Mary's
voice when she greeted him. About her seemed to hang the mist of the
winter hedges, and the clear red of the bramble leaves. He felt
himself at once stepping on to the firm ground of an entirely
different world, but he did not allow himself to yield to the pleasure
of it directly. They gave him his choice of driving with Edward or of
walking home across the fields with Mary--not a shorter way, they
explained, but Mary thought it a nicer way. He decided to walk with
her, being conscious, indeed, that he got comfort from her presence.
What could be the cause of her cheerfulness, he wondered, half
ironically, and half enviously, as the pony-cart started briskly away,
and the dusk swam between their eyes and the tall form of Edward,
standing up to drive, with the reins in one hand and the whip in the
other. People from the village, who had been to the market town, were
climbing into their gigs, or setting off home down the road together
in little parties. Many salutations were addressed to Mary, who
shouted back, with the addition of the speaker's name. But soon she
led the way over a stile, and along a path worn slightly darker than
the dim green surrounding it. In front of them the sky now showed
itself of a reddish-yellow, like a slice of some semilucent stone
behind which a lamp burnt, while a fringe of black trees with distinct
branches stood against the light, which was obscured in one direction
by a hump of earth, in all other directions the land lying flat to the
very verge of the sky. One of the swift and noiseless birds of the
winter's night seemed to follow them across the field, circling a few
feet in front of them, disappearing and returning again and again.
Mary had gone this walk many hundred times in the course of her life,
generally alone, and at different stages the ghosts of past moods
would flood her mind with a whole scene or train of thought merely at
the sight of three trees from a particular angle, or at the sound of
the pheasant clucking in the ditch. But to-night the circumstances
were strong enough to oust all other scenes; and she looked at the
field and the trees with an involuntary intensity as if they had no
such associations for her.
"Well, Ralph," she said, "this is better than Lincoln's Inn Fields,
isn't it? Look, there's a bird for you! Oh, you've brought glasses,
have you? Edward and Christopher mean to make you shoot. Can you
shoot? I shouldn't think so--"
"Look here, you must explain," said Ralph. "Who are these young men?
Where am I staying?"
"You are staying with us, of course," she said boldly. "Of course,
you're staying with us--you don't mind coming, do you?"
"If I had, I shouldn't have come," he said sturdily. They walked on in
silence; Mary took care not to break it for a time. She wished Ralph
to feel, as she thought he would, all the fresh delights of the earth
and air. She was right. In a moment he expressed his pleasure, much to
"This is the sort of country I thought you'd live in, Mary," he said,
pushing his hat back on his head, and looking about him. "Real
country. No gentlemen's seats."
He snuffed the air, and felt more keenly than he had done for many
weeks the pleasure of owning a body.
"Now we have to find our way through a hedge," said Mary. In the gap
of the hedge Ralph tore up a poacher's wire, set across a hole to trap
"It's quite right that they should poach," said Mary, watching him
tugging at the wire. "I wonder whether it was Alfred Duggins or Sid
Rankin? How can one expect them not to, when they only make fifteen
shillings a week? Fifteen shillings a week," she repeated, coming out
on the other side of the hedge, and running her fingers through her
hair to rid herself of a bramble which had attached itself to her. "I
could live on fifteen shillings a week--easily."
"Could you?" said Ralph. "I don't believe you could," he added.
"Oh yes. They have a cottage thrown in, and a garden where one can
grow vegetables. It wouldn't be half bad," said Mary, with a soberness
which impressed Ralph very much.
"But you'd get tired of it," he urged.
"I sometimes think it's the only thing one would never get tired of,"
The idea of a cottage where one grew one's own vegetables and lived on
fifteen shillings a week, filled Ralph with an extraordinary sense of
rest and satisfaction.
"But wouldn't it be on the main road, or next door to a woman with six
squalling children, who'd always be hanging her washing out to dry
across your garden?"
"The cottage I'm thinking of stands by itself in a little orchard."
"And what about the Suffrage?" he asked, attempting sarcasm.
"Oh, there are other things in the world besides the Suffrage," she
replied, in an off-hand manner which was slightly mysterious.
Ralph fell silent. It annoyed him that she should have plans of which
he knew nothing; but he felt that he had no right to press her
further. His mind settled upon the idea of life in a country cottage.
Conceivably, for he could not examine into it now, here lay a
tremendous possibility; a solution of many problems. He struck his
stick upon the earth, and stared through the dusk at the shape of the
"D'you know the points of the compass?" he asked.
"Well, of course," said Mary. "What d'you take me for?--a Cockney like
you?" She then told him exactly where the north lay, and where the
"It's my native land, this," she said. "I could smell my way about it
As if to prove this boast, she walked a little quicker, so that Ralph
found it difficult to keep pace with her. At the same time, he felt
drawn to her as he had never been before; partly, no doubt, because
she was more independent of him than in London, and seemed to be
attached firmly to a world where he had no place at all. Now the dusk
had fallen to such an extent that he had to follow her implicitly, and
even lean his hand on her shoulder when they jumped a bank into a very
narrow lane. And he felt curiously shy of her when she began to shout
through her hands at a spot of light which swung upon the mist in a
neighboring field. He shouted, too, and the light stood still.
"That's Christopher, come in already, and gone to feed his chickens,"
She introduced him to Ralph, who could see only a tall figure in
gaiters, rising from a fluttering circle of soft feathery bodies, upon
whom the light fell in wavering discs, calling out now a bright spot
of yellow, now one of greenish-black and scarlet. Mary dipped her hand
in the bucket he carried, and was at once the center of a circle also;
and as she cast her grain she talked alternately to the birds and to
her brother, in the same clucking, half-inarticulate voice, as it
sounded to Ralph, standing on the outskirts of the fluttering feathers
in his black overcoat.
He had removed his overcoat by the time they sat round the dinner-
table, but nevertheless he looked very strange among the others. A
country life and breeding had preserved in them all a look which Mary
hesitated to call either innocent or youthful, as she compared them,
now sitting round in an oval, softly illuminated by candlelight; and
yet it was something of the kind, yes, even in the case of the Rector
himself. Though superficially marked with lines, his face was a clear
pink, and his blue eyes had the long-sighted, peaceful expression of
eyes seeking the turn of the road, or a distant light through rain, or
the darkness of winter. She looked at Ralph. He had never appeared to
her more concentrated and full of purpose; as if behind his forehead
were massed so much experience that he could choose for himself which
part of it he would display and which part he would keep to himself.
Compared with that dark and stern countenance, her brothers' faces,
bending low over their soup-plates, were mere circles of pink,
"You came by the 3.10, Mr. Denham?" said the Reverend Wyndham Datchet,
tucking his napkin into his collar, so that almost the whole of his
body was concealed by a large white diamond. "They treat us very well,
on the whole. Considering the increase of traffic, they treat us very
well indeed. I have the curiosity sometimes to count the trucks on the
goods' trains, and they're well over fifty--well over fifty, at this
season of the year."
The old gentleman had been roused agreeably by the presence of this
attentive and well-informed young man, as was evident by the care with
which he finished the last words in his sentences, and his slight
exaggeration in the number of trucks on the trains. Indeed, the chief
burden of the talk fell upon him, and he sustained it to-night in a
manner which caused his sons to look at him admiringly now and then;
for they felt shy of Denham, and were glad not to have to talk
themselves. The store of information about the present and past of
this particular corner of Lincolnshire which old Mr. Datchet produced
really surprised his children, for though they knew of its existence,
they had forgotten its extent, as they might have forgotten the amount
of family plate stored in the plate-chest, until some rare celebration
brought it forth.
After dinner, parish business took the Rector to his study, and Mary
proposed that they should sit in the kitchen.
"It's not the kitchen really," Elizabeth hastened to explain to her
guest, "but we call it so--"
"It's the nicest room in the house," said Edward.
"It's got the old rests by the side of the fireplace, where the men
hung their guns," said Elizabeth, leading the way, with a tall brass
candlestick in her hand, down a passage. "Show Mr. Denham the steps,
Christopher. . . . When the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were here two
years ago they said this was the most interesting part of the house.
These narrow bricks prove that it is five hundred years old--five
hundred years, I think--they may have said six." She, too, felt an
impulse to exaggerate the age of the bricks, as her father had
exaggerated the number of trucks. A big lamp hung down from the center
of the ceiling and, together with a fine log fire, illuminated a large
and lofty room, with rafters running from wall to wall, a floor of red
tiles, and a substantial fireplace built up of those narrow red bricks
which were said to be five hundred years old. A few rugs and a
sprinkling of arm-chairs had made this ancient kitchen into a
sitting-room. Elizabeth, after pointing out the gun-racks, and the
hooks for smoking hams, and other evidence of incontestable age, and
explaining that Mary had had the idea of turning the room into a
sitting-room--otherwise it was used for hanging out the wash and for
the men to change in after shooting--considered that she had done her
duty as hostess, and sat down in an upright chair directly beneath the
lamp, beside a very long and narrow oak table. She placed a pair of
horn spectacles upon her nose, and drew towards her a basketful of
threads and wools. In a few minutes a smile came to her face, and
remained there for the rest of the evening.
"Will you come out shooting with us to-morrow?" said Christopher, who
had, on the whole, formed a favorable impression of his sister's
"I won't shoot, but I'll come with you," said Ralph.
"Don't you care about shooting?" asked Edward, whose suspicions were
not yet laid to rest.
"I've never shot in my life," said Ralph, turning and looking him in
the face, because he was not sure how this confession would be
"You wouldn't have much chance in London, I suppose," said
Christopher. "But won't you find it rather dull--just watching us?"
"I shall watch birds," Ralph replied, with a smile.
"I can show you the place for watching birds," said Edward, "if that's
what you like doing. I know a fellow who comes down from London about
this time every year to watch them. It's a great place for the wild
geese and the ducks. I've heard this man say that it's one of the best
places for birds in the country."
"It's about the best place in England," Ralph replied. They were all
gratified by this praise of their native county; and Mary now had the
pleasure of hearing these short questions and answers lose their
undertone of suspicious inspection, so far as her brothers were
concerned, and develop into a genuine conversation about the habits of
birds which afterwards turned to a discussion as to the habits of
solicitors, in which it was scarcely necessary for her to take part.
She was pleased to see that her brothers liked Ralph, to the extent,
that is, of wishing to secure his good opinion. Whether or not he
liked them it was impossible to tell from his kind but experienced
manner. Now and then she fed the fire with a fresh log, and as the
room filled with the fine, dry heat of burning wood, they all, with
the exception of Elizabeth, who was outside the range of the fire,
felt less and less anxious about the effect they were making, and more
and more inclined for sleep. At this moment a vehement scratching was
heard on the door.
"Piper!--oh, damn!--I shall have to get up," murmured Christopher.
"It's not Piper, it's Pitch," Edward grunted.
"All the same, I shall have to get up," Christopher grumbled. He let
in the dog, and stood for a moment by the door, which opened into the
garden, to revive himself with a draught of the black, starlit air.
"Do come in and shut the door!" Mary cried, half turning in her chair.
"We shall have a fine day to-morrow," said Christopher with
complacency, and he sat himself on the floor at her feet, and leant
his back against her knees, and stretched out his long stockinged legs
to the fire--all signs that he felt no longer any restraint at the
presence of the stranger. He was the youngest of the family, and
Mary's favorite, partly because his character resembled hers, as
Edward's character resembled Elizabeth's. She made her knees a
comfortable rest for his head, and ran her fingers through his hair.
"I should like Mary to stroke my head like that," Ralph thought to
himself suddenly, and he looked at Christopher, almost affectionately,
for calling forth his sister's caresses. Instantly he thought of
Katharine, the thought of her being surrounded by the spaces of night
and the open air; and Mary, watching him, saw the lines upon his
forehead suddenly deepen. He stretched out an arm and placed a log
upon the fire, constraining himself to fit it carefully into the frail
red scaffolding, and also to limit his thoughts to this one room.
Mary had ceased to stroke her brother's head; he moved it impatiently
between her knees, and, much as though he were a child, she began once
more to part the thick, reddish-colored locks this way and that. But a
far stronger passion had taken possession of her soul than any her
brother could inspire in her, and, seeing Ralph's change of
expression, her hand almost automatically continued its movements,
while her mind plunged desperately for some hold upon slippery banks.
Into that same black night, almost, indeed, into the very same layer
of starlit air, Katharine Hilbery was now gazing, although not with a
view to the prospects of a fine day for duck shooting on the morrow.
She was walking up and down a gravel path in the garden of Stogdon
House, her sight of the heavens being partially intercepted by the
light leafless hoops of a pergola. Thus a spray of clematis would
completely obscure Cassiopeia, or blot out with its black pattern
myriads of miles of the Milky Way. At the end of the pergola, however,
there was a stone seat, from which the sky could be seen completely
swept clear of any earthly interruption, save to the right, indeed,
where a line of elm-trees was beautifully sprinkled with stars, and a
low stable building had a full drop of quivering silver just issuing
from the mouth of the chimney. It was a moonless night, but the light
of the stars was sufficient to show the outline of the young woman's
form, and the shape of her face gazing gravely, indeed almost sternly,
into the sky. She had come out into the winter's night, which was mild
enough, not so much to look with scientific eyes upon the stars, as to
shake herself free from certain purely terrestrial discontents. Much
as a literary person in like circumstances would begin,
absent-mindedly, pulling out volume after volume, so she stepped into
the garden in order to have the stars at hand, even though she did not
look at them. Not to be happy, when she was supposed to be happier
than she would ever be again--that, as far as she could see, was the
origin of a discontent which had begun almost as soon as she arrived,
two days before, and seemed now so intolerable that she had left the
family party, and come out here to consider it by herself. It was not
she who thought herself unhappy, but her cousins, who thought it for
her. The house was full of cousins, much of her age, or even younger,
and among them they had some terribly bright eyes. They seemed always
on the search for something between her and Rodney, which they
expected to find, and yet did not find; and when they searched,
Katharine became aware of wanting what she had not been conscious of
wanting in London, alone with William and her parents. Or, if she did
not want it, she missed it. And this state of mind depressed her,
because she had been accustomed always to give complete satisfaction,
and her self-love was now a little ruffled. She would have liked to
break through the reserve habitual to her in order to justify her
engagement to some one whose opinion she valued. No one had spoken a
word of criticism, but they left her alone with William; not that that
would have mattered, if they had not left her alone so politely; and,
perhaps, that would not have mattered if they had not seemed so
queerly silent, almost respectful, in her presence, which gave way to
criticism, she felt, out of it.
Looking now and then at the sky, she went through the list of her
cousins' names: Eleanor, Humphrey, Marmaduke, Silvia, Henry,
Cassandra, Gilbert, and Mostyn--Henry, the cousin who taught the young
ladies of Bungay to play upon the violin, was the only one in whom she
could confide, and as she walked up and down beneath the hoops of the
pergola, she did begin a little speech to him, which ran something
"To begin with, I'm very fond of William. You can't deny that. I know
him better than any one, almost. But why I'm marrying him is, partly,
I admit--I'm being quite honest with you, and you mustn't tell any
one--partly because I want to get married. I want to have a house of
my own. It isn't possible at home. It's all very well for you, Henry;
you can go your own way. I have to be there always. Besides, you know
what our house is. You wouldn't be happy either, if you didn't do
something. It isn't that I haven't the time at home--it's the
atmosphere." Here, presumably, she imagined that her cousin, who had
listened with his usual intelligent sympathy, raised his eyebrows a
little, and interposed:
"Well, but what do you want to do?"
Even in this purely imaginary dialogue, Katharine found it difficult
to confide her ambition to an imaginary companion.
"I should like," she began, and hesitated quite a long time before she
forced herself to add, with a change of voice, "to study
mathematics--to know about the stars."
Henry was clearly amazed, but too kind to express all his doubts; he
only said something about the difficulties of mathematics, and
remarked that very little was known about the stars.
Katharine thereupon went on with the statement of her case.
"I don't care much whether I ever get to know anything--but I want to
work out something in figures--something that hasn't got to do with
human beings. I don't want people particularly. In some ways, Henry,
I'm a humbug--I mean, I'm not what you all take me for. I'm not
domestic, or very practical or sensible, really. And if I could
calculate things, and use a telescope, and have to work out figures,
and know to a fraction where I was wrong, I should be perfectly happy,
and I believe I should give William all he wants."
Having reached this point, instinct told her that she had passed
beyond the region in which Henry's advice could be of any good; and,
having rid her mind of its superficial annoyance, she sat herself upon
the stone seat, raised her eyes unconsciously and thought about the
deeper questions which she had to decide, she knew, for herself. Would
she, indeed, give William all he wanted? In order to decide the
question, she ran her mind rapidly over her little collection of
significant sayings, looks, compliments, gestures, which had marked
their intercourse during the last day or two. He had been annoyed
because a box, containing some clothes specially chosen by him for her
to wear, had been taken to the wrong station, owing to her neglect in
the matter of labels. The box had arrived in the nick of time, and he
had remarked, as she came downstairs on the first night, that he had
never seen her look more beautiful. She outshone all her cousins. He
had discovered that she never made an ugly movement; he also said that
the shape of her head made it possible for her, unlike most women, to
wear her hair low. He had twice reproved her for being silent at
dinner; and once for never attending to what he said. He had been
surprised at the excellence of her French accent, but he thought it
was selfish of her not to go with her mother to call upon the
Middletons, because they were old family friends and very nice people.
On the whole, the balance was nearly even; and, writing down a kind of
conclusion in her mind which finished the sum for the present, at
least, she changed the focus of her eyes, and saw nothing but the
To-night they seemed fixed with unusual firmness in the blue, and
flashed back such a ripple of light into her eyes that she found
herself thinking that to-night the stars were happy. Without knowing
or caring more for Church practices than most people of her age,
Katharine could not look into the sky at Christmas time without
feeling that, at this one season, the Heavens bend over the earth with
sympathy, and signal with immortal radiance that they, too, take part
in her festival. Somehow, it seemed to her that they were even now
beholding the procession of kings and wise men upon some road on a
distant part of the earth. And yet, after gazing for another second,
the stars did their usual work upon the mind, froze to cinders the
whole of our short human history, and reduced the human body to an
ape-like, furry form, crouching amid the brushwood of a barbarous clod
of mud. This stage was soon succeeded by another, in which there was
nothing in the universe save stars and the light of stars; as she
looked up the pupils of her eyes so dilated with starlight that the
whole of her seemed dissolved in silver and spilt over the ledges of
the stars for ever and ever indefinitely through space. Somehow
simultaneously, though incongruously, she was riding with the
magnanimous hero upon the shore or under forest trees, and so might
have continued were it not for the rebuke forcibly administered by the
body, which, content with the normal conditions of life, in no way
furthers any attempt on the part of the mind to alter them. She grew
cold, shook herself, rose, and walked towards the house.
By the light of the stars, Stogdon House looked pale and romantic, and
about twice its natural size. Built by a retired admiral in the early
years of the nineteenth century, the curving bow windows of the front,
now filled with reddish-yellow light, suggested a portly three-decker,
sailing seas where those dolphins and narwhals who disport themselves
upon the edges of old maps were scattered with an impartial hand. A
semicircular flight of shallow steps led to a very large door, which
Katharine had left ajar. She hesitated, cast her eyes over the front
of the house, marked that a light burnt in one small window upon an
upper floor, and pushed the door open. For a moment she stood in the
square hall, among many horned skulls, sallow globes, cracked
oil-paintings, and stuffed owls, hesitating, it seemed, whether she
should open the door on her right, through which the stir of life
reached her ears. Listening for a moment, she heard a sound which
decided her, apparently, not to enter; her uncle, Sir Francis, was
playing his nightly game of whist; it appeared probable that he was
She went up the curving stairway, which represented the one attempt at
ceremony in the otherwise rather dilapidated mansion, and down a
narrow passage until she came to the room whose light she had seen
from the garden. Knocking, she was told to come in. A young man, Henry
Otway, was reading, with his feet on the fender. He had a fine head,
the brow arched in the Elizabethan manner, but the gentle, honest eyes
were rather skeptical than glowing with the Elizabethan vigor. He gave
the impression that he had not yet found the cause which suited his
He turned, put down his book, and looked at her. He noticed her rather
pale, dew-drenched look, as of one whose mind is not altogether
settled in the body. He had often laid his difficulties before her,
and guessed, in some ways hoped, that perhaps she now had need of him.
At the same time, she carried on her life with such independence that
he scarcely expected any confidence to be expressed in words.
"You have fled, too, then?" he said, looking at her cloak. Katharine
had forgotten to remove this token of her star-gazing.
"Fled?" she asked. "From whom d'you mean? Oh, the family party. Yes,
it was hot down there, so I went into the garden."
"And aren't you very cold?" Henry inquired, placing coal on the fire,
drawing a chair up to the grate, and laying aside her cloak. Her
indifference to such details often forced Henry to act the part
generally taken by women in such dealings. It was one of the ties
"Thank you, Henry," she said. "I'm not disturbing you?"
"I'm not here. I'm at Bungay," he replied. "I'm giving a music lesson
to Harold and Julia. That was why I had to leave the table with the
ladies--I'm spending the night there, and I shan't be back till late
on Christmas Eve."
"How I wish--" Katharine began, and stopped short. "I think these
parties are a great mistake," she added briefly, and sighed.
"Oh, horrible!" he agreed; and they both fell silent.
Her sigh made him look at her. Should he venture to ask her why she
sighed? Was her reticence about her own affairs as inviolable as it
had often been convenient for rather an egoistical young man to think
it? But since her engagement to Rodney, Henry's feeling towards her
had become rather complex; equally divided between an impulse to hurt
her and an impulse to be tender to her; and all the time he suffered a
curious irritation from the sense that she was drifting away from him
for ever upon unknown seas. On her side, directly Katharine got into
his presence, and the sense of the stars dropped from her, she knew
that any intercourse between people is extremely partial; from the
whole mass of her feelings, only one or two could be selected for
Henry's inspection, and therefore she sighed. Then she looked at him,
and their eyes meeting, much more seemed to be in common between them
than had appeared possible. At any rate they had a grandfather in
common; at any rate there was a kind of loyalty between them sometimes
found between relations who have no other cause to like each other, as
these two had.
"Well, what's the date of the wedding?" said Henry, the malicious mood
"I think some time in March," she replied.
"And afterwards?" he asked.
"We take a house, I suppose, somewhere in Chelsea."
"It's very interesting," he observed, stealing another look at her.
She lay back in her arm-chair, her feet high upon the side of the
grate, and in front of her, presumably to screen her eyes, she held a
newspaper from which she picked up a sentence or two now and again.
Observing this, Henry remarked:
"Perhaps marriage will make you more human."
At this she lowered the newspaper an inch or two, but said nothing.
Indeed, she sat quite silent for over a minute.
"When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don't seem to
matter very much, do they?" she said suddenly.
"I don't think I ever do consider things like the stars," Henry
replied. "I'm not sure that that's not the explanation, though," he
added, now observing her steadily.
"I doubt whether there is an explanation," she replied rather
hurriedly, not clearly understanding what he meant.
"What? No explanation of anything?" he inquired, with a smile.
"Oh, things happen. That's about all," she let drop in her casual,
"That certainly seems to explain some of your actions," Henry thought
"One thing's about as good as another, and one's got to do something,"
he said aloud, expressing what he supposed to be her attitude, much in
her accent. Perhaps she detected the imitation, for looking gently at
him, she said, with ironical composure:
"Well, if you believe that your life must be simple, Henry."
"But I don't believe it," he said shortly.
"No more do I," she replied.
"What about the stars?" he asked a moment later. "I understand that
you rule your life by the stars?"
She let this pass, either because she did not attend to it, or because
the tone was not to her liking.
Once more she paused, and then she inquired:
"But do you always understand why you do everything? Ought one to
understand? People like my mother understand," she reflected. "Now I
must go down to them, I suppose, and see what's happening."
"What could be happening?" Henry protested.
"Oh, they may want to settle something," she replied vaguely, putting
her feet on the ground, resting her chin on her hands, and looking out
of her large dark eyes contemplatively at the fire.
"And then there's William," she added, as if by an afterthought.
Henry very nearly laughed, but restrained himself.
"Do they know what coals are made of, Henry?" she asked, a moment
"Mares' tails, I believe," he hazarded.
"Have you ever been down a coal-mine?" she went on.
"Don't let's talk about coal-mines, Katharine," he protested. "We
shall probably never see each other again.
When you're married--"
Tremendously to his surprise, he saw the tears stand in her eyes.
"Why do you all tease me?" she said. "It isn't kind."
Henry could not pretend that he was altogether ignorant of her
meaning, though, certainly, he had never guessed that she minded the
teasing. But before he knew what to say, her eyes were clear again,
and the sudden crack in the surface was almost filled up.
"Things aren't easy, anyhow," she stated.
Obeying an impulse of genuine affection, Henry spoke.
"Promise me, Katharine, that if I can ever help you, you will let me."
She seemed to consider, looking once more into the red of the fire,
and decided to refrain from any explanation.
"Yes, I promise that," she said at length, and Henry felt himself
gratified by her complete sincerity, and began to tell her now about
the coal-mine, in obedience to her love of facts.
They were, indeed, descending the shaft in a small cage, and could
hear the picks of the miners, something like the gnawing of rats, in
the earth beneath them, when the door was burst open, without any
"Well, here you are!" Rodney exclaimed. Both Katharine and Henry
turned round very quickly and rather guiltily. Rodney was in evening
dress. It was clear that his temper was ruffled.
"That's where you've been all the time," he repeated, looking at
"I've only been here about ten minutes," she replied.
"My dear Katharine, you left the drawing-room over an hour ago."
She said nothing.
"Does it very much matter?" Henry asked.
Rodney found it hard to be unreasonable in the presence of another
man, and did not answer him.
"They don't like it," he said. "It isn't kind to old people to leave
them alone--although I've no doubt it's much more amusing to sit up
here and talk to Henry."
"We were discussing coal-mines," said Henry urbanely.
"Yes. But we were talking about much more interesting things before
that," said Katharine.
From the apparent determination to hurt him with which she spoke,
Henry thought that some sort of explosion on Rodney's part was about
to take place.
"I can quite understand that," said Rodney, with his little chuckle,
leaning over the back of his chair and tapping the woodwork lightly
with his fingers. They were all silent, and the silence was acutely
uncomfortable to Henry, at least.
"Was it very dull, William?" Katharine suddenly asked, with a complete
change of tone and a little gesture of her hand.
"Of course it was dull," William said sulkily.
"Well, you stay and talk to Henry, and I'll go down," she replied.
She rose as she spoke, and as she turned to leave the room, she laid
her hand, with a curiously caressing gesture, upon Rodney's shoulder.
Instantly Rodney clasped her hand in his, with such an impulse of
emotion that Henry was annoyed, and rather ostentatiously opened a
"I shall come down with you," said William, as she drew back her hand,
and made as if to pass him.
"Oh no," she said hastily. "You stay here and talk to Henry."
"Yes, do," said Henry, shutting up his book again. His invitation was
polite, without being precisely cordial. Rodney evidently hesitated as
to the course he should pursue, but seeing Katharine at the door, he
"No. I want to come with you."
She looked back, and said in a very commanding tone, and with an
expression of authority upon her face:
"It's useless for you to come. I shall go to bed in ten minutes. Good
She nodded to them both, but Henry could not help noticing that her
last nod was in his direction. Rodney sat down rather heavily.
His mortification was so obvious that Henry scarcely liked to open the
conversation with some remark of a literary character. On the other
hand, unless he checked him, Rodney might begin to talk about his
feelings, and irreticence is apt to be extremely painful, at any rate
in prospect. He therefore adopted a middle course; that is to say, he
wrote a note upon the fly-leaf of his book, which ran, "The situation
is becoming most uncomfortable." This he decorated with those
flourishes and decorative borders which grow of themselves upon these
occasions; and as he did so, he thought to himself that whatever
Katharine's difficulties might be, they did not justify her behavior.
She had spoken with a kind of brutality which suggested that, whether
it is natural or assumed, women have a peculiar blindness to the
feelings of men.
The penciling of this note gave Rodney time to recover himself.
Perhaps, for he was a very vain man, he was more hurt that Henry had
seen him rebuffed than by the rebuff itself. He was in love with
Katharine, and vanity is not decreased but increased by love;
especially, one may hazard, in the presence of one's own sex. But
Rodney enjoyed the courage which springs from that laughable and
lovable defect, and when he had mastered his first impulse, in some
way to make a fool of himself, he drew inspiration from the perfect
fit of his evening dress. He chose a cigarette, tapped it on the back
of his hand, displayed his exquisite pumps on the edge of the fender,
and summoned his self-respect.
"You've several big estates round here, Otway," he began. "Any good
hunting? Let me see, what pack would it be? Who's your great man?"
"Sir William Budge, the sugar king, has the biggest estate. He bought
out poor Stanham, who went bankrupt."
"Which Stanham would that be? Verney or Alfred?"
"Alfred. . . . I don't hunt myself. You're a great huntsman, aren't
you? You have a great reputation as a horseman, anyhow," he added,
desiring to help Rodney in his effort to recover his complacency.
"Oh, I love riding," Rodney replied. "Could I get a horse down here?
Stupid of me! I forgot to bring any clothes. I can't imagine, though,
who told you I was anything of a rider?"
To tell the truth, Henry labored under the same difficulty; he did not
wish to introduce Katharine's name, and, therefore, he replied vaguely
that he had always heard that Rodney was a great rider. In truth, he
had heard very little about him, one way or another, accepting him as
a figure often to be found in the background at his aunt's house, and
inevitably, though inexplicably, engaged to his cousin.
"I don't care much for shooting," Rodney continued; "but one has to do
it, unless one wants to be altogether out of things. I dare say
there's some very pretty country round here. I stayed once at Bolham
Hall. Young Cranthorpe was up with you, wasn't he? He married old Lord
Bolham's daughter. Very nice people--in their way."
"I don't mix in that society," Henry remarked, rather shortly. But
Rodney, now started on an agreeable current of reflection, could not
resist the temptation of pursuing it a little further. He appeared to
himself as a man who moved easily in very good society, and knew
enough about the true values of life to be himself above it.
"Oh, but you should," he went on. "It's well worth staying there,
anyhow, once a year. They make one very comfortable, and the women are
"The women?" Henry thought to himself, with disgust. "What could any
woman see in you?" His tolerance was rapidly becoming exhausted, but
he could not help liking Rodney nevertheless, and this appeared to him
strange, for he was fastidious, and such words in another mouth would
have condemned the speaker irreparably. He began, in short, to wonder
what kind of creature this man who was to marry his cousin might be.
Could any one, except a rather singular character, afford to be so
"I don't think I should get on in that society," he replied. "I don't
think I should know what to say to Lady Rose if I met her."
"I don't find any difficulty," Rodney chuckled. "You talk to them
about their children, if they have any, or their accomplishments--
painting, gardening, poetry--they're so delightfully sympathetic.
Seriously, you know I think a woman's opinion of one's poetry is
always worth having. Don't ask them for their reasons. Just ask them
for their feelings. Katharine, for example--"
"Katharine," said Henry, with an emphasis upon the name, almost as if
he resented Rodney's use of it, "Katharine is very unlike most women."
"Quite," Rodney agreed. "She is--" He seemed about to describe her,
and he hesitated for a long time. "She's looking very well," he
stated, or rather almost inquired, in a different tone from that in
which he had been speaking. Henry bent his head.
"But, as a family, you're given to moods, eh?"
"Not Katharine," said Henry, with decision.
"Not Katharine," Rodney repeated, as if he weighed the meaning of the
words. "No, perhaps you're right. But her engagement has changed her.
Naturally," he added, "one would expect that to be so." He waited for
Henry to confirm this statement, but Henry remained silent.
"Katharine has had a difficult life, in some ways," he continued. "I
expect that marriage will be good for her. She has great powers."
"Great," said Henry, with decision.
"Yes--but now what direction d'you think they take?"
Rodney had completely dropped his pose as a man of the world, and
seemed to be asking Henry to help him in a difficulty.
"I don't know," Henry hesitated cautiously.
"D'you think children--a household--that sort of thing--d'you think
that'll satisfy her? Mind, I'm out all day."
"She would certainly be very competent," Henry stated.
"Oh, she's wonderfully competent," said Rodney. "But--I get absorbed
in my poetry. Well, Katharine hasn't got that. She admires my poetry,
you know, but that wouldn't be enough for her?"
"No," said Henry. He paused. "I think you're right," he added, as if
he were summing up his thoughts. "Katharine hasn't found herself yet.
Life isn't altogether real to her yet--I sometimes think--"
"Yes?" Rodney inquired, as if he were eager for Henry to continue.
"That is what I--" he was going on, as Henry remained silent, but the
sentence was not finished, for the door opened, and they were
interrupted by Henry's younger brother Gilbert, much to Henry's
relief, for he had already said more than he liked.
When the sun shone, as it did with unusual brightness that Christmas
week, it revealed much that was faded and not altogether well-kept-up
in Stogdon House and its grounds. In truth, Sir Francis had retired
from service under the Government of India with a pension that was not
adequate, in his opinion, to his services, as it certainly was not
adequate to his ambitions. His career had not come up to his
expectations, and although he was a very fine, white-whiskered,
mahogany-colored old man to look at, and had laid down a very choice
cellar of good reading and good stories, you could not long remain
ignorant of the fact that some thunder-storm had soured them; he had a
grievance. This grievance dated back to the middle years of the last
century, when, owing to some official intrigue, his merits had been
passed over in a disgraceful manner in favor of another, his junior.
The rights and wrongs of the story, presuming that they had some
existence in fact, were no longer clearly known to his wife and
children; but this disappointment had played a very large part in
their lives, and had poisoned the life of Sir Francis much as a
disappointment in love is said to poison the whole life of a woman.
Long brooding on his failure, continual arrangement and rearrangement
of his deserts and rebuffs, had made Sir Francis much of an egoist,
and in his retirement his temper became increasingly difficult and
His wife now offered so little resistance to his moods that she was
practically useless to him. He made his daughter Eleanor into his
chief confidante, and the prime of her life was being rapidly consumed
by her father. To her he dictated the memoirs which were to avenge his
memory, and she had to assure him constantly that his treatment had
been a disgrace. Already, at the age of thirty-five, her cheeks were
whitening as her mother's had whitened, but for her there would be no
memories of Indian suns and Indian rivers, and clamor of children in a
nursery; she would have very little of substance to think about when
she sat, as Lady Otway now sat, knitting white wool, with her eyes
fixed almost perpetually upon the same embroidered bird upon the same
fire-screen. But then Lady Otway was one of the people for whom the
great make-believe game of English social life has been invented; she
spent most of her time in pretending to herself and her neighbors that
she was a dignified, important, much-occupied person, of considerable
social standing and sufficient wealth. In view of the actual state of
things this game needed a great deal of skill; and, perhaps, at the
age she had reached--she was over sixty--she played far more to
deceive herself than to deceive any one else. Moreover, the armor was
wearing thin; she forgot to keep up appearances more and more.
The worn patches in the carpets, and the pallor of the drawing-room,
where no chair or cover had been renewed for some years, were due not
only to the miserable pension, but to the wear and tear of twelve
children, eight of whom were sons. As often happens in these large
families, a distinct dividing-line could be traced, about half-way in
the succession, where the money for educational purposes had run
short, and the six younger children had grown up far more economically
than the elder. If the boys were clever, they won scholarships, and
went to school; if they were not clever, they took what the family
connection had to offer them. The girls accepted situations
occasionally, but there were always one or two at home, nursing sick
animals, tending silkworms, or playing the flute in their bedrooms.
The distinction between the elder children and the younger
corresponded almost to the distinction between a higher class and a
lower one, for with only a haphazard education and insufficient
allowances, the younger children had picked up accomplishments,
friends, and points of view which were not to be found within the
walls of a public school or of a Government office. Between the two
divisions there was considerable hostility, the elder trying to
patronize the younger, the younger refusing to respect the elder; but
one feeling united them and instantly closed any risk of a breach--
their common belief in the superiority of their own family to all
others. Henry was the eldest of the younger group, and their leader;
he bought strange books and joined odd societies; he went without a
tie for a whole year, and had six shirts made of black flannel. He had
long refused to take a seat either in a shipping office or in a
tea-merchant's warehouse; and persisted, in spite of the disapproval
of uncles and aunts, in practicing both violin and piano, with the
result that he could not perform professionally upon either. Indeed,
for thirty-two years of life he had nothing more substantial to show
than a manuscript book containing the score of half an opera. In this
protest of his, Katharine had always given him her support, and as she
was generally held to be an extremely sensible person, who dressed too
well to be eccentric, he had found her support of some use. Indeed,
when she came down at Christmas she usually spent a great part of her
time in private conferences with Henry and with Cassandra, the
youngest girl, to whom the silkworms belonged. With the younger
section she had a great reputation for common sense, and for something
that they despised but inwardly respected and called knowledge of the
world--that is to say, of the way in which respectable elderly people,
going to their clubs and dining out with ministers, think and behave.
She had more than once played the part of ambassador between Lady
Otway and her children. That poor lady, for instance, consulted her
for advice when, one day, she opened Cassandra's bedroom door on a
mission of discovery, and found the ceiling hung with mulberry-leaves,
the windows blocked with cages, and the tables stacked with home-made
machines for the manufacture of silk dresses.
"I wish you could help her to take an interest in something that other
people are interested in, Katharine," she observed, rather
plaintively, detailing her grievances. "It's all Henry's doing, you
know, giving up her parties and taking to these nasty insects. It
doesn't follow that if a man can do a thing a woman may too."
The morning was sufficiently bright to make the chairs and sofas in
Lady Otway's private sitting-room appear more than usually shabby, and
the gallant gentlemen, her brothers and cousins, who had defended the
Empire and left their bones on many frontiers, looked at the world
through a film of yellow which the morning light seemed to have drawn
across their photographs. Lady Otway sighed, it may be at the faded
relics, and turned, with resignation, to her balls of wool, which,
curiously and characteristically, were not an ivory-white, but rather
a tarnished yellow-white. She had called her niece in for a little
chat. She had always trusted her, and now more than ever, since her
engagement to Rodney, which seemed to Lady Otway extremely suitable,
and just what one would wish for one's own daughter. Katharine
unwittingly increased her reputation for wisdom by asking to be given
"It's so very pleasant," said Lady Otway, "to knit while one's
talking. And now, my dear Katharine, tell me about your plans."
The emotions of the night before, which she had suppressed in such a
way as to keep her awake till dawn, had left Katharine a little jaded,
and thus more matter-of-fact than usual. She was quite ready to
discuss her plans--houses and rents, servants and economy--without
feeling that they concerned her very much. As she spoke, knitting
methodically meanwhile, Lady Otway noted, with approval, the upright,
responsible bearing of her niece, to whom the prospect of marriage had
brought some gravity most becoming in a bride, and yet, in these days,
most rare. Yes, Katharine's engagement had changed her a little.
"What a perfect daughter, or daughter-in-law!" she thought to herself,
and could not help contrasting her with Cassandra, surrounded by
innumerable silkworms in her bedroom.
"Yes," she continued, glancing at Katharine, with the round, greenish
eyes which were as inexpressive as moist marbles, "Katharine is like
the girls of my youth. We took the serious things of life seriously."
But just as she was deriving satisfaction from this thought, and was
producing some of the hoarded wisdom which none of her own daughters,
alas! seemed now to need, the door opened, and Mrs. Hilbery came in,
or rather, did not come in, but stood in the doorway and smiled,
having evidently mistaken the room.
"I never SHALL know my way about this house!" she exclaimed. "I'm on
my way to the library, and I don't want to interrupt. You and
Katharine were having a little chat?"
The presence of her sister-in-law made Lady Otway slightly uneasy. How
could she go on with what she was saying in Maggie's presence? for she
was saying something that she had never said, all these years, to
"I was telling Katharine a few little commonplaces about marriage,"
she said, with a little laugh. "Are none of my children looking after
"Marriage," said Mrs. Hilbery, coming into the room, and nodding her
head once or twice, "I always say marriage is a school. And you don't
get the prizes unless you go to school. Charlotte has won all the
prizes," she added, giving her sister-in-law a little pat, which made
Lady Otway more uncomfortable still. She half laughed, muttered
something, and ended on a sigh.
"Aunt Charlotte was saying that it's no good being married unless you
submit to your husband," said Katharine, framing her aunt's words into
a far more definite shape than they had really worn; and when she
spoke thus she did not appear at all old-fashioned. Lady Otway looked
at her and paused for a moment.
"Well, I really don't advise a woman who wants to have things her own
way to get married," she said, beginning a fresh row rather
Mrs. Hilbery knew something of the circumstances which, as she
thought, had inspired this remark. In a moment her face was clouded
with sympathy which she did not quite know how to express.
"What a shame it was!" she exclaimed, forgetting that her train of
thought might not be obvious to her listeners. "But, Charlotte, it
would have been much worse if Frank had disgraced himself in any way.
And it isn't what our husbands GET, but what they ARE. I used to dream
of white horses and palanquins, too; but still, I like the ink-pots
best. And who knows?" she concluded, looking at Katharine, "your
father may be made a baronet to-morrow."
Lady Otway, who was Mr. Hilbery's sister, knew quite well that, in
private, the Hilberys called Sir Francis "that old Turk," and though
she did not follow the drift of Mrs. Hilbery's remarks, she knew what
"But if you can give way to your husband," she said, speaking to
Katharine, as if there were a separate understanding between them, "a
happy marriage is the happiest thing in the world."
"Yes," said Katharine, "but--" She did not mean to finish her
sentence, she merely wished to induce her mother and her aunt to go on
talking about marriage, for she was in the mood to feel that other
people could help her if they would. She went on knitting, but her
fingers worked with a decision that was oddly unlike the smooth and
contemplative sweep of Lady Otway's plump hand. Now and then she
looked swiftly at her mother, then at her aunt. Mrs. Hilbery held a
book in her hand, and was on her way, as Katharine guessed, to the
library, where another paragraph was to be added to that varied
assortment of paragraphs, the Life of Richard Alardyce. Normally,
Katharine would have hurried her mother downstairs, and seen that no
excuse for distraction came her way. Her attitude towards the poet's
life, however, had changed with other changes; and she was content to
forget all about her scheme of hours. Mrs. Hilbery was secretly
delighted. Her relief at finding herself excused manifested itself in
a series of sidelong glances of sly humor in her daughter's direction,
and the indulgence put her in the best of spirits. Was she to be
allowed merely to sit and talk? It was so much pleasanter to sit in a
nice room filled with all sorts of interesting odds and ends which she
hadn't looked at for a year, at least, than to seek out one date which
contradicted another in a dictionary.
"We've all had perfect husbands," she concluded, generously forgiving
Sir Francis all his faults in a lump. "Not that I think a bad temper
is really a fault in a man. I don't mean a bad temper," she corrected
herself, with a glance obviously in the direction of Sir Francis. "I
should say a quick, impatient temper. Most, in fact ALL great men have
had bad tempers--except your grandfather, Katharine," and here she
sighed, and suggested that, perhaps, she ought to go down to the
"But in the ordinary marriage, is it necessary to give way to one's
husband?" said Katharine, taking no notice of her mother's suggestion,
blind even to the depression which had now taken possession of her at
the thought of her own inevitable death.
"I should say yes, certainly," said Lady Otway, with a decision most
unusual for her.
"Then one ought to make up one's mind to that before one is married,"
Katharine mused, seeming to address herself.
Mrs. Hilbery was not much interested in these remarks, which seemed to
have a melancholy tendency, and to revive her spirits she had recourse
to an infallible remedy--she looked out of the window.
"Do look at that lovely little blue bird!" she exclaimed, and her eye
looked with extreme pleasure at the soft sky. at the trees, at the
green fields visible behind those trees, and at the leafless branches
which surrounded the body of the small blue tit. Her sympathy with
nature was exquisite.
"Most women know by instinct whether they can give it or not," Lady
Otway slipped in quickly, in rather a low voice, as if she wanted to
get this said while her sister-in-law's attention was diverted. "And
if not--well then, my advice would be--don't marry."
"Oh, but marriage is the happiest life for a woman," said Mrs.
Hilbery, catching the word marriage, as she brought her eyes back to
the room again. Then she turned her mind to what she had said.
"It's the most INTERESTING life," she corrected herself. She looked at
her daughter with a look of vague alarm. It was the kind of maternal
scrutiny which suggests that, in looking at her daughter a mother is
really looking at herself. She was not altogether satisfied; but she
purposely made no attempt to break down the reserve which, as a matter
of fact, was a quality she particularly admired and depended upon in
her daughter. But when her mother said that marriage was the most
interesting life, Katharine felt, as she was apt to do suddenly, for
no definite reason, that they understood each other, in spite of
differing in every possible way. Yet the wisdom of the old seems to
apply more to feelings which we have in common with the rest of the
human race than to our feelings as individuals, and Katharine knew
that only some one of her own age could follow her meaning. Both these
elderly women seemed to her to have been content with so little
happiness, and at the moment she had not sufficient force to feel
certain that their version of marriage was the wrong one. In London,
certainly, this temperate attitude toward her own marriage had seemed
to her just. Why had she now changed? Why did it now depress her? It
never occurred to her that her own conduct could be anything of a
puzzle to her mother, or that elder people are as much affected by the
young as the young are by them. And yet it was true that love--passion
--whatever one chose to call it, had played far less part in Mrs.
Hilbery's life than might have seemed likely, judging from her
enthusiastic and imaginative temperament. She had always been more
interested by other things. Lady Otway, strange though it seemed,
guessed more accurately at Katharine's state of mind than her mother
"Why don't we all live in the country?" exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery, once
more looking out of the window. "I'm sure one would think such
beautiful things if one lived in the country. No horrid slum houses to
depress one, no trams or motor-cars; and the people all looking so
plump and cheerful. Isn't there some little cottage near you,
Charlotte, which would do for us, with a spare room, perhaps, in case
we asked a friend down? And we should save so much money that we
should be able to travel--"
"Yes. You would find it very nice for a week or two, no doubt," said
Lady Otway. "But what hour would you like the carriage this morning?"
she continued, touching the bell.
"Katharine shall decide," said Mrs. Hilbery, feeling herself unable to
prefer one hour to another. "And I was just going to tell you,
Katharine, how, when I woke this morning, everything seemed so clear
in my head that if I'd had a pencil I believe I could have written
quite a long chapter. When we're out on our drive I shall find us a
house. A few trees round it, and a little garden, a pond with a
Chinese duck, a study for your father, a study for me, and a sitting
room for Katharine, because then she'll be a married lady."
At this Katharine shivered a little, drew up to the fire, and warmed
her hands by spreading them over the topmost peak of the coal. She
wished to bring the talk back to marriage again, in order to hear Aunt
Charlotte's views, but she did not know how to do this.
"Let me look at your engagement-ring, Aunt Charlotte," she said,
noticing her own.
She took the cluster of green stones and turned it round and round,
but she did not know what to say next.
"That poor old ring was a sad disappointment to me when I first had
it," Lady Otway mused. "I'd set my heart on a diamond ring, but I
never liked to tell Frank, naturally. He bought it at Simla."
Katharine turned the ring round once more, and gave it back to her
aunt without speaking. And while she turned it round her lips set
themselves firmly together, and it seemed to her that she could
satisfy William as these women had satisfied their husbands; she could
pretend to like emeralds when she preferred diamonds. Having replaced
her ring, Lady Otway remarked that it was chilly, though not more so
than one must expect at this time of year. Indeed, one ought to be
thankful to see the sun at all, and she advised them both to dress
warmly for their drive. Her aunt's stock of commonplaces, Katharine
sometimes suspected, had been laid in on purpose to fill silences
with, and had little to do with her private thoughts. But at this
moment they seemed terribly in keeping with her own conclusions, so
that she took up her knitting again and listened, chiefly with a view
to confirming herself in the belief that to be engaged to marry some
one with whom you are not in love is an inevitable step in a world
where the existence of passion is only a traveller's story brought
from the heart of deep forests and told so rarely that wise people
doubt whether the story can be true. She did her best to listen to her
mother asking for news of John, and to her aunt replying with the
authentic history of Hilda's engagement to an officer in the Indian
Army, but she cast her mind alternately towards forest paths and
starry blossoms, and towards pages of neatly written mathematical
signs. When her mind took this turn her marriage seemed no more than
an archway through which it was necessary to pass in order to have her
desire. At such times the current of her nature ran in its deep narrow
channel with great force and with an alarming lack of consideration
for the feelings of others. Just as the two elder ladies had finished
their survey of the family prospects, and Lady Otway was nervously
anticipating some general statement as to life and death from her
sister-in-law, Cassandra burst into the room with the news that the
carriage was at the door.
"Why didn't Andrews tell me himself?" said Lady Otway, peevishly,
blaming her servants for not living up to her ideals.
When Mrs. Hilbery and Katharine arrived in the hall, ready dressed for
their drive, they found that the usual discussion was going forward as
to the plans of the rest of the family. In token of this, a great many
doors were opening and shutting, two or three people stood
irresolutely on the stairs, now going a few steps up, and now a few
steps down, and Sir Francis himself had come out from his study, with
the "Times" under his arm, and a complaint about noise and draughts
from the open door which, at least, had the effect of bundling the
people who did not want to go into the carriage, and sending those who
did not want to stay back to their rooms. It was decided that Mrs.
Hilbery, Katharine, Rodney, and Henry should drive to Lincoln, and any
one else who wished to go should follow on bicycles or in the pony-
cart. Every one who stayed at Stogdon House had to make this
expedition to Lincoln in obedience to Lady Otway's conception of the
right way to entertain her guests, which she had imbibed from reading
in fashionable papers of the behavior of Christmas parties in ducal
houses. The carriage horses were both fat and aged, still they
matched; the carriage was shaky and uncomfortable, but the Otway arms
were visible on the panels. Lady Otway stood on the topmost step,
wrapped in a white shawl, and waved her hand almost mechanically until
they had turned the corner under the laurel-bushes, when she retired
indoors with a sense that she had played her part, and a sigh at the
thought that none of her children felt it necessary to play theirs.
The carriage bowled along smoothly over the gently curving road. Mrs.
Hilbery dropped into a pleasant, inattentive state of mind, in which
she was conscious of the running green lines of the hedges, of the
swelling ploughland, and of the mild blue sky, which served her, after
the first five minutes, for a pastoral background to the drama of
human life; and then she thought of a cottage garden, with the flash
of yellow daffodils against blue water; and what with the arrangement
of these different prospects, and the shaping of two or three lovely
phrases, she did not notice that the young people in the carriage were
almost silent. Henry, indeed, had been included against his wish, and
revenged himself by observing Katharine and Rodney with disillusioned
eyes; while Katharine was in a state of gloomy self-suppression which
resulted in complete apathy. When Rodney spoke to her she either said
"Hum!" or assented so listlessly that he addressed his next remark to
her mother. His deference was agreeable to her, his manners were
exemplary; and when the church towers and factory chimneys of the town
came into sight, she roused herself, and recalled memories of the fair
summer of 1853, which fitted in harmoniously with what she was
dreaming of the future.
But other passengers were approaching Lincoln meanwhile by other roads
on foot. A county town draws the inhabitants of all vicarages, farms,
country houses, and wayside cottages, within a radius of ten miles at
least, once or twice a week to its streets; and among them, on this
occasion, were Ralph Denham and Mary Datchet. They despised the roads,
and took their way across the fields; and yet, from their appearance,
it did not seem as if they cared much where they walked so long as the
way did not actually trip them up. When they left the Vicarage, they
had begun an argument which swung their feet along so rhythmically in
time with it that they covered the ground at over four miles an hour,
and saw nothing of the hedgerows, the swelling plowland, or the mild
blue sky. What they saw were the Houses of Parliament and the
Government Offices in Whitehall. They both belonged to the class which
is conscious of having lost its birthright in these great structures
and is seeking to build another kind of lodging for its own notion of
law and government. Purposely, perhaps, Mary did not agree with Ralph;
she loved to feel her mind in conflict with his, and to be certain
that he spared her female judgment no ounce of his male muscularity.
He seemed to argue as fiercely with her as if she were his brother.
They were alike, however, in believing that it behooved them to take
in hand the repair and reconstruction of the fabric of England. They
agreed in thinking that nature has not been generous in the endowment
of our councilors. They agreed, unconsciously, in a mute love for the
muddy field through which they tramped, with eyes narrowed close by
the concentration of their minds. At length they drew breath, let the
argument fly away into the limbo of other good arguments, and, leaning
over a gate, opened their eyes for the first time and looked about
them. Their feet tingled with warm blood and their breath rose in
steam around them. The bodily exercise made them both feel more direct
and less self-conscious than usual, and Mary, indeed, was overcome by
a sort of light-headedness which made it seem to her that it mattered
very little what happened next. It mattered so little, indeed, that
she felt herself on the point of saying to Ralph:
"I love you; I shall never love anybody else. Marry me or leave me;
think what you like of me--I don't care a straw." At the moment,
however, speech or silence seemed immaterial, and she merely clapped
her hands together, and looked at the distant woods with the rust-like
bloom on their brown, and the green and blue landscape through the
steam of her own breath. It seemed a mere toss-up whether she said, "I
love you," or whether she said, "I love the beech-trees," or only "I
"Do you know, Mary," Ralph suddenly interrupted her, "I've made up my
Her indifference must have been superficial, for it disappeared at
once. Indeed, she lost sight of the trees, and saw her own hand upon
the topmost bar of the gate with extreme distinctness, while he went
"I've made up my mind to chuck my work and live down here. I want you
to tell me about that cottage you spoke of. However, I suppose
there'll be no difficulty about getting a cottage, will there?" He
spoke with an assumption of carelessness as if expecting her to
She still waited, as if for him to continue; she was convinced that in
some roundabout way he approached the subject of their marriage.
"I can't stand the office any longer," he proceeded. "I don't know
what my family will say; but I'm sure I'm right. Don't you think so?"
"Live down here by yourself?" she asked.
"Some old woman would do for me, I suppose," he replied. "I'm sick of
the whole thing," he went on, and opened the gate with a jerk. They
began to cross the next field walking side by side.
"I tell you, Mary, it's utter destruction, working away, day after
day, at stuff that doesn't matter a damn to any one. I've stood eight
years of it, and I'm not going to stand it any longer. I suppose this
all seems to you mad, though?"
By this time Mary had recovered her self-control.
"No. I thought you weren't happy," she said.
"Why did you think that?" he asked, with some surprise.
"Don't you remember that morning in Lincoln's Inn Fields?" she asked.
"Yes," said Ralph, slackening his pace and remembering Katharine and
her engagement, the purple leaves stamped into the path, the white
paper radiant under the electric light, and the hopelessness which
seemed to surround all these things.
"You're right, Mary," he said, with something of an effort, "though I
don't know how you guessed it."
She was silent, hoping that he might tell her the reason of his
unhappiness, for his excuses had not deceived her.
"I was unhappy--very unhappy," he repeated. Some six weeks separated
him from that afternoon when he had sat upon the Embankment watching
his visions dissolve in mist as the waters swam past and the sense of
his desolation still made him shiver. He had not recovered in the
least from that depression. Here was an opportunity for making himself
face it, as he felt that he ought to; for, by this time, no doubt, it
was only a sentimental ghost, better exorcised by ruthless exposure to
such an eye as Mary's, than allowed to underlie all his actions and
thoughts as had been the case ever since he first saw Katharine
Hilbery pouring out tea. He must begin, however, by mentioning her
name, and this he found it impossible to do. He persuaded himself that
he could make an honest statement without speaking her name; he
persuaded himself that his feeling had very little to do with her.
"Unhappiness is a state of mind," he said, "by which I mean that it is
not necessarily the result of any particular cause."
This rather stilted beginning did not please him, and it became more
and more obvious to him that, whatever he might say, his unhappiness
had been directly caused by Katharine.
"I began to find my life unsatisfactory," he started afresh. "It
seemed to me meaningless." He paused again, but felt that this, at any
rate, was true, and that on these lines he could go on.
"All this money-making and working ten hours a day in an office,
what's it FOR? When one's a boy, you see, one's head is so full of
dreams that it doesn't seem to matter what one does. And if you're
ambitious, you're all right; you've got a reason for going on. Now my
reasons ceased to satisfy me. Perhaps I never had any. That's very
likely now I come to think of it. (What reason is there for anything,
though?) Still, it's impossible, after a certain age, to take oneself
in satisfactorily. And I know what carried me on"--for a good reason
now occurred to him--"I wanted to be the savior of my family and all
that kind of thing. I wanted them to get on in the world. That was a
lie, of course--a kind of self-glorification, too. Like most people, I
suppose, I've lived almost entirely among delusions, and now I'm at
the awkward stage of finding it out. I want another delusion to go on
with. That's what my unhappiness amounts to, Mary."
There were two reasons that kept Mary very silent during this speech,
and drew curiously straight lines upon her face. In the first place,
Ralph made no mention of marriage; in the second, he was not speaking
"I don't think it will be difficult to find a cottage," she said, with
cheerful hardness, ignoring the whole of this statement. "You've got a
little money, haven't you? Yes," she concluded, "I don't see why it
shouldn't be a very good plan."
They crossed the field in complete silence. Ralph was surprised by her
remark and a little hurt, and yet, on the whole, rather pleased. He
had convinced himself that it was impossible to lay his case
truthfully before Mary, and, secretly, he was relieved to find that he
had not parted with his dream to her. She was, as he had always found
her, the sensible, loyal friend, the woman he trusted; whose sympathy
he could count upon, provided he kept within certain limits. He was
not displeased to find that those limits were very clearly marked.
When they had crossed the next hedge she said to him:
"Yes, Ralph, it's time you made a break. I've come to the same
conclusion myself. Only it won't be a country cottage in my case;
it'll be America. America!" she cried. "That's the place for me!
They'll teach me something about organizing a movement there, and I'll
come back and show you how to do it."
If she meant consciously or unconsciously to belittle the seclusion
and security of a country cottage, she did not succeed; for Ralph's
determination was genuine. But she made him visualize her in her own
character, so that he looked quickly at her, as she walked a little in
front of him across the plowed field; for the first time that morning
he saw her independently of him or of his preoccupation with
Katharine. He seemed to see her marching ahead, a rather clumsy but
powerful and independent figure, for whose courage he felt the
"Don't go away, Mary!" he exclaimed, and stopped.
"That's what you said before, Ralph," she returned, without looking at
him. "You want to go away yourself and you don't want me to go away.
That's not very sensible, is it?"
"Mary," he cried, stung by the remembrance of his exacting and
dictatorial ways with her, "what a brute I've been to you!"
It took all her strength to keep the tears from springing, and to
thrust back her assurance that she would forgive him till Doomsday if
he chose. She was preserved from doing so only by a stubborn kind of
respect for herself which lay at the root of her nature and forbade
surrender, even in moments of almost overwhelming passion. Now, when
all was tempest and high-running waves, she knew of a land where the
sun shone clear upon Italian grammars and files of docketed papers.
Nevertheless, from the skeleton pallor of that land and the rocks that
broke its surface, she knew that her life there would be harsh and
lonely almost beyond endurance. She walked steadily a little in front
of him across the plowed field. Their way took them round the verge of
a wood of thin trees standing at the edge of a steep fold in the land.
Looking between the tree-trunks, Ralph saw laid out on the perfectly
flat and richly green meadow at the bottom of the hill a small gray
manor-house, with ponds, terraces, and clipped hedges in front of it,
a farm building or so at the side, and a screen of fir-trees rising
behind, all perfectly sheltered and self-sufficient. Behind the house
the hill rose again, and the trees on the farther summit stood upright
against the sky, which appeared of a more intense blue between their
trunks. His mind at once was filled with a sense of the actual
presence of Katharine; the gray house and the intense blue sky gave
him the feeling of her presence close by. He leant against a tree,
forming her name beneath his breath:
"Katharine, Katharine," he said aloud, and then, looking round, saw
Mary walking slowly away from him, tearing a long spray of ivy from
the trees as she passed them. She seemed so definitely opposed to the
vision he held in his mind that he returned to it with a gesture of
"Katharine, Katharine," he repeated, and seemed to himself to be with
her. He lost his sense of all that surrounded him; all substantial
things--the hour of the day, what we have done and are about to do,
the presence of other people and the support we derive from seeing
their belief in a common reality--all this slipped from him. So he
might have felt if the earth had dropped from his feet, and the empty
blue had hung all round him, and the air had been steeped in the
presence of one woman. The chirp of a robin on the bough above his
head awakened him, and his awakenment was accompanied by a sigh. Here
was the world in which he had lived; here the plowed field, the high
road yonder, and Mary, stripping ivy from the trees. When he came up
with her he linked his arm through hers and said:
"Now, Mary, what's all this about America?"
There was a brotherly kindness in his voice which seemed to her
magnanimous, when she reflected that she had cut short his
explanations and shown little interest in his change of plan. She gave
him her reasons for thinking that she might profit by such a journey,
omitting the one reason which had set all the rest in motion. He
listened attentively, and made no attempt to dissuade her. In truth,
he found himself curiously eager to make certain of her good sense,
and accepted each fresh proof of it with satisfaction, as though it
helped him to make up his mind about something. She forgot the pain he
had caused her, and in place of it she became conscious of a steady
tide of well-being which harmonized very aptly with the tramp of their
feet upon the dry road and the support of his arm. The comfort was the
more glowing in that it seemed to be the reward of her determination
to behave to him simply and without attempting to be other than she
was. Instead of making out an interest in the poets, she avoided them
instinctively, and dwelt rather insistently upon the practical nature
of her gifts.
In a practical way she asked for particulars of his cottage, which
hardly existed in his mind, and corrected his vagueness.
"You must see that there's water," she insisted, with an exaggeration
of interest. She avoided asking him what he meant to do in this
cottage, and, at last, when all the practical details had been
thrashed out as much as possible, he rewarded her by a more intimate
"One of the rooms," he said, "must be my study, for, you see, Mary,
I'm going to write a book." Here he withdrew his arm from hers, lit
his pipe, and they tramped on in a sagacious kind of comradeship, the
most complete they had attained in all their friendship.
"And what's your book to be about?" she said, as boldly as if she had
never come to grief with Ralph in talking about books. He told her
unhesitatingly that he meant to write the history of the English
village from Saxon days to the present time. Some such plan had lain
as a seed in his mind for many years; and now that he had decided, in
a flash, to give up his profession, the seed grew in the space of
twenty minutes both tall and lusty. He was surprised himself at the
positive way in which he spoke. It was the same with the question of
his cottage. That had come into existence, too, in an unromantic shape
--a square white house standing just off the high road, no doubt, with
a neighbor who kept a pig and a dozen squalling children; for these
plans were shorn of all romance in his mind, and the pleasure he
derived from thinking of them was checked directly it passed a very
sober limit. So a sensible man who has lost his chance of some
beautiful inheritance might tread out the narrow bounds of his actual
dwelling-place, and assure himself that life is supportable within its
demesne, only one must grow turnips and cabbages, not melons and
pomegranates. Certainly Ralph took some pride in the resources of his
mind, and was insensibly helped to right himself by Mary's trust in
him. She wound her ivy spray round her ash-plant, and for the first
time for many days, when alone with Ralph, set no spies upon her
motives, sayings, and feelings, but surrendered herself to complete
Thus talking, with easy silences and some pauses to look at the view
over the hedge and to decide upon the species of a little gray-brown
bird slipping among the twigs, they walked into Lincoln, and after
strolling up and down the main street, decided upon an inn where the
rounded window suggested substantial fare, nor were they mistaken. For
over a hundred and fifty years hot joints, potatoes, greens, and apple
puddings had been served to generations of country gentlemen, and now,
sitting at a table in the hollow of the bow window, Ralph and Mary
took their share of this perennial feast. Looking across the joint,
half-way through the meal, Mary wondered whether Ralph would ever come
to look quite like the other people in the room. Would he be absorbed
among the round pink faces, pricked with little white bristles, the
calves fitted in shiny brown leather, the black-and-white check suits,
which were sprinkled about in the same room with them? She half hoped
so; she thought that it was only in his mind that he was different.
She did not wish him to be too different from other people. The walk
had given him a ruddy color, too, and his eyes were lit up by a
steady, honest light, which could not make the simplest farmer feel
ill at ease, or suggest to the most devout of clergymen a disposition
to sneer at his faith. She loved the steep cliff of his forehead, and
compared it to the brow of a young Greek horseman, who reins his horse
back so sharply that it half falls on its haunches. He always seemed
to her like a rider on a spirited horse. And there was an exaltation
to her in being with him, because there was a risk that he would not
be able to keep to the right pace among other people. Sitting opposite
him at the little table in the window, she came back to that state of
careless exaltation which had overcome her when they halted by the
gate, but now it was accompanied by a sense of sanity and security,
for she felt that they had a feeling in common which scarcely needed
embodiment in words. How silent he was! leaning his forehead on his
hand, now and then, and again looking steadily and gravely at the
backs of the two men at the next table, with so little self-
consciousness that she could almost watch his mind placing one thought
solidly upon the top of another; she thought that she could feel him
thinking, through the shade of her fingers, and she could anticipate
the exact moment when he would put an end to his thought and turn a
little in his chair and say:
"Well, Mary--?" inviting her to take up the thread of thought where he
had dropped it.
And at that very moment he turned just so, and said:
"Well, Mary?" with the curious touch of diffidence which she loved in
She laughed, and she explained her laugh on the spur of the moment by
the look of the people in the street below. There was a motor-car with
an old lady swathed in blue veils, and a lady's maid on the seat
opposite, holding a King Charles's spaniel; there was a country-woman
wheeling a perambulator full of sticks down the middle of the road;
there was a bailiff in gaiters discussing the state of the cattle
market with a dissenting minister--so she defined them.
She ran over this list without any fear that her companion would think
her trivial. Indeed, whether it was due to the warmth of the room or
to the good roast beef, or whether Ralph had achieved the process
which is called making up one's mind, certainly he had given up
testing the good sense, the independent character, the intelligence
shown in her remarks. He had been building one of those piles of
thought, as ramshackle and fantastic as a Chinese pagoda, half from
words let fall by gentlemen in gaiters, half from the litter in his
own mind, about duck shooting and legal history, about the Roman
occupation of Lincoln and the relations of country gentlemen with
their wives, when, from all this disconnected rambling, there suddenly
formed itself in his mind the idea that he would ask Mary to marry
him. The idea was so spontaneous that it seemed to shape itself of its
own accord before his eyes. It was then that he turned round and made
use of his old, instinctive phrase:
As it presented itself to him at first, the idea was so new and
interesting that he was half inclined to address it, without more ado,
to Mary herself. His natural instinct to divide his thoughts carefully
into two different classes before he expressed them to her prevailed.
But as he watched her looking out of the window and describing the old
lady, the woman with the perambulator, the bailiff and the dissenting
minister, his eyes filled involuntarily with tears. He would have
liked to lay his head on her shoulder and sob, while she parted his
hair with her fingers and soothed him and said:
"There, there. Don't cry! Tell me why you're crying--"; and they would
clasp each other tight, and her arms would hold him like his mother's.
He felt that he was very lonely, and that he was afraid of the other
people in the room.
"How damnable this all is!" he exclaimed abruptly.
"What are you talking about?" she replied, rather vaguely, still
looking out of the window.
He resented this divided attention more than, perhaps, he knew, and he
thought how Mary would soon be on her way to America.
"Mary," he said, "I want to talk to you. Haven't we nearly done? Why
don't they take away these plates?"
Mary felt his agitation without looking at him; she felt convinced
that she knew what it was that he wished to say to her.
"They'll come all in good time," she said; and felt it necessary to
display her extreme calmness by lifting a salt-cellar and sweeping up
a little heap of bread-crumbs.
"I want to apologize," Ralph continued, not quite knowing what he was
about to say, but feeling some curious instinct which urged him to
commit himself irrevocably, and to prevent the moment of intimacy from
"I think I've treated you very badly. That is, I've told you lies. Did
you guess that I was lying to you? Once in Lincoln's Inn Fields and
again to-day on our walk. I am a liar, Mary. Did you know that? Do you
think you do know me?"
"I think I do," she said.
At this point the waiter changed their plates.
"It's true I don't want you to go to America," he said, looking
fixedly at the table-cloth. "In fact, my feelings towards you seem to
be utterly and damnably bad," he said energetically, although forced
to keep his voice low.
"If I weren't a selfish beast I should tell you to have nothing more
to do with me. And yet, Mary, in spite of the fact that I believe what
I'm saying, I also believe that it's good we should know each other--
the world being what it is, you see--" and by a nod of his head he
indicated the other occupants of the room, "for, of course, in an
ideal state of things, in a decent community even, there's no doubt
you shouldn't have anything to do with me--seriously, that is."
"You forget that I'm not an ideal character, either," said Mary, in
the same low and very earnest tones, which, in spite of being almost
inaudible, surrounded their table with an atmosphere of concentration
which was quite perceptible to the other diners, who glanced at them
now and then with a queer mixture of kindness, amusement, and
"I'm much more selfish than I let on, and I'm worldly a little--more
than you think, anyhow. I like bossing things--perhaps that's my
greatest fault. I've none of your passion for--" here she hesitated,
and glanced at him, as if to ascertain what his passion was for--"for
the truth," she added, as if she had found what she sought
"I've told you I'm a liar," Ralph repeated obstinately.
"Oh, in little things, I dare say," she said impatiently. "But not in
real ones, and that's what matters. I dare say I'm more truthful than
you are in small ways. But I could never care"--she was surprised to
find herself speaking the word, and had to force herself to speak it
out--"for any one who was a liar in that way. I love the truth a
certain amount--a considerable amount--but not in the way you love
it." Her voice sank, became inaudible, and wavered as if she could
scarcely keep herself from tears.
"Good heavens!" Ralph exclaimed to himself. "She loves me! Why did I
never see it before? She's going to cry; no, but she can't speak."
The certainty overwhelmed him so that he scarcely knew what he was
doing; the blood rushed to his cheeks, and although he had quite made
up his mind to ask her to marry him, the certainty that she loved him
seemed to change the situation so completely that he could not do it.
He did not dare to look at her. If she cried, he did not know what he
should do. It seemed to him that something of a terrible and
devastating nature had happened. The waiter changed their plates once
In his agitation Ralph rose, turned his back upon Mary, and looked out
of the window. The people in the street seemed to him only a